Build Me a Hero

With great toys comes great fun—especially when you combine two childhood favorites: building and super heroes.

guardians knowhereguardians starblasterMarvel Superheroes Knowhere Escape Mission (Lego)
Marvel Superheroes Galaxy Starblaster Showdown (Lego)
Both of these great kits from Lego star characters from Guardians of the Galaxy. The Knowhere Escape Mission is a pretty large set, great for bigger kids or collectors. It has 433 pieces, and comes with 3 mini-figures (Rocket Raccoon, Nebula, and Sakaaran) plus a comparatively giant Groot who’s poseable. There are all sorts of cool features that will keep kids (and parents) entertained for hours—even if they aren’t terribly familiar with the movie or the comic books. There’s a tower with a trap door, spring-loaded bazookas, a catapult, Rocket’s custom spaceblaster, a sword for those less-technically inclined, and the all-important orb. The Galaxy Starblaster Showdown is less than half the size, with 196 pieces, but it’s just as much fun. This one has three figures, including Star-Lord himself. The Starblaster and Necrocraft spaceships can battle each other head to head. Each has adjustable wings and a cockpit that opens. And to help the good guys catch the bad guys (or vice versa) there are plenty of weapons (including blasters and missiles), a pair of boot thrusters, and even a set of handcuffs, something you don’t often find in Lego kits. Both sets are for ages 6 and up and retail for about $40 and $20 respectively. http://shop.lego.com/

sprukits batmansprukits achillesSpruKits Batman Arkham City (Bandai)
SpruKits LBX Achilles (Bandai)
Just introduced at Toy Fair in February of this year, SpruKits have a great future ahead of them. They’re a wonderful combination of poseable action figure, and assemble-it-yourself model. SpruKits claim that their figures snap together without glue, scissors, or paint, and they’re absolutely right. And when you’re done snapping, you’ve got a sharp, very detailed, well-articulated, five-inch figure. The kits come in three building-skill levels, clearly marked on the front of the package. The two we had a chance to review were both Level 2. Batman, with 95 pieces, took a little less than an hour to put together and stood up to quite a bit of knocking around. The LBX (Little Battlers Experience) Achilles has 102 pieces and took a bit more than an hour to complete. He was just as detailed and great looking. But our testers had trouble keeping the pieces together, so he was more of a show piece, which was a bit frustrating. That’s a problem that we’re sure the manufacturer is rectifying right now. For ages 8+. The price point is terrific: about $10.00 for Level 1, under $20 for Level 2, and $60 for Level 3 at your favorite retailer.

yomen star wars yodayomen star wars trooperClone Trooper YoMen Yoyo (Yomega)
Yoda YoMen Yoyo (Yomega)
If you’re a yoyo fan, the new YoMen will make your head spin. Well, not yours, but Yoda’s and a Clone Trooper’s, which is more fun and less dangerous. If you’re not a yoyo fan, you really should be. While they don’t exactly fit this column’s theme of building and superheroes, the YoMen yoyos do require a bit of assembly (the head is the yoyo and it fits nicely on to the body/stand). And who’s to say that there won’t be an epic superhero battle between Yoda and Batman or Star-Lord and a Clone Trooper one of these days? But until then, you’ve got yourself an elite-level yoyo, which should keep you busy and entertained. For ages 8 and up. Retails for about $17 on line, in stores, or at http://yomega.com/

Bridging the Gap Between Preschool Fun and Learning

The new school year is well underway and, hopefully, the kids are learning a ton of things that will enable them to support us in our old age. In the meantime, though, we want them to have as much fun as they can both in and out of school. For little kids, the key is combining learning and fun, and since we’re the ones with the wallets it’s up to us to give them the tools to do just that. ALEX Toys, one of our favorites, has a number of wonderful products that you can do with your kids and have fun at the same time.

ready set write alexReady, Set, Write, and Wipe (Alex Toys)
A perfect way for little kids to learn and practice their numbers and letters—and for bigger kids to get their handwriting into shape—without wasting an entire tree’s worth of paper. Ready, Set, Write, and Wipe is a 19-page, spiral-bound book. Each page has brightly colored illustrations (G for Goat, for example, or 10 stacked blocks) and a place for kids to trace the number or the first letter of the word. There’s also plenty of space for freehand (non-tracing) practice. Best of all, when the kids are done, just wipe the page and they can do it all again. The one downside is that the marker can stain clothing. For kids 3 and up (but if your kids are that young, you need to keep an eye on them). $19.95 at www.alextoys.com/.

ready set tell time alexReady, Set, Tell Time (ALEX Toys)
We may be living in a digital world, but kids still need to learn how to tell time on a clock with hands (if for no other reason than so they’ll know what the words “clockwise” and “counterclockwise” or the phrase “I’ve got your 6” mean).  Ready, Set, Tell Time gives kids a number of different ways to learn how to tell time. The clock itself, is cheerful and has hands that are easily manipulated by little fingers. The kit also comes with a puzzle (with numbers that punch out and can be placed on the clock) and a lot of cards. The flash cards are what you’d expect, but they add some tactile learning by having the child move the clock’s hands to match what’s on the card. The activity cards do a nice job of making time a little less abstract by getting the child to associate specific times with activities that generally happen at those times (breakfast lunch, and so on). More than just a pretty (clock) face, it sells for $18.95 at www.alextoys.com/.

my first mosaic alexMy First Mosaic (ALEX Toys)
Research shows that children who are exposed to art are more confident and creative than kids who don’t have access to it. They’re also more empathetic, score higher on IQ tests, and do better in school. Unfortunately, more and more schools are cutting out art classes, so it’s up to you to make sure your child gets plenty of art time. My First Mosaic comes with five pictures and a few hundred square- or triangle-shaped stickers in a variety of bright colors. Just like with the old paint-by-numbers kits, kids match the colors and shapes called for in the picture with the corresponding stickers. The sticker-between-the-lines aspect is great for little kids since it lets them create something recognizable that they’ll be proud of. But be sure to give your kids plenty of outside-the-lines time too. For kids 3 and up who won’t put the stickers in their mouth. $11.95 at www.alextoys.com

And Now, Direct from a Screen Near You…

Although parents aren’t always thrilled about it, kids love toys that bring their favorite TV and movie characters to “life.” This week, we review several fun new toys that do exactly that.

paw patrolPaw Patrol (NickJR)
If you have a little one, chances are you’ve seen or heard of Paw Patrol—the hit TV show aimed at Pre-K and kindergarteners. The show revolves around six puppies: Chase, Marshall, Rocky, Zuma, Rubble, and Skye, plus their 10-year old tech-loving human companion named Ryder. They work together as a team, solve problems, and help creatures and the environment while showing kids cooperation skills. Now the pups are available as toys, from plush to action figures and even vehicles (which play a large part in the show). The Racers are a particularly good value because they each come with one vehicle and one pup (they also have working tires). If your child is a fan of the show or of animals in general, these super-pups will be a nice treat for them. Available for $7.99 and up at Amazon, Target, and more.

turtle sub underseaTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Turtle Sub Undersea Chase (LEGO)
This set is just plain awesome, even if you’re not quite sure where you stand on the movie and whether it’s okay to turn a cherished, animated TV show into a live-action Megan Fox movie (Hmm. Does that sound a little biased?). With 684 pieces, including four figures (Donatello Leonardo, and two Kraang) it lets kids (and adults who like to pretend they bought this kit for their kids) recreate scenes from the movie, flicking missiles, firing shooters, and operating mini subs along the way. Or use your imagination and create something totally different. About $60 at your favorite retailer.

tmnt large figuresTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Playmates Toys)
Haven’t had enough of those hard-shelled reptile badboys? Based on the movie characters, these figure are a little grittier than they have been in the past, but kids don’t seem to mind at all. Playmates has all of the main characters (the four Turtles, Shredder, the Foot Clan, and others) in a wide selection of sizes and styles, including wearable ones, which come with cuffs, a sword, and a bandana mask. There’s something here that every TNMT lover, old or new, will want to have. Right now. The large figures are about a foot tall and are more articulated then you might think, and after they’ve knocked each other around for a bit, they make great mentors for the six-inch figures (which are just as fun to play with). Small figures are about $9 at Toys R Us, and the large ones start at $14 on Amazon and other retailers.

how to train your dragon 2How to Train Your Dragon 2 Squirt and Float Dragons (Spin Master)
How to Train Your Dragon 2 Battle Sets (Spin Master)

If your kids loved How to Train Your Dragons 2 as much as our kids (and their parents) did, this is a great opportunity to bring the fun of the big screen direct to your living room—or your bathtub. The Squirt and Float Dragons comes with three figures (Toothless, Meatlug, and Stormfly), all of which can shoot water about four feet—just far enough to make your bathroom floor really slippery, so be careful. There are also three great Battle Sets, “Toothless vs. Dragon Catcher,” “Gronkle vs. Gronkle Cannon,” and “Zippleback vs. Zipplecatcher,” all of which will keep everyone (yes, you too, mom and dad) entertained for hours. $8 and up at stores like Toys R Us and Amazon.

Games for Tweens, Teens, and The Whole Family

In an era where just about everyone over the age of two has a room full of electronic devices, it can be hard for families to find ways to spend quality time together (meaning everyone is actually looking at everyone else). It’s especially tough if the kids are careening toward adolescence. This week we review four really fun games for families with kids eight and up. No batteries, chargers, or Internet connection required.

betcha can't winBetcha Can’t Win (Simply Fun)
It seems simple enough: Each player has six dice and rolls them as many times as necessary to match the number (using any math function) on cards that are face up on the table. Match as many as you can and rack up the points. But beware: if another player matches your points, you could end up with zero. Great for learning math and risk/reward. 15-30 minutes play time. For 2-4 players, ages 8+. $28.00 at http://www.simplyfun.com/

pack itPack It (Simply Fun)
Everyone ready? We’re all going on a hike, so you’d better start loading up your backpack. Players are dealt several Item cards (compass, tent, frying pan, map, and so on, each of which includes a value in miles) that they use to start stocking their backpacks. The goal is to put together a pack with the greatest number of miles. Then, they take turns drawing cards to add the items they’re missing and increase mileage. But watch out for the Hazard cards (Bear, Skunk, Blister). For example, if you draw the Blister and have socks in your pack, you’re okay. But if you don’t have socks, you have to discard your highest value card. Draw the Skunk and you’ll have to discard two cards. 20-30 minutes play time. For 2-5 players, ages 8+. $24.50 at http://www.simplyfun.com/

strike a poseStrike a Pose (R&R Games)
Think Charades but without any of the movement or acting. In each round, one player is the Collector, a guy or gal who’s buying statues for a fabulous estate. The Collector leaves the room and the rest of the players draw one card (used by the whole group) which has a category and a number of statue options. For example, in the “At the Beach” category, statues include “Sun bathing”, “Building a sand castle,” and “Playing volleyball.” Each player pics one option and freezes in a pose they think will best mimic the person, place, or thing. The Collector returns, looks at the Category card and tries to guess which player is which statue. No movement or sounds—statues are made of stone, right? The opportunities for silliness are endless. 30-45 minutes play time. For 3-14 (yes, 14) players, ages 10+. $17.95 at online retailers or http://rnrgames.com/

unnatural selectionUnNatural Selection (R&R Games)
Use your “super cool Mod Ray X5000” weapon to mash together your own crazy creatures. Start with a single animal (defined rather broadly, to include pet rocks), then play cards to add features. The goal is to create a beast that would defeat your opponents’ beasts in a battle. The combination of the features and animals can be incredibly funny. You might start with a goldfish and then add “sprinkled with tempura flakes” or “has a headache.” After all the players have done their finest mashing, it’s up to the judge (a role that rotates among the players) to decide which creature would emerge victorious in a smackdown. The player who wins the most challenges become the “Ultimate Warrior.” It’s fun, and fast-paced. 15-30 minutes play time. For 3-10 players, ages 8+. $11 at online retailers or at http://www.rnrgames.com/

 

All Work and No Play? Naaaah

Yes, the new school year is almost (or, in some places, already) under way. And yes, the kids are going to start coming home with backpacks full of homework. But that doesn’t mean no more fun. Here are two great activities that will help you make the summer last a little longer, and three that will keep a smile on your face as the weather gets colder.

poo doughPoo Dough (Skyrocket Toys)
One of our favorite fads has been gross toys—things that poop, blow snot, pass gas, and more. If your children are into this (most are), they’ll definitely enjoy Poo Dough, which is completely disgusting, but in a really fun way. You get realistic, pooh-shaped molds and the dough itself (which comes in a lovely shade of yellow and two equally lovely shades of brown). But wait, there’s more. You also get special molds for “corn” and “peanuts.” Yep, the kids (and plenty of fully grown adults) are all set for hours of giggly, eeeew-inducing entertainment. About $8 in stores like Toys R Us, Amazon, and Walmart.  http://www.skyrockettoys.com/

fart pianoFart Piano (Skyrocket Toys)
If the look and feel of poo dough isn’t enough, you can always add sound effects with the Fart Piano. Far more versatile than its name would indicate, this piano can also cough, belch, and sneeze. Just press a key and you’re on your way. It even comes with sheet music so you can entertain out-of-town guests and dignitaries. About $20 on Amazon and Toys R Us.

fuze water blasterCyclone Water Blaster (FUZE/Skyrocket)
What a great way to get the kids involved in doing something physical outside. The Cyclone Water Blaster is essentially a motorized (using 4 AA batteries), handle-bar mounted squirt gun that enables kids (or the kid in any adult) to soak someone up to 25 feet away and pedal off before the victim can return fire. The nozzle has a 180-degree radius and riders can adjust it on the fly. Get two Blasters and you can turn your bikes into horses and water joust. Grab some towels and let the games begin. About $25 at your favorite retailer, including http://www.walmart.com

bike bubblerBike Bubbler (FUZE/Skyrocket)
This one manages to bridge the gap between exercise and gross-ness. All you do is mount this motorized gizmo underneath your bicycle seat, and you can spray out a stream of bubbles as you zip around the neighborhood. In the words of one of our child-testers, “it looks like it’s pooping bubbles.” Well, at least this time it’s clean, right? The Bubbler comes with one 4-ounce bottle of bubble solution, and you can make your own when you run out. For kids who aren’t riding yet (or adults who are exhausted), the Bubbler works just fine without a bike. About $15 at www.SkyrocketToys.com or www.FuzeBikeFX.com

view masterView Master (Fisher Price)
Remember View Masters from when you were a kid—those goggle-like viewers with their circular cardboard story reels that simulated 3D? They’ve been on toy store shelves since the 1940s (it’s their 75th anniversary this year!), and who would have thought that something so low-tech could possibly entertain today’s tech-crazy kids. Go figure. The new View Masters are pretty much the same as the old ones—put the reel in the viewer and push a lever to move through the story. The only real differences are that the images are brighter and the viewers themselves come in a variety of styles, including Hello Kitty and those Despicable Me minions. Gift sets include a View Master, three story reels, and a handy-don’t-lose-them storage case. Available in stores and online for about $15. http://www.fisher-price.com/

Gear Up!

Most of us—adults and kids—are walking around with hundreds of dollars of portable electronics. This week we review a number of items that are designed to help you get the most use out of your gadgets, and to protect them—and your ears.

Knivo wireless headphonesKinivo BTH240 Wireless Bluetooth Headphones (Kinivo)
Wires, wires, everywhere, and no one knows where they go or how to untangle them. The solution? Go wireless. With these Knivo Bluetooth headphones—which work on almost any device—there’ll be no more accidentally dragging your music player off the table or having someone trip over your wires and yank your ear buds out. And for kids watching a movie or playing a game, no more wires to fiddle with or gnaw on. But be warned. Once you go wireless, you’ll never go back. $35 on www.Pure-Gear.com




DualTek Extreme Shock CaseDualTek Extreme Shock Case for Samsung Galaxy S5 (PureGear)
If you’ve got a Samsung Galaxy S5, chances it you paid plenty for it (or made a long, long commitment to your cell carrier). So it’s worth investing a bit more to protect it from the daily bumping and scratching you put it through—and from the drops and dings your kids inflict on it. The new DualTek case fits like a glove, doesn’t get in the way of taking pics or making calls, and takes a real beating. The corners—the weak spot on most phone cases—are specially designed to absorb impact and vibration. Available in yellow, white, and black. $35 at http://www.pure-gear.com


PureTek Rollon screen protectorPureGear Roll on Screen Shield Kit (PureGear)
Even the best cases have trouble keeping the screen from getting scratched. If you’ve got any iPhone 5 or a Galaxy S5, the PureGear Screen Shield kit is for you. The patented roll-on applicator makes applying the screen protector a breeze, and completely eliminates those annoying bubbles. The protector itself reduces glare and besides resisting scratches, it keeps your screen safe from the dirt, grime, and fingerprints from little hands. $25 at www.Pure-Gear.com


BlynkBlynk (Lyfeshot)
This tiny, hands-free camera is specially designed to take time-lapse photos. Just set the interval—one shot every second, minute, hour, day, or longer—and you’re ready to go. Blynk then puts all those photos into a single movie (or saves them as individual JPEGs). Now you can condense a week-long adventure into a few minutes, create your very own 30-second video of flowers blooming, or marvel at how quickly your baby (or your puppy) is growing up. Available in pink, blue, and black. $129 on http://www.lyfeshot.com


Paick SleekPaick Power Bank (Paick)
There’s nothing worse than being out with the family, seeing something amazing, and discovering that your battery is at 5 percent. You can solve that problem with a Paick Power Bank. Charge it up before you leave your house or hotel and you’ve got a sleek, portable power source that will help you squeeze a few more hours out of your phone, tablet, or other device. Power Banks come in a variety of capacities. The one we tested was 6000mAh, which essentially doubled the available talk time. $59 and up at www.Paick.com


Sun Power solar chargerSun Power 6000 Charger (Secur)
But what if your plans take you someplace where there’s no electricity at all? If you’ve got a little sunshine, all you’ll need is the Secur Sun Power 6000. The fold-up solar panel charges your phone, tablet, or other device no matter where you are. It’s durable, light, easy-to-use, and water resistant, which makes it a must-have for beach- or camping trips. Dual USB ports let you charge two phones or devices at once. $129 at http://securproducts.com