If you’re on the lookout for the best toys around to give your kids (and inner kid, let’s be honest) endless fun, we’ve tested and put together a cracking list of wild and wacky gizmos and games that could turn even the grumpiest kill-joy.
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Children’s toys have come a long way since the old days when us grown-ups were content with just a cardboard box and our imaginations. Now, if you want to play with the walking, talking robot of your dreams, the chances are it’s sitting on a shelf in your local toy shop just waiting to be switched on.
Whether you want a brain-teasing game keep the whole family happy, a futuristic robot dog for your animal-loving child, or simply the latest Nerf gun to blast the living daylights out of your nearest and dearest, this list of the best toys currently available should have at least one toy you won’t be able to say no to.
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- Price: £79.99/$58.00
- Best for: RC nuts
The Thunder Trax my look like a conventional remote-control future-tank, but it’s got a nifty trick up its bodywork. Drive it into water and it not only floats, but converts into a powered RC boat.
So essentially you’re getting two RC vehicles in one here, although the price reflects that. It’s really fun, though, and the controller is excellent.
USB charging means you can even take a portable battery pack with you to give it a top-up.
- Price: £169.99/$169.99
- Best for: Road warriors
Anki Overdrive is often described as next-generation slot-racing, but that’s doing it a disservice. There are no slots, for a start – the app-controlled vehicles have infrared sensors so they know exactly where they are on the track at all times, and can change lanes just with the tilt of your phone or tablet. Throw in a ton of virtual weapons and power-ups, which form the basis for a Mad Max-style battle mode, as well as a campaign and single-player play against robotic AI opponents, and you’ve got something that’s more like an evolution of classic videogame Badlands rather than Scalextric 2.0.
This Fast & Furious Edition brings with it two new cars from the movie franchise, as well as a special Power Zone track piece and a movie-themed app.
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- Price: £199.99
- Best for: Thrilling fun
Any Star Wars fan has probably imagined piloting an X-Wing or the Millennium Falcon, Now, thanks to Propel’s Star Wars Battle Drones, this dream has become a reality. Available as a Speeder Bike, X-Wing or TIE Fighter (the Millennium Falcon will be released soon), these drones have amazing attention to detail that is guaranteed to make any Star Wars fan smile.
They’re also great fun to fly, and if you pick up more than one you can have infrared laser battles in the sky. The remote controls even play sound effects and music from the original trilogy, making for an insanely fun and immersive experience. Even the unboxing is an experience itself.
At time of review the Star Wars Propel Battle Drone was available for £199.99
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- Price: £29.99
- Best for: Precision zombie killing
The biggest blaster so far in Nerf’s dart-popping line-up, the Zombie Strike Doominator is a spring-powered blaster that offers a 24-shot capacity to fight the zombie apocalypse in style. Clad in funky bright green with moulded details that mimic workshop spares, the Doominator is powerful enough to hit a slow-moving zombie 25 feet away no problem. It’s fun and easy to handle, with a knuckleduster-style lever that switches between cylinders and a balanced, stubby design that keeps it snug in your hand. Forget hiding in The Winchester – the Doominator will help you fight the walking dead head-on.
At the time of the review the Nerf Zombie Strike Doominator was available for £29.99
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- Price: £199.99/$179.99
- Best for: Robot-befrienders
If Wall-E had tank tracks and could fit in the palm of your hand (and, well, actually existed), that’s Cozmo.
There’s a very good reason that Cozmo won Toy of the Year at the Trusted Reviews Awards 2017, and that’s because he’s not just adorable but he’s amazingly clever and downright fun. He also pushes the boundaries of what to expect from robotics in this price range.
He’ll play games with you, say your name (in an ultra-cute robot drawl) when he recognises your face, and can even be guided around via the view from his built-in camera.
You’ll need a mobile device and Cozmo’s accompanying iOS/Android app to use him, but there are hours of fun to be had here.
At the time of review, Anki Cozmo was available for £199.99/$179.99.
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- Price: £69
- Best for: Addictive family fun
Beasts of Balance is an addictive toy-stacking video game that brings the whole family in on the action. You’re all the creators of a new world, bringing beings to life by stacking them on the game’s plinth. Each of the stackable beasts has an NFC chip built in, and by touching the icon on the beast to the icon on the plinth, you can activate it, then carefully stack it on the platform. As the game goes on, the beasts build up, and the world inside the app gets more complex and intriguing.
What looks like a simple game of stacking up a bunch of colourful critters is actually a game of nerve, poise, smarts and strategy. The colourful beasts are beautifully designed and made, with a well-designed app and enough compelling game elements to keep both kids and grandparents hooked from start to finish.
There’s even an expansion pack on the way that’ll enable turn-based battles via a card system, which should add a whole new dimension to this beautiful game.
At the time of the review Beasts of Balance was available for £69
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- Price: £199
- Best for: Animal (robot) lovers
If your kids are nagging you for a pet dog, the CHiP Robot Dog could be the perfect low-maintenance alternative to keep them happy. With a rotating head, motorised limbs, voice-recognition and tons of smart sensors to give him a smart doggy brain, he’s the closest you can get to a real canine companion without visiting the pound. What’s more, he comes without the smell, mess and vet bills.
Just like a real pet pooch, CHiP will respond to your voice, sit and lie down on command, make happy sounds when you pet him, play ball, and even follow you round the house. He comes with a Bluetooth wristband for extra control, meaning you can summon him from anywhere in the house with the push of a button. He might not have a soft fur coat, but he has a certain robotic charm that will win over the whole family.
At the time of the review the CHiP Robot Dog was available for £199
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- Price: £299
- Best for: Cars Movie superfans
Sphero is best known for making robotic spheres that you can make whiz around the carpet using a smartphone app. Now, the connected toy company has applied its expertise to Lightning McQueen, the four-wheeled protagonist from the Cars movie franchise.
The result? A fun, animation-style remote-control car that talks, performs tricks and navigates corners detfly just like its movie counterpart. With the app, you can write custom scripts for Lightning McQueen to say, manufacture stunt sequences, and even have Lighting McQueen interact with the Cars film on your TV (he’ll mumble awkwardly about his past behaviour). The only catch is the price tag – this is definitely a toy for devout Cars fans with cash to spare.
At the time of the review the Sphero Lightning McQueen was available for £299
- Price: £649.99
- Best for: Emptying your bank account
Yes, this is off-the-charts expensive for a Lego set. You could argue it’s even beyond the realm of toys and into the land of premium collectibles. Well, yes, but look at it! A whopping 7541 pieces make up this super-detailed monster, which is one of the biggest sets Lego’s ever produced. Quite where you’re going to put it when you’ve finished the mammoth build is another problem entirely. Let’s focus on the buying first, eh? Worry about silly details later.
At the time of the review the Lego Star Wars Millennium Falcon Ultimate Collector Series was available for £649.99
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- Price: £25.00
- Best for: Family play
Although there will be occasions over the festive period where family gatherings take their toll, with the right board game – one that isn’t based on property trading – harmony can once again be restored. Camel Up combines the comic elements of a madcap camel race and the competitive thrill of a flutter on the gee-gees. Up to eight players follow five wooden camels as they race around the pyramid, while attempting to place bets on which animal will complete the course first and last to accumulate money along the way.
NERF Nitro MotoFury Rapid Rally
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- Price: £49.99
- Best for: Lounge-bound Evel Knievels
Using the same flywheel tech that powers NERF’s rapid-fire blasters, the MotoFury pops out tiny foam cars instead of darts. Why? Well… Dunno. But it’s fun.
This set features a pair of ramps for firing the cars at, as well as obstacles to shoot them into or over. Just think how much more fun a domino rally will be if it starts with a tiny automobile hurtling off a ramp, over some miniature tyre stacks and into that first domino. Nice.
At the time of the review the Nerf Nitro MotoFury Rapid Rally was available for £49.99
Meccano Thunderbirds 2
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- Price: £79.99
- Best for: Retro fans
This is one very impressive piece of Thunderbirds kit once the 654 parts are brought together. The most iconic of all the craft used by the International Rescue crew, this build comes with detachable pod and mole device. It may not be the most complicated of builds, but for the uninitiated, the Meccano process is an entirely different proposition to clicking together those Danish bricks. More akin to an engineering project, the metal plates are tooled together to create a satisfying and display-shelf worthy piece.
At time of review the Meccano Thunderbirds 2 was available for £79.99
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- Price: £99.99
- Best for: Interactive fun
We all remember the original Furby, right? It was a phenomenon that, for a time, took over the world in 1998. The Furby Connect sees its return and update for the modern connected world. As you might expect, it connects to your smartphone or tablet through Bluetooth to use Furby Connect World, a digital playground. By interacting with Furby through the app you can gain prizes and virtual eggs. The more you play, the more egglings you can potentially hatch. The Furby Connect will keep your kids entertained for ages, and thankfully a new sleep mask can silence it when it all becomes a bit too much.
At time of review the Furby Connect was available for £99
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- Price: £99.95
- Best for: Edutainment value
Like the original Sphero and BB-8, the SPRK+ is a spherical robot controlled via smartphone or tablet apps, but where the other two models are designed to work with games or through app-enhanced remote control, the SPRK+ is designed to be programmed. In other words, it’s the Sphero: Education Edition, teaching your kids the basics of coding in a way that’s both accessible and plenty of fun.
At time of review the Sphero SPRK+ was available for £120
Hatchimals and Hatchimals Suprise
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Hatchimals were the hot toy last Christmas, but they’ve made a strong return for 2017 with Hatchimals Surprise. Spoiler alert: the surprise is that there are two of the cute little blighters in a single egg.
If you’ve not experienced a Hatchimal awakening then it really is a treat. I had a dozen people aged between 2 and 87 huddled around waiting for the Surprise version to hatch. You need to treat the egg well to get it to crack. It needs to be stroked and rocked gently. Shake it too hard and you can hear the little beasties inside getting sick.
The hatching is mesmerising. It’s like that scene in Jurassic Park, with the realistic eggshell breaking apart for a lively little pet to come out. Once out, the Hatchimals interact with you, and if you treat them well, by stroking them, patting their heads and bopping their noses, they might even sing you a song. They happily chirrup away to each other if left alone too.