Hottest Holiday Toys Put to the Test by Real Kids

Jill with babyIf there's one thing I've learned about being a parent, it's this: kids have minds of their own. We love 'em for it, but when it comes time to go holiday shopping, thinking they're going to love that hot toy and knowing it are two different things. Ever brought home the "must-have everyone's getting it" toy, wrapped it up, only to have your kid play with the box and totally ignore the thing? Were they hot or were they hype? You're about to find out!

The Stir took a pile of toys off the various hot holiday toy lists and asked real kids to tell us what they think of them. Consider your Black Friday shopping list completed:

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Fijit Friends

Fijit Friends; $42.99

Consider this the Tickle Me Elmo of 2011. Already out of stock at a number of stores, it tops nearly every list and is being sold on eBay for double the price. I saw it and thought it looked like Furby crossed with a robot, and I figured the kids would get bored fast. But I was wrong.

The bad: Isabel, 11, was jazzed that Fijit grooves to your tunes, until she found out you can't actually plug your iPod into her. She will pick up the beat of your music and dance along, but you need to have an alternate player unless you want her to play her own music (with four songs, I see that getting old fast). 

Also Jill and Will, both 6, struggled to figure out how far their faces should be from Fijit's speaker when giving her voice commands.

The good: Although she's billed for girls, the green version (it looks like yellow above, but it is really more green) pleased our boy tester, and it crossed the age divide when it came to attracting the testers. Unlike robots of holidays past, Fijit has a squishy body that makes for cuddling -- the ultimate reason Jill decided she was her new best friend.

Trash Pack Garbage TruckTrash Pack "Trashies" Garbage Truck; $15.99

This year's answer to Stinky, the toy that delighted thousands last year, this garbage truck comes with little rubber "Trashies" to give kids more of a chance to play out storylines. More Trashies can be purchased separately; several come in their own trash cans (Isabel summed them up as Squinkies for boys).

The bad: The midsection of the truck is made to fold out so kids can slip their Trashies into the driver's seat or stow their trash cans, but the doors fell apart frequently on our tester model. Easy enough to put together, but Will was frustrated that he kept having to lean on his mom for help.

The good: Will had a hard time letting go of this truck to turn to his other toy testing duties. Straight from his mouth: "This is good because it's gross! And boys like gross stuff!"

Disney Animators Collection Dolls

Disney Animators' Collection Dolls; $24.50

Take the Disney princesses, re-imagine them as toddlers, and voila: you've got these dolls, literally designed by the animation staff at Disney. The princesses remain one of Disney's hottest commodities, and these are the "must have" for their followers.

The bad: For older girls who adore the princesses but are starting to worry that they're too babyish, a more babyied-down version of their favorite is not the best option. And our 6-year-old found it annoying that the doll's stuffed animal was actually sewed to her dress.

The good: The squeal of sheer delight from Jill is still ringing in my ears. Her exact words: "She's so cute!!" Even better: she survived the inevitable mauling that is a 6-year-old cuddling a new doll.

LEGO Ninjago

LEGO Ninjago Lightning Dragon Blaster; $69.99

Introduced earlier this year, the Ninjago line is already so popular with the elementary boy set that I must have seen dozens of ninjas on Halloween.

The good: All it took was the familiar Ninjago logo for Will's eyes to light up. "I want this!" he told his mom, busting open the baggies to get at the bricks. His mom reports these are the LEGO sets most played with because Ninjago allows kids to go beyond building and get into building storylines in their heads for their little ninja minifigures. Imagination for the win!

The bad: Let's face it, what does every mom hate about LEGOs? Oh right, the millions of little pieces.

Trivial Pursuit Ultimate Disney

Trivial Pursuit Ultimate Disney; $19.99

Group gifts are high on the list for a penny-pinching parent, and that means family game night is more popular then ever.

The good: There's nothing quite like hearing an 11-year-old girl enthusing about getting to play a game with her 6-year-old brother and her mom. How often do we hear that, parents? A game that crosses over into "for the whole family territory" for sure!

The bad: Wow did time fly; unlike the "real" Trivial Pursuit, this version is woefully short. Good for the little ones, but an 11-year-old was left wanting more.

Nintendo Dsi XL

Nintendo DSi XL; $169.99

The debate still rages over the affect the 3D gaming system has on kids' eyes, which has pushed last year's XL back to the forefront.

The good: Nintendo is courting parents big time; they've dropped the price of the XL plus packaged it with extra games. And Will and Isabel -- who both have former versions of the system (a DS lite and a DSi) -- couldn't stop raving. "Oh yes, this is better, much better, I like this," were Will's exact words. The larger screen, the kids said, makes a major difference in quality of play.

The bad: That depends on how you look at it. All three kids loved the handheld game system, and not one made mention of the 3D version ...

beyblade metal masters

Beyblades Metal Master Triple Battle Set; $28.88

These spinning tops are here to stay it seems, with the new stadium set topping a number of "hot" lists.

The good: For Will, this was "the" toy that he most wants for Christmas. He took it home, and as his mom said, "The Beyblades have invaded." If playing it with it non-stop is a sign that it's a hit, well, there you go.

The bad: If this is your kid's first Beyblade set, prepare for a major learning curve. Putting this together took the industrious Will and his mom quite some time.

Disneyland Adventures Kinect

Disneyland Adventures Kinect; $49.99

The Xbox 360 Kinect is topping a lot of lists this holiday season, but testing that out meant finding a game that would appeal to kids. We snagged this pick off a few gaming lists to see how it went.

The good: Tweens may just be the hardest kids to shop for. They're not sure yet if they're too old for toys. But this proved to be the perfect mix of kid and teen for 11-year-old Isabel. An unabashed Disney fan, she loved meeting the characters and reliving her own family's own trip to the park. As for the Kinect -- nailed it. She got her body into it and took to the new system immediately.

The bad: This game appeals to the littlest kids, but it's got a learning curve that explains its 10+ rating. Ditto the Kinect. Jill, 6, has great fun with Kinect (it's hers), and she can do it "by myself," but it takes some adjustment to use your body as a controller.

 

Images via Jeanne Sager; Toys R Us; Toys R Us; Disney Store; Toys R Us; Toys R Us; Toys R Us; Wal-Mart; Toys R Us

Disclosure: The toys tested were provided to The Stir in sample form. In order to protect the integrity of the test, the children were not told they could keep any of the toys until after they'd completed the entire event.

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