Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Babe in Toyland

Its Toy Fair time again, and this weekend, I was invited to the Hasbro showroom to check out the goods for 2011. The real Elmo and Cookie Monster were there for an introductory presentation, and though I’m more of a Bert and Ernie gal myself, I have to admit, it was pretty cool to see the monsters in the flesh, that is, the fur.

And now, on to the toys . . .

There’s lot of action this year in the superhero move category, with both Thor and Captain America hitting theaters. Now – and I am not exaggerating – I am so unfamiliar with comic books and superheroes that I frequently confuse Captain America with Captain Underpants, but when I saw this super retro-looking shield, it was all I could do to slip it onto my forearm and begin shooting my fellow bloggers with foam disks. And I know for a fact my kids would tear each other to shreds for the chance to don this Captain America mask, and run around the house screaming their invented hero catchphrases.

I’m a bit more familiar with Thor, because back when Primo was heavily into Greek mythology, we dabbled in Norse tales. I dig Thor -- any god who wields a hammer and can rock that crazy helmet is pretty hard-core. Thanks to the people at Hasbro, now your kids can get hard-core too, not only bopping people over the head with this massive Lightening Hammer but also using it to zap evildoers with little balls that project out of the hole on the top. I saw a twenty-something man try it out and he looked positively gleeful.

I don’t know about you but I love Lite Brite for two compelling reasons – first, for the nostalgia factor, and second because my child has struggled with his pencil grip for five years and the teachers tell me every year to work on his fine motor skills with activities that involve the pinching gesture. While he’d prefer to practice pinching on his sister, I’d prefer for him to practice by carefully placing the pegs in Lite Brite. Problem is, those darn pegs have always tended to fall out and roll under the couch. But get ready for the new Lite Brite, flatscreen version – who doesn’t prefer a flatscreen, after all?- with stay-put pegs that – you guessed it – stay put.

While we’re on the subject of toys we loved as kids, you should know that the one, the only Easy Bake oven has gotten a facelift. Now, I’m usually not a fan of facelifts on people, but in this case, I’m jazzed, and I’ll tell you why. When I was a kid, there were two toys I absolutely pined for and never got, The first was a Snoopy SnoCone maker. The second was an Easy Bake Oven (don’t know why I was on such a food-preparation jag, and God knows, it didn’t continue through adulthood). The Christmas before last, my sister-in-law granted my childhood wish and gave me an Easy Bake Oven. It has however sat on the shelf in my bedroom, never used, for fourteen months, for one reason and one reason only. I do not have a regular lightbulb and I simply cannot prioritize the purchase of a lightbulb for the Easy Bake Oven, with all the other crap I have to do. But if I had the NEW Easy Bake Oven, we’d be baking already, because there is no lightbulb required. Just plug it in and shove the little tray through, Another improvement: there is storage for the trays inside the oven. May sound inconsequential to you but I for one am sick of looking at those little trays cluttering up my shelf space. The oven also has a new purple, aerodynamic look to it which I suppose is more appealing, though I don’t know that I need more pink or purple in my house.

I was impressed last year by the FurReal animals and the new addition to that family is pretty cool – Cookie, the dog. I don’t know that Cookie would take care of my daughter’s desperate desire for a pet permanently, but I bet it would stave it off for a few months, at least. This toy should work for NASA – it has motion sensor, voice recognition, infra-red technology, and who knows what else. End result? When you talk to Cookie, she turns her head in your direction, when you pet her, she wags her tail. And you never have to take her for a walk or deal with doggy doodoo. Sold.

There are a ton of new games out this year, including Monopoly Live and Battleship Live. The Live part consists of this hourglass-shaped tower you put in the middle of the board which basically talks you through the whole game, telling you what to do every step of the way. I’m sure board game purists would balk, and I. too, think it eliminates much of the collaboration that’s involved when you and your players hash out what the hell you’re supposed to do next, but as someone who never plays games because reading the instructions gives me a headache, I’m all for giving it a go.

Scrabble Flash came out last year and has done really well, so now there’s two new Flash games -- Simon and Yahtzee. I’ve found the Flash aspect insanely appealing, especially for portable game-playing, like on airplanes, cars, waiting rooms, and the like. Plus, who doesn't want to try something with Wonder-Link" technology? There is also a new Scrabble Alphabet Scoop game for the youngest players, where you can match tiles to cards that have words already spelled.

There were tons of other toys ,of course – a new Baby Alive that does it all – pees on her self, eats and cries for her baby mama; a group of toys called Poppin, for the toddler crowd which pops balls in the air for kids to chase madly; and a new line of Lego-type building toys, called Kreo, in which each kit creates two kinds of Transformer toys.

So, I know you’re still blitzed out from Christmas, but when you do recover, in time for birthdays, you’ll have plenty to choose from.