COMMENTARY: At Toy Fair 2015, Classic, Low-Tech Play Is Alive and Well

Crayola Cling Maker, from Crayola

Tech toys that make you feel cooler than Marty McFly were in abundance at the North American International Toy Fair this week, such as robots that imitate your movements and a Segway-like device that tracks your thoughts. But not all of the toys at the Jacob K. Javits Center were reminiscent of what Captain Kirk probably played with as a child. There were also some stellar construction sets, high-quality hand puppets, and wooden toys that make you say, “wow.” Classic play is not dead, and not all quality toys require a microchip. Some of the most innovative new products for kids feature little to no tech at all. Here are our favorite low-tech new toys from Toy Fair: [Read more...]

Cartoon Network Names Spin Master Global Toy Partner for The Powerpuff Girls

Powerpuff GirlsSpin Master Ltd. will serve as the global master toy partner for Cartoon Network’s The Powerpuff Girls, anchoring the licensing program for the global franchise launch in 2016. Spin Master will have rights to create a full line of products based on the brand, including plush; figures; play sets; dolls; role-play items; and select electronic, activity, remote-control toys, and novelty and impulse items. The product line will begin its global retail rollout in the fall of 2016. [Read more...]

On the Hunt with Jordan Hembrough

When you step inside Hollywood Heroes in Westwood, N.J., you can literally smell the nostalgia (for those of you who are unfamiliar, nostalgia smells similar to dust-covered cardboard and childhood memories—but like, in a good way). In the collectible toy shop, bright lights beam down on glass cases displaying superhero relics with more than 40 years under their utility belts, making these toys anything but child’s play.

Owner of Hollywood Heroes and star of the reality TV show Toy Hunter, Jordan Hembrough poses with a plush version of himself.

Owner of the shop and star of the Travel Channel series Toy Hunter, Jordan Hembrough is an expert in the art of toy collecting, with more than 25 years of professional experience dealing toys. However, toys were always an integral part of Hembrough’s life. From schoolyard selling, Hembrough entered the big-time after college, when he secured a job as a buyer for StarLog, a chain of science-fiction-focused retail stores. Despite a lack of business background, Hembrough eventually went on to launch his own company, Hollywood Heroes. “I had the passion, and I think sometimes passion will drive you more than a business plan,” he says. [Read more...]

Nintendo Announces Super Smash Bros., amiibo Release Dates

Amiibo-300x233Nintendo announced release dates for its massive lineup of new games and products for the 2014 holiday season. Among the release dates are the highly anticipated Super Smash Bros. for both Wii U and Nintendo 3DS consoles, as well as the new amiibo interactive figures.

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS launches Oct. 3, with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U following during the holiday season. Consumers who register both Wii U and Nintendo 3DS versions of the games with Club Nintendo will receive the Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS & Wii U: Premium Sound Selection, a soundtrack CD packed with music taken from and inspired by the games.  Additionally, Nintendo revealed that Shulk from the Xenoblade Chronicles franchise will be a playable character on both consoles.

The first 12 amiibo interactive figures, Nintendo’s new foray into the toys-to-life play pattern, become available for pre-order today at a suggested retail price of $12.99 each. The first dozen characters available for pre-order at select retailers include Mario, Peach, Link, Samus, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Pikachu, Kirby, Fox, Marth, Villager, and Wii Fit Trainer. More figures will launch in the future. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U will be the first game with full integration of amiibo functionality. Other games that will support amiibo include Mario Kart 8, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Mario Party 10, and Yoshi’s Woolly World, with more to come. More details on amiibo functionality with the various games and a launch date will be revealed shortly.

BREAKING NEWS: Lego Combines Digital and Physical Play with Lego Fusion

Lego Fusion Town MasterLego Systems Inc. has unveiled Lego Fusion, a play experience that combines traditional Lego brick play with app-based mobile games for kids ages 7 and up. The Fusion collection will include four: Lego Fusion Town Master, Lego Fusion Battle Towers, Lego Fusion Create & Race, and Lego Fusion Resort Designer, featuring Lego Friends characters and themes.

Each Lego Fusion kit consists of a distinct set of Lego bricks, a corresponding free downloadable app, and a unique Fusion capture plate, which is a small brick-building plate featuring a printed design that enables a smartphone or tablet’s camera to identify the size, colors, and layout of the Lego bricks built onto the plate. The apps will prompt kids to build a 2-D façade of a building onto the capture plate any way they like. Then, kids can import the façade into the app and transform the creation into a full 3-D building on screen. Once a Lego brick creation has been imported into the game, a series of challenges and interactions will require kids to turn away from the screen and build another façade with their Lego bricks to progress in the game. Each game encourages this back-and-forth between physical and virtual worlds.

[Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Role Play Toys Engage Kids in Superhero Action

It’s no secret that kids are extremely influenced by the characters they see in movies and on TV. Superheroes are particularly influential, with their mankind-saving tendencies and super-human abilities. The best thing about superheroes is that they appeal to kids and adults alike, since many of the iconic superheroes we know and love have been around for decades. Fisher-Price’s DC Super Friends line is geared toward kids as young as 3 years old, and Lego will introduce DC characters into its Duplo line for the first time this year. While play sets and building blocks are popular play patterns for kids and adding their favorite superheroes to the mix is a great way to get kids excited, the toys that make kids feel like they are becoming their favorite superhero are some of the most engaging toys on the market.

Everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is now back on the block with new enemies. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opened in theaters Friday, May 2, and now kids can take home all of the web-slinging action, thanks to Hasbro’s intense line of role-play and action figure toys.

Marissa.May13.Hasbro.SPIDER-MAN-MOTORIZED-SPIDER-FORCE-WEB-BLASTERWith the wrist-mounted Motorized Spider Force Web Blaster, kids can fire foam discs featuring web embellishments up to 20 feet with rapid speed. Each Motorized Spider Force Web Blaster comes with 10 Nerf foam discs that can be stored in the storage compartment on the top of the toy so they won’t get lost. Don’t worry—the foam discs are harmless and don’t hurt if you get hit with them. Designed for kids ages 5 and up, kids can take on any villain with this fun role-play toy. I should also note—it’s unbelievably fun for adults, too (especially if you have kids around willing to scoop up the discs for you). Just don’t let the name fool you—there are no messy webs with this product, just soft, foam discs! [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Back to Basics: Sketch, Doodle, Paint, and Play

TF14Logo-cityDatesAfter Toy Fair 2013, the words “and there’s an app!” were ringing in my ears for weeks. This year, however, appcessories seemed more like a taboo than anything else, with most companies shying away from toys with app-enhanced features or reliability. Honestly, it was less than disappointing. I think keeping screen time and toy time separate is perfectly acceptable, and apparently, what kids and toy buyers prefer.

This year will truly mark a return to traditional play patterns. Rainbow Loom, a simple bracelet-making kit for kids, was huge in 2013, eventually snagging four Toy of the Year (TOTY) awards, including the overall Toy of the Year. That said, Toy Fair 2014 brought tons of cool innovations in the activities category, with companies fighting to be the next big thing once the Rainbow Loom craze comes to an end. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Lighting Up Imaginative Play: Light-Up Toys Provide Magical Fun For Kids

When I attended Fall Toy Preview in October, I had a conversation with a few industry executives about how when companies expand their line to include glow-in-the-dark or light-up SKUs, it often signals the end of the brand. They referred to glow-in-the-dark and light-up products as a “last resort,” and said it typically means that there are no other possible innovations for the product line.

However, I know a certain 4-year-old boy who would absolutely disagree with this idea, along with his 8-year-old sister (aka my niece and nephew!). LED lights have a strange magic to them—especially for kids. The bright colors they provide, just like glow-in-the-dark effects, seem like something out of a fantasy story that kids go crazy over—no matter how simple the technology actually is. There are some great new products hitting the market that reflect how great glow can be, here are some of my favorites:

TRACERTRACK_24

 

Tracer Racers, from Skullduggery, utilize Light Trail Technology as they blaze streaks of light on the glow-in-the-dark track. That’s right—LEDs AND glow play patterns. Lights galore! Magic frenzy!—and there’s more! Each Tracer Racer beams down purple light rays from its undercarriage onto the track, which is specially engineered to emit glow remnants only after the racer has passed. The new Tracer Racer drag racing sets include a 10-foot single lane set including one racer, an 8-foot double lane set with two racers, and a 12-foot double lane loop set with a light-up finish gate and two racers. The company will also introduce trucks to the line this year. Kids ages 6 and up are sure to enjoy all of the amazing light-up elements in this toy. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: The (Other!) Reason for the Season

While I understand and respect that the holiday season has religious roots, toys, gifts, and giving have become a huge part of American tradition—and I don’t think this is such a bad thing. As frustrating as it can be to deal with 600 impossible twist ties and Hefty bags full of plastic packaging on Christmas morning, toys bring families together. After mom and dad (or in this case, Aunt Marissa!) get to see their elated kids (or super adorable nieces and nephew!) open exactly what they’ve wanted all year long, the first thing they want to do is start playing.

Courtney (8), Aunt Marissa, Matthew (5), and our pal Stomper!

Courtney (8), Aunt Marissa, Matthew (5), and our pal Stomper!

My niece Courtney can’t even get through unwrapping her mountain of presents before saying “Can I open this one?!” And that’s where the fun comes in: When Dad arrives wielding his trusty screwdriver and a Tupperware container full of batteries (and this super awesome plastic package ripper thingy that if you don’t have you need to go out and buy RIGHT now!), Mom stands by tossing wrapping paper into garbage bags (and putting everyone’s coffee mugs on coasters, thanks Mom!), and there I sit cross-legged on the floor, instruction booklet diligently in hand, reading glasses securely fastened. Even if Santa gets all of the Christmas glory, it’s the gift-givers who get the toy out of the package, insert the batteries, and help teach kids how to play. It’s the gift-givers who get to see the excitement on their kids’ faces, who get the big fat thank you hug, and who get to watch kids enjoy their Christmas prizes. It’s really just one giant bonding experience (with maybe a few “how do you turn the damn thing on?!” and “It’s like they don’t WANT you to open it!” comments thrown in between all of the sap-fest family time). [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Nightmarish Christmas Gifts Delight Burton Fans This Season

While my folks are tuning into the Hallmark channel for the sappy Christmas movies that make them cry year after year, and my niece and nephew obsess over Buddy from Elf, I’m still stuck on a classic Christmas favorite that is often misappropriated by Halloween: The Nightmare Before Christmas. The movie isn’t called A Dream Before Halloween. For me, that’s enough reasoning to say it is, in fact—no matter how creepy—a Christmas movie.

Nightmare Before Christmas MonopolyUSAopoly will bring this cult classic into homes this holiday season in a whole new way with Monopoly: The Nightmare Before Christmas Collector’s Edition. Players can buy, sell, and trade iconic movie locations, such as Jack’s Tower, Oogie Boogie’s Casino, Sally’s Alley, Dr. Finkelstein’s Laboratory, Town Square Fountain, and (my favorite) Spiral Hill. This completely customized game features imagery of all the greatest characters from the film, with Jack and Sally front and center, as well as six collectible pewter tokens, including Jack’s Skull, Sally, the Mayor’s Hearse, Oogie Boogi, Zombie Duck, and Evil Teddy. Just like the classic, this game is designed for two to six players ages 8 and up and is sure to please all Nightmare fans. [Read more...]