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July 22, 2010

New Games: Loopz

I remember my own parents looking at the early-computer-technology games I had when I was a kid and commenting, a little uncomfortably, about how much games had changed since their youth. Of course, they were talking about Mattel Electronic Football and Merlin, so by now I know exactly how they felt.

But every now and then I see a toy or game that magically melds parental nostalgia with somewhat more modern technology. Mattel’s new Loopz has something in common with one of my generation’s old favorites, Simon, but—as a good modern toy should and must—goes way beyond it, too. In several different directions.

As you can see in the image above, Loopz looks sort of like a set of plastic horseshoes stuck together (well, plastic horseshoes from the rec room of the starship Enterprise). Within each of the four arches—I suppose I should really call them “loops,” huh?—there’s a pair of small sensors, one at the top and one at the bottom. When you break through the invisible line between them, you trigger a light and a sound. (After a little practice, I found that the most effective and efficient way to do this was to stick my hands in each arch with a little lift, like a magician or someone playing water glasses. That may just be me, though...the chipper kids in the demos on Mattel’s site use a more direct style.)

That’s the basic concept, but Mattel has found a variety of ways to turn it into game play and ... just regular play. The first is the old Simon one, a memory game: Loopz plays an ever-increasing series of sounds and lights, and the player has to repeat after it. Then there’s a reflex game, in which you try to put your hand in the loop with the flashing light before it goes out, at accelerating speeds. And there are several music games, including one called Freestyle DJ that lets kids “mix” the preprogrammed songs on the Loopz machine by using the loops to turn tracks on and off. Finally, kids can just play their own music in a 10-note scale on the machine. (I was wondering at first how you get 10 notes from four loops, but of course the answer is combinations—for each of the higher notes, you simply trigger two loops simultaneously.)

Both my five-year-old and my two-year-old were instantly fascinated, in that way only young kids can be, at their first sight of the modernistic-looking machine with flashing lights that was making weird noises. But a lot of toys create that effect initially, and then the novelty wears off. Loopz, with its variety of options, and particularly with the freestyle music one, is proving to have real staying power, which makes the investment (the machine retails for about $30) seem worthwhile.

I don’t, however, quite think we’re going to reach this stage of expertise for a while yet:

[Photo courtesy of Mattel.]

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