As the use of the computer chip continues to ratchet up the toy experience, toymakers continue to discover what parents already know - that children still need creativity and imagination in their toys. Here's a roundup of some of this season's hits:
The must-have piece of home-entertainment technology this Christmas season, Sony's PlayStation 2 (PS2), is the one many people are going to find hardest to put under the tree because the Sony elves have not delivered as many of these game-playing consoles to stores as expected. Until more games are developed for the PS2, however, PS2 can serve as a good DVD player and eventually as a state-of-the-art video-game console. A limited number of games are available now. "FantaVision" (Sony), "Orphen" (Activision), "Summoner" (THQ), and "NFL Game Day 2001" (989 Sports) are a few new games that show off the high-power chip at the core of the system with eye-popping graphics and many playing options.
The second must-have techno-toy under the tree this year is Lego Studios, the first toy that filmmaker Steven Spielberg has ever endorsed that isn't connected to one of his films. It's a complete miniature film studio, including a snappy little digital film camera encased in a Lego-like housing, a tiny Lego man that looks like Spielberg, and a cityscape movie set that falls apart on command. It's a gem of a gift for the 8 and ups.
LeapFrog has brought out a series of nifty learning toys that look like twisty dumbbells. There's nothing dumb about them, however. They feature downloadable cartridges that track a child's learning progress and provide monitored software updates via an Internet connection. Turbo Twist Spelling, Turbo Twist Math, and Turbo Twist Fact Blasters are a good rejuvenator for the child whose thinking has been dulled by video-game sameness.
In case that same child would like some real mental exercise, Grolier has a highly praised multimedia CD-Rom 2001 Encyclopedia, with highlights such as 50,000 Web links, a Spanish-English dictionary, 140 "research starters," and article lists that launch students into the most frequently researched subjects at all grade levels. Another great research CD-Rom from Dorling Kindersley (DK): "Dinosaur Hunter Deluxe," monster interactive learning about dinosaurs.
On a break from all that studying, preteens may enjoy the latest in the "Jam" series from KB Gear Interactive: "JamIt," a durable hand-held sound studio that records sounds that can be mixed later on a computer; "JamP3," for downloading music; and "JamStudio," a package for creating a Web site.
For those who aren't ready to hand in their Pokemon cards just yet, Nintendo has come out with its first voice-recognition video game, "Hey You, Pikachu!" With a faster learning curve than Sega's voice-recognition game "Seaman," this cartridge game for the N64 console is a light, fun romp with the bright-yellow pocket monster. "Pokemon Puzzle League" is a fun, family-friendly (translation: nonviolent) N64 extension of the little critters. And of course, the durable Game Boy lives on with the latest games, "Pokemon Gold and Silver."
More video-game producers are writing for a market beyond hard-core street-fighting games. All three of the main platforms, Nintendo, Sega (Dreamcast), and Sony, offer more varied fare, in particular for the younger set: Game Boy offers Chicken Run (THQ). PlayStation has "Casper" and "The Land Before Time" (Sound Source Interactive), "The Emperor's New Groove" (Disney Interactive), and "Spyro: Year of the Dragon" (Sony). New on Nintendo64 and Gameboy are "Rugrats in Paris: The Movie" (Dreamcast) and "Samba de Amigo" by Sega.
That said, some of the teen-rated games, such as Sega's "Shenmue" (Dreamcast), display a breathtaking level of graphic and storytelling creativity. Sega continues to refine its online gaming community known as Seganet. The company has come out with the software for the experience of playing basketball with a far-flung network of competitors, "NBA 2K1." The jury is still out on whether Sega can launch the concept widely enough, but the graphics and game play are promising.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society