Best toys for 2021: 20 must-have games and toy gifts for kids

Need to find the best gift? These are hottest toys for kids this festive season, from the creative and educational to pure silly fun

Best toys 2020
(Image credit: Hasbro)

Working out which are the best toys isn't often a job for grown-ups. We can't just turn around and give the kids some old Skeletor action figures and dusty Stickle Bricks and expect them to be happy. But that's okay: T3's youth contingent has been drafted in (er, all above board when it comes to working laws, you understand) to help you pick the top toys for kids this Christmas, and maybe even find a bargain in the process.

This is a tot-tested selection of the hottest collectibles, buildables, blastables and, er, feedables sure to be lighting up the needle-covered patch of carpet under the Christmas tree this year.

Here, in no particular order, is what to buy if you want to make a kid very happy indeed.

Best Toys 2020 The Child

(Image credit: Hasbro)

1. Star Wars The Child Animatronic Edition

Such a large bounty for such a small package

Reasons to buy
+Just incredibly cute+Lifelike animations+Plenty of different functions

The very existence of The Mandalorian's cutest little foundling basically demanded this toy be made, and it's as adorable as you'd imagine. Touch his head and he'll emit a whole host of sound effects, complemented by a host of animatronic actions through his head, ears, eyes and arms. Pat The Child on the head a few times and he'll use the Force, and when he's all tuckered out you can lay him down to trigger a Force Nap, something any parent will wish was quite so easy in real life.

Best Toys 2020 Studio Creator Video Kit

(Image credit: Studio)

2. Studio Creator Video Maker

Sow the seeds of the next social star

Reasons to buy
+Great value kit+Green screen offers a lot of options+A ring light puts the sparkle in your eyes

What do today's youngsters aspire to be? When your author was young he quite fancied being He-Man; now, kids want to be YouTubers and TikTok stars. Quite the change. But at least you don't need to get them a set of dumbbells and a big tub of whey protein to get them started on their dream: this set includes everything they'll need to start recording wacky videos of their own, bar a phone at least. There's a LED ring light which fits onto a phone-cradling tripod mount, a green screen backdrop to help spice things up, and a guidebook giving them tips on how to make excellent videos while staying safe online. 

Best Toys 2020 LOL Surprise

(Image credit: MGA Entertainment)

3. LOL Surprise OMG Remix Super Surprise

AFAIK this will make kids ROFL

Reasons to buy
+Loads and loads of pieces+Plenty to swap once it's all been opened+'Musical' sounds

The surprise toy craze reached its apogee with MGA Entertainment's LOL Surprise line, and this latest mega-pack will certainly satisfy any outfit-swapping fan. Follow the numbers to unearth four large-sized OMG dolls, four smaller-scale LOL dolls styled in a similar way, a whole raft of accessories, and more sparkles than you can shake a stick at. There's a huge number of items here, and the gimmick this time (because there's always some kind of hook) is that the larger musical instruments actually make sounds. Neat - as long as it doesn't get annoying.

Best Toys 2020 Laser Battle Hunters

(Image credit: Character)

4. Laser Battle Hunters

Highly capable RC cars with blasting and explosions mixed in

Reasons to buy
+Very manoeuvrable+Doesn't need a second player...+...but two player mode is a blast

Forget the kids: for many of us grown-ups this is a bit of a dream. Not just a set of two radio controlled cars, which is cool enough on its own, but radio controlled cars with multi-directional wheels which give them the ability to strafe sideways. Radio controlled cars with half-hour batteries, offering up plenty of play time, and - crucially - infra-red cannons which allow them to go into battle with each other. Even if only one person wants to play, the second vehicle can be set to scoot around of its own volition, meaning there's always an opponent waiting.

Best toys 2020 Peppa Pots

(Image credit: Interplay)

5. Peppa Pig Grow & Play Peppa Pots

Long-form fun with the perennial pink favourite

Reasons to buy
+Nice and educational+Colourful plant pots look great on the windowsill+A variety of seeds

Low on immediate fun, perhaps, but high on fascination and long-term learning, the Peppa Pots range gives kids the chance to grow plants in cute house-themed pots, and each one includes another thing to grow too. There are four different characters with four different plants: Peppa Pig offers cress seeds, George Pig includes pea, Rebecca Rabbit features basil, and Suzy Sheep comes with red amaranth. Even if your kids get bored of indoor gardening, you'll probably enjoy tending to (and perhaps snacking on) these plants while they play with the included toys.

Best Toys 2020 Screwball Scramble Level 2

(Image credit: Tomy)

6. Screwball Scramble Level 2

A new entry in the Screwball Scramble Cinematic Universe

Reasons to buy
+More obstacles to tackle+Timeless gameplay+Connects to the classic

We all know Screwball Scramble, and Tomy's classic dexterity game hasn't changed a bit in the last forty years. You can still get it, of course, but kids (or, indeed, adults) looking for a fresh silver-ball-manipulating challenge are certain to enjoy a new kind of frustration with the fresh obstacles here in Level 2. There's a corkscrew, a Ferris wheel and a new see-saw to master, and it includes a game connector to hook up its branching paths with the original so you can double up on the challenge.

Best Toys 2020 Rainbow High

(Image credit: MGA Entertainment)

7. Rainbow High Hair Studio

Get in on the new doll craze, with accessories for everyone

Reasons to buy
+Not as expensive as you'd think+Clothes work with other dolls...+...and the temporary dyes work on human hair, too

MGA isn't only riding the L.O.L. Surprise wave. According to first-hand testimony from your author's six-year-old daughter, the company is absolutely on to a new winner with Rainbow High, a fresh collection of fully articulated, long-haired fashion dolls with all the mix-and-match accessories, clothes and combs you could ever wish for and actual eyelashes for that super-chibi touch. This set includes an exclusive doll, along with a bunch of different wash-out colours, chalks and gels to add to her flowing locks - or for your kids to smear all over their own hair.

Best toys 2020 Lego Super Mario

(Image credit: Lego Group)

8. Lego Super Mario Starter Course

Like Super Mario Maker, only rendered in ABS

Reasons to buy
+Highly reconfigurable+Kids genuinely love it+Plenty of add-on packs available

Outside of the excellent theme, this is one of those products which adults likely won't understand. We initially struggled to see the appeal. But watching an eight-year-old frantically bouncing Mario through a course of their own creation, racking up the coins and squashing Goombas all the way, has us sold: this is great fun, and fantastically imaginative stuff. Do bear in mind, though, that buying this will also put you on the hook for the many, many upgrades filling up the line, like the Bowser's Castle Boss Battle Expansion Set (£90/$90).

Best toys 2020 Nerf Elite 2.0

(Image credit: Hasbro)

9. Nerf Elite 2.0 Echo CS-10 Blaster

More darts = more fun

Reasons to buy
+Upgradeable out of the box+Slam-fire action+Bolt on the bits you want

As the name suggests, the Elite 2.0 range is something of a sequel to 2012's N-Strike Elite blasters, with a similar shell design and a new colour scheme. These might not be for the more hardcore Nerfist, given that they switch out the traditional screws for a glued-together design, but the switch-out stock and barrel extension mean kids can do some customisation without needing to fiddle with the internals. The construction savings are passed on in the form of a whole lot more darts included in the box - and you can slam fire a whole bunch of them in quick succession if you hold the trigger and hammer the slide. 

Best Toys 2020 Monopoly Sore Losers Edition

(Image credit: Hasbro)

10. Monopoly for Sore Losers

Buy Marylebone Station without the monotonous stasis

Reasons to buy
+Rampage over the board without flipping the table+Keeps everyone interested

We've seen quite a few Monopoly rejigs over the years, but Hasbro's latest revamp might just have solved the biggest problem many people have with the game: if you're not the runaway winner, it's basically not much fun. In Monopoly for Sore Losers, getting punished with having to pay rent or being sent directly to jail without passing go lines players up for an epic comeback, so things flip-flop much more often. A version of Monopoly where the results of the game aren't already determined 15 minutes in sounds like a great idea to us, but you'll still need to watch for any shifty behaviour from the banker.

Best Toys 2020 Paw Patrol

(Image credit: Spin Master)

11. Paw Patrol True Metal Adventure Bay Rescue Way Playset

Where does the Paw Patrol get the funding for all this stuff? We demand an inquiry

Reasons to buy
+Zippy metal cars+Multiple paths with fun outcomes+Be there on the double - these are fast

Let's just take a second to applaud the Paw Patrol True Metal range, which swaps out easily-broken plastic for sturdy die-cast vehicles. That is a good thing, as long as they're not hurled at one's head. This playset of the Paw Patrol HQ, which comes with two True Metal cars, is pretty neat too. Line up Chase and Marshall on the two individual spiral tracks, bash the periscope on top, and they'll race each other to the bottom. There's enough space to put all six of the core Paw Patrol crew under starter's orders and send them jetting off at once, as well as a two car garage at the base which can pop out vehicles when others pass a certain point on the track.

Best Toys 2020 Gotta Go Flamingo

(Image credit: Moose Toys)

12. Gotta Go Flamingo

Gotta go where? Oh, no, flamingo! Gross.

Reasons to buy
+What kid doesn't love toilet-based toys?+Reusable flamingo food+Amusing sounds and tunes

Don't think too hard about the specifics of the Gotta Go Flamingo. You feed it special flamingo food (basically silicone-infused magic sand) and it swallows it down before depositing it into a water-filled toilet. At which point you scoop its leavings out to find them immediately dry, before (yep) feeding the food/droppings to the flamingo again. Recycling in disgusting action, but kids of a certain age will be absolutely delighted by the poo-based fun, and similarly enthused by the Gotta Go Flamingo's musical antics as well as its ability to repeat what they say in a high-pitched voice. 

Best toys 2020 Dobble Frozen 2

(Image credit: Asmodee)

13. Dobble/Spot It! Frozen 2

A great family game with a Disney twist

Reasons to buy
+Easy enough for younger kids+Intense enough to cause hand injuries and fights

The classic thing-matching game, in which each card contains only one image which matches with the next, is so easily reskinnable that new versions are now popping up to suit fans of all sorts of fandoms. Hot on the heels of Dobble Harry Potter comes this Arendelle-themed version, and with five individual ways to play it's certain to hit the table for some time to come. Even young players can get the hang of Dobble (or, as it's called elsewhere, Spot It!) quickly, though it's a stone cold fact that they'll never be as fast as their Dad. Never.

Best Toys 2020 Lego Dots Jewellery Stand

(Image credit: Lego Group)

14. Lego Dots Rainbow Jewellery Stand

Trinket storage in absolutely unique style

Reasons to buy
+Build it again and again+Some of the most creative Lego out there+Extendable with cheap add-ons

Lego always makes for a great gift, and Lego's creative and artistic Dots sets are cheap enough that they're in pocket money range too. In this set, kids can create create, well, a rainbow jewellery stand, once which can be re configured to suite whatever baubles need organising. The different shapes and colours of the 1x1 dot pieces mean they can be laid out in all sorts of ways, and you can extend the arts and crafts possibilities by picking up Lego's £4/$4 Extra Dots packs.

Best toys 2020 Lottie Doll

(Image credit: Arklu)

15. Lottie Doll Sinéad

A whole Lottie fun (sorry)

Reasons to buy
+(Mostly) realistic proportions+Well made clothes

There's a case to be made for fashion dolls, and a case to be made against them - but Lottie dolls have always occupied the more wholesome and inclusive end of the dress-up spectrum. They're specifically proportioned to match the average nine-year-old girl, and often feature STEM-inspired outfits. This brilliant Sinéad doll, made in collaboration with inclusivity activist Sinéad Burke, goes one further: it's probably the only small person doll with Achondroplasia you're likely to find.

Best toys 2020 Squeakee

(Image credit: Moose Toys)

16. Squeakee The Balloon Dog

A balloon dog that's not a total let down

Reasons to buy
+A long list of functions+Plenty of personality+Cute in its own unique way

We'll admit that we find Squeakee just the slightest bit unsettling, but credit to Moose Toys for the theming here. It's a robot dog that does a whole lot of different balloon-based things, from responding to noise from an actual squeaker to going all floppy when a pin is cruelly jabbed into his back. You can feed him air with a little blower (which may, to your kids' delight, cause him to blow off) or pet his little twisty ears. Cute, but very weird.

Best Toys 2020 Mario Kart Live Home Circuit

(Image credit: Nintendo)

17. Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit

It's time for the great living room grand prix

Reasons to buy
+First-person racing feels very fast+Packed with power ups+Multi-player racing (if you have more karts)

You'll need a Nintendo Switch to enjoy it, and you'll have to pray to the signal gods that everything's happy to talk to each other consistently, but Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is one of the most unique radio controlled experiences there is. Take control of Mario or Luigi as they zip around your room traversing cardboard gates and tussling with AR opponents (or your cat), all while you watch the action and pick up powerups in a first person view through the screen of your Switch. Very neat technology, with a fair bit of longevity to it.

Best toys 2020 Present Pets

(Image credit: Spin Master)

18. Present Pets Fancy Puppy

An animated pup that cannot wait to meet you

Reasons to buy
+Soft and sweet+Loads of movements and sensors+Unboxes itself

Half of the fun in a toy is taking it out of the box, so we can't quite work out if the fact that the Present Pets Fancy Puppy is programmed to smash its own way out of its container is a good or a bad thing. Probably good, if the numerous effusive reviews are anything to go by. This is a toy which combines mystery (you'll get one of two possible pups), a long list of interactive features, and enough softness to make it actually cuddly - not a bad combo, really.

Best Toys 2020 Jellycat Egg

(Image credit: Jellycat)

19. Jellycat Amuseable Boiled Egg

Eggs-tremely cute

Reasons to buy
+Really soft+Really, really cute+It's a cuddly egg

The results are in, and our cuddly department informs us in no uncertain terms that Jellycat plush toys are by far the softest and most huggable on the market. There's a vast range of charming options to pick from, from animals to rainbows to ice cream, but we can't tear our eyes away from the Amuseable Boiled Egg. It's the happiest little egg ever, and sure to put a smile on any face. Unless they wanted the Amuseable Espresso Cup, that is.

Best toys 2020 Scalextric

(Image credit: Hornby)

20. Scalextric Spark Plug Batman Vs Joker

Slot car racing with a Bluetooth twist

Reasons to buy
+More than just round and round+Great car models+Plenty of interesting track sections

Scalextric's new Spark Plug dongle moves control from regular handsets and puts it, via Bluetooth, on your phone or tablet instead. This allows you to regulate speed more accurately, get a boost, or even stop your opponent in their tracks. There's also a lives system, triggered when cars go off-track, if you're more interested in crashing and bashing than actually completing laps. Which, let's face it, most people will be. There's a pinch point, a jump, and a crossroads included with this Gotham-themed race-off, so the Batmobile will probably be spending a fair amount of time on the carpet rather than the track. 

Alex Cox
Alex Cox

T3 magazine's own Gadget Guru is a 25-year veteran of the tech writing wars, and has the scars to prove it.