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Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Toys for all ages at Tokyo show
By RICK MARTIN
The 2011 International Tokyo Toy Show was held last month at Tokyo Big Sight, and Japanese toy-makers were in attendance to show their wondrous wares to potential buyers, not to mention a veritable army of kids. This year saw everything from figures to remote-control vehicles, robots to iPhone games. Here are a few of the more notable products at this year's exhibition.
Some of the more technologically advanced toys came from Wiz Inc. This company created a number of fascinating augmented-reality devices, such as the appBlaster, appCopter, appWheel, and appRacer. Rather than actually building its own AR cameras and displays into its devices, the company has cleverly powered its gadgets with iPhones. The results are impressive, and likely very cost-effective too from Wiz Inc's point of view.
Takaratomy brought along its AR wares too, with an area where visitors could try out its Virtual Masters Real, a fishing-simulation game that we featured back in February. The company's popular new multi-user music device, Ningengakki, was also featured at its booth, as well as Beer Hour, a carry-over from last year that's currently a summer hit among adults looking for a better way to pour canned beer.
With the third installment in the "Transformers" series released this summer, Takaratomy's Transformers toys were given a prominent place at the booth as well, with playful new transforming toys and figures attracting both young new fans and relatively older nostalgic ones like myself. The company featured a variety of train sets too, catering to an enthusiastic Japanese hobbyist demographic eager to see what the toy giant has rolled out this year.
A Takaratomy spokesperson said that the toy show was a little bit different this year: "More than usual, the power of toys to add some fun provided a cheerful atmosphere and a welcome diversion. Some key points influenced by the March 11 disaster were of particular interest: electricity conservation; overcoming the heat this summer; ecology; and personal relationships."
Bandai had what looked to be the largest booth, its queue often winding around the exhibition center in an elaborate (and perhaps unnecessary) maze, with a towering Gundam figure standing just outside. However, one of the company's most interesting displays was exhibited outside its booth. The One Piece AR Cardass game is a clever combination of the iPhone and collectible playing cards that allows players to view their virtual characters through the iPhone camera. Another Bandai standout was the Kamen Rider Ejacket, a smartcard case that plays music from the 1970s "Kamen Rider" series whenever you make a payment.
Happinet displayed one of the standout toys of their show in its virtual ping-pong game. The set uses what looks like an ordinary paddle, only it doesn't require a ball. You keep a rally going with an imaginary opponent by simply swinging in time with the sound of a bouncing ball that plays though speakers in the paddle. It's a clever real-life implementation of rhythm or tapping games that we see so often on other platforms. For aspiring ping-pong players who live in an apartment too small for a proper table, this will be great fun.
Murata was also in attendance, showcasing perhaps the most advanced toy in the exhibition — if you can call it a toy. Its self-balancing Murata Boy robot, which can ride a bicycle, wowed all visitors. A Murata representative was controlling the robot using a "Magic Stick" wireless interface, equipped with gyro-sensors that detected the angle of incline which corresponded to how fast the bike should move.
Speaking of robots, Sega brought its popular friend R2-D2 to this year's toy show. The diminutive "Star Wars" droid comes packed with a veritable universe of wonder for kids to discover, as it is actually a functioning planetarium projector. Just turn it on in a dark room and you can see an entire sky full of stars, including the infamous Death Star from the movie. The R2-D2 planetarium is not due to be released until September though, so star-struck fans still have a little wait ahead.