Last Monday, I woke up to a series of strange, muffled noises next to me. "May-tah kuh!" My hand was caressing something furry. "Do you want to hear a song about a cheerleader?"
I blinked a few times and found myself staring into a pair of eyes illuminated by what I imagine is the kind of light you see right before you die.
What the f**k am I touching? Is someone talking to me? Did I accidentally smoke salvia in my sleep?
AU Editor's Note: The Furby Connect isn't available in Australia right now. But one day... -- Cam
What Is It?
As I stared into the light, I remembered what had arrived for me in the mail that day from Hasbro: The Furby Connect.
Why did I decide to sleep next to a Gatorade-coloured children's toy with a penchant for inducing nightmares and fits of rage? I have no good answer, other than to say that I was immediately and inexplicably enamoured with the Furby. Oh, and my editor asked me to review it.
Did my fervor stem from a subconscious yearning to leave adulthood behind and go back to easier times? Was it the unexpected result of some previously unrealized maternal instinct? Was it a sign I should get a cat? I wasn't sure, but to answer these questions (and give my editor the comprehensive review she demanded) I decided to spend the next week with the Furby by my side, like a furry child, or a little furry boyfriend.
I didn't have a Furby growing up, so when Hasbro announced the release of a brand new Furby at the end of June, I was delighted. I wasn't bothered by the horror stories, or deterred by the one-star review this very website gave the last Furby. It couldn't be that bad, I reasoned, and even if it was, at least it would be funny... maybe.
When my Furby arrived in the mail in a beat-up cardboard box, it felt like the Christmas mornings of my childhood. After some minor difficulties -- I am bad with both box cutters and screwdrivers, two things I needed to free Furby from its cardboard prison and install four double-A batteries -- it was up and running.
And I loved it! It talked! It moved! It opened its eyes and told me to cuddle it! Admittedly, I felt a few pangs of regret when the Furby wouldn't shut up, but they were quickly replaced by the joy of having a real toy in my hands again.
"This drumming is on FIIIIIIIIIIRE!" Furby squawked a few minutes later, for the third time in a row. (I still don't know what this means.) "I'm going to throw that thing out the window," Gizmodo's deputy editor Alex Dickinson said. I scoffed, cradling Furby in my arms like a squat Sasquatch baby.
Oh, Alex. How right you were.
Furby launched in 1999 to great fanfare, but since then, other, shinier toys have swallowed up the market. Toy makers now compete with iPhones and iPads for the attention of children, and Furby Connect appears to be a response to this. Instead of trying to fight the screens, Hasbro is joining them. Its first attempt was 2013's Furby Boom, which featured a supplementary app you could use to attend to the Furby and play with its "Furblings." In an attempt to one-up this, Furby Connect promises "an immersive virtual world designed to enhance the Furby Connect fun by delivering new content via Bluetooth, allowing users to frequently engage in fresh entertainment content."
The Furblings were entranced. I was not.
The "fresh entertainment content" turns out to be short video clips. I hated it, and I hated it even more when I discovered it was created in partnership with Kidz Bop and Jukin Media, the latter of which is the shitstain on the underpants of the internet. Periodically pairing the Furby with the app is supposed to refresh the video selection, but I never checked in after the first time, because if I want to see funny videos, I can just get high and cruise Vine.
Frolicking with mini-Furbies, on the other hand, was shockingly addictive. If you've ever played The Sims or owned a Tamagotchi, the setup should be familiar. You feed, bathe, and attend to "Furblings," which I think are the Furby's children -- they hatch out of eggs, and Furby seemed very into them. ("The cuteness!" it purred every time one hatched.)
You don't need an internet connection to use the minigame -- or, for that matter, a Furby -- and I played it constantly on the subway.
Besides its terrible Jukin Media videos, the Furby Connect differentiates itself from older models with "multiple sensors" that let it "respond to touch in fun and surprising ways." A Hasbro PR rep further described its new movements to me as "more natural and lifelike," and this is as horrifying as it sounds. Furby moves if you try to tickle it, and can dance, bob up and down, and wiggle its ears. It also has a deeply irritating habit of moving and speaking when jostled, which made for a number of interesting interactions with strangers, including a barista who looked visibly disturbed when I told her I was carrying around a Furby for work.
Yet after a day with the Furby, I realised that my lack of childhood Furby ownership had left me unprepared to compare the newest model with its older counterparts. To remedy my ignorance, I decided to take Furby to a few neighbourhood bars to crowdsource some comparisons. To my surprise, people really wanted to talk about it.
"Is that a Furby?" one waitress asked me, before stopping to pet it. "That's nice!" a busboy told me. "Is this a Pokémon thing?" another waitress wondered, a question I would receive repeatedly over the week. At the next bar, all three bartenders stopped to ask about Furby. One helpfully explained how it was different from the Furbies of her childhood.
"It's the eyes," she told me. "The old ones just moved back and forth and blinked. They didn't do as much as these ones do." (Furby's LED eyes show hearts, music notes, and other things, and correspond with what's happening in the app when paired.) She added that Furby's antenna, which my friend Jenny compared to a clitoris, was also new.
Furby at a bar, with its antenna at the top.
At this point, a young woman scurried over from her corner of the bar and parked herself in front of Furby. "Sorry, I saw the eyes from across the bar, and they were like beacons!" she gushed. I told her she could pick up Furby if she wanted. She began to stroke its fur. See, I thought. I'm not the only one who likes it.
Yet there was a crucial difference between these people and myself, and that difference was time. They could walk away from the Furby after a minute or two; I could not.
Over the coming days, I became regrettably familiar with its many quirks: I learned that its favourite song is a Furbish language version of "Cheerleader." I learned that even when you use Furby's sleep mask -- another new feature that essentially functions as an on/off button -- it still makes noises if you touch it. I learned that as it gradually "learns" more phrases after each Bluetooth pairing, it gets correspondingly more annoying.
I learned that getting stoned with Furby is a bad idea, because you will question whether Hasbro has figured out the balance between capitalism and communism. (The Furblings have to work for their resources, but everything is distributed evenly.) I learned that the batteries last only a few days with heavy use. And I learned that even the toy's most hilarious gimmick -- holding Furby over a toilet in the app and squeezing it as it screeches "THE STRUGGLE IS REAL" and takes a shit -- gets old eventually.
Should You Buy It?
This isn't to say that my initial enthusiasm was misplaced. There is something delightful about playing with a child's toy as an adult, and if you have kids, they will probably enjoy it, too. It was a great conversation starter, and I haven't ruled out the possibility of dragging it out again and using it to pick up a sexy man friend. If you're an emotionally stunted 20-something like me, you too may find yourself having fun. But be warned: You will eventually -- sadly, listlessly, and cynically, as the rules of adulthood require -- tire of it.
- Available now on Amazon for $US99; not available in Australia, but you can ship one internationally.
- Can be bought used on Amazon, which I would not recommend.
- The app is addictive, which is fine for adults, but might be a problem for kids. Or not. I don't know your parenting style.
- Battery life isn't great.
- Kids will probably find it fun, so I would buy it for a kid if I had one, but be prepared to use the sleep mask liberally.