Every year around late October, I start getting the same question from parents who visit the video game store that I work in. “What’s the big present, this year?” Sometimes it’s out of curiosity, but more often than not, it’s because they want to know what to expect when they ask their kids what they want Santa to bring this year. Honestly, it flatters me that parents trust me with picking out the “big present under the tree.” See, I know I have outstanding taste in entertainment, and I have the mind of a 12-year-old, so they can expect me to give a clear picture of what I expect to sell very well each year. It helps that I get to try most of these games out before they release, and the fact that I spend lots of time corralling children in my store only adds to the fact that I’m aware of what’s the popular thing at any given time. So, because I’ve been asked by a close friend what the heck they should get for their heard of children (and I’m not kidding, there’s A LOT of kids in that household), I’ve compiled a list of recommendations.
1. Skylanders (ages 10 and up)- This “collect them all” style video game in the Spyro series with real world counter-parts is already on the market and making a huge splash. The premise of the game is that the magical Skylanders have been frozen in the real world by an evil tyrant. The “frozen” Skylanders (called Interaction Figures) are small, detailed figurines that can be placed on a wireless “portal” triggering that same character to appear in the game as you place it on the platform. The object is to complete challenges, puzzles and obstacles to reclaim the land and release the Frozen Figurines from the captivity on Earth. You can place 2 characters on the portal at a time because, let’s be honest, you know that if you buy this for your son, his little sister is going to be pretty upset if she can’t play, too. If they are an only child, well, you will probably get sucked in, too. I observed 2 grown men playing this game for a solid hour a few nights ago, and I believe their session ended with one of them saying… “Now I have to get the rest of them!” What’s better is that this game has a diverse range of ways to play and you can even play together or against one another.
These figurine’s actually remember their upgrades! If you put a silly anvil hat on Gill Grunt in one playing session and then switch out characters, you will still have that anvil hat on when you switch back to Gill. The starter pack includes the following:
- -Skylanders game (for Wii, PS3, 360 or 3DS)
- -3 interaction figures- Spyro, Gill Grunt, and Trigger Happy
- -1 Portal of Power
- – A Skylanders Poster
- – A Sticker Sheet
- – 2 AA Batteries (that’s right! THEY ARE INCLUDED!!!! So when your kids opens it on Christmas morning, there will be no tears because they can’t play it until after you’ve had your coffee and ran to the nearest 24 hour Wal-Mart)
- – 3 Web Codes
This package retails for $69.99 with the option to buy single figurines for $7.99 and 3-packs for $19.99 and various other packs for a range of prices that will usually include 1 figure that comes with a real world vehicle or weapons. I highly recommend this game. The individual figurines make great stocking-stuffers, and you can go as little or big with this as you want. The game is seriously fun and is being referred to as the next Pokemon or Bakugan.
2. Fijit Friends Interactive Toy (ages 6 and up)-
Ok, so number 1, I hate this toy. It’s the creepiest thing I’ve seen in a while and to top it off, it’s annoying as hell. But it’s already getting tons of outstanding reviews and the commercials have been making their rounds for a while, so I expect that this will be another “Sold Out” shelf at the local toy store. It has answers to over 150 different phrases and each of the dolls has its own personality. I wouldn’t be surprised to wake up in the middle of the night to find this thing sitting on my chest staring at me.
Anyway, this little gem takes 5 AA batteries (which are included) and retails for $49.99. But try to hold at for as long as you can because I have a feeling that if you keep this thing in your closet while waiting for Christmas Eve, it might sneak out of its box and kill the neighbor’s dog.
3. Animal Planet Air Swimmers (ages 8-10 although, I would totally play with this thing)
So this is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a helium inflated RC balloon that retails for $49.99. It’s recommended for indoor use only, although I have a feeling that most children will feel the pull to bring it outdoors. Best part? It’s re-useable, so when the helium all runs out, you can buy a replacement tank. Set up and use are super easy, and it looks like a great way for kids to torture their pets! This is another one that I highly recommend.
4. Hallmark’s Interactive Story Books and Story Buddies, Specifically “Jingle the Husky Puppy”– (all ages, but children who can’t read will require a parents help)
This is so cute! Excuse me while I am a total girl about this, but I work in a plaza that has a Hallmark store, and I was on a break recently and saw this toy in action recently. There was a little girl and 2 little boys with their Grandmother in the store and they were looking at book, the Grandmother said a phrase from the book and the dog barked and the children went wild! They thought it was so magical that the puppy came to life. Now I’m sure that the demand won’t be quite as big for this as, say, Fijits… because it’s not nearly as creepy. However, it is a Hallmark creation that even has a Hallmark Channel movie Jingle All the Way that will be premiering on November 25 and NOT starring Arnold. The DVD will be available starting on Nov. 26th.
If your kids love Jingle, there are several other Story Book Buddies that have their own stories to tell. The set retails for $39.95 but if you purchase online before Christmas Eve, you will get $10 off. Jingle also has an activity book that counts down the days until Christmas that you can buy separately. AND, since Hallmark is all about digging as deep into your purse as possible, they have an ornament, too that will, no doubt, be ridiculously over priced. (I love their ornaments, but come on!)
5. Let’s Rock Elmo- (18 months and up)
OBVIOUSLY! This is, of course one of the biggest toy releases of the year because it’s Elmo. Interactive toys are the theme of the year, and this one is no exception! All of the instruments are of an appropriate size for pre-school aged hands, and sturdy so that they won’t break when dropped (because they most definitely will be). Elmo “rock’s out” to rockin’ versions of The Alphabet Song and Old McDonald Had a Farm, and constantly encourages his onlookers to join in.
So, that’s what I’ve got, folks! I may or may not post something a little later on about other options. I recently wrote a post about the importance of reminding children that Christmas is NOT just about toys, that I may post later here on RBM. To all my friends with kids, especially the one’s who ask my opinion each year about this stuff, hope this helped! Skylanders is #1 for a reason. I’ve seen all of these toys up close, and Skylanders is DEFINITELY my favorite.