Around the start of Toy Fair, I realized just what made the experience so different from the tech shows, video game events, and comic cons I usually visit: it was the volume. At a tech event, most companies have just a handful of products. Some have just one or two. Even a gigantic company like Samsung might be showing off no more than 50 different devices in all: a dozen TVs, a handful of phones, a line of computers, and a handful of washing machines, smart home fixtures, watches, and (now) VR headsets.
But at Toy Fair, which is held every year in New York, even a small booth might have a dozen board games or walls full of action figures. Lego had exactly 331 new sets covering Star Wars, Batman, Jurassic World, Ant-Man, pirates, elves, spies, New York City architecture, and more. Toy giants Mattel and Hasbro have entire show floors to themselves packed with untold hundreds of toys. At Mattel’s private upper-level booth, Barbie meets Halo and elaborate Hot Wheels sets give way to smart cradles with remote rocking technology. At The Verge, our job is to sift through and pick out the most futuristic bits. I can only imagine what it’s like to cover everything.
So. Many. Toys.
So what was the future of toys in 2015? Two very different companies were making cloud-powered talking companions — "Hello Barbie" remembered your hobbies and gave you (dubious) career advice, and startup Elemental Path's Watson-powered dinosaur fired off math questions and cracked knock-knock jokes. (To put it mildly, we’re not making Turing-test-worthy toys just yet; kids can look forward to memorizing the exact phrasing and voice volume that will elicit a response.) Besides the classic superhero franchises, excitement started growing for Jurassic World, which is heralding an always-welcome boom of dinosaurs. And companies like Crayola and Hasbro are figuring out how to add digital twists to their offline classics.
But a lot of the show was defined by what wasn’t there: namely, anything based on the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Companies had to make do with enigmatic boxes and banners — Lego even seemed a little apologetic about the absence of Force Awakens sets on its wall full of Star Wars merchandise from the first six films. On the one hand, that means no hints at the most anticipated geek movie of the year. On the other hand, it does mean there's a whole other wave of toys to look forward to later this year.
Photography by Dante D'Orazio.
Correction February 23rd, 3:30pm: We originally referred to startup Elemental Path by its toy line, CogniToys.
- Anki Overdrive was undoubtedly one of the coolest toys at the show. It combines video game combat racing with real cars and a real track.
- Crayola's Color Alive Easy Animation Studio ($24.99) brings a page from a coloring book to life as a 3D model that you can then animate using a mannequin.
- The Force Awakens loomed over Toy Fair 2015, but no one was allowed to show off anything from the film. That meant the floor was scattered with blank boxes like these that promised "some play value."
- That didn't stop toy companies from pumping out products tied to earlier Star Wars films, like this Wookiee Furby.
- If Furby's not your style, you could also build your very own (extremely dangerous) lightsaber design with this new set from Hasbro. We're pretty sure any of these would kill you instantly.
- Naturally, this was the first lightsaber we built.
- Knock-offs are a big problem in the toy business -- that's why all the major booths at Toy Fair are fortresses of secrecy accessible by appointment only.
- Within Lego's massive booth lay over 300 new sets, including, for the first time ever, a Scooby-Doo set for the new film.
- Lego is integrating its sets with an app for the first time -- this set uses small carbon-fiber pieces that can be read by the iPad's screen. Kids must build special tools to unlock secrets in a comic book-style story.
- Of course, licensed toys are huge every year, and the new Jurassic World movie means dinosaurs are back. Check out this story for even more Legos at Toy Fair 2015.
- These raptor claws and heads on the left go on your hands to make a cool pair of gloves. The best part? They're actually in the film.
- Toy companies are always looking to exploit new licensing opportunities. The awkward Urban Dictionary Game is a mix between Pictionary and Trivial Pursuit, with plenty of memes tossed in for good measure.
- Life isn't complete without an app, right? This "SmartConnect" Fisher-Price set lets you control your baby's cradle or nursery mobile with your phone.
- The most high-tech Barbie ever can carry simple conversations -- if you speak clearly and ask the right questions. An internet connection is necessary for voice processing in the cloud, but the matching real-life Barbie is strictly optional.
- This dinosaur from startup CogniToys is similar to the Hello Barbie -- it uses IBM's Watson to answer questions from elementary school kids.
- You can always find plenty of traditional models and action figures at Toy Fair. This Hulk Buster ($199.99) and Hulk ($69.99) from Age of Ultron will be available later this year from Kotobukiya.
- There are plenty of toys based on The Walking Dead -- this impressive set from McFarlane toys would cost you about $400 to build.
- There are plenty of traditional toys, too -- these cute wooden cars from Scandinavian company Playsam and ABS plastic cars from Playforever Toys would be just at home on a desk as in a child's hand.
- There's also a whole section dedicated to board games. This brand new portable edition of Catan is designed so you won't lose the pieces. It'll be available this summer for $45.
- Until next year.