In philosophy, there is a concept called the pharmakon. A pharmakon is something that is both a poison and a cure. If you, like me, were born in the 90s, this article is setting up to hit you with a weighty dose of nostalgia, but it's not all going to be the rose-tinted positive kind that you're used to. See, as well as a whole host of brilliant toys, this era also brought with it a set of phenomenally bad toys. They could be bad for any number of reasons: some were unsafe, some were boring, some were hugely overpriced, but regardless. Don't worry though, this article isn't about to be a downer: we're also going to give you ten of the best toys to evoke fond memories of school holidays. It's going to be a pharmakon for nostalgia. One that reminds you of the good times while also being careful not to wander into "those were the days" territory.
I bet that you're going to recognize a good number of the toys on this list. Whether you personally owned them and either had a good time or narrowly escaped them, you'll find them here. We're curious to know what you think of this list too, though. Did we miss out a toy that was exceptionally important to you growing up? Do you have bad memories of a particular toy? Let us know in the comments!
30 Lamest: Hit Clips
The fact that these were released when the MP3 player was literally on the cusp of being produced shows how lucky we are that it was. Carrying around a special, proprietary player, so that you could listen to about a fifth of a song from a little cartridge? If that had carried on today, we’d be living in the darkest timeline. They were way overpriced too, you had to shell out big money if you wanted to build up a decent collection of songs. Spend enough money, and you might end up with about 10 whole songs worth!
29 Lamest: iDog
Ah yes, this thing. Until I was researching this post, I had completely forgotten that they even existed. At its most basic level, the iDog was a little robotic dog that would detect when you were listening to music and dance and bark along. By dance, I of course, mean that it would vaguely wobble about. By bark, I mean it would tinnily emit a noise that could vaguely be recognized as a dog's bark. A real dog's barking is irritating enough when you're trying to listen to music, and now you can add some electronic sounds to this cacophony.
28 Best: Bionicle
I know that liking Bionicle is seen as kind of passe these days, but back in the day, there was nothing cooler for a 10-year-old kid than these little Lego warriors. They were well-designed, and could fight and wield weapons! That's so cool! If you already loved Lego, as I did, these were on the top of your Christmas list. Their stories were intricate too, involving weird magical forces, cyborgs, and other sci-fi fantasy coolness. It's like they'd tapped into what kids found cool, and made a toy based around that.
27 Lamest: CSI Fingerprint Analysis Kit
It seems like every second TV show that came out in the 2000s was some kind of CSI spinoff. I get it, forensics are cool guys, but come on. However, if you were the kind of precocious kid who wanted to get into this field, this kit offered countless hours of fun. That wasn't all it offered though, it also offered cancer. How, well, the dust that you used to analyze fingerprints was up to 7 percent asbestos, one of the most famous carcinogens ever.
26 Lamest: Mini Skateboards
I can guarantee that most of you reading this owned one of these at some point in your childhood. They looked really cool, and if you had particularly nimble fingers, you could absolutely emulate the moves from your favorite skating game. Unfortunately, I think probably less than 1 percent of people who owned them could ever get them to do anything whatsoever. There are almost certainly untold millions sat on bedroom shelves, in drawers, or in Goodwill right at this moment.
25 Best: Nintendo Wii
I'm not entirely sure whether a games console counts as a toy, but I couldn't care less. When the Wii came out, back in 2006, it offered a huge amount of fun for everyone who had upper body mobility. That means that you could play the games with anyone in your family. I know that both of my parents, who haven't touched a video game since the 80s, played a ton of Wii Sports. It brought families together like no console did before or since. If only it had had better third-party support.
24 Lamest: Beyblades
I remembered these the other day. They blew. If you get could the pretentious spinning tops to actually spin, you’d have a brief few seconds of excitement before the whole darn process started again. I'm sure that I'm offending some big community of Beyblade enthusiasts somewhere, but I don't care. The toys were absolute garbage, and served only to be a money sink for parents who wanted their kids to have the most popular toy at the time. They even produced a series of video games about them! I'm glad they've been consigned to the garbage.
23 Lamest: Pixel Chix
There are not many better ways to describe Pixel Chix than a dolls' house meets Tamagotchi, but with the charm of neither. Let's look at it a little closer. Surely the fun of a dolls' house, like The Sims is being able to project whatever personality you want to onto the dolls, and to dress them up in fun ways, etc. The fun of Tamagotchi is it being a cute little pet that you want to look after. These needy girls were neither charming nor interesting, and the toy was way overpriced. Absolute tosh.
22 Best: Zhu Zhu Pets
From something vastly overpriced to something that was, in fact, very fairly priced. Zhu Zhu Pets were the bestselling toy of Christmas 2009, and that's not a surprise to me. These little guys are exceptionally cute, and could purr and snuggle into their owner. While they're, of course, not as good as a real hamster or guinea pig, they are a lot cheaper, costing just $10 a pop. They've even got their own expanded universe, like more adorable Star Wars characters.
21 Lamest: Crazy Bones
What were these things even for? As far as I can tell, they existed for no reason other than looking kind of cool, at least, the first time you looked at them? I remember that they were advertised like crazy, seemingly appearing on every advert break on kids' TV, and I'm sure that many people instantly went and harangued their parents into buying them some, looked at them, then put them in a bedroom drawer. They're probably still lying there, in some kind of weird toy mass grave, to this day.
20 Lamest: Aqua-Leisure Boats
You know how throughout history, there are all those great sea captains that are babies? Yeah, me neither, because babies and boats DON'T MIX. These boats were an absolute trap thanks to a weak point by the leg holes, which could tear easily, dropping your baby into the inky depths of Davy Jones' locker. It was still essentially, a time bomb, and it turns out, one that the manufacturers had known about for six years before the fault was repaired.
19 Best: Hot Wheels Sharkbite Bay Track
Hot Wheels as a whole could be on this list, were they not older than the mountains. This track came with a big old shark that would take a bite out of the track and your car, were you unlucky. Sure, putting it together was a pain, but isn't that always the case for Hot Wheels tracks? When you got it working, you had a heck of a track, complete with 12 different phases. It's a track that demonstrates the creativity that goes into Hot Wheels, which has kept them at the top of the toy car pile.
18 Lamest: Aqua Dots
Aqua Dots were a toy that had a lot of promise. The toy was composed of a set of beads, that, when they had water added to them, could be used to make all kinds of cool designs. Now, that sounds like a lot of fun, but when kids swallowed them, they started getting seriously sick. It turned out that there was an excellent reason why. The glue which coated the beads, and that was activated by water, metabolized into a famous recreational item used by insalubrious people to make others do things against their will.
17 Lamest: Mighty Beanz
Oh god, remember when every second thing used Z to pluralize? I hate these for this alone, but there are more reasons to hate them. Like Crazy Bones, I don't know what these things were really intended to be used for. You could roll them down slopes. Big woop. You can roll most things down hills if you try hard enough. They're essentially slinkies that are even less cool to look at, and vastly more dated. They don't deserve any kind of revival.
16 Best: Nerf Guns
I know that Nerf Guns date back way earlier than 2000, but they were an essential part of our childhoods, so they deserve a place here. The N-Strike series, released in 2003, came with rails for attachments, greatly increasing the amount of tactical fun you could have. The Dart Tag blasters kickstarted an official Nerf Sport, and there were a dizzying number of other guns, including ball blasters like the Atomizer and the Cyclotron. Effectively, if you didn't grow up playing with Nerf Guns, I feel somewhat sorry for you.
15 Lamest: My Password Journal
This is effectively one big boondoggle. What it tried to be, and failed to, it must be said, was a diary that would unlock when you said a set passphrase. The ultimate in privacy, you might think! The problem is, kids, as a whole, aren't all that bright, so the password would, more often than not, be something like their own name. They did provide a lot of scope for pranks if you were an older sibling though. Try setting the password to a nickname your little sister hates for laughs!
14 Lamest: Dora The Explorer Aquatpet
Surely I don't need to explain why this toy is so bad. Look at it. Look at its core, essential shape. In what universe were the designers' minds when they decided to go ahead with this as the final design? Like, of all the shapes you could pick, you choose one of the most obviously unsuitable shapes you can. I know that people have been creating statues and drawings in...this shapes since the dawn of time, but that doesn't excuse this monstrosity.
13 Best: BMX Bikes
Another great toy for those too uncoordinated for skateboarding, like myself, BMX bikes were literally everywhere in the 2000s. Bikes may have been a popular Christmas gift for kids since about 60 years ago, but in this decade, they diverged. In one direction, you had mountain bikes, which were amazing for cross country riding, but slightly less suitable for zipping around your city. In the other, you had BMX bikes, which were lightweight, fast, and could be used to pull off incredible tricks.
12 Lamest: Oozinator
Ooze is a time-honored feature of kids' toys and TV, and in general, there's nothing wrong with that. This toy's ooze, however, was somewhat problematic. Why? Well, it looked like probably the most inappropriate bodily fluid you can think of. You know which one I mean. Yet you, as a kid, were meant to shoot this stuff at your friends and family members, yet not one of the people behind it thought about making the ooze's composition somewhat different. It boggles the mind.
11 Lamest: Water Wigglies
These were effectively little plastic tubes full of water. Wow, what fun. I'm not exactly sure what their purpose was, or what the designers thought people would do with them, but I tell you what people actually DID do with them. See, holding the tubes feels somewhat like holding...how do I put this, an external organ. Pretty much anyone who was old enough to spot this resemblance found themselves doing extremely specific motions while holding it. Comical, but not great.
10 Best: Bratz Dolls
While I personally didn't own any Bratz dolls, it's important not to underestimate their influence on the world of dolls. See, at a time when Barbie was still being herself, but Bratz had a whole range of ethnicities. They also had more attitude than Barbie. These dolls had their own personalities, with a broad range of apparent personalities and aesthetics, which dramatically broadened their appeal. Their influence can still be felt to this day, and for that reason, they belong on this list.
9 Lamest: Blast Balls
Essentially a ball of low-yield explosives kids could toss in their hand to make a bang and sparks. Can you see where this is going? There's a reason kids aren't generally allowed to play with fireworks. Fun times with the blast balls led to burns, and clothes being set on fire. As you can imagine, with these kinds of consequences coming from using the toys for their designed purpose, they didn't exactly have a long shelf life. They were pulled from the shelves shortly after being released.
8 Lamest: Magnetix
Everyone loves magnets, right? Well, aside from the Insane Clown Posse, anyway. This toy was composed of a bunch of natural magnets, with which you could build all kinds of fun things. However, they were also incredibly dangerous. If you swallowed them, as kids are want to do, they would be attracted to each other while in your stomach, leading to intestinal issues. Good times, eh?
7 Best: Razor Scooters
The hottest trend in the early 00s, these scooters were good times on two wheels. If, like me, you loved the idea of skateboarding, but were a little too uncoordinated to gain anything other than scraped knees from the hobby, they were perfect. They allowed you to whizz along like a demon, and pull off some great tricks. Sure, you probably gained a couple of shin bashings from your scooter, but that doesn't change the fact that they were a whole lot of fun.
6 Lamest: Playmobil Airport Security Set
Now your kids can take turns pretending to be a TSA Agent! Why was this brought out. Why this and not like, a little telephone that lets you eavesdrop on recorded conversations? If we're going down that rabbit hole anyway. I just find this weirdly unpleasant. It seems like the kind of toy that would be released in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.
5 Lamest: Battle Bops
Everything that I've said about Beyblade goes doubly for these cheap knockoffs. They had one thing going for them: price. Costing just $1.97, you could afford a whole fistful of these if you saved your allowance for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, when it came time to battle them with your friends' Beyblades, you'd find that they were even less reliable. If you absolutely had to get in on this weird phase of battling spinning tops, then these would turn out to be huge disappointments.
4 Best: Heelys
I feel like Heelys have got something of an unjustified bad reputation lately. It seems that all people like to talk about is falling over on them. However, they WERE fun. Sure, you could get a few grazes from using them incorrectly, but all of that was made up for by gliding serenely past people who had to actually WALK. Meanwhile, you get to look cool and give your feet a bit of a rest. Super cool, and apparently making a bit of a resurgence, I'd wear an adult pair in a heartbeat.
3 Lamest: Battlefield Earth Action Figures
Surely I don't need to explain this entry any further, do I? Well, according to my editor, I do. If you've not seen Battlefield Earth, and you should, because it's a laugh riot, it's effectively a big old Scientology propaganda piece. Based upon L. Ron Hubbard's novel of the same name, the film is unabashedly terrible. It's ugly, with acting more wooden than a nest of tables, and actively terrible. The idea that they'd then try and push action figures onto kids who were misguided enough to enjoy the film unironically is physically offputting
2 Lamest: Robosapien
I had one of these. To this day, I don't think that any ordinary kid could get theirs to do anything other than wobble from side to side and maybe halfheartedly pick up a ball. Sure, they were used by roboticists as the players in a robot football tournament, but that is probably where they come into their own. Where they're controlled not only by adults, but adults with a background in robotics and computing. If you were just an ordinary kid, then you had no hope of getting them to do any of the wondrous things the commercials depicted.
1 Best: Super Soakers
The sound of a Super Soaker being pumped up, and the slight sting of being hit by their stream of water, are a pair of memories I very strongly associate with my childhood summers. If you wanted to join in water gun fights with your buddies, these were the go-to in quality. They were exceptionally powerful, well made, and a whole heap of fun. If you had one of the more powerful models, you'd win almost every water fight, being able to soak other kids from tremendous ranges.