Monday, 31 December 2012

Review of the Year 2012

I begin this review with a very similar disclaimer to last year, which boils down to a lack of notes and poor memory. I can't remember exactly what toys were released this year. As much as I like playing with the things, I don't keep a catalogue of when everything was released. Therefore, a lot of what's in this post will be guesswork. 99% was almost definitely released this year rather than last. The bigger problem is me forgetting some really, really great toys that were released this year but I thought were last.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Toyology Review: Furby

 My sister had a Furby, back in the day. I found it to be the second most annoying thing I had ever encountered. My sister, obviously, being the first. I didn't really understand the appeal. Why were they so popular? Why were people so interested in spending (wasting?) their time looking after a lump of plastic and electronics as though it were real? I mean, it's not like it's Data.

And now, like the bad penny, they're back. Yay.

(It doesn't really come across in written form, but that 'yay' was sarcastic)

Furby's have advanced quite a lot since they last put in an appearance. I'd say they'd evolved, but I don't want to fall into the 'thinking they're alive' category. They certainly do a lot more now and they include a whole bunch of extra gizmos - including an app (sorry, Android users, its just for Apple peeps at the moment).

The eyes, once lumps of plastic with eyelids which simply opened and closed, are now little LCD screens and thus are capable of displaying a variety of expressions. This makes a huge difference to feeling as though what you're doing is actually making a difference to this...thing. Furby responds to noises and takes a liking to particular sorts of music. It's hard to demonstrate in the video - unless I filmed the little guy over several weeks - but its personality changes depending on how you play with it. Frequent tail-pulling isn't going to result in a pleasant Furby, for example.

However, despite all this there are still a lot of limitations. The interaction isn't as immediate as might be desired. Pat its head and it doesn't immediately start cooing, so by the time it does whoever's playing with it will have started turning it upside down instead. And there's still only so much you can do with it. Playing times are only going to be a few minutes at a time, although potentially lots of few minutes at a time. Initially my children were very excited and there was a lot of 'look what he's doing now!', but this faded after a few days. Now they only seem to remember about it when it's been knocked over, wakes up and starts talking. Otherwise it sits in silence, ignored for the most part.

I suspect most adults who think Furbies will be annoying, will tend to find them annoying. Those who think they'll be cute and fun will find them fun. Your opinion is unlikely to change once you have Furby in hand. Saying that, I wanted to hate this thing. As it turned out, I kinda like it. I definitely don't like it enough to pay full price, but the brief time I spent with it was entertaining. However, from what I've observed of them playing with it, I don't think my children will play with it over long enough a period to justify the cost, but it is a fun novelty.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Toyology Review: Spin Mania

Ah, Drumond Park. Home of the simple yet fun games. I was slightly disappointed with the last one I played, however I'm very happy to report that Spin Mania is a return to form.

One player takes the three stands and places them around the room. The other player tries to get spinning disks on the stands as quickly as possible. The time is recorded and the players switch over. Easy peasy lemon squeasy.

It's not long before children start getting clever with the placement of the stands and House Rules come into play to ensure it's physically possibly to get disks onto them (no hiding them in another room, down jumpers, in the fridge...). You also have to watch that small children aren't knocking your disks off behind your back when you're going to get the next one.

The box has an age recommendation of 6+ however after a couple of practice goes my 4 year old was more than capable of playing. It's possible to play with any number of people (although there are only 4 markers for the timer) so a perfect family game for over Christmas. It does require moving/bending (depending on where the stands have been put) so might not be best for any elderly relatives.

But really the only downside to his game is the size of the box. It's no exaggeration to say the box could be a third of the size, if not a quarter. It's completely ridiculous being the size it is and makes storing it really, really annoying. Either I end up storing a load of air, or I have to hunt round and find something smaller to put it in.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Toyology Review: Lalaloopsy Littles Sew Cute Patient

I'd never heard of Lalaloopsy until I began to do a little research and found out that it's quite a big brand of 'rag' dolls. Wikipedia tells me that there are over 50 different characters, of different sizes, with more added all the time. I like the look of them, even though (or maybe because) I watched Coraline and was completely freaked out by things with button eyes. Maybe it's only when people have button eyes that the Fear sets in.

We were sent on of the 'Littles' which are siblings of the larger dolls. Our Patient, despite her eyes, is very cute and though not designed for '4+' my 2 year old daughter loves carrying her patient around.

Patient comes with a variety of accessories - few of which are suitable for my 2 year old. There's a bear which you can 'repair' (or kill) by attaching (or pulling off) his arms, legs and eyes. These parts are tiny and despite me doing my best to keep track of them in case I needed extra photos for the review, we've pretty much lost every piece. The eyes, especially, don't hold in too well and being black their days were numbered as soon as bear came out of the box.

Patient herself comes with a stethoscope which makes a variety of bizarre noises. A cast for her leg which even the most determined dad had trouble getting off and a slipper which was a lot easier. There's a feeding bottle, plus a bottle and cloth which you're supposed to dampen with warm water and then using the power of Heat, make her injuries vanish. This didn't work particularly well. There are a number of 'tips' in the instructions as to how to get this to work better, but we had trouble keeping the cloth warm enough for long enough to get this to work. I drowned the cloth in hot water, but by the time I reached the doll it was too cool. Drowning the doll herself worked a lot better, but isn't really that practical.

I do wonder what age this is aimed at. The tiny bear accessories and cast problems would seem to indicate an older child, but the look would seem, to me, to be targeting younger children.

My 2 year old loves this doll, however with the accessory problems I'd think twice before buying this at full price.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Toyology Review: Avengers Quinjet

You have to admire Marvel. Spin-off films happen all the time, but I can't think of any other movie franchise that has had a Movie Master Plan of having a bunch of separate films all feed together into one Super Film. The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man (and its sequel), Captain America, Thor - all of them written & filmed in the knowledge (hope?) that eventually seeds planted in each one would come together to form The Avengers.

It could have been a disaster. It should have been a disaster. Having so many 'main' characters in one film shouldn't have worked. But it did.

And because of its success, Marvel are confident enough to release films about characters hardly anyone has ever heard of. Rocket Raccoon? Groot? Heck, even Ant Man.

But enough of me gushing over that. You're here for the toys.

The Quinjet is the main mode of transport for the Avengers. The toy version looks almost exactly like the one featured in the film, apart from its new gold trim. Purists may complain, but it does liven up what would otherwise have been a purely grey, dull colour scheme.

It's designed for 3 3/4" figures, and comes with Iron Man in his Mark VII armour (the stuff that attaches while he's falling from Stark Tower, if you recall from the film). Articulation is limited, with joints only at the shoulders, hips and neck. I'm undecided whether he was the right figure to include with the set. While he can clip onto the side of the jet, he's not really someone who'd drive it. But then my view may be biased since we already have an Iron Man figure and it'd have been nice to have a different one.

Transforming from stealth to attack mode is easy. Transforming back to stealth mode frequently results in the right-hand missile firing when you push the launcher back down. With the firing buttons on the side, it's quite easy to knock when it's going back inside the body of the jet.

There is a sticker sheet included. The instruction sheet is fairly useless at telling you exactly where these are supposed to go. It's not a great loss if these aren't used - besides the almost-essential giant 'A's on the wings. The cockpit doesn't hold on very well at all and always falls off when you lift it up. It clips back on easily enough, however, but it's annoying and is most often just left off when playing.

The Quinjet is around a foot long and apparently fits on the Hellicarrier. From this I can only assume that the Hellicarrier is HUGE. I therefore want one. I have no idea where we'd put it.

The boys love this toy, and since a lot of toys are now in 3 3/4" scale we've had it driven by GI Joe, Power Rangers, Star Wars... as well as various Marvel figures. While 4 year old likes playing with it on the ground, it is a little large for him to fly around the room. 6 year old copes much better in that regard. Overall, a nice addition for any Avengers fan.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Toyology Review: Trackmaster Daring Drop Blue Mountain Quarry

This is a train track based on the Blue Mountain Thomas & Friends DVD.  Thomas is battery powered and drives round the track - either the inner one, or the outer one which features a 'daring' drop.

And that's it.

It took us quite a while to put this together. Dad reading the instructions and calling out for parts which the children then hunted through the pile of pieces to find. Finally we had it all set up, with it covering a bit chunk of our living room. We set Thomas going and he went round the outer track. We all made 'oooo!' noises as he hit the drop. The points were changed and Thomas went round the less exciting inner track. Then Thomas went round again. And again. And again. And...

Within a minute we'd done everything that can be done with the set. It's a set layout so you can't change the pieces to have a different track - I can't even see a place where you could add in more track pieces if you bought them. You simply sit and watch and occasionally change the points. We spent a few minutes placing toys on the track to be run over, but that didn't really work.

Considering the amount of time it took to set up, we'd expected a bit more. "Dad, do I have to keep playing with that? You just watch that," said my 4 year old who, as it happened, was the child who was so excited to get the track out in the first place.

I know, on the face of it, the Hot Wheels track we reviewed does pretty much the same thing - the cars simply go round and round - but that adds an exciting danger element with jumps (possibly not possible with a train) and crashing (more likely in the early Thomas episodes). Plus, being stuck on the wall, it doesn't require extensive set-up time every time you want to play with it.

On the plus side, the Daring Drop box is packed with bits of plastic - so much so that it's a puzzle getting it all back in the box again once you've finished playing with it. I suppose it does everything you'd expect it to do from looking at the box. The disappointment shouldn't really have occurred since it's obvious any enjoyment from the toy can only come from watching Thomas go round and round and round and round and...

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Toyology Review: Snazaroo Face Painting Kit - Girl

I was never a fan of face paints when I was small. My children weren't either, until one day when a then-3 year old came home from nursery as Spider-Man. And now they can't get enough of the stuff.

Snazaroo are (probably) the leading brand in stuff to cover your face with. We were sent the 'girl' box, but only the grown ups knew this from the box. The children simply saw paint.

You can't see exactly what the colours are through the box, but they are listed on the top - white, black, pale yellow, pink, pale green, silver (metallic!), blue (sparkly!) and lilac (sparkly!). Although, due to child-involvement, our set now consists of one slightly murky colour, which is what happens when you mix them all up. There is a definite fairy/princess-slat to the colours which is worth keeping in mind as doing animals, for example, may prove difficult with this particular set.

For reasons known only to him, 4yo barged into our bedroom at 7am one morning and demanded to be painted as a leaf. We were extremely thankful that a) there was a green paint and b) he'd waited until 7 until barging in. The next day - the day in the video - he again wanted a leaf (I cannot explain the fascination) along with a parachute and a pirate ship. Apparently leaves are all the rage as he sister wanted one too.

Neither of them were particularly bothered about what design Mum had, just as long as it involved plastering her with as much paint as possible.

The amazing thing for me with these was despite being bold colours, it was incredibly easy to remove - quick wipe and it was all gone.

In summary, Snazaroo make good face paints. If you want good face paints then buy Snazaroo ones. Just remember to check the colours in the pack if you have a particular face-design in mind.