Monday, November 06, 2006

Top Toys for X-Mas - a buyer's guide

With Halloween over it's finally time when we can start looking forward to Christmas. Hooray for Christmas! Ok, I know that there's Thanksgiving first, but that doesn't get commercialized in anywhere near as fun a way as Christmas does. Also aside from any religious connotations, that I'm not prepared to get into at the moment, the thing I always loved most about Christmas is something you just don't get for Thanksgiving; presents. So maybe I'm not really saying hooray Christmas, maybe what I'm really saying is hooray presents!

This past weekend, I received a flyer in the mail which was unfortunately recycled before I had a chance to read it, The Toys R Us Big Toy Book Christmas catalog. I loved toy catalogs. When I was a kid, they we're the kind of thing I could pour over for hours. Sears had a good one, as did Simpsons, and of course The Bay both of which are Canadian department stores. As you might have guessed, I always went for the action figures first, but I really tried not to be discriminatory on the whole. I liked all the toys and would spend time looking through the entire catalog: baby, to toddler, to girls, to boys, to family and games, to sports equipment. Weird how toy catalogs have basically the same set up all the time. Anyhow, it was the action figures I think I liked best because especially back in the day the product shots often had tons of different figures in a single 'scene'. Nowadays its odd, toy companies only seem to advertise the two or three hottest and newest toys of a given line and then leave the rest of the line, or older toys, for you to find when you go to the store. I always loved it when they would show all of the toys of any given line together, and best when they were interacting. I think it had something to do with my collectors mentality, and a small level of obsessive compulsiveness. I just really like the idea of having everything together. Heck it really didn't have to be action figures, If I had a good product shot of ten different My Little Ponies hanging out at The Dream Castle, I would totally love that too.

So without further ado here are my top picks from the '06 Toys R Us christmas catalog for the best toys of the season. Follow along in The Big Toy Book online if you like. This is my Buyer's Guide.

Fisher-Price Kidtronics Digital Camera - $59.99

I know this may be in the preschool section but seriously, what kid doesn't want a digital camera! this is super sweet. I want this. This is one of those 'toys' that's so great because it's so versatile. It includes 8MB built in memory, has an SD slot, USB connection, and fun editing software. It also comes in blue and pink! The only negatives I can see are that the picture quality is apparently pretty bad, and there are a few reports of buggy systems. I think kids will really love this though. I know I would've loved it when I was a kid.

Snugglers - $19.99

Snugglers are basically pillowcases with heads and limbs attached. This is seriously a fun idea. I'm actually tempted to get one myself, so simple and so cool. When I was a kid I definitely would've wanted a huge Spider-man pillow buddy. Also it comes in like 17 different variations, from Power Ranger, to Superman, to cows, and pigs, cats and dogs, to a host of the Disney Princesses. very snuggly cool. and cheap.

Leapster Portable Learning System bundle - $74.99
I really love the toys Leapfrog makes. They're a great company and make (on the whole) very solid learning products. This is their ever popular portable gaming/learning system, I think they try to skew it a bit older than it really plays for but thats ok, kids 4 and up seem to love these. things. They've got a game catalog that is good for preschoolers up to I believe grade 3. And additional games range from $19.99 - $24.99. This is the portable system bundled with their hot new title, Cars, at a pretty decent price. Also, while Leapfrog does make a home console system to play the games, the portable version is the far superior product, and can also be plugged into your television.

Marvel Heroes Ani-Movie Studio - $49.99

This is one of the coolest toys out this Xmas in my opinion. Yes I know that technically its just a mounted digital camera, with some simple software, and cheesy Marvel themed background cells, but I would be all over this as a kid. Basically this is a cartoon making studio, and I don't think you really need to explain much more. Creative and fun, it only requires a bit of patience, but honestly for the sake of my own personalized spider-man cartoon, I would do just about anything.

Play-Doh Creativity Center - $24.99

Play-Doh is always in fashion. This is a pretty good set containing 48 different accessories, including cutters, shapers and extruders. Its also got good storage area inside it, and comes with a full 10 cans of Play-Doh. What pushes this set over the edge from the Mountain of Colors set, or the Big Barrel set, is that it comes with a bonus case of 10 more cans of Play-Doh for free. now that's a good deal.

LEGO Batman: Arkham Asylum - $59.99

Woah! LEGO Batman. This is sweet! I can't decide what's awesomer, the fact that this amazingly cool playset actually exists, or that toy's r us is selling you an exclusive playset of a MENTAL ASYLUM FOR THE CRIMINALLY INSANE as a toy for children. The set comes comes complete with fairly horrific conditions for it's inmates (The Scarcrow, The Riddler, and Poison Ivy) as well as Lego versions of Batman and Nightwing! Actually, I'm not sure if this is really cooler than their other new Batman playset for The Batcave, but Arkham is a TRU exclusive and on sale for $30 cheaper than the other one, so I'd go for this. Definitely for the older kid on this one though.

Dora the Explorer plush - $19.99

Ok so technically this plush Dora isn't in the '06 Christmas catalog, but Dora is so crazy huge I felt I'd be remiss if I didn't mention her. Toys R Us lists a whopping 177 products branded after her. Unfortunately a lot of those products are overpriced garbage. There are a number of battery operated talking and singing versions of Dora dolls for this Xmas and from what I can tell they are all pretty bad. I'm talking worse than Teddy Ruxpin bad... actually now that i think about it Teddy Ruxpin was pretty awesome. Anyhow, why not go for this simple cheap Dora plush instead. She's cute, and this doll would totally hold up to the rigors of childhood. now if only there was a Boots plush.

Disney Fairies Sparkling Tinkerbell Dress -$24.99

Normally I'm definitely not down with little girls dressing up as princesses. Firstly it seems a bit too precious, but also I think it promotes some bad ideas in kids, and bad images for girls. Not as overtly manipulative as something like Bratz or Barbie, I think that the whole 'disney princess' concept can make girls at the worst bratty and self-involved, and at best an avid consumer. I don't really think Disney is evil, I just think they are exceptionally good business people, and if you let them get a toehold on your child it could very well be all over. That said, this Tinkerbell fairy costume is pretty darn nice, as long as you explain that fairies really aren't the same as princesses. Then again little girls probably know this better than you already. This would also apply to this cool Little Mermaid costume. Neither of these are too bad, and I think girls would have a lot of make believe fun with them.

Lifestyle Dream Kitchen - $139.99

Ok, so not only does this play kitchen come with a whopping 27 piece set of accessories, plenty of storage space for play food and other sundries, and real lights and sounds for the appliances, not only all that, but it is just fantastically stylish. I mean come on. I wish my real kitchen was as nice as this. Honestly the only downside I see to this toy is the price tag, which I admit is a bit steep. But hey, some kids are really really into playing like they're in the kitchen. I think this is a very cool playset.

Slurpee Machine - $24.99

I don't think this needs any explanation. It's a slurpee machine. Everyone wants one of these.

Cranium (various games) - $16.99

Cranium is one of the few companies really bringing family fun back into board games. Sure there's a lot of great complex new games for adults coming out of Europe, but in terms of something that can appeal to the young and old, these guys know where it's at. Their games for the most part require only one thing, that you be willing to be a little goofy... and as soon as you do, you'll have no end of fun. These specific games are their ones specifically geared towards parent and child play, but their entire lineup is definitely worth a look.

X-Games 20" Moto-bike, Flybox Ramp - $149.99, $49.99

This is just plain awesome, and any kid would thank you for the coolness points associated with this sweet bike and ramp set. Admittedly once you get this stuff for your kid they'll probably get a bit crazytown on you, and possibly start wanting 'real' and expensive gear. Until then though, I think this is a great starter set into the world of extreme sports. Which of course is where I know I plan to push my children.

Don't buy the helmet or pads; that's for chumps...

Action Figures - Really whatever strikes your fancy. It's weird with the action figures this year. I mean action figures are really all about the licenses. The big ones this year are the obvious one: Justice League, Batman, Ben 10, Avatar the Last Airbender, Ninja Turtles, and Spider-Man. Despite the moderate success of Cybertron, Transformers have a pretty weak showing this year, Not that they don't have toys, just crappy toys. Next year after the movie comes out I'm sure they'll be on top of the world as will Spider-Man probably once again. Some of the standby classics like Star Wars seem a bit flat to me this year. Really for my money I'd say skip the figures this year. But that's just me.

Matchbox - Mega Snow Rig Monster Mission - $34.99

Matchbox still makes some lame-o toys, just look at their "pop-up" series. But I think, or at least hope, that maybe they're finally going to stop trying so hard to be Hot Wheels. Seriously guys, face it, you'll never be Hot Wheels. So when I see something like this Mega Adventure set start to show up I think its a very good sign. It's kind of like a cross between the Fisher-Price Rescue Heroes series, and 80s G.I. Joe. I just think this looks super fun to play with. And for added bonus, the vehicle all comes apart and can be reassembled differently. Fun.

Hot Wheel's Radar Gun - $24.99

It's a Radar gun... it reads speed up to 100 MPH. What wouldn't you do with this...

Nintendo Wii - $249.99

I honestly think the Wii is the toy of the season. Granted I don't think you'll be able to get one. EB Games, Wal-Mart, Target, everyone has sold out of pre-orders. Be careful if you are actually pre-ordering it, cause you might not (ie probably won't) get it by XMas. The Wii, along with the PS3 WILL be sold out everywhere. I'm personally not even going to bother trying to get this until Februrary-March. For a whole slew of reasons including the price, the virtual console, the motion sensitive controllers, the overall fun factor, the degree of 'casual games' that are going to be offered for the Wii, and much more, I think it will be the most fun new console to play with. I'm very excited to get my hands on it and I think you should be too. I don't know if this really is the game system to break that wall between children and adult gamers that industry people have been trying to tear down but it's definitely a step in the right direction.

Check out more information on the Wii here, and here. When you buy it you'll want an extra, Wii-Mote ($40), extra nun-chuck ($20), possibly the classic controller($20), at least one new game ($50), and probably a virtual title or two ($5-$10), so try out this handy online Wii calculator to see how much you'll be set back. For me, it's less than $500 for everything, and that's a heck of a great deal considering how much fun I'm expecting to have.

So yeah, maybe it's not technically a Xmas deal, as you almost assuredly won't be able to get one, its still part of my holiday picks for '06.

Nintendo DS Lite - $129.99

The DS has, to me at least, proven itself to be an incredibly robust and innovative game system. I sometimes get to play my girlfriends DS, and I always have fun. There are some great games out for it now like Animal Crossing, Nintendogs and Mario. But if that's too much there's always the Gameboy Advance SP (now with a brighter screen) which is running at a very reasonable price of $79. Anyhow, I'd go for the DS if you are thinking about the Wii, but not sure you want to spend the cash until a few more hands on reviews are in.

This will make a super great gift for any kid.

MiJam Drumsticks - $22.49

Ok, admittedly I have no clue whether these work well or not, but they definitely look like they'd be fun... sadly I suspect they're utter garbage. Ah well, at least they're pretty ipod white. And frankly if they did work really well, you'd be driven crazy by some kid playing them ALL the time. Let's be thankful that they probably will break in a week.

Ok, so there you go. Finally at the end of the Toy's R Us Big Toy Book catalog. Note that the prices I mentioned are pretty much all the TRU Sale price valid until Nov 22nd. I'm not trying to make this a big TRU advert either. Obviously go around a check out other stores for prices or sales, I just found their Xmas catalog pretty handy, and they really are a one stop shop. So all done, and I only ended up with what? like 17, or so recommendations. Hmm, well that's just my take on the toys of the season. Obviously this isn't necessarily the predicted best sellers of the season. No where on this list did I mention TMX Tickle Me Elmo.. ok, no where unitl right there. Also things like Power Wheels, while always super sweet, aren't really realistic toys, no kid really ever gets a Power Wheels for Christmas. Well, no kid except that one down the street who you all secretly envy and hate. Honestly if you're a parent, don't make you're kid into that one spoiled kid on the block. I'm fine with a degree of consumerism, but avoid Power Wheels. There's more to say of course, always so much more, but this is where I stop.

This post is getting dangerously past feature article length and into ridiculous territory so I'll stop. I hope everyone enjoyed my '06 Holiday Buyers Guide. Maybe I'll do it again next year. Later Gators.


Anonymous said...

Are you selling out for corporate sponsorship or something? Tinkerbell costumes!?!

Chappy said...

so you're saying you don't think I could pull it off???

Anonymous said...

Oh no, I know you you could pull it off. I just think that it's a sell out. The entire list is just way too plastic.

p.s. how do you enter HTML tags?

Chappy said...

well, yeah its plastic. of course. It's a list of toys pulled from a Toys R Us Catalog. There's no way it couldn't be plastic. But please rest assured I would rather have an end to hate, violence, opression, and intolerence leading to a shiny new utopian society based on the tennents of peaceful co-existence with nature and each other, than any of these toys... except maybe the batman lego. cause thats pretty badass.

Check here for a list of some basic HTML tags. Or go read the WIKI. The basics aren't that hard to figure out. Good luck :)

PS - For everyone, Toys R Us has posted a list of thier picks for The Hottest Toys for Xmas '06.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I see how it all works now...this is fun

Chappy said...

Ok bernard, now you need to stop.

Not that I don't appriciate your comments, but you should go start you're own blog. For real.