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…

Barbie: Reverts to form…put a ring on it!

There has been a lot of coverage this past month celebrating Barbie’s careers…Anchorwoman and Computer Engineer both scheduled to be her latest professions.  I have enjoyed the memory lane of Barbie’s past professions…Miss Astronaut Barbie who is packaged with a bubble that says “Yes, I am a rocket scientist!”

Miss Astronaut Barbie

Nurse Barbie

Or Nurse Barbie with the bubble “Get new shoes and call me in the morning!” This Barbie is from 1961…so she wasn’t talking about Jimmy Choos.

Jimmy Choo

I can be...Bride Barbie

I was feeling happy for Barbie…until  I discovered in the same box… I Can be a Bride Barbie…complete with a Beyonce-worthy massive rock on her finger.

Barbie wears Beyonce worthy bling!

Yes, marriage is great and yes little girls think about being married and having kids…it just seems like for every step forward, Barbie still takes three giant steps backwards to her 50′s roots.  I don’t think most women or men today think of being married as a profession.   I understand the role play appeal of being a bride…but why include it in the I Can Be series?

Barbie joins the cast of Mad Men

Barbie joins the cast of Mad Men

Somehow Barbie taking on the Wizard of Oz or I Love Lucy doesn’t make you pause…but Barbie joining AMC’s Mad Men? Of course this line is for adult collectors with an adult price $74.95 each. They reportedly will come with padded undergarments…but will they be true to the period and include girdles? You can read Stuart Elliott’s complete article in the NYTs by clicking here.

To see other Barbie collectibles, visit barbiecollector.com.

A rose by any other name…

Old Names, But New Games. One of the trends for the fall is familiar names (Monopoly, Scrabble, Twister, etc.) being used with all new game play.

U Build Monopoly

The new U-Build Monopoly (Parker Brothers $19.99) looks like an interesting concept, you build the board – allowing you to control how long your game will take. But the traditional game board is completely gone.

Scrabble Flash Cubes

Scrabble Flash Cubes (Hasbro $29.99), one of the coolest games we saw at Toy Fair, has electronic cubes that you use to build words, again no board, no little tiles…no double or triple word points. If you’re a purist about Twister and love the smell and feel of that mat, you may feel sad about Twister Hoopla (Hasbro $19.99) -where your body becomes the mat. We’ll have to see how these test with kids and their parents.  All Available Fall 2010.

Brand new. We did find some new innovative games. Konexi (ZimZala Games $24.99) brings the fun of Jenga and word play together. Here you stack letters to create words-but watch out you don’t want the letters to come falling down. We loved the design and feel of this game – can’t wait to test with kids.

Konexi by ZimZala Games

We suggested that they could make one of games younger so that the age range of 10 plus could come down considerably.  Available Fall 2010.

An anti-technology theme. Appealing to parents that would like the playroom to be more “real” – we found even more organic and recycled products than last year.  A new approach  – classic toys that now require no batteries – saving money, another bonus.   We all grew up with Spin Art – one of my all time personal favorites!   Innovative for this year, Crayola will roll out  Crayola Color Twister Spin Art (Crayola $14.99) which uses an air pump to make the platform spin.  Watch our video.

Crayola Color Twister Spin Art

We only got to to see the prototype–but look forward to testing the real toy later this season. Available July 2010.

LEGO RACER with Air Pump

The same “air” technology is now being used to propel certain LEGO RACERS ($12.99/ Available now).

Pure Whimsy.

Sing-a-ma-jigs

Sing-a-ma-jigs (Mattel $12.99 each) may turn out to be one of the hottest toys of the season if the real things work as well as the prototypes.  Be sure to watch my video. Each of the dolls will chatter, sing and even harmonize together. To me they look like claymation characters come to life. We look forward to testing these as soon as they are ready.  First collection available May 2010/ more to come for the holidays.

Hexbug Nanos. You either loves these little bugs that come in test tubes…or they’ll  creep you out. I love them. Rolling out right now are habitats that you can put them in.  Our testers enjoyed the portability of these little bugs that go like crazy!  The bugs are each $9.99, the habitat starter set is $19.99. 

Hexbug Nanos in their Habitat

They are to me the tech answer to Zhu Zhu Hamsters. If you’re shopping for that hard to buy for tween, these will be an interesting novelty. Available Now.

May the Force be with you. As a complete Star Wars fan, it makes me so happy that there is a whole new generation falling in love with the saga– thanks to the Clone Wars cartoon.  For my LEGO builders, the Star Wars sets are always the number one request.

LEGO TIE Defender

LEGO has responded with many new models including the TIE Defender ($49.99). This is the Empire’s most advanced fighter, it comes with 304 pieces and includes two action figures. Available Now.

Star Wars Millenium Falcon

We also can’t wait to test, the Star Wars R/C Millennium Falcon (Hasbro $49.99/ Available Fall 2010) – watch our video; the Star Wars AT-AT (Hasbro $99.99/Available August 2010)- a pretty impressive play setting for your own battles against the Empire.

Star Wars AT-AT

It’s more than 2′ tall and 28″  long, comes with LED lights, sounds and phrases from the movie; the Star Wars General Grievous Lightsaber (Hasbro $34.99/Available August 2010) is fun to spin–with double lightsabers that come apart. The lights and sound effects will appeal to Star Wars fans young and old.  Watch our video.

All of these toys will be tested and full reviews will appear on www.toyportfolio.com

Related videos:

Our video of Sing-a-ma-jigs

Our video of General Grevious Lightsaber

Our video of the Crayola Color Twist Spin Art

Our video of the Star Wars Millenium Falcon

Say it 3X fast: Criss Cross Crash Track

Hot Wheels Criss Cross Crash Track

Hot Wheels are always fun.  This year the big track of the season is the relaunch of a classic…the Hot Wheels Criss Cross Crash Track (Mattel).  This closed, clover leaf track is an opportunity to crash your favorite Hot Wheels. Watch our video from Toy Fair.  Now if you’re really old school, you’ll remember that the fun of Hot Wheels was making your track as long as possible…down the staircase was always the best.  There were a few loops – but making your own system was the point.  Closed tracks are a novelty – since there isn’t much to do besides watch the cars go.  This track is a little better in this department since you are always feeding the system with new cars.  Stay tuned.  We’ll have a complete review at www.toyportfolio.com once we receive a set

Toy Trucks will go head to head: Tonka's Rumblin' Chuck versus Mattel's Stinky Garbage Truck

Hasbro's Tonka Rumblin' Chuck

Last year we’d have to say that Mattel’s Matchbox Rocky pretty much ran over Hasbro’s Tonka’s Talkin’ Chuck.  Rocky just did so much more. (Watch the video of these two head to head.)  This year we’ll have to see how the new Tonka Rumblin’ Chuck- who promises to do many more tricks (including moving side to side as if he’s ready to line dance)…will compare to the farting Stinky Garbage Truck from Mattel. We’ll be interested to test both of these interactive trucks when they arrive..for now you can check out their prototypes from Toy Fair.  Click here to watch Rumblin’ Chuck.

Here’s Stinky…to watch him in action, click here to view our video.

Mattel's Stinky Garbage Truck

Mattel CEO Bob Eckert picks his favorite toy

Mattel CEO Bob Eckert

I thought this was an interesting press event. The CEO of Mattel, Bob Eckert,  would announce his favorite pick of the newly rolled out toys at Toy Fair.  Seemed almost like being asked to pick a favorite child.  How do you decide such a thing? A gut instinct? A favorite brand team? The size of the marketing budget?

I gave this some thought after we were told of the event yesterday (it happened today). Mind you, we don’t have any budgets on the line when we pick our top winners of the year. Yet both Joanne and I have personal favorites – we quietly root for them as we send them off to our family testers.  Even though we don’t make or sell any of the toys we review, we do get very attached.  Each year we have a few that truly stand out, but one?  Almost impossible.

So what did I think Mr. Eckert would select? My money would have been on the harmonizing Singamajigs, the Dancing Mickey Mouse or the big Ape that flips –both had the most “sizzle” in the showroom.  (Mickey also has Donny Osmond associated with him.)  Or maybe the Barbie that is a video camera – she wins for having the most creatively placed use of technology in toyland (the camera is in her chest).

I was wrong. Mr. Eckert’s personal favorite is their new preschool electronic toy called iXL.  The hand-held toy promises to have six-in-one smart devices designed to both be educational and entertaining (including a Story Book, Game Player, Note book, Art Studio, Music Player and Photo Album). It will retail for $79.99/ licensed software sold separately for $24.99.

We’ll be interested to see how our testers react to the iXL.  It will be available in July.  The thing with these types of toys -  it’s hard to tell from the prototypes how they’re going to work in the hands of kids.  Will the screen be engaging enough? Will the games be age appropriate? Can kids manipulate the toy independently and happily? If you give your child this $79 toy, will they leave your iPhone alone? These are the types of things we’ll look at when reviewing the  iXL.

Not to be cynical as to the driving force of his pick,  but Mr. Eckert did mention in his release that  “[they] have invested more research and development dollars into iXL than any other product in our 2010 Fisher-Price product line and it definitely shows.”

Stay tuned.

Barbie Video Girl: Barbie is the Video Camera

Barbie Video Girl

When they first brought us around the corner at the Mattel showroom to look at Barbie Video Camera, I looked around thinking perhaps we were being punked.  No, it’s real.  Barbie is a Video Camera.

Barbie’s video camera is in her chest.  Maybe this was inspired by Ironman?

Barbie Video Camera: Camera in her Chest

Now you don’t have to be a teenage boy to see the humor of this placement. While we had just been taken through all of Barbie’s careers-it seemed to be balanced by the location of this camera. While we tell men to look at a woman’s eyes, not her chest…here you really do want to look at the chest to get the best video.

Barbie has a LCD screen in her back and will plug into both PCs and MACs. I do think watching the world from Barbie’s point of view could be fun and kids will probably enjoy the $50 video camera interacting with their other dolls. I just wish I could have been a fly on the wall when they came up with this one and the Glitterizer.  It does almost seem as if it’s an episode of Seinfeld…where one of them would suggest an outrageous idea – and some unsuspecting executive would say “yes!!”

Strong Multi-Cultural Choices at Barbie

Barbie Basic

Happily there are more multi-cultural choices in the world of Barbie. I have a sense that the Barbie Basic line is more for adult collectors (all shown in a little black dress) than for kids…but there are a whole range of dolls available in this line. The dolls were part of a fun ebay auction when real designers came up with their own version’s of LBD for Barbie.

Here’s another grouping…

One of favorite collections from last year, So In Style Barbie,  is also continuing. Created by Mattel designer, Stacey McBride, these dolls celebrate our diversity by featuring dolls of color. You can see Ms. McBride talk about the series on this video. I love that she also made mentoring part of the line. The first sets all included a big doll and a little doll (big sister/little sister).  Bravo to Ms. McBride!  Below, some of this year’s new collection. I’ve been trying to interview Ms. McBride about the collection–I hope we get a chance to talk soon.

New So in Style Dolls from Mattel