Thursday, December 6th, 2007
Review: Hover Hockey by Geospace
Rarely does a toy elicit immediate and sustained smiles and laughter from my daughter. Hover Hockey is such a toy. To say it excites her is an understatement.
Her energy is palpable. I can work her into a bulging-eye frenzy simply by holding the puck back and asking, "Are you ready? Here we go! Are you ready?" And after 20 or 30 minutes of play she needs a break because, as she says, "I’m all sweaty."
The product is an air hockey-like puck with two game paddles. Powered by two AAA batteries, the foam-wrapped plastic puck has a whirring fan inside that sucks air from a hole in its top and blows it out its bottom. The puck doesn’t float quite as fluidly as the real deal on an air-infused table, but it’s pretty good.
The puck has a circumference of 3.5 inches and a height of 1.5 inches, significantly larger than a real puck. The paddles are sized for small hands.
The toy retails for $10, so you’ll do without certain niceties. In lieu of an air hockey table with goals for the puck to slide through, you’re given two cardboard goalies and no table.
We used our activity table (train table), which proved to be the perfect surface because it is flat and has a raised 1.25" rim. If you’re tableless, you might use a linoleum kitchen floor, or hallway with hard flooring, if the kids don’t smack the puck too hard at each other, or you devise a means of creating walls.
Variations on Gameplay
I discarded the two cardboard goalies that came with the game because they’re 3.75" inches wide, posing rather large targets for our small train table.
Here are game variations we developed:
- Building blocks â€” I placed an oblong wooden toy block in front of myself and my daughter. The objective was to hit the block. BAD IDEA! One good smack and the block goes flying, potentially into someone’s face.
- Foam goals â€” Next, I cut two squares out of a sponge taken from my daughter’s play kitchen and declared them targets. They worked suitably well.
- Foam golf ballsâ€” I placed a foam golf ball and/or ping pong ball on the table and let them be fun objects to smack around the table.
- Nothingâ€”Truth is, whatever goal I devised, my daughter eventually removed it from the table. She loves simply hitting the puck back and forth. Update: We had our first kid-vs-kid instead of parent-vs-kid game today and they had a great time just bouncing the puck around without a target.
As you might expect, the puck is a battery hog. In a purely unscientific test, I inserted two new AAA Duracell (pile alkaline) batteries and timed our play session. At about the 30-minute mark the puck’s ability to hover was noticeably diminished with some scraping audible during travel, but still a good amount of bounce. By 60 minutes the fan grew too weak to enjoy.
We’ve played for a total of 2.5 hours so far over several sessions. I noticed during our last session, after the 30-minute mark, that the fan would occasionally turn off on wall impact, then either restart or require us to jostle it back to life.
I don’t know if this indicates a defective or damaged unit or is normal per battery life. Update: We figured out that one of the batteries is a loose in its compartment, so I folded some electrical tape and tucked it in on top of the battery to create some pressure and presto change-o, problem gone.
I suggest using batteries intended for demanding electronic devices (mine were not), or rechargeable batteries with an mah value of 900 or greater per battery.
The battery compartment is accessed with a Phillips-head screwdriver â€” a nice safety precaution for kids, but annoying for battery replacement.
This toy is rated for 5-year-olds, and for good reason. I allow my 3-year-old daughter to play with certain limits.
She was introduced to a real air hockey table at a birthday party and loved it beyond belief. Kids stood on benches to reach the table and went crazy.
I strictly enforce a "no hands" rule, repeatedly insisting that my daughter not place her unused hand on the table. A physical risk is that the puck could smack tiny fingers when a child leans on the playing surface or the table edge, or holds the paddle wrong.
So I insist that Hover Hockey be a supervised, and I keep reminding about the hands rule. When not in use, the puck is placed out-of-reach.
When my daughter learned how to hit the puck so that it sometimes flies off the table (a hard sideways shot), she wanted to do it every time. Again, parental supervision is key, especially because your playing surface will differ from mine.
It is possible to stick a very slender object such as the first centimeter of a pencil tip into the fan hole and hit the fan. So, again, parental supervision!
Hover Hockey was provided to Thingamababy for review, but I would easily spend $10 on such a fun toy. I do wonder how long such a thing can survive being smacked around with paddles, but the investment is so small, I think it’s worth it. I’m also intrigued with whether the paddles can be repurposed for another smack-it game. Ping pong balls and foam balls move far too fast, but there must be some perfect object to use. Hmm, maybe Toddler Shuffleboard.