The holidays are upon us, and and nothing says "Happy Holidays" like the smiles on the faces of loved ones when they unwrap a shiny new toy. From the tiniest pieces of colourful plastic to elaborate collectors items to freaking lasers, here are some choice gifting toys for girls and boys of all ages.
Big things come in small packages. During the holidays it helps if those small packages don't cost much and can fit in an oversized sock. Each of these selections fits the sock nicely.
From Hello Kitty to The Walking Dead, Plants Vs. Zombies to Game of Thrones, there's a very good chance that Funko's Pop Vinyl line of figures has the character your giftee loves in adorable big-headed form. They have been a staple of my Christmas shopping for going on three years — Muppets, characters from Supernatural — this year I'm gifting figures from World of Warcraft and Frozen. Averaging $US9.99 a piece, they fit nicely into any Christmas gifting budget.
They wouldn't let me do an entire LEGO holiday gift guide, so expect plenty of representation here in the toy guide, starting with the most affordable and collectible LEGO product of them all, the minifigures. Series 12 has been in stores for a couple months now, the set of 16 figures featuring standouts like the Wizard, Jester, Man in a Pig Suit and my personal favourite, the Gamer. As an added bonus, each figure in this and subsequent sets comes with a code to unlock them as playable characters in Funcom's LEGO Minifigures Online MMO.
Figures come packaged in blind bags for $US3.99, so if you're looking for a specific character you'll either need to feel each bag for tell-tale parts or hit up eBay to pay a premium for certainty.
LEGO Minifigures [LEGO Shop]
Mass Effect Minimates
Diamond Select Toys gladly stomps where LEGO fears to tread. The Minimates line might not be as iconic, but you'll never find a non-custom LEGO minifigure of the Illusive Man from Mass Effect with a tiny cigarette in his hand.
Come to think of it, you might not find Minimate of the Illusive Man either, as he's the rare chase figure in the first wave of Mass Effect Minimates. These seven iconic heroes and one douchey jerk just hit GameStop shelves this month for around $US4.99 apiece, so if you're extremely lucky you can gift the Mass Effect fan in your life the entire set for $US40.
You're not that lucky.
Ready For Action
Action figures aren't just for kids anymore. Contrary to popular opinion, the adult action figure collector is not someone with dozens of articulated toys strewn about their work desk. Looking about, I only count five, with the rest on shelves behind me. Sounds like I could use some of these for Christmas.
The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker Link Nendoroid
Japan's Good Smile makes a line of figures called Nendoroid, which takes characters from popular anime and video game properties and transforms them into big-headed works of adorable art. Such is their power that Kotaku's own Luke Plunkett, generally the enemy of cute things, recommended the Nendoroid version of Link from The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker for our guide.
The cel-shaded version of Link suits the line quite well, already possessing the prerequisite giant cranium. He comes packed with a plethora of accessories to recreate key game moments. I don't know if I could handle this one. I'd be changing his pose every five minutes.
Link is preciously pricey — $US40 - $US50 for a figure only four inches tall — but he really is the perfect Wind Waker Link. Just be warned: no one can own just one Nendoroid figure.
DC Collectibles Greg Capullo Batman Figures — Series 2
Did yoiu know famed comic book artist Greg Capullo (who draws a mean Jay Leno) has his very own line of Batman action figures? His distinctive style has landed Capullo not one but two series of Batman figures through the DC Comics Designer series, with the latest hitting store shelves this month.
That's my favourite Catwoman right there, and Capullo's take on Mr. Freeze is right up there. The cream of the crop however, is the nine-inch Thrasher Suit Batman, complete with Bruce Wayne head and fully-articulated fingers. The three smaller figures run around $US20, with Bats ringing up in the $US50 range. Throw in Batman, Nightwing, Talon and The Riddler from the first series and you've got a party.
Transformers Masterpiece Bumblebee
Every year it's the same problem — I know I'm going to recommend a Transformers toy, but which one? This year was a little bit easier than last. It's gotta be the Japanese Transformers MP-21, Bumblebee with exo-suit Spike.
This is the Bumblebee we fell in love with in the '80s, now a fully-licensed replica of the Volkswagen Beetle he was created to emulate. Bumblebee comes complete with Spike in his Transformers the Movie exo-suit, ready to curse his puny human mouth off while being sucked into the gaping maw of Unicron. Good times. $US75 times.
What's better than giving someone a fully-assembled toy for the holidays? Giving them something they can build with their own two hands. In my day all we got was a block of wood and a dull knife. These days the options are much better.
LEGO Minecraft — The First Night
Everyone loves LEGO, and those who don't are empty and soulless and don't deserve presents. There are countless ways to give the gift of LEGO — bags of bricks, minifigures, LEGO portraits — all of which are splendid, but I had to pick one, so I picked this one.
Now that they're done making the small, unrecognizable micro-scale sets, LEGO's moved on to slightly bigger and much better things. The LEGO Minecraft First Night Set is one of many new sets based on the hit Microsoft indie game. There are bigger, more expensive options, but the First Night set captures the essence of that first foray into survival building — building a hole to hide in. It's a bit hard to find at the moment, but in the right place you should be able to pick it up for around $US40.
K'nex Titanfall Ultimate Angel City Campaign Set
While I recommend starting slow with Minecraft, if you're going to build something Titanfall you'd might-as-well build it all.
The Ultimate Angel City Campaign building set is one of the favourite non-LEGO products I've built all year. It comes with a pair of nearly 11-inch-tall Titans and a ton of scenery for them to chew up. The dilapidated builds have plenty of hand-holds for pilots to show off the game's verticality in physical form. A wonderful piece for any hardcore fan, especially a hardcore fan you like enough to spend $US120 on.
Tegu Magnetic Wooden Blocks - Magbot
Looking for something a little different? Tegu's magnetic wooden block building sets are one of the hottest new building toys of the season, combining traditional charm with the futuristic power of magnetics. Look that up in Google if you need to understand this cutting-edge tech.
For starters, I recommend one of the charming starter building sets. I actually purchased Magbot here for my wife this year, as she's always wanted a robot boyfriend and stopped reading anything I write years ago. He's a robot. He's a race car. He's whatever eight wooden blocks and one wheel can be.
Fun For The Whole Family
Why buy a toy only one person can use when you can arm an entire family with foam projectiles, horrible singing or Hyrulian mortgage calculations?
Nerf N-Strike Elite Mega Magnus Blaster
For many, Nerf is not a toy — it is a passion, and a passionate Nerf fan might turn their nose up at the entry-level Mega Magnus Blaster, but you've got to start somewhere. Just make sure you arm everyone in your giftee's family — a lone gunman is never fun.
Why the Magnus? It's simple. It's got a three dart capacity, loads from the top so even the grandparents can do it, and fires screaming projectiles up to 85 feet. All that, and it's available for $US12. Yeah it's small, but just wait — within months they will be cobbling together their own Nerf anti-aircraft guns.
Singing Machine Classic
Nothing brings a family together like laughing at one of their own as they desperately attempt to sing along with words crawling across the TV screen. The Singing Machine company rides that zeitgeist like a champion bull, offering karaoke machines from the simplest microphone'd boxes to magnificent pieces of tech that look like Black Manta's head.
Me, I prefer the classics. The SML388 classic plays CDs, CD-Gs and MP3-Gs, the latter of which I did not even know existed until I got one of these. It's got countless knobs meant to make you sound less horrible, a wired mic with two additional jacks, and it hooks to your television via RCA cable. You don't get much more old-school than that without requiring a screwdriver. Plus it's got disco lights that sync with the music. It's the best friend a family that thinks it can sing could have. Plus it's only $US80 and the ones that look like spaceships are $US300.
The Legend of Zelda Monopoly
If your family is anything like mine, eventually you're going to have to play Monopoly. The power will go out, you'll be trapped in the house, and someone will lift suddenly find their head lifted by the lightbulb of Monopoly inspiration. When it happens, make sure you have this.
It's the same never-ending Monopoly madness, only now you get to look at The Legend of Zelda stuff while you play. The GameStop exclusive version even comes with eight power cards. Eight power cards! I have no idea what power cards are either, but I do want this $US40 set.
Toys For Tablets
Do you know someone who's always face-down in their iPad, Kindle or Android tablet? Toys that incorporate tablets into play are a surefire way to get them to look up every now and then. They might even smile.
One of the coolest tablet-assisted toys of the year has to be Osmo. It's a kit that transforms an iPad into a dual-screen gaming platform, only the second screen is the physical space in front of the stand. Here's a video demonstration.
For $US79.99 you get a stand, a camera that mounts on the edge of your iPad, and a series of playing pieces used in one of the three starter games — shape-building Tangram puzzles, guessing game Words and Newton, a drawling game that would be right-at-home on the Nintendo DS. It's a pretty amazing way to bring play outside of the screen.
LEGO Fusion Town Master
You knew this wouldn't end without at least one more LEGO toy. This time it's the LEGO Fusion Town Master set, a combination building toy/town simulation game where you use physical blocks to craft the in-game buildings.
Town Master is one of four LEGO Fusion sets on the market, along with Create and Race, Battle Towers and the LEGO Friends-themed Resort Builder. I've not played with those, but I've played the heck out of Town Master, and it's an excellent marriage of digital and physical play. It's also pretty hard to find — you might have to look beyond the $US34.99 retail price to snag one before Christmas.
Skylanders: Trap Team Tablet Edition
What? So it's a video game. It's also a toy you can play with on your iPad, Kindle Fire or Android tablet, so it totally counts.
It's the complete Skylanders: Trap Team console experience in tablet form. All the toys, the portal, the traps — it's all in there, plus a custom controller and tablet stand that turns your large portable device into a Skylanders base station. It works across multiple tablet types and really is the best way to play the game. Some be pretty easy to pick up a copy at $US75.
The High End
Some people are just worth more to us than money.
Lasers are not a toy. That's the sort of thing the folks at Wicked Lasers have to say multiple times before selling one of their ridiculously powerful "pointing devices" to the general public. Or at least it was. The company is under new management, and as of January 1 will no longer be selling lasers over 5 milliwatts in power in the States. Considering their high-end lasers go up to two watts or more — that's 2,000 milliwatts — that's a big drop in power. It's also 40 per cent off everything they sell until the end of the year.
I personally purchased one of their $US99 Nano line, but why stop there? The two watt Arctic with its brilliant blue beam is 40 per cent off $US599. If I bothered doing the maths, that would be substantially less.
For a critical look at some of Wicked Lasers' outgoing gear, check out our sister site Gizmodo.
Make Toys Quantron
Hasbro is doing some pretty cool thing with Transformers combiners next year, but nothing approached what Make Toys has done with their version of the Technobots.
Look at this magnificent bastard. That's five robots transformed from futuristic vehicles into one gigantic warrior. One more picture.
Quantron stands at 11 inches tall when fully assembled, and looks more spectacular than any Hasbro-branded Transformer ever could. He also costs much more — looking at $US430 for all five robots. That's the price of quality.
Sideshow Collectibles Sixth-Scale Raynor
He's not shipping until February, but my god a StarCraft fan would love you forever for just a printout of the preorder receipt.
Standing nearly 15-inches tall and crafted from more than 525 individually engineered part, StarCraft hero Jim Raynor has never been quite so real. Every time I look at this damn thing my heart skips a beat — exactly the sort of reaction one expects out of a $US500 figure.
Phew, that's a mighty long list of suggestions. Want to make it even longer? Add yours in the comments.
Top image via Shutterstock.