A dog which excretes yellow putty, a model gun which fires rubber disks, and an all-singing all-drumming Elmo figurine that will teach you the alphabet, are amongst toy sellers’ top picks for the festive season. But it was the Moshlings that had our special correspondent Nancy Donaldson, aged nine, rushing for a closer look.
With just under two months until Christmas time, it’s now that toy manufacturers are gearing up for their big sales battle. And it’s here, in the unlikely milieu of a North London church, that they are laying down the gauntlet. In their annual prediction of what will be filling this year’s stockings, the Toy Retailer’s Association (TRA) has chosen its “dream dozen” – the twelve products it believes will sell particularly well come December. They range from a children’s version of a tablet computer - a LeapPad Explorer steeply priced at £79.99 - to the Moshling Tree House, a relative snip at £18.99. And they, alongside a host of other hotly-tipped products, are all here, gathered under one roof, for the TSA’s Dream Toys exposition.
But back to the Moshlings. An online game and social network which charges users according to their membership, the world of Moshi Monsters has become a fully-fledged phenomenon, with fifty million online users, all able to befriend one another, communicate, and interact as their Monsters – little creatures with individual characters - mature. The corresponding range of figurines is just as popular. What’s their secret? Harnessing children’s creativity, it seems. “To explain it all would take a year – more!” bubbles Nancy. “It’s just so imaginative. Playing with the toys, I make up my own world.” Already in possession of 75 figurines, the Moshling Tree House is next on her wish list: “Mum says it’s too babyish for me, but I completely disagree.”
Also receiving the seal of approval from Nancy is the Nerf Vortex Nitron Blaster, a fully automatic model gun which shoots out rubber disks while flashing lights and sound effects rattle away in the background. A variation on last year’s popular Nerf N Strike Stampede ECS, it promises a “fully awesome battlefield experience” – something not every parent will be entirely happy with. Nancy’s mum has other objections; after a few hours of playtime, she predicts, the disks would be lost and the Nitron Blaster would never get played with again. A set of Hexbug Nanos, meanwhile, prove to be something of a surprise hit, not having made the chosen dozen but attracting crowds nonetheless. “I think they’re really cool,” says Nancy of the scurrying plastic insects.
Not every toy fared as well. The Doggie Doo – a hot favourite on the dream dozen – earned a scathing review from our expert. “I mean, what’s the point?” she huffed, obligingly feeding the plastic dog putty and then pumping on the attached handle until it came out the other end. Equally unimpressive was Milky the Bunny (“that just freaks me out”), a cuddly rendering of Rastamouse (“weird”) and a Team GB cycling Scalextric set (“a bit boring”).
In all, the theme of the day was technology. Whether it is the LeapPad Explorer, or a digital camera that lets its users add special effects to their photos (Kidixoom Twist at £49.99), almost every toy in the dream dozen exhibited the industry’s technological advances. But for those mourning their own childhood favourites, some heartening news: sometimes the simplest pleasures remain the best. Midway through the sales pitch of a newly souped-up Star Wards light sabre (the Ultimate Force Tech Lightsamer Assortment, priced at £39.99), Nancy wandered off. The Play-doh stand had caught her eye.