The Countdown to Disney Pixar’s Cars 2!

I can feel the anticipation for this weekend’s opening of Cars2 from Disney Pixar from our testers in the 3-7 age range. While we haven’t seen the movie yet, we have been busy for the last few weeks taking a look at many of the new Cars2 games and toys.   Videos of all CARS 2 products are also on our youtube channel.

Our testers loved the new LEGO DUPLO sets…The pieces are chunky and satisfying and can be integrated into your existing sets of LEGO DUPLO.











We have also taken a look at all of the new games from HASBRO with the Cars 2 license – now attached to many classic board games.

Here’s what you need to know about each:

Cars 2 Connect 4 – In interest of full disclosure, I love Connect 4.  It’s one of my favorite games for the 6 & up crowd.  A beginning strategy game that kids really like (and their parents don’t mind playing). Sometimes the added license detracts from the game. A few years ago, there was a Sponge Bob Squarepants version that interfered with the utter elegance of this game (where you drop pieces into the grid with the goal of getting four in a row before your opponent). I would not recommend this game for pre-schoolers.  Even for 6s, it’s a game that they need to play several times before they make that leap to being able to think several steps ahead.

Cars2 Connect Four

In this new Cars 2 version, the game play still comes through. Rather than the classic game where the game pieces are red and yellow, you’ll need to place the decals on the play pieces. They become either Mater or Finn. The color scheme of Mater (brown against white) vs. Finn (blue) makes it easy to distinguish the pieces (a plus).  If you don’t have a Connect 4,  and your child is into Cars 2– this wouldn’t be a bad version to buy. In any case, we’d always recommend the classic Connect 4 as part of your game library.

Cars2 Monopoly

Cars 2 Monopoly

Also very well done.  Smartly identifying the younger audience for this movie, this version of Monopoly is closer to Monopoly Jr. — the money is much easier (only one dollar bills).  Our testers loved the way you spin…which you do by moving McQueen around the track that circles  the game board. Instead of Park Place and Boardwalk, the spaces are other characters from the movie.  A well-designed licensed game that integrates the license into classic board game play. This game is appropriately marked 5 & up.  Most younger kids will find the game play frustrating.


Cars 2 Guess Who?

Cars 2 Guess Who?

I’ve never been a huge fan of Guess Who? Here the game play is guessing by process of elimination which character from the movie your opponent has picked. I would say that if you have a super fan of the movie, they will love having all of the characters on the top of the board. It would also be a good travel toy for the car. Not sure I’d make the commitment to taking this one on a plane ride. I don’t think it will have that kind of lasting play value.  Instead of playing by picking out hair color, here you’re asking “Is your car blue?”  It is a game that calls for visual discrimination…it just never grabbed me as overly exciting.


Cars 2 Memory Game

Cars 2 Memory Game

If you have a 3 or 4 year old in the hunt for a Cars 2 game, this is best choice. If you’ve ever played a memory game with a preschooler or early school aged child, you know they have the ability to crush most adults at this type of game.  They’re really great at the short-term memory. I’m not sure why adults tend to lose at these games…are we distracted? Already on the decline in this department?  In any case, this is a particularly clever version of memory that incorporates the theme of Cars 2 into the game play. Once you make a “match”, the cars are placed into the grandstands to watch.  Kudos to the design crew at Hasbro for coming up with this added dimension.  There is also a score board where you are “racing” up to the finish line. Your play piece is a car.  Now our testers thought that the cars should have had working wheels… but it’s still a nice aspect of the game.

Cars 2 Operation is pretty much what you’d expect. Instead of the classic big guy, it’s the character Mater. The board features bed bugs…a sign of the times.

Cars 2 Sorry! Sliders

Cars2 Sorry! Sliders

This one takes a while to put together but once you have the track assembled it’s pretty large. The game play involves “sliding” your piece around the track five times, but watch out your opponents can sometimes slide you backwards. This Candyland aspect (even worse because it’s being done to you) makes this a potentially “heated” game.  Marked for kids 6 & up — but I suspect many of these games will be purchased for younger players. I’d really stay away from this one for 4s and 5s – the slide backwards will likely produce tears.  (Unless they are playing with a parent.) The other problem with this game from my point of view is that the pieces do not fit back in the box unless you take them apart again. If you’re the parent in charge of such tasks you know how annoying this can be…why no make the box that 1/2 inch taller and wider so that the pieces can fit in without taking them apart!

Car 2 Trouble

Car2 Pop-o-matic Trouble

If you liked playing Pop-o-matic Trouble as a kid, you’ll enjoy this version.  The character Mater is in the middle and you “pop” in the center of his vehicle.  I thought it would make a car sound when you popped…like last year’s R2D2 Star Wars Version (my all time favorite).  It was noisy (and more expensive) …so this one is less high tech. The game play remains the same.








And as Forrest Gump would say…that is all I have to say about Cars2 games.

Is your toddler addicted to your iPad & iPhone?

Today’s toddlers and preschoolers have a new addiction. Forget the boob tube and those pesky videos – now we’re talking about little fingers that are incredibly adept at navigating  APPS  on your pricey iPad and/or  iPhone.

What’s a toy maker to do? How can they compete with such amazing graphics?

Wasn’t it bad enough that video games have rob them of the tween market?

Here’s the industry response to date…

1. The “Can’t beat them, join them” approach.  It seems like everyone has an APP  for your child. Barbie, Leapfrog, Hot Wheels, Thinkfun….everywhere we went at Toy Fair…there was an APP we needed to “let our readers know about.” (Except of course for the dizzying number of embargo dates). And yes, we will have to start taking a closer look at all of these toy related APPs.  I haven’t gotten to play with it yet, but I do have to say that the Barbie Fashionista APP–looked really appealing (this coming from someone who really didn’t play with Barbies).

Barbie's Fashionista APP

2. “This is not your father’s iPad” – really. Toy makers are rolling out there own versions of iPad inspired tablets for your child.  LeapFrog and VTech will  go head to head with their platforms.  Are they cheaper? Yes.  Will your child be satisfied? Maybe.  As with any of these toys, they just don’t have the sizzle of the real thing (which is why toy companies are hedging their bets with approach #1.)  We will have to take a look at each of these products to review the content (remember that?) and whether the interface is pleasing.  I have a sense that if your toddler or preschooler is already schooled in your gadgets, this is going to be a hard transition.  On the other hand, if you start here–you may get to play with your gadget without the constant refrain of  “my turn!”

Vying for attention (all to be released later this year):

LeapFrog Explorer Tablet

LeapPad Explorer Tablet (LeapFrog)- Promises to come with a 5″ screen and leverages the library of games and content from this educational toy company.  It will also come with a built in camera. Suggested retail will be $99.99.


InnoPad (VTech) -Also features a 5″ touch screen, promises educational games, ebooks,  USB port, a headphone jack.  Suggested retail will be $79.99.

We’ll have to take a look. Sadly, both companies have moved away from partnerships with traditional publishers –leaving the ebook experience to the domain of mostly licensed materials. On this point alone, you may want to invest in a Color Nook–if you don’t want to go the bigger bucks on an iPad.  Technology only goes so far.  The CONTENT is still what should rule the day. We want our kids enjoy reading quality picture books no matter the format.  Disney Princesses and Scooby Doo are fun–but they shouldn’t replace children’s books as part of your child’s daily experience.

3. The “Ok, you can play,  but please don’t break it” approach. Handing  off  your  expensive toys to a toddler or preschooler is a balancing act between achieving calm (at the grocery store, at the restaurant, in the car, etc.) and the possible damage that came come to such gadgets from liquids (those pesky sippy cups) or a plain old “oops” moments. For those parents, Fisher-Price hopes to be of assistance with their new Laugh & Learn I Can Play Case that puts your smart phone into a bigger case with easy-to-grab handles. We look forward to trying this case–will little fingers find the case too intrusive? Of course your 3 year old will find this way too babyish.

Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn I Can Play Case

Crayola’s Color Wonder Metallics!

Crayola's New Color Wonder Metallics

I love Crayola’s Color Wonder. It’s really magical.  You take a clear pointed special marker on the special paper–and voila, color emerges. The markers also don’t stain.  All in all–a great product.  So we were really excited to get the new metallics –and they deliver.  (Some metallics are dull–these are really pretty and vibrant). Watch our video.

The Metallic set comes with five markers, 18 sheets of paper and stencils.

Stephanie behind the scenes at the TODAY Show

Stephanie Oppenheim, Al Roker and Natalie Morales

This morning’s segment was about the’s BEST HIGH TECH TOYS for 2010, the complete list of products is on our site.   If you missed the segment from this morning you can watch it by clicking here.

This morning Joanne and I  were in the upstairs green room. Usually we have so many kids with us that we are in the larger downstairs green room.  As much as upstairs is very dignified, there’s usually a lot more action downstairs. I was down there for hair and make up. Rascal Flatts was getting ready.  I got to see Peter Krause out of the corner of one eye while getting mascara put on. Love his  show Parenthood!

The set seemed strange without my usual ten or twelve kids milling about but since I had a lot of high tech toys we decided to go without kids in the studio. We turned on all the bugs and many of the Hexbug Nanos jumped from their Battle Bridge and ended up on the floor. We had a fun collection of games, bugs, spiders,  a motion activated snake, Crayola Color Studio, and an assortment of video cameras include Barbie Video Girl that seemed to really disturb Al!  I see his point about the placement of Barbie’s camera (on a necklace–on her chest) but our kid testers really liked using this high tech version of Barbie.

Al taking a look at Barbie Video Camera

At the end we did a demo of the hot new KINECT for XBOX 360 from Microsoft.  I was planning on wearing a dress but I was told last night that the sensors might not read my legs in a dress.  There’s nothing like having to pick out an outfit where you know the camera is going to shoot you from behind (every woman’s dream).  So I decided to go Matrix-y – all in black with the highest heeled boots I own!  For the live tease Whitney (from Microsoft PR team) did a demo with me–she did great!  And thankfully Tim (my tech hero this morning) was making sure that the KINECT game was up and running.  Hard to play a game and talk about it as you’re playing I’ve discovered.

Al Roker and Stephanie Oppenheim playing KINECT

Usually after I do one of these segments I remember all the things I didn’t say.  This morning the list includes:  I didn’t mention that you need alot of space to play KINECT so it’s not great for really tiny apartments or dorm rooms.  You need to be about 8 feet back and you also need room to move side to side (or run the risk of really hitting your opponent!).  Als0 – most of the games that have come out for the holiday season are family and action oriented.  So if you’re more of a point/shoot XBOX 360 fan, there aren’t titles for you yet…but suspect they’ll be on their way.  I love playing Rallyball – it’s like Dodgeball but no one gets hurt!  While it’s true that you don’t need to use a controller to play KINECT you will need to know how to use one to set it up initially…(in otherwords, if you’re not comfortable with controllers…you’ll want to get someone who know what they’re doing).  The last thing I forgot to mention is that KINECT has facial recognition so that if you make your own Avatar and you turn it on–it will recognize you. How cool is that?  Also there is voice recognition as well (also pretty Jetson like if you ask me!).  That said…there is a learning curve for selecting games that can seem slow which seems kind of odd since the whole concept is so cutting edge.  Ok…now I’ve said it all!

A toy in the age of terrorism

As I’m sitting here listening to the new terror threats, this toy was jogged from my memory. The new Security Scanner with Free Secret Agent Glasses is part of the spy line from Wild Planet. Your kids can practice airport security procedures.  Gone are the days I suppose when airport toys just meant toy airplanes. We haven’t tested this toy–and while the whole concept makes me incredibly sad, for some kids–role playing what happens at the airport may be comforting.  Security Scanner with Free Secret Agent Glasses

LeapFrog’s new line looks like fun!

We had a preview today of LeapFrog’s new toys for 2010.  I’ve seen many of them at an earlier showing (I think I may have blogged about having seen so many promising toys–but they were all embargoed).  I’m not big on keeping secrets so showing me toys I’m not allowed to write about for months really doesn’t work for me. Today I was assured that I could write about everything…

New for 2010, Leapster Explorer

Leapster Explorer

If you’re looking for a hand-held game console for younger kids, this will probably be the one to get.  We haven’t tested it yet–that said, it’s faster, the graphics are amazingly clear and bright–and the games are varied and interesting. The Leapster Explorer will retail for $69–and while your preschooler will probably still want to play with your iPhone, they will also be more than satisfied to play with the Explorer.  In the photo below you can see a demonstration of Sugar Bugs–where you are given the task of getting the sugar bugs out of the person’s teeth.  For some reason this really grossed out my mother when we saw it a few months ago–it doesn’t bother me too much–we’ll have to see how kids react. The company will continue the existing Leapster line (at a lower price point) and continue to bring out a few games a year to support it).  Some may be disappointed that the Explorer will not play your existing library of Leapster titles.

Demonstrating Sugar Bugs

What I did think was really promising was the on-line expanded experience of LeapWorld….it’s FREE (once you’ve purchased your Explorer)…and the content is not just more ABC drills…there’s lots of wonderful new concepts to explore — a weather app where you can set the temperature, the humidity, etc. and then see how your settings impact the weather on the little town.  Maybe because my older son was obsessed with the Weather Channel as a preschooler – this seems particularly fun. There are also educational games that aren’t about right or wrong–but exploring.  For example, there is a scale –and you can add more objects to each side to see which weighs more.   From what we saw today–there seems to be a happy revival of the what many refer to as the Golden Age of Children’s Software of the ’90s–where technology embraced educational games with innovation and creativity.  From a safety standpoint–this also has advantages since your child gets to LeapWorld by plugging in their Explorer to your PC–not by surfing the web. We sat so quietly during this presentation (we’re normally a noisy group) that one of our pr buddies thought we had already left the showroom.

Of course, our intention to behave and be relatively quiet was completely blown when we got to the new baby toys. There were many  interesting toys…pretend lap tops (with a blog and email feature) for two year olds, new drums, a new activity table…but then we all saw the following toy.  I don’t know why I always think I’m being punked –but today I was sure this was it.  So I decided to say nothing at first. I heard a little chuckle from my niece Ali (assistant extraordinaire) and my brother James was leaning an elbow into me in just that way that older brother can…and then I just lost it.   I looked around…was this a joke? (My mother was on deadline with another project so she wasn’t with us today – but truth be told I think she would have laughed as well–but she probably would have told us to behave ourselves!)

LeapFrog's Learn & Groove Magic Wand

Here’s the photo and you can watch the video.    

Ok, we got over it

I really liked this new interactive pot, called Potty, –that comes with favorite part?…the lid says “open” and “closed’…this will be great fun for toddlers. Watch the video!

We also  saw more extensions on the TAG and TAG Jr. reading lines (both Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award winners).  More titles are promised for both and there will be an interactive USA and World Map to go with TAG that looked like fun for both kids and parents. While there were more licensed titles–we were assured that there would still be more classic storybooks in the growing collection of the TAG libraries– we hope so.

We look forward to testing the new products with kids — and I have a sense that the folks in toyland know that as a family, we take what we do very seriously, but with an appropriate sense of humor…

TAG Interactive World Map

The Hunt for the Perfect Travel Games

The sun has come out…finally. The temperature is above 45 degrees…so in toyland, this means travel toys!  We just got a whole slew of familiar games that have been shrunken.  Mad Gab..I’ve never quite gotten this game.   You read a card that may say Estates In it Her…and from that you’re supposed to guess A State Senator. I can never guess what they’re talking about and each time someone tells me the answer, I always say “oh”…it makes me feel really inadequate as a game player. If you like Mad Gab big, you’ll probably like the smaller version. The set is small and it does fold up so that the little cards are safely enclosed.

Uno Spin - Travel Version

Uno Spin (Mattel)…one of my favorite games when it’s normal size (we gave it an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award) , just doesn’t feel right super small. For kids, the little cards are hard to hold onto…and from my point of view the plastic cover that’s supposed to keep the cards in place is way to iffy. I could see the cards flying all over the airplane, the airport…just not the best design.

Stay tuned…