"The original was banned from the Pentagon because it was a threat to national security," recalls Don Cameron, a senior engineer at Hasbro. Cameron is not talking about a top secret weapon that the U.S. government was developing in 1998; he's talking about the original Furby — an electronic toy robot that was a cross between a hamster and an owl.
Originally released 14 years ago with 40 million units sold within its first three years, Furby became one of the biggest toy fads of the late '90s. You know it was a big deal because it was even a Happy Meal toy at McDonald's. Hasbro tried to recapture this wave of Furby fever with an updated model in 2005, but it didn't enjoy the same attention.
Well-rested and ready for its revival, Hasbro's 2012 Furby now comes equipped with six sensors that allow it to develop behaviors, a pair of LCD eyes that give the furry little robot toy more personality and a free app that provides added interactivity and replay value. Furby is back!
More Likeable This Time Around
Parents hated and kids loved the furry little Furby robots. For young adults and up, Furbies were annoying as hell. They'd wiggle their ears, blink their eyelids and never shut up. For kids? That level of interactive attention made the first toy such a rousing success.
Okay, I'll admit, I hated Furby. But as I watched a blue Furby power on its new monochromatic LCD eyes, displaying different types of moods and emotions — snarky eyes, bubbly eyes, beady eyes and more — I didn't have the urge to want to fling one against the wall or smack it around. Immediately, the new Furby is more lovable than the old one. It's as they say: the eyes lead the body.
Furby Loves To Learn
We were treated to a sneak preview of the new Furby and yes, it's still a hyper little manic 'bot, but it definitely appeared more intelligent than we last remembered.
The main thing the new Furby has going for it is that it's packed with sensors. It has one on the top of its head, one in its stomach, mouth, back and tail, as well as a tilt sensor. These sensors all work together to help your Furby develop personality.
By personality, we mean, how you play with your Furby will affect its logic and how it responds. For example, if you're very gentle with it, it might respond with happy cooing sounds or display cheery eyes. But if you're very aggressive with Furby, it'll become a little bit mean, maybe ignore you, turn on a few pouty eyes, or power down until you stop beating it up.
Speech is also a big part of the new Furby. Furby loves to talk. Whether it's you talking to it or it talking to other Furbies, it learns new Furbish words (Furby language) by chatting and it also starts tossing English vocabulary into its dialogue as you speak more to it. Furby is no Siri, but it's kooky enough for any kid to warm up to.
Toys Must Come With Apps
In today's world of video games, smartphones and tablets, selling a toy that doesn't offer any digital interactivity is a losing strategy. Following the rest of Hasbro's mantra of revamping old toys with apps, Furby also has its own app. Free for iOS (it'll also be released on Android in the future), the app lets you feed Furby different types of food by flicking it over from a smartphone or tablet to it (see video below for a demo) and the furry robot will respond with its LCD eyes and voice. In addition to flicking food to Furby — like goats, Furbies eat everything, even underwear — you can also combine foods to make, say, a sandwich.
Two other features in the app include a translator that translates English to Furbish and vice versa, and a Furbish (Furby language) dictionary.
Targeted mainly at kids aged six to 12, the new Furby is powered by four AA batteries that should keep the toy good for 10 hours of continuous play. Hasbro will begin selling the new Furby on Sept. 16 for $60 in six different colors, with a total of 10 by the end of the year.
All photos and video by Raymond Wong for DVICE