No TV, no phone, just play
The starter pack for Disney's first line of Playmation toys, based on the Avengers, costs $119.99, and requires 12 AA batteries. The main toy is the Iron Man arm gauntlet, but you'll also get two action figures and electronic bases for them to stand on while they interact with you.
The set isn't a video game, nor is it a traditional toy. It doesn't require a television or phone to work, although there's an iOS app you can use while you play. The Android version, we're told, is coming soon. This is Disney's attempt at selling electronic toys while untethering children from the television, and it's remarkably successful.
It's also only the beginning: Disney is aiming to have Star Wars toys in the Playmation line for 2016, and Frozen toys are coming for 2017.
Bringing back play
The Iron Man gauntlet attaches to your arm through a clever ratcheting mechanism that can adjust to fit small children ... as well as even bulkier adults. You just twist the dial for a tighter or looser fit.
"We came up with this mechanism, and it was at significant expense to get it right but we thought it was worth it," Mike Goslin, the VP of production and content for Playmation told Polygon. The first concern was to make sure it fit children between the ages of six and 12, but once they had a way to make it fit everyone they went for it. "Frankly the broader the appeal the product the better for us. It sends a great signal to everyone that it’s for you, it fits you."
The speaker on the toy is surprisingly loud when you turn it on, and J.A.R.V.I.S. spends a few moments teaching you how to use the various functions when you first power it on. The role-playing aspect of the toy is part of the fun; you're not Iron Man himself, you're an Avenger doing all this for the first time.
You have multiple attacks, including the ability to bring your wrist up to fire a simulated repulsor blast, which looks and feels good as the haptics kick in and the lights flash along with the sound effects. I spent a good amount of time just enjoying that experience in my office, pantomiming the Iron Man moves I had seen in the movies. There is even a green "laser sight" so you can see where you're aiming. It's all very goofy, but a very fun.
No, I didn't take pictures. Yes, I looked silly.
The dial on the top of the device lights up when you get missions, and the different Avengers talk to you and tell you what to do while you virtually go from location to location. There's a lot of imagination needed here; there are no visuals to go along with the claim that you've been transported to New York, but the sound effects and the story line the toy feeds you through dialog is a great start.
The gauntlet is only part of the starter pack however, as you also get two action figures and bases that you can "fire" at and will also attack back. You can put Captain America or the Red Skull on these, but the 25 included missions will tell you they're all sorts of different enemies. You can place them around the room and jump out of the way of their virtual attacks while firing back with different weapons on the gauntlet.
This could all be done using a television or video game, but the Playmation team wanted something that got kids to move. "We went through various incarnations where we included screens in different ways," Goslin said. "But what really became clear to us through testing with kids is that they like to run around and not be tethered, and as soon as you put a screen or a fixed object … you lose a lot of the free-roaming open-ended movement from the experience."
With the base stations you can put them anywhere in a room and it will work; although in my testing I found you really have to jump around to avoid their attacks, and you don't have to be very precise to hit back. I was also told that new missions and features could be added through the app, which can flash the firmware of the toys.
So how does it work in practice? A mission becomes available, you select it, are given instructions and then duel the base units. It's fun to place them randomly around a room and then send your kid down so they can discover where the shots are coming from and dive for cover and fire back. You can also "spar" with the action figures whenever you'd like, or practice your shooting. Or you can just wear the danged thing and have fun pretending to be Iron Man.
With the gauntlet, two figures, two base stations and a fair amount of story-based content included the $119.99 asking price starts to look a bit more reasonable, although it's still going to be one of the more expensive toys this holiday season. I gave my kids the gauntlet, even before showing them how to access the missions, and they had a great time running around and playing pretend.
This is half video game, half Captain Power, and branded to hell and back with the Marvel characters. Disney wants to make electronics to get your kids moving.
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