Category Archives: Reviews

When It’s Time to Plug Back In

Looking for some fun videos games to play with the kids? Have we got ideas for you!

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo)

MarioKart8Mario Kart is one of those games that turns a room full of strangers into a room full of new buddies—or at least rowdy racers. Requiring equal parts skill, luck, and know-how, Mario Kart has consistently been a bright star in the gaming universe, and this one may be, dare we say, the brightest of them all. With almost all characters unlocked to begin with, this game is built for multiplayer action, and there are tons of characters to choose from, so there’ll be no squabbling. On the Switch, characters of different weights and sizes act differently and effect your controls, as do the type of vehicle and even the tires you select. The game also includes support for amiibos and amiibo cards, which unlock more in-game content, allowing for plenty of customization. $59.99 at retail locations or via download from the eShop. http://www.nintendo.com/games


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Movie- and TV-Themed Games

If there’s one thing that kids love almost as much as movies and TV shows, it’s figures and playsets that give them a chance to dive into those digital, TV- and movie worlds and create their own scenes and stories. Here are some of our new faves that would make great additions to your family toy chest.

 

Smurf House and Smurfs Movie Set figures (Schleich)

schleich smurf figsIf you and/or your kids love the Smurfs, you’ll be dazzled by the latest collectibles from Schleich, which will bring those little blues to life. The Lost Village set (#20801) comes with three figures:  Smurfette, Sigrid, and Smurfika. The Smurf House (#20803) comes with the large spotted red mushroom—complete with a chimney and doors and windows that open, as well as two figures: Papa Smurf and the evil Gargamel (who never goes anywhere without his equally evil cat, Azrael). All of Schleich’s figures are beautifully hand-painted and full of unique details, and these Smurfs are no exception. The Lost Village set retails for about $15; the Smurf House is about $35 (and will require adult- or older-kid help to assemble). For ages 4+. https://www.schleich-s.com

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Just Havin’ Fun

What do colored dice, zebra-patterned battleships, bug eggs, and pocket-size drones have in common? Not much, except that they’re all great to enjoy with your kids. So get out there and have at it!

 

Roll for it! (Calliope Games)

roll for itThink Yahtzee and cards. Each player has a set of six dice. Turn over three cards, roll your dice, and try to match the dice that are depicted on one or more of the cards. If you do, you take the card and score its value. What makes Roll for it! Interesting is that you can do partial matches—for example, matching two out of four dice on the card. On your next turn, you can try to match the rest, but you’ll be able to roll only your remaining four dice. Even more interesting is that you and your opponents might be working on the same card, and if they complete their match before you do, you’re out of luck. Roll for it! is fast-paced (takes about 10-20 minutes for someone to score the 40 points needed to win), and pretty easy (although it’s MENSA approved, which indicates that it might be more challenging that we were capable of understanding). For 2-4 players (8 if you combine it with a second set), ages 8+. Around $12. https://www.calliopegames.com

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Summer’s a Comin…

As we begin the countdown to summer recess, you might be wondering (or worrying about) what the kids will do to while away the hours at home. If you aren’t out exploring the great outdoors, here are some fun ideas for you.

 

Hot Wheels 7” Tablet (Nabi)

nabi hotwheels tabletPlanning a long road trip or flight with young kids? If so, a tablet could be your new best friend. This one comes with several Hot Wheels screens, including one titled “Hot Wheels Labs,” which lets children watch videos about the science of and forces propelling the resistance, friction, and gravity of those loveable mini vehicles—in other words, how they really work. Since so many kids are addicted to Hot Wheels, this is a fun way for them to learn something new. Consider it branded science, LOL. Along the same lines, there’s also a “Trackwars & Hacks” area with over 25 apps and games. The tablet’s custom orange bumper helps protect the hardware from the bumps and falls it will likely take, and racing sound effects will thrill your little gear-heads. Not interested in Hot Wheels? Not to worry. Barbie and American Girl versions are also available. About $79 at Best Buy, Toys R Us, Kmart, Costco, or www.shop.nabitablet.com

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It’s Just Like Magic

Just about everyone—young, old, and everything in between—is fascinated by magic, especially the kind that involves transforming objects from one thing into another. This week, we take a look at a number of terrific family activities that do exactly that, whether it’s changing a 10 of Clubs into a 10 of Heart, a bunch of powered ingredients into delicious cupcakes, or a locked safe into an unlocked one.

 

Magic: Silver Edition (Thames & Kosmos)

magic, silver editionLong before Harry Potter and his friends at Hogwarts took over the world, kids and adults wished they could conjure things out of nowhere and make them vanish again, turn apples into oranges, and make objects float in midair. With this kit, you’ll be able to perform jaw-dropping feats of magic that will captivate and delight your audience (and probably amaze yourself in the process). It comes with props and instructions to do 100 tricks: knots in one rope jump to another, a wand levitates, coins pass through objects and disappear, a small pile of sugar turns into a sugar cube, and a lot more. The kit comes with a nicely illustrated 72-page instruction manual, but there are also 26 online video tutorials so your budding Houdini can see the tricks actually being performed. If you like this Silver Edition, there are several larger sets (150 and 200 tricks). For ages 8 and up. About $21 at many retailers. http://thamesandkosmos.com

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Pick a Card, Any Card

Tired of solitaire, poker, black jack, and rummy? Here are four fun, new card games that the whole family will love to play.

Pin Point! (Blue Orange)

blue orange pin pointIn this fun, fast-paced twist on the “spot-the-difference” game, players use logic and deductive reasoning to figure out which of five nearly identical images is the original. Since each of the non-original images has changed only one feature, when you find a feature that appears on only one image, you know it’s not the original, and you can eliminate it from contention. Pin Point! Is a great game for just about any age, although be warned: younger players tend to have sharper eyes and are therefore often a lot better at this kind of thing than adults. Comes with 72 challenge cards and six colored dice (for alternate game play) and takes only about 10 minutes to play. You can play Pin Point! cooperatively, competitively, or individually.  http://www.blueorangegames.com

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Get a Move On

One of the biggest challenges parents face is finding ways to get the kids to put down their tech and get moving (as you know, most pediatricians recommend that children get at least an hour of exercise every day). Here are a few great ways that are guaranteed to get the kids rockin’ and rollin’.

 

Space Scooter X580 (SpaceScooter)

space scooterRegular kick scooters are great fun, but it’s hard to make them go really, really fast. Plus, unless your kids are ambidextrous, they’re exercising only one leg—and wearing out their shoes unevenly. The Space Scooter, which you propel by rocking back and forth on the platform, teeter-totter style, assures an exhilaratingly fast ride and a more symmetrical workout. Just pump, and you’re flying (well, scooting). And with its 200-pound capacity, you can get in a workout of your own. Ages 8+. About $149 at Amazon and other retailers. https://spacescooter-usa.com

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Easter Baskets, Volume 2

Well, Easter is even closer than it was last week, so if you haven’t already filled your kids’ baskets, you’d better get on it. Here are some last-minute suggestions they’re sure to love.

 

Surprizamals

These adorable little guys are cute for any time of the year, but they’re especially great for Easter baskets, because they come in individual “shells” that are roughly the size of your basic plastic egg. The “surprize” is that you don’t know which animal will hatch from which ball. Aside from being inexpensive and adorable, Surprizamals are very collectible, and your kids will love searching for the rare ones. Surprizamals are an easy win for everyone. Available at https://www.surprizamals.com.
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Easter Baskets, Volume 1

With Easter around the corner, it’s time to start gathering items for your children’s baskets. Since you probably still have plenty of candy left over from Halloween, you may be on the lookout for unsweetened, (vaguely) egg-shaped items to put inside. Here are a few surefire hits.

Super Wings

superwings + pj masksAre your children Super Wings fans? The new Super Wings Vroom ‘n Zoom are great for pre-k and toddler-aged kids. Just push to rev up, then release, and they speed away. Jett and friends are available individually for under $6.00. Or, pick up the Super Wings Transform-a-Bots 4 Pack. These unique mini-figures transform from plane to robot in just three steps. Transform-a-bots let your kids recreate favorite scenes from the Super Wings TV show or imagine entirely new helpful deliveries. $11.99

 

 

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It’s All Connected

Whether you’re putting together a puzzle, building a tower, looking for a new job, or just hanging out with your kids, life is all about connections. This week, we reviewed four unique ways you and your family can use physical connections to build stronger emotional ones.

 

Brackitz Driver Set (Brackitz)

brackitzAs much as we love traditional block-based building systems, we’re delighted at the ongoing trend toward more open-ended systems with unique pieces and ways of connecting them. Brackitz is one of the best, and they keep getting better. The new Driver Set comes with 43 pieces and directions for building 10 driving machines, including a teeter-totter, a gyro copter, a windmill, and a dragster. But who says you have to follow directions, when you can follow your imagination instead? Brackitz kits are great for individual or collaborative play and for building spatial- and engineering skills. They combine with other Brackitz kits as well as with other systems, such as Keva planks and CitiBlocs. For ages 3+. Under $25 at amazon.com, other retailers, and https://brackitz.com

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