Category: toy reviews

Plasma Car: Awesome Toy for Kids 3 to 12 (or Higher)

It’s been a while since I did a toy review, but I realized yesterday that there was this toy both of my kids adore, as well as pretty much any kid who ever comes to visit. And I’m not above plugging things that might bring other kids the same amount of pleasure. The toy in question?

The Plasma Car.

I have no idea how this little thing works. It looks like your typical little car. One kids sit on and pretend to drive around. But if you steer it from side to side, demons appear and push the car forward. Okay. Maybe not demons. Gremlins, perhaps. Or ghosts from the great beyond. Or maybe just physics. It’s certainly not batteries or pedals.

Whatever it is, it’s awesome. And can we say weight capacity of 220 pounds? I can ride this thing, folks. TRC and DC regularly ride on it together.

Look at that video. You can practically see the demons gremlins pushing that woman. I think it safe to say that if someone took a Plasma Car back to the Middle Ages, they’d last all of two seconds before they were burned at the closest stake.

My kids typically ride it in a circuit around the perimeter of the kitchen. (These days, they like to pretend they’re playing MarioKart while doing this. No banana peels have been thrown. Yet. But I can’t vouch for the safety of any pet turtles friends might bring to the house.)

Some disclaimers for those of you interested. First up, they really work best on hard, flat surfaces. Tile. Wood. Carpet? Not so much. Second, they might scratch your floors. We don’t mind–we just have the kids drive on places that either don’t scratch, or it doesn’t matter. But if spotless hardwood floors are what you want, this might be your enemy.

That said, TRC and DC have been playing with their Plasma Car for something like 2 years now, I believe. It’s a toy that still sees regular use by both of them, and you just don’t find toys like that every day. So if you haven’t already heard of the Plasma Car, allow me to officially give it the Bryce Seal of Approval, and recommend you check one out for your kids soon.

Christmas Toy Reflection Reviews

Now that it’s been a month since Christmas, I thought I’d take a look back on some of the toys we got and give them two ratings from 1-10. The first for anticipation levels leading up to the Big Day, the second for actual fun and value. Because hey–we all know that some toys soar and some crash. Maybe our experience can help you find some great toys. Here we go:

Anticipation: 0–I got these as a surprise for the fam. The kids hadn’t expressed any interest in having some, but I got them anyway.
Actual fun: 7–We’ve played with them as a family at least four times since Christmas, and everybody has a great time. We’ve stuck to Mexican Train so far, and the rules are simple enough that TRC can play on his own and beat me and Denisa as often as we beat him. Great purchase. Cheap, and lots of fun. Definitely worth it.

LEGO Master Builder Academy:
Anticipation: 5–TRC really wanted more Legos. I looked around for a while and ended up getting a family subscription to the Master Builder Academy, which sends us a pack in the mail once a month, and supposedly teaches all sorts of tips and tricks to become a master builder.
Actual fun: 8–Again, TRC loves it. Getting stuff in the mail as a kid is never a bad thing, and he’s really taken the lessons to heart. I’ve seen his constructions improve. It’s a fun kit, and I’ve enjoyed getting them myself. Hey–you can never have too many Legos.

Anticipation: 10–I had huge hopes for this. I’ve blogged about that already.
Actual fun: 10–Until I broke my elbow, I’d played this every day I could, usually for at least an hour a day. One of the biggest bummers I have about my broken elbow is the fact that I can’t play this game for now. It’s that good.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Anticipation: 8–New Zelda, with cool sword 1:1 motion accuracy? Sign me up!
Actual fun: 6–A bit of a let down–especially at first. It took too long to get into the game. But now that I’m into it, it’s going much better. It’s a great game for me to be able to play while TRC watches, and I expect the actual fun rating to end up around a 7 or 8, which isn’t too bad, all things considered.

7 Wonders Game:
Anticipation: 7–I’d heard really good things about this game, and I thought long and hard before I chose it as the game to buy this year for Christmas. That’s a lot riding on one game.
Actual Fun: 0–Big disappointment. Not because the game is bad. I haven’t had a chance to play it. I broke open the rules, got ready to play with Denisa, and found out that it’s designed with three or more players in mind. It’s got a 2 person variant, but it’s supposedly too confusing if you haven’t played with 3 or more already. That ain’t gonna fly with Denisa. So this one will have to wait for a few years until TRC can play, too. Big bummer.

Apple TV:
Anticipation: 7–I wanted this to fill a few holes in my AV library–primarily as a way to get content from a computer/iPad to my TV screen.
Actual Fun–5–Not quite what I wanted, but it scratches most of the itches I wanted it to. I’ve used it to watch TV through my iPad onto my big screen, and I’ve streamed music with it. Mainly disappointing from an “it ought to be capable of more” standpoint.

Nerf N-Strike Maverick
Anticipation: 9–TRC really wanted a new Nerf. He loves these things
Actual Fun–2–It broke not too long after he got it. He still uses it a bit, but it was, on the whole, a let down I think.

Those are some of the highlights. Other items that went over well were the Yoga DVDs I got Denisa–she’s used them almost every day, which I count as a roaring success. The Kitchenaid cover? Not so much. She just uses the Kitchenaid too much for it to make any sense covering it. I should have seen that one coming. Whoops. Still, it was all told a fairly successful Christmas, mainly due to avoiding buying the garbage they advertise on TV and going for quality, well-reviewed products, instead. For that reason, it’s been really useful to not have TV for TRC and DC to see ads for the crummy products. Much easier to get them excited for things that are actually worth getting excited for. Ya know?

How about you? Any particular toys/items that were very successful or disappointing? Do share. I have two kid birthdays coming up, after all. Always looking for ideas . . .

Video Game Review: Rocksmith

I very rarely review video games, mainly because it’s not that often I have a chance to really play a new one. However, when Rocksmith came out, it really perked my ears up. I got an electric bass a few years ago, and while I’ve had fun fooling around on it now and then, I’d never really found a way to have fun with it and actually improve my playing.

Full disclosure: I an acoustic guitar class at BYU for a semester. I have an acoustic, as well, and I really liked playing on it. Mainly strumming chords. Nothing too elaborate. Bar chords tended to intimidate me, if that means anything to you.

I’d played Guitar Hero and Rock Band some, but I couldn’t help feeling kind of silly–like I was playing on a pretend guitar. Probably because, you know, I kind of was. Games like Guitar Hero do a great job of making you feel like you’re actually good at playing guitar, without actually being good at playing the guitar. Devoting the kind of practice necessary to really get good at the game felt pointless to me. I might as well devote the time to learning the actual instrument.

Enter Rocksmith.

It works with any electric guitar (and they’re promising a bass add-on in the not too distant future). It’s got a similar “note highway” that everyone’s familiar with from Guitar Hero–it’s just that this one incorporates fret numbers and six different strings. I got it (and an electric guitar) from Santa for Christmas for me and TRC, who (as you’ll recall) has been wanting a guitar for Quite Some Time. In an ideal world, this game would actually help me learn how to play the guitar better, and I’d enjoy doing it.

It has exceeded my wildest expectations.

I can play for hours on end (not that I do–I usually have to force myself to stop playing after an hour, since I do have other things I need to be doing besides learning to play the guitar. Although I don’t feel too bad, because I’m actually learning something, as opposed to perfecting how to play a plastic toggle.) It scales the difficulty to your ability, automatically. Basically, it does everything I dreamed it might do. It makes me feel like I’m playing along with the song in question, it’s improving my ability, it’s a blast. In the few weeks I’ve had it, I’ve already seen my skill go up noticeably. It’s taken me from a general knowledge of the guitar to actually being able to play solos on some of the songs.

If you’re not a guitar player and never hoped to be one, then this game obviously isn’t for you. And if you’re an expert who shreds out songs like they’re nothing at all, then you might want to think twice about this one, too (although it really does a great job of making you feel like you’re part of the band–and it has some really fun guitar-based games on it, as well). But if you’re like me–a novice or intermediate player, or someone who would really like to play, then this is perfect for you.

Once TRC gets a bit older, and once they have the bass add-on out, I could totally see me playing with my son. I’m really excited for it.

There are two versions–one with just the game and the cord you need to connect your guitar to your console (it’s running for about $60 on Amazon right now), one bundled with an electric guitar (that runs for $200 normally, though the price on Amazon is now up to $250). The bundled guitar is supposedly just fine. Not fantastic, but very usable. Rumor has it Santa got my guitar separately for $99 (on sale from $200) through Amazon, and the game just might have been on sale for $40 over Christmas.

Expensive? For a video game, yes. For an actual learn-to-play the guitar course? Not so much.

Anyway–there you have it. If any of you have questions, I’m happy to answer them. Meanwhile, I think I have to go practice some Lenny Kravitz.

Christmas Present Reviews: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Snap Circuits SC-300So Christmas has come and gone, and it’s easier to look back on all the presents my family got and tell which ones seemed to be worth the money, and which ended up being big duds. (Note: Boxes are never duds. Often, the Amazon box something came in ends up providing more entertainment than the toy itself.) I provide this list mainly because I know what a jam it can be to try and find presents for birthdays and such–maybe this list will give you some ideas for an upcoming special occasion. (And as always, if you happen to click on one of these links and buy it through Amazon, I get a cut. Just sayin’.)

So, what were the best gifts? TRC definitely liked Snap Circuits a ton, and I love it whenever he plays with them. Basically it’s a collection of electronics experiments that teach how circuits work. So he learns, is occupied for a while, gets to build things and have fun, all at the same time. Definitely a great toy.

Denisa got a pressure cooker, and that’s been a huge success. She had been really reluctant to get one, since it sounds like she’d had one growing up and was scared to death of the thing–never knowing when it might just explode. This one is electronic and has none of the random hissing and spitting of a traditional pressure cooker. You just plug it in, punch some buttons, and let it go. Beans go from dry to done in about 15 minutes. Incredible. Denisa uses it every week, often multiple times in a week. Big time good gift. This cookbook has been a good one, too. They go well together.

The Pyrex storage dishes are also a favorite. Much better than the standard plastic ones. They microwave great, store things in the fridge great, don’t stain. Good stuff.

TRC’s Beyblade set and Bakugan figures were popular for a bit, and he still plays with them, but I could take them or leave them. It didn’t help that some punk kid at school swiped a part to his Beyblade, so now they don’t work. Sheesh.

TRC and I play Magic the Gathering together a lot now–he really gets into it, and it’s been a lot of fun. The theme decks are a good place to start, it seems.

The spy gear comes in handy for TRC from time to time, but not as much as I thought he’d play with it. Still, he does take it out fairly regularly and enjoys being sent on secret missions.

Creationary, which the family got, is a fun game, but you could probably homebrew this one pretty easily, assuming you have some Legos on hand (and if you have a young boy, then I’m betting you do.) Just make up some cards with different objects on them and take turns drawing cards and trying to build what comes up. It’s really simple, but fun.

DC plays with her dress up sets a lot, but doesn’t do much with her dolls. Maybe she plays with them up in her room–I’m not sure. Haven’t been up there in a bit to find out. Who knew that a collection of different pairs of shoes would prove to be so popular? (Note: that’s not the exact thing she got. Close enough.)

I still haven’t played Ghostbusters 3 yet. There was a time when any new video game I got would get a lot of playtime. Buying presents for me was easy–video games and movies. Now that I have apps on my iPad which costs a few dollars each, and Netflix . . . I just don’t need those things anymore.

The pretend kitchen set is used a lot–and I made a small “oven” out of a cardboard box and duct tape, which is also popular. I don’t think splurging on a whole toy kitchen would be worth the space it takes up in your house or the expense. Cardboard boxes, my friend. Cardboard boxes.

I also use my bluetooth keyboard for my iPad quite a bit–makes typing on the thing much easier and faster, and it’s small and easy to store.

Actually, in looking back on the haul, we did pretty well. There’s nothing we got that I feel like was a total waste, and almost everything is used and enjoyed. That said, we could have stood to save a bit more than we did. I get caught up in the Christmas spirit (the one that involves TOYS!!!!), and get carried away each year. Not hundreds of dollars carried away–more like tens of dollars. But still–tens of dollars add up over time. 🙂

How about you–any toys you’ve really liked? Any suggestions to make to others? The floor is yours, folks.


So there’s this thing that’s all the rage at TRC’s school: Bakugan. You heard of it? I hadn’t, until he started coming home every day raving about how cool they were. Basically, they’re small little spheres that have a magnetic latch inside them. When they roll over metal, the latch activates, and they spring open, becoming tiny little creatures. I can see why he likes them. It reminds me of my obsession with Transformers back in the day. Better yet, these are actually a game of some sort. They come with metal cards, and you can have your Bakugan fight other kids’ Bakugan. I basically view it as a gateway drug of sorts–if I can get TRC into gaming already, then I’ll be that much closer to having a permanent live-in board game opponent for the next 13 years or so. Which is why I had children to begin with. Isn’t that why everyone has children? Maybe he’ll go from this to Magic the Gathering.

We went to Walmart and got him his first set. He bought them, actually. A starter pack for $8 that came with 6 cards and 3 Bakugan. He’s happy as a clam. If anyone wants to feed his growing Bakugan addiction, I’m sure he’d welcome any and all donations. 🙂

Anyone else out there have kids transfixed by these things?

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