Tag Archives: venom

The Toys that Got Away

My whole life I have loved toys. Anytime I had money as a kid I wanted to spend it on a new toy, for my birthday I always wanted more toys, and when it came time to write Santa a letter I asked for more toys. Most kids like toys, that’s a given, but I feel like many mix in some other loves as well. Maybe arts and crafts, movies, books, comics, etc. And I liked a lot of that stuff too, but not enough to sacrifice even a tiny fraction of my toy allotment. As an adult, my love continues though I’m not as single-minded when it comes to my pursuits and hobbies. Though even now, few things thrill me in such a unique way as a brand new toy.

For a kid with a middle-class upbringing, I really wasn’t left wanting for too much. My parents usually delivered around the holidays and I had a grandmother that seemed to enjoy buying me toys as much as I enjoyed receiving them. It also helped that I liked action figures and they usually weren’t too expensive. Most Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cost less than a Barbie, and I never really got into more expensive properties like Transformers and Lego. Sure, I had a few from both lines here and there, but for the most part I focused on one major franchise.

Even though I rarely lacked for anything, inevitably there’s always something that remains elusive. Either the toy was hard to find or it arrived at an inopportune time, but there are a few items that vexed me as a child enough to still leave a lasting imprint. Now that I’m an adult, there’s sometimes a temptation to try and fill that void now that I have the means, even though I know doing such is often fleeting. A recent reintroduction of a certain property to my life has recalled some of these feelings though and is serving as the genesis for this post, and I’ll save those for last. This post though is about the toys I never got as a kid, but am sorely tempted to seek out now.

Venom II – Toy Biz 1992

Toy Biz had the comic book figure on lockdown in the 80s and 90s. It even held both the Marvel and DC license at the same time, before it eventually became owned by Marvel through one of the venerable comic book company’s many bankruptcy filings. Toy Biz no longer exists now, but it was best known for its Marvel action figures and the first line was simply referred to as Marvel Super Heroes. As part of that line’s second series, a Venom action figure was introduced. It came with a plastic spider that resembled the insignia on Venom’s chest. It could be inserted into a rather large hole on the figure’s back and squeezing it caused black goo to ooze from a hole on the figure’s chest. Eventually, a running change would be made to replace the spider with a generic red plunger that was instead intended to just use water instead of slime. The lame gimmick, combined with the giant hole it required exist in the figure, made this Venom kind of shitty.

Toy Biz rectified this with a new figure in 92. I recalled seeing it for what felt like a year on the back of other card-backs, but never could find it in stores. This Venom was leaner with a bit more articulation. It’s gimmick was a tongue-flicking action controlled by a little button on the figure’s back which was simple and didn’t detract much from the sculpt. It also came with a chest attachment that I guess was meant to create the illusion of a living costume, but it was kind of dumb. Venom would become my favorite Marvel character, due mostly to my dad taking me to a flea market where he bought me a copy of Lethal Protector #1. When the Spider-Man cartoon arrived in 94, it meant more Venom action figures so even though I really wanted this one, the sting of never finding him was mostly removed. This is the only toy on this list that I did seek out as an adult. Since I have him now, I can say if I had been able to find one in 92 it probably would have been one of my favorite toys for a long time, at least until the Venom II from the cartoon line with removable mask.

Monty Moose – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1993)

I had a lot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys as a kid, most of which are now gone which is unfortunate (kids, don’t let your parents throw away your old action figures!). That line was fairly easy to collect because it was well distributed and also pretty affordable. When the first figures came out, they retailed for $3.99 in my area – that’s a mere two visits from the Tooth Fairy! Because for a few years Turtles were all I wanted I usually cleaned-up at Christmas and birthdays and as a result there were only a few I didn’t get that I really wanted. Some of them included really popular characters like Baxter Stockman and the Rat King, but for some reason the only one that bothers me a little today is Monty Moose.

Monty even got featured in a commercial, though he never made it into the cartoon.

I don’t know what it was about Monty Moose I found so appealing. Moose are kind of funny looking in general, and Monty Moose certainly looked a bit odd with his huge antlers and long snout. I also really liked the blue and red color combo as a kid, so he was just eye-catching to me. And I saw him in a store on one occasion. It was an Osco Drug, which I don’t think even exists anymore. For those who don’t remember, Osco Drug is basically like a CVS or Walgreen’s and it was a store that was never known for its toy selection. My mom and I had to go into one for a prescription for some reason, it wasn’t our usual pharmacy, and we walked down the toy aisle and I saw Monty Moose staring back at me. I tried to get my mom to buy it for me, but I think my birthday was coming up so she was in no mood to buy me a toy with that on the horizon. My birthday would come and go and I had to beg my mom to take me back to that specific store now that I had some birthday money. She thought it was silly to go to a pharmacy, of all places, to spend birthday money, but she took me and of course the figure was gone. I’d never see him again.

Batman Returns Batmissile Batmobile – Kenner 1993

Despite being a bit dark, the Tim Burton Batman films were a merchandising behemoth for DC and Warner Bros. I had a few toys from the first film and the supplemental series Kenner produced in-between, but what really caught my attention was the Batmobile from Batman Returns. If you recall, in the film, the Batmobile demonstrates a new ability to shed the sides of the vehicle to take on the form of a skinny, missile-like, vehicle to fit through a narrow alley. Kenner made a Batmbile that could do the same with the push of a button, and when I saw the commercial I immediately wanted it.

I do wonder how well this thing actually worked.

I had that toy on my Christmas list for 1993, and when Christmas morning came there was indeed a Batmobile under the tree. Only it was the wrong one. I was never one to complain about gifts, so I was happy to have a Batmobile. This was one was a re-release of the first film’s Batmobile with pop-up machine guns. It was pretty cool, just not what I wanted. It was somewhat overshadowed though by another gift that year – a Sega Genesis. Sometime after the holiday, I even saw the Batmobile that I yearned for at the toy store. I had some money and nearly bought it, but I did the smart thing and decided to be happy with what I had and put that cash towards something else. And I feel good about the decision even now and I mostly have it on this list because I’m still curious if the gimmick worked well or not.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Green Ranger and Dragonzord – Bandai 1993

And now we get to the real deal. Recently, my son has shown an interest in Power Rangers largely thanks to his best friend having some affection for the property. We’ve watched around ten episodes or so of the original run, and it’s stirring some memories. Painful memories.

Power Rangers burst onto the scene in the late summer of 1993. Saban Entertainment had found it hard to sell the property to American broadcast networks for years, and maybe because of that there was skepticism that the property would be a success. Whatever the reason, the show ended up being a smash hit, but Bandai of America was woefully unprepared to meet the demand for toys. Which sucked because the toys were awesome! The Rangers themselves were huge, around 9 or 10 inches, with loads of articulation. I had never seen an action figure with finger articulation before, and it blew my mind! I wanted them, but I wasn’t quite sure how much since the show was pretty new. I was also at an age where it was almost taboo to like it. I was supposed to be growing out of toys, but I found them way too compelling.

When these came out, I thought they were the most incredible action figures imaginable.

I didn’t get any Power Rangers toys in 1993 and I spent much of 94 chasing them without much luck. I would eventually get a Power-Morphing Green Ranger, but that was nearly all I got. What I really wanted was the deluxe Green Ranger who came bundled with the Dragonzord. I even found a page from a flyer sitting outside at my grandmother’s house advertising the set. I carried that thing around and clung to it reminding my mom and grandma that I really wanted that toy, but try as they might, it just didn’t happen.

He’s practically a statue, but damn does he looks cool.

I never once saw that toy in a toy store. To this day, I’ve never seen it in person. None of my friends had it, and because of that I still kind of want it. Looking at the set now, I still think that Green Ranger is pretty slick. The Dragonzord impresses me less, but he’s still a delightfully, chunky, robot dragon and robot dragons are pretty awesome on their own. It doesn’t do much beside just look cool, but that’s basically all I ask of my toys in this day and age.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Deluxe Megazord – Bandai 1993

As much as I wanted that Green Ranger and Dragonzord, I think the toy I wanted most that I never was able to my hands on was the Deluxe Megazord from the same line. Tommy the Green Ranger was my favorite of the Power Rangers for the time I watched this show (basically up to the first movie), so I naturally wanted the best toy based on him along with the zord. The White Ranger was cool too, but not as cool as the Green Ranger. The Megazord though, was just too awesome to ignore. It was five robots that combined into one massive robot – how awesome is that?! Yes, I realize this made the toy very similar to Voltron, but the Voltron toy from the 80s didn’t impress me much because it didn’t really look like the cartoon. It had to fudge with the scale of the lions a bit to work in real life, and that’s the type of thing that would bother me as a kid.

Now you can re-enact that same transforming sequence you see every episode!

The Megazord, however, seems like it was designed to be a toy from the very start. The toy basically imitated the transforming sequence from the show to perfection. The only compromise really was in the articulation of the finished product. The show would feature models to assemble the Megazord, but once formed it then swapped that out for a guy in a costume who would battle the monster of the week. He could obviously move in ways a clumsy toy could not, but that seemed like a small price to pay for such accuracy.

Robots that combine to form bigger robots are arguably the greatest toys ever made.

Unlike with the Green Ranger/Dragonzord set, I did actually see the Megazord in the flesh. A kid in my class brought one into school, maybe for show and tell or something, and he showed it to me at his desk. Cruelly, he wouldn’t let me touch it, but he at least demonstrated the transformation including both the robot and tank modes. I was floored by it and I wanted it so bad, but it was just so impossible to find! I never saw the thing in stores and I’m sure my grandmother likely never did as well.

I was able to get the Red Dragon Thunderzord (left), but never did get the rest.

When the showed moved on from the original zords, the toy supply improved. For Christmas, my grandmother was finally successful when it came to Power Rangers and she was able to get me the Red Dragon Thunderzord as well as some of the roleplay toys (blaster and morpher). The Red Dragon was pretty cool, and if I’m being honest, a better toy than the Dragonzord would be. I was never able to get the other zords though to form the new Megazord, and by the following Christmas the fad had passed for me. I would put all of my energy towards video games at that point, leaving toys behind for a few years.

In 2010, Bandai re-released the original Megazord, now often referred to as the Dino Megazord. It was almost an exact recreation of the 93 toy with a few changes to make the set cheaper to produce. The wheels were removed from the Triceratops and Sabre-toothed tiger, as well as the articulation on their guns. Otherwise though, it’s basically the same. It retailed for $75 and I am kicking myself now for not just buying it then. The 93 version, if you can find one in good condition, easily fetches thrice that on eBay and the re-releases are expensive too. I was tempted to buy one when I was first on my own, but got cold feet and didn’t really know what I would do with. Maybe my son or daughter will become obsessed and force my hand, or maybe Bandai will re-release it again when the show turns 30 in three years and I’ll finally take the plunge. Or maybe the Megazord is just a toy destined to haunt me for the rest of my days.


Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge

Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade's Revenge (1992)

Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge (1992)

Expectations influence just about everything we come in contact with.  Expectations can help lead to a more fulfilling experience when those expectations are met.  Other times, they can help make the bad seem worse when something fails to meet though expectations.  When I was a kid and I heard there was going to be a video game featuring a team-up between Spider-Man, possibly the most popular character ever created by Marvel Comics, and the X-Men, easily the hottest comic at the time, I was giddy with anticipation.  This seemed like a no lose situation and Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge vaulted to the top of my list of must own Super Nintendo games along with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV:  Turtles in Time.  One of those games would turn out well and provide me with hours of entertainment, that game was not Spider-Man and the X-Men.

What went wrong?  Well, let’s backtrack a bit first and see how this all came together and if my expectations were even justified.  At the time of the game’s release, Spider-Man had already been enjoying a run on the Sega Genesis and Game Boy as a platform star.  Perhaps star is a bit strong as his games weren’t really great, but they also weren’t particularly awful.  The best was definitely The Amazing Spider-Man vs The Kingpin for the Genesis.  The game was pretty difficult, at times frustratingly so, but it did a great job of making use of the Spider-Man license.  It was also quite popular and one of the best-selling titles at the time.  The X-Men, on the other hand, really only had the one NES game titled The Uncanny X-Men.  It was horrible and it tricked many uninformed gamers into renting or buying it with it’s X-Men branding.  Arguably, the best games for both franchises were the arcade beat-em-ups Spider-Man:  The Video Game and X-Men.  The Spider-Man game came first in 1991 and for some reason it isn’t as well loved and remembered as the X-Men game that followed in ’92.  It was a typical brawler allowing up to four players to join in and included playable characters Spider-Man, Black Cat, Hawkeye, and Sub-Mariner.  It’s selling feature was a more platform inspired design where the camera would zoom out allowing the players to take on gigantic enemies including a super-sized Venom at the end of the first stage.  The X-Men game was similar, but it’s defining characteristic (aside from the comical mistranslations) was the double-monitor cabinet allowing up to six players at once.  Both games were hard as they were designed to suck quarters out of its audience but they were a lot of fun, especially with a group of friends.

I hate these stupid clowns and their stupid stage.

I hate these stupid clowns and their stupid stage.

It would seem to me that a track record was in place that at least suggested a console game featuring these two franchises could be great.  If I had been a little wiser as a kid and more aware I would have taken note of the LJN logo on the box and realized right away the game was going to be a giant turd, but sadly I just wasn’t.  Before I get into what the game did wrong I suppose I should point out what it did right.  First of, Spider-Man is represented fairly well given that he is able to stick to walls, shoot webs, and even make use of his spider-sense in the game.  The roster for the X-Men side is pretty solid as well as it features the obvious choice of Wolverine along with Cyclops, Storm, and Gambit.  Wolverine has an interesting dynamic to him as he retains his mutant healing power but it only works when his claws are retracted.  The game is packed with villains too like Apocalypse, Shocker, Juggernaut, and Carnage.  Arcade is kind of a weird choice for the main villain, but at least his Murderworld offers a lot of possibilities for level-design.

That’s basically it as far as what Spider-Man and the X-Men gets right, and unfortunately it’s a pretty small list.  So what makes this game suck so hard?  Well, lets first start with the presentation.  I’m usually not one to have much of an opinion on the audio within a game.  I expect it to do its job and often times I have to make it a point to touch upon it when doing these reviews because I tend to overlook it.  Here it’s easy to not overlook because the sound is so bad.  The score is okay at times, though certain levels (Wolverine’s) feature an annoying soundtrack.  It’s the FX that really bug me though as they just sound like, for lack of a better word, shit.  A lot of the characters, good and bad, let out a scream when they die that sounds fuzzy and distorted.  The machine sounds are just as bad and Spidey’s web blasts sound like they could be grenades.  The graphics are also piss-poor.  The characters are really small, except Storm but I’ll get to her later, and lacking in any sort of detail.  Wolverine even looks like he only has two claws on each hand while Gambit doesn’t have a face.  Some of the villains are almost unrecognizable, especially Apocalypse who looks like a blue bug or something.

Hey Gambit, where's your face?

Hey Gambit, where’s your face?

Perhaps what bugged me more than anything as a kid was just how un-super these super heroes felt.  Spider-Man and the X-Men is a pretty hard game made so mostly because these characters can’t seem to take a punch.  They die so easily and it’s a frustrating experience.  I get that it’s hard to make a super hero game because on one hand the super heroes need to be super powerful, but the game also needs some challenge.  That’s why we have super villains though, and Wolverine shouldn’t be getting annihilated by a jack-in-the-box with a tommy gun.  The X-Men games that would follow on the Genesis were hard, but at least those X-Men felt like powerful super heroes (well, for the most part), these ones are push-overs.  The level designs are also fairly lacking.  Spider-Man’s are just weird looking and kind of confusing as they’re intended to be maze-like.  The player is supposed to use his spider-sense to navigate but it just gets tiresome.  Cyclops’ stages feature an annoying mine cart premise where touching the tracks means death.  Gambit has to outrun a giant deathball and might be the best levels, which isn’t saying much.  Wolverine is in a circus and there’s nothing noteworthy about the first stage while the second stage he has to outrun the Juggernaut.  It’s basically the same concept as the Gambit stages, though at least LJN incorporated something from the comics to make it feel relevant.  Storm’s stages are quite different and probably everyone’s most hated as she has to navigate a flooded laboratory.  They’re swimming levels, but unfortunately Storm’s mutant powers over the weather don’t let her breath underwater.  Just about everyone hates the underwater Sonic the Hedgehog levels for the same reason, this is worse times ten.

The red guy is Carnage. That gray blob?  He's Rhino.  I think.

The red guy is Carnage. That gray blob? He’s Rhino. I think.

If the player manages to actually beat all of the levels then they get to take on Arcade as Spider-Man.  You kind of have to be a glutton for punishment to even make it that far as the game is both really hard and really bad.  That’s the worst combination.  As a kid, I never had much success and never made it past any character’s second stage so making it all the way to Arcade wasn’t in the cards.  Playing this game was a depressing endeavor as a game featuring a team-up between these two should have been awesome.  I remember a few years after I got it Toys R Us started their first trade-in program where people could trade in games they no longer wanted for store credit.  I grabbed my copy of Spider-Man and the X-Men and, thinking I’d get maybe 15 or 20 bucks, was offered only four.  I elected not to trade it in but in hindsight I should have taken the four Jeffry Dollars.  I could have used it for some Fruit Stripe gum or something.


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