It came from out of nowhere: An e-mail invitation to the 2014 Toy Vendor Fair for Toys”R”Us employees, where all the big toys for the holiday season would be shown, seemingly to familiarize managers and other higher-ups with the big products coming down the pipeline this year. I worked at Toys”R”Us previously, on two separate occasions, but that was long enough ago to have no bearing now (something I’ll touch on more another time).

But hey, I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. If I’m wanted there, I’ll gladly go!

And so I went. It was a bit of a cab ride to get from my place to the event’s location out in Markham, but it wasn’t bad at all– had I gone by bus, that might be another story. I arrived at the Hilton Suites Markham Conference Centre, and once I found my way to the showroom for the event, that’s when the fun began.

Note that this is far from everything to be seen there, but I tried to focus on the ones which seemed most interesting in the time I had there.

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Outside the conference hall sat this enormous inflatable Tonka dump truck. I had one when I was a kid, and while it was quite sturdy, I wasn’t about to test this one’s durability. Nonetheless, it kind of set the tone for the event in a big way.

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After checking in, I met this gentleman across from the registration table. Those familiar with Hasbro properties probably know about their line of KRE-O products, which are basically their version of LEGO blocks and figures, but featuring their own brands, such as G.I. Joe and Transformers. Here, they invited you to rummage through a set of small bins for parts to create your very own custom KRE-O figure. Part of the idea was to place it on the map to represent your store upon finishing, or you could keep it. Since I had no store– you guessed it– free KRE-O figure! You can get a look at my original custom-built Optimus Prime here.

Having a slight familiarity with the figures previously helped me optimize the figure a bit, at least in terms of fitting as many parts on parts as I could. “Tires on tires? I didn’t know you could do that!” exclaimed the rep. I’ve since refined the design a bit, and I’m quite happy with how he came out. Well, except for the fact I only gave him one sword– that really screws with the options for symmetry in the “vehicle” mode I came up with, darn it all. In any case, he now sits proudly next to me on my desk, at least until such a time I decide to move him into Metroplex and have him lead from there.

A little more decoration further set the tone before entering the main hall, as tables/stands were set up with a variety of familiar toys and characters: Homer Simpsons, Leonardo, Hello Kitty, Kermit the Frog, Twister, Battleship, a Magic 8-Ball, Minnie Mouse, a Minion, a Slinky… an awesome collection of paraphernalia that almost any kid would love to have.

Things were no less interesting upon stepping into the hall. I attempted to get a bunch of video, but much to my regret, my phone was running low and storage and being disagreeable in general. Seriously, though, it seems like no matter how much storage they give you on a phone, it’s never enough. Probably because they keep making bigger and bigger things to fill it.

Fortunately for the Hexbug folks, I was at least able to get their demonstrations of their line of robotic toys.

What do you get when you cross a Roomba with a spider? This crawly robot, apparently.

Not everything was robots at the Hexbug booth, though. They also had these neat skateboards, which could be controlled by radio, or even just used like your standard free-wheeling Tech Deck style.

Then there were these robot fish which occupied their own tank. They actually swam around the water, and there were a variety of toys you could set up around the tank to interact with them, including a crane for fishing (sort of like those magnet games), a launcher, and a big shark that (ideally) lunges down and “eats” a fish.

Don’t worry, My Little Pony fans, I’ve got your back. I didn’t see much more than these there, but there were a bunch of differently-sized plush ponies at a table near the LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham non-playable (the controller broke, or something) display.

Anyone who knows me knows that it wouldn’t be long before I found my way to the Transformers stuff. A neat assortment awaited me, ranging from Rescue Bots (it’s quite good, you should try it if you haven’t) to Age of Extinction, and even the return of Mr. Potato Head! Looks like Optimash Prime is back– I wish I’d gotten one from the first release when he was marked down. And there’s a version with a Dinotot(?) in tow, too, made all the more interesting by the attached Rescue Bots logo– interesting because Grimlock was left back on Cybertron, and so wasn’t in Prime or Rescue Bots and I’m overthinking a toy line designed to get robot dinosaur potatoes into the hands of young children, aren’t I?

In the first thumbnail there, it ought to be noted that the “Epic” version of Optimus Prime was surprisingly big– 22 inches, or almost two feet, which is almost as big as the new Metroplex they released last year! Yeah, you better believe Metroplex is going to heed his call– Prime might thwack him upside the back of the head if he doesn’t! The Optimus Primal toy was another neat one, and also pretty big, though not nearly as big as Epic Optimus. They didn’t have a price nailed down for this one, but it sounds like $35 might be the price they go with.

The last ones I got pictures of were the “Evolution 2-packs” of Grimlock and Optimus, with sort of “then and now” versions of each. The packaging for the Optimus set is actually kind of funny, as neither piece of art on the front accurately reflects the toy it’s made to represent. The Generation One version goes straight to the original, while the toy is a more recent reimagining of that character, and the Age of Extinction toy is the older flat-nosed truck form he has in the movie (also based on the original G1 version) before he gets the new body depicted in the illustration. Funnier still is that they already do have actual illustrations of both.

That silliness aside, this is a set I’d really like to have. I missed out on the Classics Optimus mold (though I do have the Ultra Magnus version), and it’s one I rather like. I’d also like Evasion Mode Optimus from the new movie, because it seems like a solid representation that mixes the movie’s style with the original version of the character… and Vangelus’s review won me over well beforehand, anyway.

One of my favorite booths to visit during the event is without a doubt Bandai, and not just because I was a fan of most of the stuff they were showing off. Prior to this booth, I’d had a few run-ins with people who just seemed really, really suspicious of my being there. Apparently, press don’t tend to cover these things very much. After I went back out to the sign-up table and got a lanyard, though, things went much more smoothly.

I digress, however. While I’m a huge fan of Transformers, I’m also a pretty big fan of Power Rangers, which made having the two separated only by an aisle rather cool. Interestingly enough, Bandai had this cool life-size Wild Force Red Ranger statue/mannequin there. I noted it was an interesting choice, given how long ago it was, and learned that it was really the only Ranger they had to bring in– or at the very least, they didn’t have one from the recent/current Megaforce or Super Megaforce seasons.

We wound up discussing Power Rangers quite a bit, as well as their new Sprukits models, which apparently don’t require paint and aren’t supposed to be as tricky to remove from the plastic sprues that the parts are on in the box. So instead of having to do a lot of twisting or using an x-acto knife, it sounds like they should come off more easily without leaving those ugly bits of plastic where they were attached.

Another subject we discussed was Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6 movie and the cool toys they have for that. What I thought was particularly cool was that one part of the Big Hero 6 line was scaled to around the 3.75″ scale, much like G.I. Joe figures. What made this cool, though, is that this allows the team to interact well with the Power Rangers figures of the same scale, allowing for big Tokusatsu-style team-ups, or with Hasbro’s Marvel Universe figures, which ties to Big Hero 6‘s origins as a Marvel comic. It’s almost kind of meta, the way that works out.

K’Nex had some neat video game-related stuff on display, though none of it was from their Mario line. Still, the Titanfall display was neat, and you could even rotate the mech on the right inside the case by spinning a wheel on the outside.

While K’Nex didn’t have any Mario stuff out that I saw, Jakks Pacific certainly did, much to my pleasant surprise. It wasn’t too long ago that they apparently had gotten the license to do “World of Nintendo” toys, and apparently that’s not just limited to Mario and its related family of brands (Donkey Kong, etc.). They also had a Link figure there that I had seen only on the back of some packaging prior to this. The Skyward Sword-styled mold looks pretty good, and each figure in this set comes with a “mystery accessory.” I have no idea what they are, but I hope Link’s is his shield. I asked if there were any other non-Mario figures coming, but they didn’t have any info to share.

The four-inch Mario figure looks pretty good; it’s not as well-articulated as the Figuarts version, nor does it have the vast range of accessories, but it’s more articulated than the figures we’ve been getting from Goldie International previously (with only shoulder and neck swivels, if that), and seems like a good lower-priced alternative (I think these were around the $10 range, compared to Figuarts’ $24.99).

The other big items that caught my eye here were the big guys: Six-inch versions of Donkey Kong and Bowser, scaled to be a bit bigger than Mario and Yoshi (you can see Bowser and Yoshi side-by-side in package in the fifth pic). These guys are set to go for about $15, and also seem like they’d be a good fit for the Figuarts Mario Bros. as well. I just hope I can get my hands on some of these!

I don’t tend to pay Playmobile much mind, but this dragon diorama they set up was pretty cool. I want some! Speaking of dragons, though…

Spin Master had all my Dragons needs covered, from Defenders of Berk to the second movie. Along with some lower-price level plush toys I haven’t seen before, what caught my eye most was the big 23-inch Toothless figure. This sucker is big enough that most other action figures could probably get a ride. He had great detail and a nice bit of articulation going on, and was essentially gimmick-free– that is, no electronics or projectiles or anything; his size is his gimmick, I guess. A very awesome piece, though I wish the wings were able to spread out further. Still, I can’t get enough Toothless, and this looks like a great piece overall.

Dragons weren’t the only thing Spin Master had that caught my eye, though…

Na-na-na-na-Ninja! Ninja Turtles! (Oh yeah, I went there.) In Canada, Spin Master licenses the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys from Playmates. They had stuff from the new movie, and nothing really caught my eye as being “new”– or at least, newer than we’ve seen for a little while now, but they did have the new Turtle Van out, and next to the original toy as well! I haven’t seen the new movie yet, and while the designs leave me more or less indifferent, I have to say that I do like the updated Turtle Van; it just looks like it means more business. And considering the classic version has guns and an armored front, that’s saying something! Heck, out of the whole movie toy collection, all I really want is that van. I’ll stick some other version of the Turtles in, if need be.

Or maybe I’ll get Bowser from Jakks’ line above and make it a Koopa Van. Yeah, that has a nice ring to it…

Suspended from a wire across the booth was the new, updated version of the Turtle Blimp, which is for the toy line based on the current Nickelodeon cartoon, rather than the movie. It’s a pretty neat update, all told, even though it looks like they cut back on production costs (the “glider” part seems more like one solid piece of plastic, unlike the original). It’s still arguably one of the stupidest vehicles in their entire arsenal (seriously, what about a giant blimp cruising in the sky above Times Square says “discreet”?), but that notwithstanding, I like how it at least looks more like a giant turtle now. Not that such a thing was ever a qualifier, but so long as we’re dealing in the absurd, why not go all in?

The other side of the booth had something that caught my attention as well: Following in the footsteps of young child-friendly versions of Marvel and DC heroes, or the Transformers: Rescue Bots, we have Half-Shell Heroes. Kind of a peculiar name for distinction, but whatever. What really gets me is that they not only managed to get a toy called the “Shellraiser” past whoever watches over the older kids’ action figure aisle, but they’ve done it here, too.

Funny thing about the Half-Shell Heroes is that while they’re basically supposed to be designed to skew younger, given more smiling and all, they don’t strike me as looking all that different from the normal Nick designs. Well, some of the larger ones, at least; the smaller ones, on the other hand, are kind of cute. Just check out that Leatherhead in the last pic! I think I might even like these more than the regular figures. Not sure how well they’d fit into that movie Turtle Van, though.

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Towards the end of the show, I got a brief look at Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes. A kid was on hand to play it, demonstrating Spider-Man by building levels and swinging around through them. In addition, I got a heads-up that they’d be revealing Big Hero 6 as an upcoming part of this version of the game the next day at Fan Expo Canada.

All in all, the Marvel Heroes looked good in this, and I even had a chance to take over the game after the kid left… though I asked if I could swap out for Iron Man, which the rep happily obliged. Mr. Stark brought his basic powers to the fold, including some neat flight and hover mechanics, as well as the ability to fire repulsor rays. My favorite part was coming across a series of platforms you’re meant to hop across, only to say “Wait a minute! I’m Iron Man!” and just hit the jets to hover smoothly across.

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On a related note, I also got to check out the newest Skylanders game, Trap Team, and I’m sorry I didn’t get pictures of that one for some reason (I think my phone’s battery might have been dying on me), because I was actually impressed with what they’ve done this time. Truth be told, the way they manage to reinvent the game– and how it ties to new toys– in some way year after year is pretty impressive overall, to say nothing of the creativity of some of the character designs.

The big gimmick this year, as it was explained to me, is that certain figures armed with crystal weapons are guards from the Cloudcracker Prison in Skyland, and better suited for trapping the criminals who have escaped. You have an entire wanted list, I think of around 40 different guys, and the crystal weapons glow when they come near one of the special wanted enemies. You can also use these separate “Traptanium Crystals” to trap the villains and turn them to your side… which is kind of creepy when you think about it, and probably raises the sort of moral/ethical issues kids aren’t likely to be thinking about as they use their newfound catches to do new things.

Interestingly, the crystals have four main types, each based on an element that corresponds with certain types of enemy. You can store one enemy from your prison in the crystal and plug it into the Portal accessory the figures sit on to use the new character. Sort of like a Pokeball from Pokemon, but instead of every creature having its own ball, you choose who goes in the one you take with you. Then there’s a fifth crystal to buy for capturing the final boss, Kaos. You don’t have to have it to beat the game, but if you want to capture and use Kaos, you need to have that crystal.

Of further interest is that they’re releasing a tablet version of the game. It retails for the same price as the others, and includes a bluetooth controller that fits snugly into the underside of that version’s portal. You can also fit the tablet into a slot on the portal and just play there, or remove it and use controls displayed on the touchscreen. A second player with their own controller can even join in. All in all, it’s a rather interesting and, if I’m not mistaken, unique way to expand their brand into the mobile marketplace.

Finally, I saw some familiar (and new!) faces unexpectedly when I came across Nintendo’s booth. I spent a bit of time there playing Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, as well as giving Midna a proper try on Hyrule Warriors. Of course, for those (and more), I’ve got a whole other article for you to check out.

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Overall, visiting the Toys”R”Us Holiday Toys Preview was a fun time with lots to do and see, unlike any I’ve had the opportunity to experience before. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do it again, and now that I have a better idea of what to expect, maybe I’ll be able to provide better coverage should there be a next time. And who knows? If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll even get a chance to review some of this stuff as I try to expand my toy coverage!

Plus, I have to send out a huge thanks to Paradigm for making this possible!

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