Woolworths sent us a few Cars 2 toys to review. I was pretty keen to see what the new stuff for the next movie was like. Seeing as to how I (and many, many other parents) will be paying for it.
I am an expert on Cars. I know all the names of all the cars, and can pretty much recite the dialogue of the first Cars movie. My son is six, which as most parents know, means I've had four years now worth of repeated watching of Cars.
We also have a large amount of the merchandise. Much of which is pretty flimsy, and not easy to use. Some of it doesn't actually work as it should. In fact I cringe every time my son puts it on his birthday/Christmas list. Yet despite the disappointments they remain his most treasured toys.
First up is the Gas Up & Go Guido and Lightning McQueen (£30). From the parent's perspective the packaging is a dream come true. Gone are all the endless ties that wreck your fingers and take forever while a little one is leaping up and down on you in excitement. Instead, just push in the perforated bottom part of the box, and turn three little plastic knobs. The cars just fall out.
Next I had to work out how it worked. There are instructions. But at no point on these does it let you know that there are two near identical looking gas tanks on Lightning. Only one of these actually works. So I wasted ten frustrating minutes trying to figure out how to make the gas tank button work, before realising it was the fake one. I'd hate to have to go through that on, say, Christmas morning or a birthday when the child is over excited enough as it is, and you as the parent just desperately want another hour in bed and a huge tank of coffee.
Guido is plastic, very light, and flimsy. Even when placed in Guido's hand (or fork?) according to the instructions, the gas (by which they mean petrol) container does not really stay there very well. I can see this being lost pretty quickly. You can achieve the same result by just holding in the button on the gas tank though.
Lightning McQueen won't go until you've filled him with petrol. He makes glug glug noises, and a light flashes then goes green when he is filled. Put the car on the ground, push the boot (where it says Go), and he zooms off. Then makes some quips. He has 50 odd phrases and sounds according to the box.
And that's it. After lots of excitement, my son played with it for five minutes and hasn't looked at it since. It is for ages 3+ but I think maybe it is best suited to the 3 to 4 age bracket. For that age, it is easy to operate. The car is nice and chunky for little fingers, and the buttons are easy to push.
This toy I liked. The Cars 2 World Grand Prix Race Launcher (£25) is fairly sizeable, but it is also easy for little fingers to operate. Often with these toys the mechanism is stiff, which for my son makes it hard to use. On this one, you place the cars in their launchers. There's two sides to the launcher. Pull back the handles on the top for each side, then push a button to launch the cars out of the cages.
It is simple, but effective. The cars go a good distance. However, it works best with the plastic Cars toys. You get a Lightening McQueen with the launcher. But, my son only has one other plastic car from the range - a Doc Hudson. All the rest of his colleciton are die cast metal. These worked well too in the launcher, but when they launched they tended to bash into each other instead of going in straight lines.
That said, it kept my son amused for quite a while. He enjoyed putting the cars in there, and soon developed variations on this, by racing his Cars with this Transformers, and then his Hot Wheels. As they come out quite fast, he also adapted the game to see what he could get them to crash into.
From a parent's perspective, I liked that I didn't have to help him use this. As he has trouble putting force on his fingers, I often have to. Not with this toy. Also is also sturdy and well built.
I was a bit worried about the Cars 2 My First Scrabble (£20)when I first opened the box and saw it wasn't quite the standard Scrabble set up I was expecting. The letters and extra vowels sit in rows at the top of the box. Underneath that is a space to slot in a card. The cards go in order of difficulty, with the very last ones more closely resembling the game of Scrabble we all know and love.
So, with the first card for example, you just need to find the colours of each Cars character pictured. The letter tiles are all placed upside down, and each player gets a turn to pick a tile. If it is a letter that appears on the card, you can use it. Otherwise the tile gets put back.
I quite liked this as it helps with spelling. My son still tends to spell phonetically, which results in some quite creative words. However, while he was happy to try and get the colour Yellow for Luigi, for example, he kept trying to spell out Guido by name rather than the colour (blue). If you've got a child like mine, who really doesn't work well at playing to rules, then this might be a tough game to get them to play.
We never did make it past the first, easy cards! But at least he had some fun, it was a game we could both play together, and it is a game that will grow with him.
And here's a secret - don't tell anyone but I loathe the game of Scrabble. Personally, I much prefer this junior version!
And finally ...
Of these I would only want to buy the Launcher. It has been two months now, and my son has still not played with the Gas Up & Go Lightening MacQueen again. The launcher is a popular one to pull out when he has friends around though. I would also buy the Scrabble game. But, unless it was specifically asked for as a present, I wouldn't at these prices. I'd rather wait and see if they come down in price first.