WowWee's angry, aggressive Roboreptile ($120 street) does a lot with just four leg joints and only five motors. It can jump, lunge, hop on its rear legs, turn swiftly left or right, and race forward. By combining these relatively stiff legs—there are no knee or ankle joints—with a fully articulated, six-inch neck, a foot-plus-long tail, and a very reptilian face with a mouthful of rubber teeth, the Roboreptile achieves a startling effect.
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Despite promises to the contrary, WowWee's latest black-and-white robot does come with a remote control. In fact, it's a three-level remote that includes a demo mode, direction controls, a feed button, guard mode, and, most welcome, a three-level volume control. That's right, the Roboreptile is the first WowWee robot that lets users turn down the volume—you can choose from high, low, and mute.
WowWee robots do not learn—though they do accept rudimentary, 20-step programming. Instead, each comes with its own distinct personality. The Roboraptor is alternatively playful and aggressive (a bit like a dog), and the Robosapien V2 is a big goofball. The Roboreptile is, well, kind of irate. From the moment you turn on the 28-inch-long robot, it's screeching, swinging its tail, and whipping its head back and forth and looking for food. Its main interests are running away, checking out its environment, and eating. The Roboreptile uses infrared sensors to see obstacles and objects in front of it and can react to loud sounds thanks to sonic sensors in its ears. Don't bother trying to pet it. The Roboreptile has just one touch sensor on its back (the Roboraptor, in contrast, has mouth, back, and tail touch sensors), and the instructions recommend you touch it only after it has been fed and when its cowl (or hood) is over its face. No kidding, this robot is such an angry beast that you'll want to occasionally slip the included plastic hood over its face to put it in "Subdued" mood—this also serves to cut off its sensors from external stimuli.
Putting the hood on the Roboreptile's head is not easy. The instructions recommend you feed the robot first using the "feed" button on the remote—which gives you a 60-second "Satisfied" mood window—-and, even then, you have to put the hood on from behind its head. If you get the hood on, the robot does calm down, but since the hood doesn't snap on, it's apt to slip off; at that point, the Roboreptile goes into a full-scale frenzy. If you can manage to keep the hood on it for at least 40 seconds, the robot will "fall asleep." This is indicated by a heavy breathing sound. When you take off the hood, the Roboreptile is supposed to wake up slowly. In my experience, it woke up instantly, as ravenous as ever.
The remote gives you a fair amount of control over the Roboreptile's actions, but using it can be a bit frustrating. The Roboreptile is always onto the next thing, so you have to work at getting the remote near it and then selecting your choice quickly before the robot has run off. I must've picked it up a dozen times to get it back within range.
Programming worked smoothly, though the instructions do not make it clear that if you want to program actions, you need to exit from the remote level that shows "program" and then reenter it to execute the routine. All other controls worked as promised. I put the Roboreptile on guard mode, and it waited for something to pass in front before attacking. I easily controlled the sweep of its ever-moving tail and its head, mouth, volume, and walking speed. The Roboreptile has four speeds, including walking on its two hind legs, but its front legs do not assist in motion, even when it's walking on all fours. The bottoms of its two front feet have hard, slick plastic pads that slide along the floor while the back legs do all the work. The Roboreptile and its remote take a total of ten double-A batteries. In 45 minutes of play (and additional few-minute-long sessions after that), the robot showed no signs of slowing down.
The Roboreptile doesn't ship with any toys, but you can make it follow the remote if you hold down the "feed" button. Its sensors do help it get around objects: It successfully navigated its way under my dining room table and between chair legs, but because the robot's head is constantly sweeping back and forth and it can really only "see" what's directly in front of it, it often whacks its head into objects and walls over and over again. The Roboreptile is made of pretty tough plastic, so there was no real damage, but its head—and its tail, which is also always sweeping—got scuffed up rather quickly.
The children I showed the Roboreptile to were intrigued, but seemed to expect it to be friendlier—a couple tried to hug it and others petted its head—and tended to jump back a bit when the Roboreptile charged. The robot is not recommended for children under 8, and this makes sense. It could scare young children, and its fast-moving rear legs could catch small fingers.
The Roboreptile is expected to hit retail shelves by September and sell for approximately $120. That's roughly the same as the very popular Roboraptor, though I think the sweet spot for this robot should be between $79 and $99.
WowWee's robots have never had the ability to learn—they actually lose even the short-term programming on power-downs—and usually this isn't a problem. But it could be an issue with the Roboreptile. It's so aggressive that children under 12 may expect and hope that it will someday learn to become a friend. It's the way most children's stories work: The scary lion acts like it wants to bite your head off, until you remove the thorn from its foot and it becomes a pussycat. There'll be no such happy ending for the Roboreptile. It starts angry (WowWee calls it "Hungry") and pretty much stays that way—at least until its batteries run out. This is also part of the cool new robot's charm, but for future versions, I'd suggest the addition of "Always Subdued" and "Always Satisfied" settings.