Toys

 

The 1980’s had some of the most awesome toys ever and whether you were born before, during or after that era the fact remains that they’re still superb to this day.  Take a look at each one and you’ll see why a person’s never too old to play with toys.

 

Rubik’s Cube 

 

rubik'sOne of the most fascinating toys not only from the 80’s but of all time this puzzle game has been enjoyed and perplexed by children, adolescents and adults throughout the world in an endeavor to master the cube.  Invented by Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture Erno Rubik in 1974 this gadget was originally called “Magic Cube” but was later changed to Rubik’s Cube.  Released in 1980 this novelty is a 3x3x3 cube-shaped device consisting of six colored stickers being red, blue, green, orange, yellow and white as each face is comprised of nine squares on each side for a total of fifty-four colored squares.  When solved or in its original shape each of the six faces are made up of the same nine colored squares making it absolutely flawless but once you begin turning each face the colored squares start to become jumbled up among the others and the premise is to change it back to its initial form which is almost impossible to do.  Not only is the toy extremely complicated to solve it’s somewhat scientific because while it looks as if all of the small faces can be moved in actuality only the corners and edges do.  The center cubes are connected and only rotate in place as there is an internal pivot mechanism which enables each face to turn individually therefore mixing up the colors while at the same time causing annoyance or pleasure to those trying to solve it.

Between the years of 1980 and 1983 Rubik’s Cube mania was everywhere.  What set this apart from other toys was that it involved mathematics due to the number of possible configurations attainable and algorithm which is a step-by-step procedure for calculations making it both fun yet educational at the same time.  Though it seemed rather easy to crack the Rubik’s Cube it was nearly insurmountable which is why numerous books were published on how to solve the puzzle yet even after reading them many people were still unable to.  For those who could not solve the cube other options were available such as peeling off the stickers in an attempt to replace them as perfectly as can be, smashing the cube with great force onto a hard surface or taking a hammer or other object and violently attacking it until the cube was no longer in one piece or the person could simply give up and walk away in disgust.

For those who were exceptionally good there were even competitions based on who could solve the cube the fastest as the first one was held on June 5, 1982 in Budapest, Hungary and there have been countless others throughout the world to this day.  In 1983 there was even an animated television show called Rubik, the Amazing Cube which ran for one season.  Considered to be the world’s best-selling toy more than 300 million Rubik’s Cubes have been sold globally and there are an astonishing 43 quintillion possible configurations.  WOW!!!!!!  Since its release Rubik’s Cube has been widely replicated but never duplicated.

 

I was among the millions of people who owned a Rubik’s Cube and could never figure out how to solve it.  I bought one several years ago but made the mistake of turning it which is now mixed up as it still sits on my nightstand.

 

Care Bears

Care bearsIn the latter part of 1981 American Greetings designed Care Bears for use on their greeting cards.  Co-creator Elena Kucharik who was an illustrator for children’s books did the original artwork for the cards.  In 1983 American Greetings sold the license to toy manufacturer Kenner Products who transformed them into stuffed plush dolls.  Twenty-four bears were released and each came in a different color and had a “tummy symbol” on their belly.  That same year they they starred in their first television special called The Land Without Feelings.  In 1984 a mini-series titled The Care Bears Battle the Freeze Machine was released and later that year the Care Bear Cousins debuted but instead of being in the shape of bears each one was a different adorable animal.

In 1985 they jumped onto the big screen in The Care Bears Movie and also had a television series titled The Care Bears Family which ran from 1985 to 1988.  In 1986 the sequel Care Bear Movies II: A New Generation hit theaters as both movies were smash hits.  The following year The Care Bears Adventure in Wonderland was released though it would be their last theatrical movie.  Between 1983 and 1987 more than 40 million Care Bears were sold.  Their merchandise ranging from t-shirts to school supplies in addition to so much more sold over $2 billion throughout the 1980’s.  In 1988 a television special called The Care Bears Nutcracker Suite premiered on the Disney Channel.

In the early 1990’s the franchise revived but only certain bears from the 1980’s were used and sales generated didn’t compare to those of previous years.  In 1999 Play Along Toys bought the rights to the Care Bears and in 2002 to celebrate the 20th anniversary American Greetings relaunched them with a series of plush toys and movies though the artwork and designs had changed from the original bears.   Wanting to join in on the prosperity Play Along Toys released brand new toys based on the bears which were sold to various retailers nationwide and more than 70 million were sold.  There were also two direct-to-DVD computer animated films titled Care Bears: Journey to Joke-a-Lot in 2004 and The Care Bears’ Big Wish Movie in 2005.  New versions of  Care Bear Cousins were also created.  In 2007 to celebrate the 25th anniversary American Greetings brought back Care Bears yet again beginning with a series of dolls and a new movie called Care Bears: Oopsy Does It! along with a new TV series titled Care Bears: Adventure in Care-a-Lot but there were many changes from the earlier dolls as opposed to the newer ones.  Differences between the two included animation and artwork which had the new bears smaller in size, tummy symbols were now referred to as “belly badges” the logo of the franchise and the production company that had previously been Nelvana was now SD Entertainment.  The new line consisted of thirty-nine bears but only fifteen of them have been released as the rest will be on shelves as a later date.  They have also released other Direct-to-DVD’s such as American Grizzle-y Adventures and Ups and Downs.

In late 2009 American Greetings developed a new series called “Care Power Team” and soon after three films entitled Care Bears: Share Bear Shines, Care Bears: The Giving Festival and Care Bears: To the Rescue were released.  In the summer of 2012 a new series titled Care Bears: Welcome to Care-a-Lot premiered on The Hub.

 

You can’t have an 80’s toy category without listing the Care Bears.  They were the best.  Not only were the dolls luxuriously soft and cuddly but the animated characters in both the television programs as well as the movies were sweet and innocent.  They instilled morals along with values as one of their phrases stated “Sharing is Caring”  and parents didn’t have to worry about the content their children would be watching unlike many shows today which are crude and vulgar.  Care Bears are so beloved they’ve made a huge comeback proving that things from the eighties are truly inimitable.  What excites me the most is that Care Bears’ apparel is not exclusive for kids and are available in adult sizes which can be personalized.  I can see it now.  Me walking in to some festivity while wearing my Care Bears shirt and written across the front is the word 80sgirl4ever in multi-colored sequins.  Take that Love Pink!

 

Speak & Spell

S & SAn innovative device that made spelling fun.  Developed by Texas Instruments in the late 1970’s but popularized after it was shown in the blockbuster E.T. this handheld educational toy consisted of a push button keyboard, loudspeaker and a computerized voice which told the person playing what word to spell.  For example, if you were told to spell the word cat the voice would say “Spell cat” and if spelled correctly the voice would say “That is correct”  but if not the voice would say “Wrong, try again” and if spelled incorrectly for the second time the voice would say “The correct spelling of cat is CAT” and the voice would spell out the word.  The only problem was that the voice sounded more demonic than informative.  In addition, there were five spelling games people could play and it was really hard to put the thingamajig down.  While  Speak & Spell was a must-have for many kids there was also Speak & Math and Speak & Read which were identical in size and shape as all three made learning fun despite the fact that the voice emulator in each one may have contributed to giving them nightmares or becoming criminals when they grew up.

 

I’m quite certain that anyone who grew up in the eighties such as myself has fond or at least some kind of memories of Speak & Spell.  I’m proud to say that I owned both Speak & Spell as well as Speak & Math and while Speak & Math greatly helped to strengthen my mathematical skills there was nothing that compared to when I would play with my Speak & Spell while simultaneously pressing the buttons FU over and over again.  Good times.

 

Video Game Systems

 

Atari 5200

Atari 5200Beginning in the early ’80s video games became universal and countless people’s lives were forever changed.  Just imagine the numberless hours spent trying to become adept at playing various games and the sheer gratification a person felt when they finally won.  Atari 5200 was released in the latter part of 1982 as a replacement for its predecessor Intellivision System but it was so sophisticated it ended up competing with Coleco Vision which was the hottest video game console at the time.  The system was based on Atari’s line of 8-bit computers which people had begun playing games on.  The Atari 5200 was quite intricate as it came with two analog joysticks, a numeric keypad which resembled that of a phone, start, pause and restart button in addition to the four controlling parts.  While players enjoyed the controller enabling them to get the maximum use of movement from it the joysticks would frequently lock up or freeze which many times occurred at the worst possible time during the game while the person was winning which may have accounted for windows, furniture and other items being destroyed in fits of rage.  The system connected easily to the television by way of an RF switchbox that supplied power to the game system on the same cable that provided the audio/video signal to the television.  Games which were in the form of ROM cartridges and fit easily into the system included Pac-Man, Space Invaders and Galaxian along with others that brought pure enjoyment to many people who often times found it difficult to pull themselves away from their Atari.  In 1984 the Atari 5200 was discontinued and replaced with the Atari 7800.

 

Compared to today the Atari 5200 seems ancient but at the time it was a gnarly item to own.  I remember Christmas of 1983 when “Santa” brought my brother and I an Atari and that morning  my father set it up.  Playing Pac-Man was fun but also nerve-racking at the same time as I tried eating as many pac-dots as possible while trying to evade  Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde and would go into panic mode whenever I’d eat the power pellets in my desperate quest to devour all four ghosts.  The music that went along with the game only added unnecessary agitation yet I always had a hard time putting down that joystick.

 

Nintendo 

NintendoIn the early part of 1986 Nintendo was released.  Owned by a Japanese company it was an 8-bit video game console similar to other systems that existed and is listed as the best-selling game console of its time.  Nintendo, also referred to as NES which stood for Nintendo Entertainment System was based on the Japanese game system Famicom that was short for Family Computer released in 1983.  Famicom is the Japanese equivalent to NES.  While the device was well-thought-out due to a malfunctioning chip in the console the company chose to recall the unit in the U.S. but due to disagreements and other issues all plans were thwarted.  Several months later the infamous video game crash occurred.  Developers of the system made a wise choice to launch the product a few months after the collapse and NES actually helped to revive the U.S. video game industry proving there was hope following the disastrous crash as many questioned whether or not video games could prevail. Nintendo had previously tried to collaborate with Atari but due to the events of the crash companies were doubtful people would begin playing them again so Nintendo decided to release it themselves.  The system which was black and grey with red lettering was similar in shape to comparable gaming systems as it played ROM cartridges but the controller was not a joystick and instead was a D-Pad controller that had a thumb pad, start and select button, up, down, left and right arrows and was easier to maneuver.  Their strategy in avoiding problems the video game business faced resulting in the crash was that only licensed games could be played on the NES platform, they had to be approved by Nintendo along with third parties and were only allowed to create a certain number of games per year for Nintendo while the same games could not be made for competing consoles for a period of two years which was a sensible decision on their part.   Nintendo had a humungous library of more than 700 games including Tetris, The Legend of Zelda and Adventure Island.  Donkey Kong and all three Super Mario Brothers are among their top-selling games.  Over 60 million systems were sold which is quite impressive for a product most companies had little or no faith in.  In 1991 Super NES hit shelves followed by a number of other units as the company was always in competition with other video game systems.  By 1995 it seemed like every video gaming company kept trying to outdo the other with the newest systems which were higher tech and offered more features than what was currently on the market and that same year the long-running NES was discontinued.  Despite the fact that by the early 90’s Nintendo was considered to be a thing of the past you have to give the company props for renewing people’s interest in video games.  So technically speaking Nintendo rejuvenated the video game industry and made people want to start playing them again.

 

Nintendo’s strategic planning of when to release the system was brilliant.  No one knew the fate of video games after the crash and several years later the time couldn’t have been better to release a brand new console.  It’s also estimable that Nintendo is still making consoles and games that are in high demand and are in direct competition with other well-known systems.

 

Sega Genesis

segaIn 1986 following the release of Nintendo the Sega Master System or SMS came out with their own system designed to directly compete with NES.  While the Sega Master System was able to play both cartridges in addition to the credit card sized “Sega Cards” and had superior graphics as well as a phenomenal sound it didn’t compare to the popularity that Nintendo had.  Just as Nintendo had tried to partner up with Atari but failed to do so the same thing happened with Sega Genesis as neither company was able to come to an agreement so they ended up launching it themselves.  In 1989 Sega Genesis launched.  Based on the arcade Sega System 16 the name of the system was originally titled Sega Mega Drive but the rights to the name were already owned by another company in America so they eventually settled on the name Sega Genesis in the U.S. and Canada yet in Japan and other countries the system was still referred to as Sega Mega Drive.

The name Sega Genesis was derived from a book of the bible indicating that it was bringing forth a new age in video games.  The two advantages the system had over others were that it had excellent quality arcade games so players knew what to expect with the system and it was the very first 16-bit console system whereas others were only 8-bit.  Sega Genesis opened the door to a completely new world of video games which were the game of sports.  The system had a very realistic experience thanks in part to Electronic Arts which was a home computing game publisher who supported consoles such as Sega Genesis.  The game system was so elaborate there were more than thirty third party developers writing games for it.  What set Sega Genesis apart from other systems was that it offered a sharper resolution, had bigger characters, more animations and digitally sampled audio along with more games that were cutting edge such as Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and Joe Montana’s Football.  By using celebrities in addition to sports figures for games it further increased the popularity of the system.

Another huge benefit was that arcade titles including Altered Beast, Golden Axe and Ghouls n’ Ghosts were available for people to buy so basically they could bring the arcade home with them.  In the long run with the number of quarters people pumped into arcades it ended up saving them a large amount of money by simply purchasing the games themselves.  By the time Sega Genesis launched Nintendo who had been around for three years was not up to par with the system and Sega Genesis even came up with the clever yet savvy slogan “Sega does what Nintendon’t” which is still witty to this day.  Knowing that they needed to contrive something newer and more modern in 1991 Nintendo introduced their newest system called Super Nintendo otherwise known as SNES as Sega Genesis’ competition and unveiled Sonic the Hedgehog which would go on to become their best-selling game.

As technology progressed so did the content of video games and in 1993 Sega Genesis created the first content rating for video games called the Videogame Rating Council due to controversial games that were labeled as being too violent and had three different ratings similar to that of a movie consisting of GA – General Audiences which was appropriate for everyone and had no age restrictions, MA-13  – Mature Audiences: Parental Discretion Advised which meant the game was suitable for people ages thirteen or older and MA-17  – Mature Audiences: Not appropriate for minors meaning the game was suitable for people seventeen years or older.  So instead of completely censoring the games the rating system allowed Sega Genesis to release games with little or no censorship by having the rating on the front of the box.  Since Nintendo often times would release the same game yet enforced strict content guidelines as there was major competition and rivalry among the two Sega Genesis had the advantage as many people preferred playing uncut rather than age restriction games. Seeing that the majority of players chose uncensored games eventually SNES began having the same rating system with their games.

Sega Genesis continued to release a variety of games over the next few years but due to the competitiveness of consoles regarding better and more advanced technology the system was discontinued in 1997.

 

Sega Genesis is in a class by itself.  Yes it was designed to be Nintendo’s competitor but not only did the console offer higher quality graphics and sound but the fact that they were pioneers by introducing a rating system allowing their games to be violent, bloody, have profanity, drug and alcohol usage and sexual themes opened the door to an entirely new world of video games players had never before experienced yet wanted more of.

 

Game Boy

game boyListed as one of the most successful video game systems ever and is another console created by Nintendo but what set this system apart from others was the size.  Instead of having a bulky console along with joysticks, plugs and cords in addition to needing a television in order to play games on this was an 8-bit handheld video game device and it was pure genius.  Released in the summer of 1989 Game Boy was the second handheld console by Nintendo.  Their first called Game & Watch hit shelves in 1980 and while it would go on to sell more than 40 million units worldwide it wouldn’t compare to the lucrative sales of future game consoles.

By the time Game Boy made its debut the time couldn’t have been better.  Due to the versatility of it people were able to play multiple games on a single handheld console.  Its distinct colors from the four shades of gray to the red and black buttons were simple yet sharp.  Developed by Gunpei Yokoi Game Boy combined the best features of NES with the portability of Game & Watch handhelds and was an immediate sensation.  The size was ideal as people were able to put the console in their purses, pockets, lunchbags or any other place which enabled them to play at various locations other than directly in front of their television screens and it truly changed the way people played video games.  It made dreaded trips in the car or any other mode of transportation more enjoyable because people could play their Game Boy and within no time they were at their destination.

Game Boy was originally bundled with the puzzle video game Tetris which to this day is widely regarded as one of the most popular video games in history.  Several months after game Boy came out Atari released their copycat version called Lynx and while it did have better graphics, sound, resolution as well as games the innovator Game Boy came out swinging as their console cost significantly less than Lynx, had more battery life and wasn’t as large which were all pluses.  Game Boy went on to sell more than 118 million systems internationally and is credited as revolutionizing the way people played video games.

As the years progressed so did technology and in 1996 Nintendo updated the original Game Boy with the introduction of Game Boy Pocket which was smaller, lighter and required fewer batteries than its predecessor.  Since then a number of Game Boy systems have been released including Game Boy Color in 1998, Game Boy Light in 1998 but only in Japan, Game Boy Advance in 2001, Game Boy Advance SP in 2003 and Game Boy Micro in 2005.

 

You have to give props to Game Boy for changing the way people played video games.  Unlike years earlier when the only way they could be played was either at the arcade or in front of a television along with joysticks, cords and other required components people could now bring their Game Boy with them wherever they went.  If they were forced to visit relatives or had to entertain guests at their home they could politely excuse themselves by going into another room or area and begin playing their Game Boy.  The possibilities were endless due to the size of the device.  Personally I  prefer to see people playing games on a handheld console any day over texting and twittering.