Acceptable in the Eighties: Modern Toys vs Vintage 1980s Toys



2017-04-25 14:51:57

If you grew up in the 1980s, modern kids' toys can be pretty intimidating. Ten year olds now own smart phones, flying drones and dolls that can search the internet. And they're still bored.

Today's kids may have artificially intelligent cyber-dogs, but they will never know the simple pleasure of programming a slow-moving robot with a tape recorder to pour you a glass of Coke.

So if you're feeling a little nostalgic, here are ten of the biggest-selling kids' toys of recent years, and their vintage 1980s equivalents – from Transformers and Teddy Ruxpin, to Duck Hunt and the Casio calculator watch.

10) Xeno toy

Images: (Flair PLC /Alf Wiki / Edward Cunningham)

Images: (Flair PLC /Alf Wiki / Edward Cunningham)

Xeno is an animatronic monster toy with touch sensors, animated eyes and 50 different expressions. You can feed him, dance to music with him and play games with him, and he can talk to other Xeno toys in a strange alien language.

1980s version: Talking ALF doll

The cast and crew of the hit US TV show may have all hated him, but in the 80s kids loved ALF. The show, featuring a 3ft-tall wisecracking, beer drinking, cat-eating alien named Gordon Shumway ran for four seasons from 1986 until 1990.

As the show became more popular after the first season, the writers had to tone down ALF's beer drinking and attempted cat eating when children across American started drinking beer and microwaving cats.

The terrible jokes, however, continued unabated and even spawned a top-selling talking Wisecracking ALF doll which said hilarious one-liners like "Let's go check out the fridge", "No Problem" and "Hey just kidding" – creating a generation of small children who talked like Rodney Dangerfield.

9) Ice Skating Anna & Elsa from Frozen

(Images: Disney / Etsy)

(Images: Disney / Etsy)

Disney's Frozen is the biggest animated movie of all time, having made $1.2 billion at the box office and won countless awards around the world.

Statistically speaking, anyone with a child under the age of 11 has seen Frozen at least 38 times and many parents have simply permanently glued the DVD into their players.

The Anna and Elsa dolls from Mattel feature an ice-skating action so kids can recreate their favourite scenes from the film, and are sure to have parents fighting each other in the aisles of toy stores across the land.

1980s version: Ariel the Little Mermaid doll

Disney spent most of the 1980s trying to scare the crap out of kids with disturbing live-action movies like Watcher in the Woods, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Return to Oz, and Condorman.

But in 1989 they stopped being weird and released The Little Mermaid, featuring Ariel – the first of the modern-day Disney Princesses.

The film sparked the 'Disney Renaissance' which saw the studio return to its animated roots, paving the way for classics like 'Aladdin' and 'The Lion King'.

And whilst Anna & Elsa may have a talking snowman, Ariel had Sebastian, a Jamaican crab who released his own reggae albums.

8) BoomCo Rapid Madness blaster

(Image: Mattel)

(Image: Mattel)

The BoomCo Rapid Madness blaster is a toy weapon which fires darts that can stick to targets or opponents. Powered purely by air, it can fire a clip of twenty darts in a matter of seconds with a range of up to 50ft.

1980s version: Entertech water guns

In the 80s, it was every manufacturer's mission to make toy guns look as terrifyingly realistic as possible.

At the top of the tree was Entertech, who made a line of battery-powered motorized water guns ranging from Double Clip Barettas and M16s to Colt M1911 pistols and an Uzi sub-machine gun.

But surely the crowning glory for any child would be to roam around the neighbourhood on a Saturday morning brandishing the Entertech Rambo Edition R.P.G. Rocket Launcher.

It was one of a wide range of children's toys based on the spectacularly violent Rambo movies, and by far the most badass.

Filled with water, the bazooka was bigger and heavier than your average six-year-old and fired a jet of water that could knock a kid off their bike ten feet away.

However, the trend for realistic toy guns came to a halt in the late 1980s, after many were used in armed robberies and several kids were shot by police officers who believed their toys were genuine weapons.

Today toy guns like the BoomCo blaster are as bright and colourful as possible, and none are based on films about traumatised Vietnam veterans.

7) Transformers Chomp & Stomp robot

(Images: Hasbro / Transformers Wiki)

(Images: Hasbro / Transformers Wiki)

This Transformers robot stands half a metre tall, and turns into a giant dinosaur with light-up eyes and pop-out weapons.

It's the Transformer every kid in the 80s dreamed about, and as if to rub it in further it comes with an additional Optimus Prime figure that rides on its back like a tiny child.

1980s version: Optimus Prime

When Transformers first hit the market in 1984, there was one particular robot in disguise everyone wanted. Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, was the largest – and therefore best – figure in the entire line.

Megatron might have turned into a cool Walther PPK pistol, but even six-year-olds could see the problems with the scale difference. "So is he a really massive gun that turns into a normal robot, or a normal gun that turns into a tiny robot? This makes no sense!"

Bigger, better, and more ridiculous Transformers quickly followed. For many in their late 30s, names like Ultra Magnus and Metroplex can still inspire a strange sense of awe.

But Optimus Prime was the robot you coveted most when they first hit the toy stores - even if he's now been relegated to the role of providing scale for larger toys.

6) Leapfrog LeapTV

(Images: LeapFrog, Wikipedia)

(Images: LeapFrog, Wikipedia)

Leapfrog LeapTV is an educational video games system for kids, controlled by a motion sensor to get kids moving.

Children can play games by jumping and dancing in front of the TV screen, along with using a motion wand or a traditional controller. And the motion capture system can also turn kids into the stars of their own games, by letting them appear on screen as characters to control.

These games help to teach core skills such as reading, mathematics, science and problem solving, and can be adjusted for different age groups and learning levels.

1980s version: Nintendo Zapper & Duck Hunt

The closest gamers in the 1980s had to the amazing motion controlled games of today was a plastic Nintendo Zapper and a copy of Duck Hunt.

Released in 1984 bundled with the NES, Duck Hunt came with a light gun to fire at your TV screen with increasing frustration.

Because of the way the early guns worked, you could simply point it at a lamp for a few seconds and score a hit every time, or attach a magnifying lens in front of the barrel to give yourself a wider aim.

But no amount of cheating would let you hit the one target you really wanted to.

The game is most memorable for the animated dog that laughed at you if you missed too many ducks. And to make being taunted even worse, no matter how many times you pointed that gun between his eyes and pulled the trigger, the light gun wouldn't let you shoot the damn dog.

Years later, programmers created a free game in which you did nothing but repeatedly shoot the dog, providing catharsis to a generation of gamers.

5) Teksta T-Rex

(Images: Teksta Robotics /

(Images: Teksta Robotics /

The Teksta T-Rex is a pet robot dinosaur with artificial intelligence and 100 interactive features.

Using sensors that recognize speech, movement and light, Teksta can commended to walk, sit, stay and play games.It also responds when you touch it or wave to it, and can roar or burp depending on what mood it's in.

1980s version: Tomy Omnibot

For kids in the 1980s, the 2ft-tall Tomy Omnibot 2000 was the ultimate robot pal. It was like the future in a box.

Using cassette tapes, you could record movement commands for the Omnibot and trigger them using an in-built alarm clock. You could also control one of its arms via remote control, and it came with a serving tray, meaning you could program it to bring you drinks like a tiny plastic butler.

The novelty of having a robot slowly pour you a Coke was short-lived, however, and the real joy was in the ability to record your own voice on the tape and have the Omnobot play it back.

Using the remote control, you could manoeuvre the robot into a crowded room and deliver a string of insults, swear words or fart noises backed by a catchy 80s beat.

And the fact that it had cost your parents $600 meant the Omnibot was unlikely to be smashed to pieces, for the first couple of times at least.

4) Barbie Colour Change Bag

(Image: Mattel)

(Image: Mattel)

The Barbie Colour Change bag is a children's handbag which changes colour to resemble whatever they're wearing.

Using technology that wouldn't have been out of place in Back to the Future II, kids can simply hold their bag up against any colour, and a quick press of a button changes the bag to match it.

1980s version: Hypercolour T-shirts

For some reason in the late 1980s, the coolest thing you could wear was a t-shirt which showed how hot you were.

Hypercolour clothing would change depending on the temperature, so warm spots and cool spots appeared as different colours. After the novelty of leaving hot hand prints on your friends wore off, you were essentially left with a shirt which made your sweat patches glow.

Unfortunately if you ironed your Hypercolour shirt, stuck it in the tumble dryer, or even washed it at a tenth of a degree above the recommended temperature you ruined it forever – which in turn led to the early 90s fashion of everything looking badly tie-dyed. 

3) Kidizoom Smart Watch

(Image: VTech)

(Image: VTech)

The VTech Kidizoom Smart Watch is a piece of wearable tech designed for young children. It features a touch screen and an alarm clock, timer and stop watch, along with a camera that can also film video, and a voice recorder with different sound effects.

It also features a USB connection, and is compatible with both PC and Mac computers so kids can save their data.

1980s version: Casio calculator watches

In the 80s, if you had a watch which did anything other than tell the time you were basically a playground James Bond.

Never mind that the buttons on calculator watches were so small and fiddly that they were almost unusable – you had the technology to do complicated math wherever you damn well pleased.

Then in 1985 Back to the Future was released, creating a generation of kids who thought Marty McFly was the coolest person to walk the face of the Earth.

Not only did he play electric guitar into a giant amplifier, and ride his skateboard hanging from the back of a truck – he also wore a Casio calculator watch.

And this generation of kids turned as one towards Casio and said "Take all of our money now."

2) Play Doh Doh Vinci Style and Store Vanity kit

(Image: Hasbro)

(Image: Hasbro)

The Doh Vinci Style and Store Vanity kit is a small vanity dresser with a mirror and a drawer which can be decorated with Play Doh.

Using a special sculpting gun, kids can create 3-D designs in different colours which harden overnight, introducing them to the expressive world of arts and crafts.

1980s version: Play Doh McDonald's Restaurant

Knowing that kids would never stop trying to eat Play Doh, in the 1980s the manufacturer decided to deliberately make it look like food. Ironically, they made it look like the food with less nutritional value than the Doh itself – McDonalds meals.

Not only did the McDonalds play sets prepare American children for a lifetime of eating salty, brightly coloured, vaguely edible matter – it also taught them the basic burger construction skills many would need in their future careers.

1) My Friend Cayla doll

(Image: Vivid Toy Group)

(Image: Vivid Toy Group)

My Friend Cayla is an interactive doll made by Vivid Toys, which connects to the internet via a smartphone app. Using voice recognition software, the doll can hold a conversation and uses Google to answer any questions you ask it.

"I don't know dear, why don't you ask Cayla?" has become the most popular phrase of exhausted parents around the world (apart from in Germany, where the doll is banned because it's creepy and can be used to spy on your kids).

And search filters will ensure that she won't tell them where babies come from, or give them the key ingredients to crystal meth.

1980s version: Teddy Ruxpin

Teddy Ruxpin was the must-have toy in 1985, a talking teddy bear that could tell you bedtime stories.

You put a special cassette tape in his back, and his mouth moved in time as he told you stories like ' Grubby's Romance: Falling in Love is Something Special', ' The Mushroom Forest: You Can Be Anything You Want to Be' and 'Teddy Ruxpin Visits the Dentist: Sponsored by Crest'.

As kids grew up, however, they discovered the bear could also play other tapes, and a generation of stoned teenagers discovered the magic of watching Teddy Ruxpin sing along to Nirvana and 2 Live Crew. So he really was suitable for all ages.

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