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Low-cost and high-tech toys top holiday list

TORONTO - Whether you're watching your wallet or looking for the latest high-tech plaything, the must-have toys for tykes for the festive season offer something for all tastes and budgets.

TORONTO - Whether you're watching your wallet or looking for the latest high-tech plaything, the must-have toys for tykes for the festive season offer something for all tastes and budgets.

The Canadian Toy Association presented more than 110 toys and games at its annual Hot Toys for the Holidays event Monday, and more than half of those featured are priced at less than $30.

"Certainly recognizing where the economy was the last couple of years and you started seeing it a little bit last Christmas and even through into this year that it's just trying to bring out the best value we can at the retail (level) to make it work for everybody," said association president Jeff Hurst.

"But again if you want to spend a little more you can buy bigger play sets whether it's construction, whatever the category is, you can buy bigger sets too if you do want to spend a little more."

A selection of more affordable offerings appeared to be among the draws for the young kids and tweens who had the chance to test the items featured.

Many of the girls showed their creativity using the Sticky Mosaic Heart Box which is slated to retail for $14.99, allowing them to customize their own jewelry box.

Going the do-it-yourself route seemed to be popular, particularly among the more cost-conscious items. Arts and crafts kits for kids to create their own jewelry, design a magazine or try their hand at painting, sculpting and drawing were among the items for under $30.

Hurst says there is "real newness" in toys for girls, especially when it comes to dolls, in both collectibles and large-sized models.

In addition to a line inspired by popular Disney Princess characters, other dolls included the Minikiss, a baby who laughs, babbles and blows kisses, posable Moxie Teenz dolls with interchangeable wigs and Zoobles, colourful collectible balls which spring to life and transform into characters when placed on specialized magnets.

A plush electronic puppy complete with a wagging tail and remote control leash was also a favourite among the girls.

Hurst says that electronic or computerized items were big a couple of years ago, but now traditional basic play toys are just as popular.

Boys seemed to gravitate toward a mix of the two. Youngsters seemed to get an equal kick out of watching cars zoom along a Hot Wheels track set or manually moving cars and trucks along the floor or through a miniature seven-level parking garage.

There was plenty of construction and building block sets like Lego and Mega Bloks and even some real-life animals alongside the make-believe variety. Among the dinosaurs and dragons, there was the award-winning Wild Creations Eco Aquarium, an eco-system which houses two live African Dwarf frogs.

Hurst said there are still classics for boys like Star Wars, Bakugan and Transformers.

Other favourites are making a comeback and getting a revamp, like Dance Star Mickey, which walks, talks and dances to different songs. It's slated to retail for around $100.

"Mickey's been kind of quiet for the last couple of years. We haven't seen a lot of Mickey out there and certainly Mickey has come back in a great new format," Hurst said.

"That's what I would say is the fun part about the toy industry — being able to recreate these characters we all know and bring them into life so that kids today find it really fun to play with," he added.

Hurst says while the Mickey doll is "pretty cool" and may be one parents will try to track down, he says they're not yet hearing about one specific buzz-worthy toy for the holidays.

"The neat part of what we've seen the last few years is that there's just so much variety that really you end up with really about 10 to 12 toys that everybody's trying to find but you never really have to look for just that one anymore," he said.

In addition to helping parents looking for the must-have plaything, the association is lending its support and raising awareness about a new initiative to aid those unable to afford toys for the holidays.

CTA announced a partnership with the RCMP and the Santa Claus Parade for a new toy drive to help benefit children living in northern communities.

The association kicked off the program by donating tens of thousands of dollars in new toys. They are encouraging individuals and businesses to bring an unwrapped toy to the mountain of toys at a free breakfast at Yonge-Dundas Square in downtown Toronto before the start of the annual Santa Claus Parade on Nov. 21.

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