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With Christmas approaching, my kids hadn't actually asked for anything from Santa, so I decided to look around myself for items that would be enjoyed by them. My only criteria was that it was not another lego set, as we have got quite a number of sets over the past few years which end up in bits and driving me mad as I never know where it all is.
So, with that in mind, I though that they do like construction so its a shame to rule out a theme, so another angle for it was a set. I spotted the hexbugs when browsing amazon and really liked the concept of little bugs that were also robots, so I ended up buying a couple of individual hexbugs and then this playset. At the time, I didn't realise that the original hexbugs are a lot bigger than this playset which is designed for the much smaller nanobugs. So my plan of playing with lots of bugs in this set didn't work, but this is still a much loved toy for my children.
There are a few different nanobug playsets around. The difference between them is not overly clear, but it relates to the number of pieces of track and types of track that you get for the bugs to run around in.
This elevation playset cost me £20, and for this price I was really impressed with what came with it as bugs alone are about £4.50 each. First of all, there are two nanobugs which is ideal for my two children to play with. Each nanobug comes within a package shaped to look like a test tube. The nanobugs come in a few colours - ours are blue and grey. My children really liked the plastic packaging and it is useful for keeping the bugs in once the set has been played with so they don't get lost. It was a little tricky to get into the packaging at first, but once we perforated the sticker round the top, we got in.
The nanobugs have a small on/off slider switch on the underneath. The top and legs are rubberised and they look to me a bit like centipedes with their many legs. The bugs work on battery power - 2 LR44 batteries apparently, which were in the toys when we got them. They work by vibration. The central part of the bugs body vibrates, and this causes the little rubber legs to move and make the bug walk along flat surfaces. The bugs seem quite loud on plastic surfaces in particular.
There is then 52 pieces of plastic accessories which you use to build your track. You are not given any instructions. There are a couple of pictures on the box you can try to follow, but you assemble the bits in any format you want. You get 4 hexagon shaped pieces which have entry points on each side. You can then slot bits of track into whichever gaps you want, and close off the other sides by flipping a plastic hinged orange gate over the hole. There are then straight and curved bits of track, as well as a loop the loop section which helps your bug get from one level to the next. You also get some black legs which you can use with any bit of track to raise it off the ground.
Age range for this toy is 3-17. I would say three is a bit too young as it is quite hard to assemble the track. It has male and female connectors and it is a bit tricky to get the pieces lined up and clicked together. We find too that my youngest son who is approaching 5 can design a track in his mind, but he can't work out how to fill gaps between the different bits that he has created. It has proven tricky as well for my kids (age 4 and 6) to move the orange gates into place and put the legs on to hold the track in the air. I don't know if this is because it is a new set and it will become less stiff over time, or if it just needs bigger stronger hands. I must say I found it a bit tricky too, though luckily my husband could do it with little trouble.
Part of the fun with this is the freedom to build whatever track you want and then watching your bug negotiate its way round it. The rest of the fun comes from watching your bugs fight their way past each other, or using the two provided one way gates to control the way they go round.
The actual bugs are a bit less sophisitcated to me as they don't have sensors within them to control their movement, and don't go backwards. They just keep going forwards till the side of the playset alters their direction a bit. Occasionally they also tip over, but they still move around slightly and if they are near a side they will right themselves. The bugs also only work on flat surfaces - they would not climb over any obstacle in their way.
This is quite a fun set. Although you need a fairly decent play area, it is quite compact in the box as the individual pieces are not that big. It might have been nice for younger users to have a written set of instructions of what combinations work with the pieces of set you have here.
I think it encourages people playing with it to be creative in building the track, co-operative if working with others, and helps with problem solving skills when you see the bug can't get round your track and you change a bit so that it now will go. It is certainly provides a lot of satisfaction when you get it right. Once built, I feel there is only so much entertainment you get from watching the bugs go round the same track, so you need to be prepared to spend most of the play time building.
It looks like you can extend this set too by buying extra bits of curved and straight track, and it should also be connectable to other playsets as the pieces look the same. I think this will be an option for us as it would make it more fun creating supertracks.
I think this is great fun - a lot more than just buying the bugs on their own as this actually provides purpose to your play. I thoroughly recommend this set, knocking just one star off for the pieces being quite hard to connect.