A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this website.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that in order to play properly on this site, kids need to purchase actual toy action figures (which retail for about $20). They are sold in pairs and are packaged with a USB flash drive to be plugged into a computer. The flash drive is loaded with a few virtual characters and "body parts" for altering them. Once online, characters can fight each other in a quest to see who can be the biggest and baddest. This stands out as one of the few virtual toys that can be played not only online but also via cell phones and other mobile devices. Parents should note that these toys are being marketed not just to tween gamers but also to teens and adults, so kids could be communicating with and battling against much older gamers.
What's it about?
FREAKYCREATURES.COM combines the high-tech world of the Internet with the battle themes of Pokemon to create an interactive toy geared specifically to young boys. The creatures are goofy, grotesque, and gross -- all things boys love. The real-life toy action figures cross into the virtual world with the help of a flash drive that's sold with them. Once you plug it into your computer's USB port, you'll be able to load characters into the online game, create a nearly infinite number of creatures, and subsequently battle it out with other users' creations in a fantasy world. The challenge is to design the best fighting creature with the random parts your figure has been loaded with.
Is it any good?
The timing seemed right for a testosterone-fueled interactive toy. The girls have had this market cornered for a while with cute stuffed toys that can be logged in online. But instead of decorating your pooch's pad or accessorizing your kitten's wardrobe, FreakyCreatures.com allows boys (and probably some girls as well) to play mad scientist and build virtual creatures. Once you've got your beast made, the next step is to pit it against another creature to see who has the right stuff.
The atmosphere of FreakyCreatures.com is lighthearted, straight from a comic book. So although the main theme is fighting, creatures and their environments are kept purely in the realm of fantasy. It's hard to say whether this will turn off older boys accustomed to the virtual reality worlds of the Xbox and PS3. Having a well-rounded Web site full of mini games, forums, and interactivity should keep players of all ages interested, at least until the next virtual toy leaps onto the market.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the Internet has changed the way toys are made. Does a toy need to have an online component to make it appeal to today's kids? Are these toys a good alternative to Webkinz for boys? Do the characters have to fight in order to appeal to boys? What other activities would you like to see your online characters do besides battle with each other?