The best new toys!

Yep, we did it again.

We packed a bunch of kids (including our own), age 6 months to 9 years, into a room filled with play things for our annual toy test. Look what they found! 

Note: Though we list specific local retailers — who helped make this toy test possible with donations and loaner toys — many other local retailers and online outlets also carry the toys featured in this issue. See our sidebar on local toy stores to learn more. And be sure to call individual stores to confirm availability and pricing.

Amazement Park Playset 

Why we love it: As one mom put it: “It’s super-cool when the car goes through the loop!” Ages 6 and younger were attracted to this ramp during our toy test. It includes two tracks with spirals and ramps, plus stopping points on the way down where a child has to decide which way the car should go next. It plays music and talks, but we happily left the sound off. 

Downside: It comes with only one car. Also, it’s quite a space hog.

Cost: $59.99

Ages: 1 and up

Where to find it: BuyBuy Baby and buybuybaby.com.


Bugs in the Kitchen

Why we love it: We never learned exactly how to play this game because the kids playing with the included HexBug Nano and the dynamic game board wouldn’t let us near it. But basically players try to guide the bug into their assigned trap in each corner. And the first player to do so five times wins. 

Downside: As with any board game, there’s a bit of a learning curve.

Cost: $29.99 

Ages: 6 and up

Where to find it: Ravensburger.com.


Classic Wooden Tea Set

Why we love it: We couldn’t get the toy-test kids (girls and boys) to leave this adorable toy alone. (Fortunately, this 25-piece set was easy to share.) Cake pieces attach together with Velcro and it’s fun to cut them into slices with the wooden knife. 

Downside: None 

Cost: $29.99

Ages: 3 and up, but our under-3 toy-test toddlers loved it. 

Where to find it: Lakeshore Learning and lakeshorelearning.com.


Deluxe Doctor's Office

Why we love it: Billed as “everything little physicians need to set up practice,” this 70-piece set goes far beyond the typical doctor toys. In addition to a working stethoscope, blood pressure cuff and bandages, you’ll find many other elements to create an entire doctor’s office, including an eye chart, exam check lists and — how cute — a clip board. One test mom said: “I like that the stethoscope actually works. It’s the most realistic doctor kit I’ve seen.”

Downside: None

Cost: $49.99

Ages: 3 and up

Where to find it: Lakeshore Learning and lakeshorelearning.com.


Dream Cakes

Why we love it: Creativity, problem-solving and luck are all required in this gorgeous 100-piece Ravensburger board game in which players try to win the most points by simultaneously completing the most cakes at once. All the die-cut cake tiers are double-sided and look like they’ll last a long time. 

Downside: As with any board game, there’s a bit of a learning curve. 

Cost: $16.99 

Ages: 4 and up

Where to find itRavensburger.com


LEGO Friends Jungle Tree Sanctuary

Why we love it: We like the direction LEGO is going with its girl-focused Friends sets — less cake and ice cream and more exploring and science. This set is fun to build and encourages would-be veterinarians to use binoculars, a laptop and laboratory tools.

Downside: None

Cost: $29.99 

Ages: 7 and up

Where to find itTarget.com.


Lite-Brite Magic Screen

Why we love it: This isn’t the Lite-Brite you had as a kid: Thanks to its compact size and a removable storage tray with 200 pegs in various shapes and sizes (not just singles), this toy is definitely more portable than its ancestors. Six reusable templates feature scenes and sayings — such as "Girls Rule" and "Boys Rock" — to inspire hours of fun. 

You can buy more templates or create your own at hasbro.com.

Downside: None 

Cost: $26.95

Ages: 4 and up

Where to find it: Kiddywampus.


Marbleworks Starter Set 

Why we love it: We love the racetrack-style launcher pad for the marbles. Just about every kid at the toy test was drawn to this marble track, from ages 16 months to 7 years. “This might be made for older kids, but was a big hit with my younger kids,” said one mom. “They loved putting the marbles in different spots and watching them race down.  I could see this being a great toy that they could grow into.”

Downside: None

Cost: $42

Ages: 5 and up

Where to find itDiscoverytoys.net.


Mega Morphibians Car

Why we love it: Kid Galaxy has souped up its line of remote-controlled cars. This crocodile’s main feature is that it can drive anywhere, including on dirt, grass and even water. We didn’t test it in water, but we’d recommend this toy even without that feature. As one mom said: “Big hit with my 3½-year-old. What boy doesn’t like a remote-control car?” 

Downside: None, really, but it does require some skill to get it where you want it to go. It’s safe for age 3 and older, but recommended for age 5.

Cost: $39.99

Ages: 3 and up

Where to find itAmazon.com.


Perplexus Warp

Why we love it: The Perplexus line of marble-in-the-sphere puzzles is addictive! We’ve tried various models, but this one isn’t a perfect sphere: It’s more of an angular egg, which makes it a bit easier to see (and a bit easier to solve).

Downside: Each step of the way isn’t labeled with a number. 

Cost: $25.99 

Ages: 8 and up

Where to find it: ABC & Toy Zone.  


My Very Own Play Store

Why we love it: Sure, the miniature grocery-shopping basket and grocery items were a draw, but what made this toy a star with toy-test kids was the beeping scanner gun. Bonus: The beeper isn’t annoyingly loud or obnoxious and it lights up each time you squeeze the lever.

Downside: None

Cost: $24.99 

Ages: 2 and up 

Where to find it: ABC & Toy Zone and abctoyzone.com.


Quadrilla Marble Run

Why we love it: Billed as The Challenger, this 147-piece wooden marble track from Hape can be set up in a seemingly endless number of runs with straight and curved rails, high-velocity funnels, a seesaw, accelerators, blocks, levelers, bases and 50 marbles.

Downside: Pieces don’t interlock: They stack, so it can topple easily if a younger sibling leans on it.

Cost: $199.99

Ages: 4 and up

Where to find it: Creative Kidstuff and creativekidstuff.com.


Roller Derby

Why we love it: This colorful, double-sided wooden ball track was a toddler hit! Put the balls in any of the holes and watch them travel down the track until they hit a bell at the bottom with a satisfying “Ding!” 

Downside: “It would be great if it were bigger/taller,” said one test mom.

Cost: $39.99

Ages: 1 and up

Where to find it: Kiddywampus.


Rollors

Why we love it: Lawn games are huge right now and this one — invented by Minnesota-native Matt Butler — combines the best of bocce ball and horseshoes into one game with color-coded, wooden disks and goals.

Downside: Though it’s safe for ages 4 and up, it requires patience (and math skills) to keep score. Also, it’s best played outdoors on grass or sand. (We tested it indoors, but the disks rolled way too fast.)

Cost: $49.95 

Ages: 4 and up

Where to find itRollors.comAmazon.com.


Smart Stages Chair

Why we love it: This talking Fisher-Price seat reacts when a child sits down, stands up, flips the pages of the book or pushes its many buttons. And it offers different songs and phrases when set to various levels — one for 12 months and up, another for 18 months and up and a third for 24 months and up. 

Downside: Kids might think it’s a potty, especially since the seat lifts up to reveal an empty compartment. 

Cost: $39.99 

Ages: 1 and up

Where to find it: BuyBuy Baby and buybuybaby.com.


Sporter Swing Scooter

Why we love it: Wiggle your rear from side to side and you’re off on this three-wheeled no-push, no-pedal scooter. One of our parent reviewers said: “We loved this! It’s fun to transition your weight and see the scooter react.”

Downside: “It might be tough on rough terrain,” one tester said. “It was great on the smooth linoleum.”

Cost: $140

Ages: Ages 6 and up 

Where to find it: Creative Kidstuff and creativekidstuff.com.


Teeter Popper

Why we love it: Many of our younger test-panel kids were incredibly curious about this rocking toy, which has a base covered with 14 suction cups that pop loudly and repeatedly when a child rocks on it in any direction. What a fun way to be active indoors during long Minnesota winters!

Downside: Hearing the bubble-wrap-like popping noises for long stretches might eventually annoy parents. 

Cost: $36.99

Ages: 3 and up, but toddlers can easily enjoy this toy with supervision.

Where to find it: Creative Kidstuff and creativekidstuff.com.


The Original Spirograph Art Studio

Why we love it: Yes, this art kit (first introduced in 1965) makes us nostalgic for our own childhoods. And, wow, what a fun gift for crafty kids! It’s packed with art supplies and, more important, graphic wheels kids can use to create elaborate spirals and other designs of epic proportions. 

Downside: None 

Cost: $39.99 

Ages: 8 and up

Where to find it: ABC & Toy Zone and abctoyzone.com.


The Pet Vet Clinic

Why we love it: When it comes to toys for encouraging creative play, LEGO gets all the love. But toys like this let children — especially aspiring vets — create an entire world with stuffed animals or maybe even the family cat. One tester mom said: “Very realistic!” 

Downside: Pets are sold separately for $9.99.

Cost: $39.99

Ages: 4 and up

Where to find it: Lakeshore Learning and lakeshorelearning.com.


The Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game

Why we love it: Cute, cute, cute! This game is fun and easy enough for the Candy Land set. (And will give parents a much-needed break from that classic game.) Kids spin the spinner and try to fill their log with nuts of all the right colors, using the tong-like paws of a the Squirrel Squeezer. One toy-test mom said: “Good for working on fine-motor skills.” 

Downside: None 

Cost: $24

Ages: 3 and up

Where to find it: Pacifier and pacifier.me.


Twista Balance Bike

Why we love it: Balance bikes are fantastic for teaching essential pre-biking skills such as steering, speed-control and balance. Many kids who use balance bikes skip the awkward training-wheels stage when real-bike time comes. Our toy-test kids couldn’t get enough of this bike, particularly the 2-to-4 set. It sets itself apart from other balance bikes with its double rear wheels, which offer two stability settings. For Stage 1, set the back wheels far apart for more stability. For Stage 2, move them closer together to make balancing more challenging. 

Downside: None

Cost: $79.99

Ages: 1½ to 4 

Where to find it: Toys ‘R’ Us and toysrus.com.


What’zit Fidget Toy

Why we love it: Six brightly colored blocks, strung together with elastic inside, can be twisted and bent into whatever angular shape you like. You can even attach a few together to make more complex designs. But most of all they’re fun to futz with!

Downside: None  

Cost: $3.99 

Ages: 3 and up

Where to find it: ABC & Toy Zone.


Wooden Treasures

Why we love it: Lark Toys of southeastern Minnesota has made handmade heirloom wooden toys for more than 25 years. Pull Eunice the unicorn and watch her gallop as she rolls, or drive Aero the plane, complete with a spinning propeller. 

Downside: These toys are sturdy, but they aren’t unbreakable.

Cost: $32 for Aero (pictured) and $29 for Eunice

Ages: 18 months and up

Where to find it: Lark Toys, 63604 170th Ave., Kellogg, a toy store and tourist attraction two hours southeast of the Twin Cities. See larktoys.com


Yookidoo Discovery Playhouse

Why we love it: “Great for multiple ages,” said one mom who came to our toy test. “Both my boys (16 months and 3½ years) loved this — an actual toy they could play together with and not fight over — BIG parenting win!” 

Downside: “Its only downfall is its large size,” one mom said. “However, it looks like it could easily be taken apart and stored.” Another said: “It’s too short for my 2-year-old to stand inside.”

Cost: $79.99

Ages: 1 and up

Where to find it: Creative Kidstuff and creativekidstuff.com.


Yookidoo Fill N’ Flow Spout

Why we love it: This battery-powered device draws water up from the tub and into the spout — creating an endless stream of fun. Kids can create a shower, spin the propeller or reveal a peek-a-boo float friend with the three included tumblers. 

Downside: One of this toy’s biggest fans was a 6-month-old boy. His mom said: “He’s too young to turn the spout on and off himself as well as hold the buckets in the way they’re supposed to be held, but a parent can certainly sit and interact with an infant during tub time.”

Cost: $19.99

Ages: 9 months and up

Where to find it: Creative Kidstuff and creativekidstuff.com.