Tuesday, July 31, 2007

New Video Games Due This Week

The must have game for the gang around here this week is Mario Strikers Charged for the Wii. This anything goes soccer game, first launched on the Nintendo GameCube, introduces an entirely new spin to the sport of soccer. Earthquakes, firestorms and electric shockwaves are just a few of the environmentally charged hazards in this ball-chasing battle royal. And, for the first time, players can compete online with other fans from coast to coast using the Nintendo WiFi Connection.

Look for a full review of Mario Strikers Charged next week on theToyGuy.com!

Attack on Pearl Harbor/PC
Brave Story: New Traveler/PSP
Combat Mission: Shock Force/PC
Deal or No Deal/GBA
Glory Days 2/DS
Harvest Moon Boy & Girl/PSP
It's The Big Game, Charlie Brown/PC
Marathon: Durandal/Xbox360
Mario Strikers Charged/Wii
Pet Alien/DS
Picross DS/DS
Pirate's Revenge/PC
Professional Fisherman's Tour: Northern Hemisphere/DS
Ride! Carnival Tycoon/PC
Spelling Challenges and More!/DS
Spyglass Board Games/Xbox360
World Championship Cards/PSP, PS2

-J. McKinney

Monday, July 30, 2007

Get Simpsonized

Did you head to the theater over the weekend and check out "The Simpsons Movie"? If you did, you weren't alone. In it's opening weekend, "The Simpsons Movie" sold almost $168 million worth of tickets around the globe with $71.85 million in North American alone. Not bad considering the film cost about $75 million to make.

Fans of Fox's first family have also been flooding the offical movie site where they are avidly creating their own Simpsons avatar. By registering on the site, you can create yout own custom Simpsons character and see what you would look like if you lived in the animated world of the TV show. Just visit the site by clicking here and look for the tab that reads "Simpsons Avatar".

-J. McKinney

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Where's Harry?

Well, a week ago right now, I was scrunched down in a train seat, avidly reading the final installment of the Harry Potter series. Though you're not going to find any spoilers here and you've probably finished the book by this time yourself, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the best of the bunch. A real page turner--all 780-some pages, is the first in the series that can really be called a suspense novel. J.K. Rowling has really matured as a writer over the 7 books, and it's fun and delightful to see.

But the real suspense for me was whether or not I was going to get my copy at all. I was one of the more than 1-million people who pre-ordered from Amazon.com, as of noon on July 21, it hadn't arrived. A quick check online showed that it had been delivered to my apartment building, but the doorman hadn't seen it, and other people in the building had gotten theirs. Hmmm.

Well I didn't want to miss my train, and fortunately, I knew that there was a Borders right by Penn Station. I joined the line of people all buying the book--at a nice 40% discount, but not the $17.99 that I had paid to Amazon.

As has happened around these things, the adults in the checkout line started talking. Three others hadn't received their copies from Amazon either and had raced out to mollify eager kids.

On the train, half the adults were carrying the book, and four of them around my seat had also just purchased at Borders because their Amazon copies hadn't arrived.

Well, to Amazon's credit, they refunded the purchase price of the book. It finally did show up on Monday, and it will be donated to a library since they didn't want it back.

Now, a rational adult thinks, "Well, delivering 1.4 million books in a very small window is bound to be fraught with problems." And that's a pretty adult thing to think. But what about kids who are counting on something being there for them? A refund isn't going to make good on that.

- C. Byrne

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Catch A Sneak Peek Of Halo 3 Weapons At Comic-Con 2007

This Fall, Jasman Toys will release a line of Halo 3 replica weapons to coincide with the hotly anticipated release of the game (Halo 3). Not only are these weapons precise recreations of the Covenant Plasma Rifle and Plasma Pistol but they also feature lights, sounds, vibrations, and recoil plus contain Laser Pursuit technology. In other words, the weapons fire an infrared beam and include targets that will allow players to stage their own laser-tag style games with incredibly realistic and extremely cool Halo blasters.

Although the Plasma Rifle and Pistol won't be available until October, anyone fortunate enough to be checking out Comic-Con tomorrow in San Diego, CA, will have the opportunity to see them up close and personal at Booth #1116, hosted by Tor Books.

In addition to this year's rifles, a Covenant Energy Sword is planned for release in 2008. Halo 3 Replica Weapons with Laser Pursuit Technology will be available at Hot Topic stores across the country and other retailers.

-J. McKinney

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Hasbro Recalls Easy-Bake Oven

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in cooperation with Hasbro, announced a voluntary recall of new Easy-Bake Ovens.

The recalled Easy-Bake Oven (pictured below) is a purple and pink plastic oven that resembles a kitchen range with four burners on top and a front-loading oven. “Easy Bake” is printed on the front of the oven. Model number 65805 and “Hasbro” are stamped into the plastic on the back of the oven. This recall includes all units with the retrofit kit. The Easy-Bake Oven is an electric toy and is not recommended for children under eight years of age. Ovens sold before May 2006 are not included in this recall.

The recall affects Easy-Bake Ovens sold at Toys “R” Us, Wal-Mart, Target, KB Toys and other retailers nationwide from May 2006 through July 2007 for about $25.

Caregivers should immediately take the recalled Easy-Bake Oven away from children, and call Easy-Bake for instructions on how to return the toy oven for a voucher towards the purchase of another Hasbro product.

For additional information, contact Easy-Bake at (800) 601-8418 anytime, or visit the firm’s Web site at www.easybake.com

Monday, July 23, 2007

New Video Games Due This Week

The game everyone will be talking about this week is Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s. The latest installment to the hugely popular and successful Guitar Hero franchise takes the stage on the PS2. Other big name games due in stores this week include Final Fantasy II Anniversary Edition on PSP and NASCAR for Xbox360, PS2, and PS3. Puzzle playing people have two new titles to wrap their brains around with Chameleon: To Dye For! and Ultimate Puzzle Games: Sudoku Edition, both for the DS.

Alien Syndrome PSP/Wii
Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword/PC
Chameleon: To Dye For!/DS
Combat Mission: Shock Force/PC
Dynasty Warriors DS: Fighter's Battle/DS
Escape from Bug Island/Wii
Final Fantasy II Anniversary Edition/PSP
Fullmetal Alchemist: Trading Card Game/DS
Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s/PS2
The History Channel: Great Battles of Rome/PSP
It's the Big Game, Charlie Brown/PC
NASCAR 08/Xbox360, PS3, PS2
NHRA: Countdown to the Championship 2007/PS2
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3/PS2
Ultimate Puzzle Games: Sudoku Edition/DS

Friday, July 13, 2007

Nintendo E3 2007 Media Briefing Part 2

If you haven't already read part 1 of my Nintendo E3 2007 Media Briefing recap then please click here and read it so I don't have to retype anything (sorry, I'm lazy). Go ahead, the rest of us will wait while you get caught up. ...... Done? Great, lets get to part 2!

In addition to the Wii Wheel, which we discussed in part 1 so I hope you weren't lying when you said you read it, Nintendo will also release two additional Wii controller accessories. The first, the Wii Zapper (working name), is a unique hand-held frame that allows you to attach both the Wii-Remote and Nunchuk to each other in a blaster housing. And just why would you want to do this you might ask? First-person shooter games of course! The Zapper will arrive this year packaged with a Nintendo developed game. My guess is the game will be something that recreates those crazy carnival games where you shoot water into a clown's mouth and a balloon inflates out of his head. Does anyone else find that creepy? Regardless of the Nintendo game, the Zapper will really shine on Capcom's new Resident Evil game, the Umbrella Chronicles. This shooter reveals the back story behind the fall of the Umbrella Corporation by exploring locations from previous Resident Evil titles plus never-before-seen locations, like Umbrella's stronghold. This is definitely not your father's zombie blasting game.

The other big news from the briefing is Wii Fit, a new game that will make going to the gym obsolete if Nintendo has their way. Fit comes with the Wii Wireless Balance Board (working name), a pressure sensitive board that looks like a large scale. You begin Fit by standing on the board and having some basic measurements taken and recorded. Don't worry, you won't have to endure seeing your weight displayed on your plasma because Fit measures and tracks your Body Mass Index (BMI). The game then offers more than 40 activities including aerobics, yoga, muscle stretches, and hula hooping plus sports, like soccer. The idea is to stay active while having fun and hopefully watch your BMI come down.

The Wii Zapper and Resident Evil: Umbrella Corporation are scheduled to be in stores in time for the holidays. No date was given for Wii Fit but it should be out some time in 2008. Believe it or not, after two posts discussing Nintendo's briefing, I haven't even gotten to talking about the DS yet. I guess we will have to continue this in part 3 so check back again.

-J. McKinney

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Playful Perspectives: Toying with the Online World

Playful Perspectives is our co-blog with Ty's Toy Box. Today we're looking at an issue that's all around us...the internet. Virtual playthings are springing up like, well, virtual weeds. Are they gimmicks? Or are there some good play experiences to be had. As always, the answer is a definitive it depends. Read on and be sure to click the link at the end of the article to get Ty's perspective.

"The internet is really, really great...," sings Kate Monster in the smash musical (adults only, please) Avenue Q. And that just about sums it up. For information and entertainment, the explosive growth of this medium is transforming our culture. Various studies suggest that kids are spending as much time online as they are spending watching TV.

So, it's only natural that toy companies would look to leverage that enthusiasm into some kind of product/profit scenario, and while there may be a lot of that out there, we've only just begun to see what's coming down the pike. Set aside for a moment online experiences such as MMOGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Games) or specific, and quite wonderful, services like Xbox Live. And set aside internet-only (for now) experiences like Club Penguin. What we want to look at today is the growing trend for toys that interact, in some way with the internet.

As we've been looking at the products that are coming out, as well as some slotted for 2008, it's clear that this is a booming area. And, like all things internet, it's becoming more sophisticated with each new toy, even being relatively new. If you have kids of the right age, you can't help but having heard about Webkinz or Shining Stars. These are plush toys with an internet component. Hot as they are, what you're buying are passwords to a semi-related online world. The passwords just happen to have a plush toy attached.

Moving up the scale, you get the new line from Mattel that's launching this month: Barbie Girls. This is a complete online world where kids can create their own avatars in the form of Barbie-esque characters and do all sorts of things like decorate a room, shop for a pet and even watch online movies. The toy that powers this is an abstract, semi-doll-shaped MP3 unit that connects to a USB base and unlocks elements of the world unavailable to kids who don't own the toy.

Also for older girls, one of our new favorites is Bella Sara, which combines a beautiful collectible card game with an online component. It's all about horses, which we all know girls love, collecting, playing and trading. The artwork is gorgeous (see the picture above), and the offline component is the first collectible card game for girls that really reflects the way they play. (We'll talk about this play pattern and what Bella Sara is doing right in another entry.)

Even preschoolers are going to be able to get into the action. Fisher-Price is unveiling the Easy Link Internet Launch Pad later this year. It's a unit that plugs into the computer and uses dimensional characters placed in the unit to "unlock" certain web sites that have age appropriate games for kids.

Zizzle has a new activity toy called Spotz that uses the internet to drive the creative experience. It's due out later this year.

Clearly, everyone (at least everyone in product development and marketing) at toy companies thinks "thar's gold in that thar internet." But, of course, as always, there will be winners and losers. Some companies will do it better than others and products will come and go. We can predict with pretty clear-eyed certainty that there will be a lot of things rushed to market and a lot will collapse under its own weight. The best stuff, both what's out there and what we've seen that's coming down the pike, won't just use online play as a gimmick but will also use the computing power of the internet and the ability to generate and disseminate content quickly, to keep things fresh. As a marketing tool, it's unsurpassed: You've got your taret customer signing on to continue their active involvement with a product and what better way to sell more?

Still, that customer, even a young one, has many many choices, and products that don't deliver or, dare we say it, aren't fun, aren't going to hold your kids' interest. As kids grow and mature, they'll move quickly from one product to the next, and the challenge will be to keep engaging them as they become more and more sophisticated.

One very positive thing that all of these sites have in common is that they treat the internet as a toy, in the most basic, classic sense. It is an adaptation in a form and context that children understand of an adult activity. More simply, kids want to be online because they see their parents and older siblings and the culture as a whole online. That's the best thing that many of these sites, especially the ones for preschoolers, deliver. It's a toy experience. Now, I know that it's hard for many of today's parents, and especially grandparents, to think of that expensive and fragile machine as a (gasp) toy, but children don't have that perspective. To them the computer is like the TV, an appliance that allows them to do things they want to do, and they are fearless about it. What they need is a way to use it that is consistently engaging and age appropriate for them. That's something all of these toys deliver.

The other thing that all of these toys have in common is that the web sites are completely safe. Whether they are monitored by real humans, limit what kids can say and do, and, in the case of the Fisher-Price item and others, lock out access to other parts of the computer, safety and security of kids is the top concern of all these companies. Naturally, you'll want to supervise what your kids are doing, and monitor their use, without looking too closely over their shoulders, but you can be very confident that companies have invested heavily in making sure that their sites are both fun and secure. One of the real advantages of these sites is that you can test drive before you buy. That's something that's pretty rare. You can get a look at the games, the artwork, the characters and make a judgment before you spend any money on toys, and that's great.

Now a strict critic of the internet might go about nitpicking a lot of these sites, but at the end of the day, what matters is whether or not your child enjoys it. Who cares if a game is rudimentary if your child is engrossed and, better yet, has some kind of social experience whether virtual or one-to-one in front of the computer? This is play pure and simple, and don't be afraid because it doesn't look like the play you remember. Your parents were probably baffled at some of the things you did. It will always be thus. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that 20 years from now, today's kids will look at what their kids are playing with and say, "Why didn't they have that when we were kids???

That's the wonder of the toy business!

Now check out what Ty's Toy Box Mommy has to say! And keep playing!!

--C. Byrne

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Nintendo E3 2007 Media Briefing Part 1

First of all, I want to thank our friends at Nintendo for bringing today's E3 Media Briefing to New York. Today's briefing, which took place in Santa Monica on Day 1 of E3, was broadcast at Nintendo World in Rockefeller center for those of us who didn't want to go couldn't make it to CA for this year's stripped-down expo.

A majority of the briefing was spent citing some incredibly impressive numbers that validate Nintendo's general awesomeness and dominance in the industry. I'm not going to bore you with numbers because lets face it, unless you are an accountant, numbers are boring. Instead, I'm going to get to the good stuff and by stuff, I mean new games!

Including downloadable Virtual Console titles, there are currently over 150 games available for the Wii. By the end of the year, that number will climb to roughly 350. I guess I lied about not talking about numbers. Some of those games were shown today along with additional titles due in 2008. This year we should see the release of Super Mario Galaxy (finally), which was originally shown at last year's E3 event. Galaxy looks amazing and takes the Mario franchise, originally launched with Super Mario 64, into an entirely new world. Players navigate Mario through a series of gravity-defying planets, challenges and power-ups in vivid detail.

Also due before the end of the year is Super Smash Bros. Brawl. This sequel to the number one selling game of all time on Nintendo's GameCube ups the ante with new characters, new moves and new arenas in this smash or be smashed brawling game.

One of the most highly anticipated games due next year from Nintendo is Mario Kart Wii (working title). The Wii edition of the popular and long running Mario Kart series, will allow players to challenge and race other players around the world through Nintendo's WiFi service. In order to keep the race fair and give both beginners and pros a chance to win, Mario Kart Wii will come with Nintendo's new wireless Wii Wheel, a steering wheel housing for the Wii-Remote that introduces new controls and challenges.

We've got oodles of more Nintendo goodness to share with you but not enough space to do it in one post. So, check back tomorrow for part 2 of our report from the Nintendo E3 2007 Media Briefing.

_J. McKinney

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Infantino Recalls Children’s Toy Castles

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in cooperation with Infantino LLC, of San Diego, CA, announced a voluntary recall of the Shape Sorting Toy Castles. Consumers should stop using recalled products immediately unless otherwise instructed.

The recalled toy castles have counting beads, four play figures and several different shapes and letters that fit into holes in the castle. “infantino®” is printed in the lower right-hand corner of the side with the letters. The recall only includes castles with the following date codes: 5349, 6087, 6132 and 0906. Castles with other date codes, no date code or with a plastic rod attached with a metal screw are not included in this recall. The date code is stamped on the underside of the blue top and can be viewed through the top square shape or top “A” letter openings.

The recalled toy castles were sold at Wal-Mart, Target, Marshalls, Meijers and other specialty toy retailers nationwide from January 2006 through May 2007 for about $12.

Consumers should take the recalled toy away from young children immediately and contact Infantino for instructions on how to return the product for a free replacement. A free return shipping label can be accessed on the firm’s Web site.

For more information, call Infantino toll-free at (888) 808-3111 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. PT Monday through Friday or visit the firm’s Web site at service.infantino.com

Monday, July 09, 2007

New Video Games Due This Week

Looking over the short list of new games due this week, the trend seems to be releasing games for portable systems. Perhaps the gaming industry knows that July is a heavy vacation month (I guess we aren't the only ones obsessed with vacation today - see earlier post) and are hoping to appeal to gamers who will be taking their systems on the road.

Chameleon: To Dye For!/DS
Chicken Shoot/DS
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix/GBA
Manhunt 2/Wii
Project Sylpheed/Xbox360
Pururun! Shizukuchan Meirono Morino Doubutsutachi/DS
Riviera: The Promised Land/PSP
Sword of the New World: Granado Espada/PC
Smash Court Tennis 3/PSP
Taito Legends 2 PC
Vegas Casino High 5!/DS

-J. McKinney

We Now Return To Our Regularly Scheduled Blogcast

Hopefully like us, many of you were able to take a long holiday break thanks to the 4th falling on Wednesday last week. And if you are anything like the gang here at ToyGuy headquarters (God help you if you are) today marks the day you report back to work. But just because we are back to work doesn't mean we can't try to keep the good vacation vibes flowing does it?

To help everyone ease back into the work week, we wanted to talk about the time-honored, Summer tradition of vacation. More specifically, we want to get you thinking about your vacation and decided to launch a new poll to find out when you take yours.

You can answer the poll below or in the right side column.

When do you take your Summer vacation?
Around Memorial Day
During June
Around July 4th
During July
During August
Around Labor Day
I don't take a Summer vacation
Free polls from Pollhost.com

Monday, July 02, 2007

New Video Games Due This Week

Like most Americans, it looks like the game industry is taking most of the week off. This week's list is brief and void of any huge "must have" titles, however, there are several games that will likely make some gamer's holiday week purchase list. Ninja Gaiden Sigma brings the classic game to the PS3, while Vampire Rain puts gamers in the center of the fight against LA's greatest scourge (no not agents), vampires. If vampires and ninjas aren't your speed, you might enjoy shooting chickens in Chicken Shoot or live the life oh a high roller in Vegas Casino High 5.

Chiken Shoot/Wii, DS
Dead Reefs/PC
Jewels Of Cleopatra/PC
Marvel Trading Card Game/PC
Ninja Gaiden Sigma/PS3
Platinum Sudoku/DS
Seven Kingdoms: Conquest/PC
Steel Horizon/PSP
Taito Legends 2/PC
Terror Strike/PC
Turn It Around/DS
Vampire Rain/Xbox 360
Vegas Casino High 5/DS

-J. McKinney