When I was a child, I absolutely loved stuffed animals; I had such a massive collection residing on my bed that they threatened to push me off should I stretch out or roll over in the middle of the night. One of my fondest wishes at that time was that some of my favorite stuffed animals could be more life-like and animated. Granted, this was in the 70s, and the closest things we had to robotic toys back then were those obnoxious stuffed dogs that came with a wired battery pack so that they could walk a few steps, bark, and then walk a bit more. These toys certainly weren’t huggable, you wouldn’t want to sleep with them, and once the initial trill of watching them do their “thing” wore off, they would invariably wind up in the bottom of a little girl’s toy bin.
Fast forward thirty plus years (ack! did I just admit that?) and we find that little girls still love their stuffed animals, they still hug on them and sleep with, and they still long for a more realistic “pet” experience. Gone are the wired yap-dogs, and in their place we now have much more life-like and animated animals such as those in the new WowWee Alive series.
I was sent their Lion Cub, and from the minute I opened the outer box, I knew exactly who I would employ as its primary “testers”. My boyfriend has two daughters, ages 5 and 9, and they both love stuffed animal; their beds bear silent testament to this fact. Would this particular toy get any type of special treatment once they had discovered its capabilities? Or would it end up in the bottom of their toy bin like the yap-dogs of yesteryear? There was only one way to find out…
There are four baby animals in the Alive Cubs series: a lion, a panda, a tiger, and a polar bear; they are all cute and surprisingly huggable, considering that they are all partially robotic. These cubs are appropriate for ages 3 and up; they feature animated facial expressions (moving lips and blinking eyes), and they mimic the sounds of the baby animals they represent. Sensors in their heads and backs allow them to respond when they are stroked or petted, and they have tilt sensors so that they can also tell when they have been turned over. Repeated turn-overs will result in a negative reaction…growling. Since I was sent the lion cub, this review will specifically cover that version, but I suspect that the other animal babies will be similar.
The lion cub measures approximately 9″ long from the nape of its neck to the base of its tail; add another 6″ or so for the head and 7″ for the tail, and you’ve got a generously sized toy that’s large enough to feel “real”, but not so large as to be unmanageable by a younger child.
“Cute” is the first thing I thought as I was unpacking the cub. From his soft plush fur to his overly large paws, everything is as nicely done as any other quality stuffed animal I’ve seen; perhaps even more so. I liked the subtle branding of the WowWee insignia on the cub’s left hind paw.
Included in the box were the lion cub, a green stretchy jeweled collar, an adoption certificate, and a user manual. The cubs do not walk, their floppy legs are basically sewn so that they will sit or lay, and other than the harder head – where the bulk of their mechanics reside, these toys are soft, floppy, and huggable stuffed plush.
Four AA batteries come installed in the cub’s belly; he shipped in “Try Me” mode, which meant that squeezing his left ear would trigger a responsive growl, so the first thing to do was switch him to “Normal” mode so that he can properly interact. He can also be switched off should the need ever arise.
When turned on (by pressing his right ear in Normal mode), the cub will blink his eyes, move his mouth, and meow sporadically – looking for a some rubbing and attention. Stroking his forehead will result in his eyes closing and nearly immediate purring. The cub will go into sleep mode after about five minutes of inactivity, and after another five he will power down. If you want to conserve his battery life, you can turn him off by pressing and squeezing his right ear for about three seconds. The left ear has a volume toggle switch that when pressed once will toggle between the high and low volume settings; I honestly couldn’t tell that much of a difference between the two.
The minute you stop rubbing, his eyes pop open and he starts making inquisitive sounds that anyone who owns a cat might find familiar; they can roughly be translated as “hey! why did you stop?!”
Rubbing the back of the cub gets another positive reaction; perhaps the freakiest thing is the realistic spine at the base of his neck. You can feel his “vertebrae” under his “skin”, but they are only present in the top portion of his body where the mechanicals reside, so there is still plenty of plush goodness for cuddling on his lower half.
When Kevin’s girls first saw the lion cub, their immediate reactions were to ooh and aww. Surprisingly, it was his 9 year old who first laid claim to it; she couldn’t wait to fill out the adoption certificate and start playing. I asked her several times if she thought she might get bored with the toy, and she looked at me like I was nuts. Both girls took turns hugging and petting the cub, toting him around the house, and when they were done playing with him he was placed on a chair in the living room to sleep – not on the floor or in a toy box. It’s been almost two weeks since we introduced the lion cub to Kevin’s girls, and while I can’t say that it necessarily gets any more attention than their other stuffed animals, I can say that it seems to enjoy slightly better treatment, as they both seem to enjoy playing with it and when they are done it goes back on the chair. We are still on the original set of batteries at the moment; so far battery life seems to be excellent.
Kevin and I had a slight debate over whether the lion cub’s price was a good one or not, and we came to the conclusion that it is. When you consider that for about $30 you can buy a really nice stuffed animal that does nothing but look cute and be huggable, $30 more for a cute and huggable stuffed animal that can also react to your attention, purr, sleep, meow, all while appropriately moving its eyes and mouth doesn’t seem bad at all. Perhaps the only thing off-putting about the whole experience is the typical mechanical whirring that still plagues all robotic toys – even the $300ish Pleo. For a child’s first introduction to robots, I think that the WowWee Alive cubs are perfect!
What I Like: Huggable soft body with animated eyes and mouth; touch responsive when rubbed on head or back; easy to turn on or off; can be played with as a inanimate stuffed animal or as an interactive “pet”
What Needs Improvement: There is the typical mechanical sound that plagues all robots when the facial expressions are articulating; it can’t be helped. But in such an inexpensive robot example, this is a minor quibble