For a number of years toy manufacturers have been trying to become a bigger part of our digital diets. Early efforts were somewhat substandard and the app-powered playthings genre suffered early setbacks as the toys and tech just didn't feel like they were ready to be fused. This year, however, the connected toy category looks ready to garner the attention that it desperately desires among its audience addicted to app-based activity.
Here's our lowdown on the connected toys that offer a different way to play.
Since the late 1990s the Furbish-uttering species has been amongst us. Long suffering parents of variants previous will delight that this latest evolution can be silenced at speed without the need for battery removal therapy. Complete with an eye mask to send it to slumber this Furby Connect can be played with standalone and with multiple sensors, with the Furby reacting and developing according to how it is played with. Connect via Bluetooth to Furby Connect World (iOS and Android) to access a vast amount of content that can be played using the physical Furby as the interface to hatch Furblings on-screen and populate your own digital Furby space.
Price: £79.99 | Buy Furby Connect
Introducing the very latest in interactive robotic pet dog technology, elevating itself above all-comers in the digital pet category to date.
Not just smart, but ready to perform all manner of acts straight from the box, CHiP maintains the interest level for new owners by learning through play. CHiP also comes complete with a Smartband and follows the wearer ( think of it as a silent “heel” command). When it is getting low on battery the Smartbed will beckon it over and CHiP will duly oblige and go sit on the power source for a while.
A Smartball is the third and most irksome use of the word Smart and refers to a ball that CHiP can retrieve. Multi-sensors and A.I. inside learn from both owner interaction and some free roaming of his own too – one very clever canine. Use the CHiP app to reward good behaviour with a treat, track mood and health, control CHiP's movement and even replay your favourite tricks.
Price: £199.99 | Buy CHiP
ANKI Overdrive Supertrucks
The much lauded slot-car-esque racing system has been among us for over a year and is about to get its best upgrade to date. For the uninitiated, the cars are controlled by up to four human players simultaneously, or via A.I..
Players are armed with digital weaponry and the idea is to blast others. Think Mario Cart meets Mad Max for an idea of how it all goes down. The imminent arrival of the Supertrucks adds a whole new play pattern to the Overdrive system too, as they are three times bigger than the existing cars and come packed with power-ups such as Rage Mode.
These rigs need to be taken seriously!
Price: £59.99 | Buy ANKI Supertrucks
Sphero BB8 and ForceBand
A droid who managed to attract some of our Star War affections away from R2-D2, they said it couldn't be done, but BB8 did it. This latest incarnation of the spherical machine from Sphero comes complete with ForceBand enabling the user to manipulate the direction of BB8 as he rolls about your abode. But that is far from all.
As you continue with your Jedi-like movements to manipulate BB8 in different ways, the ForceBand can be put into awareness mode and alert you occasionally when the Force is being disturbed. When this occurs you'll follow light cues and vibrations from your wearable and app combined to uncover digital relics nearby.
Combat training more your thing? Then allow the ForceBand to assist you in wielding virtual weapons such as Blasters and Lightsabers, with sounds effects and vibrations occuring as you swing and shoot your invisible arsenal. Those nearby may look on in interest, you'll not even notice them.
Price: £179.99 | Buy BB8 and ForceBand
Much noise and plenty of success can be associated to the category established by Skylanders a few years back – toys-to-life. Nintendo waded in, Disney had a brief spell and LEGO Dimensions now dominates. This new venture from Playfusion is taking a non-console approach and going for the app market. Global toy brand Tomy are inserting the firms IP inside a range of playthings which will be Bluetooth enabled and talk to your device directly rather than require a console-style portal.
The physical characters are set to have embedded motion sensors so in some of the play you can use them as actual controllers and they'll also be able to interact with each other. In offline mode they'll look good in their ready-to-play state and there are also plans to add a physical trading card element to the entire affair. Deep rich content and worlds in which to play we're promised along with old school cards for “Got, Got, Need” action.
Price: From $60 | Buy Lightseekers
Marvins Magic iMagic
If your slight of hand has long been questionable then mastery of any magic trick is, well, tricky. Step up Marvins Magic a brand created by Marvin Berglass, illusionist extraordinaire, son of David Berglass, another magician of considerable note – the lineage is undisputed. So, this kit works in conjunction with an app to create a handful of really not that bad at all tricks, satisfying enough to get an audience standing the next round. Mind reading, augmented reality, card trickery and a few others to get some “oohing and ahhing” going on.
Price: £24.99 | Buy iMagic
Here to prove there can be more to flying a drone around indoors than just bashing into and breaking stuff is Lumi, a lightweight and sturdy flyer that has more than maintaining altitude in mind. It does have tricks you'd find in expensive outdoor flyers such s “follow-me” and “obstacle-avoidance” but Lumi is most certainly a toy drone and not for feats of aerial photography. The robotic company Wowwee have a proprietary technology called BeaconSense and in the case of LUMI is enveloped in a small unit the player places on the floor.
LUMI can travel up just 13 feet from this beacon, but it is more than far enough. Bring in the gaming angle of Lumi and what all the fuss is about becomes clear. As it is smart enough to stay airborne without too much interference you can play Lumi to the Beat and match the on-screen in-app colours to the hues that are ever changing on your extra-terrestrial like craft or program your own air-show via drag and drop along with colour changing then get Lumi to move in majestic motion to your newly curated Spotify playlist.
Price: £79.99 | Buy LUMI
Available across all the console platforms, this diversion from such to accommodate app users by Activision appears to be one to potentially attract younger users. The Superchargers are the evolution from the first app-powered playthings called Trap Team and effectively a spin-off of the dominant toys-to-life property Skylanders.
The gameplay is decent enough but console based players of the same may not be impressed at the depth of play in-app. Complete with portal to bring yours to life on-screen and a console to control the action its all pretty cheap and cheerful, won't rock anyone's world but the very small people yet not set to break the bank either.
Price: £16.99 | Buy Skylanders Superchargers
Beasts of Balance
Gather an enthusiastic group of engineers, designers and artists and hole them up in a bunker in south London for some months and out of the other end comes this, a beautiful collection of actual pieces and app to reinvent the game of balance. Inside the pack are a number of crafted animals and other artefacts and, for up to five players, the quest is to balance the pieces in the most strategic pattern. As you do this physically the tower is replicated on-screen but with the expected addition of animation. As the company itself tells us it is all about creating the most fabulous worlds you can, not a mention of winning or other such crass pursuits.
Price: £69 | Pre Order Beasts of Balance
Using intimidating names such as Ixion and Skorpos won't be enough alone to intimidate LEGO or Activision with their established properties but they'd be foolish not to pay more than a fleecing glance of attention to this new arrival. Firstly the toys themselves, whilst far from final version, are on-track to be highly detailed, mean-looking toys with attitude and ones you'd happily have on display when the screen is off.
The all important gameplay thus far looks to be aiming at an older audience, more Transformers than goonish looking space-monsters. Grab your Infinite Arms character to come alive on-screen and do battle with anonymous A.I. or take on a physical foe nearby as you manipulate the robots and they replicate that action on-screen – Shame we'll have to wait a little while.
Price: £TBC | Become a BETA tester