The GeeksverseThe Roundtable | Disappointing childhood toys and games

The Roundtable | Disappointing childhood toys and games
Published on Friday, July 19, 2013 by
The Comixverse’s staffers and contributors run down some of the most disappointing toys and games from their childhood in this week’s Roundtable discussion.

Hype. We’ve got hype on the brain as SDCC goes into full swing this weekend, the premier North American comics-themed event that has become as much about merchandising and IP licensing as it is about the celebration of comic books. As adults, we all know that the flashing lights and booming music (and the scantily-clad models, and the free samples, etc.) of the hard sell are just that, at least most of the time.

As kids though, we never bothered to read the fine print on the ads (“Figures sold separately”)  or stop to consider that TV commercials are designed to make products look so much better than they really are. Does anybody actually remember having as much fun playing with the Merlin as the family in the ad below?

Sure, there were certain toys and games that lived up to their advertised promise, and for many children, their imagination could fill in the gap between the rose-colored fantasy of the commercial and the brittle, overpriced reality of the actual product. But there were many toys and games where the dissonance between what we were told we were going to get and what we actually ended up playing with was so much that, decades on, we still feel a trace of the pang of childhood disappointment that came with unmet expectations.

For this week’s Roundtable, our staffers and contributors dredge up their memories of the most disappointing toys and games from their childhood.

Eric Bright (contributor)

construx-86091I’m probably going to get some heat for this one, but I distinctly remember getting a set of Construx one year for my birthday. I had seen commercials for these and I thought they were going to be the coolest toy ever. Legos were starting to get really popular, but weren’t nearly as well done as they are today, and Construx came out as an alternative building toy and tried to capitalize on the 80’s love of space. Some of the features were really cool, like glow-in-the-dark pieces, rubber wheels, and pivots, but overall they left a lot to be desired. Construx were much larger and resembled a plastic Erector Set with a block design. Instead of using interlocking blocks, they used beams, which connected to cubic connecting pieces. The connections weren’t as secure as Legos and they felt cheap and clunky. I was probably 6 or 7 when I got them, but I wasn’t fooled that these were the future of building toys. As a positive, the failure of Construx may be the sole reason nearly every major building toy since has been compatible with Legos.

Zedric Dimalanta
print_ad_xmen-nes_uncannyaction

The print ad for LJN’s The Uncanny X-Men game ran in Marvel’s comics for several months in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

Our family wasn’t exactly rolling in the dough when I was a kid, so generally, any toys and games my parents or other relatives bought for us were very much appreciated by my older brother and I. Still, there were the odd toys and games that just didn’t live up to the promises of the packaging and the advertising, foremost of which in my memory was the horrid The Uncanny X-Men game for the Famicom/NES published by LJN in 1989. My brother and I saved and saved to get that game, we ended up getting summer jobs at a relative’s store so we could get the lone copy of the game at one of the local import shops. Sure, the grainy screen captures of the gameplay in the print ad didn’t look all that enticing, but hey, I was eleven, the X-Men were my absolute favorite superheroes at that point, and as long as the game was even halfway enjoyable, I was certain that my overriding love for the characters would ensure that I would have fun with the game.

So the day came when we finally had saved up enough to buy the game. My brother and I raced home from the shop, put in the cartridge, turned on the NES, and were met with this digital disaster:

Apart from the admittedly groovy 8-bit blues character select screen music, everything about the game was, not to put too fine a point on it, absolute shit. Playing the game on single-player, the game’s AI would control the second X-Man on your squad (there was no option to form up a squad of one) and would immediately commit suicide by stepping on the various floor hazards or running into the robot enemies that looked like refugees from an early 1980s Atari 2600 game. Using Storm’s flying powers or Iceman’s ice slide powers (although you’d have to imagine the slide part… he pretty much flew just like Storm) could actually kill a player, as flying would exhaust their health. Nightcrawler didn’t teleport in the game, he phased through objects like Shadowcat and just like flying, phasing through objects would take a chunk off of his health (this was especially annoying given the AI’s non-existent pathfinding ability—the AI-controlled Nightcrawler would pretty much phase himself to death within twenty seconds of a mission’s start). Wolverine didn’t even have the benefit of his claws—he would perform the same vague kicking/shoving melee attack all the characters had.

We really, really tried to like that game. Heck, we even finished it (although we never did figure out that there was a hidden bonus stage in the game). But I’ll always remember that soul-crushing feeling my brother and I shared in the silent first five minutes after we booted up the game: It was the feeling that we’d been hoodwinked into shelling out our hard-earned money for a piece of crap. This was our first experience with garbage licensed/tie-in merchandise, and it certainly wouldn’t be our last, but if nothing else, we did come away with the beginnings of—I don’t want to call it cynicism—a sense of healthy skepticism about advertising, hype, and licensed merchandise.

Troy Osgood

The G.I. Joe Skystriker.

I got it and was instantly disappointed in it. I hated that the “swing-wings” and the landing gear were jointly actuated, permanently. Bring the landing gear out and the wings would swing out. The feature just felt awkward to me. Never liked that so it got relegated to the closet real quick.

Joe Milone

The Masters of the Universe was the toyline that really started my love of toys, like most ’80s kids I suppose. It was a line filled with fun figures, great vehicles and most of all amazing playsets. Then there was the Masters of The Universe Battle Bones…

Cool 80s commercial (that sounds like it was narrated by Optimus Prime himself, Peter Cullen)?

http://youtu.be/bQt1NJIcUpg

Check!

Epic box art?

Battle-Bones

Double check!

But the toy itself.. garbage. Honestly, I don’t know why I was so excited for this thing—it was basically a variation on the carrying case—but I remember opening the box and putting him together with my parents and thinking about how cheaply made it was. Then I clipped in some figures and KNEW how cheap it was as the clips that held the figures to the Battle Bones immediately broke apart! And I wasn’t even that rough with my toys as a kid. What a terrible item.

As a side note, someone at Mattel must have thought it was a great item because it returned in the 200x line:

Battle-Bones_200x

Hopefully that one was of at least better build and plastic quality.

Kevin J. Kessler (contributor)

As a kid, to say I was swimming in Ninja Turtles merch would be the understatement of the century. If a new Turtles figure or playset came out, I had to have it. From the Sewer Den to the Turtle Van I was all over that stuff. Sure, thanks to my brother Dan several pieces of this incredible collection were lacking in limbs, weaponry, and any kind of detachable item whatsoever. But even with a one-legged April, a naked Splinter, and Turtles with no weapons I was very happy with my Turtles collection. So when it was announced that there was going to be a Technodrome toy, I was beyond excited.

technodrome_animated

The Technodrome was the mobile command center of The Shredder and Kraang. It looked like a giant golf ball with a huge eye atop. It was propelled by treads on the bottom and was complete with an arsenal or Turtle destroying weaponry. To a Turtles fan, there was no greater threat. So I immediately put the Technodrome on my Christmas list. Then I got it…

http://youtu.be/T8cgbrNzgOM

First of all, the scaling was way off. The Turtles were like a quarter the height of the thing. Now, I don’t know if it was the toy itself, or the way my dad assembled it, but the Technodrome came apart, opening from both sides, but upon opening it, every damn time, the side snapped off. The Turtles were also too large to be inside of it. Put one Turtle inside and the damn thing tipped over. It became a balance game of putting turtles of equal weight on different sides. (Damn you for being so fat, Mikey!) Also, the eye came off of the top. This was done in an attempt to make it a weapon against the Turtles. But with the aforementioned issue of the brother of destruction living in my house, this was promptly lost within the first three days.

So all in all this toy was not nearly what I thought it would be. I remember being devastated at just how little I was able to play with it. So thanks a lot Turtles! Your Technodrome SUCKED!

Do you remember a particularly disappointing toy or game from your childhood? Share them with us in the comments section below or on our various social media channels.
One Response
    • I didn’t get the 200x Battle Bones, but I loved my original. Sure, the figure hangers broke eventually but the concept was just awesome to younger me! I wouldn’t call it the definitive MOTU vehicle or figure or whatever it was, but it was fun.

      Construx would have been cool if I’d had more. Like Legos and Lincoln Logs before them I only like construction toys when I have a trash can full of pieces and can build the epic things that I dream up. My one set of glowing Construx was cool…but left me wanting more.

      Most of the toys I was disappointed in in my childhood was because I only had one figure, or didn’t have enough characters to stage the battles that I wanted. One Spider-Man with his head that kept falling off was just no match for the few Cobra forces that I had or the much larger MOTU army. Poor guy. He never had a chance.

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