Monday, 31 December 2012

Review of the Year 2012

I begin this review with a very similar disclaimer to last year, which boils down to a lack of notes and poor memory. I can't remember exactly what toys were released this year. As much as I like playing with the things, I don't keep a catalogue of when everything was released. Therefore, a lot of what's in this post will be guesswork. 99% was almost definitely released this year rather than last. The bigger problem is me forgetting some really, really great toys that were released this year but I thought were last.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Toyology Review: Furby




 My sister had a Furby, back in the day. I found it to be the second most annoying thing I had ever encountered. My sister, obviously, being the first. I didn't really understand the appeal. Why were they so popular? Why were people so interested in spending (wasting?) their time looking after a lump of plastic and electronics as though it were real? I mean, it's not like it's Data.

And now, like the bad penny, they're back. Yay.

(It doesn't really come across in written form, but that 'yay' was sarcastic)

Furby's have advanced quite a lot since they last put in an appearance. I'd say they'd evolved, but I don't want to fall into the 'thinking they're alive' category. They certainly do a lot more now and they include a whole bunch of extra gizmos - including an app (sorry, Android users, its just for Apple peeps at the moment).

The eyes, once lumps of plastic with eyelids which simply opened and closed, are now little LCD screens and thus are capable of displaying a variety of expressions. This makes a huge difference to feeling as though what you're doing is actually making a difference to this...thing. Furby responds to noises and takes a liking to particular sorts of music. It's hard to demonstrate in the video - unless I filmed the little guy over several weeks - but its personality changes depending on how you play with it. Frequent tail-pulling isn't going to result in a pleasant Furby, for example.

However, despite all this there are still a lot of limitations. The interaction isn't as immediate as might be desired. Pat its head and it doesn't immediately start cooing, so by the time it does whoever's playing with it will have started turning it upside down instead. And there's still only so much you can do with it. Playing times are only going to be a few minutes at a time, although potentially lots of few minutes at a time. Initially my children were very excited and there was a lot of 'look what he's doing now!', but this faded after a few days. Now they only seem to remember about it when it's been knocked over, wakes up and starts talking. Otherwise it sits in silence, ignored for the most part.

I suspect most adults who think Furbies will be annoying, will tend to find them annoying. Those who think they'll be cute and fun will find them fun. Your opinion is unlikely to change once you have Furby in hand. Saying that, I wanted to hate this thing. As it turned out, I kinda like it. I definitely don't like it enough to pay full price, but the brief time I spent with it was entertaining. However, from what I've observed of them playing with it, I don't think my children will play with it over long enough a period to justify the cost, but it is a fun novelty.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Toyology Review: Spin Mania



Ah, Drumond Park. Home of the simple yet fun games. I was slightly disappointed with the last one I played, however I'm very happy to report that Spin Mania is a return to form.

One player takes the three stands and places them around the room. The other player tries to get spinning disks on the stands as quickly as possible. The time is recorded and the players switch over. Easy peasy lemon squeasy.

It's not long before children start getting clever with the placement of the stands and House Rules come into play to ensure it's physically possibly to get disks onto them (no hiding them in another room, down jumpers, in the fridge...). You also have to watch that small children aren't knocking your disks off behind your back when you're going to get the next one.

The box has an age recommendation of 6+ however after a couple of practice goes my 4 year old was more than capable of playing. It's possible to play with any number of people (although there are only 4 markers for the timer) so a perfect family game for over Christmas. It does require moving/bending (depending on where the stands have been put) so might not be best for any elderly relatives.

But really the only downside to his game is the size of the box. It's no exaggeration to say the box could be a third of the size, if not a quarter. It's completely ridiculous being the size it is and makes storing it really, really annoying. Either I end up storing a load of air, or I have to hunt round and find something smaller to put it in.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Toyology Review: Lalaloopsy Littles Sew Cute Patient




I'd never heard of Lalaloopsy until I began to do a little research and found out that it's quite a big brand of 'rag' dolls. Wikipedia tells me that there are over 50 different characters, of different sizes, with more added all the time. I like the look of them, even though (or maybe because) I watched Coraline and was completely freaked out by things with button eyes. Maybe it's only when people have button eyes that the Fear sets in.

We were sent on of the 'Littles' which are siblings of the larger dolls. Our Patient, despite her eyes, is very cute and though not designed for '4+' my 2 year old daughter loves carrying her patient around.

Patient comes with a variety of accessories - few of which are suitable for my 2 year old. There's a bear which you can 'repair' (or kill) by attaching (or pulling off) his arms, legs and eyes. These parts are tiny and despite me doing my best to keep track of them in case I needed extra photos for the review, we've pretty much lost every piece. The eyes, especially, don't hold in too well and being black their days were numbered as soon as bear came out of the box.

Patient herself comes with a stethoscope which makes a variety of bizarre noises. A cast for her leg which even the most determined dad had trouble getting off and a slipper which was a lot easier. There's a feeding bottle, plus a bottle and cloth which you're supposed to dampen with warm water and then using the power of Heat, make her injuries vanish. This didn't work particularly well. There are a number of 'tips' in the instructions as to how to get this to work better, but we had trouble keeping the cloth warm enough for long enough to get this to work. I drowned the cloth in hot water, but by the time I reached the doll it was too cool. Drowning the doll herself worked a lot better, but isn't really that practical.

I do wonder what age this is aimed at. The tiny bear accessories and cast problems would seem to indicate an older child, but the look would seem, to me, to be targeting younger children.

My 2 year old loves this doll, however with the accessory problems I'd think twice before buying this at full price.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Toyology Review: Avengers Quinjet




You have to admire Marvel. Spin-off films happen all the time, but I can't think of any other movie franchise that has had a Movie Master Plan of having a bunch of separate films all feed together into one Super Film. The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man (and its sequel), Captain America, Thor - all of them written & filmed in the knowledge (hope?) that eventually seeds planted in each one would come together to form The Avengers.

It could have been a disaster. It should have been a disaster. Having so many 'main' characters in one film shouldn't have worked. But it did.

And because of its success, Marvel are confident enough to release films about characters hardly anyone has ever heard of. Rocket Raccoon? Groot? Heck, even Ant Man.

But enough of me gushing over that. You're here for the toys.

The Quinjet is the main mode of transport for the Avengers. The toy version looks almost exactly like the one featured in the film, apart from its new gold trim. Purists may complain, but it does liven up what would otherwise have been a purely grey, dull colour scheme.

It's designed for 3 3/4" figures, and comes with Iron Man in his Mark VII armour (the stuff that attaches while he's falling from Stark Tower, if you recall from the film). Articulation is limited, with joints only at the shoulders, hips and neck. I'm undecided whether he was the right figure to include with the set. While he can clip onto the side of the jet, he's not really someone who'd drive it. But then my view may be biased since we already have an Iron Man figure and it'd have been nice to have a different one.

Transforming from stealth to attack mode is easy. Transforming back to stealth mode frequently results in the right-hand missile firing when you push the launcher back down. With the firing buttons on the side, it's quite easy to knock when it's going back inside the body of the jet.

There is a sticker sheet included. The instruction sheet is fairly useless at telling you exactly where these are supposed to go. It's not a great loss if these aren't used - besides the almost-essential giant 'A's on the wings. The cockpit doesn't hold on very well at all and always falls off when you lift it up. It clips back on easily enough, however, but it's annoying and is most often just left off when playing.

The Quinjet is around a foot long and apparently fits on the Hellicarrier. From this I can only assume that the Hellicarrier is HUGE. I therefore want one. I have no idea where we'd put it.

The boys love this toy, and since a lot of toys are now in 3 3/4" scale we've had it driven by GI Joe, Power Rangers, Star Wars... as well as various Marvel figures. While 4 year old likes playing with it on the ground, it is a little large for him to fly around the room. 6 year old copes much better in that regard. Overall, a nice addition for any Avengers fan.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Toyology Review: Trackmaster Daring Drop Blue Mountain Quarry




This is a train track based on the Blue Mountain Thomas & Friends DVD.  Thomas is battery powered and drives round the track - either the inner one, or the outer one which features a 'daring' drop.

And that's it.

It took us quite a while to put this together. Dad reading the instructions and calling out for parts which the children then hunted through the pile of pieces to find. Finally we had it all set up, with it covering a bit chunk of our living room. We set Thomas going and he went round the outer track. We all made 'oooo!' noises as he hit the drop. The points were changed and Thomas went round the less exciting inner track. Then Thomas went round again. And again. And again. And...

Within a minute we'd done everything that can be done with the set. It's a set layout so you can't change the pieces to have a different track - I can't even see a place where you could add in more track pieces if you bought them. You simply sit and watch and occasionally change the points. We spent a few minutes placing toys on the track to be run over, but that didn't really work.

Considering the amount of time it took to set up, we'd expected a bit more. "Dad, do I have to keep playing with that? You just watch that," said my 4 year old who, as it happened, was the child who was so excited to get the track out in the first place.

I know, on the face of it, the Hot Wheels track we reviewed does pretty much the same thing - the cars simply go round and round - but that adds an exciting danger element with jumps (possibly not possible with a train) and crashing (more likely in the early Thomas episodes). Plus, being stuck on the wall, it doesn't require extensive set-up time every time you want to play with it.

On the plus side, the Daring Drop box is packed with bits of plastic - so much so that it's a puzzle getting it all back in the box again once you've finished playing with it. I suppose it does everything you'd expect it to do from looking at the box. The disappointment shouldn't really have occurred since it's obvious any enjoyment from the toy can only come from watching Thomas go round and round and round and round and...

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Toyology Review: Snazaroo Face Painting Kit - Girl



I was never a fan of face paints when I was small. My children weren't either, until one day when a then-3 year old came home from nursery as Spider-Man. And now they can't get enough of the stuff.

Snazaroo are (probably) the leading brand in stuff to cover your face with. We were sent the 'girl' box, but only the grown ups knew this from the box. The children simply saw paint.

You can't see exactly what the colours are through the box, but they are listed on the top - white, black, pale yellow, pink, pale green, silver (metallic!), blue (sparkly!) and lilac (sparkly!). Although, due to child-involvement, our set now consists of one slightly murky colour, which is what happens when you mix them all up. There is a definite fairy/princess-slat to the colours which is worth keeping in mind as doing animals, for example, may prove difficult with this particular set.

For reasons known only to him, 4yo barged into our bedroom at 7am one morning and demanded to be painted as a leaf. We were extremely thankful that a) there was a green paint and b) he'd waited until 7 until barging in. The next day - the day in the video - he again wanted a leaf (I cannot explain the fascination) along with a parachute and a pirate ship. Apparently leaves are all the rage as he sister wanted one too.

Neither of them were particularly bothered about what design Mum had, just as long as it involved plastering her with as much paint as possible.

The amazing thing for me with these was despite being bold colours, it was incredibly easy to remove - quick wipe and it was all gone.

In summary, Snazaroo make good face paints. If you want good face paints then buy Snazaroo ones. Just remember to check the colours in the pack if you have a particular face-design in mind.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Toyology Review: Paint with Water



Melissa & Doug is a brand I'd never head of before starting doing Toyology reviews, but I've come to learn that they produce a lot of high quality products. This Paint with Water set is no exception. There's a strip of dry paint at the top of each picture which, when moistened, can be used to colour the image. Simple as. The paper is a good thickness and takes a lot of water without falling to bits.

The only real downside is that, being watercolour, the final picture will never be especially brightly coloured.

The set would be a good stocking filler and very good for taking to entertain children while visiting relatives over the holidays since the only 'extra' needed is a pot of water (which tends to be available in the houses of most relatives) and mess is (mostly) minimal.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Toyology Review: Bakugan Mechtavious Destroyer




I really like Bakugan. Whereas electronic toys get all the press for being clever and inventive, I am much more impressed by the engineering that went into getting a bunch of little spheres to spring out into a huge variety of creatures via a magnet/metal card.

Mechtavious Destroyer, the internet tells me, is one of the main villains from the cartoon. He consists of 4 little biomechanical guys and is definitely not a sphere. The design is a bit...weird. I'm not exactly sure what the guys are supposed to be. Obviously there are restrictions on how things will look when it has to hold into a ball, but these guys don't fold up so the designers could make them look however they liked. And of all the limitless designs they could have chosen, they went with Weird.

Articulation is limited and you can't pose these guys very well. Each of the little chaps retains the 'place a bit of metal on a certain place and something pops out' element from the Bakugan spheres, however what springs out isn't especially clever, which made me a bit sad.

Stand the little 'uns on top of each other and they form Mechtavious Destroyer. The instructions aren't the easiest of things to follow and it's far, far easier to just look at the picture on the box to see how they're supposed to combine. Basically, they stand on top of each other. The faces of the little guys are still visible, MD retains all the little legs of the individual robots, and there's nothing that really meshes the four together into one large creature.

If you asked my boys about Bakugan they wouldn't have a clue what you were talking about. Mention 'Transformer Balls' instead and they'd be covering the radiator in the things from their toy box to show you how they worked. It was only when they saw the metal card in the box that they realised that MD was from 'Transformer Balls', but since MD doesn't really transform they had little interest in it.

If your child watches the cartoon or plays the card game then I'm sure MD will go down well, but as a toy on its own MD isn't that great and doesn't fit particularly well with the spheres/pyramids/cubes etc that have already been released.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Toyology Review: Tatty Teddy Baking Set



When my mum first saw this she thought it was a cuddly teddy. It was a split second after she prodded it and it's head fell off that she realised that it wasn't, but it does show how good Tatty looks. No, Tatty isn't cuddly, he's a teddy inside which is hiding a number of cookery-related tools.

In a slightly gruesome way, when you think about it, Tatty's head comes apart to become two bowls (one of which is laughingly referred to as 'large' on the box). The hat becomes a sieve (or, for some 2 year olds, remains a hat). One hand holds a rolling pin and the other fails to hold a spoon (the recess isn't deep enough and the spoons tend to simply fall out). Being rotocast, the interior of Tatty is hollow and is where can be found numerous spoons etc can be found.

It all looks very good, but there's not really that much to it - especially for the price. You can get a lot more for a lot less money if you went for a non-branded set. But then it wouldn't look like a cute teddy. My 2 year old daughter has played with him a fair amount, and the addition of some plastic fruit has added a lot to the experience.

She still hasn't worked out the sieve thing, however.

I wouldn't buy this for my own child, however I might consider if buying a present for someone else's since it does look very good.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Toyologist Review: Transformers Bot Shots Battleset




Bot Shots are 'cute' (or as cute as robots can get) robots with simple transformations from robot to vehicle. Every one of them, in fact, shares exactly the same simple method of transformation - push the arms in, fold the legs up and the front section down. They have a rotating symbol on their chests and the idea is to play a kind of rock-scissors-stone game with them. As you launch them in vehicle mode (via the trailers, or simply rolling them) they smack into each other, spring into robots and reveal their symbols.

Since the transformation is so simple they ought to appeal to even the youngest of Transformer fans, however there are two problems.

1. The 'catch' which holds the robot in vehicle mode doesn't hold especially well. The Decepticons were the biggest culprits of this in this particular set and you had to tug at the front section to get them to stay as vehicles.

2. The transformation is activated via a very large button on the front of the vehicle. It's large because it's supposed to be easily struck by an opposing robot, but it also means that it's very easy to accidentally knock it when you don't want to.

The trailer-launchers are a great idea and I'm only a little sad that there isn't a Roller Bot Shot to put inside the Optimus Prime trailer. The Bot Shots shoot out with quite a lot of force (not really seen in the video since I was firing them on a towel!) and you can get a good distance out of them. There is a design flaw, however. You need to hold the trailer while you press the button that opens it up and the bit most people will hold is the bit that opens...so it can't open because you're holding it shut.

The 'game' aspect is a little limited as it's so simple and repetitive and after a couple of goes the boys lost interest in this aspect. As general Transformers the spring-action is quite fun, however the large and easily-knocked buttons on the front mean that the vehicles are springing open all the time. Which gets a bit annoying.

Overall these are so-so. Fun, but flawed.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Construction: Stark Tower

Pretty much exactly a week ago, I made a Batcave as a backdrop for my sons' birthday party. At the end I began to ponder whether I could make Stark Tower from the Toyology box which was due to arrive. Well, that box has been delayed until next week, but I did make another trip to Homebase, so...



I know, I know, it's missing a lot of detail and it's really bugging me that stuff like the vertical lines aren't present. However, the party is tomorrow at 10am and I really don't have time to start cutting out long strips of cardboard, sticking them on and painting them. I'm also ashamed of the inside of the tower, which looks a bit of a mess since I rushed it. Some window frames would probably cover it up, but again, time.

So it'll do. If there's ever another superhero party, or some other thing it can be used for, then I promise to finish it properly, but for now it'll serve its purpose - along with the Batcave & giant web - of adding some ambiance to the hall tomorrow.

Now to figure out how to get them there. Because as clever as I was making the cave fold into a box, I didn't think to check whether the box would fit in a car...

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Toyology Review: Transformers Prime Cyberverse Knock Out & Energon Driller





There are two parts to this toy: the Transformer and the Giant Drill. One I like and the other I'm not really a fan of. The children agree, which is a surprise as we disagree about so many things.

My boys both love the smaller Transformers. I was chatting to a man in Toys R Us once about it and he thought it was due to them being pocket-sized. Not true. They prefer them due to the time it takes to turn them from robot to car taking about 2 seconds.

The car looks exactly how a car should look. The robot, well, it's not a fantastic-looking robot but it serves its purpose. It's great that the little weapons can clip onto the car, lessening the odds of them being lost. All in all, it's a nice little toy.

The drill, on the other hand, is not such a nice toy. There's a lever on it which 'transforms' the drill to a sort of more weapon-heavy drill with missile launchers. The problem is that the cogs easily slip as you transform it, meaning that the launchers don't sit quite right. While it's easy for them to slip out of place, it's more difficult to slip them back into place. It took some violent jabbing at the transformation lever on my part to correct.

As to the missile launchers, one of them doesn't lock the missile in place properly so it simply shoots off when you load it. You have to press down on the catch to make it hold, which is very annoying. The other launcher works fine, however.

The drill has a light-up feature, which is simple and effective. This can either be a gun for the small robot to hold, or it can plug into the large drill which then lights that up. There is a silver-painted Decepticon logo on the button, however this has already begun to rub off, even with the limited about of button-pressing we've done.

As I said at the start, we like the little robot but the drill vehicle isn't as sturdy as it should be. It's not terrible, but it struggles to get above average.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Construction: The Batcave

My sons birthdays are a week apart, so to make my life easier they're going to be stuck with joint birthday parties until such time as they decide Dad doesn't have to arrange them anymore. Their 4th and 6th birthdays are in the next week or so, and thus next weekend is their party.

Not long ago I was at Destination Star Trek London and one of the things I, and numerous other people, ranted about was the complete lack of decoration for the evening parties. While next week's birthday party isn't on anywhere near a scale, nor in such a large hall as the Klingon and TNG parties of Trek London, I'm going to make damn sure that the venue is properly decorated to give the place a bit of atmosphere and reflect the chosen theme. In this case, it's superheroes.

There'll be a giant cobweb with the inflatable Spider-Man I bought many, many years ago (and annoyed my housemate by sticking to the ceiling of the living room) climbing up it. Since that won't be constructed until the day, I can't provide you with photos ahead of time, however, I can show you this -


 

For once remembering that I'll have to transport the thing to the venue, the Batcave folds in half to form an exact replica of the Christmas decoration box I lugged home from Homebase yesterday. It's not perfect, but what can you do when you're in a hurry and running out of paint? Besides it's only going to be on display for 2 hours.

Since a giant box is due to arrive at our house sometime this week with our third (and final) Toyology stuff, I'm beginning to wonder if I should quickly construct a Stark Tower. Might need another trip out for more paint tester pots though.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Toyology Review: Pumpazing



I'm usually a big fan of Drumond Park games, but this one I'm not so sure about. Each player pumps the arms until a bit zings off. If Ziggy says 'uh-oh' you lose. Simple as.

It's definitely lacking something. It might be that there are only 4 shooty-out bits so the tension doesn't build up quite enough before the 'uh-oh'. Maybe it's because if you're not paying complete attention you can miss what sound Ziggy made. Maybe it's because it shoots on every person's turn. The zinging is too common and therefore not a surprise when it happens, unlike, for example, something like Pop-Up Pirate.

That said, it's a quality toy and while we haven't played it a hundred times over, the children do keep picking it up just to shoot the zingers off (and then have a jolly time hunting round the room trying to find them again). I wouldn't rush out and buy Pumpazing, but I wouldn't start thinking up excuses if I was asked to play. It's just that it could have been a bit better.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Toyology Review: WWE Rumblers


It seems a little unfair to review these guys considering the fact that the only thing I know about WWE is that it definitely doesn't have anything to do with pandas (thank goodness that confusion was cleared up!) and Hulk Hogan doesn't wrestle any more. At least I assume he doesn't, since he must be way past retirement age by now.


The figures come in a 2-pack, are a couple of inches tall, with articulation at the arms and waist. Poseability is therefore limited, but more than enough since these figures will likely just be smacked together by children. Their small size means that a child could carry around a whole bunch of these in their pocket. They have a good likeness to their real-life counterparts.

One comes with a scarf. I assume this is important to his character.

We found playing with these two figures is a little limited (hence the lack of exciting video), but then our family is definitely not the target for these. I'm sure most WWE fans, however, will end up with a whole bunch of their favourite wrestlers (and possibly a wrestling ring) which would liven up things no end. As it is, I find them little more than two guys in their pants and my boys had zero interest in them.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Toyology Review: Star Wars Fighter Pods





In my day we had Micro Machines Star Wars. Fighter Pods are along the same lines, I suppose, but slightly larger and infinitely more cute. Since Star Wars vehicles tend to be HUGE having everything small-scale is a big advantage if you want to have space in your house for both an AT-AT and a sofa. Fighter Pods come in a variety of box sizes - from single 'blind bags' to larger sets with little vehicles. They are being released in waves, with - from looking at the booklet that lists them all - enough, but not too many characters to collect before the next wave is released.

The figures are small, rubbery, and cartoony in design. There is a hole underneath which allows them to stick on the plastic 'pods' as stands. What's nice is that some of the characters have multiple figures in the wave, which means that you don't have to collect every figure to get every character (if that makes sense). For example, there are two Chewbaccas so if you only manage to collect one, it's not a complete disaster.

The box proclaims there are multiple ways to play, giving the impression there are games with rules to play with these. There aren't. Fighter Pods are simply like any other action figure and how you play with them is entirely up to the child/adult who never grew up.

As a Star Wars fan and a fan of small toys which come in blind bags, I'd have spent a small fortune on these when I was small. As chance would have it, when these arrived for review the boys and I had just spent the previous week watching Star Wars in its various incarnations so they were very interested in these toys and immediately complained that we were missing key characters.

So it looks like we'll be buying more of these (R2, Luke - I'm looking at you!), which must make them a hit. And Toys R Us very clever for sending us a toy to review that's ending up with us giving them more money!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Toyology Review: Football Game


I was in school the other week when I was approached by an 8 year old and asked if I liked football. 'I don't really follow football,' I replied. I thought this would be enough to turn his attention back to the book review he was supposed to be writing, but no, he was keen to continue with the topic. 'What team to you support?' he asked. 'You know when I said I don't really follow football?' I replied. This didn't dissuade him either and he continued with asking about England games and various other football-related topics that I really couldn't care less about. Probably as little care as he had of finishing his book review.

But this has nothing to do with this Football Game from Orchard toys.


The rules are simple and can be learnt within a minute. If you guessed at the rules, you'd likely get them right. The game is very similar to Snakes and Ladders, but with a couple of added spinners and everyone has their own board. Move your football up or down the board(/pitch), depending on the arrows, and then when you reach the top (aka 'the goal line') spin to see if you score. Score and win. Simple as.

Since my interest in football is limited to knowing when international matches are on so I know that the pub won't have any seats, the children's exposure has been limited and thus their interest as little as mine. They played the game, enjoyed it, but haven't been pleading for additional games since - hence their non-appearance in the video.

Like all Orchard games, the quality is high. The pieces are made of made of thick cardboard and ought to take a battering. Overall, while my children weren't overly keen, his does seem like a great game for young football fans to play when the weather outside is dreadful and there's no chance of playing real football.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Toyology Review: Transformers Weaponizer Bumblebee


When I first became a Toyologist last year, the Dream was that Toys R Us would send us a Transformer to review. Well, it's taken a while but that day is finally here. The first time I haven't had to pay out for a Transformer since...well, I think I conned my mum into buying me a Dark of the Moon toy last year, but that doesn't really count since Bayverse toys are hideous monstrosities. Besides, I think I told her it was for the children. This toy is all mine. All mine!


Sorry? What do you mean this review is supposed to cover what the children think of it? Really? You're not joking? Oh rats.

So here we are with (mostly) the children's opinion of Weaponiser Bumblebee :'(

I'm reasonably sure I've read somewhere that after things became ridiculously complicated with the film toys, Hasbro have been making an effort to simplify their Transformers recently. Bumblebee's transformation is fairly straightforward and most people should be able to do it within a minute or two without the instructions.

There is a big 'play' advantage of a quick transformation. You can be a robot, change into a car, drive across the living room and turn back into a robot again to fight the Decepticons very quickly without it taking away from the battle that's taking place in your imagination.

The articulation is extensive and Bumblebee can be posed in almost any way you can think of. His feet are large so he has no problem standing up. As a car he rolls nicely along most surfaces.

According to the box the toy has 4 modes, which is a bit of a cheat. There are only really 2, but both robot and car modes have the option of pop-out spinning cannons. While there is a blinking light when they pop out, there's thankfully no sound to annoy parents. I'm not convinced the light actually adds anything to the toy as it's the headlights which (briefly) light up when the cannons are unleashed, not the cannons themselves to represent firing.

While Bumblebee is a nice toy, the children weren't really interested. We already have countless Bumblebees, so they couldn't care a less about having another one, even with the new gimmick. This is a problem Hasbro are well aware of. Toy sales for the last film were down due to children already having all the characters, so a new robotic cast is being assembled for the fourth film.

If your children don't have a Bumblebee then this would be quite a good one to get them, but if they do already own a yellow car I definitely recommend checking whether they want a second before purchasing it as a gift.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Toyology Review: Imaginext Castle


I liked castles when I was small. There's something about hand-to-hand combat that guns and long-range attacks don't have. I remember being in a shop once and seeing a plastic castle for sale. My dad refused to buy it, saying that he would make one for me instead when we got home.

15 years later my dad built a wooden castle. It may take him a while, but he gets round to things eventually.

My children don't have to wait so long...


This would be an excellent centre piece for a Christmas present. You could then convince Granny to buy the dragon to go with it and Uncle to buy the battering ram and... Well, this is all assuming the child likes knights and castles, King Arthur and Prince Valiant.

And if they don't, they really should.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Toyology Review: Duplo Creative Cakes


We don't own any Duplo. We skipped over it and went straight to 'proper' Lego since we've collected bucketloads of the stuff since I was small (besides, they don't do Star Wars Duplo). So Creative Cakes was a completely new (kind of) play experience for us all.

The set comes in a reasonably strong cardboard box, with a plastic lid that doubles as a tray for your baked creations. The briefest mention of the word 'cake' was enough to capture my (note quite) 2 year old's attention and she sat for ages clicking the bricks together to make a variety of vaguely cake-shaped objects.


It's Lego and therefore very hard to fault in any way, however I will nitpick at it being very, very pink. As far as I am aware it is common for both girls and boys to have a play kitchen/shop/similar, which this set would compliment very nicely. Unfortunately since - for no really good reason - the colour scheme is heavily girl-targeted, very few boys are going to want it - or at least not be bought it by an adult. Which is a shame because, as I said, this goes perfectly with a play kitchen.

(If there is indeed a more gender-neutral set available, then I apologise.)

Other than that, this is a great set with just enough pieces to allow a number of different cakes to be made. Included is a booklet with some ideas pictured, but really the cakes are all down to the imagination of the child.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Toyology Review: Redakai Championship Set


Eons ago I used to play the Star Trek Collectable Card Game made by Decipher. I say 'play' but mostly I just collected the cards because I didn't know anyone else who played. Which makes me wonder why I bothered, but 'reflection' reveals so many things at all too late a stage.

I attempted to teach my family how to play, but the rules were a bit complicated and they quickly gave up. Which was a bit sad. Though not quite as sad as playing a Star Trek Collectable Card Game.

Time moves on and one of the newest collectable card games on the market is Redakai. There are any number of similar card games available at the moment, so a new one has to have a definite hook, something that clearly sets it apart from its competitors.

Spin Master have gone for making the cards look as good as possible. And, well, these cards are pretty darn awesome-looking.


I must have sat for hours now, rocking the cards back and forth in my hand and watching the little animations. They're brilliant creations and, though I will admit I'm no expert in the field, they seem to me to be a step up from everything similar available. You might get some special 'rare' cards having these kinds of lenticular images, but every single card?

Eventually, however, the boys grew impatient and demanded to actually play the game. The rule booklet looks intimidating, but reading through, the rules weren't too complicated. There are two different versions of the game - basic & advanced. With the Championship Set you get more than enough cards for the basic game, though an additional set is required to place the Advanced.

We ended up playing a hybrid of the two, along with a few House Rules. Both 5 year old and 3 year old were easily able to understand the rules and really enjoyed playing. I had one game, but kept being shouted at because I kept tilting the cards back and forth and forgetting to have my go.

They really are very pretty cards.

And since they're made from plastic, not card, they're hard-wearing and drink spillages from younger siblings won't do any damage. Phew.

There are more than enough cards in this set to trial the game and if a child becomes a fan they'll politely ask their pocket-money provider for additional funds for more cards. And with the rules simple, there's no excuse for a parent not to play with their opponent-less child!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Toyology Review: My First Painting By Numbers


Usually our weekends are filled with clashing Power Rangers, intergalactic Star Wars or any one of a hundred other toys which battle each other in a variety of noisy and violent ways, if not in plastic form then electronically. It was a nice change to have two boys outside in the sunshine, quietly working away on their masterpieces.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Rant: eBay Sellers, part 2

Following on from my previous post, I received a reply from eBay who basically said that he was obliged to send out my toy, just like a buyer is obliged to pay for auctions won.

I contacted the seller again, informing them of this and warning that I would officially report him to eBay. In response, the seller said that he also contacted eBay who apparently told him that he was under no obligation to send the item out if he didn't want to, just like buyers aren't obliged to pay for auctions won.

Hmm, bit of a difference there.

Anyway, I've now reported him to eBay and I see negative feedback in this seller's immediate future. If this does indeed happen I shall be sure to name and shame the seller on every toy forum I can so he has as much trouble as possible selling the toy.

No one messes with me and gets away with it!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Rant: eBay Sellers

The details in the following post are deliberately vague while I try and resolve the situation.

While not about toys in the strictest sense, this post does result from a toy-related problem and is likely the place where a lot of people purchase vintage toys:

eBay.

I know a lot of people have issues with eBay, the company, but this rant (sorry, this is going to be a rant!) is about sellers - specifically one particular seller.

Last night I placed my bid for a toy on eBay. The timer ticked down and mine was the highest bid. Fantastic, I thought, since I'd been wanting to buy this particular item for a while.

Shortly afterwards I received a message through eBay from the seller of the toy, along with a cancellation request. Apparently he'd previously listed the item and it had sold for four times the amount I'd bid, however the previous buyer hadn't paid. The seller wasn't happy with my winning bid, and wanted something more along the lines of the previous one.

(You notice how I try to avoid saying I 'won' the item, since you don't really 'win' anything on eBay - you buy it.)

I was a little irked, to say the least.

You can't just cancel an auction because the bidding didn't go as you'd liked. You list your item and you take your chances. If you're not willing to let an item be sold for less than a certain amount then you either start the bidding at a higher price, or you set a reserve. Simple. If you don't do either of those things then tough, you accept what you did get and move on.

A number of years ago I had an eBay purchase cancelled because 'the item was broken'. My immediate thoughts were that the selling price wasn't to the seller's liking, but there's not a lot you can do about something that's allegedly broken. Last night's seller simply came out and refused to sell it. Honest of him, but slightly stupid as I'm now going to kick up a fuss I might not have done if it'd been 'broken'.

Besides the fuss-kicking, I am in a quandary as to what to do about the situation. I've rejected his cancellation request and sent a message to him that a selling price being not to his liking is not a sufficient reason not to sell. Do I now pay for the toy? If I do pay and he does send it, will it arrive in one piece? I've sent an email to eBay and hopefully they can suggest something. This can't, after all, be the first time such a situation has arisen.

Besides me having a little rant, this post is aimed at sellers on eBay: there are ways of not letting things sell for too low a price on eBay - use them!

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Review: ReBoot 'common' figures


I come from the Net. Through systems, peoples and cities to this place: Mainframe.


My format: Guardian, to Mend and Defend. To defend my newfound friends, their hopes and dreams. To defend them from...


Their enemies!

They say The User lives outside the Net and inputs games for pleasure. No one knows for sure, but I intend to find out.

ReBoot!

----------

And thus began ReBoot, the first - and arguably best - completely computer generated half-hour TV series from the mid-90s. It began simply as another children's cartoon, but by the time it'd finished, well, it was something else altogether.

But I'm getting both ahead of myself and off the point a little. This review isn't about the TV series, it's about the toyline(s) that accompanied it and therefore I should only provide a little introduction to the show itself before moving onto the toys themselves.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Toyologist Review: Rhyme Robber

What's the most annoying show on television? Big Brother? No. I like that show. Not that I watch it, I just like the fact that a bunch of really annoying people are locked up for a couple of months. Suddenly the world seems a little more pleasant. At least until eviction shows...

I could list a bunch of other things on TV I don't like, but the clear winner is Rhyme Rocket. I really, really hate that show. There's a lot of good stuff on Cbeebies - Justin, Octonauts, the endless repeats of Come Outside - but I cannot stand Rhyme Rocket. It makes me want to put my finger into my eye and swirl it around.

If only I could turn the thing off.

But I can't, because my 3 year old loves the show.

Argh!


Here's a game that's perfect for lovers of Rhyme Rocket: Rhyme Robber. Actually, I think 'Rhyme Robber' was something of a missed opportunity when it came to naming. The alliteration is nice, but, well, shouldn't this game have been called something like 'Rhyme Crime'?

Hmm, I ought to copyright that.

But on with the show...


For a 5-9 year old game, the box strikes me as a little 'babyish'. It seems more like 3 year old game artwork, but maybe that's just me. Maybe that's why I had trouble getting my 5 year old to play. I tried, I really tried but he simply wasn't interested.

The Rocket-loving 3 year old was, however.

We had to modify the rules a bit, but it didn't take long before he caught on to what rhyming was and he started to match up some of the cards and pile them on his robber. Some were a bit tricky for him to suss out from the picture alone and needed someone with reading-ability to tell him what the picture was supposed to represent (he thought the picture of a foot was 'foot', not 'heel' for example) but he did pretty well on his own.

The playing pieces are on nice thick card which will take a hammering before showing signs of wear. Pieces were in the hands of my (almost) 2 year old for several minutes and she wasn't able to destroy them in that time. Which is pretty good going indeed.

The advice on the box is 5-9 years. I think you'll have trouble convincing a 9 year old to play. My 5 year old thought it was a bit too much like something he'd do at school. 'I've got school tomorrow,' he said, 'can I play cars now?' It seemed foolish to force him to play a game when he didn't want to, so off he went. If he'd stuck around longer I'm sure he'd have enjoyed the 'stealing' aspect of the game, which is sure to be a big attraction for mean older brothers who like taking things away from siblings with a smug look on their faces.

It's the addition of this thievery which makes what could have been a fairly dull rhyming game into something a lot more exciting and spread the appeal to those children who might otherwise have not been interested in an English lesson.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Toyologist Review: My First Clock Game


They say time is the fire in which we burn. It's like a predator - it's stalking you.

Or that time is a companion, that goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment because they'll never come again.

Two contrasting views on how to spend the ever-so brief time that you spend on this planet. But which view best compliments this game? A cherished moment, or a waste of your precious life that you could have spend doing something else? I've read a number of reviews where the children have loved this game. Do mine agree?

So far my method of teaching my children how to tell the time has been by saying 'you can play on the Wii at suchatime.' Amazing how effective that's been. Ravensberger has come up with a different way, via a game.

At least, it's supposed to be a game. You see, I always thought games were meant to be fun and this one, well, isn't.


The box includes a cardboard clock, a big pile of cards with pictures of clock faces set at various times (with the time in digital on the back), and then a little booklet with rules on.

The instruction book irked me a little. On the first page of the rules there is a lot of detail about how a clock works. No, nothing to do with quartz, cogs, or anything like that, but that the hands go clockwise, and that if the minute hand goes all the way round once an hour has gone by. Okay, I thought, maybe the instructions are aimed at children. But no, there are constant references to 'your child'. Maybe there are some parents out there who can't tell the time who will play this with their children, but since it's essential for all the possible games that someone plays who can tell the time, it leaves me at a complete loss.

While there are three possible games suggested, they are basically all variations on matching a card to the time set on the clock face. None of the variations are in any way exciting to play. It basically comes down to pointing at a clock and saying 'what time is this?' This alone does not make a game - it's more like a classroom exercise. Fine for school, but not something a child would choose to play at home. I can easily think up a few ways that learning to tell the time could be made into a fun game, but sadly none of them appear here (heck, even something simple like shoving a couple of dinosaurs in somewhere would liven it up! How about making it based around 'What Time is it Mr Wolf?'). There's no sense of competition between players, no real 'goal' to strive for to win at the end, no fun aspect. Just 'what time is this?' over and over and over. Simple games often make the best games, but this is almost too simple.

The children were not impressed at all.

They were slightly more excited when they started throwing the game cards around, but, try as I might, I couldn't find this particular game in the rule booklet. Maybe they forgot to include that page in my copy.

Telling the time is important. Otherwise you turn up late to your job and you get fired. That's probably the most important reason for telling the time - not being fired. While this game might help you learn how to tell the time, not get fired, and have a long and successful career, sadly it's unlikely anyone will be interested in playing this game for long enough for this to happen.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Toyologist Review: Foooz Pro Match Set




We had a table football game when I was small. It was awesome. I have many happy memories of that table. I'd still have it now, no doubt, except somehow along the way one of the players managed to have his legs snapped off. It became a bit of a handicap for that player afterwards.
I didn't play again until I arrived at uni. There was a table in the common room. It was here that I learned that 'spinning' was frowned upon, which meant a complete change of tactics from those I'd used for the past 15-odd years.

Foooz is based on table football (or 'foosball', which I suppose is where they took the name from), but you only play with one man, who you pick up and move about. I've played with a few Drumond Park toys and they always manage to take a simple idea and make it a lot of fun. Foooz is no different.

Stupid name aside (can you imagine asking for it in a shop?), Foooz is a lot of fun and I can imagine a lot of children (and parents) crawling about on the floor playing with it. I will hold my hand up and admit I'm one of them.

nb Coming soon to ToysRUs.co.uk!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Toyologist Review: Hot Wheels Power Tower




Basically all the same for the previous set I reviewed applies to this: brackets attach to the wall with special tape, can be easily removed from walls as long as you haven't stuck it on wallpaper, etc.

There are a couple of changes, however. The template for where to stick the brackets to the wall now comes in the form of a poster which is supposed to stay permanently on the wall. This livens up the background no end and somehow makes it all seem a lot more exciting. It also means you don't have to find somewhere safe to keep it.

Being a large set, there's a heck of a lot of do. Lots of (well, a few) barriers to switch routes, etc. There are also two very obvious points which are intended for extra sets to be joined on. The Tower is powered by 2 D batteries and - surprisingly for a D battery-powered toy - the noise level isn't excessive. You can hear it, but the children had it on for ages and I never felt the urge to yell at them because it was getting on my nerves.

This has been played with near-constantly since it came out of the box and I couldn't recommend it more. Unless you don't have an empty wall, in which case I suggest you build one immediately!

nb Coming soon to ToysRUs.co.uk!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Toyologist Review: Hot Wheels Flame Drop




Assuming you have the wall space, Wall Tracks are brilliant. Having this constantly set up on the wall is a big bonus, as you don't have to spend ages putting it together every time you want to play - especially as this small set is only going to entertain for a few minutes at a time. Lots of sessions, but only short ones.

The problem that I keep coming back to is the wall space. You need a reasonably large area of non-wallpapered wall to set these up. Our house is completely covered in bumpy wallpaper and even if it wasn't, most of the walls are covered up by chairs or bookcases or wardrobes. Hence resorting to the garage.

Overall this set is a lot of fun, but for the most fun I'd recommend buying the largest set you can afford.

nb Coming soon to ToysRUs.co.uk!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Toyologist Review: Web-Shooting Spider-Man


I start this review having absolutely no idea whether I like the toy I'm reviewing. Hopefully by the end, after discussing the pros and cons, I'll be slightly closer to a decision. But I wouldn't count on it.


Web-Shooting Spider-Man is based on the design from this year's Amazing Spider-Man film, and thus he's dressed in an outfit I don't really like. But I guess this isn't really something Hasbro could do anything about (unless they'd released a comic version, I suppose). The children don't mind it, in fact they probably haven't even noticed it much. To them one Spidey outfit is much the same as another.

(Unless it's dramatically different, obviously. Big Time Spidey, I'm talking about you. And you, Future Foundation Spidey. Iron Spidey - you too. And... Wow, Spider-Man has had a lot of crazy outfits. But I seem to be getting off the point.)

The figure is pretty darn huge - approaching Giant proportions. The articulation is very limited - the legs & arms twist, and the head turns but only via the action feature. This isn't something that you could really pose and play with other than via its web shooting purpose.

So, to the main event - the web-shooting. Prior to installing batteries, I was a little intrigued as to how Spidey would manage to fire his shooters any distance since there're no springs to force them out. Turns out, it works pretty well. There's no great force behind them (should you 'accidently' hit Dad in the face with them, it doesn't hurt), but they do fire as far as the string allows (65cm-ish). Accompanying the shooting is a sound effect, which in all honesty is a bit rubbish and exists solely to try and cover the sound of the motor that fires the 'web'. I can't remember exactly what it sounded like in the film, but it's nothing like the 'thwip' that is used in the comics.

There's a cardboard target in the box, which I almost threw out as I thought it was part of the packaging. It's definitely not going to be long before this is extremely tatty and you're making your own targets. Since there's so little force behind the web-shooting, try as I might, I couldn't get the thing to fall over...unless it had some wind-assistance.

And that's about it. As I say, the firing works well but that's all it does. There's no real skill involved in hitting the targets, so nothing that would entice repeat playings to improve your aim. I can see why it costs £35, but I'm not sure you'll get that much play value from it. From time to time the boys pick it up from wherever they've left it lying about on the floor, have a couple of shoots, then it's back on the floor again.

The end of the review is here and I suppose I have to make a decision. Do I like this toy? Um... Well... Maybe...

Oh if only it was redesigned so those web-shooters fired from your own wrists*...


*though probably not a particularly safe idea - children swinging from buildings isn't going to end well.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Toyologist Review: LeapPad2


Last year, as part of our Toyology assignment, Toys R Us sent us a LeapPad to try out (before it's official release, no less!). At the time it was described as the 'Next Generation of learning'. Now we have the LeapPad2, which can only mean one thing...

LeapPad2: The Deep Space Nine of learning.


DS9 was, without doubt, the best Star Trek series. This means that the LeapPad2 must be the best LeapPad. And it is. It does everything the old LeapPad did (which I wrote about here and I won't repeat for reinventing the wheel reasons), but adds in a number of new features. DS9 added Dabo girls. The LeapPad2 introduces a music player, faster processor, and a second camera so you can take pictures of yourself.

All three are kind of obvious, necessary additions really.

The second camera (located on the face of the LeapPad2) is essential if you want to take photos of yourself. These pictures can then be altered in various ways using the art app. The increase in processor speed is hard to judge, but it certainly seems faster.

Setting up is a bit of a pain. There's a bit of messing about connecting it to a computer before you can start using it.

The number of available apps & games has now increased to 225 - 5 of which come with the LeapPad2. All the games etc are 'education'-based, i.e. children ought to be learning something while they play. The difficulty can be changed depending on the ability of the child - for example the sentences for reading apps are made simpler/more complex depending on the set level. Plugging the LeapPad2 into a PC, you can then monitor how children have been doing. This isn't something I've ever done. I have enough of an idea how my children's education is progressing without having to resort to monitoring what the LeapPad thinks.

I will admit we haven't downloaded or played that many games since we received our LeapPad(1) a year ago, but the clear winner of those we have is the Ben 10 Ultimate Alien game. My 5 year old has completed it many, many times and it's still his game of choice whenever he plays with the LeapPad (and was the first thing he played when trying the LeapPad2!).

It's important to remember that the LeapPad2 is a toy. It's not a tablet computer and you shouldn't expect it to do everything your iPad can.

Battery life is still a problem and rechargables are a must. In fact there's now an official recharger pack you can use. I haven't tested this, but it's well worth looking into. The battery compartment has been redesigned, so I assume the recharger pack will only fit in the LeapPad2. There's also an AC adapter available (separately), but I'm not a fan simply because it destroys the portable aspect of the LeapPad.

LeapPads, to me at least, appear to be a lot like the iPad with regards to model versions. If you were going to buy one, you'd probably get the latest version, but if you already have the old one you'd have to think very hard before you upgraded. The new features are nice, but I'm not sure they're worth paying out £90 for again.

Plus they still haven't thought to include a Humuhumunukunukuapua'a :(

The big worry is that the LeapPad3 is no doubt on the horizon, and we all know what Voyager was like...

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Toyologist Review: Dino Bite




Like the best games, this is really simple to play (you could probably guess the rules without reading the instructions). It's worth repeating that batteries aren't necessary. They do enhance the game, however, as the 'jungle' sounds and T-Rex roar are really good, set the atmosphere, and have zero annoyance factor.

The fact that this is a dinosaur-based game means that it'll be a hit with almost every child. Go forth and purchase!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Toyologist Review: Batman Power Attack Total Destruction Batmobile



Not much more to say really. If you like Batman, then you'll obviously want a Batmobile! I'm sure most children would place the car above Robin on their want list (though now having a Batman & a Batmobile, the requests for a Robin have begun)

Something to watch out for it that the Batman figure we were supplied with (Thermo Attack - sold separately) doesn't fit in the driver's seat properly (more on that here). I presume the 'normal' Batman fits fine, so go for that version if you want a figure who can drive with the roof down.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Toyologist Review: Thermo Attack Batman




The Power Attack 6" scale line of figures features cartoon-like toys aimed at younger fans. It's been very well designed so that while it isn't as heavily detailed as a figure aimed at an older child (/adult collector) & features simple articulation, it doesn't look like a 'baby' version. I'm (almost) certain there's no associated cartoon to go along with this specific line, however Batman is a constant in the public consciousness, so children are likely to know all about him without the need for a 30 minute advert.

I have no idea what the 'thermo attack' in Thermo Attack Batman alludes to, specifically, and the packaging doesn't help in this regard. Basically it's Batman dressed in blue armour with a bright orange trim. I guess children are going to choose this one over another Batman variant based on colour preference.

He's not articulation-heavy, but covers more than the basic, with swivel joints at the hips, waist, shoulders, elbows and ball-joint head - more than enough to pose the figure as you'd like. His feet are pretty huge so he'll stand up with no problems on almost all surfaces.

The major drawback to Thermo Attack Batman is his inability to drive the Batmobile - at least with the roof down - due to his overly large armour. Since Thermo is the only Batman we have, the children found this extremely annoying.

But as long as you have 'normal' Batman (or don't have the Batmobile!) Thermo is a nice figure to have when Batman has to go on special temperature-related missions.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Cartoon Review: Beast Machines


Beast Machines was the sequel series to Beast Wars, that in itself was a sequel to the original 80s Transformers cartoon (not that it meant to, originally, but when you mention a 'great war' in the first episode, people are going to assume things).

Beast Wars was pretty much universally loved. The episode 'Code of Hero' is a shining example of how fantastic cartoon storytelling can be, given half a chance. People, understandably, were excited when Beast Machines arrived. It was set on Cybertron! With vehicle Transformers! And...

And some really weird hippy stuff.

I'd heard Beast Machines wasn't great, and so, not wanting my love of Beast Wars ruined by what came later, I never watched it. Until this summer. This summer I finally sat down and gave Beast Machines a chance.

Hmm.

There are some great things about the series. The writers (a new team, replacing the writers from Beast Wars) were able to plot out a story arc over the whole series, so it's nicely paced. Shame it isn't a particularly great story.

Optimus was always a bit of an optimistic dreamer in Beast Wars, but he goes completely crazy in Beast Machines. He's turned into some kind of religious nut, wanting to meld the organic and mechanical on Cybertron. It all gets very preachy and very annoying.

There's a big change to Rattrap, who, in addition to now looking like a small boy, suddenly has super computer skills. With Rhinox gone, I suppose they needed someone to take over this technical role, but Rattrap?

All the robots have new modes, obviously, as Hasbro wanted to sell a bunch of new toys. There are two problems with this. Firstly, since the series and the toys were developed separately the two don't have too much in common, and secondly, the designs are all a bit crap.

Sorry, Designers, but I think they all look terrible, and few look anything like their old Beast Wars designs.


The villain of the piece, Megatron (who else?!), is extremely limited in what he can do, action-wise. He spends a lot of the time hooked up to a machine via a big cable, or in other ways physically restricted. This leaves the baddies to be represented by a couple of his lieutenants and then a sea of character-less drones.


It's a very dark series, both tonally and visually, and 'dark' doesn't always mean 'good'. The philosophical aspects are likely to go right over the heads of the target (child) audience, and even as an adult watching they just bored me. Making your lead character annoying was a bad move. Optimus should be the star of the show, not the one you hate the most.

And as for what they did to Rhinox...

I don't regret sitting through all 26 episodes this summer, but I'd certainly have had a more fun time watching Beast Wars instead. By all means watch Beast Machines once for curiosity, but I really doubt you'll do so again. I know I won't.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Review: Transformers Generations Hot Spot

For reasons I don't quite understand a bunch of Transformers have been released recently by Hasbro exclusively in Asia. No, not Takara (that would at least make some sense) but Hasbro. While admittedly mostly repaints, Hasbro have gone to the trouble of giving them new heads and other bits and bobs.

But just for Asia.

Weird.

The USA is getting a few of these imported as Toys R Us exclusives, but that's it. In what will be news to no one, the UK won't be getting anything. As usual.

Arriving on my doorstep from Hong Kong today was Hot Spot (actually it wasn't today, it was a couple of weeks ago, but I've only just got around to finishing off this review). Once upon a time, in the 80s, Hot Spot was the core figure which a bunch of other Transformers stuck to to make a BIG robot, Defensor. I never had Hotspot as a child, but...

Actually, for a while I did have Hot Spot for a brief period. Back when I was small, everyone used to take their Transformers into school to play with at playtime & dinnertime. I took Optimus Prime because, well, he's Optimus Prime. Another boy, who, it'll come no surprise to learn, wasn't very nice, took in Hot Spot. Now the details are very vague in my memory, what with it being a long time ago and me very small, but there was some kind of forced swap/theft and he nicked Optimus and I ended up with Hot Spot.

I wasn't impressed.

As I recall, he claimed it was actually his Optimus. Now you have to wonder how he thought he was going to get away with this. Optimus Prime, as everyone knows, is red. Hot Spot is bright blue. And a fire engine, not a lorry.

Long story short, the boy was an idiot and I got Optimus back. Yay!

Anyway, a couple of years ago, after I finally overcame the horrors of my youth, I actually bought Hot Spot. He's okay, as robots go, although he does have the fattest arms of any robot ever.

But this isn't a review of him. He's just here for Comparison Time.


Sunday, 2 September 2012

Hello, Boys! I'm Baaacccck!

...so said a semi-intoxicated gentleman, shortly before he flew an aeroplane into a big alien gun. But I'm not here to talk about that.

No, I'm here to let everyone know that I am, once again, a Toys R Us Toyologist. I have the shiny badge to prove it. Look -


Cool, eh?

I'd post my (successful) application review, but since it's the post immediately prior to this one (I've been away!) doing that seems slightly pointless.

I'm in Green Group, which means I'll be receiving toys 'suitable' for 4-6 year olds. In the short term, this means I spend a lot of time studying boxes in shops to see what sort of thing is recommended for 4-6 year olds. In the mid-term, this means I'll be getting a big box with toys suitable for 4-6 year olds very soon. And in the slightly-longer-term, this means that soon there will be slightly unique (would you expect anything else from me?) toy reviews for these 4-6 year old toys appearing on the web.

In 3 different places, no less.

There's an official Toys R Us blog, located here.
All reviews will also be on the main Toys R Us site.
And I will, of course, stick everything here on my blog too.

That's it for now. I guess I'd better get on with writing my profile for the TRU blog...

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Toys R Us Toyology 2012

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, Toys R Us are once again recruiting toyologists. The application brief is to review a 'must have toy or product for your child's age'. Despite setbacks such as smashed cameras and children being away at their grandparents, my application is finally complete. Officially it's for the 4-6 age group, but unofficially I think you'll agree it's a 'must have' for everyone, young and old.



Friday, 17 August 2012

Construction: Ghostbusters 2 Louis

The Ghostbusters are dead. The toyline from Mattel, at least. The third movie too, more than likely, which has a great deal to do with the toys no longer being produced. Mattel, no doubt, when they bought bought the rights to make toys, has assumed the new film would be well into production by now, if not out in cinemas. But it's not, so interest in the toys has been limited from the get-go.

The line died with a number of figures lacking being immortalised in plastic. People like Janine, there's not much I can do about, however there are a number of 'obvious' variants of existing figures that even someone like me could create using other figures as a base.

Last November Mattel heavily (and I mean heavily) reduced all their Ghostbusters stock and I bought up a bunch to potentially make variants. I sat on them (not literally) until SDCC this year in the off-chance that new figures would be announced (in which case I'd sell on the stuff I'd bought). There was nothing really announced at SDCC other than a confirmation that the line was 'on hold' indefinitely, and so I began working on my custom figures.

The first to be completed was this one: Louis Tulley as seen in Ghostbusters 2.


Thursday, 16 August 2012

News: Toyology 2012


As you are more than likely aware, last year I was a Toyologist. This meant that Toys R Us sent me a lot of toys and in return I wrote(/created) a lot of reviews. Some of the formats I used were a little...unusual. Crossword? Yep, did that. Choose Your Own Review? Yeah, did that too. And a comic and a bunch of videos and various other things. I like to experiment.

They're all listed here, if you happen to have missed them.

The programme is running again this year, albeit with a few modifications. This time around it'll be running for 3 months and to ensure people receive toys appropriate for their children there will be 3 age categories.

Interested in taking part?

Applying is simple. Just review a toy & fill out a form.

To save reinventing the wheel (aka 'typing out a load of stuff someone else has already done') I'll direct you to the Toys R Us Facebook page, specifically this bit which tells you all about it.

The application deadline is Thursday 23rd August.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Review: Beast Wars Transmutate

For those who think cartoons are all about action and lack emotional impact, watch Beast Wars, the kind-of sequel to the 80s Transformers cartoon which was shown in the 90s. In the episode 'Code of Hero', the once evil-Predacon turned heroic-Maximal, Dinobot dramatically sacrifices himself to save a group of primitive humans. I cry every time I watch it.

The following episode is 'Transmutate', in which an innocent is killed due to the petty fighting between two others. Tears once again.

Transmutate was in a single episode. Trying to keep the Beast Wars technical lore to a minimum (though you should really go watch it - it's very good!), I'll describe Transmutate as a 'damaged' Transformer. It was unable to transform and had the mind of an infant. Megatron deemed the robot useless and ordered it destroyed. Even the Maximals saw little worth in it.

So it was that 'evil' Rampage and 'heroic' Silverbolt, both seeing something of a kindred spirit in Transmutate, went against their respective leaders' advice and attempted to befriend it. In the end the rivalry between Rampage and Silverbolt resulted in the destruction of Transmuate and everyone cried.


The toy version wasn't released in the original Beast Wars line of toys in the 90s. Why would it? It wasn't as though it could really be sold as a 'Transformer' since it didn't actually do any transforming. It eventually showed up, however, collector-a-piece style, in the 10th Anniversary line, which re-released the original toys in more cartoon-accurate colours (more, but far from completely accurate colours).


Articulation is extremely limited - at the head, legs and arms only. And even then there's only way way to position the legs and have Transmutate stand upright. It was a nice addition to the line, however, and no doubt a number of people bought up all the Anniversary figures purely to get this figure.



One of the great things about the Beast Wars toys was that the scale of the toys was exactly the same as the scale of the characters in the cartoon, and Transmutate is exactly the same. The colour & sculpt are near-identical to the screen counterpart, however the paintwork isn't quite as nice as it might have been. The face is just as freaky as the cartoon version, however.



Transmutate is a bit of a nightmare to get hold of these days, appearing on ebay rarely. It took me years of searching before I managed to get hold of one, so good luck if you're on the hunt!