Top 10 Disappointing Toys of the 1980s

The 1980s: an era where toys looked great in the adverts on the telly, but, er, didn't quite work out when you got them home...

Christmas morning was supposed to be a time of joy, of uncovering new toys and games, and enjoying them for all time. But not if you were left with any of the following…

1. Mr Frosty

What looked like an all-in-one ice-cream parlour/Slush Puppy shop, Mr Frosty made it look like you were provided with loads of flavours, moulds and cups to make hundreds of flavoured ice-pops in various shapes and sizes. Heck there was even a nifty penguin jug to fill up with juice. All you needed to do was to crush the ice with the fantastic Mr Frosty Ice-Maker, a happy looking snowman that dispensed crushed ice from his chest.

However in reality what you got instead was things you already had at home. Three or so flavoured sachets of squash concentrate, some ex-Tupperware ice-cube trays, and most disappointing of all, the amazing looking Mr Frosty was nothing more that a thin plastic hand-pumped rotary grater that was so badly made it could not even cut cheese, let alone ice.

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Mr Frosty

2. Mouse Trap

Again drawn in by the elaborate colours and an insane looking and complex construction, Mouse Trap was actually a board game that seemed to involve mice, cheese and a man on a diving board jumping into a bath. Really I cannot remember actually playing the game itself as it took so long to set up the ‘trap’ with all its bits, test it a few times and mess about with it that it all seemed a bit pointless.

Hours to set up and seconds to play, the Trap was hugely elaborate and came in separate pieces which you would have to intricately build, arrange and set-up. But it was never much fun when you did it.

3. Castle Grayskull – (He-Man Toys in General)Mythical monstrous muscle bound warriors battling on a Dungeons and Dragons-style planet, filled with magic and futuristic weapons. Yup, the He-Man cartoon had it all. However the toys were severely lacking. All formed from a similar mould, every He-Man toy (well except the girls obviously) had the same arms, legs and torso and only really differed in clothing and head. Solid and pure plastic, the figures had five points of articulation and a real difficulty standing up.

It wasn’t just the figures that were disappointing. I had Battle Cat and a Robot Horse thing that were just lumps of badly painted plastic. To seal the nail in the coffin, after nearly a year of pestering my parents I received the legendary Castle Grayskull that seemed on the advert to be a huge, complex and amazingly detailed model. However in reality it was a piece of green plastic with some black paint slapped on the front, with numerous fiddly bits to make up trap-doors and levels. A real disappointment this and was one of the reasons for me sell all my figures. That, and, er, Transformers had come out.

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4. Big Trak

Combining a futuristic mobile tank with an onboard computer, the idea of Big Trak was that you could programme this awesome lump of plastic to perform tasks. With a keyboard on top that contained directions, you could load up your Big Trak to move forward, turn left/right and reverse, and if you believed the advert, drop off snacks and bits to family members using the trailer. Like everything worthwhile, Big Track needed time and a real understanding of the instruction manual for all the bits you see in the advert, and again for a kid like me this wasn’t on. If it couldn’t do what I wanted it to do straight away it wasn’t worth bothering with.

Big Trak

5. Sinclair C5

While not really a toy, a Sinclair C5 was a driving version of the iPod, a lustful object that seemed out of its time. I had the ‘pleasure’ of being able to have a go in a C5 (while on holiday in the Isle of Wight), and after years of seeing adverts, features and talk of how fun and ‘exciting’ it was to drive, the opportunity was there to see if the reality was as good as the hype. Guess what? It wasn’t. Lumbering, clumsy and feeling very dangerously low to the ground, I felt like I was going to tip over at any time. To think there was a time when there was talk of these becoming commercial, road-worthy vehicles….

6. Soda Stream

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‘Make your own pop at home’. It was the future, no need for bottle of Coke in the cupboard when you can have carbonated drinks at any time you wish. Thing is it cost more to buy the Soda Stream, gas canisters, bottle and drink concentrate than it would to buy a year’s supply of Coke. Still it was exciting, and if worked properly you too could have re-usable bottles of fizzy water with a hint of flavour at the top, and then over-dose on sickly sweet Coke substitute in the last mouthful. Still they did have a very nice Dandelion and Burdock flavour, so it wasn’t a complete loss

7. ‘Battle Damage’ toys (He-Man/Hot Wheels/Star Wars)

From the early Battle Damage range that were really just stickers to put on your X-Wing, all series of toys seemed to be released with Battle Damage variants. Whether it was He-Man or Hot-Wheels there was a line that looked as though the person/vehicle had been in a right bust up. However the cool thing was that with a wipe, all the damage was gone. For me this was amazing and I had delusions that the metal used in the toys was some mercury-like substance that could be ironed out with a finger. However, disappointingly it was found that the damage was ‘fake’ and that the door, front or chest of the figure was just made out of a spring loaded roller that, when hit, could be turned to reveal the damage and then hit again to return to its original state.

8. Domino Rally

In the 1980s, Record Breakers (with the legendary Norris McWhirter and Roy Castle) was ‘must see TV’ with hundreds of records seen and broken on the show. One of the most impressive was of course the dominoes records. When filmed and shown, these jaw dropping set pieces were a miracle to behold, and showed hours and hours of commitment and time to the cause of breaking a record. So when Domino Rally came out, the notion that you too could replicate such joy meant I was quickly sold. The reality however was much different as really setting up dominos is really, really boring, time consuming and dull. Even the ‘cheat’ ones that were dominos set on a plastic tray that you could just flip up were boring. Neither useful (to actually play dominoes) or entertaining, Domino Rally was just really a cash-in for a trend that was, at the time, fantastic and on par with other 1980s gems such as people who played their own teeth, dogs that could talk and kids who could do Rubik’s cubes in ten seconds flat.

9. Kick-Start Computer game

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What you wanted:

What you got:

10. Board Games based on TV Shows.

Whether it was Neighbours, Home and Away, Blockbusters, Gladiators, Supermarket Sweep or Blankety Blank, board games based on a TV show on the 1980s were cheap, nasty and had just ‘play only once’ staying power. While soaps, quiz shows and such were the staple of these types of games, creators could have spent more time researching shows that would have made a much better transfer across to this format. Who would not have wanted to play an Adventure Game board game, a Willy Fog game or a Mysterious Cities of Gold game (rather than, say, a Going for Gold one)?

Now this would have made a superb board game)…

Add your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below!


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