The Retro Machine (Vol. 7)
Jumpman, Record Breakers, Matchbox Lock-Ups, and More!
Grab your Viewmaster, turn on a bright light, lay down on your carpet, and prop a pillow under your head. The latest reel from The Retro Machine aims to tap into your mind, to memories once thought lost...in 3-D!
With Viewmaster, other worlds and far away lands were just a click away. You'd slide the reel into the top, put the viewfinder up to your eyes, point it towards a light source, and be instantly transported to 3D vistas of other places in the world, your favorite cartoon, or even to outer space. I had my own Viewfinder and also inherited my fathers, so my reels were a mix of Dukes of Hazzard and Man From U.N.C.L.E.
If anything, they are a neat little time capsule that capture unique perspectives on people and places. I know I had another one that was something like "ABC's Wild World of Sports" or something like that. I once had an entire dream that was through the perspective of a Viewfinder. Every once in a while if I'm going through my stuff and I come across one of these, I'll take some time to revisit those old reels.
Picture this: It's the late 80's. The Nintendo Entertainment System reigns supreme. In the days before the internet, kids like me were the last to find out the news that Nintendo was working on a portable gaming system. I remember wondering how Nintendo could make a portable NES. Visions of NES units bolted into cars crossed my mind.
As time went on, we learned that the system would be bundled with the hot NES title "Tetris". The decision to bundle Tetris with the original Gameboy is one of the greatest moves the industry has ever seen. Tetris was a system seller, and we all know the rest of the story.
I remember really anticipating this thing. I thought to myself "if I could play Tetris in the woods, I'll be set for life". That whole idea of gaming anywhere was new to us. Sure, we all had the Tiger Electronic handhelds, but the Nintendo Gameboy was light years beyond those dinosaurs.
And yes, I did play Tetris in the woods. Just because.
These little battery-operated race cars were a ton of fun. They were fast, collectible, and the best part about them was that you could customize them! Each car had it's own engine (which you could replace) along with its own set of tires that you could take off and replace with tires of different texture. They had the spiky wheels for navigating tough terrain, but when it came time to race your friends you'd take those off and put on the slick and smooth racing tires.
Each car had tiny wheels at each corner that helped prevent your Record Breaker from getting stuck in a corner or something, so if your car hit a wall, the corner wheels would redirect the car for maximum distance. Record Breakers came in many colors and forms, from indy cars to stock cars, and all were decked out with a nice set of decals that you had to put on. They actually came out with a Record Breakers track but the thing was so expensive that I never had a chance to own one.
No matter though, it was fun enough to have a collection of cars and a little tool chest filled with spare tires, engines, and other neat little things. I found my Record Breakers recently, still in the bag that I kept them in all those years ago. They were slightly coated in battery acid, so I threw them away.
Strolling Bowling cornered the market on portable wind-up bowling games. The neat little case opened up to form a bowling alley with the pins attached on a hinge at one end. A slight tip of the case would set all the pins upright. Then you would wind up the little bowling ball and his little feet would walk him down the lane. Would he veer left? Would he veer right? Or would he walk down towards the middle and send all the pins down for a strike? There was something about this toy that just sucked you in and kept you engaged. It's a simple yet creative design that I think would still be applicable to some younger kids today.
LJN Andre The Giant Figure
Without a doubt in my mind, the greatest line of pro wrestling toys ever to be released was the LJN line of WWF figures. These 7" dream toys were made of hard rubber which made them extremely durable so that they could sustain the beating they'd take in the ring. Unfortunately though, the paint job was not as durable. The tell-tale signs of a "used" WWF LJN figure can be paint missing where paint once was, or color marks in places they shouldn't be.
If you collected these though, there were two essential figures that you had to have. I'll save the other one for later because I decided to start off "big". There's no better way to do that than with Andre the Giant.
LJN released 3 versions of Andre during the popular run of this toy line. The first came in 1984, portraying Andre's crazy long hair. This is my least favorite version of the big guy. It doesn't look much like him, the hair is strange (yes, I know he wore it that way back then, but the Andre most people know and love didn't look like that), and the body is not as intimidating as it should be.
The second Andre showed up in Series 3, released in 1986. This one look considerably more like him in the face and was a bit more of a "satisfying" and substantial figure to hold. Finally, the Andre that most know and love appeared in Series 6 around 1989. It was the final series of the line, but it offers what is in my opinion the best version. Andre wore that classic "black strap" suit and the figure was finally a size that was relatively "gigantic" in comparison to the rest of the figures. When I had the Series 6 figure, I felt for the first time like I had the "real" Andre figure. What a great bunch of toys though right? And don't you dare call them dolls...
Admit it, you had one of these. They were SO huge at one time. Such a crazy fad! Even I'm man enough to admit that I owned a charm necklace. Of course, it was a nice blue chain and the charms were cool things like guitars and skulls. But really, noone at the time could avoid them. They were cheap and the charms had a unique quality about them that sent everyone into a "collect'em all!" frenzy. We ended up walking around looking like a bunch of gypsies with all these things dangling from our necks, since nobody was content with just a few.
I just loved how many of them had some sort of function to them. Little doors would swing open on a mini stove, a bell would be able to ring, wheels would roll, and small pens might write. It gave them a personality that allowed us to really make a charm bracelet (or necklace) that would make a statement about ourselves. You know, something like "here I am world! I enjoy tennis, rollerskating, and vinyl records!".
Ah yes, Snake Mountain. This great playset was home to Skeletor, the evil, creepy, oddly purplish-in-color villain from the Masters of the Universe series. Everything you would expect in an evil lair was found here. You had chains bolted to the wall to hold people prisoner, a trap door at the front gate that dropped you into the net below, a creaky old bridge, a giant snake waiting to eat you, and all sorts of slimy goop (in sticker form) on the inside floor.
But the coolest thing about Skeletors house of evil was this microphone on the inside that looked like a wolf's head or something. When you spoke into it, the mic would make your voice echo with a sinister tone. You'd speak into it all evil-like, taunting He-man and his friends, until the feedback from the microphone kicked in with a high-pitched sound that pierced your eardrum.
Oddly enough, I recently found my old Snake Mountain. I hadn't touched it in well over 20 years, but you know what? The freaking batteries still worked! So I fired that baby up one more time just to remember what a Snake Mountain-sized voice sounds like.
Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars were the cars to have. I collected both and never really favored one brand over the other. But sometime in the 80's, Matchbox released this line of "Lock-Up" toys. They came with a custom key that fit in the bottom of the car to "lock" the wheels and car doors. It was a novelty to be able to lock and unlock these things and it was really the first time I had a key to use on a toy car. There was a certain feeling of power to know that you had the key and the authority to lock those wheels and doors!
Jumpman was a game released on several platforms in the early 80's, but the best incarnation I think was on the fantastic Commodore 64. I was a Commodore kid, practically raised on Commodore gaming and computing. Jumpman was the first game I can remember really getting into, a brilliant platformer. Everything about the game is memorable, from the sound of Jumpman collecting a bomb to the sound of Jumpman falling, tumbling, and finally landing on the bottom of the screen. The music famously only plays between levels, but during each stage you are left with only the somewhat eerie sound effects of Jumpman walking, jumping, and avoiding those floating white bullets.
The level design kept things fresh. One stage has you dodging falling bombs from the sky while another has you dodging vampire bats. Next you're surrounded by slow moving bricks that cause you to involuntarily jump in random directions, then you're shooting down UFO's, avoiding robots, then dragons, and so on. Some stages are puzzles unto themselves that you have to solve to either survive or get maximum points. And to top it all off, the when you beat Jumpman, the ending is actually quite satisfying. Now that's what it's all about, great and accessible gameplay where anyone can jump in and have fun. If you have never played Jumpman, go check it out!
"Picture Pages, Picture Pages
Time to get your Picture Pages
Time to get your crayons
And your Pencils!
Picture Pages, Picture Pages
Open up your Picture Pages
Time to let Bill Cosby do a Picture Page with you!"
So the Coz is making his second appearance on The Retro Machine, this time with the fantastic Picture Pages! Picture Pages wasn't a full show, it was more a 10 minute mini-show that would appear on Nick and it was most popular around the mid-80's. Bill Cosby brought his big personality to this show and made things like connecting dots seem funny. It didn't hurt that he had that unforgettable writing utensil of his, Mortimer Ichabod Marker.
Anytime he used Mortimer to draw, the thing would make electronic sounds. I think that is what makes the show most memorable for me, watching Bill draw very purposeful lines and hearing that sound. No doubt, when I was in school doing similarly important doodles, I'd imagine that very sound coming from my pen.
It was just a great little morsel of television and was probably more intellectually stimulating for most kids than some of the other programs of the day.
That's all for now! Next month look out for a special spooktacular edition!
Miss one of the previous Retro Machine editions? Get them here!
Volume 1 http://www.retrojunk.com/details_articles/1814/
Volume 2 http://www.retrojunk.com/details_articles/1845/
Volume 3 http://www.retrojunk.com/details_articles/1890/
Volume 4 http://www.retrojunk.com/details_articles/1929/
Volume 5 http://www.retrojunk.com/details_articles/1978/
Volume 6 http://www.retrojunk.com/details_articles/2067/