Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1999.
All we need is an alarming photo of a freckled child.
You should remember last year’s tributes to the 1992 and 1998 Wish Books, so I’ll spare you the preamble about how those catalogs used to be as synonymous with Christmastime as Santa himself. (BUT THEY WERE!)
By 1999, I was something close to an adult. It never occurred to me that Sears was still publishing these. The newer editions couldn’t have been as popular as the ones *I* grew up with, since so many other stores took a clue and put out their own versions.
It’s a shame, too. Flipping through the pages, I’m struck by how similar Sears’ 1999 catalog was to the ones I loved more than a decade prior. There’s that same sense of “endless awesomeness.” For every hundred familiar things in it, there were another hundred cool things that I’d never seen before. Sears’ brick-and-mortar locations were never especially hot for “kiddy stuff,” but judging by their mail-order catalogs, this truly was the world’s biggest toy store.
I’ve yanked out my fifteen favorite items. See below!
Pokemon Pikachu: The Ultimate Virtual Pet! ($29.99)
This was a mash between a Tamagotchi and a pedometer. To help Pikachu grow strong, all you had to do was carry the device while walking around. There were other features, but that was the main thing. The device registered your steps, and Pikachu’s happiness was wholly dependent on how often you moved.
I doubt it was Nintendo’s primary goal, but what a way to encourage exercise! If I could make Pikachu chirp with every push-up, I’d be able to do more than three by now.
Jabba the Hutt “Glob” Figure! ($12.99)
Easily the best thing to come out of Star Wars: Episode 1, this was the only toy that let you experience the unbridled thrill of a vomiting Jabba the Hutt!
Jabba’s hollow head could be filled with slime, complete with the tiny plastic remnants of his alien lizard lunch. Then you’d squeeze his face and he’d throw up all over himself. Fantastic! This screams “Christmas!”
K’NEX Command-A-Bot! ($109.99)
He looks like the Cloverfield monster made out of roller coasters.
After building the Command-A-Bot, you used a radio controller to make him roll around. Best of all, the controller had a voice transmitter, allowing the Command-A-Bot to repeat your words in his own distorted robo-voice! Sneak him into Grandma’s room and have him yell some of Brother Justin’s best lines!
Stone Cold Steve Austin Rumble Gear! ($19.99)
World Wrestling Entertainment dropped its “mature” themes years ago. These days, they’d never betray their PG-ness by selling kids FUNCTIONAL CROSSBOWS.
Sure, it’s no worse than what Nerf still puts out there, but Nerf doesn’t have to deal with as many naysayers. A crossbow by Nerf means “I’m teaching my kid how to aim,” but a crossbow tied to pro-wrestling means “I’m encouraging my child to kill everyone.” People who complain about blunt-ended foam darts never play fair.
Nickelodeon “DeskThing” Desk Organizer! ($39.99)
Nickelodeon put out tons of self-styled home necessities in the late ‘90s, but none were as interesting as the “DeskThing.” It was a lamp mixed with a calculator mixed with a general organizer, and it looked like a hair-drying chair from the planet Zorozissus.
Mark my words: I will own one of these in 2014. The DeskThing will be the brightest spot in my universe, and not just because so much of it is blazing green.
Mars and Beyond Terra-Colony Habitation Module! ($59.99)
As a kid, I romanticized the idea of owning a tent. Eventually, I asked my parents to make that my birthday present. They did.
I soon regretted the decision. Maybe it was because it wasn’t that fun to sit alone in the backyard, or maybe it was because I idiotically set the tent up over concrete, which made every “walk on my knees” feel like an initiation into a jerky cult.
I would’ve enjoyed the experience more had this been my tent. Mine was just some boring green thing, but THIS tent let kids pretend that they were barely surviving the harsh landscape of Mars!
And I love how they never called it a tent. It was a “Terra-Colony Habitation Module.” Fucking A. You could give me a refrigerator box, but if you called it a Terra-Colony Habitation Module, I’d treat it like a Corvette.
12″ Batman Figure Set! ($57.97)
The 1999 Wish Book had several clearance pages, where they tried to unload older items for reduced prices. This set was clearly released in 1997 as part of the Batman & Robin blitz, but Sears never mentioned that.
For twelve-inch figures, they had a decent amount of articulation and accessories. Still, $15 bucks each seems a tad high for a two-year-old combo-pack. This set should’ve been forty bucks. It bothered me enough to submit catty feedback on Sears’ website. I’ll let you know if they decide to play ball.
Sock ‘Em Bop Buddy! ($14.99)
Call it a hunch, but I think this photo exaggerated the Bop Buddy’s potential. Judging by the catalog description, he was essentially a heavy-duty bop bag. Durable enough to take a punch, but probably not durable enough to handle One Man Gang-style splashes from invisible turnbuckles.
And what’s with that kid? Why is his flesh all spiky? Is he Baraka?
“Command Center” Video Game Chair! ($99.99)
In summary, “a chair you played video games in.” It rocked and swayed when you did, but more importantly, it looked like the chair Thanos flew around in after Death resurrected him to kill people. <3
Barbie Digital Camera! ($69.99)
Ha! I had this! But it’s not what you think.
I started selling on eBay in the late ‘90s, before it was a virtual prerequisite to include photos with your listings. But since selling old toys in various states of decay without photos invariably led to problems, I needed a digital camera, and fast.
This was my first one. The stupid Barbie camera. It took absolutely wretched and absolutely tiny photos, so I returned it a day later. Then I paid five times as much for a “real” camera that was only slightly better. (Which, now that I think about it, is the camera I started X-E with. Memories!)
Hot Wheels Planet Micro “Uptown Downtown” Playset! ($30.99)
I guess “Planet Micro” was Hot Wheels’ answer to Micro Machines? Sounds about right.
I don’t know much about Planet Micro, but this playset looks killer. The best playsets take more than a minute to fully digest, and with this one, I’m still not sure that I’ve registered all of the nooks and crannies. The right playset could make a kid believe in Santa for one more year, and this giant nutty thing was guaranteed to make its recipients spend Christmas morning in sheer bliss.
Robocop Deluxe Cyberlab Playset! ($17.97)
Help save Robocop’s life by operating on him with a giant needle!
I can only guess at how it worked. I spy an extra leg, a massage table and a really big stereo system. And little black things that are either guns or voodoo statues.
I suppose it would be interesting to “fix” Robocop, but only once. After that, you’d transform the toy into a torture chamber for the action figures you didn’t like. Maybe throw a Cobra Soldier in there, to see how many jabs he could take before spilling his secrets. I love it when toys subtly encourage us to act like sickos.
Goldberg Electronic Toothbrush! ($11.99)
Bill Goldberg was WCW’s shining star in the late ‘90s – an intense bull of a man who was one of WCW’s few homegrown talents.
Goldberg was easy to root for. The wrestling world had become a ridiculous place, where even the purest athletes were fitted with inane costumes and/or characters. By contrast, Goldberg was just a regular guy who happened to be a goddamned tank. His “gimmick,” if you could call it that, was that he was a completely unstoppable Joe Normal.
His popularity inspired tons of merchandise, including this electric toothbrush… which may have had a more covert purpose for the craftier females in Goldberg’s fanbase.
Darth Maul Lightsaber! ($32.99)
Say what you will about the Star Wars prequels, but they made for lots of great merch. This double-bladed Darth Maul lightsaber lit up and made noises, and it was a pretty massive upgrade from the toy lightsabers that I grew up with. My only complaint is that this kid needed to look meaner. You shouldn’t model a Darth Maul lightsaber without a scowl.
Game Boy Color! ($79.99)
My first Game Boy was the original one – that gray thing with the pea soup screen. By 1999, not only were the games in full color, but the system itself came in a variety of silly hues.
I actually won the “Atomic Purple” version from some online contest years ago. It sat unopened in a box until last year, when I managed to sell it for quite a bit of money. Old Nintendo stuff isn’t always valuable, but people go crazy for “sealed” items. I can’t remember how much the guy paid, but it was enough for me to include a note that more or less said, “Thank you for spending ten times too much for this old Game Boy. Now I can eat for another month.”
Thank you for reading about old toys.