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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Can arming toy hamsters keep the Zhu Zhu Pets phenomenon alive?
The toy hamsters, which flew off shelves last Christmas and won the "toy of the year" award at the toy fair in New York, will get a facelift this summer and come back as "Kung Zhu" battle hamsters to woo young boys.
Zhu Zhu Pets, made by upstart Cepia, featured on many a must-have list last holiday season and sold for up to $100 on sites like Amazon.com and eBay.com due to overwhelming demand at their $8 list price.
On Tuesday, St. Louis, Missouri-based Cepia unveiled the Ninja Warriors and military-themed Special Forces lines-- cuddly hamsters that change sounds and attain a new life when they enter the "Tablet of Zhu" or a special training ground.
The armored hamsters, sporting names like "Stonewall" and "Drayko," are priced at $9.99. Children can also buy accessories like a combat bridge, a missile attack tower, a wheel of fire and armored tanks.
Cepia is also adding a "rock star" line featuring long-haired hamsters and a line of bunnies, raccoons, skunks and hedgehogs called the "Zhu Zhu Wild Bunch."
So will the robotic hamster still find takers?
While pent-up demand and the affordable price tag might help sales, many wonder if they will stay popular for long.
"When it is hard to get, it is that treasure hunt. It fuels a frenzy," Reyne Rice, trend specialist for the Toy Industry Association, said in an interview on Tuesday.
"A lot of people still couldn't get them. They want them more. They want to add to their collection," Rice said.
She expects strong demand at least till spring, but said the craze might wane if it is available in abundance.
The "Kung Zhu" battle hamsters will be on store shelves of Toys "R" Us, Wal-Mart, Target and other retailers in June.
The new hamsters are priced at $9.99, with accessories up to $24.99.
Reporting by Dhanya Skariachan; Editing by Gary Hill