Like many American businesses, the toy industry isn’t all fun and games right now.
U.S. toy sales were down 2 percent last year, and have dropped in four of the past five years, according to the Toy Industry Association. The decline has been attributed to everything from a dearth of new hits, free mobile games such as Angry Birds taking a bite out of the market and the rise of smartphones and tablets that have cut into video-game sales.
But don’t cry, little Baby Alive doll: Even while in a slump, toys still rang up $21.2 billion in U.S. sales last year.
Here is a quick roundup of some of the choices that caught our eyes (at major toy retailers and Amazon.com, unless otherwise noted):
1. “The Avengers” conquered not only a galaxy of bad guys but North American box offices this year, holding down first place to the tune of $623 million. “The Amazing Spider-Man” flung a tenacious web in multiplexes, its $262 million in ticket sales raising it to fourth place. You might say then that Build-A-Bear Workshop has 885 million reasons to think that there will be strong demand for its furry friends decked out as a trio of “Avengers” — Captain America, Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk — and Spidey. (Ages 3-plus; costumes, $15; the bears as pictured, $15-18; www.buildabear.com)
2. Kids get into music at earlier and earlier ages. And parents concerned that young ones will have shredded eardrums before they even hit their teens can rest a little easier if the small-fry are listening through Griffin Technology’s Crayola MyPhones earbuds or headphones. Both styles limit volume and keep sound pressure to levels recommended as safe for young ears (peaking at 85 decibels). The earbuds come in a carrying case shaped like Crayola crayon, with three sizes of soft ear cushions, available in Purple Pizazz, Cotton Candy, Caribbean Green and Blue Berry. (Ages 6-plus; earbuds, $14.95; headphones, $24.95)
3. There’s no concern about National Hockey League lockouts when the A League of Its Own Air Hockey Table from Land of Nod is in the house. The 40-inch-by-20-inch game can fit on a table top or, if you like, 28-inch-tall legs are available. For parents facing off against clutter, it can, at 8 inches high without the legs, easily slide under most beds for storage. (Ages 8-plus; game, $89; legs, $19.95; www.landofnod.com)
4. Mr. Potato Head has gone over to the Dark Side, becoming Darth Tater, a tubular cousin to “Star Wars” movie villain Darth Vader. This Darth dons the trademark black helmet, mask and cloth cape and wields a red light saber. Classic accessories including the googly eyes and red nose are included, of course. If you want to pit some good vs. the Darth evil, Playskool has spud versions of Chewbacca and Yoda available, as well. In any guise, Mr. Potato Head encourages the development of fine motor skills. (Ages 3-plus; $9.99)
5. Most kids hate it when they’re playing ball outside and it starts to get dark. With the Nerf Firevision Sports Football, that’s when the fun is just beginning. Sporty kids can see it in the dark with the two pairs of included Firevision glasses, which make the graphics and ball surface reflective in the dark. Thanks to something called Microprism Technology, the soft ball generates a glow, even in the light. One pair of glasses reads the light as red, the other as green. The range is 100 feet, which should get happy young’uns glowing with sweat. (Ages 6-plus; $19.99)
6. For budding mechanical minds, Worx Toys vehicles provide insight into how things work. The Apex Police Helicopter gives children a clear look inside the toy and identifies each of some 20 parts with lights and sounds activated with a touch-pad code. A corresponding hard-bound storybook explains what each part does while taking the reader on an adventure in the vehicle. Also included is a transmitter that remotely activates the different parts — including rotors, engine, landing gear and instrument panel. (Ages 6-12; $34.99)
7. We don’t know if Po, the littlest Zoo Atlanta panda, has an iPod or iPhone. But if he does, we can guess which of this Electric Friends quartet of animal-themed portable docking stations from Noetic that he’d choose. In addition to presumed favorite Sing Sing the Panda, you can select among Chew Chew the Dog, Ki Ki the Cat and Kwack Kwack the Duck. While cute as heck, they feature two five-watt speakers that produce plentiful sound. The eyes hide the speakers; the ears serve as volume controls. (Ages 5-15; $59.99 at Toys R Us stores, staples.com, bestbuy.com)
8. We wouldn’t be the first to note the irony of Zynga’s popular mobile word app Words With Friends, which was based on Scrabble, morphing into a board game itself. But we doubt you’ll hear many “Wordies,” who can now challenge family and friends to a face-to-face showdown, complaining. Younger players in particular can’t help but build vocabulary. The Hasbro game includes full-size board, four curved tile racks, 104 tiles and a storage bag. (Ages 13-plus; $19.99)
9. The princess with whom you share a less ornate castle undoubtedly will be drawn to this Princess Fantasy Castle from Playmobil, with turrets, gilded entrance gate, grand staircase and many rooms to display the things of life. (The set includes two figures, throne, chairs, chaise, chandelier, jewelry box, tea set, goblets and flower bushes.) Windows and doors can open, and the dance floor revolves. There’s even room to store the royal jewels in the tower’s secret hiding place. Full-size tiara, bracelet and ring for real lifeprincesses are included. (Ages 4-10; $149.99)
10. If you prefer wood to plastic and hand-crafted to factory-produced, another option is by Once Upon a TreeHouse, which produces handmade dollhouses, furniture and dolls, including 4-inch-tall Buttercup the Ballerina, sewn of cotton and wool with wooden feet. (Ages 3-plus; dolls $12-40, dollhouses $120-$325; www.onceuponatreehouse.com)
11. Kids need bling, too! The Blingles Bling Studio from Moose Toys provides more than 320 gems and tools that allow crafty children to make their own designs or to decorate the 10 pre-set patterns. The resulting bejeweled stickers can proudly bling up bedazzle smooth surfaces including cell phones, stationery and art projects. (Ages 6-plus; $19.99)
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For our complete holiday gift guide, visit www.accessatlanta.com/s/atlanta-holiday-guide/.