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The 1990's were a radical time full of radical toys. Kids of that era might have loved what they had, but by today's standards, it's obvious just how little that was. With a little bit of today's know-how, those forgotten, nostalgic pieces of plastic could come right back and wow everybody like that former scrawny nerd turning heads at a high school reunion.
Let's face it, a lot of things that were ahead of their time get remembered fondly but they're just that - remembered. They don't exist any more because they hit the scene too soon. They world wasn't ready. Now it is. With a few changes and the implementation of today's tech, these old toys could easily get a new chance at life.
1. Sky Dancers/Dragon Flyz
Whether you were in the market for a Barbie with wings for arms or a He-Man knock off with a ceiling fan caught around his neck, there was a flying toy for you. Just put your action figure on the launcher, pull the cord, and watch your toy take flight just long enough for it to land in your fireplace or hit your little brother in the eye. Thankfully, they made up for their limited flight capabilities by also being oddly articulated action figures that could get beaten up by your Ninja Turtles.
Both Sky Dancers and Dragon Flyz had their respective cartoon series with a lifespan, fittingly enough, about as long as a common housefly's. The cartoons only existed to sell toys and since kids already fell for that with My Little Pony and Transformers, Sky Dancers and Dragon Flyz couldn't cash in on the same unscrupulous scheme and were left behind in the ashes of the 90's.
Today, the door has opened for a similar toy to rise from those ashes. That door is the surge of remote control drones started in 2015. As the technology gets smaller and cheaper, these devices aren't just for grown children and high tech peeping toms. Slap the tech on some GI Joes and you've got yourself a modern day flying toy that actually does what it claims to do. Of course, this is assuming anyone wants a return of Sky Dancers or Dragon Flyz and wouldn't just prefer a Transformer that turns into a drone instead. Maybe some things are better left as stepping stools for better properties but at least they provided a service before their gold star for effort got melted down for scrap.
2. Sidekick Phones
So it's not technically a toy, but let's face it, that's how it was marketed. Instead of using a balding old man's Blackberry or Joe Generic's brick phone, why not kick it with the most mondo, rad to the max phone available, dude? Not until your phone screen flips around in a half circle are you cool enough to get your friends together and race shopping carts through a supermarket!
Either sadly or thankfully (I'm not sure which), the 90's cool kid scene died and everyone grew up to own the exact same black rectangle for a phone, just with varying names and logos. Gone are the gimmicks, gone are the keyboards, and gone are the charm slots. What happened to the rebellious attitude that dared air-surf a propeller blade off a blimp? I for sure can't do that with my current smart phone.
The concept is simple. Take the same capabilities of your iPhone or your Samsung Galaxy and give it the Sidekick's old flip out feel, the avant-garde color schemes, the adults may care attitude, and a commercial featuring Snoop Dogg not being sure how much butter is in a pat.
Okay, maybe not that last one, but you have to actually believe the attitude you're trying to sell when stepping out from the crowd. People are nostalgic for the way their old, tactile phone made them feel, so offering that on top of a competitive mobile device just makes sense. Maybe you grew up and are stuck in a boring office job now, but that doesn't mean your phone can't make people think you won't just skate your computer chair out the window and down the side of your building, because you will!
3. VHS Board Games
If you remember Nightmare (Atmosfear) or Party Mania from the early 90's, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Conceived from a desire to force technology to perform tasks it literally cannot, there was a brief window of time where board games came packaged with VHS tapes to hand out instructions or just generally get you into the mood; assuming the mood was to laugh at an angry, deteriorating hobo in a burlap hoodie.
The idea was sound enough; immerse the players in the world of the game by having a character interact with you. Of course, given VHS technology, the interaction was limited to being shouted at with things like, “roll a six to continue play” or “move back three squares” or “why did you pull out that Monopoly board instead?” Later games attempting this style moved on to DVDs, naturally, but it was still generally the same formula of “play the game until you're interrupted by a hammy actor draped in cheap special effects.”
As anyone who isn't an executive at Milton Bradley desperately trying to prove his worth could imagine, that style of board game died out as quickly as it was conceived and DVDs were reserved for Scene It and its innumerable spin-offs. That doesn't mean things couldn't be different today, though. Given smart device technology, you could simply download the modern day VHS tape to your phone or tablet and actually interact with it. Maybe instead of losing a turn, you have a chance to complete a mini-game to avoid your fate. Maybe you're given questions to see if you were actually paying attention this whole time. You could even sync your device to a smart TV so everyone could see what was happening. New characters and updates could be patched in to keep interest too.
VCR might have been to board games the way FMV was to video games, but it doesn't mean that all the steps taken have to be wasted. Maybe some of the cheesy charm of seeing your Aunt Franny pretend to forget your name or Wayne from Wayne's World saying “way” or “no way” to absolutely nothing will be lost, but that's a small price to pay for a product that actually accomplishes what it set out to do.
There were a couple versions of 2-XL, the edutainment robot. There was one from the late 70's and a revamped version in the 90's. The former accepted cartridges, the latter accepted cassette tapes, and both sucked. Even the commercial does a poor job of making 2-XL look like anything more than a glorified tape deck. He asks a question, you answer yes, no, true, or false, and maybe he'll tell you a joke. Yes, all the technological wonderment of Bonzi Buddy.
The improvements that could be made here should be obvious. With today's technology, 2-XL could feature a display screen and use digital formatting to hold a wealth of information, games, questions, and other features simply not possible 20-30 years ago. Download new games, subjects, and even movies to display on your robotic buddy, 2-XL, and listen to him talk about it all.
If Tiger Electronics didn't dig their own grave with Happy Meal quality handheld games, premature attempts at giving the world advanced robotics, and whatever the hell the Gizmondo was, maybe they would have created exactly what I'm describing. At least with them going defunct in 2012, that leaves 2-XL's hypothetical successor invariably being given a name that isn't an implausible category of condom. The robot wasn't even kind of big, let alone big enough to be considered extra, extra large.
5. Toby Terrier
He's a happenin' hound...or at least he was. When watching television with your favorite stuffed animal wasn't enough, Tiger Electronics was back again with a robot dog that watched his own show and only his own show with you. Like with most of their products, Tiger never stopped to wonder if they were ahead of their time and went ahead anyway with the kind of confidence and aplomb befitting a lemming marching up to its favorite cliff.
Toby Terrier was the next evolutionary step after Teddy Ruxpin, being another interactive plush toy but one that watched television with you instead of pretending to read books after you wedged a cartridge into his spinal column. After all, books are for nerds and puppet shows are for the cool kids. Credit where it's due, the puppets featured in “Toby Terrier and His Video Pals” were actually impressive in quality. What's less impressive is needing to watch the same video a million times for Toby to do anything.
Believe it or not, the ever more famous Teddy Ruxpin has been remade with downloadable stories and terrifying LCD eyes that turn his soft, teddy bear frame into a haunting nightmare that lights up your child's bedroom with an unearthly stare. Though just like before, he's still just a bear that reads you stories when your parents don't want to. If Siri can pick up my request to gorge myself on garbage food and point me towards the nearest Taco Bell, why can't my robot stuffed animal actually watch TV with me?
Take some voice recognition software and slam it into Toby Terrier 2.0, allowing him to actually react to things being said by characters in your movie or cartoon. Sure, there's always a chance you're watching adult dramas and Toby pipes up with a fun anecdote about a hog farm while a drug lord shoots a cop to death, but that's a risk I'm willing to take. Just give me an interactive virtual pet that actually interacts already. We've been waiting forever!
The Pokewalker was a pedometer used with Pokemon Gold and Silver in Nintendo's relentless attempt to get kids to play outside but still buy their video games. The gimmick of the device was walking around to build up “watts” which you could use to find items or battle Pokemon that you could then transfer back into the main game. As with many Nintendo concepts, it was very clever but also completely unnecessary.
Admitting this, Nintendo let the Pokewalker die and moved on to other Pokemon games that had nothing to do with external peripherals but instead offered in-game ways of playing with, pampering, and training your digital monsters. Pokemon Go rose up and forced everyone on the planet outside for a handful of weeks where there wasn't a single soul not enslaving the entire Ratatta population. So was that it, then? Did Pokemon Go fill the niche Nintendo intended with the Pokewalker?
Perhaps Nintendo believes so. With the Pokeball Plus, you can take Pokemon caught in Pokemon Let's Go (which also links to your Pokemon Go account) and carry them with you as before. However, instead of counting steps and giving you minigames, this new controller does even less. You can shake the monster inside to make it cry, thereby making you the real monster, but that's about it. Once again, it's a cute gimmick, but is that all portable Pokemon can do?
I believe there could be more. There was one other 90's toy that dominated the scene and it went by the name of Tamagotchi. Children and businessmen alike were unable to concentrate on their day to day lives as a tiny, pixelated alien cried out for food offerings and poop removal. Dozens of ripoff Tamagotchi filled store shelves offering more ways to interact with animals, their food, and their poop. For a time, there was no escaping it. Imagine, then, the power that could exist behind a beloved licensed property like Pokemon crying out for food and poop action.
Imagine if that Pokeball Plus opened up to feature a little screen inside so you could actually interact with your digital friend. Instead of just walking around like some kind of healthy idiot or carrying around a $50 keychain, you could take your favorite Pokemon you caught in the actual game and play with it by training it, taking care of it, feeding it, and performing all your regular Tamagotchi chores with it. Since the pets are Pokemon instead of weird blob monsters (Muk not withstanding), you could also battle or befriend other Pokemon that people are carrying around with them on the streets. Build up your little buddy, send it back to the main game, and get started caring for the next Pokemon in your team so you basically never have to stop playing, just like you always dreamed. Take it anywhere you can't take your whole game system and get a whole new generation of virtual pets banned from work and school! It's genius, I tell you, and I'll take my giant, novelty check now, Nintendo.