Collecting 80's

by Larry Anderson

Yes friends, the 80’s were about much more than videogames.  Shocking, I know.  Now that you’ve fully recovered from the jolt, let’s spend a little time sharing some fond memories about the nostalgia of leg warmers, big hair, zipper jackets, parachute pants…  like, oh my god, a flashback!!  The 80’s were full of some great fads, videogames being just one among many (fortunately for the readers of this rag, videogames survived and conquered the Decade of Decadence).  Classic games spawned a whole series of collectibles and memorabilia, a lot of which are cool in their own right.  There was also some stuff borne of the decade that no sentient game collector would be found without.  In the following paragraphs I’d like to talk about a couple cool videogame and non-videogame icons from the 80’s that make great shelf-bait.

Rubik’s Cube – A simple toy conceived by a simple man named Erno Rubik.  This Eastern European inventor concocted this fiendishly simple toy in the late seventies, and it was brought to the US mass market by our friends at the Ideal Toy Company in 1981.  With this introduction, cube-mania gripped the nation for the next 3 years.  There were competitions, clothes, TV shows (who doesn’t remember the episode of “That’s Incredible!” featuring the world’s fastest cubists?  Or were you too busy drooling over Cathy Lee Crosby?), and a slew of follow-ons and knockoffs.  Some of the more memorable items include:

Rubik’s Revenge / Rubik’s Wahn:  These puzzles got increasingly more difficult by adding a fourth, and yes, even a fifth row of twisty-turny madness to the action.  On those who truly had too much time on theirs hands and a penchant for pain dared attempt these bad boys of boggledom.  For the simple minded among us, Ideal thoughtfully created the 2x2 Pocket Cube.

Whip-It:  Oddly enough, commercials for this toy did NOT feature that icon of 80’s music Devo.  A pretty simple cylindrical puzzle that most people could pick up and solve within a couple hours.  Based on the unexpected success of Whip-It, Ideal came out with a similar sliding puzzle called The Missing Link; four sides, four colored chains that you need to put in the right order by twisting and sliding sections around.  For the completists among you collectors, Ideal also released a deluxe edition with the ever-popular Shiny Silver Sides™.

Pyraminx/Megaminx Originally created by puzzle maven Meffert, Tomy brought these puzzles into kids’ hands during the height of Cube-mania.  The Pyraminx was a snap to solve, and had the distinction of not fitting into your bag, coat or purse very easily.  If you wanted a real challenge, you could try your hand at the 10-sided Megamix.  This author has one sealed on his display shelf, and has no intention of subjecting himself to the mind-numbing torture of scrambling and solving it!

Branded cubesAnytime something becomes popular, everyone wants to put their name one it.  Marketers cranked out cubes from the likes of The Police, Chex Cereal, Chuck E. Cheese, Apple Computer, and even McDonalds.  You Deserve A Break Today, right?

Video GamesRubik’s Cube and Atari Video Cube for the 2600, available special order along side Crazy Climber in the pages of Atari Age.  We all know that everyone ran right out and bought this, given the prices this game fetches when up for sale.  Thankfully no one else tried to duplicate the thrill of twisting plastic on the small screen.

Tron – The definitive movie about videogames and the world inside the computer had a wide range of promotional goods and branded material.  While one of my colleagues will be covering the movie in depth elsewhere in this issue, I wanted to cover a couple items the savvy classic gamer might think are cool:

Tomy Handheld:  This neat little Vacuum Fluorescent Display (VFD) handheld was surprisingly fun to play.  You had light cycles, disk battles, and a war with the MCP all wrapped into one.  Interesting trivia bit:  If you look inside the back of the case, you’ll see a paper printed circuit board through the translucent plastic; the number printed on there was the model of the game designer’s favorite motorcycle.

Tomy Action Figures:  For those of you who had to “play Tron”, Tomy had ,for your backyard amusement, a set of 4 poorly-articulated transparent action figures, each with their own complimentary glow-in-the-dark weapon (the Warrior with his staff just looked plain menacing).  Also available were two ripcord-enhanced Light Cycle toys that could screech across Mom & Dad’s new wooden floor at 35 MPH, crashing into the wall and making a very satisfying thump.  These figures and vehicles were recently re-released by NECA in conjunction with Disney’s 20th Anniversary DVD re-release of the film.

Trading Cards:  Our pals at Donruss came out with a 66 card, 8-sticker set depicting various scenes from the film.  On the back of the stickers were tips about how to master the arcade game produced by Bally/Midway.

M-Network Special Pack:  For you Atari 2600 fans, our friends at Mattel had the exclusive license to produce home games based on the movie.  Through the M-Network brand, Tron: Deadly Discs and Adventures Of Tron were brought to the system.  These games were available as a pack-in along with a super-cool translucent blue M-Network Tron Joystick. Stay tuned to Tron; the wonderful folks at NECA are preparing the release of Tron 2.0 action figures to coincide with the release of the PC game of the same title.  Mmmmm…. Mercury….

More Game Stuff – Yes, even the venerable fads have venerable fads to go with them.  Videogames were not immune to the march of tidbits to yank on your parents’ pants leg about; there’s plenty of swag to go around:

Pac-Man:  Bumper stickers, belt buckles, lunchboxes, mugs, glasses, lamps, trashcans, nightlights…  Heck, even soap on a rope was molded in the shape of our favorite dot-gobbler and his pals.  If you’re really interested, there’s a book dedicated to Pac-Man collectibles; do a quick search on eBay, you’re bound to find a few copies on sale from time to time.

Donkey Kong:  Coleco did action figures, Topps did trading cards, and Nintendo didn’t do anything.  It was not until 1986 with the introduction of the NES and Super Mario Bros. that Nintendo began to capitalize on our little plumber friend Mario to become mascot.

Q*Bert:  Often forgotten about amongst the cadre of videogame super-stars, our mono-snouted, foul-mouthed fuzzy friend had a tabletop handheld, a cuddly stuffed doll and a line of children’s book to his credit.  Also, like many of the stars mentioned above, he even had his own Saturday Morning Cartoon™, which is the certain sign that your mass-market appeal is about to come to a screeching halt.

And so our little cruise through 80’s cool stuff comes to a close for now… I’ve barely scratched the surface on 80’s and gaming collectibles; like our virtual friend at Network 23 said, “St-St-Stay Tuned!!”.  Why didn’t anyone ever do a Max Headroom videogame?  S-s-s-seems like perfect material!


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Last updated: Saturday, April 23, 2005 07:48 AM