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The toys that time forgot: The ’90s edition

By Alex Wiggan

So a couple of days ago I turned back the clock in order to take a look at some of the forgotten toy lines which appeared on toy shelves during the 1980s. It seems only fair then to take another trip back through time, stopping not at the ‘80s but instead during the 1990s, looking at some of the playthings which have since been lost to the great toy box in the sky.

As with our last trip down memory lane, these are toys which for one reason or another have become misplaced in time. That’s not to say that they didn’t produce a lot of enjoyment for kids during the ‘90s, but it is to say that they haven’t kept their headlining status in the same way that say Pokémon, Furby, Super Soakers, the Power Rangers and… erm… Dream Phone has. OK, so maybe that last one might not be all that important nowadays.

Anyway, first up, let’s kick off with an adventure game based on a cracking Channel 4 TV show, which was presented by that bloke from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

 

 

The Crystal Maze game (1991)

Released by MB Games, The Crystal Maze Game was a board game based on the Richard O’Brien-fronted TV show, The Crystal Maze. Designed for two to four players (from ages eight and up), the game followed a similar format to the TV show, with players moving around a board undertaking challenges and puzzles to unlock crystals along the way. The board was set out like the TV show, with puzzles relating to different time zones and once players had enough crystals they could enter the Crystal Dome in order to collect as many gold tickets as possible.

Hmmm… sounds quite fun; so why don’t kids play this game today?

Well, to be fair the game was based on a TV show which ran from 1990 to 1995, so it’s hardly going to inspire the i-Generation to dust this one off during a wet Bank Holiday weekend now, is it? However, perhaps more importantly, despite MB Games’ attempt to produce a faithful recreation of the show, the game was quite repetitive once the puzzles were solved, leaving The Crystal Maze game destined for the far corners of the loft/charity shop.

 

Mighty Max (1992)

Manufactured by British toy company Bluebird Toys, Mighty Max was an action-adventure toy line designed around the concept of a miniature playset with corresponding characters (think Polly Pocket for boys). Each playset included titular character Max, as well as a selection of bad guys, with playsets shaped around skulls, snakes, sharks and a variety of other deadly beasts.

Such was the popularity of Mighty Max that an animated show ran for two seasons between 1993 and 1994, fleshing out concepts and characters from the toy line. In addition, Max also cropped up in computer games for both the Super Nintendo and the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis. He may not be at the forefront of everyone’s mind, but expect Mighty Max to experience a revival at some point in the not too distant future.

 

Pogs (1991)

Ah Pogs, the collectable disc game which became a big hit in the ‘90s and will instantly bring back memories of frenzied swapping sessions in the playgrounds. Yep, there’s a very strong chance you will actually remember this toy quite well and it’s because for a brief period of time Pogs were everywhere!

What you might not know is that Pogs are believed to have originated back during the 1920s/1930s when the game was played using bottle caps. However it wasn’t until the ‘90s, when Canada Games Company and the World POG Federation reintroduced the game to the public that it became a hit, reaching peak popularity during the middle of the decade.

Utilising two different types of playing discs – standard pogs and slammers – pogs showcased a variety of designs, from trains and sports to wildlife and films. Comic and cartoon characters such as the X-Men, Spider-man and Gargoyles also appeared on Pogs, which helped to expand the game’s popularity and collectability outside of regular Pog collectors.

In fairness kids still play Pogs today, so perhaps this isn’t so much a toy which time forgot, it’s more of a toy which everyone forgot quite how popular it was.

 

Tazos (1994)

Sticking with the theme of Pogs for just a moment, let’s remind ourselves of Tazos, another toy line which was in essence Pogs Mark II. Tazos shared a similar concept and design to Pogs, however they were given away free in packs of Walkers crisps (Lay’s crisps outside the UK).

Tazos initially featured Warner Bros’ iconic characters the Looney Toons, but eventually expanded to include sets based around Star Wars, The Simpsons and WWE Wrestling. As with Pogs, Tazos reached the height of their popularity during the mid-90s, however they have continued to crop up from time to time ever since, with even Angry Birds appearing on Tazos in recent years.

 

Atmosfear (1991)

Released in Australia in 1991 under the name Nightmare, but subsequently re-titled for the European market, Atmosfear was a horror-themed board game designed for children aged 12 and up. Created by Philip Tanner and Brett Clements, the game was a huge hit in Australia as well as the UK and the US, spawning a variety of follow up editions in the process.

The biggest selling point of the game was its perceived interactivity, which was created through the combination of a traditional gaming board and a VHS tape. The tape contained footage of the Gatekeeper, who was the host of each game, and he would speak to players as they made their way through each timed game. In order to win the game, players were tasked with beating the Gatekeeper whilst facing their greatest fears.

With many kids having VCRs in their bedrooms during the 1990s, Atmosfear was always going to prove a popular gaming choice for Friday night sleepovers, but it should also be stated that it was also a pretty solid concept; so why did Atmosfear get forgotten?

The death of the VCR during the early ‘00s didn’t help the game, nor did the fact that due to the rise of the internet the general popularity of board games has waned over recent years. However thanks to the advent of the DVD, Atmosfear was given a revival in the ‘00s, simply by switching format to meet the digital age.

Atmosfear: The Gatekeeper (2004) and Atmosfear: Khufu the Mummy (2006) were released to reasonable success proving there is still life left in the concept. Oh, and let’s not forget that anyone with a copy of the original board game, and the right know-how, can find a way to convert the original tape into a digital format to share on YouTube for everyone to access. You see, the internet can make dreams (and nightmares) come true.

 

Monster in My Pocket (1990)

Released by Matchbox in 1990, Monster in My Pocket centred upon a series of palm-sized plastic figures representing various different creatures from myths, legends and horror stories. The first series comprised 48 figures – with each allocated a different points value – and included the likes of the Invisible Man, the Hunchback and Medusa.

Such was the popularity of Monster in My Pocket that subsequent series’ followed, with more monsters appearing in the toy line along with dinosaurs and wrestlers. Not only that, a Monster in My Pocket computer game, a comic and even an animated special cropped up during the ‘90s too.

So how forgotten is this toy line? Well, perhaps not as forgotten as you might think, as it was revived a couple of times in the ‘00s. However, none of the revivals helped the brand reach the popularity it achieved during the ‘90s.

 

Bucky O’Hare (1991)

Released by Hasbro, Bucky O’Hare was a line of action figures based on the short-lived animated show Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars (which was based on a comic). The toy line included most of the main characters from the series, including Deadeye Duck, Blinky, Commander Dogstar and of course the green-skinned rabbit himself, Bucky O’Hare, as well as a two vehicles, the Toad Croaker and the Toad Double Bubble.

Despite some colourful looking designs, the Bucky O’Hare toy line was cancelled after just one series, with no real explanation as to why. However the fact that the animated TV show ended after just one season too was likely to be the reason that the toy line was dropped so quickly.

 

Spice Girls dolls (1997)

And finally, the Spice Girls, one of the biggest musical sensations of the ‘90s became plastic playthings in 1997, courtesy of Galoob Toys. Do you remember them? More importantly, did you own one?

By the late ‘90s Spice-mania had gripped the world and producing Spice Girls merchandise was like being given a license to print money. So it’s not surprising then to learn that millions of Spice Girls dolls were sold in 1997, with a playset and extra costumes helping to keep sales healthy as the line expanded.

Whether you were a fan of Geri and Co or not, there is a strong chance that one of your friends or at least someone in your family owned one of these dolls and whilst time may have forgotten the Spice Girls dolls, it has found replacements, with the likes of S Club dolls, Hear’Say dolls and of course, One Direction dolls popping up on toy shelves ever since.

 

So which toys of the ‘90s do you remember and which would you like to make a comeback? More importantly what toys should have made the list? The Tamagotchi? Skeleton Warriors? Biker Mice from Mars? James Bond Jr? Let us know your thoughts.

 

About Alex Wiggan: Alex’s favourite Spice Girl was Victoria. Now, thanks to the power of hindsight he realises that Mel C was the better singer of the group. Such is the folly of youth.

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