Kids today have no idea how great it was to grow up in the 1980s. Sure, they have their iPad’s, their mobile phones, or their Fortnite skins, but when we were kids toys were actually something to get excited about. Who doesn’t remember running down the stairs and diving into a mountain of presents, most containing intricately designed plastic fortresses, or realistic and poseable action figures? We didn’t need Facebook to entertain us, because we had He-Man.
To celebrate the glory days of old school Christmas, we look back at the very best presents money could buy during this golden era, for boys and girls, and reminisce about the days when we had full heads of hair, and had yet to be crushed by the grim reality of adulthood.
In 1987, Mattel unleashed their Boglins range as a child-friendly response to the craze of creature themed horror movies like Gremlins, Ghoulies, and Critters, many of which were enjoyed on VHS by kids far too young to ever see them in a cinema.
The range consisted of a variety of rubber hand puppet goblins with moveable eyes, contained within a cage so not to unleash them upon the world. Unlike most puppets of the day, these little monsters were sculpted by folks who had actually trained under the learning tree of Jim Henson, which added a whole new level of legitimacy to the brand.
Boglins was also one of the very few toy lines not to get an animated spinoff, despite the success of ‘out there’ shows like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and Toxic Crusaders, which both aired in the very early 1990s.
CABBAGE PATCH KIDS
Looking like a mash-up between the Garbage Pail Kids and your sisters favourite dolly, the Cabbage Patch Kids were one of the most beloved fads of the 1980s. With their cutesy faces and sickly names, the mass-produced munchkins used to cause parents to wrestle in the aisles of shops trying to score the last one in time for Christmas. Think Jingle All The Way, but real.
More than anything, the Cabbage Patch Dolls were the stuff of nightmares. Especially for those of us who had caught a glimpse of the Child’s Play VHS cover in the local video shop and convinced ourselves that big sisters baby doll was going to murder you in your sleep.
MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE
Nothing screams 1980s toy line more than the Masters of the Universe action figures, and their respective playsets. How muscular men in their underpants, riding big cats and trying to stave off attacks from some dude named Fisto became so popular is anybody’s guess, but whether you loved them or loathed them they were THE must have toys in the early 1980s.
Even your sister loved MOTU, because she had her own spin-off toy line – She-Ra Princess of Power. Heck, she probably enjoyed playing with the He-Man figures too, just as much as you liked getting your hands on those curvaceous lady dolls, some with realistic cat-scratch actions!
Then came the playsets, and BY THE POWER OF GRAYSKULL, they were legendary. For He-Man fans there was the actual Castle Grayskull, a place for He-Man to hang out with all his buddies. For fans of Skeletor and the bad guys, you had Snake Mountain – the superior playset of the two. As well as that, Mattel released the Fright Zone, base of operations for Hordak, which came with a prison cell and a rubber glove monster that could eat anyone it wanted. It also made your hand stink.
MOTU had something for everyone, and until The Real Ghostbusters figures crossed the streams and cornered the toy market, He-Man and his chums were the number one gifts at Christmas.
No way would any toy line be called Madballs in 2020, but 35 years ago kids weren’t so coddled, so it was open season on creating as many ridiculous, tongue-in-cheek or borderline inappropriate brand names as you and your brain could manage.
To think that Madballs were literally just foam balls made up to look cooler than your regular tennis ball, and yet the world went crazy for them, so much so they even had their own video games and animated VHS specials. That’s a cartoon series about balls. Saying that, this is also the era where we had an animated series showcasing MC Hammer’s dancing shoes, so maybe it shouldn’t be such a surprise.
G1 OPTIMUS PRIME ACTION FIGURE
Transformers toys in 2020 are largely plastic turds sculpted to look like something that was once incredibly cool. During the early years though, they were die-cast treasures that every child coveted as if their life depended on it.
The greatest of all Transformers merchandise has always been – and always will be – the G1 range, in particular that of Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots and scourge of the Decepticons. Your parents really had to love you to go to the effort of securing you a genuine G1 Optimus Prime, instead of an Ironhide or worse, a GoBot.
It almost wasn’t the 1980s anymore by the time Nintendo released their first handheld games machine, but depending on where in the world you lived, this incredible pint-sized pleasure box was the most futuristic piece of tech you’d ever held in your pre-pubescent palms.
Whether you were into Super Mario or enjoyed a quick game of Tetris on the loo, many an hour was passed glued to the Game Boy, at least until the batteries died. Its legacy speaks for itself, but it’s a testament to Nintendo that so many of us still enjoy this slice of nostalgia, and why it has endured for so long while competitors and other Nintendo handheld consoles have fallen by the wayside.
MY LITTLE PONY
According to whispers on the playground, My Little Pony dolls were made of knicker elastic. Although this has never truly been confirmed, it also hasn’t ever been denied, so there’s a good chance you received a toy horse for Christmas one year that was made from your grannies underpants.
Mercifully, My Little Pony toys were so much fun nobody cared, which is why they’re still going strong almost 40 years after their original release. They weren’t just for girls either, in case you were wondering. Some of us grew up into something called a Brony, but that’s a story for another day.
GHOSTBUSTERS FIREHOUSE HEADQUARTERS PLAYSET
For those of us who chose Ghostbusters over Masters of the Universe, the Fire House HQ playset was the be all and end all of 1980s Christmas gifts. Based on the HQ from both the 1984 movie and the superb animated spin-off, the playset was three levels of interactive ghostbusting entertainment, complete with a working pole for your Venkman and Stantz action figures to slide down, space for a Containment Unit and Ecto-1, and if you were really lucky you would be allowed to drip actual ectoplasm through the grilled roof and cover your Ghostbusters in goop.
Unlike many of today’s toys, the Kenner Ghostbuster models were built to last, which is why so many of us still have our original sets to this day, with very little depreciation in quality. If you were unlucky enough to give yours away then complete models can still be picked up on eBay for a price that won’t completely bankrupt you, or alternatively, pick up an incomplete model and buy what you’re missing on the cheap.
Sylvanian Families actually won ‘Toy of the Year’ on three consecutive occasions in the 1980s, and although it was released during an era when boys and girls had their own toys, and ne’er the twain shall meet, I coveted my sisters’ collection with ever fibre of my being.
Since the 1980s, the toy line has declined in popularity, but back in its heyday you couldn’t sneeze without spreading germs all over some playset or other. Even today, as a near 40-year-old man, I get a twinge of rage when I walk past a display of the new range – secretly longing to buy the lot and play the shit out of them, because I was never given the chance to introduce them to Skeletor or Mr. Stay Puft when I was a kid. I just know they would have become friends!
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES TECHNODROME
While the Ghostbusters and other hero teams of the era usually had the coolest toys, many fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toy line would argue that the very coolest figures and playsets actually belonged to the bad guys – and nothing was cooler, or more coveted, than Kraang’s Technodrome.
The giant eyeball from Dimension X was just so much cooler than any other playsets available at the time, including the Ghostbusters HQ, and the Party Wagon, vehicle of choice for our pizza-loving Turtles. Some argue this came out in 1990 – while others believe this came out in the original wave. Either way, we’re pretty sure it was available for Christmas at the turn of the century – and even if it wasn’t it’s still a freaking awesome toy that kids from the 1980s would have been able to enjoy.
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