Sunday, February 21, 2010

Toys! Toys! Toys!

It’s Toy Fair time, and last week I was invited to a tour of the Hasbro showroom to check out the new 2010 toys. Here are the things that I dug

BeyBlade Metal Fusion:

So you get this stadium, which is a plastic flat-bottomed bowl with high sides, and then you get a bunch of kids (or grownups, because let’s face it, my husband would play this for hours) and everyone pulls the ripcords on their BeyBlade tops and tries to knock each others tops off. Last top spinning wins. The really cool part, though, is that all the parts are interchangeable, so you can customize your top by changing the point, the weight disk, spin gear and all this other stuff, until you make your Dream Top. I’m a sucker for an old fashioned toy concept, and this one is a modern take on a classic.

FurReal Friends

We don’t have a pet for a bunch of good reasons: A. We live in a tiny apartment, B. I’m way too overextended caring for my little animal-like children and C. I’m just really not a pet person. But for a long time now, my 3 year-old has been clamoring for a pet and I’ve had to come up with new and creative ways to stave off her demands. And now I’ve found the perfect solution – these animatronics furry little toys that look and act like real animals. They are made to respond when you touch them on certain points – so if you pet Lulu the cat, she will move her head and ears, open and close her eyes, and even knead with her paws. And no litter box to clean or allergy attacks to account for. Normally I don’t go in for toys that do all the work of playing for the child, but I did feel like these pseudo-pets, especially the tiny ones that fit in the palm of your hand called Snuggimals which retail for $7.99) would really excite my daughter and invite hours and hours of play.

There was plenty to oohh and ahh about, in the category of Blasts from the Past:

Empire Strikes Back Action Figures

If you were born in the 70s your heart is biologically wired to skip a beat when you hear the words “Empire Strikes Back.” This year is the 30th anniversary of the movie and in honor of that, Hasbro has release a whole bunch of action figures, characters dear to my heart: Luke, Darth, Leia, and of course, Hunky Han. The figures are much more articulated than in the 70s – all the joints twist and turn and extend, but besides that, they look just like the old ones. Come August, you can believe we’re going to be playing with those. They’re also releasing the AT-AT – one gigunda one which can fits 20 action figures, and one medium sized one, which is still pretty roomy and which my daughter, no doubt, would attempt to ride immediately.

Strawberry Shortcake 5-inch Doll

Its Strawberry Shortcake’s 30th anniversary, too, and Hasbro is celebrating with a 5 inch doll ($9.99), which was the height of the original Ms. Shortcake back in the day. I have a soft spot for Ms. Shortcake and her aroma-therapeutic friends, not just because from my childhood, but because my husband confessed to having adored his Strawberry Shortcake when he was a boy. She’s sweet and wholesome and better than one of those pine air fresheners hanging from the rear view mirror when you need to get a stinky odor – not naming names, but it does happen in long car rides – out of your nose.


The toy that wobbles but won’t fall down has been around since 1971 and I’ve always thought they were cute but didn’t give much more thought to why kids love them. At the showroom, I got to speak to a Hasbro rep and heard precisely why. Weebles give little toddlers, who don’t have the fine motor skills to manipulate an action figure, a chance to play like their big kid friends, with toys they can easily grasp in their hands, and which never fall down, no matter how much you knock them about. It turns out to be a very satisfying play experience for year-old crowd, and the Weeble scenes, the treehouses and such, let kids do what they love doing best – put toys in, and take toys out. This year, the Weebles are being restored to their original egg-shape which is ideal for little fists, so look out for those.


The original Alphie came out in 1978 and now he’s baaaack, but with an LCD screen for a face. He comes with 30 cards full of edifying info about ABCs, counting, and other things you want your kid to know about. You slide the card in his chest and your child is prompted to press the button for the right answer. There are a ton of products like these now – all of which light up and sing in ten languages and who knows what else – but what I like about this one is it’s a robot. Who doesn’t like robots?


My 5 year-old son absolutely loves Candyland, so much so that one afternoon, I read him the little story that comes in the box, about Lord Licorice, Princess Frostine and the other confectionary creations, about 6 times in a row. Then he went off and drew his own game board and we played that. If that’s not inspiration, I don’t know what is. Candyland, which came out in 1949, recently turned 60 and there’s a brand-new game board out this year which is supposed to be less gender-specific, with more boy-centric characters like the Duke of Swirl (as you see, my son didn’t have any trouble getting into it anyway, but the intent is to broaden the appeal).

Which brings us directly to the wide world of Board Games, a world in which Hasbro is King. The make just about every board game you ever played, including Guess Who, Sorry, Connect Four, Clue, and Trivial Pursuit. It’s hard to imagine improving on such tried-and-tried products. But that doesn’t mean the toy people won’t try. Last year, they introduced a new feature on all their games, called U-Build, which allows you to customize the game so you set it up and play exactly how you like. In addition to that, there was plenty of action on the board game front.

Twister Hoopla

Nothing brings a party to life like a little game of Twister, but now instead of a dotted mat, you’ve got different colored rings that have to be passed from one person’s body part to another and must be kept off the floor at all costs. Twister was an active game that got bodies moving well before there was a widespread impetus to do that, and I like the new makeover.

Scrabble Flash

I’m sure Scrabble purists out there would object but I thought this new incarnation of the game was pretty darn cool. You’ve got five “electronic tiles, ”basically these genius LCD screen, onto each of which a letter pops. You then you have 75 seconds to arrange the letters into as many word combinations as you can. When you link the tiles together and make a word, the machine somehow recognizes it (!!) and beeps to confirm. I may be easy to impress but that totally knocked my socks off.

And, last but certainly not least . . .

Monopoly Revolution Edition

Monopoly turns 75 years old this year and it has had a major face-lift for its birthday. The new Monopoly has a circular board, uses electronic banking instead of cash and includes a space-agey device which plays popular music like Rihanna and Beyonce to accompany certain actions. Since I was never a Monopoly nut, I don’t have any purist leanings to grapple with, but if you do, rest assured you can still buy the traditional Monopoly board in stores, too.

So that’s my round-up. The trend was oldies but goodies with some updates. Plenty of good stuff to get kids moving, to ignite curiosity and to spark the imagination.