Smart toys for children that parents will also love

As Christmas approaches, Tech Expert Andy Robertson digs out the best tech toys of the year that offer something more than plastic entertainment.

Toys used to be toys and video games used to be video games. These days, however, it can be hard to tell the two apart. Children enjoy playing in many ways with whatever tech they have available to them and toymakers have responded by creating experiences that blend the two.

A few years ago this was dominated by heavily branded products that added an app or an interaction to a classic toy. This was fun for a while, but they lacked the longevity that could warrant higher prices.

More recently we have seen products that not only provide play experiences to ignite children’s imaginations but do that in ways that fully integrate the digital interactions and physical playthings.

These are toys that don’t simply translate physical play into digital or virtual spaces but create new experiences that are not possible without the technology included. This means that the play can evolve over time as the app and tech are updated via the internet to create what we might call service-based-play.

Mario Kart Live

A racing experience that combines the physical with the virtual

Rating: PEGI 3+
Release Date: 16/10/2020
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Genres: Action, Creative, Physically Active, Racing and Sports
Developer: Velan Ventures

Short Mario Kart Live trailer showing how it combines the real and virtual world in gameplay.

This is a racing experience that combines the physical with the virtual. You race real remote control Mario Karts but use your Nintendo Switch to control them. Each kart has a camera so you can drive around the home in first-person perspective. This creates an augmented racing experience. Get hit by a shell in the game and your kart stops for a moment. Or levels with crosswinds affect your remote control car in the real world.

Lego Hidden Side

Lego sets that have more to offer than building and traditional play

Rating: PEGI 3+
Release Date: 18/08/2019
Platforms: Android and iOS
Genres: Creative, Narrative, Physically Active, Puzzle and Shooting
Developer: Lego

Lego Hidden Side sets explainer video

You use the associated app, but in a deeper way than you might expect. Scanning the built kids unlocks a variety of narratives and games on the phone. You use the camera to search around your creation for clues and hidden treasure. Sometimes you have to put a certain block or character somewhere. Or other times you have to turn a Lego wheel. Your reward for figuring this out is in the app, which adds new challenges over time as the game is updated.

Tori

A mixture of real craftable toys and fun accessible mobile games

Rating: PEGI 3+
Release Date: 08/11/2019
Platforms: Android and iOS
Genres: Action, Physically Active, Puzzle, Racing and Shooting
Developer: BandaiNamcoUK

Watch a full review of the game to see how it works
Display video transcript
if you track with the channel you know
00:04
we're always looking out for new ways to
00:05
play video games with the family so we
00:07
bought this torii game to a family we've
00:10
been working with to see what it has to
00:12
offer now this is a game that's quite
00:15
unlike anything else we've played you
00:17
open the box and inside you can see
00:21
there's a tablet sort of surface and
00:23
that's the playing area you get this
00:25
created kit and these templates it will
00:28
come back to you later
00:29
and underneath there you can see that it
00:32
was we've got a little spaceship we've
00:34
got a little catapult and we've got a
00:36
little wand and it all clips together to
00:39
be used in a whole range of games you
00:42
play on your tablet now we want to get
00:44
the girls started here we're gonna start
00:46
from the bit from the basic so they put
00:47
the tablet and they've got their iPad
00:49
with the game downloaded we've decided
00:51
to start with this crystal chase game
00:53
and it all starts very simple to get
00:55
your toy to begin with you can pick a
00:56
difficulty level for whatever age your
00:58
children are but there's no magic thing
01:00
you pick up a little toy holster the
01:03
control element inside it the red engine
01:06
pointing out and as soon as you place it
01:07
over the pad it appears in the game nor
01:09
does it appear in the game but you use
01:11
that toy to control the motion of your
01:14
spaceship as you're flying left right up
01:16
and down there's a button on the pad and
01:18
you can tilt as well to fire your guns
01:19
and so you have this real world toy
01:22
controlling a virtual world space
01:24
journey it starts pretty simple but if
01:27
the girl's family got harder and harder
01:28
and they really enjoyed that challenge
01:30
of working out how to maneuver their
01:33
physical little spaceship toy to get it
01:36
working in the game and it's sweet
01:38
sensitive it's really immediate reaction
01:40
one-to-one so as soon as you're moving
01:41
in the real world it was moving on the
01:43
screen as well but here's the clever bit
01:45
this is where those templates come in so
01:48
get a template out you need your own
01:51
pens to color in but then you color in
01:54
what is an outline of one of these
01:56
you can take your time the family here's
01:59
you can see really enjoy Wahid they're
02:01
sort of mystery of what it was they were
02:02
coloring in all sorts of designs hearts
02:05
and stars and fires and rockets so that
02:07
by the end they had a beautifully
02:09
colored in template you then press the
02:12
button on your tablet and it tells you
02:14
to use the camera scan in your template
02:17
which it does but then you get to see
02:20
the spaceship fold it up on the screen
02:25
`{`Music`}`
02:34
`{`Music`}`
02:37
then back on the template you get a real
02:40
simple video instruction that takes you
02:42
through popping it out and making the
02:44
folds so that you turn that flat
02:46
spaceship template into a 3d model of
02:50
your spaceship that you've got in the
02:51
game now by the end of this you know any
02:54
other had a lot of fun coloring and
02:55
cutting and folding and making this
02:58
little spaceship but you can then use
02:59
that spaceship in the real world to
03:01
control your alien game spacecraft and
03:04
that one-to-one play really engage the
03:06
girls in what was going on on the screen
03:08
as well as what was going on over this
03:10
past week what a load of different
03:12
elements coming together here in a way
03:14
that I think is really intelligent and a
03:16
way that engages children in lots of
03:19
different skills in lots of different
03:20
interactions and a lot of different play
03:23
styles that I think will appeal to a
03:25
wide number of the family
03:32
so far so did what's extra nice about
03:35
this is it's not just a single game it's
03:37
a system that you then download other
03:38
games for so the next game we're going
03:40
to be playing is jungle rescue so this
03:43
uses a catapult you pop the little
03:44
communication cylinder into the catapult
03:47
and then as you can see it appears on
03:49
the screen but the catapult moves again
03:51
exactly in time with your movement of
03:54
the wheel world and you can tilt and you
03:56
can pull back that catapult mechanic and
03:59
then as it does that you fill up the
04:02
energy bar and you can see on the screen
04:03
you get a little target that shows you
04:05
where to hit now this is a little bit
04:06
like Angry Birds so you have these
04:08
stacks of crates and different things to
04:10
trigger and you have to really aim very
04:12
carefully to hit your little catapult in
04:15
the right spot to bring down the crate
04:17
and get the key to free the monkey and
04:20
then away you go
04:21
so the girls again enjoy collaborating
04:23
on this and because you've got that
04:25
physical object in the room it feels
04:27
very different it's quite hard to
04:28
sometimes share a video game when it's
04:29
to you but because there was a toy
04:31
involved they could instinctively just
04:33
go back and forth between them advising
04:36
each other you know watch they hit next
04:38
where should they go so by the ends when
04:40
they actually did it there's a real
04:41
sense of achievement that you can see in
04:43
their faces
04:44
yeah they obviously enjoyed their time
04:46
playing that juggle rescue game next
04:48
game we tried was shaded light now this
04:50
is quite a different experience well for
04:52
that kind of action high-impact of
04:54
spaceships and catapult so much more
04:56
today kind of Harry Potter almost feel
04:58
as you click together the Tauri want and
05:02
you have a little top and a little
05:03
Buster when it forms this one which you
05:05
can understand that well thinking it
05:06
stood up and that triggers it into the
05:08
game as you can see
05:09
as you grasp it one-to-one you can move
05:13
up the wand in the game space and that
05:16
means you can pick up objects and the
05:17
challenge here is to create the
05:19
silhouette on the screen match a
05:22
particular object when you do that you
05:23
press the button and it pops out into
05:25
the real world so again you've got this
05:27
forward backwards up-down but also a
05:29
twisting motion as you bring different
05:31
elements of this game into play to
05:34
create those silhouettes and again as it
05:36
develops there's more and more depth to
05:38
this and rotating and twisting and
05:40
manipulating objects to make the right
05:41
silhouette now as the parent you have
05:51
the parent app and the player dashboard
05:53
we you can see exactly what your child
05:55
has been doing in the game not only to
05:56
track their time but to see what they're
05:57
learning in terms of creativity
05:58
problem-solving executive function what
06:02
they've been doing in those different
06:03
areas you can also go in and set them
06:05
specific challenges in games that are
06:07
suited to their ability that then pop up
06:09
the next time they place there's a real
06:10
connection there between both parents
06:12
and children and also between the kids
06:14
and the physical object and the game
06:15
itself so they go that's our look at
06:19
Tori I think it's a really interesting
06:20
proposition as we said it starts with
06:23
this bunch of games and we've looked at
06:24
a few of them today but it'd be
06:25
interesting to see how it develops going
06:27
forward to see what new games they use
06:30
this technology to create so we'll these
06:33
are girls going in this flower for
06:34
Jungle rescue and we'll definitely check
06:37
back to Tori to see how they got on with
06:39
the game and also to try out different
06:41
apps as they released in the future

Tori combines comes with toys that you place on a play surface to control the game’s spaceships and catapults. Children can also create and colour their own cardboard versions of the toys and use them to control the game.

The novelty is that as you move the toys over the gamepad they match the motion exactly in the game. Add to this making your own coloured in versions of these toys that also work over the pad, and this is a magical and unusual experience.

Beast of Balance

Beautifully sculpted play pieces that interact with your iPad to create creatures in a magical land

Rating: PEGI 3+, ESRB EVERYONE
Release Date: 01/11/2016
Platforms: Android and iOS
Genres: Physically Active and Puzzle
Developer: Sensible Object

Beast of Balance overview trailer explaining gameplay

You place a toy creature on the plinth and it appears in the game. Balance another creature on top of the first to join it. Different items can then migrate and evolve animals to score more points. Players work together to get the highest score. If the tower tumbles you have a limited time to get it balanced again. There’s also a competitive mode where players balance animals to battle each other.

Lego Super Mario

A series of Lego sets designed to make different Mario-style levels

Rating: PEGI 3+
Release Date: 01/08/2020
Platforms: Android and iOS
Genres: Physically Active and Platform
Developer: Lego

Lego Super Mario gameplay trailer

The Starter Set comes with a large interactive Mario figurine that is then used to try out the levels that you make. The figure “sees” and reacts the different sorts of blocks under him so knows if it’s a coin, fire, a power-up and so on.

After building the levels that come with the sets you can combine the different elements to invent your own. You can then compete with friends and family to see who can get to the end with the most coins in the fastest time. The clever thing is that the Mario figure tracks it all for you.

Anki Overdrive

Brings futuristic battle racing roaring to life

Rating: PEGI 3+
Release Date: 28/05/2010
Platforms: Android and iOS
Genres: Physically Active and Racing

Anki Overdrive overview trailer explaining the gameplay

This smart toy has been around for a while. Over the years it has developed to introduce new challenges, characters and cars. The basic premise is that you snap together the track to design a circuit then race the intelligent computer-controlled cars using your smartphone. This means it’s fun on your own as well as with up to three other people.

The company that created the toy has changed hands so the sets are currently really cheap. Provided you avoid the Fast N Furious sets that are not supported by the new company this is really good value and a great smart toy that now has a bright future.

Here Kitty

A real-world hide and seek game you play by hiding your phone

Rating: Not yet rated by PEGI
Release Date: 04/05/2020
Platforms: iOS
Genres: Action, Physically Active and Puzzle

Here Kitty! gameplay example with family

It’s from the same team behind Heads Up. It’s an interesting tech toy as the smartphone becomes the play-thing as well as the technology.

When the child calls out or gets near the phone makes cat noises to give them clues to find it. When it’s found the phone plays a tune and tells them how long it took and offers a fun-cat-fact. There are different cats and animals that you can select to hide. It’s a great way to have some fun around the house while also adding a bit of a video game feel to the game.

Recent posts

Scroll Up