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Playmobil’s New GHOSTBUSTERS Use Modern Tech for an Old-School Illusion (Toy Review)

Augmented reality is a tricky thing to enhance action figures with, but toy makers certainly do like to try. The first line I remember trying to go all in with it was Mattel’s Avatar figures, which came with virtual 3D models of themselves that would appear in your smartphone. But kids don’t really want to look through their phones while playing, since it takes valuable hand space away from the holding of figures, while adults can usually do without the gimmickry. Star Wars‘ Rogue One line included downloadable sound and visual effects to make your own stop-motion movie, but that didn’t really catch on.

Now Playmobil‘s giving it a shot. After their Ghostbusters line launched successfully, they’re coming back with a Ghostbusters II line that purports to project a holographic ghost inside each ghost trap. Even though it requires a smartphone–a decision that may be controversial among parents who don’t feel their Playmobil-playing children are old enough for a phone yet–it actually uses a very old-school illusion. Yes, like many classic Disney theme park rides and magicians’ tricks, it’s all done with light and mirrors.

Peter Venkman comes with ghost-busting accessories (including an extra fingerless glove and extra trap bottom in case one of the others gets lost, which is courteous), a cardboard “dark room,” and a prism to fit over the ghost trap. After you scan the QR code in the instructions, or just go to the Google store and look for Playmogram, the fun begins.

Ghostbusters isn’t the only Playmobil line to use this device–an in-house line featuring magic and looking extremely Frozen-ish does too. But we’ll get to that.

Choose from four ghosts, one of whom is Slimer. Then, if the room isn’t sufficiently dark, put the cardboard darkroom hood on top of everything.

In real life the focus is better, but you see the general idea: three images of the ghost are projected on your phone, with their animation synced up: the prism reflects all three and combines them into one 3D image. You’ll need to keep the phone at eye level in order to get the maximum effect.

Hitting the “next” key results in an animation cycle that makes it look like the ghost is being sucked into the trap. It happens pretty quickly.

If you’d rather, ahem, let it go, and see a kitty in the trap, use the other, ice-themed part of the app to make cute albino critters appear.

It’s a little complicated for basic play, and more a showcase of what can be done; I can’t imagine kids wanting those cardboard hoods to be part of the adventures they enact. But I haven’t been a kid (chronologically, at least) for a while, so maybe I’m overthinking.

As for Venkman himself, well…he has a lot more hair than Bill Murray (the 6-inch Funko Playmobil version gets it a bit more right). But there’s something to the eyebrows that vaguely suggests the actor.

For $15, it’s at pretty much the going rate for action figures, so if you think it’s an interesting enough gimmick, give it a shot. You’re not out much, even if it only entertains for a day or two.

Got a different opinion? Let’s talk toys on Twitter, or you can leave a comment below.

Images: Luke Y. Thompson

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