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This year's toy budget to be tight

Santa's on a budget this year.

Two influential lists of expected hot holiday toys show only one over $100 - and that's the popular "The Beatles: Rock Band" video game that costs up to $249.

One bright spot comes from an unlikely place: A small manufacturer's toy hamster that retails for $8 to $10 and could be the first true "must-have" toy - that is, a toy that sells out, is hard to find and appeals to both boys and girls - since Mattel's Fisher Price TMX Elmo in 2006.

Cepia Inc.'s Zhu Zhu Pet Hamsters squeak and move around, and they've been impossible to keep on shelves, Toys R Us and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. say.

Laura Phillips, Wal-Mart's vice president of toys, says the furor over the hamsters is similar to the craze she saw for the furry robot Furby in 1998 and the electronic pet Tamagotchi in 1997.

Top toys for the season likely will be ones that "drive innovation through creativity, not necessarily technology," said Jim Silver, an analyst at Timetoplaymag.com.

Board games are expected to be strong, Silver said, because "you can play them over and over" and they're inexpensive. Construction sets from Legos and Mega Brands are also likely to get a boost.

Sensitive to parents' tight budgets, name-brand toy makers are targeting a variety of price ranges. For example, Dora's Explorer Girls dolls that link to the Web retail for $59.99, butthere's a non-Web-enabled $19.99 version.

- The Associated Press

WHAT'S HOT

ROCKY THE ROBOT TRUCK: A yellow-and-black Matchbox truck from Mattel that stands up, dances and tells jokes. $59.99.

BAKUGAN 7-in-1 MAXUS HELIOS: Spin Master's latest toy from its hit card-and-morphing marble game is a fighter made of seven separate interconnected marbles, creating the largest Bakugan character yet. $39.99.

GIRL GOURMET SWEETS CANDY JEWELRY FACTORY: Jakks Pacific's set lets kids design, bake and wear their own customized candy jewelry. $29.99.

PRINTIES DESIGN STUDIO KITS: Techno Source's kit allows kids to design a stuffed animal on the computer and print it out on fabric sheets and stuff it. $19.99.

BATTLE STRIKERS: Mega Brands' update on spinning tops lets kids control tops' movements with magnetized finger covers. $9.99 to $39.99.

- The Associated Press

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