A Playful Intro to Gaming

Are you looking to add a new layer of fun to your at-home gaming world, or maybe a gentle way to give your little one a taste? If so, you’ll definitely want to check out these toys, which will keep your youngster (okay, and you too) entertained through the rest of the winter and beyond.

nintendo plushPlush Toys from Nintendo
Got a kid who’s not quite ready for actual gaming? These cute, 7.5-inch plush toys from Nintendo are a great way to introduce him or her to popular cultural icons such as Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, Link, Red Pikmin, and Yellow Pikmin. Plus, they’re sturdy, soft, and great for cuddling up with at bedtime (or any other time). They’re about $8 each at your favorite retailer.

 

 

 

 

tmnt hero portalJAKKS Hero Portal
Another one for the novice gamers among us (and for their more experienced, young-at-heart adult caretakers). These are the latest additions to the “Plug It In and Play TV Games” line. Right now, the Portals come in two flavors: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers. The Portals are extremely easy to use, since the games are built right into the controller. Just plug it into pretty much any TV and you’re ready to roll. No need for any additional consoles, attachments, wires, or software. Then, pick your Hero, place him or her on the portal, and start battling your way through each game’s six stages and 18 missions. Available for $40 online and everywhere else. The portals come with two Heroes. Additional Heroes, as well as booster packs, which unlock secret missions and more, are sold separately everywhere.

angry birds telepodAngry Birds Telepods
These guys are a real blast for any Angry Birds fan, which at this point, must be nearly everyone with an Internet connection. Telepods come in a dizzying array of options, characters, and price points, so there’s something for every child and every budget. The newest Telepods are Transformers and Stella (the pink lady bird). Let’s start with Transformers. Yes, the birds are still angry, and yes, they’re still doing battle with the pigs. But now they’re cleverly (although a little obviously) disguised as robots. You play the game in both real life as well as on your tablet, with the figurines and the Telepods base, which transports all the characters right into the Transformers app (included). Place the pigs on perches, launch the birds, and try to make bacon. Being able to touch and manipulate the figurines and accessories bridges the real and virtual worlds and adds a new element to an already-engaging experience. It’s great fun for Angry Birds lovers and Transformers aficionados, and almost too much fun to endure for fans of both! How is it that no one thought of this before?

angry birds stellaWith its playhouses, swings, food playsets, and pinkish hue, Angry Birds Stella is definitely aimed at the girls. But oddly, most boys are perfectly willing to overlook the color scheme, as long as they can still catapult birds and terrorize those little porkers. Joking aside, we think it’s great that this one is pitched at girls; so many companies mistakenly assume that girls aren’t interested in gaming. But our young testers proved otherwise. It’s clear that with Angry Birds as popular as it is, the girls are glad to represent with the lovely Stella.

Games for Two

Here at Parents@Play, we focus on toys and games that parents and kids can do together. But a number of readers have asked for some recommendations for those times when it’s just mom or dad and only one child. Here are a few of our “you-can-play-with-more-but-plenty-of-fun-for-two” games.

doodle diceDoodle Dice (Jax Ltd.)
This game is part Yahtzee and part art project. Each side of each of the six dice has a dot, a line, a squiggle, or a face. And each card in the deck has a drawing (called a “doodle”) made up of anywhere from 1-6 of those elements. Cards are color coded—all the ones with one-die doodles are orange, all the ones with two-dice doddles are red, etc. Players take turns drawing a card and rolling the dice, trying to match the doodle. If you don’t get it on the first try, keep the ones you like and roll the rest again. The object is to make one doodle from each colored card. But you can change the rules any way you want. For example, if you’re playing with a young child, use only the red and orange cards. The older the child, the more complex the doodles. You get the point. Ages 6 and up. 2-6 players. As low as $10.17. http://jaxgames.com/

hit the habitat trailHit the Habitat Trail! (Jax Ltd.)
A game that truly makes education fun. The goal is to collect two cards from each of the earth’s habitats: arctic, desert, forest, grasslands, jungle, mountains, ocean, and wetlands. You get those cards by answering multiple-choice questions—about either a habitat or an animal that lives there—from cards that you pull as you follow a spiral trail around the world. For example, are an animal’s stripes like rings on a tree—telling how old the animal is? (Nope).  Great for playing at home or, if you’re an educator, in the classroom. Ages 8 and up. 2-6 players. As low as $22. http://jaxgames.com/

 

linkeeLinkee (Linkee)
If you like trivia and quiz games, you’ll love LInkee. What makes Linkee different from some others you may have played is that each card contains four trivia questions whose answers all have something in common. For example: “Peter Rabbit” author (Potter), nickname for Australia (Oz), bird whose name rhymes with Berlin (Merlin), and Ian Mackellen’s character in “Lord of the Rings” (Gandalff). And the Linkee is…. Wizards. Linkee will make you think, wince, and laugh—sometimes all at the same time. Ages 14 and up. 2-30 players. $43. http://playlinkee.com/

sequence statesSequence: States & Capitals (Jax, Ltd.)
Got a kid who’s trying to memorize state capitals? This game—a variation on the wildly successful Sequence game—can help. The idea is pretty simple. Players are dealt cards, each with a colored representation of a state, the name of its capital, and a star indicating roughly where that city is within the state. Then each player tries to match the cards in their hand to identical images on the game board, putting a chip on each one. When you get five in a row, you’ve got yourself a Sequence. Two Sequences and you win the game. Use Remove cards to mess up your opponent’s Sequences. Other versions include Cats, Dogs, Bible, and Jewish. Ages 7 and up. 2-12 players. $16. http://jaxgames.com/

word aroundWord A Round (Think Fun)
A fast-paced, really fun game. Just flip over a round card and read the words written in circles. Sounds easy, right?—the words are right there in front of you. But without knowing where the word begins or ends, it’s surprisingly hard. Ages 10 and up. 2-6 players. $10 retail. http://thinkfun.com/

Starting Off the Year with a Bang

Like it or not, kids are fascinated by things that shoot. And while we understand that some parents are completely against anything that looks remotely like a weapon, shooting toys aren’t going away anytime soon. In our view, there’s nothing inherently wrong with firearms (admittedly, my being a Marine Corps vet may influence that philosophy). So the solution is to learn to use them safely. This week we take a look at two amazing blasters and one other toy that stretches the definition of “shoot” a little

rapid madnessBOOMco Rapid Madness (Mattel)
Rapid Madness gives blaster fans two ways to shoot: one dart at a time or 20 in about 5 seconds. Either way, the foam darts can fly up to 50 feet. One of the drawbacks with other dart-shooting blasters is that you never know for sure whether you’ve hit your target. Not so with Rapid Madness. The darts have “Smart Stick” tips that cling to the included target, as well as to some glossy surfaces, which makes competitive shooting and scoring easy. Darts also stick to the pop-up shield that’s part of the blaster so you can seize your opponent’s ammo. Comes with 30 darts, a 20-dart clip, and the target. We generally don’t talk about packaging in our reviews, but the “certified frustration-proof packaging” means you can be up and shooting within minutes instead of running around trying to find a scissors or wire cutter. Ages 6 and up. $25-$40. http://shop.mattel.com/

xploderz mayhem Xploderz Mayhem Firestorm series (Maya Group)
We first saw Xploderz at Toy Fair a few years ago and were impressed with the unique ammo, which starts off as tiny pellets (that can’t be fired) and turns into gel-like marbles (that can be fired) when soaked in water. We also loved that they’re completely non-toxic, don’t stain, require virtually no clean-up, and really and truly don’t hurt. We mention that last bit just in case someone gets hit—we highly recommend that you have your children fire at non-human (or animal) targets, or, if they do fire at other people, they aim no higher than their target’s waist). Mayhem comes with 2,000 rounds and 250-round clip. So while your opponents are busy trying to find their darts under the couch and fumbling around trying to re-load them, you can keep blasting away (at two rounds per second, you’ve got more than two minutes of non-stop firepower). Plus, with an accuracy range of 50 to 80 feet, you’ll be invincible. Ages 8 and up. About $18. http://xploderz.com/

vtech smart shotSmart Shots Sports Center (Vtech)
Okay, this one isn’t a weapon, but it still involves shooting. The target, however, is either a basketball hoop or a soccer net. When your toddler drives in for a layup or shoots a half-court jumper, Sports Center’s LED screen keeps score. And when he or she finds the back of the net, Sports Center applauds, cheers, and shows encouraging animations. It’s a fun, energetic way to expose young kids to both sports. If your little one gets tired of shooting and kicking and wants to relax by brushing up on fine motor skills, there are plenty of buttons and other things to play with that introduce shapes and numbers and make all sorts of fun sounds. Comes with a small basketball, soccer ball, net, and hoop. All you need is batteries, which aren’t included. Ages 12-36 months. About $28.  http://www.vtechkids.com/

Robots and More—Lots More

Robots and game figures were really hot in 2014 and we’re predicting that they’ll be even hotter in 2015. Here are some of our favorites as we move into the New Year.

tipster wowweeTipster (WowWee)
Remember MiP, the terrific robot we reviewed a few months ago? Well, Tipster is MiP’s little brother. Tipster can balance on two wheels like big bro, but because he’s young, he prefers four. Tipster has five different play modes. With Tippy Tunes, Tipster starts playing a tune and your child tries to pile as much stuff on him as possible before the music stops. Then Tipster starts spinning and everything flies around. With Dizzy Builder, Tipster starts spinning first, and the child tries to attach as many objects to him as possible. The other three modes also feature variations on stacking and knocking over—exactly what little kids (and plenty of parents) love. The buttons on Tipster and the remote are big, colorful, and make this robot easy to operate right out of the box. Ages 4 and up. About $50 at your favorite retailer or http://www.wowwee.com/

ozobotOzobot (Ozobot)
These little robots are aimed at a much more sophisticated audience. They’ look pretty simple—like mini R2D2s—and their talent lies in following lines. You can draw your own or download dozens of patterns from the website. Ozobots change their color to match those of the line they’re following. But the real fun starts when you use the ozocodes, combinations of colored dots that tell your ozobot how to move. For example, red+green+blue slows the bot to a snail’s pace, blue+green+blue gives him a turbo boost; you can also change the ozobots’ direction and even make them dance. Our favorite was the brain teasers, which are mazes with missing sections; to get your bot through maze, you need to color in the right codes. Ozobots come two in a pack so they’re perfect for parent-child competition (or cooperation). For ages 8 and up. About $60 at Amazon or http://www.ozobot.com/

nintendo amiiboAmiibo (Nintendo)
What a great way to interact with your favorite Nintendo characters—just touch them to your Wii U GamePad controller and they jump right into your favorite games. No system upgrades and no portals. Whew! That cuts the cost and makes them more accessible to everyone. Buy only the ones you want, customize them in the games, and interact the way you want to. About 39 Amiibo figures are available now, with more on the horizon. Each retails for about $15. Ages 5 and up. http://www.nintendo.com/

hasbro optimus primeEpic Optimus Prime (Hasbro)
Epic Optimus is a really big (22 inches tall) transformer that doesn’t actually transform. But take it from us: your child won’t care. Sounds a little counterintuitive, but his size and the chest compartment that opens to reveal a command center that fits mini-figures (sold separately) will more than make up for the lack of transformer capabilities. Ages 5 and up. About $25.

think fun robot turtlesRobot Turtles (ThinkFun)
Coding for preschoolers? Absolutely. The object is to move your turtle from one of the corner spaces of an 8×8 matrix to a matching colored jewel in the middle of the board. Cards give directions on how to move the turtle: one space forward, turn left, one space forward, turn right, etc. The kids are the programmers—bossing you around like real programmers boss around computers—and you’re the computer, simply following directions. The first round is pretty easy, but once the kids have mastered it, you (the adult) can add obstacles that the players have to navigate around. Best for 2-4 preschoolers plus one adult. Each round gets more complex—and more fun. $24.99 at Amazon. http://thinkfun.com/

Better Late Than Never…

It happens to all of us—despite the non-stop “only-x-days-‘til-Christmas” warnings, somehow, the big day came and we still didn’t get presents for everyone. If this sounds familiar, here are some fun, easy-to-find, easy-on-the-wallet games for the whole family.

charmazingCharmazing (Wooky Entertainment)
Charmazing comes with six charms, thread, beads, gems, chains, and enough other art supplies to make three complete, stylish bracelets. Your future fashion icon can then download the free Charmazing app, scan the charms, and start earning points and exchanging ideas with other girls. Ages 7 and up. $14.95 at Toys R Us or charmazing.com








crunch a colorCrunch a Color: The Healthy Eating Game (Tiny Green Bee)
This is a really fun way to get kids to eat healthier foods without you having to bug them. The game consists of 90 cards and a chart. Each card awards points for eating a different type of food, some are listed by color (red, green, blue, white), some by category (protein, etc.). The dealer distributes cards based on what each member of the family puts on his or her plate. Eat your peas? 10 points. Had a sweet potato? 15 points. Try a new food and you just doubled your points. Bonuses for setting the table, good manners, and more. Each meal can be a game, or you can track points over a week. Also check out Lee’s book, The 52 New Foods Challenge. $12.95 at crunchacolor.com

 

dino hunter uv night vision gogglesDino Hunter UV Night Vision Goggles (Uncle Milton)
These goggles are a blast. In night-vision mode, you can actually do some exploring in the dark. Use the invisible ink pen (the ink is invisible, not the pen) and dino stencil to leave tracks, which someone else can follow using UV-vision mode. The tracks are great for for scavenger hunts or just to lure a reluctant child to bed. Ages 6 and up. $17.99 at retailers or unclemilton.com








science captain americaMarvel Science Captain America Shield Trainer (Uncle Milton)
Place your bad guy on the playing board, then try to knock him off by ricocheting your shield off of walls or other obstacles, just like Captain America himself. A really interesting, engaging way to introduce kids to the science of calculating angles and rebounds (this could also come in handy when your child wants to play pool in a few years). Ages 6 and up. $19.95. unclemilton.com

 

 

 


spiral designerSpiral Designer (Ravensburger)

If you were around in the 60s, you may remember Spirograph (if not, ask your parents or grandparents). Spiral designer is very similar, consisting of a round plastic frame and a set of discs that you run around the inside edge of the frame to create beautiful spiral patterns and designs. Your creations can be as simple or complex as you like, and what’s especially nice is that everyone in the family who can handle a pencil pretty well can have plenty of artistic fun. $20 everywhere or ravensburger.com

 

 

spy tagSpy Tag (Ravensburger)
Distribute the 12 spy cards among the players and turn them face up. Then, set the timer and the oldest player draws an “agent card,” which he matches with one of the spy cards. Whoever has the match (could be you, or you could make the match with someone else’s spy card) is It and draws the next agent card. When the timer goes off, whoever’s It has to pick a briefcase card. It it’s empty, you’re okay, but if it contains the stolen gizmo, (that’s what it’s called), you’re out. Play continues ‘till there’s only one player left. The game requires quick thinking, fast reflexes, and two button batteries (included), and always leads to plenty of giggles. For 2-4 players. $10.00. ravensburger.com

Are We There Yet? Almost…

Those last few days of holiday shopping can be incredibly stressful. Not to worry: we’re here to help. These items are widely available, won’t break the bank, and are pretty much guaranteed to make your kids light up like a Christmas tree or Menorah. And don’t forget to check out the latest winners of the Mr. Dad Seal of Approval.

tummy stuffersTummy Stuffers Wild Ones! (Jay at Play)
Jay at Play is making some pretty awesome stuff, including the new Tummy Stuffers, which accomplish something many parents struggle with: getting their kids to clean up after playtime. Children absolutely love stuffing their toys into the Tummy Stuffer’s mouth—you’ll be amazed how much fits in there. Tummy Stuffers come in six animal styles, all in wild, funky colors that the kids will adore.  $20 (buy a big one, and you get a little one free).  https://www.buytummystuffers.com/.

janimalsJ-Animals (Jay at Play)
J-Animals are the first “wearable stuffed animals”—part costume, part PJs, all fun. They come in three sizes, (small, medium, and large, of course), which will accommodate everyone from the smallest kids to medium-sized adults. You can be a cat, zebra, dog, giraffe, or unicorn. They’re soft as fleece, and  when you finally (and reluctantly) take them off, they roll up into a little ball that looks like a pillow or stuffed animal. $29.99 at https://www.buyjanimals.com

bright eyes blanketBright Eyes Blanket
These guys are perfect for naptime, bedtime, and especially travel. Every blanket has an animal face and paws (choose from Playful Puppy, Kool Kitten, Darling Duck, and Precious Panda). Besides being cute, soft, and highly snuggly, their glow-in-the-dark eyes make a perfect nightlight. $19.99 on www.brighteyesblanket.com or your favorite retailer.

power rangers morpherPower Rangers Super Megaforce Deluxe Legendary Morpher (Bandai)
Power Rangers are hot right now (aren’t the always?), so if you’re shopping for a boy under 11, your search for the perfect gift is over. Morphers are souped up cell phones that let the kids call up any of the powers and zords that have appeared on the show over the last 20 years. Use any Ranger Key (two are included) to unlock special lights and sounds.  $29.99 at retailers everywhere.

q rex megazordQ Rex Megazord (Bandai)
For those of you who don’t speak Power Ranger, Megazords are the big ones, the ones that let you mix and match powers and features from each individual Ranger’s zord to create, well, a mega zord.  Use the included Ranger Key to unlock Q Rex’s spinning drill arm. Q also works with other zords you might have in your collection (go ahead and admit it, you sometimes play with Power Rangers after the kids go to sleep).  $35 on http://www.bandai.com.

lego furry creatureCREATOR Furry Creatures (LEGO)
It’s really hard to go wrong with LEGO, and whether your little builder is a boy or a girl—or you want something the whole family can enjoy together—Creator sets are a guaranteed hit. This set comes with all the pieces you need to build a cat, a mouse, even a little piece of cheese.  Better yet, you can take your cat apart and rebuild it into a puppy or a rabbit. Also available in Forest Animals, Rainforest Animals, and others. Around $20 at http://shop.lego.com

lego laketownAttack on Lake-town (LEGO)
Got a little fan of “The Hobbit” or “Lord of the Rings”? Or maybe you’re the fan and you’ve decided that it’s time to introduce them to your children. Either way, the new Attack on Lake-town set includes everything—and everyone—you need to help Tauriel and her Elven warriors defend their land from those awful Orcs. Includes five mini-figures (Bain son of Bard, Bard the Bowman, Tauriel, and two Orcs ) and some very useful weapons—a lot of stuff for $30. At http://shop.lego.com and retailers everywhere.