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Christmas toy review: Rokenbok Monorail Mania

When my kids discovered the ubiquitous Surprise Egg videos on YouTube, I thought they were just weird. I indulged them down to our recent hunt for the genuine article. (That's a blog for another time.) But then I learned that, apparently, every other family is sitting around watching these egg-opening videos on the internet.

The Rokenbok Toy Company occupies a similar place.

It's nothing I'd ever heard of before watching YouTube. The company has been around for awhile, but it's nothing we would have bought prior to the internet. We stumbled across the impressively-made videos--of both product and scripted narratives--via a random click one day. My son was hooked. For those of you who can't be bothered to follow links, it's a pricey, elaborate system of blocks, remote controlled vehicles, machines, and essentially a whole world of engineering toys.

So Christmas morning, thanks to Grandma, my son got to open what he'd been gunning for since the beginning...the monorail set.

The Monorail Mania starter set comes in at $149 and requires 10 AA batteries to operate. But before you drop your jaw to the floor wondering how anybody can get away with that...it comes with a 2 foot in length circle of track, a remote control engine-dumper monorail train, a conveyor belt and chute system which lets 14 red and blue balls dump into hoppers for loading, and a swivel gate.


This is one awesome monorail set.

The one controller you see is capable of controlling other vehicles in the Rokenbok universe via a toggle button. And you can purchase more controllers. The engine has a backing noise, siren, horn, mute function (more on that in a second) and dumps the hopper car in either direction. There's an action figure in the driver seat, too. Everything is kind of amazing...the blue balls always go into the blue bin. The red balls always go in the red bin (they're sized for the chute).

Set up out of the box on Christmas morning was...well, here's my one comment to you if you're reading, Rokenbok. I'm a college-educated consumer who puts toys together on a regular basis. Your instruction blueprints are good. But not excellent. I give them a B+ at first and an A- once I figured out what the heck I was doing. They're in color and very easy to follow...except for those little blue cubes you see in the photo. It took me a number of minutes to figure out from the included directions that the blue cube was blue...perhaps a brighter color or just a note on the sheet that those are blue? I was stuck trying to figure out how the black track connects to other black track.

My other quibble was this: the controller has a cruise control function that allows the train to be turned on and run without having to hold down the arrow button. Very cool. But the "left red rear plus blue button" combo is pretty much the same as the mute sound command. So our train had sound for the first half of Christmas morning then mysteriously stopped working. It was frustrating. And, to your credit, it's written right there on the directions. I finally got it, but only after calling the customer service hotline. Which was not answering--I'm guessing closed for Christmas--and I'd say for the money involved I maybe expect someone to pick up the phone on Christmas morning when we're trying to put together a new, expensive toy set for a very excited 4 year old. Just helpful advice.

One other minor complaint...they host a post-Christmas contest to upload photos and videos to win more Rokenbok toys. When I tried to log in and post from my mobile phone it wasn't able to process. Perhaps a more mobile-friendly website?

I'd also like to see an included tool to unscrew the many battery doors.

But if you're a parent thinking about this (at least for most of us) splurge of a gift, it's top quality. The parts and vehicles are well-made, it plays well, the controller is easy for my 3 year old to use. Oh, by the way, my daughter loves it just as much as my son. Nothing jams, nothing falls apart, nothing seems easy to break. I'd offer that it's maybe not for the hardest of users...it's still a delicate set far less sturdy than wooden rail track. And, unlike wood track, my kids needed me to do the building so they could play. This isn't something my 4 year old is able to design and put together on his own yet. But he can play it without help once assembled.

Overall, it's definitely a toy we can see ourselves expanding for birthdays and such. Extra controllers, extra balls, extra track, more types of vehicles. Especially if you can catch them on sale, it's something I would highly recommend.

Check it out at: http://www.rokenbok.com/shop/monorail

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