If you remember anything from the 1980s, a lot of folks would consider you lucky. For some, this bygone age was filled with the last great vestiges of awesome. Whether you were a Depp fan in 21 Just Street or enjoyed Saved By The Bell. Whether you liked Star Trek or The A-Team. Whether you jammed out with your hair out to music like “Take On Me,” “Thriller” or “Tainted Love.” If you were an 80s kid, there is one thing that any true 80s kid will always remember. The toys!
Children of the 80s are known to have been one of the weirdest and most adventurous generations. They are also known to have had some of the greatest toys. Even if many of us look at the era through nostalgia-colored glasses, no one can deny that the 1980s were a time that toys may have indeed been at the pinnacle of innovation and construction. They played perfectly along with the weirdness of the 80s, and many are still a staple for recreation to this day. From the iconic breakout of the Nintendo Entertainment System to the endearing weirdness of My Pet Monster, one thing is certain. The 80s were certainly a fantastic time to be a kid.
So here is a cross-section of just a few of the greatest toys to have the honor of being released in the 1980s. Enjoy!
This iconic toy is in the memories of every single kid who lived in the 80s. Granted, this toy was designed in the mid 60s, the 80s saw a true marketing push to sell this toy. Parents knew it and bought it for their kids, and kids loved it because you stuck plastic pegs into a machine that made them light up. How cool is that, right? If you saw the commercial for this toy as a kid, then it was a sure thing you were going to get one under the tree that year. Lite-Brite’s memory still endures, even today. St. Paul is home to the biggest Lite-Brite picture ever, measuring twelve feet tall and twenty-four feet wide and it uses 596,000 Lite-Brite pegs. It makes me wonder how many watts that thing uses.
14. Teddy Ruxpin
What 80s kid would say no to a lovable, talking teddy bear? Modern kids would look at this toy and think it was some sort of Chucky remake but Teddy Ruxpin was, for its time, one of the most endearing and best-selling companion toys of the mid-80s. Its mild mannered nature made it a favorite of parents, and the commercials seemed to play on the ability for kids to make a friend if the parents just went out and spent the cash to buy one. By the time the 90s rolled around, you could find a Teddy Ruxpin doll in just about any storage garage or basement. I think there might be one in mine, right now. If you had one of these as a kid, consider yourself lucky to have held in your hands one of the sweetest and most endearing toys of the 80s.
13. My Pet Monster
This endearing little doll was cute, furry and blue. It was the teddy bear for kids who didn’t want to actually have a teddy bear. They were like Teddy Ruxpin’s aberrant, sharp-toothed cousin. Those bright orange chains on his wrists were not just for him, either. You might go to recess and see one of your classmates showing off by breaking the chains to his My Pet Monster in front of a group of kids. You could put them on and impress your friends by breaking them, yourself. Released in 1986 alongside a super videocassette sixty-minute special, they were adopted into the homes of all the cool kids. The success of the My Pet Monster doll was followed up with a thirteen episode season children’s cartoon in 1987 where the doll earned the name “Monzie.”
12. Garbage Pail Kids
1985 saw the advent of one of the most parent-hated toys the 80s ever saw. These toys were a vicious mockery of Cabbage Patch Kids dolls. Cards like Barfin’ Barbara who threw up into a soup pot, Windy Winston who played a horn and farted simultaneously and, my personal favorite, Meltin’ Milton. Originally released as trading cards, they were geared toward boys who wanted to gross out their parents or the girls they were chasing around the playground during recess. They were so popular that in several new series and re-releases of these cards were announced and sold. They also enjoyed a congruent series of toys aptly dubbed “Cheap Toys” as well a movie, a TV show and various other marketing gimmicks that, fortunately for the people who loved these things, survives to this day. Plus, they came with this awfully awesome powdery pink stick that doubled as gum.
Riding on the heels of the Garbage Pail Kids craze, Madballs was another toy designed almost specifically in an effort to allow kids to gross out and terrify their parents and sisters. It was a simple concept, especially by today’s standards. A ball that you squeeze, much like a stress ball. The caveat here is that they were made out to be grotesque faces that, when squeezed, would ooze and pustulate, and spew forth worms, spiders and other noxious items. One of the best parts of these squeeze toys was that in some of them, the bubble would form and sometimes these noxious items would flood into the newly clear pustule like some sort of cheesy horror movie. You know the one, right? Plus, with names like First Face, Snake Bait, Nail Biter and Puck Teeth, how could any parent say no?
Some of the best movies also came out in the 80s. It was a godsend for the era of cheesy horror. Movies like The Shining, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Fright Night, Evil Dead. The list most certainly goes on. In the 80s, we really seemed to like monsters. Gross things that hide in sewers, toilets, sinks and mudpits. Riding on the heels of the insanely popular “creature craze” of the late 1980s which spawned from popular movies like Ghoulies, Gremlins and Critters, the Boglins line were a series of toys distributed by Mattel. Unlike Madballs, the Boglins were basically rubber hand puppets that were designed to look a lot like the creatures from the movies they were based on. Even though they were re-launched in the early 2000s, the originals still remain the king of creature toys.
In the 1980s, there didn’t seem to me a single kid in the United States that didn’t know about Transformers. They were an instant household name and continue their franchise to this very day. The toys were originally released in 1984. Generation 1, or G1 as modern toy gurus call them today, were remarkable feats of toy engineering. In fact, whoever thought up how to make these things assemble was verging on genius. They were sometimes so complicated that they came with instructions on how to transform them! If you got one second hand, good luck figuring out how to change their forms because you were probably up a creek with no paddle. Still, the Transformer toy line really shows the detail, thought and love that went into toy designs in the 1980s. These toys were indeed more than meets the eye.
8. Tiger Electronics Games
Any gamer kid in the 1980s made at least one venture into the exciting new world of hand-held video games. Each and every one of those kids met with a mixture of excitement and inevitable frustration. They somehow acquired rights to publish well known titles of the time like Shinobi, Simon’s Quest, Double Dragon and even Marble Madness. From the ear-piercing music to the dim images on a screen you shouldn’t play in a room that was too bright or too dim, these games wound up in the hands of almost every young gamer in the 80s and 90s at some point. Though they were not the pinnacle of gaming for their era, they were cutting edge at the time and held a price tag of thirty bucks. A little expensive, if you ask me.
7. Mr. Potato Head
Even though Mr. Potato Head was developed and distributed by Hasbro beginning in 1952, it cannot be denied that any kid worth his salt in the 1980s had one. Most of the time, they were missing an eye or an arm or other limb or accessory. Sometimes he came with his wife, and sometimes it was just his wife using his body parts. The combinations of family styles and life lessons this particular doll could teach us was just as infinite as the combination of parts you could use for him! Plus, how many adults in today’s world can look me in the eye and tell me that disassembling even just a vaguely humanoid toy wouldn’t serve to relieve some stress? He was, in fact, such an iconic toy that he got a debut with his wife on the popular Toy Story movie franchise.
6. Talking Pee-Wee Herman Doll
While Paul Rubens may have forever tarnished his ability to play on any kids’ shows when he was arrested in 1991, his television show Pee-Wee’s Playhouse could be heard bellowing from any given television set on Saturday mornings in America in the 1980s. From the hugely successful show to the numerous movies that have followed, it comes as no surprise that the Pee-Wee Herman Talking Doll (like A Tribe Called Quest, you say the whole thing) became a highly sought after and treasured possession in any 80s household. Like many dolls of its time, the creep factor of this particular doll was easily noticed. Huge eyes, pale skin and an air that vaguely reminds you of the doll from the Saw franchise. Regardless, it was an irresistible temptation to set up your own Playhouse in your room, wasn’t it?
Move over, Dungeons & Dragons! Heroquest was yet another great board game that helped to bring the 1980s out with a bang. For those of you that never played Heroquest, I express my condolences for your having missed one of the best board games that have ever been produced. You got to play as a Barbarian, Elf, Dwarf or Wizard and delve into a keep to explore and fulfill various randomized quests. Old Dungeons & Dragons players will quickly note that Elf and Dwarf were classes! Remember that? For many tabletop gamers of today, Heroquest was the introduction to role-playing games that every young player craved, and continues to be a nostalgic part of history for board games all over the world. Today, you can purchase a copy of the original Heroquest at an average of $250 USD. A steal at that price, wouldn’t you say?
4. The Talking Alf Doll
Who doesn’t remember Alf? That lovable alien from the planet Melmac who lands in the garbage of a typically suburban family. He’s lovable, furry and an absolute cat lover. The show originally aired in 1986 and was the first television show to be broadcast in Dolby Surround Sound. One year later, the 22 inch tall Talking Alf Plus was released by Coleco. It looked like the alien had jumped right out of the television and into your home. Maybe that’s because the original Alf was a doll, as well. One of the best parts of the doll was that it had a cassette tape that it used to talk. One such tape contained stories such as Little Red Riding Alf and Beauty and the Alfer. His mouth and ears would move during his stories as well. Absolute one of the cutest cat lovers ever.
3. Nintendo Game Boy
The Game Boy appeared near the very end of the 1980s, and has become a household name ever since. It took what Tiger Handheld Games did and cranked it up to eleven. It has a brilliant greenish screen and dark colored 8-bit graphics and stereo sound that were the dreams and nightmares of any true gamer of the age. You could even play with other kids by hard wiring your Game Boy to another. Originally released with the Tetris Game Pak, the Game Boy resulted in many sleepless nights and angry teachers that swiped at least one of these up in every classroom for the next five years. The Game Boy has been a staple of 80s gamer kids and, though many revisions have been created to upgrade the look, feel and graphics, the original will always remain in the hearts of any true 80s kid.
2. Micro Machines
Micro Machines were kings of TV. These commercials were awesome! John Moschitta who was, at the time, in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s fastest talker, would describe at 586 words a minute what they were, what they did and why you wanted them. They were also featured in Home Alone, where he used them as a trap for the burglars. What would be cooler than owning your own scale miniature of a fire truck, Mercedes coup or Ferrari that you could use to trip home invaders? Micro Machines had everything a kid in the 80’s wanted. They even had a release of the Harry Truman’s limousine, John F. Kennedy’s Lincoln Continental and Carter’s Lincoln Towncar. But who cares about that when you could have tanks, planes, motorcycles, roadsters, monster trucks and cars with their engines on the hood instead of inside the car!
1. Nintendo Entertainment System
On July 15, 1983, the living room of every family was changed forever. No matter who you were at the time, someone you knew had an NES. If you were lucky enough to have been an 80s kid who got to play one of these when they were first released, there may be nothing in the world that compares to the way you felt when you slid that cartridge into the slot, pressed the power button and saw that red LED light and saw your first blinking blue screen. Every 80s kid who cut their teeth on the NES mourned the loss of Satoru Iwata (1959 – 2015), CEO of Nintendo. Millions showed their reactions to his death on social media. If that doesn’t paint a picture of how important the NES was in the lives of kids raised in this era, nothing will.
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