Toy manufacturers have been able to squeeze in all sorts of features into our GI Joe, Transformers, and He-Man figures throughout the years. Spring-loaded missiles, lights and sounds, chips, battle-damage armor are just a few of the dozens of ways toy designers have convinced us to buy their toys. But what are the coolest gimmicks out there?
Interchangeable Accessories – Centurions, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors
These toys were some of my favorites growing up because of the almost unlimited configurations you could come up with. Both lines featured a figure or vehicle with ports all over and a boatload of pieces you can plug into them wherever you like. Both toylines had official configurations for their figures/vehicles, but with the toys you could make them as crazy as possible, bristling with weapons or sleek as hell. The best part was getting multiple figures and trying to put all their accessories on one toy, overloading them with missiles and claws until they couldn’t even stand up.
Combiners – Voltron, Go-Bots, Transformers
If putting a ton of accessories together on one toy is cool, then putting a bunch of other toys onto one toy had to be better, right? Probably the most famous is the Voltron series, which had three different robots, each composed of either lions, cars, or other vehicles, sometimes including up to 15 separate parts. Go-Bots followed suit with Puzzler and Monsterous, but Transformers really took it to the extreme, introducing seven combiners in their Scramble City style, which allowed any four limbs to attach to any combiner torso, in addition to Devastator and the giant Predaking.
Magnets and Wind-ups – Starcom
Starcom combined two great features into one awesome toyline. The first is Power Deploy, a feature that, when you pressed a button or flipped a switch, would deploy a weapon or accessory automatically. Returning the part to its original position would wind-up the feature again for its next use. Second, was the Magna Lock system, where each figure had magnets implanted in their feet. Normally this would just attach the figure to a vehicle or playset, but placing them on certain panels would activate the Power Deploy feature, tying them together in the coolest way.
Holograms – Visionaries, Supernaturals
These toys had me feeling like we were in some kind of futuristic age. Holograms were reserved for sci-fi movies and credit cards. What the hell was it doing on our toys? Visionaries used it to show off the magic powers they had with holograms on their chests and staffs, but Supernaturals (which was totally cheated out of having its own awesome cartoon) took it a step further by making figures where the entire front of them was a hologram. It might have limited some articulation, but some figures made up for it by using double-channel holograms to show two images as you moved them around.
Lasers – BraveStarr, Captain Power
If I thought holograms were too sci-fi for toys, then action figures that shot lasers blew my mind. BraveStarr was the first toyline I had seen that incorporated lasers into them, using a backpack that would shoot IR beams at other toys and play sounds or make other features activate. If that’s cool, Captain Power dialed it up to 11, using lasers to make your toys interact with the actual TV show! You’d hear sounds if your shots hit and your toy (which was a handheld jet) would launch the cockpit if it took too many hits from the enemy on the TV set. The jets could also shoot at each other like Laser Tag. MASK even tried this technology with the Laser Command set but lost some cool points by having Trakker’s vehicle turn into a disappointing wooden crate.
What were your favorite gimmicks and which ones did I miss on this list?
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