Best Toys and Games of 2012

2 January, 2013 Play No comments
Best Toys and Games of 2012

With 2012 over and 2013 now dawning, we can say this much: The year provided us with some excellent toys and video games. The growing video game market produced some real winners, especially for folks looking for family-friendly titles, and the hottest toys are encouraging kids to build, dream, and fiddle with smaller versions of the electronics that are quickly becoming an inseparable part of their daily lives. 

Need a refresher of what’s worth checking out? Here are ten of 2012’s best toys and video games – the good news being that many more (i.e. the LeapsterGS, Imaginext’s line of playsets, a variety of MegaBloks kits, etc.) are available in droves.

Wii U – Nintendo’s latest contribution to the video game console race is tons of fun for game players of all ages and skill levels. The system is considerably more powerful than its predecessor, the Wii, but its most notable feature is its tablet-style controller that lets you enjoy games while the family TV is wrapped up for other purposes. 

Skylanders Giants (Nintendo 3DS, Wii, Wii U, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) – When you can’t choose between toys or video games, grab a compromise. Skylanders: Giants is an adventure game that’s packed with plastic figurines. Said figurines come to life when they’re scanned into the game via an included “portal” accessory. 

Rayman Jungle Run (iPhone, iPad) – Rayman Jungle Run is a well-build and easy-to-play endless running game for iOS. At 99 cents, it’s also very affordable! 

Pokemon Black Version 2/White Version 2 (Nintendo DS) – These direct follow-ups to Pokemon Black/White for the Nintendo DS bring offer tons more content for Pokemon enthusiasts, including more Pokemon than ever to catch, and hours and hours of exploration and content. 

Minecraft (PC) – This independent world-building game is a colossal hit, and for good reason. Players literally carve out their own world from a huge canvas, and several pioneers can play in the sandbox at once via the game’s multiplayer options. 

Hot Wheels RC Terrain Twister – RC vehicles are a lot of fun, at least until the vehicle goes offroad and slows to a crawl. The Hot Wheels RC Terrain Twister is meant to take on all surfaces, including road, grass, dirt, and snow.   

Tabeo – Toys R Us’s exclusive 7-inch tablet is engineered specifically for kids. With the help of a Wi-Fi connection, youngsters can play fun and educational games, and there’s even an HDMI output allows the tablet’s content to be broadcast on bigger screens. 

SuperStructs – This series of pegs and round blocks lets kids snap together all kinds of fun creations. There are different model kits to choose from, but each one is extremely versatile and encourages kids to add their own flourish. 

Lego – Legos remain an extremely popular gift choice, and for good reason. Building block towers never gets old no matter what age you are, and playsets like the DC Universe help keep things fresh.

Glow Crazy Doodle Dome – The Glow Crazy Doodle Dome gives kids their own hideout, which they can subsequently make their own by doodling on the walls with a lightwand (included). It’s fun, it’s affordable, and best of all, it’s mess-free.  

10 Great Toy Picks

24 December, 2012 Play No comments
10 Great Toy Picks

If you’re looking for gift ideas, it’s hard to go wrong with toys. That said, you still want to get the most value for your buck. You want toys that are durable, fun, refreshing, and even educational. There’s no shortage of great stuff out there—which can make shopping for a neat toy even more confusing. This list highlighting 10 great toy picks should take some of the muddle out of your decision-making. 

Sbyke S-16 – Frankly, the Sbyke looks like the product of muddled love between a skateboard, a bike, and a scooter, but it’s a hot toy—and it’s also a great in-between vehicle for younger bike/scooter enthusiasts who still need a little practice with balancing. Older kids will have a good time attempting to pull off tricks, too. 

Switch & Go Dinos – Dinosaurs are always a popular toy pick. Robots and cars are safe bets, too. So you can imagine why VTech’s Switch & Go Dinos, which transform from cars into robot dinosaurs, will completely make any robot-crazy kid’s day. Each dinosaur is also equipped with a screen that tells dinosaur facts.   

FurReal Friends – The FurReal Friends line of stuffed toy pets is a warm and fuzzy alternative for kids that love animals, but suffer from allergies. Popular picks include GoGo My Walkin’ Pup, the Hop N’ Cuddle Bunnies, Baby Butterscotch pony and the Walkin’ Snuggimals dog breeds. 

Imaginext’s Samurai Castle – This samurai-themed playset is a good choice for kids enthralled with tales about warriors and swordfights. The Samurai Castle is packed with fun secrets, including a hidden exit, a zipline, and a firing canon. The playset  comes with everything a kid needs for an epic battle, including armed samurai and ninja warriors. 

Barbie Mega Bloks – Barbie has so many playsets, it makes sense that she’d eventually opt-in for a fixer-upper. Mega Bloks’ Barbie line has tons of accessories kids can assemble themselves, including the Build ‘N Style Convertible, the Build ‘N Style Beach House, and even a Build ‘N Style Ice Cream Cart. 

Apptivity – Apptivity blends the tactical and the digital by letting kids using specialized toys to interact with iPad applications (included with purchase). Real Hot Wheels cars run along tracks that are generated on-screen, WWE wrestlers tussle in virtual rings, and the guys and ghouls from Monster High socialize in digital hallways. Don’t worry—Apptivity toys are screen-safe and won’t scuff up your iPad! 

Monopoly Zapped – Few board games have undergone an overhaul as often as Monopoly, so it makes sense that the classic game of buy-and-sell would be re-outfitted for the digital age. Players utilize the game board and an iPad app to buy, sell, and auction property. iPad not included. 

Angry Birds – The Angry Birds franchise has a robust presence at retail. What, you thought those temperamental birds would let themselves remain cooped up behind a tablet screen forever? 

Jake and the Pirates Musical Ship – Between scurvy and an assured death at the end of a rope, the lifestyle of a pirate was anything but glorious. But the nice thing about being a kid is that you don’t have to know about any of that. This music-playing pirate ship is chock full of secret passages, and is equipped with a working canon. 

LeapFrog LeapPad 2 – The LeapPad 2 is a great in-between step for young kids who may not be ready for their own tablet just yet. It’s durable, and is able to download exclusive learning and entertainment apps from the LeapFrog Connect App Store. Also see handheld educational video game system the Leapster GS, great for portable learning and entertainment.

Looking for other great options? Target’s got a great deal on Disney’s Ultimate Princess Doll collection; Hasbro Games is offering 21st century versions of Star Wars, Twister, Monopoly and more, as well as low-tech tabletop versions of Angry Birds; Imperial Toy’s Kidz Bop musical microphones and guitars rock; and Playskool’s Spider-Man toys are fun for boys as well. The good news: Whichever way you turn, there are tons of great options to please kids, and kids at heart.

MMOs and Online Gaming: The Ultimate Dictionary

18 December, 2012 Play No comments
MMOs and Online Gaming: The Ultimate Dictionary

We’ve looked earlier at the top-level overview of online virtual worlds, and how they’re essentially social networks but with a greater focus on graphics.  We’ve also previously examined a few of the common concerns parents have about their kids taking part in these. So to make sure all modern parents and interested parties have a solid understanding of what’s at play here, here’s a look at the most common characteristics of virtual worlds via a handy MMOs and online gaming dictionary, which provides a guide to popular in-game terms.

AVATARS: This is the virtual representation of your character onscreen, and is something that players can highly customize.  Usually, when you first play a virtual world, you can tweak many of the basics of your appearance, but as you play more, you’ll earn special items and upgrades that can be used to enhance or change your avatar’s appearance.

BETA: This is a term used by video game developers to indicate that a product is not quite final yet and is still in the testing phases.  This doesn’t mean it’s not accessible to the public though.  The beta phase of a virtual world usually means that they are still doing lots of tinkering with how things will work, and they may make drastic changes still based on how everything is being used.

CHAT: This is a key feature in online virtual worlds, as it’s one of the more obvious ways that users who are habituating the same online space can communicate one another. Any reputable online virtual world will have chat safeguards in place such as pre-scripted chat, safe chat, whitelisted users, blacklisted words as well as restrictions on just who others can chat with.

CURRENCY: Most online virtual worlds contain some sort of in-game currency which allow users to buy items or upgrades for their dwelling or avatar.  Whether it’s called Rox in Moshi Monsters,  Taro in FusionFall or simply Coins as found in a number of destinations, this currency is earned not only by playing games and collecting items in world, but often is given as a reward for logging in daily in the form of bonus mini-games.

EMOTE: Emotes are ways that players can communicate with others in the game world without chatting. In essence, they’re short animations for characters. So it could be a happy dance, a laugh, a cheer, and they’re all prompted by a simple button press. Emotes let players either act silly or do some basic virtual body-language without needing to chat.

FRIENDS: Friends in the game world are generally different than friends in real-life, although for younger kids it’s good to keep friend relationships restricted to those that are already known to them, and older kids may actually derive more enjoyment from online experiences if doing them with online friends. Friends in virtual worlds are usually defined by mutual acceptance, although characters can friend any other avatar they come across in hopes to expand their list. Again, just because your friends in a virtual world doesn’t mean you’ve ever met in real life.

MEMBERSHIP: Although most virtual worlds offer at least some basic, enjoyable free-to-play experiences, nearly all offer premium memberships which provide, for an additional monthly or yearly subscription fee, access to extra areas, games, items and more within the game. If your kids dabble in virtual worlds, be prepared for the inevitable please for membership, which can run anywhere from around $5 per month to more than $75 per year.

MODERATORS: Moderators are humans that participate and monitor virtual worlds and their chat functionality to not only assist users who need help, but also to deal with any players that are exhibiting negative or troubling behavior. Moderators may be secretly roaming the world as a player character, or be on the ready should inappropriate chat get flagged by the system or by other users.

REPORTING: Although moderators are on hand, it’s important for players to realize the power they have to report negative behavior or other game issues to the game’s developers. Although it’s easy to block other users and then report their behavior, players are also encouraged to report any problems or bugs they see so the developers can fix them. This is especially true of games that are in beta versions.

SERVERS: Each server represents a separate instance of a game world, so for some of the more popular online games that have multiple server options available, essentially each server represents a parallel universe. It’s important to note the name of the server you’re playing on, especially if you are trying to meet any of your friends online. If you choose to play on different servers, you won’t be able to play together in the virtual world.

With a basic understanding of the concepts, concerns and key terms for virtual worlds under your belt, you’re likely ready for some specific recommendations.  Next up is our look at some of our favorite online virtual worlds for kids.