It was a most excellent day at PlayPennies HQ when two rather fabulous products landed on our desks from Find-Me-A-Gift. These two products took the reviewers by storm. In fact, there was yet another kerfuffle in the offices over who would get to review them. So much so, that we just sent them off to our awesome Parent Panelists instead. Lucky things!
It was our mum of eight year old Damien who got sent the Big Trak for review. Amelie was not sure what a Big Trak actually was but she says that everyone else did.
The whole Big Trak phenomenon, when I was a kid, had totally passed me by. I had no idea what one of these things was when it arrived for review from FindMeAGift.com,” said Amelie, “But, wow, the excitement of everyone else. It seemed like most people had some story or other of a friend's big brother who had one, or coveting their cousin's Big Trak.”
A Big Trak, for those of you who don’t know, is essentially a programmable electric vehicle that was created back in 1979. It was, back then, the equivalent Christmas gift that the Go-Go Hamster was last year. Amelie felt that these were just one big trip down memory lane.
“One look at the style and design, and I was whisked straight back to 1980 watching Logan’s Run, Buck Rogers, and Battlestar Galactica on the telly,” she said, “I could almost hear the ping-pause noise of Pong and I swear that a top-loading VHS VCR appeared in front of me!”
Well, if you coveted one of these babies back when, then you’ll be delighted by the fact that they’ve brought them back in all their gorgeous glory. It comes in white, looks fantastic, and definitely smacks of the 80s.
“It takes three D batteries, and these are not included. You can enter up to 16 separate commands on the 23 key keyboard,” said Amelie, “Rather cool is the front mounted blue photon beam headlamp used for firing. There are also stickers to put on the vehicle. These are dead easy to do, but I was left wondering why they weren't simply put on the chassis at the factory. It seemed a bit pointless to me. And, just like all my childhood toys, the stickers never seemed to line up properly when doing them around the corner bits, no matter how many times they were peeled off and reapplied.”
I have to admit that I disagree with her here, I loved that customising bit even though the stickers never lined up. It gives your toys character!
Amelie said that her godson, aged 5, was happily playing with it as well as her son. It is recommended for ages eight and up, so as long as there was an adult handy, this was fine for the younger child. She felt that the instructions were clear and simple but that figuring out the programming took a bit of patience and practise.
“Manually programming in a sequence, and remembering what you had done, and how to do it again, was something that was quite new for my son,” she said, “At first he thought it was stupid. Why couldn’t he just hook this up to the USB port on the computer and programme it using software?”
At this point I allow all of you born in the 70s and 80s to have a quiet, reminiscent, chuckle.
“My son soon changed his mind as he could see the benefit of not being tethered to the computer. Plus there must have been something satisfying in the manual programming as this toy is now qualified as ‘awesome’ in his books.”
She did wonder what he would do if confronted with an old Atari, though.
The mum we sent the Chatimal Hamster to, Andrea, was very, very sceptical when we tried to explain it to her. I said, “It repeats everything you say, see?”. She said, “Yeah, and then what does it do?”
That’s ALL it does. But wait, before you amble off in disgust, let me tell you that this toy has given Andrea so much fun that I am rather annoyed I didn’t keep it for myself.
“When I first got told about the Chatimal, I thought it was a load of rubbish,” said Andrea, “I mean, seriously, this was a toy that just repeated what you said, verbatim, on repeat. How could it possibly be entertaining beyond a few minutes?”
Then Andrea received the box with the hamster Chatimal inside and all hell broke loose.
“I had barely pulled it out of the box when it was wrenched from my hands by my daughter,” she said, “I haven’t seen her that excited about a toy since she got Jessie from Toy Story. Once I’d switched it on and shown her how to press the button that was it, she was off.”
Andrea is now as in love with the Chatimal as her daughter.
“It has given us hours of fun. And I mean hours. When you first press the button on his hand a red light goes on. While this light is glowing he is recording everything he can hear. Then it switches off and he repeats what you said in a variety of weird and whacky accents.”
Andrea had to endure the Chatimal going with her to the supermarket, the beach, the bakery, the grocer and all other such parental shopping places.
“The LOOK on people’s faces when Beth spoke and had her words repeated were priceless,” said Andrea, “Often people would look around to see what made the noise. You see, the accents used by the Chatimal vary so much that it can really have you looking around for the weirdo with the strange voice.”
“My best part, though, has to be when I put the Chatimal in arms reach and waited for my husband to come home. I hid behind the sofa, pressed the button, said something like ‘Why, hello there, handsome’ and nearly cried laughing when my husband jumped out of his skin as the hamster repeated what I said in this deep and terrifying tone.”
The Chatimal hamster was a huge success. Although Andrea says it does eat batteries a little bit and sometimes doesn’t quite record things perfectly.
“Overall, I have to say that it is a fantastic gift for a child, especially an older child who can find all sorts of inventive ways to use it,” she said, “But it does have a hungry battery life and sometimes doesn’t catch what you’re saying perfectly.”
Amelie’s final words on the Big Trak were, “The Big Trak is on sale for £33.90 with £3.95 shipping in the UK. Frankly I think this is pretty good value, as you feel like you’re really getting something for your money. This is a toy that is rather cool and retro, is robust looking, fun to play with and educational too!”
Andrea’s thoughts on the Chatimal hamster were, “The Chatimal is a quirky gift. Very quirky. My daughter loves it and still plays with it on an almost daily basis. It costs £19.99 which, I find, a bit pricey but possibly worth it in light of her appreciation. She gets more out of this toy than she does from the Buzz Lightyear we got her for her birthday. It would also be a great gift for that adult who has everything. It would, seriously.”
And on a Fun Fact Note. You can see from this photo on the right (that Amelie kindly discovered for us) that the Big Trak featured in none other than E.T.! Look closely under Drew Barrymore's chin...