For every toy that becomes a staple in households for generations, there are dozens that don't make it out of the decade they were invented. The toy market is a brutal business as companies try to predict the minds of kids. Kids who have no idea from one day to the next what they will be doing and thinking. With that in mind, it is surprising that any toys succeed at all.
This list looks at some of the best toys from the 90s. Toys that were either invented in that decade or that randomly became popular for one reason or another. The 90s was a strange time to grow up as 90s kids were at the intersection of analog falling out of favor and the digital world taking over. Some of the toys you will find here are representative of that cultural and technological time.
It wasn't a simple time, but it was a simpler time. Toys tended to be fun and outlandish as opposed to hyper-realistic and (in some cases today) kind of depressing. Being a 90s kid was fun, and these forgotten toys, be they decade staples or six-month fads, all show that childlike spirit.
It was also the last decade where toys could be marketed that would clearly cause injury. Something that has made our current society far too healthy and complacent when it comes to their toys!
Pound Puppies were just kind of adorable. It is one of those toys where the popularity was easy to see from the get-go, though few could probably imagine the following that the puppies picked up over time. Before all was said and done Pound Puppies had given birth to an animated TV special, a couple of animated TV series, and even a feature film. Not bad for something that was considered little more than a fad when they exploded onto the shelves.
Pound Puppies were popular because they were so basic. There were no bells and whistles here, no over the top hook to try to draw kids in. Instead, the people at Tonka, and later Hasbro, realized that sometimes all you need is an animal with super floppy ears and sleepy eyes to sell millions.
The ole skipping rope has been around for a while. In the 90s, toy companies had a habit of taking something that was old and successful, but no longer seen as cool, and reinventing it in a new way. That is how Skip-It became one of the most popular toys of the entire decade.
This toy was actually based on a 1960s toy concept called the Lemon Twist. The idea behind both toys was the same. A plastic hoop was placed around one ankle and it would spin around in a 360-degree circle while being skipped over by the user.
It was the ideal 90s toy, one that required zero friends to work and that took all the effort away from creating the object to be skipped over. In a world that was getting more and more technology focused, it is no wonder Skip-It was such a success.
Anyone who claims they were not creeped out by a Furby in the 90s is lying. It is hard to say exactly what a Furby was meant to represent from the animal kingdom. It was a sort of owl/bat/hamster hybrid thing that quickly became a "must-have" toy upon release, which sent prices for the creepy critter through the roof.
Even so, an astonishing number of Furby's were sold. Over one 12-month period, a total of 27 million Furby's flew off of store shelves. That is enough of them to creep out the entire population of Texas on a one on one basis.
Furby was one of a number of early generation robot toys from this era. Another was a dog named Poo-Chi (get it?) who was less annoying and sinister than the Furb, but just as useless in a practical sense.
Betty Spaghetty was basically a mixture of a bunch of other toy lines that were combined to make a doll aimed squarely at the market we would now call tweens. Betty and her friends Zoe and Hannah - and yes, there was a whole universe created here - was pushed as a fun-loving teen of the era. This means that the dolls came with the sort of futuristic accessories that one would have found in the late 90s (cell phones and laptops for example) that made her very appealing to that target market.
The most memorable feature of Betty Spaghetty was the doll's hair. This rubbery tangle of hair could be twisted and braided into any design that a kid would want and, when added to features such changeable hands, shoes, and feet, made each Betty Spaghetty doll feel unique and personalized.
What was it with 90s kids and the need to put everything in their pocket? Why wasn't this idea pushed before the decade as it seemed like everything in the 90s was suddenly miniaturized to be pocket sized.
A great example of this that was insanely popular was the Mighty Max/Polly Pocket line of toys. Smark marketers hear realized that sometimes the best option when trying to appeal all kids is to divide right down the middle with two similar in concept, but very different in looks, products.
Everyone had either a Mighty Max or Polly Pocket playset. I feel like today neither would be allowed to see the light of day because the parts were so small that they were extreme choking hazards, but in the 90s we didn't let small facts like that get in the way of a good time!
Now it is time for another 90s toy that took the concept of pockets to a whole new level. Digital pets were a massive crazy for a while in the 90s and the two leading named in the technology were Tamagotchi and Giga Pet.
In the 90s the world was a much smaller place. Technology hadn't quite got to the point where everyone was interconnected and, as such, when toy fads like this one came over from a mysterious place like Japan it was a really big deal. The idea of having a pet in your pocket - one that you had to interact with in a number of ways to keep it healthy and happy - was mind-blowing, and literally EVERYONE wanted their own digital pet.
Achieving the universal "awesome toy" seal of being banned in schools, digital pets somehow even caused controversy with aminal rights activists about the finality of death in actual pets. That is known as a toy making its mark.
The 90s was a time where it seemed to be all the rage to make toys that were as small and collectible as possible. One such product that was all over playgrounds in schools at the time was Monster in my Pocket.
There was a whole concept behind this mashup of religion, mythology, Sci-Fi, and fantasy. Most people just collected the figures - because they were by far the coolest part - but there was a full line of comic books, trading cards, and a board game for those who were willing to delve further into the lore.
Looking back, the figures scream cheap 90s junk. At the time though there was nothing cooler than going to school with a pocket full of your favorite monsters and showing off to your friends.
Mr. Frosty was more of a kitchen appliance than a toy, but kids around the world went wild for it in the 90s.
While Mr. Frosty had been around for a while, it was in the 90s that his popularity grew to new levels. Maybe it was because adults had more spending power? Maybe they were looking to push menial tasks like sno-cone creation onto their kids? Either way, Mr. Fronsty was front and center at the beginning of the shaved-ice-at-home revolution!
Coming with everything you needed to create said sno-cones, you were also able to use the machine to crease delicious popsicles at home. This, for a 90s kid at least, was the ultimate treat on a hot summer's day. In this decade you can drive to a sno-cone truck with 100 flavors of ice. We may only have had a couple, but we were self-sufficient damn it!
In the 90s every young kid wanted to be like their dad. This meant that you would act like your dad as often as possible, doing all the grown-up tasks that Millennials today are busy avoiding by drinking dumb coffee hybrids and wearing impractical hats. These types would not be man enough to hold Cool Tools, but 90s kids were all about them.
The Power Workbench really was the way to go. While dad was busy actually working, kids could pick up tools of their own and even hear the same sounds that the old man was making as they "fixed" whatever toy needed repairing. Today Cool Tools would be replaced by a video game simulating the use of simulated tools. If that isn't enough to make you pine for the 90s then nothing will.
Believe it or not this toy is actually banned in multiple countries around the world. The Yo-Yo Ball may have started life as a cousin of the regular Yo-Yo, but its super stretchy cord and was cited as the cause of over 400 near-strangulations as kids somehow found a way to wrap their necks in the thing while trying to perform tricks.
If you can look past this slight flaw, however, the Yo-Yo ball was certainly fun. The 90s were a time where slightly different variants of already established toys were a near-guaranteed seller, with the Yo-Yo Ball fitting squarely into this category. In the 90s it was fun to swing the ball over your head like a lasso...wait, suddenly those near strangulations make far more sense...
The Incredible Crash Test Dummies win the award for the strangest toy concept on this entire list of forgotten gems. Given that said list includes creepy robots, pocket monsters, and a ball shooting bucket, that is saying quite something.
The crash test dummy is something we have all seen by now, but it was made popular by one of those stiff collared public service campaigns of the late 80s. Somehow seeing promise here, Tyco Toys decided to release a series of toys based around the dummy from the campaign. By pressing buttons on the dummy, you could make all the limbs explode off, just as would happen in a car accident I guess...
The toys were not limited to just figures, with cars, trikes, and even a chopper making up the full line. Looking back now, it's all pretty weird.
I am going to argue here that Dear Diary single-handedly killed the concept of the written journal. For generations, kids - and when I say kids I mean teenage girls - had written private, daily journals about life and love. Well, mainly about boy drama, but you get the gist. Suddenly though, they could stop using that annoying paper and pen concept that was such a drag in school every day. Instead, they could type or voice record all their private thoughts to play back later.
Dear Diary may not have had the same impact as the iPhone, but it did show early on that technology like this would sell. When you look at this toy compared the most of the rest on the list, it is the one that's legacy has lived on, albeit with newer and flashier models.
There was not a single kid in the 90s who didn't at some point wish to be a treasure hunter. In the days before graphically enhanced video games were a thing, your options for treasure hunting were limited. You could watch a movie perhaps, or just pretend to search for treasure with a friend. For those fortunate enough, however, they could tackle the Forbidden Bridge.
It is your basic roll and move game where the player actions are determined by the luck of a die. The aim is to cross the bridge and make it to the site of the treasure, removing three jewels to win the game. The problem is that sometimes the idol gets angry (when the die makes it so) and the bridge shakes, throwing the explorers off and back down to the board below. Forbidden Bridge is a classic game of its time.
He-Man came into existence due to Mattel not wanting to pay $750,000 for the license to create Star Wars toys back in the mid-1970s. This led to the company branching out and trying out a number of different toy lines and ideas. Not all stuck, but He-Man has become an enduring character from the moment his first toy and comic launched.
As a 90s kid, it was The New Adventures of He-Man that opened up this universe. One of the reasons the show was so successful was that the toys that went along with it were awesome. The story is an easy one to tell as Skeletor is such an obvious bad guy that no kid would ever want him to be successful. This was not a show with lines of grey, just good against evil in its purest form. They are exactly the battles that kids had in every living room where He-Man toys were found.
It didn't matter where in the world you lived. If you were a kid in the 90s and you saw a Splash Out commercial on TV you had to get your hands on one. I am sure that Splash Out was an awesome toy if you lived in Phoenix or San Diego. In Northern England, however, where there are maybe a dozen days with the heat and sunshine to make the toy viable, it was something of a luxury purchase. That didn't matter though, everyone wanted one.
It is a simple idea. A hot potato style toy with a timer that will cause the water balloon inside to explode then it runs out. Calling it hours of fun much be a stretch, but Splash Out did make it out of the box of toys every time the weather would allow for cold water shenanigans.
It is never easy to work out which board games will catch on with the general public. While junk like Candyland and Hungry Hippos continue to go from strength to strength, Dizzy Dizzy Dinosaur - a potential classic by any stretch of the imagination - still sits in relative obscurity.
As with the best board games aimed at kids, the concept here is simple. You are moving around a board and rolling a dice. If the dice landed on a certain color, however, it was time to wind up the somewhat maniacal dinosaur and let him go to work. Dizzy would spin on the spot, before barreling towards the edge of the board taking out anything in his way. On a bad day that would be you, but on a good day, it would be your brother who was about to win the game. Muahahahaha.
It can be argued that Pogs were the single biggest fad of the 90s. Insanely cheap to produce, Pogs took over the world for a short period. Originally a milk cap game, you could find them in cereal boxes, stores, and advertising campaigns, before they disappeared into obscurity just as quickly.
As with any fad, the concept here was simple. You and a friend/rival/enemy would both bring an equal amount of the flat, round, cardboard playing pieces to the battle. They would then be stacked face-down and players would take it in terms to use their "slammer" (a larger piece made from plastic or metal) to hit the pile. Any Pogs that land face-up now belong to the player that caused them to flip over. This very quickly became THE go-to game in the playground and countless fights and arguments were caused before schools quickly banned them, contributing to their sudden downfall.
Another 90s toy that stuck to the smaller is better mantra were Quints. These tiny dolls from Tyco were sold with a ton of accessories to compliment each of the Quints. You could also buy a series of teenage girl triplets - who again came with a bunch of accessories - to compliment the babies. I am not sure just how feasible this would be as a real-life scenario, what with all the doppelgangers and everything, but as a play set kids lapped it up.
There is a genius to making things small in this way. Parts and pieces are very easy to lose, especially when you have kids involved as the target market. Lost accessories cause problems and sadness, so new accessories have to be purchased to dull the pain. This is the never-ending cycle of buying and losing that many Quints parents found themselves struggling with in the early 90s.
Street Sharks were awesome. What kid in the 90s - and even today - wouldn't want to watch a show based on a group of half men/half sharks. That the protagonists were there to fight crime was even better.
Street Sharks were crying out for a toy line to accompany the show. Thanks to Mattel that is exactly what we got. Part of the fun of action figures in the 90s - back when kids had imaginations - was the mixing and intermingling of different toy lines to create your own story. Having your Street Sharks was fun enough, but throwing in He-Man, Donatello, or Hulk Hogan into the mix only made things even more awesome.
Also, note the shark in the background here with the electric guitar. That is a life goals image if there ever was one.
Tiger handheld games were ubiquitous in the early 90s. The company did an amazing job of securing the right licenses - at the right times - to produce games that are brutally simplistic when looked at today. Tiger was able to push out these individual LCD based games at $15 to $20 a pop, making them way cheaper than a Gameboy or any other cartridge based system.
These were not games that would hold your attention span for long. There were aimed at kids in the 7-12 range and as a result, they were always simple affairs with just a couple of buttons to control the action. Tiger games were the ultimate gateway into the world of portable video game systems and - until you knew better - they seemed outrageously complex pieces of machinery. These Tiger games are perhaps the ultimate example of how the 90s was a much, much simpler time to be a kid.
Inline skates became a massive thing in the 90s and the Rollerblade company was a household name for the skates they produced. Rollerblading quickly became the term used for the single line of wheels that were originally created for a Russian athlete training on the open road for the long track speed skating event at the 1980 Winter Olympic games.
How such a thing became a massive hit in the 90s is anyone's guess, but - as you can see from the photo above - rollerblading knew no limits when it came to the people involved. Many a teen had the concept ruined by a parent strapping on the skates - dressed in lurid colors and with pads everywhere of course - before hitting the neighborhood streets. That was the day rollerblading died.
I am pretty sure that if Puppy Surprise was launched into the Millennial world that we would see a bunch of lawsuits regarding false advertising. The whole concept behind Puppy Surprize (and Kitty Surprise to for that matter) was that you didn't know how many puppies would be inside the momma dog until you took her home and got her out of the packaging.
Back in the 90s, this was fine. Kids were just happy they had the toy and if the answer was one puppy or 10 million puppies (probably not a realistic answer), we just didn't care. In this entitled world, however, any number lower than five or six would be seen as a problem and the number of Puppy Surprise returns would be off the charts.
There are two versions of the awesome Crocodile Dentist, both of which would completely suck if they were to be acted out in real life.
The first version of the game had kids pulling out the crocodile's teeth with pliers, something that the crocodile clearly didn't appreciate. If the "sore tooth" was pulled then the crocodile would lunge towards the player and snap his jaws shut. This was fun, but the game designer decided that there wasn't enough danger involved. Thus for the original travel version - and every version after - the teeth would be pushed down into the croc's gums, with the "sore tooth" still producing the lunging, snapping motion.
It was fun for 90s kids at the time and, with a slight drinking game modification, it is still a blast today.
Thundercats may have ended its run on TV in 1989, but toys from the series were all over the place in the early 90s. The show that the toy line is based on has the kind of plat that you just wouldn't find on a basic kids TV show these days. The Thundercats live on Third Earth and a battle between the cats - a group od catlike humanoid aliens - and the Mutants of Plun-Darr over a mystic sword, the Sword of Omens no less, soon erupts. That whole concept would blow away any 10-year-old currently playing Candy Crush on his iPhone.
The toys though were just awesome. Looking at the crew above it is easy to see why people bought into the show. The Thundercats - with a couple of exceptions - were badasses and the whole show had a very early 90s vibe.
The Pogo Ball would never be allowed to be invented today. It is the epitome of a 90s outdoor toy, in that it is fun and danger in equal parts. The only saving grace here is that the rider of the Pogo Ball is mere inches from the ground. This means that the majority of the fails - and you will fail over and over again - result in nothing more than a slightly jarred ankle. On a bad fall though, a break is certainly not out of the possibility.
When mastered the toy is just pure fun. There was nothing better than being good at the Pogo Ball while your friends were terrible at it. You would bounce up and down with ease, while they would fall again and again, before finally snapping and going inside for a Push Pop and a Capri Sun. Sometimes it is the simple things in life...
Toxic Crusaders was basically a beefed up version of Captain Planet. Toxie, the lead character, and main figure, led his bunch of misfit superheroes on a quest to rid the world of pollution. It is a noble goal for sure, but I can't help but feel that any bunch of superheroes should probably be involved in a little more than just toxic waste pollution. Where is the diversification of roles here?
Anyway, the toys based on the series were awesome. They were colorful, detailed, and really picked up on the vibe that series was trying to put across. It was also one of those shows where the humor was as much geared towards adults as kids, meaning that many adults found themselves sneaking a crusader or two into a grocery cart back in the 90s.
Mr. Bucket is one of those games that actually is a disguised learning activity for kids of a certain age. The game begins with different color balls spread all over the floor and each player has a shovel of a certain color. The aim is to scoop up your balls and drop them into the bucket of the titular character before anyone else can. This all sounds simple enough, but what would a 90s toy be without a twist.
In this one, the twist is that Mr. Bucket is busy spitting out balls (at random) just as fast as you can shovel them in. This obviously led to much comedy for young kids and also, even more, comedy for the parents busy making jokes about the whole concept that we probably cannot go into here as they are very much against the terms and conditions of this site!
What parent wouldn't want to buy a product with the words "real molding oven" on the front?
How Creeper Crawlers ever got past the conceptual stage and onto shelves is far beyond me. This is basically the boy equivalent of the Easy Bake Oven, only far more dangerous and way more certain to set your house on fire. Even if a fire is averted, someone is going to get serious burns as the oven hits just under 400 degrees Fahrenheit when forming the rubbery replicas of various creepy crawlies.
The idea is cool and it is clear to see why kids wanted one. As a parent though, the answer should always have been no, before defaulting to buying a couple of rubber spiders and a fake snake to keep junior happy.
Spin Fighters. The over the top TV commercial voiced over by a guy that is clearly on waaaaaay too many drugs pretty much writes itself here. After all, it isn't all that easy to market and sell what is basically little more than the same spinning top that kids have been playing with since before man discovered fire.
The way to make this work is to make your spinning tops cool. Spin Fighters achieved this by licensing agreements with the likes of Street Fighter and the WWF. Tops were sold two to a pack - pretty much always with one good guy and one bad guy - and the tops were launched into each other with the idea being the last one spinning wins. The marketing did lead to some unique matchup possibilities - Razor Ramon vs. Ryu, Pink Ranger vs. Doink the Clown - but these faded away just about as quickly as you would expect.
False advertising. Shattered dreams. Broken ankle after broken ankle. There is simply no toy more 90s in every way than the Moon Shoes.
This reimagining of a 1950s toy was always going to be a hit. Moon Shoes were billed as "mini-trampolines for your feet" by the marketing department, suggesting that the shoes could be bounced around on a provide an experience similar to the lower gravity found on the moon. Moon Shoes sold in their tens of thousands, providing pretty much no fun and ZERO extra spring to your jump.
The whole concept was flawed from the beginning. The shoes were too heavy and cumbersome to the point where they weighed down the person wearing them. Any 90s kid will attest that they could jump higher without the shoes, ruining the dreams of many 12-year-olds who were ready to take their new toy to slam dunk city.