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View-Master VR keeps one foot planted in the real world

It's bigger, better and now you get to yell at your friends from inside a virtual maze.

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Last year View-Master made the leap to virtual reality, packing a Google Cardboard experience into an affordable, kid-friendly headset. With the introduction of the View-Master Viewer DLX at this week's Toy Fair, the brand remains fully committed to VR, while still finding ways to incorporate its analog roots.

Gallery: View-Master 2016 | 10 Photos

The DLX is a bit bigger than the previous model and the interior brackets have been redesigned to be a bit more accommodating of different phone shapes and sizes. It also incorporates a headphone jack so that future View-Master experiences can use sound in their presentations, harkening back to the old talking viewer (but far superior in content and audio quality, of course). Unfortunately, the DLX still isn't very glasses-friendly.

However, even as View-Master seeks to make its VR experience more immersive, the brand is still finding ways to stay grounded in the real world. The old View-Master models were always a pretty solitary activity: Only one kid could use the viewer at a time, and everyone would have to take turns. While the VR View-Master viewers still work like this, some of this year's new View-Master sets will add a real-world element that allows other children to join in the fun.

The View-Master reel shown off at the show, 'Escape the Labyrinth,' also comes with a special kit containing all manner of decoding devices, including a code wheel and a pair of 3D glasses. The person wearing the headset is dropped into a maze with a series of locked doors blocking their path. To unlock these doors, the player must solve puzzles attached to them -- but they can't do it alone. They need to cooperate with someone using the kit, describing what they see to someone who can look for the right symbol or clue. It definitely depends on good communications skills: I watched a woman wearing the headset try to describe "a squiggly thing" to her partner on the outside to no avail. Good thing they weren't trying to disarm a bomb together.

These new combination IRL-VR experiences are not limited to the new View-Master DLX. They'll also work on the old View-Master VR, which will remain on sale for $30. Accordingly, the DLX will run you a bit more money -- $40 when it arrives this fall. As for the combination reel-kit sets, 'Escape the Labyrinth' will go on sale this September for $20, a small price increase over the regular reels' $15 price.

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