Toys

9 Toylines from the ’80s Based on Unusual Gimmicks

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One of the reasons the Masters of the Universe toyline is so fondly remembered is due to the great variety of toy gimmicks. Each figure had the ability to “punch” via a waist twist, but there were also characters with revolving eyes or faces, interchangeable robotic arms, glow in the dark skin, working gears in the torso – never mind all the crazy motorized vehicles like the Attak Track and the Dragon Walker.

But often toy companies in the 1980s weren’t nearly as ambitious. They still wanted to cash in on the “collect them all” mentality, but only had enough money (or creativity) for one gimmick, so they would base an entire line around it. Some of these ideas, such as transforming from a robot into a vehicle of some sort, were wildly successful. Others… not so much. And yet, you’ll be amazed by how many of these short-lived toylines got their own comic, or even an animated series as everyone tried to replicate the success of He-Man, the Transformers and G.I. Joe.


9) Visionaries and Super Naturals

Holograms were huge in the ’80s. Considering the weak premises used for some of the lines on this list, it’s no surprise that not one, but two toy companies thought they could build an entire toy line around holograms. I’m including both Hasbro’s science fiction-themed Visionaries and Tonka’s dark fantasy Super Naturals because they were based on the exact same idea. Most figures in both lines had a hologram on its torso and came with a hologram accessory. One major difference: Visionaries got a 13-episode TV cartoon and six issues of a comic from Marvel, while the Super Naturals didn’t waste anyone’s money but Tonka’s.

8) Tacky Stretchoid Warriors

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A common theme on this list are toys that are quickly rendered crappy in some way. Bandai’s Tacky Stretchoid Warriors is our first example. The line consisted of gummy black inner bodies that you attached armor pieces to, thus creating an “action figure.” The packaging showed kids stretching out the figures’ arms and legs from within the armor, which is… fun, I guess? As you’d expect, the rubbery figures easily tore and got covered with dust and hair, while the armor pieces quickly found their way to vaccum bags and dog stomachs. This one is a bit of a stretch (sorry) because the figures were released in the U.S. in 1990, but they were imported from a late ’80s Japanese toyline based on the tokusatsu show Sekai Ninja Sen Jiraiya.

7) Ring Raiders

In 1988, Matchbox decided it kids no longer wanted simple toy replicas of jets. The time had come to mount those little jets on rings! Yes, this was a toyline of jets that kids could wear like rings. That’s it. And yet, this wafer-thin premise got a comic book and a five-episode animated series! This can only be explained as part of some sort of money-laundering scam.

6) Air Raiders

Air Raiders by Hasbro made extensive use of compressed air, mostly for firing missiles with big fluorescent safety tips kids. The line had some really well-animated commercials and even a short-lived Star comic. How did these tiny toylines keep getting their own comic books? Anyway, evidently kids weren’t interested in a toy line based on the same principle as farting; the Air Raiders are all but forgotten today.

5) Sky Commanders

It seems there was no gimmick too cheap and obscure to build an entire toy line around in the 1980s. Hence Kenner’s Sky Commanders, a line focused on the totally extreme sport of ziplining. The action figures, who featured names like “Mike Summit” and “Rex Kling,” were an afterthought for the vehicles, which could move up and down on the ziplines. The lines were reportedly weak and tended to fall a lot, but if comments on various nostalgia websites are to be believed, the toys were pretty fun. This being the 1980s, this random toy line had a 13-episode cartoon from Hanna Barbera.

4) Robo Force

The Ideal Toy Company produced a number of odd toys in the 1980s, including the notorious Robo Force. Every figure in the line featured a suction cup on the bottom and accordion arms that came together when a button was pushed on the back. It was really more of a hug than an attack. The line hit in 1984 at the same Toy Fair as the Transformers; Robo Force instantly looked quaint and retro by comparison, and was soon forgotten.
But the problem wasn’t just the design; in the ’80s, Ideal cornered the market on “toys that were easily ruined” (see Manglors, below). The plastic tabs holding the robots’ accordion arms in place often broke, so 90% of all Robo Force figures eventually had stretched-out arms that hung uselessly at their sides.

3) The Infaceables

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The Infaceables – “Mystic Warriors of Change” – by Galoob was a short-lived line featuring figures with faces that switched from a man to a monster. The instructions in the catalog state, “gently pull upper body slightly away from legs to engage magic vacuum action. Face actually transforms before your eyes!” (This same technique was used for three of Donatella Versace’s plastic surgeries.) Basically the “regular” faces would deflate to form the monster faces.
Of course, said faces were made from thin rubber and were usually broken within hours. Also, “Infaceables” has to be one of the worst brand names of all time, though it’s given a run for its money by…

2) Speclatron

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Produced by the peppy-sounding “S&T Sales,” Speclatron was one of the dozens of He-Man knock-off lines that abounded in the 1980s. But it had one huge, HUGE difference: every figure in the line had a clear torso filled with water and glitter. The good guys were led by the heroic “Hero,” fighting bad guys led by the familiar-looking skull-faced Dethlor. The directions on the packaging stated, “For magic action, press hole in back and he will become powergized, invincible, ready for action!” Becoming “powergized” presumably meant the glitter swirled around a little.
Despite the bizarre gimmick, the figures are some of the rarest He-Man knock-offs out there. A single loose Speclatron figure today costs the same as approximately one hundred of them would have, brand-new, in the 1980s.

1) Manglors

Produced by Ideal in the mid-1980s, the Manglors were sticky, rubbery monster figures. The idea was you could tear off their limbs and then stick said limbs back on “almost like new,” as the ad says. Of course, the reality was that once you pulled off that arm or leg, it would never really be the same toy again. Most kids who liked Manglors went through at least two or three of them before they ended up in their final resting place under the couch, covered in pet hair and looking like victims of the Cleveland Torso Murderer. Given the number of replacement Manglors parents probably bought, this may have been Ideal’s plan all along.