I’m secure enough (barely) to admit that I’ve tight-rolled my acid-washed jeans, worn neon, and had, at one time, spikey hair. It’s not only that I have fond memories of the 80s, I thought the 80s were totally tubular. Gnarly even.
Furthermore, the toy lines of the 1980s were rad and objectively some of the all-time best, like GI Joe and Masters of the Universe.
But I’ve already made a list of the 7 all-time best. For this list I’ll highlight 7 toy lines from the 80s that were sadly overlooked. And there were so many, even among those not well-known, to choose from, so I’ll only be able to skim the…well, not the cream. What’s under the cream? Is it cheese? Let’s just say it’s the cheese because many of these 80s toy lines will seem super-cheesy to Today’s Modern Nerd.®
7 Overlooked Toy Lines of the 80s
#7 BATTLE BEASTS
Battle Beasts were created by Takara of Japan in 1986 who licensed to Hasbro for distribution outside Japan.
Like most toys, they had a gimmick to help sales and the Battle Beast gimmick was each figure had a heat sensitive rub sign on their chest that when rubbed would reveal the warrior’s strength. The symbols would represent either fire, wood or water and could be used in a rock, paper, scissors type game—fire beat wood, wood beat water, water beat fire.
Also, each Beast also carried his own distinctive weapon and, in the United States, Battle Beasts came in packages of two where it was impossible to tell which figure had a rub of fire, wood, or water until the package was opened.
That came in handy with marketing, as their slogan was, “Fire! Wood! Or Water!… You’ll never know until you own them!”
Well, I guess when I type out that Battle Beasts had a Paper, Rock, Scissors thing going it doesn’t sound as great as I remember it. But at the expense of “rubbing” you the wrong way, I’m sticking to it: Battle Beasts were one of the more overlooked toy lines of the 80s.
Visionaries was a 1987 line of action figures from Hasbro that didn’t even make it to a full 15 minutes of fame before it was cancelled. But I was heavy into D&D at the time and thought I would be a wizard when I grew up, so it was awesome to me.
The Visionaries were two groups of knights who were invited to a competition by the wizard, Merklynn. The story was set on a planet where all electronics winked out, so the people were forced to rely on old school magic.
Yeah, it was some trippy dippy stuff, so it’s no wonder the Marvel comic only lasted a few issues and the companion cartoon only lasted about 13 episodes. But the idea of technology winking out could be prime for a comeback today in a culture where everyone is getting sick of phones, Zoom screens, and notifications popping up everywhere.
Regardless, I thought it was totally rad at the time though, particularly because all the action figures had a hologram sticker long before Marvel comics beat that idea to death in 90s comics.
Here’s a review of the show on YouTube.
M.U.S.C.L.E. “Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere” figures were small, inexpensive and…pink. Unsurprisingly, M.U.S.C.L.E. figures originated in Japan and were originally based off a 1979 manga that was a parody of the popular Ultraman and the figures sold in vending machines.
Instead of being an impressive figure, though, the titular character of the manga was an inept, bumbling wannabe and the stories shifted focus to an intense intergalactic form of professional wrestling, where an ever-growing cadre of surreal combatants with bone-crushing finishing moves battled in the ring.
The United States versions used the same molds and flesh-colored plastic as their Japanese counterparts. However, instead of vending machines, the figures were available in a cardboard and plastic 4-pack that sold for a buck. But if you’d saved up your allowance, a mammoth 28-pack could be had for $7 and the 28-packs were available in different factions to establish a story behind the figures: the “good guy” Thug Busters, led by Muscleman and the “bad guy” Cosmic Crunchers, led by Terri-Bull, based on a long-time rival from the manga, Buffaloman.
#4 WARRIOR BEASTS
Warriors Beasts were made by Remco, a company with a nose to move in adjacent to popular properties, and never had the broad multi-media support that properties like Star Wars, MOTU, and others did. Instead, Remco would make toys that were kinda-sorta like those more well-known properties and could cash in on their wake.
So, Remco had a line for DC Comics Warlord characters. Not sticking with the Distinguished Competition, they also had a Crystar line for Marvel, as well as some Dukes of Hazard, Sgt Rock, Conan, and a line of wrestling figures that only took off after Remo’s bankruptcy and the license was purchased by Jakks Pacific, who would then go on to produce some of the most collected wrestling figures today.
Remco was best known for their monsters figures based upon their well-loved Universal Monster figures from the 70s and it was in this monster vein that their little-known Warrior Beasts sprang out of. And Warrior Beasts were styled almost identically to MOTU figures, including being the exact same scale and have a similar rubber leg joint.
As a result, I’ll often find a rogue Warrior Beast figure in with the MOTU figures when a buy a lot of vintage stuff. And you know what? I ain’t mad at that because those Warrior Beast figures are pretty nice, even if they were overlooked in the 80s.
#3 BRAVE STARR
BraveStarr toys were absolutely amazing and it is perplexing the line didn’t succeed because it had cartoon support as well.
BraveStarr figures were a little larger than most other figures at nearly 8″ tall. Plus, each figure had a unique action feature and was packaged with Kerium nuggets, the mining ore of the setting.
Marshal BraveStarr was the hero of the line. A galactic marshal of New Texas, Marshal BarveStarr was a Native American who could call upon the power of “spirit animals,” enabling superpowers like “The Eyes of the Hawk” that enhanced his vision or “The Ears of the Wolf” that gave him super-human hearing.
In addition to his spirit animal powers, Marshal had a variety of tech such as a computerized visor and a “Neutra-laser” pistol and freeze rifle. Marshal was the “Protector of Peace” who preferred to serve as a mediator in a conflict over resorting to violence.
He was a cool character and others in the line were great as well. Although the hero of the story was a Native American, I suspect the scrutiny of today’s culture would give Mattel pause in re-leasing the line but I wish they would, because Marshal BraveStarr was really great back in the day.
Silverhawks was essentially a as a space-based equivalent of Thundercats. A bionic space enforcer called Commander Stargazer recruited the SilverHawks, heroes who are “partly metal, partly real”, and all party to fight the evil MonStar, an escaped alien mob boss.
The SilverHawks action figures were produced by Kenner and first released in 1987. Each figure was packaged with a companion cyborg bird. Their bionic bodies were covered by a full-body metal armor that only left the face and one arm exposed. Plus, they had retractable under-arm wings , thrusters on their heels, and laser-weapons in their shoulders. Awesomeness.
But the line never really took off, despite awesome stuff like the country-singing “Bluegrass” who piloted the team’s ship, “Copper Kidd” who was a mathematical genius who spoke in whistles and computerized tones, and all the coolness listed above.
#1 SHOGUN WARRIORS
Let’s end this list by cheating a little bit. Shogun Warriors were released in the late 70s and were cancelled by the time the 80s rolled around, although the toys persisted a bit for an odd reason.
Shogun Warriors were toys licensed by Mattel during the late 1970sbased on Japanese anime shows featuring giant robots. What’s cool was they came in three sizes:
- 24-inch plastic versions, which were amaaaaazzzzing,
- 3.5-inch die-cast metal versions, which were my favorite, and
- slightly taller but more detailed 5-inch die-cast versions that I had forgotten existed until I was researching this article.
The Shogun Warrior line also had several vehicles that could join together to form a super robot (think Voltron and, later, Transformers Constructicons).
But the best thing is the weapons were spring loaded and shot projectiles. But this got them in trouble, because of safety concerns that children might launch the weapons and hit other children or pets in the eyes. Because of this, the Shogun Warrior toy line was discontinued by 1980, although interest continued by robots that can put your eye out sound fun.