Boy, you kids today have it good. All we had back in my day were G.I. Joe figures and first-gen Transformers and the Kenner Star Wars figures and He-Man and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and…
Okay, fair enough. We had a lot of great toys. But what we had were basically action figures; largely immobile sculpted hunks of plastic that could move their bricky, solid-molded arms and legs and maybe turn their heads. Sometimes you could pose them a little if you were careful.
20 years later, the widespread availability of cheap computer processing power, 3D design programs, microchip technologies and robot factories have made it possible for the kinds of toys we only dreamed about as kids to come into being.
Case in point:
1: The 30th Anniversary The Empire Strikes Back Hasbro AT-AT Walker
The 1981 Kenner AT-AT had a disproportionate head to its body with a distinct ‘droop’ factor, housed ten figures (two more in the head) and stood at about 17 inches high. Its legs were stiff snap-together affairs. In 1981 it was the holy grail of toys at a then-massive asking price of $50.
But for around $99, the 2010 AT-AT from Hasbro is nearly double that size and quadruple the awesome: it dominates at 24″x28″ with capacity for 20 figures, multiple openable panels, improved and corrected body proportions, fully articulated legs, and a cockpit for 6. This toy is a monstrosity of epic. Amazon reviews warn that it is literally larger than some adult dogs and may be difficult to find a permanent place for since it can’t be easily taken apart, but there isn’t a kid alive that wouldn’t instantly become the envy of grownups and adults alike who got one of these under the tree. (I bet some parents might want to play with it even more than the kids!)
2: Paper Jamz from WowWee
Absolute madness apparently made by insane wizards, Paper Jamz are two-foot-long miniature guitars. They use circuit embed touch technology installed on the surface instead of strings, so you play them with your fingertips, and you can play chords on it. It’s got four different play modes (Freestyle is best- play it your way!), requires no cords or cables -just three AAA batteries – and has an onboard line out jack for headphones plus a built-in speaker and knobs for mode and volume control. Oh, and there’s three songs embedded in each guitar.
All for about $25 US retail. Insanity.
The Toy Industry Association has nominated Paper Jamz for two Toy of the Year awards for 2011, and it’s not hard to see why with a package like that. They also sell a separate amp, although you don’t need one for the guitar to work, and a “drum” kit, which honestly doesn’t look or sound as impressive as the guitar. This would be a crazy awesome gift for any kid that isn’t quite ready for Rock Band or Guitar Hero, or who you want to gradually wean toward picking up a real one.
3: Back to the Future II DeLorean from Diamond Select
There really wasn’t a ton of merchandising from Back to the Future in its day- a few books, a couple of t-shirts and some video games- but for the phenomenon that these films were at the time it really took a while for toys to start filtering out. A lot of handmade stuff filled the gap over the years as replica companies and devoted individual fans made their own versions of the Flux Capacitor, or the hoverboard, or garagekitted Deloreans into working 1/1 scale models of Doc Brown’s time machine. Diecast Delorean models at smaller scales have been around for quite a while, but a mid-range toy version kitted out with bells and whistles has had been a bit of time coming, and Diamond Select is now moved in to fill that gap.
This version of Doc’s masterpiece features 10 sound effects, spinnable wheels that pop down for hover mode (in the Entertainment Earth Exclusive Edition only, buyer beware), and it’s over a foot in length at 13 inches long. The doors open, allowing for any 3 3/4-inch figure to ride in the car, and it also has onboard, dashboard and sideboard lighting. Sound effects are controlled by a button at the back of the car just behind the passenger bay. There are tons of great details, like the Mr. Fusion visible on the back of the car, and the trunk even pops! Although this is more in the collector toy range at $45, it’d definitely be a great present for any 80’s kid or movie nut in the house.
4: Disney / Pixar Toy Story 3 Exclusive UCommand Buzz Lightyear with Remote Control
In 1984, Ideal’s Maxx Steele retailed for $350-400. He knew 140 words, could tell time, ran off a 9 volt and could move back and forth. He could also (maybe) grasp an object if the stars were aligned correctly. Articulation was limited to one 360-degree pivot at the wrist. He also weighed 34 pounds.
Almost nobody could actually own one then, because of the incredible expense.
Disney’s U-Command Buzz Lightyear figure retails for about $75-85 US, has 70 distinct phrases, some in English and Spanish. He can speak, dance, spin around in place, glide back and forth, move his arms and activate his laser- all while weighing under 5 pounds.
The manufacturer says a total of over 1000 action combinations are possible using the preprogrammable remote control. He requires 7 AA batteries, so not cheap in this department. He does not walk, but rolls. As toy robots go, this is an incredible bargain. And who doesn’t want to have their very own Buzz Lightyear? There are plenty of versions of the figure out there, some automated, some semi-automated and some not, but this new version looks fairly easy to control- the larger and noisier “Ultimate Buzz” does not appear to be as fluid as the U-Command figure, although it’s more sophisticated internally.
5: Star Wars: The Clone Wars Spinning Electronic Lightsaber
Yeah, I know. Prequel trilogy, terrible, blasphemy, Red Letter Media, I got it. But look at this toy. Just shut off your adult brain and look at it with a kid’s heart. It’s two lightsabers in one, in green and blue, and it spins. Right there, my ten year old brain just melted into a big pile of glee – not just because of the cool factor but because I love the idea of getting two toys to break for the price of a single. Thrifty and awesome! I like the detachable component option, which leaves some room for my imagination and for two-handed wielding, too. What Star Wars kid wouldn’t love this? Around $30-35 retail.
And just think, in another 20 years we’ll be looking at these and complaining about how boring, slow, bricky and primitive they are, too. See you then.
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