LEGO

Lego Ninjago- Ultimate Ultimate Weapon

I think that my family have been huge fans of Legos since the very beginning of Legodom, and I’m excited to see a time where my children have become attached to them, as well. My youngest son is five years old and can’t read but can list the proper names of entire collections of Lego sets, will teach himself to memorize the advertisement flyers they send in the boxes, and will persist for weeks until he’s gotten every set he’s asked for. His most recent collection fixation is on the Ninjago movie sets, the biggest set he has is the Temple of the Ultimate Ultimate Weapon (70617).

Temple-of-Ultimate-Weapon-1It would be easy to assume that this set is overly time-consuming being that it’s so large, but the structure of the temple is only one-sided. It is over 1,400 pieces, but what I mean is, on one side of the temple you see the brick outside, with a drawbridge-style set of stairs. The other side of the wall is a carved-out version of the temple, showing the inside entrance of the temple, and four additional rooms that have something unique to have fun with, such as a room of hidden snakes, a working wrecking-ball, a skeleton in the basement, a library/scroll room, and two large temple guardian figures that resemble tigers.
The Japanese-style sticker and color details are rather impressive, the scrolling roofs and scorpions that decorate the rooftops are fun details to the outside of the temple, that correlate to the dragons, red and gold colors, and overall ninja theme inside. There is a weird bondage-style man cage that is hung outside, and sword chopping ‘booty traps’ inside to help the ninjas defend their territory. The set comes with a treasure chest, which is every child’s favorite Lego piece. We know it’s empty, but it’s still mysterious and exciting to pick up. I’m an adult with children in grade school and I still get set off by empty Lego treasure chests. No, you grow up.

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The set includes seven minifigures, including Kai, Nya, Loyd, Cole, Zane, Jay, and a four-armed Garmadon that comes with a jungle coat accessory. They come with a plethora of weapons, and endless ways to position, assemble, and battle amongst themselves.
It took about two days to build everything, considering we didn’t begin early either day and we took our time doing so. The instructions are famously simple and great for kids to learn how to do themselves. If step-by-step instructions aren’t your thing, there are plenty of instruction and suggestion videos you can find on Youtube. I would never NOT recommend any Lego set. I hope if this is a set you decide to go for, that you enjoy it as much as we do.
Happy building.

Video Games

The Girlfriend’s Perspective- God of War

Though the game has been released for several months, and our household’s copy has already been beaten several times, I feel it necessary to share the love of God of War. Sony’s 2018 release of Playstation’s latest variation of the uber-popular franchise is my vote for best game of the year, and we haven’t even gotten to Spiderman yet (expected September 2018). The game has an emotional script, the most gorgeous graphics I’ve ever seen in a game, solid comic relief, and tons of side missions to allow the player to go off track whenever they please.

The story of the game begins with the death of Kranos’s wife, and the accepting of the mission to carry her ashes to her desired resting place, along with their young son, Atreus. Along the journey, much of the family’s unknown backstory unfolds before Atreus, leaving Kranos in an awkward position where he finds himself emotionally stuck between being a King-God of Badassary, and a good dad. Sad. Cute. But, I’m girlfriend’ing this up. The fight scenes that ensue are intense and violently creative. Atreus eventually develops into a character that you can utilize to help you fight. You can switch between characters during a fight scene, fight with Kranos, then shoot arrows with Atreus, and I like that in this game you’ve got a helping hand, instead of writing a script around a defenseless child.

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The lists of items to collect in this game is the scratch to the OCD itch. Items collected allow the player to forge new weapons or upgrade personal items for both of your characters. There are times when you play for an hour or two just looking for items to collect. They’re abundant, they’re obvious, they give you experience points, and are collected until you find Brok, one of the blacksmith brothers, and upgrade your personal effects. The first opportunity you get to upgrade is the axe Kranos carries. After you’ve done a few missions and have collected enough items within the game, you’ll have to opportunity to upgrade weapons, bows, axes, armor, boots, and underclothes etc. Though side missions, solving riddles, and collecting isn’t a new concept to games in the slightest, I’m impressed by the amount and perceptive value of lists of things to do.

Mimir was a favorite character of mine, he was the comic relief character that was used in the script of the game to keep things from getting too heavy between Kranos and Atreus during difficult family realizations. Mimir tags along as a severed head that is tied to the back of Kranos’s armor, he’s got a Scottish accent, and has the most humorous one-liners and quips of the game. He’s kind of metal.

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The graphics in God of War are some of the most impressive graphics I may have ever seen. Not just on my own TV, but ever. It’s one of the clearest, most thoughtfully detailed, most close-to-realistic graphic creation out, with the closest comparison possibly being Assasin’s Creed: Origins. There’s not much else to say on the matter, other than someone needs to get an award. If I’m overdoing it, I suggest you mute the, listen to the soundtrack for the movie 300, and play. (I know the difference between Nords and Spartans, but, 300 may be a good visual representation.)

Would I let my kid play it? He’s 9. I think I’ll still wait. It’s not like it’s a Viking Grand Theft Auto, but it’s got some graphic violence, and a little bad language, so personally I’d prefer to wait on that aspect of it sharing it, but as far as anyone who is interested in third-person quest games, this ranks as one of my top favorites and I recommend you get it, try it, hate Atreus for a few days, then LOVE it.

Score 4:5

LEGO

Welcome to Jurassic Park (Well, LEGO Jurassic Park…)

With Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom opening today, marketing for the film is in full swing. Toys, specialty Dr. Pepper cans, video games, and yes, new LEGO sets are available or soon to be available at retailers. This is the second “wave” of Jurassic Park LEGO sets to be released, the first being released in 2015 and retired in 2016. That wave included six sets, and for this wave they have expanded the line significantly to include regular sets, Junior sets, and Duplo sets. The regular series is composed of eight sets. It is important to note that even though they are in the regular line, they are still for the 8-12 age range, so there are no complex builds here.

That being said, lets dive into the largest set, Indoraptor at Lockwood Estate. This set is comprised of 1019 pieces and retails for $129.99. There are three dinosaurs in this set; Blue, an unnamed “baby dino”, and the set-exclusive Indoraptor. Blue is a Veciloraptor who has appeared in several of the films and has become a character unto herself. This set also includes six minifigures, including Claire and Owen from Jurassic World and Maisie Lockwood from Fallen Kingdom. The set itself is a three-story “house”, and I use that word loosely. It is basically one side of the house with part of a wall sticking out on two sides. Lockwood Estate is one of the locations of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and without having seen the film it is hard to put the scene into context. After some online digging, there is supposedly an auction of dinosaurs that takes place at the estate which is where this set comes from. My guess is that the auction doesn’t end well (chompy, chompy). It will be interesting to see if that is indeed the case once the film is released. Anywho, the house is three stories and includes some details such as a fold-up bed, a lab, and windows that can be released by pulling a rod (probably to be able to recreate a scene in the film). The set also includes a motorcycle.

The house is sturdy, and considering the number of pieces, the details are pretty neat. Most of the building of the set comes from building up the wall of the house. As I said. It’s not very complex, but it does make for a nice relaxing build, and is just challenging enough for the target 8-12 range.  The minifigures are nicely detailed and look really nice set up in the different rooms. The dinosaurs are the stars of the show here, and they are fun to build and are scaled nicely to the house. The entire set is basic and nice, and that is why I continue to have mixed feelings about the Jurassic Park LEGO sets as a whole.

I love Jurassic Park. The original film is one of those films that never gets old to me. I have seen the film many times and still get a lump in my throat when they play the music and pan over the field of Brachiosaurs’ for the first time. I remember first seeing the film in an after-school program when I was a kid. I have had a countdown to Fallen Kingdom since it was announced. Needless to say, collecting the Jurassic Park Lego sets is something I feel drawn to do. I have the entire first wave and am working on the second wave. Here is my problem with the sets: they do not feel like sets. They are bits and pieces of the franchise that get bundled and sold together as sets. Usually a dinosaur or two, a vehicle and a few minifigures.  The sets lack the cohesion of some of the other franchise sets, such as the Simpsons and Ghostbusters sets. I would love to see them take the risk of doing one large set, such as the visitor’s center. Jurassic Park has a lot of fans that I am sure would enjoy tying the individual sets together with a larger, more complex build.  Don’t get me wrong, I love that they made Lego Jurassic Park (World), but I wish they would expand of it to capture the older fans of the franchise. Maybe by the time the next film comes out?

Toys

Imaginext Toys – A Love Story

After the countless totes of Legos, the next most populous toy in my house is any figure, set, or blaster from Imaginext Toys. Imaginext is a very versatile brand that you can find anywhere from Walmart, to the remaining Toys R Us stores currently on life-support, Amazon, etc; they’re constantly changing in style and collections, for various playing ages, and prices.

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I wouldn’t be able to talk enough about the different styles and sets they offer. At home, we have Batman variations, Egyptian mummy sets, Teen Titans GO! sets, dinosaur sets, Transformers, and tons of other superheroes that come in both individual packaging or in action sets. I find, when your child finds a series or brand of toy they really enjoy, the physical size of the set is an important component of purchase decision, at least, it is in my part. I’ve got a small, two-bedroom apartment, and if he wants to get an entire collection of just ONE variation, he would have run out of room long ago. For this reason, we tend to get a few pieces from each line, as opposed to trying to collect them all; but, Imaginext has found a convenient size pattern for their toy sets, they’re a very medium, low-impact size, or the toys themselves break down to clean up easier. These toys were so easy to collect, we keep one of the uber-popular rolling, plastic drawer sets designated strictly for Imaginext toys and blasters.
The Youtube videos for Imaginext Toys is comparable to those of the fanatics of toys already previously discussed; there are millions of internet videos pertaining to Imaginext, opening the packages they come in, to actual acted and scripted episodes made by moms and dads that have been viewed trillions of times. Literally. And children are like moths to a light to their toy videos. My five-year-old, Joshua, watches an hour or two of videos then walks around zombified repeating full, seven-minute-long videos verbatim. Is it disturbing or brilliant? I know I’m impressed. Impressed my child can monologue like a national treasure, but also how Youtube has completely taken everything we know about marketing and business and just, taken everything into a socially controlled direction. Maybe I’m fifteen years late on that.
I like that there are Imaginext packs that can have 4 or 5 figures that belong to the same collections. It makes collecting a lot easier, faster, and if you are on a budget you’re simply getting more quality toys in one purchase. In many of the packs, the figures may come with one or several accessories that go along with the character. Josh’s favorite Imaginext accessory is the blaster. It’s a variation of that character’s shooting weapon, that comes with a spring-loaded plastic missile (or 3). It’s his favorite because he has so many- and all missiles but 2 are lost.

superfriendsIn our sampling, I’ve also been able to tell the difference with the age of sets we own due to the design or the way the toys have been put together have evolved. I’ve paid close attention to any chipping or fading of paint or color, which I’ve never seen happen with these toys. The color on the figures, and range of motion for the limbs seem to be kept in good working condition, even after time and playful use by a sticky, 3-and-half-foot monster. Unlike his relationship with Mash’Ems, he has never brought me a broken Imaginext Toy crying there was an accident, he’s never had to throw any of these guys away because it wouldn’t work or because he snapped an arm off. I like to think I’m a veteran mom when it comes to my kids’ toys, and Imaginext is definitely a brand I’ll rebuy over and over and buy for other people’s children the next time I have to pretend to be nice.
Score 4/5

Video Games

The Girlfriend’s Perspective- The Nintendo Switch

I advertise as “the girlfriend” because I don’t have any real, deep rooted interest in most technology, but the man of the house is a video game and electronics junkie who brings the work home, and home to work. I do not and will not advertise that I am in any way a gamer expert, I’m simply giving a different perspective of feedback on what I experience. I don’t always like what I watch, hear, or test, but there are those magic moments where we can all agree that ‘this is cool.’ The Switch was one of those products for me.
The 32 gigabyte Nintendo Switch hit the market in March of 2017, and my family still cannot get over it. The Switch is Nintendo’s answer to the hand-held and console mashup, where you can play the device in three separate manners, making it super versatile and approachable to all styles of player types. Like mainstream consoles, The Switch provides you with the option to play in-store purchased games, and an online play store where you can purchase and download digital copies of games and explore free games and demos that are promoted.

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The mechanics of the device is the basic screen with two side panels (called joy-cons) of buttons, as most other hand-held devices; however, the panels are removable by sliding them off. By pulling off the paper-thin kickstand that is attached to the back of the screen, the player can now watch the game in a free-standing position, while playing with one colored panel per hand (the joy-cons come in black, neon red, and neon blue). The third option is to simply detach the joy-cons, and slide them onto a separate skeleton remote, giving the player the ability to watch their screen and play using a close-to-proper controller. I don’t recommend the third option of using the joy-cons in the skeleton remote unless the player has small hands. When put together, the controller is a smaller than normal size, and if you’ve got big hands or long fingers, they may overlap in the back of the remote, and can be uncomfortable for certain games. The matter can only be left up to taste and personal comfortability.
So far, we’ve been able to enjoy The Legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wild, and the amiibos that come for the game. The Switch has several games that give the option to use their console accessory, the amiibo; it’s a small figurine, normally each game has several different characters that each would have their own amiibo. Their effect in the actual game vary, but as an example, in Legend of Zelda, the Wolf Link amiibo when pressed down on the joy stick of the joy-con will introduce a wolf to battle with your character. Other character amiibos may give your character health, food, or other fun possibilities. The drawback of the love for the amiibo is the use of generator is limited to a certain number of uses per day.

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The quality of the games is just as wonderful as Nintendo has ever made games. Zelda has been great, Super Mario Odyssey has been great, but we find our store-purchase interests pretty much end here, and wander into the play store for the short demos or free games available. I am hopeful for the 2019 releases for Yoshi, where the nostalgic little dino gets his first stand-alone game on Switch. I’m looking forward to the core Pokemon game, but it doesn’t have a solid release date yet. I’m looking at you, November. The prices of Switch games vary but stay within the typical video game range of $40-60 on average. The console itself is around $300 depending on the variation the player is choosing (sometimes you can purchase packages at a discounted price).
Would I purchase the Nintendo Switch? Yes, and I have, and if my son were to ask me, I would probably buy one for him as well. The battery life is about 15 hours, it’s great for car rides, I can download and watch Hulu if I’m tired of focusing on the game, and it works as a fantastic paperweight while writing or paying your bills by an open window… It takes epic screenshots and has 4GB of memory capacity, it comes with its own docking station and USB cord. Purchase of badass case sold separately. Enjoy it.