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These Are Toys That Kids Can Relate To

November 30, 2000|KAREN JONES | karen@kjnyc.com

As the computer and toy industries come together, parents will see more interactive toys on the market. Interactive toys, which merge traditional toys with computer technology, can encompass everything from simple plastic attachments that snap onto a computer keyboard to robotic dogs, laptops, car-racing simulations and more.

There are certain guidelines a parent should follow in purchasing an interactive toy. If it connects to a computer, always check the packaging beforehand to make sure the home computer meets the minimum requirements and has the right ports. Age ranges also will appear on the box, but parents should add a year to the starting age.

Parents should be prepared for a more complicated installation than just loading a CD-ROM game. Depending on the product, interactive toys can require a learning curve, so parents should become familiar with the basics along with their children in case kids have trouble mastering the product. Finally, make sure there are plenty of batteries--or do yourself a favor and pick up a set of rechargeables.

(a) School Time LeapTop

Price: $50

Ages: 3 and older

Parents who want to get their children started early on the three Rs as well as computer basics will welcome School Time LeapTop, a bright-green laptop toy that teaches the basics of math, reading and spelling. LeapTop by Leap Frog comes with the 26 letter keys on a traditional keyboard, 10 number buttons and seven game modes. These include letter names and sounds, counting, addition and subtraction and phonics. There also is an audio accompaniment, which serves as a guide and teacher. The only drawback is a small, rudimentary screen. But once a child dives into her ABCs, she won't even notice. If parents purchase the additional LeapLink system for $35, more content can be downloaded from http://www.leapfrog.com and then added to LeapTop.

(b) 3-D Cruiser

Price: $50

Ages: 3 to 8

Children who want to get out of the car seat and into the driver's seat will enjoy a safe and friendly virtual driving adventure with 3-D Cruiser, the interactive steering wheel. The 3-D Cruiser comes from a joint venture between Little Tikes and KB Gear Interactive; the result is a kid-friendly steering-wheel toy, about 10 inches in diameter, that connects to the computer via a USB port. Once the software is loaded, players can turn on the ignition and shift buttons, then steer their way through five different 3-D worlds in a variety of vehicles including cars, boats and planes. The wheel is solidly built and designed for children's hands. Other buttons are for the horn and windshield wiper. As an added bonus, the software includes a treasure-hunt activity.

(c) Barbie Magic Genie Bottle and CD-ROM

Price: $40

Ages: 5 and older

Barbie Magic Genie Bottle is a CD-ROM adventure game for girls that includes a simple but clever interactive toy component--a magic genie bottle. The bottle attaches to a computer game port the same way a joystick does. To start the game, the top of the bottle is lifted off and a Barbie genie pops on-screen. Children help her solve puzzles and play games while searching for magical gems through five different lands. Waving a hand in front of the bottle will lift objects in the game, transport players to other lands or grant three wishes, all accompanied by appropriate sound effects and visual razzle-dazzle. Also, the excellent 3-D graphics sustain the Arabian Nights feel. Though some games for girls can fall short, Barbie Magic Genie Bottle hits the mark for playability, and the bottle is pretty neat as well.

(d) Hot Wheels Slot Car Racing CD-ROM with Controllers

Price: $35

Ages: 5 and older

What child doesn't enjoy a simple, straightforward racing game? Now they can start their engines with Hot Wheels Slot Car Racing, a fun, easy-to-use racing simulation. The game comes with two hand controllers--a terrific feature because it encourages playing with another person--that connect to the computer via a game port. After the software is installed, players can pick their Hot Wheels cars, a racetrack and hit the gas. There are eight courses, including Space Race, Haunted Hill, Jungle Isle and Stoneage Speedway, as well as a track-builder to design custom raceways. Hot Wheels Slot Car Racing doesn't pretend to be anything more than a high-octane racing game for children and delivers just that.

(e) Poo-Chi Interactive Puppy

Price: $28

Ages: 5 and older

Suddenly robotic dogs are everywhere, but Poo-Chi is the pick of the litter. Small in stature--palm-size for an adult--Poo-Chi packs a lot of punch into his pint-size interactions, which include barking, dancing on his toes, chomping on his bone, sitting and standing. Poo-Chi cannot walk, but he more than makes up for that with his expressive eyes and ability to sing. Young children love his six-song musical repertoire, which includes "I've Been Working on the Railroad" and Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." If parents are looking for an all-round pooch this holiday season, Poo-Chi is it. Older kids may want to try Super Poo-Chi, which retails for $50. Super Poo-Chi is larger and recognizes eight voice commands, though he can't quite match the charm of his puppy companion.

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Karen Jones is a freelance writer specializing in children's interactive media.

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