Holiday Toy Guide: Bandai's Hatch'n Heroes

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In the first of what's sure to be a lot of installments looking at some of this year's holiday must-haves, today we'll be considering Bandai's Hatch 'N heroes, a line of transforming toys based on Disney and Pixar movies.

The line essentially takes the idea of a "surprise egg" -- a thing popular on YouTube unboxing videos that harks back to those little plastic Easter eggs that parents might hide toys or candy inside of -- to the next level, literally transforming a number of popular characters into an egg shape.

I'm coming to this particular toy from a kind of unique spin: my son, who is autistic, has fine motor delays, but he adores Pixar. This seemed, then, like an idea skill-building toy for him. In general, this has proven to be true, with a few caveats -- and this review won't look at the toys exlusively through that lens, neither will it look at all of the toys in the current line.

Speaking of which -- as far as I can tell, the current line of Hatch 'N Heroes toys featuers two versions of Baymax from Big Hero 6 -- the white inflatable and red-armoed varieties -- and that's the only non-Pixar character in the line.

Also available are Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Allen the Alien, Bullseye, and Rex from the Toy Story movies; Lightning McQueen, Tow Mater, The King, and Francesco from the Cars franchise. Looking around online, there are Nemo and Dory toys from Finding Nemo and Olaf from Frozen, but none of those came in the box I have so I can't speak to them.

The toys are designed to break apart and be reassembled fairly easily. Given the transforming nature of them and the fact that they're lightweight plastic, it's likely that's to prevent the toys snapping if frustrated kids (or adults, for that matter) push them too hard in a direction they're not designed to go.

This is actually a great design...for the most part. It means that you can easily fix the "broken" toy and, in the case of my son, I was able to teach him how to slot most of the "broken" pieces back together. That was a great lesson, given that he often gets incredibly frustrated by such minor setbacks with his favorite toys -- a club the Hatch 'N Heroes quickly joined.

Lightning-Transformation

The downside of this design is that sometimes I think the manufacturer overestimated the simplicity of the simple repairs. The Lightning McQueen toy, for instance, is very difficult to transform relative to the other toys, and the whole thing relies on a lever in the middle of the toy. The top of the "egg," which includes the roof and backend of the car as well as Lightning's eyes, frequently pops off, and it would be virtually impossible for a young child to put it back together unaided. Heck, the first few times I had to do it, it was incredibly frustrating, and I understood the concepts involved!

You can see that in the image here, which you can click to enlarge.

The toys are marked as being for 4+, likely because of small parts, and that's certainly a good idea for some of the more complex figures. A parent could look at some unboxing videos online, though, as well as reading a little and using common sense, to determine which of them might be saver for smaller children as well.

There are some of these toys -- Mater springs to mind and the white Baymax -- that transform significantly more simply than most, and have no small parts. Baymax could theoretically have a piece break off -- his back/head panel slips out from time to time -- but you have to really be pushing at it, and since the toy is so easy to use, that's unlikely to happen.

Because of that, it's dificult to necessarily review the line as a whole. I think it's a solid concept, and pairing it with wildly popular characters for a relatively low price (the SRP is $6.99, but I saw them at BJ's Wholesale Club for less than $5 on Wednesday) makes them great stocking stuffers. I do think, though, that unless your kid is particularly enamored of Cars or Toy Story, the toys themselves vary so widely in quality and difficulty that within the toy line, they might almost be marketed for different age groups. My son, who is five, can easily transform these after having watched some unboxing videos that gave verbal instructions but was utterly lost the first time looked at that odd lever in the middle of Lightning. Meanwhile, he was able to do Mater, Buzz Lightyear and the white Baymax on the first try.

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It's worth mentioning, as well, that some of these transformations work better than others. That's pretty standard stuff for anybody who's ever owned a Transformers toy, but it's particularly obvious when you compare the really human-looking characters from Toy Story to, say, Bamax or even Mater. There's simply no way of getting around the fact that Woody looks like a person whose body has been folded in an unimaginably uncomfortable way. There is, I guess, a vaguely egg-like shape to them but without the name Hatch 'N Heroes, I'm not sure I would make the connection independently.

Buzz, on the other hand, can be transformed to look like an egg by folding up the body panel, but it was a few transformations in before my son every noticed that, since for a while he was basically just matching up with Woody. That left Buzz more vulnerable to the first actual breakage we experienced in the line, because the smaller legs on the Toy Story heroes are fairly delicate. Woody's are slightly better than Buzz's, but when left outside of the "eggshell," a minor drop while the toy was folded resulted in one of the leg joints breaking. It likely says something good for the line, though, that we bought a replacement soon thereafter.

Overall, these figures are a lot of fun and pretty inexpensive. Their use as a "therapy toy" for kids with fine motor deficiencies was my own idea, not a recommended use, but we've had some really positive results out of it, helping to build my son's skills and reducing outbursts from minor inconveniences like a "broken" part or simply being unable to transform the toy. I'd highly recommend them as stocking stuffers -- although if your child is on the younger side, it's probably wise to look at the toy, see how it transforms and choose the characters wisely.