Games from your childhood that PROVE that 1985-1990 was the BEST time to be a kid
Toy marketing may have peaked in the late 80s and early 90s. Back before you could skip commercials, and when not every household had a game console inside, non-screen-based entertainment was an absolute necessity.
Sure, GI Joe and TMNT were masterpieces of physical entertainment, but sometimes you needed an actual *game* to pass the time. And it didn’t matter if they were selling you an intense head-to-head game like Crossfire, or a brain-based single-player experience like Simon, cartoon commercial breaks had you covered.
I’ve gathered here some of my favorite (non video) games and toys from my childhood, along with their catchy commercials and personal commentary for you. The majority of these games are still in production and you can find my affiliate links to new editions or classic versions below.
Maybe you’ve forgotten some of these, or maybe the lyrics to Mouse Trap have been stuck in your head for 30+ years like me. Either way, strap on your walking shoes for this stroll down memory lane.
Crossfire! You’ll get caught up in it!
Crossfire gave us perhaps one of the most epic commercials of the 90s, and the game itself was really a lot of fun, too.
If you don’t remember (or you missed out), Crossfire is a game in which two players engage in a game along the lines of soccer. Except instead of a ball, there are a pair of angular pucks with a ball bearing in the middle. And instead of running and kicking, the players fire a steady stream of ball bearings from a little gun mounted on their end of the board.
Crossfire was unique among board games in that players didn’t bother with taking turns, there were no dice, no cards, no “spaces”, it was just a frantic, hand-cramping shooting extravaganza. Each player had their little gun and a tray where the other player’s ball bearings would collect. The gun had a small reservoir on top where you would scoop bearings from the tray into the reservoir to reload.
Interestingly, Crossfire is one of the few games from my childhood that was 100% as fun as the commercial made it seem.
The concept is incredibly simple. Just keep shooting that puck into the opponent’s goal to win. But judging by the commercial, it only works in a steampunk arena with flames and a bloodthirsty crowd.
I neve owned Crossfire, but my best friend had it. He had everything, you know.
Interestingly, Crossfire is not a product of the 90s or 80s. According to Wikipedia, Crossfire was introduced way back in 1971. It doesn’t seem to be in production anymore, but you can still pick it up on eBay for not too terribly expensive. Check it out.
I guarantee, it’s the craziest trap you’ll ever see!
Like Crossfire, Mousetrap has been enjoyed by generations. And it had a pretty catchy commercial that has stayed with me since childhood. Just turn the crank and snap the plank and boot the marble right down the chute! Here, I’ll just share the commercial with you.
If you were one of those kids that never owned Mouse Trap yourself, here’s how it works: You spend too-damn-long setting up a very dubiously manufactured Rube Goldberg machine, then play a very, very vanilla board game in which players try to collect an entire wheel of cheese. Fairly often, you’ll get sent to the trap space and become trapped and lose cheese to an opponent.
Besides the eye-catching and briefly-amusing trap, this game is a big snoozer. But the good news is that it’s pretty cheap and still readily available at big-box retailers. I purchased this for Milo last Christmas and he thought it was the coolest thing ever. For about 10 minutes. Whether that’s due to the nature of Mouse Trap or the nature of five year olds, I can’t really say.
Anyway, you can pick up a classic edition of Mouse Trap on eBay here.
Hungry Hungry Hippos
Much like Crossfire, Hungry Hungry Hippos is a symphony of chaos. Up to four players battle it out, slappin’ their hippos to gobble up as many marbles as they can to be the winner.
I never owned this game personally, but I remember playing this with some classmates in elementary school during a rainy-day indoor recess. There’s no real skill to the game, it’s just a matter of frantically slapping hippos and hoping for the best. It wasn’t much fun, but that may have been more because my opponents became crazed lunatics when they played. It’s that kind of game.
What better way to introduce growing kids to the joys of capitalism and emotional spending, than with a competitive board game? The goal is to buy stuff and reach your purchasing quota before your opponents.
Mall Madness was released by Milton Bradley back in 1988, when arcades were hot, KayBee Toys was totally still a thing, and going to the mall was a way of life. The following year, they released an electronic talking version. Because every game in the late 80s needed an electronic talking version.
There have been many versions of Mall Madness released over the years. Apparently, there’s even a 2020 edition that was released before COVID cast its viral miasma over shopping malls. There’s even a Hannah Montanna edition for the serious collectors out there.
Get one of the many editions of Mall Madness on eBay
Simon wasn’t really a board game at all. It was more of a boardless game, consisting of a large plastic circle with four large colored buttons that flash in an order that players had to memorize and repeat. You probably remember it. But if you don’t, here’s a pretty epic commercial to demonstrate.
I don’t even know if I’d call Simon a game. It’s more like a test of your short-term memory capacity. The concept is so simple, but the lights, colors, and sounds are appealing. Pretty much every kid that wasn’t me seemed to have one of these laying around. And you know what? It was actually pretty fun!
Since its inception in 1978, Simon has undergone many transformations and augmentations, including Simon Swipe, Simon Air, Simon Micro and the wearable Simon Optix, released just a few years ago.
Simon Optix uses a headset with flashing LEDs and players must pass their hand (or other body part) in front of sensors on the headsets. Playing with Simon Optix gets more complex as you continue, requiring players to trigger multiple sensors at once, or slide their hand across multiple sensors in a wave. You can even sync up multiple headsets and challenge a group of friends. Not sure why you’d want to. But you could.
Simon Optix is relatively inexpensive on eBay. Check it out.
Ah yes! The countdown-timer puzzle game that may well have cause a generation’s worth of anxiety.
If you don’t remember, Perfection is that game where you have to fit a handful of different-shaped plastic pieces into their respective crannies while a loud buzzing timer counts down. You’ve got one minute to place all 25 shapes, and after time runs out, POP! The board springs up, sending all the pieces flying!
I never owned this game, but my cousin did. (He had everything.) I tried this a few times, but the POP scared the bejeebers out of me and the whole thing just stressed me out. And with the game only ever taking 60 seconds, how many times could one really play and enjoy Perfection? In theory, you could keep shaving seconds off your time. But even then…
Perfection was one of those toys that seems so super fun in the commercial. But those who own it just keep it in the bottom of their toybox in the closet.
Milton Bradley knew how to keep 90s kids entertained. Well ackchyually, HeroQuest came out in 1989, but we sure played the crap out of this into the 90s.
And why wouldn’t we? This game is awesome! And it was a great introduction to tabletop RPGs.
In HeroQuest, one player takes on the role of Zargon and his evil hordes while the other players control the four heroes. There’s a mighty barbarian, a cunning elf, a powerful wizard, and one pissed-off looking dwarf. Each has their own character card with unique stats.
If you’re into epic tabletop games, HeroQuest is pretty much par for the course. Even pretty generic. But as a kid who’s previous most adventurous board game was LIFE, HQ opened a whole new world of entertainment.
This game was very popular and it even spawned a pair of expansion sets. These days, those are pretty hard to find. But the base game is all over eBay. It’s not especially cheap, however. Especially if you want to find a set that’s in good condition.
The original HeroQuest was published by Milton Bradley and developed—at least in part—by Games Workshop, the company responsible for Warhammer. And, perhaps trying to harness some of the power that Advanced D&D had built up around that time, they released Advanced HeroQuest in 1991.
Unfortunately Advanced HQ lacked the staying power of Warhammer and when it sold poorly, GW and MB both walked away from the franchise.
That’s right, Hasbro (who bought Milton Bradley a million years ago) crowdfunded a HeroQuest reboot in 2020 and, as of this writing, the game and its two expansions are in production. The author of this post threw his money in, and I’m eagerly awaiting delivery. Hasbro is targeting Fall of 2021 to ship! So excited!
Dang. After all the excitement about HeroQuest, Domino Rally seems pretty tame by comparison. Let’s watch an old commercial for it to get hyped!
Woo, heck yeah! That bassline slaps!
Kids have enjoyed setting up and knocking down dominos since the beginning of time. But who has the time to set up any truly impressive domino course? Domino Rally cuts set up time way back by using clever little domino tracks. You can just tilt the track to one side and the dominos stand at attention.
Simply stand up your dominos on the track, lay it down with a few others and sprinkle in some of the many obstacles and tricks you could buy along with the base set. You could trigger marble drops, or even launch a friggin rocket for crying out loud!
Honestly, Domino Rally seemed really cool. And it was a great concept, probably based on the marketing of LEGO. You just buy that base set, then get supplemental sets with new obstacles, new accessories, and just keep buying the stuff!
The excitement over Domino Rally was red-hot during the late 80s, and probably peaked with Ghost Ride.
My cousin had it. (He had everything.) I think he even had the Domino Dealer (What a name!), but I didn’t spend much time with it. I think the dominos were a bit flimsy and the dominos set in the tracks had a tendency to randomly fall over on their own, thereby ruining all your hard work. So yeah. Maybe that’s why they lost popularity.
Interestingly, you can still get sets for this on Amazon, published by Goliath Games. But if you want the real deal, you’ve got to head over to eBay. Don’t worry, they’ve got plenty.
Wah-wah-wah-Waterfuls. You fill ‘em up with water. Remember that? You watch ‘em make a big woosh. Here, watch and remember this cringey commercial.
I think I remember playing with these at the store, but it seems weird that they would keep them on the shelf with water. So maybe I was playing the knock-off Waterfuls.Did they have knock-offs? Sure they did.
Anyway, I remember seeing Waterfuls on store shelves around the same time as Tiger Electronics. And even though Waterfuls were asinine and frustrating, they were still a better alternative to the Tiger Electronics. But the mere existence of these two just goes to show how desperate kids were for handheld entertainment back then. Yes, the Game Boy existed, but back then, the price made it just out of reach for my struggling family.
While I DID have the Gauntlet Tiger Electronics game, I never owned a Waterful that I can remember. The commercial and the concept both had me convinced they were dumb toys for babies. Even the pinball version. And even when they put out that Ninja Turtle version!And yet, Waterfuls seem unable to die. You can still find them in stores and on Amazon, and there is even a more recent Spongebob Edition. Go grab one for hours and hours of offline pleasure.