With the explosion of the collectibles market in recent years, it’s easy to forget the actual purpose of toys. Toys should be fun! They should spark the imagination, and engage the user’s creativity to provide limitless hours of fun. With that in mind, enjoy this look at some of the most fun toys from my childhood, and ask yourself, how well do today’s toys stack up?
StarCom was made by Coleco/Mattel starting in 1986. StarCom was basically a bunch of American Astronauts fighting an evil syndicate of Robots and We’re-Not-Calling-Them-Soviets in outer space. Not only was that a pretty cool premise, but the vehicles all had innovative action features. Small vehicles could fold down to fit into the cargo bays of larger vehicles, then spring back to their original form at the press of a button, all without batteries. As an adult, I realize this was the result of spring loaded motors. As a kid, I was pretty sure it was witches.
Many of the toys on this list rely on clever gimmicks and/or action features for their exceptional playability. M.U.S.C.L.E. men were the exact opposite. The keys to their success were variety, simplicity, and disposability. There were a seemingly endless number of the tiny toys (which were just American duplicates of the Japanese Kinnikuman toys). They were cheap and plentiful. Not as cheap as little green army men, but infinitely more interesting. Since the Kinnikuman manga/anime never made it to US shores, kids could spend hours gazing at the intricately detailed statuettes, concocting insane backstories for these bizarre beings. Plus, they were so cheap, they were great for playing in the sand, mud, water, occasional firework barrage, or any other environment where you might risk ruining your Transformers or G.I. Joes.
Humans riding armored dinosaurs into battle! What more do you need? The dinosaurs should be scientifically accurate (according to the best science of the time, at least…)? Okay, we can do that! They should battle weird aliens with animal heads? We can do that too! Seriously, I’m surprised the Ancient Aliens people haven’t cited these toys as “evidence” yet.
4. Sky Commanders
Poor Sky Commanders! These guys came out just as the ‘80s toy balloon was bursting, so they never got much love. They had cool sci-fi costumes, and could zip around your room on cables or fabric “tracks.” They were supposed to be policing a world of huge mountains and bottomless chasms, kind of like the movie “Cliffhanger” but cool. Plus, they were just the right size to play with M.A.S.K. and Dino-Riders. Pro Tip: The figures came with a little spool of elastic that clipped onto the arm and allowed them to slide down strings and lower down to the ground. The best way to use this was to hold the spool and swing the figure around your head until it slipped the clip and went flying. (Only do this indooors, trust me.)
Centurions were created by Kenner in 1986 in what I believe was an honest, heartfelt belief that they could WILL the next He-Man or Transformers into being. Centurions was not the successor they wanted. The property just wasn’t that interesting in a market that already contained He-Man, G.I. Joe, and Transformers. The toys, however, were AWESOME! They were slightly larger than He-Man, and had a satisfying bulk to them. The main concept was that the base figure was covered with little ports, into which you could insert various accessories. By combining different items (and you could purchase more, bigger, and better accessories, of course), you could outfit the heroes for all types of missions from air rescue, to underwater assault! Plus, I will always believe that Centurian Max Ray was designed to lure Tom Selleck into signing on for a potential movie.
6. Bone Age
These were like Dino-Riders, except the dinosaurs were already dead, and cavemen rode their re-animated bones into battle. Sounds kinda lame, until you realize that the bones can be taken apart and reassembled into different configurations. Sending a caveman to fight atop a triceratops is cool. Sending a caveman to fight in a giant battle-mech made of dinosaur bones is SUPER cool.
7. Wheeled Warriors
Made by Mattel in 1983, the main attraction of Wheeled Warriors were the cars and trucks with interchangeable parts. Much like the Centurions from earlier on this list, kids could pull accessories off one vehicle, and plug them onto another. For me, this usually consisted of trying to plug as many guns as possible onto a single car chassis, while still leaving room for a driver. As an added bonus the “bad guys” were Monster Minds, a race of intelligent plants that evolved into tanks and pickup trucks – as you do – thus teaching a generation the important message that PLANTS ARE EVIL! Between this show and Captain Planet, I got some seriously mixed messages about environmentalism as a kid.
8. Legions of Power
Legions of Power sparked the imagination of any kid who loved the idea of hardcore, gritty sci-fi with large scale battles. With the right combination of pieces you could build epic spaceships, bristling with lasers, or powerful walkers that would be a match for any AT-AT. Legions might be best remembered for their popular mail-in promotion with Nestle Quick. One chocolate milk UPC would earn you a free “space capsule” set. It was something akin to the free “first taste” that was offered by the drug dealers who constantly hung around grade schools in the 1980’s.
All images courtesy of one of our favorite sites, www.virtualtoychest.com.