It's like a video game, only there's no screen and you feel everything.
"They're coming in for another pass, eyes up Avenger!" is the last thing I hear before the 11 year old on the other side of the book I am reading performs a barrel roll in the middle of the living room, knocking over a laundry basket and sending a pile of folded laundry crashing to the ground. Before I have time to express my irritation, she jumps to her feet and thrusts her palm forward with the most aggressive stance I've ever seen her take. The repulsor on her wrist emits a loud pulse, and instantly the figurine sitting on the little pedestal on the other side of the room is send flying into the air. The mission was over, her enemy defeated, and the day had been saved.
Instead of scolding her for not paying attention to her surroundings, I head to Amazon and start looking at prices for a repulsor gauntlet of my own. This is Playmation, a Mattel initiative aimed at creating interactive, real world games you can play just about anywhere. The first effort in the Playmation series, as you can probably guess, is themed after Marvel's Avengers, and it is a ton of fun.
Let's take a closer look.
Tony Stark has sent you a care package to help you in your journey to become the next Avenger. It's a repulsor gauntlet, one strikingly similar to an Iron Man repulsor arm with Avengers Labs emblazoned across the side. This gauntlet is one size fits most, thanks to an adjustable wheel on the bottom and an elastic band around the energy socket now seated in your palm. Since it's unlikely you have an Arc Reactor nearby, four AA batteries in the base will end in JARVIS walking you through the initial setup process for this system.
It turns out you have several weapons available to you on this gauntlet. The repulsor socket on your palm will blast out when you thrust forward, but you also have micro rockets and lasers available when you put your wrist down and use the buttons on top. You can also turn the gauntlet up toward your body to activate a shield, just in case you can't jump out of the way when an attack is coming your way. JARVIS asks you to hop around a little bit to determine what a reasonable dodge will look like for you, and when setup is complete you're asked to activate one of the two pedestals that come with the starter kit.
The Playmation Avengers starter kit comes with Iron Skull and Captain America figurines, both of which sit on these pedestals and communicate with your gauntlet for activities. You can level up your character by practicing with Cap, or you can jump right into missions against Iron Skull, HYDRA, and Ultron's minions with Cap as your partner in combat. These pedestals have sensors on the front edge for sending and receiving data to the gauntlet, which means attacks to and from these pedestals happen in real time. The speakers on these pedestals announce attacks with sound effects and Marvel-esque banter, so it's up the player to move around and either attack or defend when necessary.
There are 25 missions pre-loaded on the gauntlet for you to play as part of the $99 Starter kit, and these missions gradually increase in difficulty as you play. For the first few missions you can stand around and take hits without too many consequences, but eventually you'll need to get into the game and start fighting like an Avenger. As you continue to play, your gauntlet will level up and improve to match the enemies you are fighting, ending eventually in the need to expand to new levels. This can be accomplished by either purchasing new hero and villain figurines — a list that includes MODOK and Super Ultron as well as Falcon, Hulk, and Hulkbuster Iron Man — or by using the AvengersNet app to access additional content. You can buy additional missions from AvengersNet and have them added to your gauntlet, as well as take a look at your player stats and how effective you've been on each of the missions you've finished so far. In some situations, re-playing a mission will result in a better ranking, which will make later missions easier.
Ultron also has a separate mobile villain accessory called the Prowler Bot, which works basically like one of those character pedestals on wheels. This ramps up the interactive parts of the experience dramatically, as you have to be facing the Prowler head on to land a successful shot in many situation. Prowler rolls around on its own, so you'll need a big space to fully appreciate the experience, but since Playmation can be played just about anywhere this probably isn't too complicated.
Playmation is the start of something incredibly cool. This self-contained interactive experience can be played anywhere, and Mattel has already baked in plenty of growth just for the Avengers set. Everyone I've seen play this game is almost constantly active, and the dialogue between heroes and villains is enough to keep you playing even as an adult. For a child, the joy of physically thrusting to push an energy blast and feeling not only a kinetic response from the gauntlet but also matching sound effects as you perform and land an attack is nothing short of magic. It's well worth a look for anyone who had kids, and it's something any kid can play.