February 9, 1998 in Nation/World

It’s A Serious Game When Toys Hit Market Toymakers’ New Innovations Answer Need For Greater Challenges

Associated Press

Child’s play is looking a lot more sophisticated these days.

Lego creations can come alive with a computer link and dolls can be programmed to know your child’s birthday or favorite color. Some games like virtual pets can even pick up new characters from CD-ROMs or the Web.

“Technology is everywhere, and we are going to start seeing more and more of it this year,” said Chris Byrne, editor of Playthings MarketWatch, a trade publication.

There’s certainly no shortage of high-tech firepower at the annual American International Toy Fair, which opens today, but manufacturers are also displaying toys linked to movies or television shows as well as building on the successes of their classic product lines.

With today’s kids becoming more computer-literate and techno-savvy than their parents, toy makers realize that children are looking for greater challenges and innovations in their playthings.

So the companies have built an impressive array of products that kids interact with - some that are fully compatible with a computer or the Internet.

The bright green Bull Frogg from Ohio Art has 100 different responses to various ways his body is bent or touched - pinch his nose, and he complains: “I can’t breathe!” Amazing Amy from Playmates knows 15,000 phrases and comes with an internal clock so she can be programmed to sleep and wake up with a child.

Tyco Preschool’s Play & Teach Big Bird works with a CD-ROM equipped with games, stories and songs. Parents can download personalized information about the child into the doll.

Microsoft’s Arthur and D.W. dolls, based on the popular PBS show, can not only take instructions from a CD-ROM and interact with the official “Arthur” Web site, but thanks to a special radio code sent along with the TV show, they can actually respond to things that their characters say on TV.

Things that kids build with Lego blocks can be programmed to move around on their own thanks to a special block with a miniature computer inside that manipulates little motors.

Even virtual pets, the craze of 1997, are getting beefed up with new technology. Players of Tiger Electronics Giga Pet Fighters can link up to the Internet to download hidden characters and new play features that they can’t get anywhere else.

But for all the virtues of technology, toy makers at the trade expo were also busy using tried and true strategies for new toys, unveiling a wide range of merchandise with movie and television tie-ins.

Hot Hollywood toys this year include Godzilla, Small Soldiers and A Bug’s Life. In addition to action figures, nearly every manufacturer will have some kind of movie tie-in.

Hasbro Inc. will introduce Teletubbies this spring, based on the British program that will air in the United States beginning in April.

Winnie the Pooh is also making a comeback. Among the many Pooh games and dolls, Mattel has Bounce Around Tigger, a stripped, plush doll that jumps around, like its namesake.

It’s still an open guess as to what will be the blockbuster toy of 1998.

© Copyright 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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