KidsPost annual holiday toy test

November 15, 2012

It’s time to start the list. We’re not talking about homework assignments or your clarinet practice log. The list. The one that’s pure fun. The one that might lead to shrieks of delight a few weeks from now.

Yes, the holiday wish list. But how to choose? You’ve seen boxes on store shelves and ads on TV. Do you take a chance on the app/toy fishing pole? What about a building set that lights up? Or a crossbow like the one Katniss used in “The Hunger Games”?

KidsPost went straight to the target audience for these toys and more in our annual holiday toy test. Kids from 10 area schools took more than 75 toys, games and crafts out of their boxes to see if they were as much fun as they looked. The testers let us know which ones they would ask for or even buy with their own money. So, get pencil and paper and check out the next three pages of new toys, some of which might deserve a spot on your list.

— Christina Barron

NOTE: All toys are available online and in major stores unless otherwise noted.

Arts and Crafts

Cool Baker Cake Pop Maker

Tested by: Fifth-graders.

Spin Master. $24.99; refills that make four pops: $6.99. Age 6 and older.

Cake pops have been a huge baking trend this year. This toy lets kids make the sweet treats without baking. Water is the only additional ingredient necessary to make the pops, which go into the refrigerator for 15 minutes before decorating. Kids said the instructions were easy to follow, and they liked that this kit could be a family activity and one that could be used repeatedly. (The kit makes eight pops; refills are sold separately.) They noted that the pops don’t taste the same as cake baked in an oven.

DJ Rock Dock

Tested by: Fifth-graders.

SmartLab Toys. $19.99. Age 8 and older. Available online and at Doodlehopper 4 Kids in Falls Church and Springfield and Booktopia in Bethesda.

Build a dock for your iPod or MP3 player with this kit. Boys and girls said that learning about circuits was challenging but worth the effort. “You have to understand where each piece goes,” one tester said. They all agreed that they would use the dock long after they had put it together.

Digital Light Designer

Tested by: Third-graders.

Crayola. $49.99. Age 6 and older.

Drawing colorful pictures on this dome-shaped canvas requires no paint or markers. Touch the dome with the stylus, or pen, and the drawings appear out of light. Artists can use special effects, such as animation, and save their creations in a digital art gallery. The Light Designer also includes games. Our kid testers said they had never seen anything like it. “It’s like an iPad and a coloring book mixed together,” although they noted that it makes noise that can be annoying.

Mini Capsters Jewelry

Tested by: Fifth-graders.

Klutz. $21.99. Age 8 and older. Online and at Barstons Child’s Play in Arlington, Baltimore, Chevy Chase-D.C., McLean and Rockville.

If you love to make jewelry but are tired of friendship bracelets, this kit might be just what you’re looking for. Turn bottle caps into necklaces and earrings with stickers and jewels. Testers had mixed feelings on how tricky it was to attach the pieces, but they agreed that it was fun and creative. “I could make presents from the set,” one girl said.

Action Toys

Air Storm Z-Curve Bow and Z-Tek Cross Bow

Tested by: Fourth-graders.

Zing Toys. $19.99-$24.97. Age 8 and older. At Barstons Child’s Play. Z-Curve also available at Amazon.com; Z-Tek also available at Wal-Mart stores.

If you picture yourself as Katniss from “The Hunger Games” or Hawkeye from “Marvel’s The Avengers,” you need a bow. The Z-Curve can launch foam arrows up to 125 feet, and the Z-Tek features firing modes for close range and distance. The Z-Tek also includes a target. Our fourth-grade testers called the bows “fun . . . fast . . . challenging and entertaining.” And to reassure Mom and Dad, one student noted, “It didn’t hurt anyone.”

Take Along Soccer Match

Tested by: Third-graders.

Playmobil. $59.99. Age 5 and older. At Amazon.com and Barstons Child’s Play.

This portable soccer game was a favorite with third-graders, who said it reminded them of foosball. The figures, which are bigger than those in typical Playmobil sets, can kick the ball with the help of a lever. The goalies are connected to short poles that allow them to move back and forth and even dive for a ball. The field folds in half for storage with all the pieces inside. The kids said this was a toy that would keep their interest. “Sometimes we get sick of our toys,” one tester told us, “but we would still enjoy playing this one in six months.”

Zooma Splat X Smack Shot

Tested by: Fifth-graders.

Imperial Toy. $14.99.

Age 5 and older.

One option for shooting things across the room or the yard is the Smack Shot. The slingshotlike toy has a light that helps you aim at targets up to 100 feet away. The set includes six pieces of soft ammunition, three for distance and three that stick to hard surfaces. The kids had nothing negative to report. “Everything about it I loved,” one tester said.

Cars/Radio Control

Cyber Cycle

Tested by: Fourth-graders.

Kid Galaxy. $39.99. Age 5 and older. Available online and at Barstons Child’s Play.

This remote-control motorcycle, which comes in silver or red, has hidden wheels
designed to prevent it from falling over. The wide front and back wheels operate separately to allow for spins and slides. One tester said it was “very easy to operate and fun to crash!”

Hot Wheels Terrain Twister

Tested by: Third-graders.

Mattel. $99.99. Age 8 and older.

The Terrain Twister looks more like a space vehicle than a car or motorcycle. The pontoons on each side allow it to move over grass, dirt, water or even snow. Testers said it was difficult to control but still gave it the top rating. “It moves around a lot and feels like a crazy animal chasing me,” one student said.

Micro race cars

Tested by: Second-graders.

Age 6 and older.

Don’t have the room for a typical race-car set? Several toy companies had small spaces in mind with the new miniature cars and tracks. Two of our testers’ favorites were Nano Speed Super Vert Crash Set (Spin Master. $34.99.) and Micro Chargers Jump Track (Moose Toys. $29.99.). Put the tiny cars in their battery-powered chargers and then watch them shoot around the track. Each set comes with two cars, but the tracks can hold several more. Crashing the cars was the favorite part of playing with both sets, the kids said.

Games and Puzzles

Angry Birds Action Game

Tested by: Second-graders.

University Games. $29.99. Age 5 and older.

Angry Birds are everywhere. This year they escaped from electronic devices to show up in more traditional games. This game, which is like a beanbag toss, includes two stuffed birds, a plastic pig, three wooden blocks and a play mat. To play, place the pig on a stack of the blocks and toss the birds to knock him down. Score points depending on where the pig lands. Additional birds and pigs are sold separately. Second-graders loved knocking down the pesky pig.

Rollick!

Tested by: Sixth-graders.

The Game Chef. $24.99. Age 10
and older. Available online only.

All the kids who tested Rollick! said it was funny and had them laughing. It’s played in teams, with some players acting out one of the 750 clues for team members to guess. So it kept the kids moving as well as laughing. One student said, “I loved how you had to work together with your friends.”

Suspend

Tested by: Fifth-graders.

Melissa & Doug. $16.99.
Age 8 and older. Available online and at Barstons Child’s Play.

Start with one rod and stack more until your growing sculpture wobbles and eventually falls down. This balance game for one to four players had easy-to-follow rules, testers said. They called it a good strategy game — one that they would buy for themselves.

Tower Challenge

Tested by: Fifth-graders.

Winning Moves. $19.95. Age 12 and older. Available online, at One Two Kangaroo in Arlington and Go Bananas in Ashburn.

Move the disks of this puzzle from one peg to another. Sound easy? Not when you can move only one disk and move only smaller pieces on top of larger ones. Players can challenge one another to solve the puzzle in the fewest moves. Once you’ve mastered the basic level, two more-difficult challenges await. “It takes a lot of strategy and is a very good school game,” one student reported.

Building Toys

Laser Pegs Helicopter and Bot

Tested by: Second-graders.

Laser Pegs. $19.99 each.
Age 5 and older.

Building blocks have been popular since before your parents were born. But the creations that you make can glow, thanks to Laser Pegs, LED-powered blocks that let light through. Each kit is labeled as a single object, such as a helicopter or a robot, but they can be transformed into at least five other shapes. Once your shape is put together, plug it into the battery pack and the object will light up. Laser Pegs snap together with other building blocks, such as Lego, which expands the creative possibilities. Testers gave this toy a 10 out of 10.

Lego Friends Heartlake Stables

Tested by: Second-graders.

Lego. $49.99. Ages 6-12.

This year Lego introduced its Friends line, its first building sets specifically for girls. And the sets have been popular. Our testers gave a thumbs-up to the new Heartlake Stables set, which features Mia and Katharina figures, two horses, a stable with a lift-up roof and lots of accessories (416 pieces in all). Second-graders reported that it was a little hard to build, but putting it together is half the fun.

Lego The Lord of the Rings Uruk-hai Army

Tested by: Third-graders.

Lego. $29.99. Age 8 and older.

With “The Hobbit” opening in theaters next month, Lego’s “The Lord of the Rings” building sets, which are also based on J.R.R. Tolkien books, are bound to be popular gifts. This set includes a fortress wall, a catapult, weapons and six figures, including Eomer, who is sold only with this set. Our testers said they had fun building it and would play with it months from now. “You can take it apart and it’s like a new toy,” one student reported.

Weird and Wacky Contraption Lab

Tested by: Third-graders.

SmartLab Toys. $39.99.
Age 8 and older.

This colorful building set includes 65 ramps, levers and other pieces (including a mini toilet) that attach to a Velcro-like board to make dozens of contraptions, or devices. The goal is to send a ball from the top of the board through the pieces to a pig cannon at the bottom. The set provides five course designs, which our testers said took a long time to put together. But the kids enjoyed the results. “We liked putting a ball down in the tubes to shoot the pig across the room.”

Tech Toys

AppFishing

Tested by: Sixth-graders.

AppFinity. $19.99.

Age 8 and older.

Toys that use smartphones or iPads are showing up in a lot of stores this fall. Some feel more like a little accessory for your iPad, but AppFishing feels like a real toy. An iPhone, Android or iPod Touch snaps into a fishing rod and reel and — once the free app (search for Fish It) is downloaded— you seem to be casting for real fish. Our testers said the instructions were simple and the game itself was more entertaining than expected. “Even though fishing is boring, this game is fun,” one tester said.

Bop It! Smash

Tested by: Fifth-graders.

Hasbro. $22.99. Age 8 and older.

The popular Bop It! game has a new twist this year. To earn points with Bop It! Smash, you must keep your eyes on the moving light and “smash it” — or push the ends of the toy — when the blue or green circles in the middle light up. Kids liked that the game can be set to “Pass It” mode, so a player must hand over the game every time he smashes it. Testers also liked the way it “tests your timing and strategy.”

Furby

Tested by: Fourth-graders.

Hasbro. $59.99. Age 6 and older.

Your parents probably remember the Furby of about 15 years ago as a furry pet that talked and wiggled its ears when someone touched its stomach or turned it upside down. He, or she, is back with a lot of new tricks. He initially speaks his own language, Furbish, but he learns English as kids talk to him. He dances when music is played and can “eat” food tossed from a smartphone that has the free Furby app. What Furby says depends on how kids play with him. So pulling on him or shaking him can lead to mildly rude comments. Despite that, our fourth-graders liked his changing personality. One student said, “I like everything about it because it has a mind of its own.”

MobiGo 2

Tested by: Second-graders.

Vtech. $59.99. Ages 3 to 8.

This learning toy is a game console, an e-reader and an art studio all in one. The older version had a touchscreen and keyboard, but MobiGo 2, which also comes in blue and orange, has motion sensors and a microphone to make it more interactive. Three games come loaded on the device, and many more are available in stores and on Vtech’s Web site. Second-grade testers loved it, especially the games, and they all said they would play with it for months.

Silverlit Interactive Bluetooth Porsche 911

Tested by: Sixth-graders.

SilverLit. $79.95. Age 8 and older. Available at Amazon.com, the Apple Store and Silverlit.com.

With the download of a free app, an iPod Touch, iPhone or iPad becomes the remote control for this Porsche 911 Carrera. The Apple device can control headlights, turning signals and reproduce the horn and engine sounds. You control the car’s movements either by tilting the device or moving a virtual joystick. Kids found it hard to control but fun to drive. One said it was “so cool to see this car powered by an app!”

READ: The kids who did the testing

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