I wanted to sneak in one last catalog review before Santa makes his magic, so here I am, blithely ignoring the dozen Very Important Things that I must get done in the next 36 hours, all for you.
This time, I’m pulling pages from the 1994 JCPenney Christmas catalog. I believe I would’ve been a high school freshman or possibly even a sophomore by that point, so my own experiences with these items were more of the cursory or “admire from afar” variety. It’s fun to see what I missed during that literal one year gap between when I was “allowed” to play with toys and when I discovered the “yo I’m a collector” loophole.
Below are a thousand words about eight things from the 1994 JCPenney Christmas catalog. Enjoy them.
I’d already moved onto the Super Nintendo when this came out, but even if I hadn’t, my original NES still worked fine. To this day, I don’t think I’ve seen a top-loading NES in person.
Also known as the NES-101 or NES 2, the system retailed for a modest fifty bucks — mainly by necessity, since it was “competing” with 16-bit systems. The system’s design lacked bulk and arguably seemed “cheaper” than the original Nintendo, but the truth was that the changes were largely improvements: The top-loading design made the system both easier to clean and not as apt to break.
From what I see, these top-loaders now fetch more money than the original systems, I think owing as much to their comparative rarity as the technical improvements. (There are gamer collectors much the same as there are toy collectors, and one needn’t necessarily “need” a top-loader to “want” it!)
Mighty Max MAGUS!
Easily my most-wanted of all Mighty Max toys, Magus was one of Max’s largest foes. The enormous evil robot would’ve been right at home with Hasbro’s Inhumanoids, and like most Mighty Max toys, it transformed into a battleground for the line’s tiny-sized action figures.
In this case, the inner playset components looked like an environmental cross between Mustafar and Freddy Krueger’s boiler room. While there were certainly Mighty Max playsets that gave the little figures more space to traverse, I believe this was the only one that turned into a freaky lava death robot. So it wins.
I WANTED A BED LIKE THIS SO FREAKIN’ BAD. I grew up obsessed with bunk beds, and was absurdly jealous of any friends (or any Tom Hanks characters) who had them.
I’d later discover beds like the one shown above — “loft beds” — that were somehow even cooler. Here, the lower mattress is discarded in favor of shelves and storage areas, which to my young mind seemed like the “instant office” I’d always dreamed of having.
Few seem to mention this, but I can’t be the only one who used to fantasize about having a personal office. I imagined myself on leather chairs, cutting interesting pictures out of WWF Magazine. Even the word “office” was a turn-on.
Beyond that, these beds just looked like beautiful circuses, with ladders and bulletin boards and the kind of red metal typically reserved for rare Saved by the Bell bedroom scenes. I still want one. I want to cash out, disengage from society and spend my remaining years on a loft bed. I know it will be enough.
2-XL Talking Robot!
I’ve spent more than two decades admiring 2-XL from afar, and even now, I still wouldn’t rule out an impulsive eBay bid.
This will be a recurring theme with tonight’s picks, but I often wanted toys for reasons beyond what their makers intended. 2-XL was sold as a cassette-playing learning toy, but I would’ve just popped in my Partners in Kryme tape and left well enough alone. Seriously 2-XL, I don’t care where Norway is on the map. Just sit in the corner and be the badass robot decoration that you were secretly made to be.
I was too young for 2-XL during his initial run in the early ‘80s, but by his ‘90s return, I was then too old to make any sincere stabs at owning one. There were similar “teaching robots” available when I was the right age, but none looked nearly as cool as 2-XL. Gotta admit, he’s still on my weirdo collector bucket list. Right under that Stretch Screamer who looks like Ghostface.
Sixteen Action Figures!
I’m not being funny, that’s really what JCPenney called them. “Sixteen Action Figures.” That’s literally the official title. Made to resemble G.I. Joe figures, this ragtag bunch of punks, cowboys and bootleg American Gladiators would work with most G.I. Joe vehicles and playsets, giving kids the chance to expand their armies on the cheap.
Though I never owned this precise set, I did have many similar figures. “Generic Joes” were rarely as bad as people claim, and in some ways, they even trumped their inspirations. The neat thing about them was how they often arrived with no backstories or affiliations, leaving us to decide who was good and who was bad and who got to drive the Cobra BUGG. Sometimes, we even got to name them!
My two favorites are in the second photo. In the top row, we have a guy who looks like Vega, but specifically Vega while wearing a hair dryer from a futuristic salon. Then in the bottom row, I’ll take that dude in the radiation suit. I think it’s a radiation suit, anyway.
UPDATE: I’ve now been told that these figures are from The Corps, a “cheapo” line meant to mimic G.I. Joe. Knowing is half the battle!
Tiger Electronic Handheld Games!
I was always terrible at these sorts of games, but that didn’t stop me from digging them. I liked their “robot mosquito” sound effects, but I especially liked the killer art that always surrounded the screens.
Since the actual game graphics were so minimalistic, that art had to work extra hard. It’s what helped you imagine the ghostly outline of Sonic the Hedgehog as the real deal.
Often enough, the art carried the vibe of an arcade cabinet marquee. For me, getting these was less about the “playing” and more about building a collection of attractive hexagons. I’d prop one of ‘em upright on a shelf and think, “Yes… yes… these four square inches of my bedroom are now complete.”
Weapons & Warriors Deluxe Set!
Oh man, Weapons & Warriors. For the record, I have no earthly idea how you were supposed to play with these sets, game-wise. I never bothered to check, because using mine as a “toy” was fun enough.
Actually, it was more fun than it had any right to be, because as I recall, I received my version for Christmas when I was already well past my acceptable “action figure years.” I was not about to blow such a golden opportunity to pretend that I was five years younger. Some things never change.
Each set came with a horde of tiny warriors, along with things for them to ride on, attack with and live inside. It was a like playing with an extra cool set of plastic army men.
($12.99 – $49.99)
Good lord. This is the most impossibly ‘90s board game spread of all board game spreads. That decade relied heavily on board games that could only loosely be described as such, with nearly every entree being served with an electronic gizmo or a bulky plastic monster. Hey, between video games and action figures, competition was fierce. For a kid to be interested in a board game, it had to resemble Castle Grayskull or a shopping mall.
One of my favorites shown here is Ask Zandar, which was less a “game” and more just the chance to learn your future by way of a micro-sized wizard who lived in a plastic ball.
Forbidden Bridge was another big one. As I mentioned on a semi-recent Purple Stuff Podcast, it was basically the Lost City of Zinj from Congo, but in action figure scale. Did anyone play these games the way they were supposed to? I think they only came with rules because it was hard to market a weird tiki bridge as “hey here’s a weird tiki bridge, do what you will.”
Thanks for reading about yet another old toy catalog! I’ve had fun reviewing them this season. This will definitely be the last of them with a negotiable Christmas theme — f0r 2015, at least — but don’t worry, I have plenty of “regular” catalogs to cover in the off-season!
PS: If you missed it over the weekend, the special Christmas episode of The Purple Stuff Podcast is here! We’re tackling 12 great Christmas songs. Great in our minds, at least.