Hot Holiday Toys List

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Hot Holiday Toys on my Radar this Year

Every year, there seem to be more and more toys promoted, and each one is more and more expensive. It’s hard for me to think about piling on more toys into the already endless seeming piles of toys my boys already have.With that being said, Santa is still coming to town, and the boys are expecting to get toys…and electronics. So what are my top picks this 2016 season?

Let’s start with stocking stuffers. What is a stocking stuffer to me? I would say 80% of the stocking contents is candy, keychains, chapsticks, and in my family, there has usually been a scratch-off or 2 in there for fun.

This year, add a video game that the family can enjoy, like Just Dance 2017 that was just released this month. It is tons of fun for everyone and the fun keeps on coming with online songs to unlock, and battles against other players. My boys are so excited to get their Just Dance game for the Wii U every year!

The other family fun item that you may want to drop into your kids stocking this year is KidzBop 33.Yes, there are 33 of these fun little cd’s now, and they do not stop there! You can also add in KidzBop Holiday CD which we have had on repeat since November 1st! I love KidzBop because it ties in the music I like, with songs my kids learn to love, and then when the radio is on, we all find ourselves singing either way.

Movies are great to throw in there too. Some new great movies out are Finding Dory, The Jungle Book, and Zootopia. Check out my Disney Movie Club review to check out if it’s something that might work for your family. It would be great to be able to wrap up the classics as well this year.

Throwing in a stuffed animal on top to hang out always gives the final touch to our stockings. This year, for my boys it’s all about Five Nights at Freddy’s and Pokemon so I am sure they’ll find a home in stockings this year.

Now for under the tree..

Everyone knows the hardest things to find this year are Hatchimals and the new NES Classic Console. Unfortunately, I think majority of kids will not be waking up to these this Christmas morning, and my kids are probably among that group. It’s frustrating not being able to get things for your kids that they want, but remember, there are things they do not yet know they want, but will love it when they get it.

Two totally different price points, but equally face brightening on Christmas morning, these are the 2 that my boys will be excited to get this Christmas..

Samsung Galaxy Tablet – An inexpensive, great alternative to an apple Ipad. I know I am an Android person, and my kids are already playing games on my phone so the switch to their own tablet should be an easy one. At only $200 for a 10″ screen, it’s much more affordable then the $800+ price point of the Ipad.

Pie Face Showdown – How many of you had a blast with Hasbro’s Pie Face this year? Such a simple game and so much fun. The awesome thing is, the fun doesn’t stop there. Most kids are drooling at the commercial for Pie Face Showdown this season, and it’s only$19.99 at most stores. Toys R Us has a deal that you can get a  free Pie Face T-shirt if you purchase $30+ of Hasbro items.

A company that flies under the radar that I think deserves some eyes on them is educational insights. If you have a kid of any gender, any age, there is something for them. The “Build your own Helicopter” is so perfect for preschool aged kids. It lets kids use an almost real power tool, with no worry of them getting hurt. The bright colors leave them wanting to play with it over and over. My son got this a month ago and has still touched it every day since then at one point or another. Once he’s done with it, I am thinking about giving it to his preschool classroom because I know it’ll get a lot of attention an help fuel those little brains.

Another great item from educational insights worth looking into is the game “Ready-Set-Woof“. It is so simple that preschoolers can play it without needing to use instructions, but at the same time, it is hours of fun for older kids. My 8 year old said he didn’t want to play it since it was a baby game, but when I convinced him to try it out when his friends were over, they played it for at least an hour with loud laughs and fun competition.

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If you want to be the best gift giver this year, I suggest you go on and pick anything from their site. They’re such cool, unique toys that are actually still educational although the kids will never notice!

Getting back into the video game world, the new ones out that my older son wants is Mario Color Splash for the Wii U and The new Pokemon Sun and Moon games for 3DS. These are probably going to be at the top of most kids lists this year. Since we probably will not be able to score an NES Classic, we still need some of that Mario in our lives.

Sonic merchandise is coming back in with a boom too.I love seeing my old past time joys come back to life within my children.

Speaking of bringing the past back, kids this year will love anything from Trolls, including build a bear which has 3 different Trolls able to be made with love this season. We went and saw the movie, and had to go build the characters right after at the mall.

Those are just the items that are sticking out to me this year.What are your kids most hoping to see under the tree this year?

Why I Hate that my Kids Play Pokémon GO

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Ok, well first off… The number one reason I hate that my kids play Pokémon GO is that they hijack my cell phone. MY cell phone. MY Pokémon GO, MY POKÉMON. I caught myself getting visibly upset the other day with my 8 year old when he told me that he changed the name of some of my Pokémon and I snapped. I didn’t mean to, and I felt really silly for it after, but c’mon, it’s my game.

This leads me to my next issue with this app… This is the FIRST THING that made my 8 year old get the idea in his head that HE NEEDS HIS OWN CELL PHONE. Really?! You need your own cell phone now? He has a Chromo tablet of his own, but unfortunately the Pokemon app doesn’t work on his tablet, so now it’s considered a piece of garbage and inferior to my cell phone that he needs to use every waking moment. Again, MY POKÉMON are being trained by 2 trainers. Isn’t it the same with animals, they should have one leader they respect aka the ALPHA? OK,OK, I’m just kidding with that, but he knows better now than to rename my Pokemon and he does help get my walking miles in to hatch my eggs.

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Another thing that tweaks my nerves is that I am the original Pokémon master. Throwback to the 1997/98 saga when it all started. My son walks around like a know it all because he learns everything about Pokémon through You Tube, and schools me when I forget the names. Son, do you know who you’re talking to? I may be a little rusty, but I still have my original binder complete with 1st editions and a holographic Gyarados… THIS was the original You Tube. My binder filled with trainers and organized by type.

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Lastly, it makes me feel OLD. MY Pokémon are now considered artifacts… Some sell on eBay for upwards of $1k for being that old (ok, maybe just the holographic 1st edition Charizard, but still..) I was a pro back in the mid 90’s and now it’s 20+ years later and I’m feeling nostalgic, and ..old(er).

Alright, I don’t HATE that he plays Pokémon, in fact, I am envious. Finding the joys as a child experiencing Pokémon for the first time. I love it that my kids are so into it. It reminds me of myself, a young Pokémon trainer. I still find myself getting giddy when I see a grayed out Pokemon on my radar and I’m trying to figure out what it might be. I love that he loves it as much as I do… He just better not rename my damn Pokémon! 😋 just kidding.

 

 

FarCry Primal Review (Xbox One)

Let me tell you of Takkar…

FarCry Primal, the 10th installment in the FarCry series, dFar_Cry_Primal_cover_arteveloped by Ubisoft Montreal, places gamers in the Land of Oros, in 10,000 BC, at the end of the last ice age.  We assume control of Takkar, the game’s protagonist and warrior of the Wenja tribe.  Primal opens with Takkar and a group of hunters journeying to Oros, and preying on a herd of Woolly Mammoths.  Group member Tensay provides background to Takkar on the Wenja people.  The flesh-eating Udam tribe, and masters of fire; the Izila tribe, have brought darkness to Oros.  UII of the Udam has destroyed the Wenja village, scattering the Wenja throughout Oros.

While on the hunt, Takkar’s group is attacked by a Sabre-toothed Tiger, causing the group to flee. Tensay and Takkar are cornered and forced over the edge of a cliff.  Takkar survives the fall.  Tensay is not so lucky.  Tensay spends his final few breaths pleading with Takkar to continue to Oros to find members of the Wenja tribe, rebuild the Wenja village, and bring light back to the Land of Oros.

FarCry Primal is a first-person action-rpg set in an incredibly vibrant environment.  While it follows the mechanics of most open-world action-RPGs, setting apart FarCry Primal from other games within the genre is the rich experience of navigating its primitive world.  Ubisoft’s ambition is splendidly executed.  You will trek through photo4mountainous peaks and grassy valleys.  You will search through treacherous caverns, hunt along rivers and lakes, leap over waterfalls and endure the elements while attempting to survive nature’s primal gauntlet of predators and tribal warriors.

Main missions task Takkar with seeking out lost Wenja, each with unique skills or abilities to enhance the Wenja village.  Complete objectives to bring each tribe member back to the Wenja village.  Each objective allows Takkar to build huts for those he has saved, unlocking new skills, abilities, weapons, and resources along the way.  Players improve Takkar through a standard skill-tree, with each tribesman representing a set of unlockable skills and abilities; hunting, gathering, crafting, and beast-master (taming the predators found in Oros for cooperation) abilities are amongst the categories used to enhance Takkar on his journey.  Looting is a big part of the experience.  Gathering resources from deceased warriors, skinning beasts for food and crafting purposes, grabbing plants, clay, and rock from the land are consistent parts of the action and vital to giving Takkar the necessary skills to progress through the entire game.

photo6The most unique element of FarCry Primal is the ability to tame beasts.  Upon unlocking Takkar’s beast-master ability, players can distract beasts with bait, sneak up on them and through holding the X button can perform the tame action.  This allows Takkar to be in control of the animal as it hunts alongside you, protecting you from other predators.  There are varying degrees of predator ferocity, ranging from Dholes, Badgers, and Lions, to Bears, Jaguars, Panthers, and even the mighty Sabre-toothed Tiger.  Takkar can also learn the ability to ride atop a Woolly Mammoth, making for some awesome stampedes through rival villages.

Takkar can instruct his companion to attack rival tribesman or other beasts while maintaining cover, giving the game an element of strategy and espionage.  Takkar can even learn the ability to summon an Owl to scout areas ahead, placing markers to track enemy tribesman or attacking them without triggering suspicion of Takkar’s presence.  The animal interplay in FarCry Primal is an engaging element.  Watching a Sabre-toothed Tiger duel to the death with a Mammoth that has been isolated from his herd is quite awesome.  

Don’t worry if your Tiger isn’t up to task; if your tamed beast is killed they can be both revived or summoned again.  Once you have tamed a beast you can summon them again if you have thephoto5 necessary resources in your inventory; such as the rare plants found throughout Oros.  As long as you maintain a focus on looting all of the resources you see around you as you complete objectives, you shouldn’t find yourself without the necessary resources to enjoy all of the game’s mechanics.  I didn’t run out of what I needed at all throughout my play-through.

Takkar has plenty of weapons of his own at his disposable.  He uses clubs, bows, spears, firebombs, sting-bombs (a hive of bees that swarms and kills tribesman in it’s vicinity), and berserker bombs (throw this to turn an flesh-eating Udam against his own people).  Secondary weapons include projectile shards, traps for larger predators and a sling.  Takkar is also equipped with a grappling claw to ascend to hard-to-reach peaks throughout Oros.  Each weapon can be enhanced with fire if you have the necessary resources. If at long-range; shoot an enemy tribesman with a flamed-arrow for extensive damage.

There are numerous dynamics found in FarCry Primal that make the game continuously engaging and versatile.  The Wenja, Izila, and Udam all speak in unique dialects and are dressed in unique gear with distinguishable face-paint and mannerisms.  

Primal’s dynamic time makes the experience very different depending on whether it is day or night.  During the day you may see a herd of Mammoths peacefully drinking from a waterhole, or deer galloping through the hilly Oros landscape.  At night, apex predators lurk in darkness.  Packs of wolves prey on Takkar, and can even be seen in the distance pack-hunting rival tribe members.  The night is aptly far more dangerous for Takkar, though various camps scattered throughout Oros allow Takkar to rest until the light returns.

Though I don’t typically play many first-person games, (this was also my first experience with a FarCry game), I thought the first-person perspective was perfect for Primal.  The in-your-face cut-scenes with exchanges of dialogue showcase the fantastic detail of each character.  Their body language and dialects bring a very unique visual experience to the game.  You must tread carefully at night, as predators may ambush you from behind, a situation far more suited to first-person view. The perspective adds to the overall experience of the game.

photo1Aside from the game’s main objectives, there are numerous side-missions and location-based events to help Takkar unlock the entirety of his skill-tree.  You can unlock the majority of Takkar’s skills through the main objectives and through collecting animal skins as you travel throughout Oros, but the secondary objectives give the game a good degree of replay-value once you have progressed through the game’s main storyline.  As I played, I focused initially on collecting all of the rare animal skins for crafting, but I could have shaved 10 hours or so from the 40 hours it took me to complete the game had primary missions been my focus.

I did not find FarCry Primal difficult.  The main missions are mostly quick missions, not the lengthy, time-consuming endeavors found in most open-world titles.  I thought this was a smart approach by Ubisoft, as it kept me interested in the game and not bogged down with an eternity of repetitive tasks to complete in order to finish the story.  It is a game any level of gamer, casual to hardcore, can enjoy and complete.  Once I got into the meat of the game I couldn’t put it down, it was an enjoyable experience from the opening cut-scene until the final credits.  I would recommend FarCry Primal to anyone interested in experiencing the primitive Land of Oros.

– All in-game photos and clips were captured on my initial play-through. FarCry Primal was provided by Ubisoft for the purposes of this review.  The opinions expressed in this review are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Ubisoft.  

– Ryan Kosinski

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate Review (Xbox One)

 

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate Review

(Xbox One)
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By Ryan Kosinski

 

“Whoever controls London, controls the world.”  A statement that both sets the tone and envelopes the central theme of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Ubisoft’s 2015 entry into the acclaimed Assassin’s Creed franchise. Syndicate is the follow up to 2014’s Assassin’s Creed: Unity, a polarizing release, met with criticism due to many launch-day bugs, a less-than-engaging story, and a disappointing protagonist.  Syndicate has addressed the issues that plagued it’s predecessor, and the experience is reminiscent of what I felt playing through Ubisoft’s original Assassin’s Creed (2007)Syndicate places renewed emphasis on both visual and mechanical elements that have long made Assassin’s Creed a successful franchise.

111Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate places gamers in 1868 London, and in control of two playable protagonists: twins Jacob and Evie Frye.  Immediately setting Syndicate apart from recent Assassin’s Creed games are its charming and likeable main characters.  Both are quick-witted and engage in frequent exchanges of banter reflective of their sibling rivalry.  Jacob is brash, carries himself with a seeming air of invincibility, eager to lead (The Rooks in particular).  Evie is more cunning, contemplative, and calculated in her actions.  These characteristics are also inherent in each character’s play-style.  Syndicate allows the player to swap between Evie and Jacob to accommodate the skillsets required by a particular task.  Jacob is the brawler, more physically imposing and strong for combat-heavy missions or tasks.  Evie’s strengths are her quickness and using stealth to elude her adversaries.  Evie is great for infiltration and kidnapping targets.  The main characters compliment each other brilliantly.  The use of dual-protagonists in Syndicate was a genius maneuver by Ubisoft to add depth to the overall story and to engage the player in strategizing their character choice as they attempt to proceed through the game.

 

Syndicate’s central plot pits the Frye twins against Templar Grand Master Crawford Starrick, and the reaches of his influence, which include Maxwell Roth and his gang, the Blighters.  Gamers are tasked with utilizing the Frye twins to free each London borough of Blighter control.  In doing so, the Frye’s also foster the growth of their own London gang – The Rooks – in an attempt to overthrow Templar influence.
111With strong protagonists in place, and an engaging story as the backdrop, Syndicate truly shines with its beautiful reimagining of London circa 1868.  Although the story and characters both are strengths in this release, the London backdrop was the reason I kept going back for more.  Free-running through the boroughs I am consistently enamored with the black-smoke-heavy skyline.  Factories churn out the industrial revolution while the Frye’s catalog mission objectives through viewpoint synchronizations; (‘synching’ a viewpoint places location markers on your map for important tasks).  The NPC’s have a reasonable and bearable degree of exuberance.  I found the groups of young children playing on street corners and roadsides to be a charming occurrence representative of the game’s chosen setting.  Conversely, attention is called to child labor practices, and many side missions call for the rescue of imprisoned groups of children.  Horse and carriages are littered throughout the London streets.  Hooves trot over reflective rain puddles on stone sidewalks.

 

Essential to any Assassin’s Creed game are the accurate depictions of significant geographical landmarks.  There is no shortage of those in Syndicate.  Buckingham Palace, Houses of Parliament, Victoria Station, the Monument to the Great Fire, and London Bridge Station are all represented, among many more.  I was especially impressed with the landscape at night.  The city glistens against a starry backdrop, lighting and visual effects are gorgeous, and the dynamic weather conditions enhance how real the experience of traversing through 19th century London feels.

 

It should not be understated how fun simply free-running through London can be.  Syndicate’s free-run mechanics add a degree of control to the player by incorporating specific controls for running upwards and downwards.  Although these mechanics are counter-intuitive on occasion, overall they are smooth and I experienced minimal hiccups when free-running.  A welcome addition to the free-running mechanics is a zip-line, which allows Jacob or Evie to efficiently travel between distant rooftops.  The zip-line is a much-needed addition, and I found myself drifting from area to area without the desire to fast travel, although fast traveling is an option upon synching with a viewpoint.  Leaps of faith are still exhilarating.

Grammy-nominated composer Austin Wintory’s score is thoughtful, serene, and underscores the moral conflicts at hand throughout the game.  The music changes as you wander from borough to borough and compliment an artfully crafted environment.

 

The core game-play and combat mechanics are all vastly improved from previous Assassin’s Creed titles.  I consistently found myself playing “fight club” side-missions repeatedly, where Evie or Jacob can take on challenge-waves of Blighters.  Fluid combat allows for stringing together a multitude of attacks, and chaining lengthy combos – complete with devastating multi-kill finishing moves.  Bringing opponents “near death (indicated by a the opposing fighters hunched over highlighted in white) allows for one-button finishers, which can be used on one, or multiple opponents at a time.  These added maneuvers make the combat presentation continuously versatile.  Utilizing weapon enhancements mid-combo can make for some truly spectacular combo-chains.  You will utilize specialized brass-knuckles, swords, revolvers, knives, and hallucinogenic darts as you upgrade your characters’ respective skill-tree.  I found the combat in Syndicate to be the most satisfying of any Assassin’s Creed release.

 

Syndicate provides players a variety of types of tasks to complete as you conquer London’s boroughs.  The game contains no multiplayer, a direction that aided Ubisoft in returning Assassin’s Creed to top form.  Sequenced missions feature a variety of influential historical figures.  Syndicate offers players a chance to cross paths with Charles Dickens, Alexander Graham Bell, Karl Marx, and Charles Darwin, among many others.  For the purposes of income and resource gains, side missions are available at every turn.  Eliminating Gang-leaders in Blighter strongholds is a great tactical exercise.  Mix things up in kidnapping missions where you abduct targets, place them into a carriage, and escape by riding the horse-and-carriage at high speeds through the highly-populated London streets as Blighter carriages attempt to swarm and attack.  Hijacking carriages is fun, you can leap from roof to roof at high speeds and follow up with a ruthless execution of the driver.

 

I’ve played most of the Assassin’s Creed releases, and Syndicate is, without question, my favorite entry into the franchise.  It’s emphasis is firmly placed on what makes the Assassin’s Creed games so enjoyable: an immersive, rich landscape serving as catalyst to a strong criminal industrial complex narrative, fluid free-run controls allowing the player to engage with the environment in varied ways, and an enhanced combat system that can both test your strategic acumen through high-difficulty combo strings, or can be equally satisfying slashing-and-mashing your way through hoards of Blighters.   Syndicate unequivocally breaths new life into a previously stagnant franchise.  Ubisoft wisely went back to basics with Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, and the result is the finest installment in the franchise’s storied history.

 

*Disclosure:

I received this game for review courtesy of Ubisoft. All opinions are my own and reflect my own game play experience.