COMMENTARY: New Warner Bros. Licensed Games Look at Superheroes in a Different Light

I couldn’t be happier that 99 percent of all current movies—including Thor: The Dark World, due in theaters this week—seem to feature somebody in a cape or a miraculous suit of armor battling evil. Full disclosure: I was way into superhero comics when I was a kid. I managed to amass hundreds, which I kept in cardboard long boxes, re-reading them over and over throughout my tortured adolescence. I didn’t buy them for collecting purposes, thank goodness; years later, I traded in the entire lot for $10 and a key lime pie, and considered myself lucky to have gotten that much.

(Seriously, folks, if you started collecting comics during the 1990s or later, they’re not going to put your kid through college. It just won’t happen.)

My point is, I’m a huge superhero fan. However, I’ve started to feel super-saturated by all the licensed comic book-based movies and TV shows popping up of late. They always seem so serious, with all the world-saving and high drama, the death and epic romance and heroic posturing. It’s great the first time, pretty good the second, but around the umpteenth, I have to fight the urge to stand up and yell, “Hey, grown person in hockey pants! Aren’t we supposed to be having fun here?”

For that reason, I am grateful for the recent trend in video games based on licensed superhero properties, specifically those from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. While its offerings of late include the very seriously toned Batman: Arkham Origins, the company is also responsible for two titles that manage to be respectful of the superhero genre, while simultaneously turning it on its head in ways that are funny and downright fun. Both games are available now and suitable for kids ages 10 and up. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Memory Games: I Can’t Remember When I’ve Had This Much Fun!

I’ll admit that my memory isn’t quite what it used to be. Part of that might just be the hectic nature of modern life: With so much going on around us and so many things to keep track of, forgetting becomes all too easy. It’s also a totally natural consequence of aging, says that article that I read, in, uh… some web site or other. The point is, nowadays I write a lot of stuff down on a pad, or I email myself reminders. I’ve also started playing memory games, which even if they don’t re-forge my brain into a sharp instrument of information-retention, are at least a whole lot of fun.

This brings us to the board game Memory, which we’ve all played in one form or another. There’s a set of tiles placed face-down, and one or more players take turns flipping them, two at a time. If a player turns up a pair with of same face, they get a point and go again. The overall premise is simple, yet versatile enough that the game’s been tweaked in all sorts of ways. Meanwhile, the images requiring matching can be anything, which might explain why various intellectual properties have utilized Memory as part of a larger licensing plan. Below you’ll find some interesting versions of the classic game currently on the market, though it’s by no means an exhaustive list:

MonstersUniversityMonsters University Look-A-Likes Matching Game, from Spin Master: This licensed game, intended for kids ages 3 and up, definitely benefits from the distinct visual designs of Mike, Sulley, and the rest of the gang from this past summer’s Monsters University (on DVD and Blu-ray Combo Pack October 29). The illustrations are clean and brightly colored, and thanks to how they’re juxtaposed against white backgrounds, they make a better impression on your memory during game play. Meanwhile, each half of a matching pair of tiles features a different colored border, making it possible to split the deck systematically to play a simpler version of the game. [Read more...]

Bunnies By the Bay Introduces the Red Thread Collection

wobblyBunnies By The Bay, from Kids Preferred, has introduced The Red Thread Collection. This new division of the Bunnies By The Bay brand has introduced items for all ages.

Red Thread is bringing more hearts and minds together through a new collection of soft, sweet toys for both little ones and adults who are truly kids at heart. They recognize that everyone longs to be connected to someone who loves them and believes that every heart is connected by an invisible red thread, which sparked the inspiration for this new collection. Products introduced by the collection are The Wobbly Friends, Little Big Friends, Wee Friends, Scraggly Friends, Welcome to the Jungle, and Be Elfish, Not Selfish.

In support and celebration of this new collection, Bunnies By The Bay is also bringing together several organizations that support orphans and abandoned children in the U.S and worldwide, and giving a percentage of proceeds to global charities and nonprofits. Half the Sky is an organization that offers the love and concern of family for thousands of orphaned children in China who have lost theirs. Worldwide Orphans works to transform the lives of orphaned children to help them become healthy, independent, productive members of their communities and the world.

COMMENTARY: Skylanders Swap Force Takes Over Times Square

Fans get in on the video game action.

Fans get in on the video game action.

On October 10, Skylanders fanatics united in New York City for the Skylanders SWAPtoberfest! A life-size world of Skylands was created right in the middle of Times Square. I joined hundreds of kids as they checked out all-things-new at Skylanders and prepared for the highly anticipated release of the new Skylanders Swap Force video game. Kiosks were set up, alongside a Skylands ship, for fans to play the new game in advance of its official launch. Skylanders Swap Force game footage was also featured on the Times Square jumbotron, so fans and passersby were able to watch the action! Kids, parents, and bloggers participated in Swaptober-themed events: Eating candy corn and cupcakes; greeting the costumed characters of the SWAP Force; and learning to play the new video games, which released in North America on October 13. I don’t want to brag, but after about 40 minutes of hogging the video game kiosk (stealing the time from actual children with no shame), I am pretty much a Skylanders boss!

I love that the Skylanders brand is so extensive, offering something for kids of all ages and interests.

SWAP Force takes over Times Square

SWAP Force takes over Times Square

Even better is the fact that all you really need to get started in the Skylanders realm is a Swap Force Starter Pack. This set includes a video game, a portal of power, a collector’s poster, three trading cards, three character sticker sheets with secret codes, and three Skylanders figures. There is also a starter pack available in the Dark edition; it includes a video game, a portal of power, a mega character collector poster, five sticker sheets with secret codes, five trading cards, and five Skylanders figures.  These starter packs also come in Giants and Syro’s Adventures editions. The technology and inspiration behind the new Skylanders video game make it an absolutely unstoppable force. I was able to speak with several of the video game designers who shared with me that the evolution of the game is only beginning—Skylanders is just getting started! All of the designers that I spoke with are parents, and one mommy/designer shared with me that this is the first game that she’s been a part of that she is happy to share with her children. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Big Rewards for a Little Bit of Cash

Sometimes kids deserve a special little treat—whether they refrain from crying at the dentist, got an extra star on their homework assignment, or behaved well on a long shopping trip, it’s nice to reward them for good behavior. Candy is a cheap, instant, and enjoyable treat, but we all know kids can do with a little less sugar (and, in turn, fewer painful dentist visits!).  There are some great inexpensive toys with lots of play value that will help reward kids for good behavior without breaking the bank or causing cavities.

ABSW Telepods Jedi vs Sith Multi-PacksAngry Birds Star Wars Telepods, from Hasbro, are sold in two-figure packs for less than $10. Kids can teleport the collectible figures right into the Angry Birds Star Wars II app, from Rovio Entertainment, on iOS and Android devices. Each figure has a unique QR code on the bottom, so kids can distinguish their characters from their friends’, even if they have the same ones. With more than 30 figures to collect, Hasbro also has compatible play sets at higher price points. With both virtual and physical play, Telepods is a great choice for a quick treat that will keep kids engaged for a long time. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Power Rangers Toys Power Up for 20th Anniversary

When I was a kid, I was in love with the Power Rangers, from Saban Brands. I was a huge fan of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series in the ’90s and I was even The Red Ranger one year for Halloween (They were all out of The Pink Ranger costumes and Kimberly was my favorite, so I had to compromise). I recently re-watched some episodes of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers when the series was on Netflix, and you know what? I still thought it was great in all of its ’90s glory.

However, the lucky kids of today get to obsess over two Power Rangers series of their own—Power Rangers Super Samurai and Power Rangers Megaforce. Power Rangers Super Samurai, which began airing in 2011, is about a new generation of Power Rangers that must master the mystical and ancient Samurai Symbols of Power, which allow them to control the elements of Fire, Water, Sky, Forest, and Earth. Aided by their devoted animal Zords and guided by an all-knowing mentor, these Power Rangers battle the dark forces of the Netherworld and a mysterious Warrior out to destroy.

Power Rangers Megaforce is the 20th season of Power Rangers, coinciding with the series’ 20th anniversary. This season features Gosei, a supernatural being who has protected the earth for centuries with his robotic assistant Tensou. When evil Warstar aliens begin a massive invasion, the Gosei calls upon the Power Rangers Megaforce to form the ultimate team. When morphed into the Power Rangers, the five teenagers gain superhuman strength and mastery over martial arts.

In light of the recent news of Saban extending its agreements with both Nickelodeon and Bandai America to keep the Power Rangers franchise alive, here are some great licensed toys from Bandai America that celebrates this new season of the Power Rangers series, as well as the brand’s 20th anniversary: [Read more...]

K’NEX Introduces Four New K’NEX Education Building Sets

Ideal for classroom and home use, K’NEX Education sets offer hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) learning for kids ages 9 and up. The new K’NEX Education sets are designed for small groups of students (between three and four kids), and bacsoon_logoteach concepts through problem solving, discovery, exploratory learning, and critical thinking. As kids build, they will have to use each other as a resource for investigating, discussing, and evaluating each scientific and design principle in action. These four new sets include: Simple Machines, Solar Energy, Wind and Water Energy, and Force and Motion.

Simple and Compound Machines – Offering hands-on learning the K’NEX Education Simple and Compound Machines Building Set is designed to expand upon middle school students’ knowledge of simple machines concepts. Students will be able to investigate, explore, and experiment with the K’NEX simple machine models as they analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information. The included teacher’s guide features student inquiry sheets and worksheets for the models highlighted, and asks questions and presents challenges that can be used to help students think more deeply about the concepts involved.  The set includes 332 K’NEX parts. [Read more...]

VTech Launches Online Milestones Guide for Parents’ Reference

VTech has launched their educator-approved Milestones guide. Milestones is a resource to help parents select toys based on the individual needs of kids ages 0 to 9. Parents are able to determine which toys and games are appropriate at each age and developmental stage, so they can make better toy selections.

The Milestones online guide focuses on three key areas of development:

  • Language & Cognitive Development: Encourages language immersion as a key to kids’ cognitive and emotional growth
  • Physical & Motor Development: Highlights how kids exercise their gross and fine motor skills, honing the brain pathways for smooth, purposeful physical movements
  • Social & Emotional Development: Explores how kids develop relationships, learn to read other people’s emotions, and how to control their own

The milestones in these key areas help identify a kid’s particular stage of development and can help parents make informed decisions about which toys are appropriate.

 

Toy Boarders Snowboarder Series Releases for the Holidays

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Mindtwister USA will release AJ’s Toy Boarders Snowboarder Series 1 just in time for the Holidays. There are eight new Snowboarder poses in Snow Series 1 that emulate real snowboard tricks, including the popular Big Air and Railslide figures. Toy Snowboarders are hand designed and molded with attention to detail and style. Each individual Toy Snowboarders pack comes with 24 toy boarder riders; there’s three each of the eight different riders. Toy Snowboarders are recommended for kids ages 6 and up.

 

COMMENTARY: Be a Rock Star—Through Play!

From the ages of 9 to about—oh I don’t know—now, few things got me more excited than hearing a Spice Girls song. I remember the days of standing in front of my mirror with a hair brush belting out all of Britney Spears‘ greatest hits. Everyone—whether you have an extreme case of stage fright or, like myself, were a diva-beyond-compare since the age of 5—loves the fantasy of being a rock star. It takes a lot of guts and gall—and boy does it seem glamorous.

We all know from reading the news that not all roads to rock stardom are as shiny, bright, and full of great shoes as we all hope for them to be. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t still love the fantasy. With the upgrade of technology being incorporated into toys, kids’ fantasies of being a rock star are becoming truly, well, spectacular. Here are some great toys that will get kids—and kids at heart—up in front of that mirror belting into a hairbrush.

superstarThe Barbie Build ‘n Play Super Star Stage, from Mega Bloks, allows girls ages 5 and up to build their own two-story stage that features real lights and sounds that move to the music. The set comes with approximately 290 pieces, including sparkling blocks for a touch of extra glimmer. The Super Star Stage has three songs that will get kids up and dancing. Super Star Barbie, Raquelle, and Teresa figures are included with tons of fabulous accessories to make their rock show glam, including microphones, guitars, a DJ booth, a keyboard, and an elevator with a spinning feature. [Read more...]