Back in the halcyon days of 2004, I was walking through the exhibition hall of San Diego Comic Con when I spotted a life-size replica of the evil monkey from Family Guy. You know, the one that lives in Chris’ closet and points at him accusingly? I immediately bought it and shipped it back to New York, where I gave it to my brother for his birthday later that month. He loved it. He put it in various places to scare his roommates — around corners, on top of the fridge and of course, in the closet.
Hasbro’s new $100 interactive Deadpool head released earlier this month reminds me of that. Except of course, this thing moves and talks, and reacts to your presence. It can be controlled via Bluetooth with an app. Oh god, it’s so much worse.
That creepiness begins when you open the box (which incidentally, is fun to look at thanks to the plethora of jokes printed on it). I reached into the package and lifted the head by its jaw, feeling the mechanical bits shift under my fingers. I briefly thought of Gwyneth Paltrow at the end of Seven, though I didn’t have to hear Brad Pitt screaming “what’s in the box?” the entire time. At least the head did not activate at that moment; I don’t think my fragile heart could take it.
Once you’ve freed Deadpool from his cardboard and plastic confines, you turn the head on via a switch at the bottom. (Four C batteries are already installed.) He says hi, he cracks a few jokes, he asks your name and then promptly dubs you “Bob” because Hasbro isn’t paying this Ryan Reynolds impersonator enough to record dialogue for that many names. “Bob” is fine.
The head contains a litany of sensors: one that picks up light; a microphone to hear your speech; a switch on the bottom to sense when it’s been picked up; and a set of ball switches that supposedly sense touching and when you handle the head. All of this is concealed under Deadpool’s trademark mask, which as far as I can tell cannot be removed. That’s best given the mechanical horrors underneath.
The microphone works just fine, with Deadpool reacting to anything said to him with generalized disinterest or therapist speak. The touch and light sensors are a bit trickier. I can wave my hand in front of his face and he’ll go crazy, sometimes cutting off his own dialogue to react to the new input. Turning him upside down may even get him screaming at you. But simply touching the head didn’t always elicit a reaction; Mattel’s interactive Jurassic Park raptor that I checked out a few years back was a lot more responsive, with the dino leaning into your hand and purring when you pet it.
Deadpool does not purr. He is not meant to be cuddly, though if you wanted to curl up with the head on your couch that’s your business. Deadpool’s main purpose is to be silly and crack jokes, and the robot head’s real potential is only unlocked by downloading the accompanying app on your phone.
You can make him say stuff from a provided list of topics, like news, jokes and even threats. The box claims over 600 lines of dialogue though I’ve already heard him repeat a few. There’s also a button marked “rec” directly under the heading that reads “Make me say $**!,” which would seem to indicate that perhaps you can have Deadpool record a personalized message. You cannot.
What the function actually does is allow you to control Deadpool’s reactions while shooting a video. It’s a standard video recording app with a button at the bottom that lets you scroll through and activate his catchphrases. The app then gives you the option to post the video, either to social media or send to your friends directly. So it’s useful for when you first get the head and want to show off to all your fellow comic nerds. But once that gets old, I find myself lamenting that I can’t make Deadpool scream “Dana should buy chimichangas for everyone at Engadget!” That would have been great, and Dana really should buy us all Mexican food (hint, hint).
The second option on the main screen is “Make me do $**!,” which is where the pranks live, as well as party and night mode. Party mode is easy enough to explain: He just becomes more responsive to movement and noise, so he’s a lot more fun to pass around among your friends (if we ever start having gatherings again, that is). Night mode is meant to be placed on a pillow next to you as you sleep, though I don’t know why you would do this, unless you’re that in need of companionship. At least he doesn’t shed (or worse) all over your bed sheets.
Then there’s prank mode. You can put the head inside a bag and he’ll scream to be let out. Or put him in the bathroom and when someone opens the door… all hell breaks loose. This is where the sensors are really put to work, as Deadpool is prompted by changes in light and movement. The latter sensor works just fine; I tried the bathroom prank and upon entering the room I was greeted with fart jokes and screams for privacy.
The fridge joke is a little less successful, since it really depends on the light sensor, which doesn’t seem to work that good. Even though the light definitely went off when I closed the fridge and turned back on when I opened it up, Deadpool didn’t react until I moved around a lot. No one moves all that much when they’re just looking for a carton of milk. That delayed reaction really ruins the prank. I had originally dreamed of leaving this thing in my parents’ fridge the next time I visited them, but now it’s more likely to annoy than scare. (And mind you, my 65-year-old mother likes Deadpool.)
Which is the real question about this toy: At what point does it stop being entertaining and just become annoying? He’s sitting on my couch staring at me right now. OK, no he isn’t because I just stopped typing to move him to the table and facing the wall. I could see a house full of people getting their money’s worth out of playing pranks on each other, and he would certainly be a great conversation piece at parties. But I live by myself, and we aren’t exactly having parties right now, are we? If anything, the severed head of Deadpool has just reminded me that I’m a little lacking for company right now. And tacos. I could really use a taco right now.