The arrival of a new holiday season means more ancient toy catalog reviews on Dino Drac. Yay!
Shown above is the 1994 edition of Toys “R” Us’s Big Toy Book. By then, the Big Toy Book was far and away the most important holiday catalog out there, taking the top spot from the Sears Wish Book and never looking back.
I was a high school sophomore when this particular catalog came out, more into graphic novels and Nirvana t-shirts than action figures. Even so, it won’t surprise you to learn that I kept one foot in the toy store. I had a lot of this junk.
Below are eight highlights from the 1994 Big Toy Book. May they make you desire old plastic things.
Donkey Kong Country!
I’d forgotten just how big of a deal Donkey Kong Country was. I got it for Christmas that year, and it was probably the last “big deal” video game that I received as a kid. (Or arguably a kid, anyway.)
Donkey Kong Country was still only available for pre-order by the time this catalog was mailed, but Toys “R” Us built special kiosks for kids to try the game in stores. (Good luck fighting off strangers for a controller, though.)
Vac-Man was part of that brief Stretch Armstrong revival, and easily the best part of it. I haven’t run into one single champion of the 1990s Stretch Armstrong doll, but everyone who had Vac-Man still talks about him.
It’s hard to describe how Vac-Man worked without tripping over your words, but I’ll give it a shot:
All of Vac’s limbs could be stretched to ridiculous lengths, but you could also “vacuum” the air out of him while he was stretched out, and lock him in weird poses. So like, if you wanted Vac-Man to have 18” arms, you wouldn’t have to just sit there stretching him in perpetuity.
Micro Machines Z-Bots!
($3.99 per set of 3)
Z-Bots figures have their fans, but I’d still call them criminally undervalued. While technically existing under the Micro Machines umbrella, this was very much its own line.
The collection included tons of tiny little robot figures, all with more detail than action figures ten times their sizes. They were magnificent. If Monster in my Pocket was the ‘90s version of M.U.S.C.L.E., Z-Bots was the ‘90s version of Battle Beasts.
I was too old to take more than a passing interest back then, so I’m extremely jealous of people five years younger than me. You fuckers were in the target demo for Z-Bots, while I was stuck getting aftershave and pants that didn’t fit.
Daily Bugle Playset!
I’m in love with this playset. It’s the Spidey version of New York, but as a stage from Street Fighter II. God!
I’ve always dug “open-ended” playsets like this. It wasn’t any one character’s official fortress. I could’ve made it neutral territory — a place for Skeletor and General Hawk to begrudgingly ignore each other while shopping for sweaters.
Playing with action figures that way sure beat making them punch each other.
Crayola Super Art Desk!
I never owned this Super Art Desk specifically, but Crayola made tons of like-styled sets. I seemed to get one for every Christmas. Plastic desks, stunted easels, hot pink briefcases, you name it.
A good crayon session could last for hours, and I loved knowing that I had that to look forward to once I got bored with my other gifts. It was like an insurance policy that covered me in the event that I plowed through my new video games too quickly.
Dr. Dreadful Food Lab!
The Big Toy Book was mostly filled with sterile product shots, but a few items were given the royal treatment, photographed within full-blown holiday sets.
It made sense with playthings that screamed “Christmas,” but here we had the goddamned Dr. Dreadful Food Lab shot against an Xmas tree and a poinsettia-lined window. So weird, but so wonderful. It was as if all of the toys in this catalog drew matchsticks.
The contrast between that holiday backdrop and the girl eating demon worms fills me with joy.
Lord knows what compelled Tyco to unleash Gorzak, a giant, battery-operated monster that seemed completely out of place in the mid-’90s toy market. (But I ain’t complaining.)
Judging by Gorzak’s only TV commercial, he was meant to menace “regular-sized” action figures from other toy companies. With Gorzak, you could introduce crazy kaiju shit to your G.I. Joe storylines. So cool!
Gorzak was an ‘80s toy living in the ‘90s, so it made sense that this was the only photo in the 1994 Big Toy Book that looked like it was from the 1986 Sears Wish Book.
($9.97 & $19.97 each)
Look at those prices, and then compare them to what sealed versions of those same games sell for today. That exact reissue of The Legend of Zelda, for example, routinely sells for over 200 bucks.
In the waning days of the Nintendo Entertainment System, I’d often see games on sale for prices even cheaper than these. If you spent $100 on clearance-priced NES carts, you could pretty easily see a $2000 return in today’s market. Hell, that copy of Final Fantasy alone is good for $300+!
Thanks for reading, and yes, you can expect more reviews of old toy catalogs between now and Christmas!
PS: Huge thanks to Chris Glass for donating this catalog! You’re the man of the hour, Chris.