Top 5 retro toys – a leap back to the 80s

An image reading "I love the 80s"

Hello Retro Lovers,

Following up on the retro board game list, here are the top 5 retro toys that I always enjoyed spending time with when I was younger. As you know, I was a kid of the 80s (born in 1977) and there was toys galore back then. As far as I remember, I never got to see the same toy commercials for 3 days in a row. They continuously changed. When my granny and I would watch TV together, our conversations were like:

Me: “Will you buy that toy for me?”

Granny: “Yes, I will!”

LOL, sweet days…

With that said, as a young boy, I did not really play with or know much about some of the toys targeted towards girls like Poochie, Monchhichi and -of course – Barbie, so they do not make an appearance on this list. It is not that they are not great toys, it is just that I do not have any experience with them.

I am trying to keep this list to what I know, but if there are others I have left out, do not hesitate to suggest them in the comments below.

(Affiliate Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that – at no additional cost to you – if you click through and make a purchase, I may earn a commission)

5. Masters of the Universe (Mattel 1982)

A clip art of He-Man

A clip art of He-man, Masters of the Universe’s superhero

It is hard to quantify just how much of a revolution for toys the Masters of the Universe lineup of figures was. Not only did it up the quality in action figures – dominated by GI Joe before this – but it also spawned the modern concept of a multimedia franchise. The team behind Masters of the Universe created a comic book, a television cartoon, and even a movie to help move plastic. And move plastic they did.

As one of the most popular lines of the 1980s, pretty much every young boy had He-Man in his collection. They have tried to bring back the magic multiple times but nothing has come close to that original spark from the early 1980s.

One of the most fun things that many people enjoyed doing was reenacting scenes from the show using the detailed figures. Armed with an array of accessories and even scaled replicas of things like Castle Grayskull, these toys were the must-have items on many holiday wish lists.

4. Simon (Milton Bradley 1978)

The revolutionary Simon

The back then revolutionary Simon

Before the advent of smartphones and electronics everywhere, Simon Says was the future-is-here-now toy that most kids wanted. It is a simple concept but it is also maddeningly difficult the further you go along.

You do what Simon says by pressing the colored buttons in the order the machine tells you to do. It is that simple. Of course, it gets faster, more complicated, and becomes one of the most fun, simple toys you have ever played with in your life.

While the physical Simon Says machine is obsolete by today’s standards (what it does can be easily replicated on a smartphone screen), the gameplay mechanic that underpins everything is timeless.

3. Transformers (Hasbro NA and Worldwide, Takara Tomy Japan 1984)

A life-size statue of Optimus Prime

A life-size statue of Optimus Prime

This franchise never really went away and probably needs less of an introduction than most on this list, but the initial sensation that was Transformer is hard to describe in words. For kids, these toys were serious gear. They were heavy, well-made, cool, and, best of all, transformed.

Everybody had their favorite and, like Masters of the Universe, this was backed up by a multimedia property in the form of a cartoon. And the hero Optimus Prime still holds up as a paragon of justice and goodness, even today.

Whether you were raised on the Michael Bay films or you grew up with the originals, the Transformers are a magical set of toys that hold up even now. Another thing that the Transformers shared in common with Masters of the Universe is the attention to detail and the general build quality of the products released under that brand.

They were serious, almost like models, and really hurt if you dropped one on your foot. Toys back then just were not like that. They were typically under-detailed, made from cheap plastic, and had little to no reticulation.

Transformers could not only move, they transformed into objects like a car or even a radio. It was a true revolution in toy making.
*Entertainment Earth - Transformers

2. Slot Car Racing (Lionel Corporation 1912)

A slot car track

A slot car track

It is like Mario Kart, but old school style. You set up a track and you launch your car in its lane hoping it beats the competition. Just like that, but it is incredibly fun. This is still a hot toy even today, and it is no mystery why.

It is competitive without being destruction, because you do not actually have any control over where your car will end up. Basically you get the best of both worlds. You get to compete but you do not feel like a loser if you do not come in first. The only drawback to this toy is that setting up the tracks can take a while and the bigger ones do cost a bit of money.

Despite this, it is one of my fondest memories from childhood when my cousin would invite us all over to her house for a racing tournament on this absolutely massive track setup.

Honorable Mention: Subbuteo (Peter Adolph 1947)

Subbuteo's playing figures

Loved Subbuteo’s playing figures, I could spend hours looking at any single one of them. Differently from other toys, I also loved watching people play it.

A game that is way more serious than it might look at first glance, Subbuteo is basically football on a board. You move pieces, tap a white marble-like ball, and try to score a goal. It is simple, fun, and wicked addictive.

There are even competitions held around the world for the best Subbuteo players to get together and test their skills against one another.

That is probably why it is an honorable mention, because it is a game that spans all ages, genders, and is a professional event in some parts of the world. If you want something really different but addictively fun, look no further than Subbuteo.

Ready to find out my number 1 pick? Let’s go!
*80sTees.com - T-shirts

1. The Smurfs (Dupuis French and Dutch-speaking countries 1959, Schleich Worldwide 1965)

A Smurfs exhibition

A Smurfs exhibition

A set of toys as timeless as play itself, the Smurfs have their own personalities, their own styles, and are capable of an endless number of adventures. I said above that this list would not have toys for girls, but this is an exception. The Smurfs appeal to both boys and girls, and it is perfect for the family to play together.

Known from their cartoon and other properties, the toys are where the magic truly is, and it is the source of so many pleasant memories that even I am surprised. Being a kid with a lot of imagination, my smurfs could sing, act, play soccer, play baseball, wrestle, swim… Anything!
They could even fly, lol.

If you want something timeless with just a hint of magic, look no further than the lovely blue creatures. You will not regret it for even a moment.

Oh, I was forgetting… I still keep all of my smurf figurines in a special showcase, and get them out every now and then to let my daughter Melody play with. Truth be told, when this happens, I join her. 😀

Time to go back to the present retro folks, hope you enjoyed the ride.

As previously mentioned, I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts. Let us keep our childhood memories alive!

Till next time travel!

About Andrew A.

Andrew is the founder and owner of RetroGamingLoft. He considers himself a natural-born gamer and is on a mission to keep our younger gaming years alive through the medium of Retro Stories. His event recount includes hopes, dreams, broken joysticks, magic, nostalgia and another final boss defeated.

18 thoughts on “Top 5 retro toys – a leap back to the 80s

  1. Dave

    What a fun step back in time. I wasn’t much into action figures like He-Man and I even missed out on the whole transformer revolution (although I truly enjoy the movies now as an adult). My big winner on your list was slot cars!

    We had a local store/race track where you could come, plug in your controller, drop your car on the 8-lane track that filled the store and race your friends. We even built an enormous track table in our basement complete with a 10′ straight-away and high banked turn. We’d spend hours “souping up” our cars with more powerful armatures and magna-traction. Wow, it’s all coming back to me now.

    Of all the toys on the list this is the one that brings back the most, and best memories. Thanks for the “Leap back to the 80s.”

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Dave and thanks for leaving another comment on my blog.
      I cannot even imagine the fun you guys had back then, you really put a smile on my face.
      It is a joy to be able to bring back good memories, and I am honored that you shared yours on this post.
      Stay tuned for more retro stuff! 🙂

      Reply
  2. Feochadan

    Thank you for this walk down memory lane!  Although I am 10 years older than you, I totally remember these games – and I’m a GIRL!!!  You are totally right about the time it took to set up the slot car race track but wasn’t that half the fun?  My brother and I would spend HOURS with this!  Frankly, I think kids even today would just love all of these toys still!

    Simon was great!  I’m sorry but this game played on a phone just is NOT the same!  The lights, sounds and the ability to smack the buttons was just awesome.

    So, let me ask you, do you remember the Vic 20 or its later version, the Commodore 64 or are those before your time?  🙂

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Feochadan and welcome to my blog. My pleasure, no need to thank me. 🙂
      Well, I have to admit you are also right, setting up was also a lot of fun. The thing is, I am talking as a father now and setting up a race track surrounded by impatient kids is not exactly nice lol.
      In hindsight, my uncle was probably one of the most patients people I have ever met. XD
      And Simon is the vintage SImon, not even a question!

      In answer to your question, coincidentally I have recently ranked both the best games for the Commodore 64 and those for the Commodore VIC-20.
      They are definitely NOT before my time! 😉

      Thanks again for taking time to leave such a nice comment, I hope you keep coming for more!

      Reply
  3. RoDarrick

    OMG! This is like having a time travel back to the good old days when the real fun is about the toys and not just about mobile devices. Then, I could remember when I would lie to my mom to sleepover at my friend’s place just to have an all day competition playing slot car racing. Seriously, that was fun then.

    But the transformer is the simple most important toy then for everyone to have. It was indeed a revelation then because of the revolution it did bring to the world of toys. It’s surely great way to go back in memory

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello RoDarrick, thanks for leaving another nice comment.
      Yours are definitely memories that I can relate to.

      As for Transformers, it is safe to say they changed toys. Their build quality made a statement back in the day, to the extent that having owning a transformer figure was a sort of a status symbol among the 80s kids.
      The day my parents bought me Optimus Prime, I was over the moon… I knew since the very beginning that I was going to take it to school the next day… And so I did. On one hand I was scared that the teacher could see it and seize it, but on the other I had to show Optimus to my schoolmates. Fortunately, I got away with it lol.

      Thanks so much for being such an avid reader of my blog, till next post!

      Reply
  4. tudogz

    Hi Andrew.
    Wow, what a trip back in time. Certainly, some toys and stuff here that I’d forgotten altogether!
    Like Dave, my fave was the slot cars. I certainly spent (wasted?) many hours with a friend’s garage slot car setup back in the day.

    I never was into action figures though. They always seemed kinda like dolls for boys. LOL.

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Tudogz, and welcome to my blog, pleased to know that I was able to bring back memories.
      My father thinks the same hahaha, he never bought me any action figures whatsoever. He would say something like: “Ask your mother or your grannies”.
      Despite this, he was the first to join anytime my cousin arranged a slot car racing tournament.
      And man, he was a tough nut to crack lol… 😀

      Thanks again for stopping by, hope you become a regular here!

      Reply
  5. Robert J Warneck

    Love this trip down memory lane!!!  Yup I had He-Man figures and love my transformers and smurf figures!  However, my all-time favorite was Simon!  I loved that game, because it was so exhilarating to compete with friends and family. My mom, dad, sister and I would play for hours!  I wish I had these memorabilia today, but unfortunately they were all destroyed when my parent’s basement flooded.  I would love to know where I could get a vintage Simon?  The ones you find in stores today, just aren’t the same,  I look forward to seeing more on your site about these journeys of games back in time.

    Robert

     

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Robert and thanks for stopping by! I am very pleased that you enjoyed my post.
      So sorry to hear that, it must hurt losing childhood memorabilia like that. My parents’ basement flooded as well years ago, but fortunately it mainly contained knick knacks. Personally I lost a couple of board games and an old bike.
      Concerning your question, I have got some good news for you: there are still some vintage units left for sale on * eBay. Hurry up! 🙂

      Thanks again for your comment, it is always a pleasure to bring back pleasant memories!

      Reply
  6. Marios Tofarides

    Hey there,

    I played almost all of these games. I love Subbuteo, used to play it semi-professionally in local leagues. I loved that game! I think that the only one I didn’t play was Simon. Smurfs is an all-time classic, as well as Masters Of The Universe (He-Man for the win).

    Thanks for the memories!

    Marios

     

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Marios, and thanks for your nice comment. 🙂
      I had a friend who played Subbuteo semi-professionally (actually he was trying to turn pro) and that is why I watched many games as a spectator (in addition to the ones I watched as a child when it was simply not my turn to play).
      I never ever thought it could be so entertaining. Much, much psychology behind it.
      Thanks again for stopping by, I am pleased that you enjoyed my post and I hope you keep coming back for more!

      Reply
  7. Dave Sweney

    Thanks for the step back into the past with this article on the top 5 retro toys that you know of from growing up. I was in a different role in those days. I had just gotten married and we immediately had two girls, one after the other (11 months apart). 

    As a new parent, most definitely we had plenty of toys for the girls, and they were also spoiled by Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Aunts, and Uncles with a few toy boxes full of one toy or another. Some of the ones that you have added to your top 5 list were also in those toyboxes. 

    The Simon game, the slot racing game, and the Subbuteo game were ones that we played together as a family many times, and as there was always more month than money, provided a lot of entertainment that cost nothing, a good thing. Each of the games is now in the dust bin I believe, as we moved 14 times over the years…

    It was a great read today and I enjoyed this post of the top 5 retro games that you wrote about. I will have to ask my daughters if they have any of the old games that we used to play for their kids (I am a Grandfather of 6 now!). I am sure there is one or more in the toy boxes from the old days… 

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Dave, your comments are always extremely insightful, thanks so much. On one hand, you put a smile on my face, on the other one, I cannot help but shed a tear.
      I am lucky enough to experience similar memories with my kids, and in twenty years or so, I hope I will be able to recall these special moments with my grandchildren and the people interested in a 62-old guys’ recollection of the leisure time he spent with his kids.
      Personally, being extremely nostalgic, I would never get tired to read your comments.
      Heartfelt thanks, Dave!

      Reply
  8. Stella

    Wow, this is trip to the olden time. I can remember  car racing even though I didn’t meet the rest of the game because am not 1980s babe. I was born during 1990s.  I still met car racing game and Subbuteo. Maybe it was modernised by then who knows. I could remember I used to struggle to play it with my brother whenever he came around. Car racing was a fun game and it brings a lot of suspense. I don’t know much about Subbuteo because it is not for female.

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Stella, thanks for visiting my blog again.
      Yes, slot car racing has definitely been modernised, todays’ tracks and cars are state-of-the-art.
      Still a lot of fun, but maybe a little too fast for me.
      Subbuteo too brings a lot of suspense. It is obviously more static compared to slot car racing, but I can guarantee that you wait with bated breath for your opponent to to flick their figures and shoot, especially when you are one up and there are just a few seconds left to play, lol.
      Glad my post brought back memories, please keep coming for more!

      Reply

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