Thursday, December 3, 2015

Toy Review: North Pole Express Christmas Train Set


There are numerous holiday train sets on the market. This is one of the absolute cheapest, retailing for $65. If you can't find it on sale for half the retail price or less, don't waste your money.

I may have gotten a slightly better deal than that. Was in a Toys R Us last January buying some clearanced stuff, including a cheap Christmas game comically marked down to $0.03 in their system. When I got the front of the store, this train set was behind the register. Someone had returned it, and they'd yet to move it back to the floor. Since all their holiday stuff was marked way down, the associate ringing me up asked if I'd be curious what the train set was going for. Of course I was, so he scanned it: $0.03.

I love automated discount systems.

In case anyone's wondering, I'm fairly certain that the 99.95% discount I received (before tax) sets a record for the best deal I've gotten in more than a decade of toy collecting. Unless you count rebates, in which case I actually once got a deal slightly better than 100% off before tax. But that's another story.

The box this comes in is just shy of three feet long and almost two tall - you're not getting top-notch quality here, but you are getting a decent quantity of stuff. Here's a picture of the other side of the package.


There's a lot of marketing on here about all the different cars, operating headlight, power indicator (that's the headlight again), wireless remote, etc., etc. A lot of this is bull (the "auto-coupling" feature just means the pieces snap together, and even then not that well), but the animated cars are sort of neat.

You get six cars in total, counting the locomotive. Two are set up with elf toys that move when the train's in motion. This is just a matter of gears - only the locomotive takes batteries. One of these has an elf ice skating who spins when the car's moving.


The other has a pair of elves operating a hand car for some reason.


The ice skating one is more interesting. Also, the two elves on the hand car are giants compared to the ice skaters.

The other cars are pretty straightforward: some kind of covered cargo car, one for passengers, and one holding what looks to be coal. I guess there were a lot of bad kids this year.


The plastic both looks and feels light and cheap. That's to expected, though - this isn't a top of the line set by a long stretch.


The motorized locomotive feels sturdier, though using a sticker for Santa is a bit of a cheat. Still, you don't pick up a low-end toy train for its appearance: the value of something like this is a factor of its features.

To facilitate that, this comes with what the package assures me is more than twenty-five feet of track. I'll take their word for that - I barely had room to set this thing up, let alone measure it. And when I say "barely," I'm lying: I didn't have anywhere near enough space to set this up properly. Ideally, you want to lay the track in a figure eight, using the cross section.



Not going to happen in this apartment. I don't even have the space to complete a loop. But I was able to lay the track down in my hallway, which let me drive the train forward and back. Not exactly the most entertaining thing in the world, but more than enough to get a sense for how it drives.

I'll admit to being somewhat impressed. Contrary to some negative reviews on Amazon, I had no issues getting it to work as intended. The train generally stayed on its track, provided I was careful when starting it out, and the remote worked as advertised.

There are four buttons on the control: forward, backwards, stop, and sound. The sound is annoying and loud, but I suppose it's supposed to be. There's also a headlight that's shines while the train is turned on. But text is cheap - here's a video of the thing in action.



You also get fourteen plastic signs and some stickers that go on them. Nothing spectacular, but they're decent enough.

This isn't a great train set, but - like I keep saying - it's not priced like one. But this isn't a sixty-five dollar set, either. If you're looking to get your kid a train set for Christmas and can't afford a decent option, this is a decent consolation prize if you can find it for half price or less. Just be aware you'll be helping them set it up: getting the trains on the track is pretty easy for an adult, but I imagine lining the wheels up with the track would prove challenging for most kids, and it would derail more often than not (to be fair, derailing is probably the coolest thing this does).

Also, the tracks are pretty flimsy. One of mine was broken out of the box, and I'm seeing similar complaints on online reviews. This isn't a great deal on a good train: it's a cheap knock-off. If that makes it affordable, there's no issue. As long as you can get a good price, it's an acceptable alternative to someone looking to have a large toy train set who can't afford the two hundred bucks decent versions run. Just be aware what you're getting into, and don't even think about spending more than $35 on this, at the absolute maximum.

Here's a closer look at the train:

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