Archive for the ‘Toys’ Category

Furby

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Furby

So guess what’s making a belated – and perhaps – unwelcome return? Furby. And judging from some of the initial press reviews, I don’t think I am alone in my complete and utter abject horror at the toy’s return. A quick look at some of the Furby’s no doubt ‘exciting new features’ and nothing much seems to have changed in the decade and a half since the original Furby (or ‘The Furby Formerly Known as Furby, as he/she now prefers to be called) terrorised a generation of parents. And looking back at the genesis of this toy, and I am seriously racking my brains as to just what all the fuss was about.

As I have alluded to previously, Furby was one of the playground crazes that spread out from the schoolyard and ultimately under the christmas trees of many a baffled parent. Both me and my sister were caught up in the Furby hysteria, which hit sometime before Christmas 1998/9 (I forget exactly which year), and I can remember the moment of joy on Christmas morning as we ripped through the stacks of presents to discover what we thought was the Holy Grail of presents. If I remember correctly, both of our Furbies pretty soon found themselves at the bottom of our respective toy box’s. Like most gimmicky toys, the Furby’s appeal wore thin pretty quickly and pretty much everyone had forgotten about them 6 months later.

The Furby was originally conceived by inventor Dave Hampton whom, along with co-inventor Caleb Chung, sold the rights to Tiger Electronics. Richard C. Levy was one of the principle people responsible for helping to bring the toy to the market, which was achieved in time for the U.S. holiday season in 1998 (an advert from this period can be found below). The toy is basically a talking, owl-like creature that recognises and responds to human interaction. By saying or doing specific phrases or actions, the Furby is supposed to “respond” to you in increasingly diverse ways. Initially, the Furby only speaks its own language, Furbish. Over time, the Furby is supposed to begin to speak English, as a result (it’s claimed) from your interaction with it. A somewhat similar experience to having a Tamogotchi, perhaps, but with less effort required on our part in fulfilling multiple needs.

From this description alone, my apparent disdain for it may appear to be unfair reaction. But, like most marketing for toys, not everything that the commercials tell us works out exactly the same in reality. One of the oft touted features of the toy is its supposed ability to ‘learn’ the phrases that you spout at it. My experience with my Furby was far from this. In the time I remember playing with it, it only “learned” a few english words and the range of its vocabulary was woefully narrow. What the toy actually did, I think, is come already programmed with a number of common English words and phrases that were initially locked.. The more time you spent playing with the toy, the quicker these English words started to become unlocked. Clever, but the pay-off for this reward (if you could even call it that) requires a lot of patience; something which, extensive research has probably shown, children generally do not have in large amounts.

The technology behind the Furby is impressive, I somewhat begrudgingly have to admit. Fitted with an internal microphone, motor and an array of different technological gizmos, it would take an expert to describe just what is going on inside a Furby. Suffice to say, there is enough power in there that could make it theoretically possible to power a 1980’s computer. One drawback was that I remember Furby being incredibly noisy. The whir of internal motors would, at times, deafen whatever the Furby might be saying.

Looking back at the original Furby today, and you get a feeling of palpable disappointment.  Like many of the over-hyped things from yesteryear, there was always the realisation that, once you actually had the item in question, it would do none of the things that the adverts promised. My only concern is that my apparent bitterness over the toy may in fact be masking some kind of deep-seated childhood trauma or issue. But I’ll leave that to any future psychologist to determine and finish by simply pleading to parents reading, desperate to find no. 1 children’s toy for this Christmas: don’t give them a Furby. There are so many more potential presents out there. Like a ball and cup. Get ‘em that. So many hours of fun to be had with such a great toy.

(Image courtesy of ebay.com)

‘Century Skyway’ (6597) Lego Set

Friday, June 8th, 2012

‘Century Skyway’ (6597) Lego Set

It’s coming up to Christmas. You’re 5 years old. You know it’s there, under the tree. That big box, nicely wrapped, just begging to be opened. And, on Christmas Day, the unwrapping doesn’t disappoint as you frantically rip open to layers to reveal your first, proper Lego set, the Century Skyway. Aeroplane? Check. Suitcases? You betcha. Communication tower? Hell yeah. This is the real deal. None of that Lego Duplo shit. That’s just a baby’s toy. You’re all grown up now, and you’re ready to play with the real toys, and this is just the icing on the cake.

I’m guessing today that Lego is becoming increasingly a rarity when it comes to kid’s Christmas lists. And that makes me quite sad, as even today I can’t resist the allure and pull of some of the more impressive Lego sets available today whenever I see them in the shops. Still, with games like Minecraft where you can build a world with unlimited resources, all from the comfort of your home computer, why would you bother shelling out hundreds of pounds for assorted lego sets and then sit down and build the damn things with your hands. What a drag.

Still, I’ll always have fond memories of my very first lego set, the Century Skyway set. Released in 1994 under the Lego System moniker, it was one of the most impressive and largest Airport theme set produced by the company thus far. With a commercial aeroplane, two helicopters, and all the trappings and features of your favourite inter-city airport, I remember many a fun days spent with this (except at the points where I accidentally threw the aeroplane on top of my wardrobe!).

The plane was the best bit. Once fully constructed, you could open up the passenger seating with ease, pack up the luggage, and commence Flight 101 to the Cat’s Bed. It had wheels, jet engines, the whole shebang. And at the time, it genuinely felt like one of the greatest toys ever made. It’s also a great toy to play with your friends as well, with each person taking command of the individual flying vehicles and letting imagination take hold. And who can deny the sweet fact that you sat there and built this amazing thing, all by yourself?

And I think that’s one of the things that made the whole experience so rewarding: the fact that you were the one who built it. You’d open up the box, get out the instruction booklet and spend half a morning arranging all the pieces perfectly. Or, to hell with the instruction book, and experiment instead – the instruction booklet even gave you some examples of alternate setups that you could attempt, giving you the courage to explore new possibilities. The (Lego) world was your oyster.

The spell could be ruined though. Lego, unfortunately, shares the same pitfalls as a Jigsaw: if you just happen to lose one tiny, important piece, then the whole world can come crashing down in an instant. And, by my own admission, I was never the kid who meticulously ensured that every piece was always accounted for so, naturally, pieces were lost over the years. A frustrating feeling, and one of the major drawbacks of these sets.

Still, looking back at the time, and even now, these were the best. Video games had not yet reached the stage where believable worlds and total immersion could be achieved, so toys like these were the next best things growing up. And probably a lot more productive and, dare I say it, educational when compared to jumping on Goomba’s as an italian plumber; despite this being, I’m sure you agree, an important life lesson for anyone.

It’s for this reason that I’ve made a pledge to myself: if I ever have kids myself, I’ll be buying them a Lego set when they’re old enough. And, hopefully, I can experience with them some of the fond memories of one the best Lego sets ever released.

(Image courtesy of lego.wikia.com)