After it was recently announced that Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future – one of the greatest TV show/toyline/quasi-videogame ventures ever dreamed up – was getting a reboot in 2012, I got to thinking about all the other awesome toys I loved as a kid that have since disappeared, leaving only my happy memories and commercials on Youtube behind them. There were so many awesome toys made in the 80’s and 90’s that I could probably fill a dozen lists like this one, but for now I’ll stick to the top ten toys that I loved as a child that have yet to come back into popular culture now that I’m an adult. This means you won’t see toys like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (which already got a reboot…that didn’t really go anywhere) or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the reboot of which was considerably more successful) on this list. I’m going entirely for the more obscure toys which, while amazingly cool, just haven’t managed to claw their way back into the mainstream…yet. Here they are, in no particular order!
No two ways about it – Boglins were frigging incredible. Rubber hand puppets that were popular during the 80’s squishy, comical monster boom (see also Gremlins, Ghoulies and Critters), Boglins were every prepubescent boy’s dream. The Boglin toyline was pretty successful, too, and there was always a big selection of different species of Boglin available at the local K-Mart (remember K-Mart?). By far the most popular were the large-size Boglins (Boglinus humungus – each “species” had its own genus) that were sort of the front men for the whole toyline. These ones were big enough puppets that they could accomodate adult hands, and had a mechanism inside that allowed their glow-in-the-dark eyes to look left and right. There were also smaller scale Boglins, Baby Boglins that were finger puppets which came in plastic eggs, Acrobat Boglins that worked like slimy wall-crawler toys, Bash’em Boglins with detachable body parts, Hairy Boglins, Ric Flair Boglins for the wrestling fans, and even mini PVC Boglins that came in slime! Boglins were nothing short of totally awesome, and the fact that they came in boxes shaped like cages just made them even better. Apparently Mattel tried to reboot the Boglins line in 2000, but I never heard squat about it, so it can’t have been a proper comeback, and that’s why Boglins make this list.
The 80’s really were a different time altogether, as you’d probably never see a toy produced today that actually encouraged kids to play with their food! Food Fighters were basically anthropomorphic food items made of hollow rubber with plastic arms and legs, each of which came with a plastic weapon and backpack. The line had ten figures in total, divided into two teams: the Kitchen Commandos (good guys) and the Refrigerator Rejects (bad guys), lead by Burgerdier General and Mean Weener, respectively. Food Fighters never had a cartoon or comic book series to help bolster their popularity the way some other toy lines did, and as such they faded in obscurity pretty quickly. I only ever owned two Food Fighters figures – Short Stack, a stack of syrupy pancakes, and Private Pizza, a pizza slice in an army helmet with a pepperoni eyepatch. Not having any real concept of military rank in kindergarten, I remember that my friends and I always thought that Private Pizza was the coolest figure of all of them, and assumed that his rank of “Private” meant that he was a spy. Looking at him now, I can safely say that even though he’s the lowest ranking Food Fighter, my friends and I were right in deeming him the coolest. That pepperoni eyepatch is badass.
Here’s a toyline so obscure that it doesn’t even seem to have its own Wikipedia entry! Holograms were another popular fad in the 80’s, and more than one series of toys was released with holograms as their centerpiece. Supernaturals were one such toyline, with the premise behind them being that each action figure had a holographic plate on its front that could change the figure from a human-like fighter into a more beast-like one depending on which way you angled the hologram. A good example is Lionheart, the leader of the good guys, whose image would shift into that of a lion if you held him the right way. I can’t find too much information about Supernaturals online, but from what I can gather the toys were mad ein 1987 by Tonka and never got past the first series of figures. I’m guessing they didn’t have any peripheral media like a cartoon, either, which can often by the kiss of death for a high-concept toyline. Of the few figures in the small but awesome line, I had Lionheart, Snakebite (you guessed it – he turns into a snake) and one of the smaller Jawa-like figures called Scary Cat. Hmmm…Scary Cat. Doesn’t exactly strike fear into your enemies. Maybe that’s why the line didn’t go anywhere. But goofy names aside, these things were too cool for words.
Visionaries were another popular hologram-centric toy series from 1987, these ones being made by Sunbow. Essentially, Visionaries were G.I. Joes with holograms on their chests and vehicles, and that insantly made them cooler than the Joes could ever be. Yeah, I went there. In spite of having an accompanying cartoon and comic book, and even though the toyline was full of elaborate backstory and fleshed out characters, Visionaries never took off, and the comic was cancelled after only six issues, the TV show after only one season. I never cared much about the backstory as a kid, though, and I don’t think I ever saw even one episode of the cartoon. All I cared about was the wicked action figures, who came with helmets, weapons, and staves that also had holograms on them. What’s more, if you pulled off the holograms on the figures’ chests, the mounting holes for it totally looked like a plug socket, so you can also pretend your figure was some kind of electric soldier. Don’t laugh, it’s called imagination. Anyway, I’m sure I had more than one of these guys, but the only one I remember with any clarity is Darkstorm, one of baddies (the Darkling Lords), seen below.
Years ago when I worked in a toy store, we briefly carried a plastic Rock, Paper, Scissors game that had a pair of plastic thingies with pop-open shields attached. The idea was that you chose your weapon – rock, paper or scissors – and then on the count of three, each player pushed a button that flipped the shield open, revealing their choice. It was incredibly lame, and I don’t think we sold a single unit. I remember looking at it and thinking “Sheesh! Talk about cheap! The manufacturers of this game are trying to sell people a game that they can play for free using only their hands!” Then it struck me that one of my favourite lines of toys from the 80’s was also based on Rock, Paper, Scissors…albeit in a much more successful way. The toys were Battle Beasts, figures only a couple of inches tall that were basically anthropomorphic animal cyborgs. Let that sink for a second. ANTHROPOMORPHIC ANIMAL CYBORGS. Each figurine had a “power badge” on its stomach that would reveal the character’s allegiance when warmed up with a finger. The allegiances were Fire, Wood and Water, with the idea that fire burned wood, wood floated on water and water doused fire. Somehow water floating on wood make a lot more sense to me than paper covering rock equalling a victory. But I digress. Battle Beasts debuted in 1987 and were actually pretty successful, garnering no fewer than 4 series of the figurines. I don’t know if they ever had their own cartoon – signs point to no – but they did make an animated appearence on one of the Japanese Transformers cartoon series in an episode called “Rebellion on the Planet Beast”, which of course makes me wonder why Michael Bay hasn’t made a Battle Beasts movie yet. In total there were 89 Battle Beasts, which meant that they were a blast to collect and trade, and the additional element of being able to square off with your friends’ Battle Beasts not knowing which allegiance each beast held before going into a one-on-one face-off just made things even more exciting. These were toys where the winner of a fight was determined in a way that was definite and inarguable. As if they weren’t already awesome enough, the final series of Battle Beast figurines replaced the warm-up power badges with marble-like orbs that you could look into to discover the figurine’s allegiance. Amazing. I could go on and on about these guys, but I’ll just end by saying that they desperately need a reboot, especially in this post-Pokemon climate, where there’s a distinct lack of tiny rubber dudes to collect.
Another toy from 1987 (man, what a great year), Army Ants had the collectible figurine qualities of Battle Beasts, minus the Rock, Paper, Scissors theme. Lacking that dimension may have been one of the factors that lead to Army Ants being discontinued, since without any way of ranking the figurines, there was no system to govern the imaginary battles these guys had. Whereas Battle Beasts had the power badges and other figurine lines like Monster in My Pocket had numbered values printed on them, Army Ants were just little plastic insect warriors with squishy rubber asses that were always coming off and getting lost. But man, what awesome little warriors they were. They looked like the insect equivalent of the raiders from The Road Warrior, and carried with them all kinds of military weaponry permanently attached to their hands. Without a backstory for the entire line, or even bios for the characters, Army Ants were perhaps a bit more suited to setting up a battle scene and admiring it than actually marching squads of the figurines against each other. It was the designs of these figurines that made them so cool, though, and I still love the look of them. I think I only had maybe five of these, and I can recall being really jealous of my friends who owned the flying Aerial Assault Squad ants.
It is impossible to dislike Dino-Riders, and it remains a mystery to me why this toyline didn’t stick around longer. Released in tandem with a short-lived cartoon show, the premise behind Dino-Riders is a simple one: two warring races from the future get transported back to prehistoric earth and decide to brainwash dinosaurs so that they can use them as weapons and vehicles. Pause a second and reflect on how frigging cool that is. There are no two things that can get a prepubescent boy more excited than guns and dinosaurs, and the combination of the two was just so mind-blowingly amazing that I remember flipping my lid every time I managed to convince my parents to buy me one of the toys. It should be noted that while the toyline was completely anachronistic, merging dinosaurs from a bunch of different time periods, the Smithsonian Institute actually loved the detailed dinosaur figures and commissioned Tyco to make some less war-oriented ones for their “Dinosaur and other Prehistoric Reptile Collection”. That’s right – even the Smithsonian loved these things! What’s more, the TV show had some great voice actors, including three of the voices from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon – Rob Paulsen (Raphael), Cam Clarke (Leonardo) and Townsend Coleman (Michelangelo) – and the voices of the two most famous Transformers – Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime) and Frank Welker (Megatron). The TV series was cancelled after only one season, but the toys managed to stick around for three series, the last of which was based around Ice Age creatures instead of dinosaurs. I have nothing but fond memories for Dino-Riders, and I can still remember joyfully snapping plastic armour onto the velociraptor and pterodactyl figures that I owned.
Before I get into the description for these toys, can I just say how great it is that there’s the tail end of a Visionaries commercial at the beginning of the clip above? 1987 really was the best year ever for toys. Unlike the other toys on this list, Starcom started life as an animated TV series called Starcom: The U.S. Space Force. I never watched it, but apparently it never really took off and was cancelled following its thirteenth episode. The toy series from Mattel found a lot of success in Europe and Asia, but not so much in North America, which is why, even though overall it seems like the franchise was a successful one, most people don’t remember it. What made the toys so incredibly cool was the way they employed magnets and wind-up mechanisms. All the little figures had magnets on their feet, and in certain playsets like the Starbase Station the magnets would activate things like elevators or rocket turrets, which would then MOVE AROUND ON THEIR OWN. Not only that, but the vehicles had wings and rocket launchers and all sorts of other stuff that activated at the touch of a button, extending, shooting, and doing all kinds of great things. The fact that the toys didn’t need batteries was the best part. I only had three vehicles, but they were all amazing. The large tank-like vehicle at the end of this video catalog was my favourite.
If you asked me what my favourite toy of all time was, I’d probably have to give the honour to Sectaurs: Warriors of Symbion. They may have only lasted for a short time in 1985 (oddly enough, the figures all said they were made in 1984 due to some screw-up at the factory), but there is no toy that could or ever will compare to the awesomeness of Sectaurs. The result of a genetic experiment gone awry, the Sectaurs were a race of half-men/half-insects who had insectoid companions and mounts. There was an entire lexicon of Sectaurs lore to immerse yourself in, a five-part cartoon mini-series and even a Marvel comic series! Not only that, but the action figures were terrific. For one thing, they were much larger than your average action figure, measuring closer to the height of a standard Barbie doll, and each figure came with a small insect pet. Some of the Sectaurs, such as Prince Dargon (leader of the good guys) and General Spidrax (leader of the baddies) also came with giant-sized insect puppet mounts that they could ride! To this day, I can still remember the names of all the Sectaurs I had – and I had a lot of them! My collection included Prince Dargon and Dragonflyer, Pinsor and Battle Beetle, Zak and Bitaur, General Spidrax and Spiderflyer, and Skulk and Trancula. I have no idea why the toyline failed, but it’s perfect reboot material, and someone should get on it right away.