This car racing set comes with flexible, jointed tracks that are easy to adjust and connect. The cars light up on the undercarriage and leave light trails on the tracks, which we didn’t get to see in the lighted room. Kids flocked to the track right away, and a couple said it was their favorite, even when the cars flew off the track and the bridge supports fell over. Even for the price, Amaré's mom thought it was worth it because you could add to it.
Flipslide by Moose Toys ($19.99) • This color-matching, light-up electronic game has several variations, with sides that you flip and slide until you match the colors in the middle. It’s kind of a combination of Rubik’s cube and Simon, and was one of Jack’s favorites. He said it helped him use his critical thinking skills. It can be a little loud, but the volume is adjustable. Parents liked this toy as well, and liked that it was small and portable.
Nerf Laser Ops Pro AlphaPoint 2-Pack by Hasbro ($44.99) • Buy more sets of these laser tag game toys for the ultimate team laser tag experience. This set also comes with rubber armbands to hold a phone, where players can use an app to check out real-time battle intel and locate opponents. Amaré took to these guns right away, and his mom, Brittinni Vaughn, liked that there were no projectiles to clean up. Parents liked the play value for the price, and that kids and adults could play together.
Creative Cafe Barista Bar by Rose Art ($29.99) • This playset actually froths milk to concoct coffee house treats and comes with a small packet of chocolate and strawberry flavoring. Margot and Lenore flocked to this right away and played with it together. They said it was fun and actually frothed the milk, though it tasted “disgusting,” Lenore said. “I don’t think I’m ever going to be a barista,” quipped Margot. We couldn’t get the frother to work again after a few kids played with it.
Story Blox: The Island - E-Blox LED Light-Up Building Blocks Stories ($54.99) • This building block set includes tin-plated blocks that conduct electricity; a battery pack powers other blocks to light up. Build different sets as you follow a story in the book, and scan QR codes for an even more interactive experience. The kids didn’t pay attention to these, though. Jack’s mom said he would probably enjoy following the directions to make the different models.
Spygear I-nite clip-on night vision camera ($49.99) • This night-vision camera requires an app on your phone to use and did work in a dark hallway. Nobody seemed too excited by it or the other Spygear we had out: a Secret Voice Changer ($9.99) and a Secret Motion Radar Detector ($29.99). In a crowded, loud room it was hard to get the voice changer and radar detector to work effectively.
12V Nighthawk by Rollplay ($149.99) • This sit-upon motorized toy zooms up to 6 mph and handles riders up to 110 pounds. Margot gave this a whirl out in the hallway. “It works really fast, and it’s hard to control,” she said. “It’s really fun, though.” The battery is rechargeable, and it weighs nearly 28 pounds, so something to consider when finding a spot to charge and stash it.
Adventure Force Tactical Strike Quantum Motorized Team Competition Ball Blaster ($49.98) • We had to warn our older testers to aim away from the toddlers: this motorized gun, a Walmart exclusive, fires small foam balls that sting a little. Jack had a hard time getting it to work, but once he did, he thought the balls shot fast and far — and he said they didn’t hurt. The gun also jammed, and parents worried about small children or animals ingesting the balls.
Max Flex RC 300 Combo Edition ($99.99) • This car racing set comes with flexible, jointed tracks that are easy to adjust and connect. The cars light up on the undercarriage and leave light trails on the tracks, which we didn’t get to see in the lighted room. Kids flocked to the track right away, and a couple said it was their favorite, even when the cars flew off the track and the bridge supports fell over. Even for the price, Amaré's mom thought it was worth it because you could add to it.
Zoom Tubes Car Trax ($29.99) • This tube-shaped car-racing set looked intimidating out of the box but was fairly easy to put together and adjust. Charging the light-up car was trickier, and once we got it to work, it looked cool speeding through the tube — when it didn’t get stuck. Testers said it needed more track for a true “wow” factor. A cat might like it.
Skeeball by Buffalo Games ($34.99) • This Target-exclusive toy was a snap to take out of the box and set up. We placed it on the floor against the wall so the wooden balls wouldn’t go everywhere. Jack said he liked it more than he thought he would and it was one of his favorites, but other kids didn’t pay much attention to it.
My Pix Perfect ($59.99) • Rev up your vacuums and toughen your fingertips, kids: this set comes with more than 8,000 sequins and more than 500 tiny plastic pegs to place in a pegboard before you start making your shimmery design. But, if you work at it, the end result could look cool — and you can undo your unicorn design and make a poop emoji. Kids didn’t pay attention to this toy during our test, but a meticulous, crafty one might enjoy it. Lenore’s mom thought it would be great for tuning fine motor skills. Said Margot: “If it’s 60 bucks, it’s not worth it.”
Don’t Lose Your Cool by Hasbro Games ($19.99) • Place the plastic “Cool-o-Meter” on your head and players roll the dice to come up with crazy challenges to see how you’ll react. If you “lose your cool,” an alarm sounds. Kids had trouble calibrating the meter and getting it to stay on their heads. Lenore liked trying to get her mom to lose her cool and made some impressive chimpanzee sounds in the process, but for the most part, this was a dud.
Athena Necklace Kit by Linkt Craft Kits ($19.99) • Mom or grandma might actually wear the necklaces you can make with the hundreds of metal loops that come with this set. This is geared for an older, meticulous kid, but directions were simple. Margot said she wouldn’t wear the necklaces herself but might give them as a gift.
Pai Technology Augie Code Your Own Adventure with Augie, The Augmented Reality Coding Robot ($199.99) • This robot works with an iPad (or Android: Galaxy Tab S2 or newer) and was a bit tricky to set up, and has more capabilities if you have a wireless connection. You can make it bark or honk, pave a path for it to travel or get it to shoot virtual monsters in its path. Kids who tested this liked it, and Lenore’s mom, Karin Upwood, found it intuitive. Margot liked that she could record her voice on it and send it into another room. “I can make it talk to my brother,” she said.
Meet our testers
Grace Lenz, 2, Manchester
Mila Peralta, 2, South St. Louis County
Christopher Caldwell III, 3, Florissant
Brooks Wolf , 3, St. Louis
Graham Shapiro, 4, Chesterfield
Veda Rentschler, 4, St. Louis
Aliyah Cruts, 4, St. Louis
Cooper Dixon , 5, Breese
Whitney Murray, 7, St. Ann
Lucas Ferling, 7, Defiance
Emmaus Tzeng, 8, Ladue
Sydney Martin, 8, Maryland Heights
Amaré Barnes, 9, Florissant
Lenore Upwood, 9, St. Louis
Jack Grigaitis, 10, Frontenac
Margot Schusky, 10, Collinsville