It's that time again for a look at the best of what's been lining the toy shelves for the past 12 months. As always, all awards are based on what I can remember was released rather than what was actually released. I prefer to think of this as meaning that anything that gets an award has managed to stick around the forefront of my brain and is therefore most deserving of a win, though of course my forgetting more deserving winners is a definite possibility.
Subline of the Year: NECA Video Game figures
Ever since Jason was released as an SDCC exclusive, NECA's range of figures inspired by vintage (mostly NES) console games has been hugely popular with gaming fans, movie fans and people who simply appreciate it when that bit of extra effort is put into a toy. They're even popular with The Powers That Be, with NECA, despite not having a license to produce 'normal' figures in that scale, being asked to make the '89 Batman movie game figure.
Rocky, Predator 2 and more are lined up for 2015 and I shall be getting every one.
Rediscovered Classic: Dreamcast
My retro-gaming has increased in all areas this year. I now have on my laptop almost every PC game I've ever owned (mostly from GOG.com) plus I've invested in a NES, SNES and Dreamcast. The Dreamcast in particular has been a HUGE hit with my kids and, surprisingly, their friends. It's certainly a shock when 8 and 6 year old girls come round and all anyone wants to do is play Unreal Tournament or Fur Fighters.
Rediscovered Runner-up: Manta Force
As a kid, my collection was limited to one small ship and I was deeply jealous of the boy down the road who had the big 'main' ship. Over the summer I bought a lot of pretty much all the Manta Force ships and they're brilliant. With little to no back story provided, kids are free to come up with whatever adventures their minds can conceive.
Best Board Game: King of Tokyo
Ok, ok, I know for definite this wasn't released in 2014 but in a year in which my boys have been getting heavily into their table top gaming, this has been the clear winner. Very simple setup and rules and very very addictive for children and adults of all ages.
Boys' Toy of the Year: Match Attax
So neither of them know the first thing about football (even I know that 'Arsenal Villa' and the 'Primer Leg-u' aren't really things...right?) but if you want to be in the 'in' crowd at school then you need to have a pile of cards to swap. There was a brief lull during the early summer when loom bands took over, but Match Attax began and ended the year with a vengeance.
Dad's Toy of the Year: Masterpiece Ultra Magnus
It's always hard for me to pick one single toy. The world is blessed with so many nice new things (usually) made out of plastic each year. I'm giving it to Magnus, not just because I've only just bought it and thus it's fresh in my mind, but because it's a big beefy toy that's a good balance between looking great and having a transformation that doesn't take 3 weeks to perform. I know many people dislike the fact that it doesn't come with a white Prime and that butt-flap was a very bad design decision (and could have been easily avoided!) but whoever thought they'd be a day that we'd get a G1 Magnus who was both built like a brick and super poseable?
Hope for the Future: Transformers Combiner Wars
Transformers targeted at children have suffered a bit in recent times. First we had the stupidly complicated movie figures which even took people with 2 PhDs in engineering and months of practice, at least a week to convert from vehicle to robot. Many of whom still haven't managed to get them back into vehicle mode.
To counter this, Hasbro simplified their designs, to the point where all that was required to convert was standing the toy vertically or horizontally, a procedure which entertained no one of any age.
Finally, at the tail end of the year, Combiner Wars figures began hitting the shops, and Hasbro seems (I say cautiously) to have got the balance right. They're not perfect in either mode, but look good enough to do the job and the transformation procedure definitely is of perfect difficulty. I did it with no problems and had a fun minute or so doing it. My 6 year old did it (with no instructions) and had a fun minute or so doing it. The toys have good quality plastic and are durable enough that nothing looks like it'll snap off after 2 minutes of play.
Add to this that they're combiners. Put out of your head the disaster that was the Fall of Cybertron Bruticus, Hasbro have taken things to the next level. The joints are much better - easy to attach/detach but hold securely in place.