11 must-see toys at the New York Toy Fair 2018

This year’s International Toy Fair at the Javits Center in New York City was full of nostalgia, with toy lines celebrating LEGO’s 60th anniversary, Mattel Hot Wheels’ 50th anniversary, and Marvel Studios’ 10-year anniversary. 

But nostalgia aside, the tech toys on display were anything but retro. Some companies use cutting-edge augmented reality (AR) tech into their games; many others are teaching kids (and adults) how to code with awesome bots, without making it feel at all like learning.

We’re highlighting all of the connected toys to keep an eye on for this upcoming year for your kids, nieces and nephews — and we won’t tell anyone if you play around with them yourself first.

Price: $180 (about £130 / AU$230)

Release date: Fall 2018

"Can they do flips?!" I immediately asked. A Mattel representative responded sadly that they had done some programming tests, but legal stepped in over the possibility of RC cars being launched into players' faces.

This remote control tie-in to the wildly popular Rocket League video game is a blast to watch and play. You use your iOS or Android smartphone to control your car, which is themed off of the Hot Wheels DLC cars found in-game (the Mattel representative said there's no tie-in between RC Hot Wheels and the video game). 

While you can't do flips, you do have a boost button, and can drive along the sloped plastic walls without immediately flipping over. The infrared goal sensors can tell the difference between cars and the ball for tracking scoring. And you can adjust max speeds for younger players to get used to the controls.

Considering how fun it was to try, the only downsides seem to be the price and the cars' short battery life: you'll need to recharge after just a quarter-hour.

Price: $120 (about £85 / AU$150) 

Release date: Fall 2018 

Hot Wheels racing has always been about luck and imagination. You and your friends place cars on tracks, and when they collide, physics takes over. There isn't always much interactivity to it.

But with Augmoto, prepare for a rapid 180-degree skid in the other direction. Two racers start their engines, choose when to take pit stops to increase speed, risk loops to get items, and launch missiles and lightning at each other.

We'll be going more in depth with the experience soon, but suffice to say that it's a frantic, exhilarating experience, and we're hoping to see more branded AR tie-ins (Mario Kart's koopa shells and bananas, maybe?)

Price: $40 (about £30 / AU$50)

Release date: August 1, 2018

I watched as a LEGO rep placed an evil ninja on Stormbringer's back. After a few seconds, it started roaring, shook side to side and finally launched aside the poor villain, which gave a Wilhelm scream

This grumpy dragon is an add-on to the LEGO BOOST set, a robot coding kit for kids ages 7–12. It comes equipped with various capabilities and sensors, which includes sensing the difference between good and evil ninjas, and responding to voice and tactile feedback.

The image-only block coding interface seen above helps kids to learn coding principals and logic at any age or reading level. And because kids are working with LEGOs, they can incorporate any and all LEGO sets into their robots, which rely on Bluetooth functionality, a Move Hub and a motor to function.

The rest of the LEGO BOOST family. Courtesy of LEGO

Stormbringer was a blast to play around with. But it does require the base BOOST set to work, which retails for $160 (about £115 / $AU200), so it's an expensive bundle to buy into. 

Price: $99.95/£99.99 

Release date: Available now, coding updates available in April

We've already gushed about how fun it is to build your own droid from the inside out, and then guide it on missions. And though the kit is on our Best Toys of 2018 list, our staffers wrote that once Artoo is built, the app activities for the droid can be a little limited.

But littleBits is planning on rectifying this with a major update this April, which will incorporate Google and MIT's Scratch Books coding structure to give owners so much more variety of actions for their droid, as well as teach kids how to code.

I had a chance to dive into the code ahead of time on the show floor, and rest assured that this new sandbox of code will give you plenty to do. Artoo can be programmed with custom coding based on input / output, timing, loops, logic and math, based on your needs. I barely scratched the surface, and had a lot of fun imagining the possibilities of the tech. 

We recommend you get a head start on Artoo's base functions and buy it now before the daunting code language hits in a couple months, since the update is totally free via the app.

Price: N/A

Release date: Summer 2018

Merge Labs was last on our radar for Merge Cube, our Most Unique Product award winner at CES 2017. Now it's back with this not-quite-VR, not-quite-AR gizmo that channels everything fun about Superhot VR, without needing a headset at all. 

The company attached an iPhone X to the purple plastic gun seen above: the 6DoF Blaster. It uses a combination of positional tracking tech, including ARKit and ARCore, to register your real-life movements. 

So, as I played a Unity-based cover shooter, I had to duck under imaginary pillars to dodge lasers — except I wasn't wearing a headset, so I could watch passersby as they watched me. 

It's not exactly AR, since the game wasn't based on my surroundings. But the lack of headset lets you enjoy an experience without feeling cut off. And since Merge Labs has released a public SDK to code for the 6DoF Blaster, other developers could make AR games for the device if they wanted. It's an exciting accessory to watch, especially if it's as affordable as Merge's other products.

Price: $60 (about £40 / AU$75) per dinosaur

Release date: Spring 2018

It's only fitting that the toys for Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom, a franchise famous for its heroic archaeologists, promote STEM learning. 

These rock'em sock'em dinobots are based off of Blue the Velociraptor and the upcoming film's evil raptor. Kids will take about an hour to build them from a tech base with foldable plastic pieces. Then they can make them fight, dance or speak using another visual code language. The free app is gamified, so teaching the raptor to perform certain tasks will unlock others.

A representative said the raptors can't do enough damage to one another to make any pieces fall off, but that the app is trained to help kids improve their raptor design if it falls over a lot to its rival. 

Still, it doesn't seem to have quite the same amount of replayability and rebuilding potential as LEGO BOOST, littleBits' R2-D2, or Ubtech's Jimu TankBot Kit.

Price: $50 (about £35 / AU$65)

Release date: Spring 2018

On the Hasbro demo floor, I donned Tony Stark's mask and gauntlet, complete with infinity stone, and took on Thanos' army. 

You start by placing AR markers around a room to spread out your targets, then use a couple of hand motions to attack enemies or defend yourself: fist forward to fire, palm towards you for a shield. The app will have three modes and 10 levels, culminating in a fight against Thanos himself.

Like most AR experiences right now, it's not graphically intensive, so you don't exactly feel like you're in the film. And my virtual "arm" glitched a few times and pointed in odd directions, blocking my vision. But, on the whole, it was quite fun, and definitely something Marvel fans will love.

Price: $130 (about £90 / AU$165) 

Release date: Fall 2018

The previous slides featured the most promising connected toys at the NYC Toy Fair that will most likely show up under lots of Christmas trees this year. But we couldn't help but include some of our other favorites that may not exactly be "smart," but still offer tons of fun.

For instance, Co-Pilot Chewie, a 16-inch animatronic doll that will roar at you in Shyriiwook (the Wookie language), with over 100 different movements and phrases. He responds to specific voice and touch commands, too. For example, tickle his toes and he'll get grumpy with you, or make him fly and he'll get excited.

He's adorably perfect, and apparently my immediate love for little Chewie showed, because when I left Hasbro's show floor, a representative joked that she wanted to check my backpack and see if I had tucked him inside. If only. 

Price: $30 (about £20 / AU$40)

Release date: Available now

This escape room game is currently on sale, but it's worth calling out for its Alexa companion functionality: through Mattel's app, you can ask Alexa on your Amazon Echo for hints and time updates as you try to escape the virtual room. We're excited to see if other board games incorporate voice commands or virtual assistants in some way in the future.

Price: $120 (about £85 / AU$150)

Release date: Spring 2018

This Fallen Kingdom tie-in drone had a little trouble getting off the ground during my demo, but it has some cool safety features making it kid-friendly: it has auto-flight and auto-landing features, and when kids reach for the rotor blades, they automatically shut down to prevent injuries.

Price: $60 (about £40 / AU$75)

Release date: Late 2018

Like LEGO BOOST but with bigger blocks, this Duplo set teaches little ones using colored blocks placed on the tracks that trigger certain actions — essentially, coding commands. It comes with a Bluetooth-enabled app that gives remote control, too. If toddlers show enough self-control to keep the train on the tracks, it could prove a nifty teaching tool.

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