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ZhuZhu Pets, the wildly popular pet hamster toys from Holiday 2009, just got a little tougher. This year, Cepia LLC came out with Kung Zhu Battle Hamsters, combatant mechanical warrior rodents that duke it out with one another when they meet. Like ZhuZhu Pets, their quarrelsome cousins activate when you press their buttons. Push their nose and they "talk." Push their back and they scurry around. If you let them cross the threshold of a Kung Zhu Battle Arena or swipe them over a Tablet of Zhu (each Kung Zhu hamster comes with one), a code activates, turning them into fighting machines. At this point, simply let them run into one another and their sparring instincts take over.
Kung Zhu hamsters come in two varieties -- Special Forces and Ninja Warriors -- and can be outfitted with separately-sold combat armor or vehicles.
For our testing, we chose Sergeant Serge, a green Special Forces fighter with an army star on his back and chevrons on his forehead. We equipped Sergeant Serge with Ambush Body Armor and released him to our child toy testers. As big as ZhuZhu Pets are with elementary-aged kids, it was no surprise that all our testers squealed with delight when the Kung Zhu hamster was set loose. One 5-year-old boy chased him across the floor and under the branches of his Christmas tree, trying to trap him under boxes and catch him with his bare hands. Our 7-year-old toy tester attempted to pit Sergeant Serge against his 5-year-old sister's pink ZhuZhu Pet. While they didn't fight, even after the pink pet was run across the Tablet of Zhu, the kids had great fun watching the hamsters collide and bump each other off mom's coffee table.
Our small toy experts didn't have anything bad to say about Sergeant Serge. That said, they occasionally seemed frustrated when he scampered under furniture or got stuck. Mostly, they giggled at his noises and unpredictable movements. Both of our male toy testers said the Kung Zhu pet was their favorite toy of those they tested.
When it comes to online toy reviews, feedback is mostly positive on Kung Zhu Battle Hamsters (starting at $9, Amazon). Some parents complain that they aren't durable, or go through batteries quickly, but the children who play with them overwhelmingly love them. As this Buzzillions mom points out, though, kids rarely stop at one.
One word of warning: as bloggers on MomLogic and The Hunter's Wife caution, Zhu Zhu and Kung Zhu pets are prone to getting tangled in hair.