25 Incredibly Nostalgic ‘90s Toys & Where You Can Buy Them
90s toys that influenced our culture forever, our list includes Game Boy, Tamagotchi, Polly Pocket & Tickle Me Elmo. Do any of these give you major nostalgia feels?
It was a cold Friday night, and everyone was getting ready to go out. So naturally, I, a thirty-ish-year-old woman in her prime, stayed in and pondered the 90s. The 90s were my formative childhood years, so I understandably have a bit of a bias. Still, I believe the 90's were freaking awesome for fashion, television, and...toys.
Our childhood toys were really influential and if you think about it propelled culture forward in a way that today's toys do not. Where a lot of innovation occurred in the 90s, current toys seem to be twenty years worth of enhancements. Here is a quick list of 90s toys that influenced our culture be it through isolationism, consumer artificial intelligence, public spectacle, or economic inclusion.
Game Boy, 1989
It's truth time everyone! Our inability to put down our cellphones was twenty years in the making. Game Boys were the 90s toys that were the precursor to cell phone culture, and I'll explain why. Before Game Boys, playing video games was still a near 100% social experience.
We either needed to own a gaming console (often shared with siblings), or we had to go to an arcade with our buds. Then, enter the Game Boy system which was equally entertaining and relatively inexpensive enough for each kid to have their own. All of the sudden kids everywhere began ignoring other human beings, traffic, and potholes opting instead to focus on the captivating devices in their hands.
Tamagotchis were virtual pet toy and what I refer to as" obligation-entertainment" toys. As kids, these 90s toys taught us how quickly our digital pets would die if we forgot to feed them and clean up their poop. I can't help but feel that Tamagotchi-esque toys conceptually paved the way for other simulation entertainment like the Sims.
I convinced my mother to buy me a Tamagotchi because it would teach me responsibility, but I just wanted to fit in. Everyone had a Tamagotchi, and that was a circle I needed to be part of. I desperately needed to become another pre-teen frantically feeding their digital pet during the passing period because they wouldn't be able to do it in English class.
Now, I'm an adult with real pets, and I want nothing more than to teach them how to take care of themselves. Why were we in such a rush to experience obligation as kids and why did it seem like fun?
Sony Aibo, 1999
What was with 90s toys and pets? It's like our parents went to a convention and asked electronic toy-makers to create as many devices to pacify our desire for living-breathing animals. The result of their secret meetings was the Sony Aibo, marketed as an "entertainment robot" but really it was the beginnings of consumer grade artificial intelligence.
The Aibo didn't catch on as well as Sony would've liked because they'd designed a toy intriguing enough to buy but not intelligent enough to perform critical tasks that kept kids interested. The Sony Aibo would sit, lay down, and beg (I think) but there were no "snoozles," no "zooms," no "mlems," or any other behaviors that made owning a dog worth it. It was all artificial intelligence, but no love for that 90s toy.
Tickle Me Elmo, 1996
Remember the craze of the Tickle Me Elmo? Well, a lesser known tickle me toy did it first. His name was Tickles the Chimp, and he came out in 1992. None of us ever heard of Tickles the Chimp because he just didn't have the star power of Elmo.
I'm sure that somewhere Tickles is still telling the story of how he came first, and Elmo stole his gimmick. 90s toys were full of drama. Aside from crushed dreams, there was a lot of controversy surrounding Tickle Me Elmo, and til this day it has changed our conditioning of acceptable behavior in public spaces.
I'm just going to say it. Tyco, Sesame Street, and Elmo helped usher in Walmart Brawl and public spectacle culture. I could be wrong, but before the release of Tickle Me Elmo, I'd never heard of massive fights happening in big box retailers.
Looking back, I'm pretty sure the short supply of these toys was intentional; it was indeed a marketing genius. It seemed that during Christmas shopping season of '96 there were several reportings of punches thrown, foot tramplings, and black eyes.
The chaos also spurred public spectating behavior because as all of the brawl footage came from Walmart security cameras. In the end, all that violence did was make the plush doll more desirable. The toy retailed for US$29.99 but towards the end of 1996 E-bay sellers were asking $10,000 a piece. Amazing how such an adorable character could bring out the worst in adults.
Tiger Handheld Games, 1993
If your family was "ballin' on a budget" in the 90s like mine, then you may have owned a couple of Tiger Handheld games rather than a Game Boy. The idea of this product was pretty genius. All Tiger did was get licensing for the hottest games at the time, wrap them in inexpensive Game Boy-like casing and sell them for $20.
With the Tiger Handhelds, there were no cartridges. Each handheld was standalone, so if you wanted variety, you just purchased more units. By comparison, the Game Boy cost around $90 plus game cartridges. So, if money was tight for the family, Tiger made handheld gaming more accessible and inclusive for 90s toys.
The original Legos were created in 1949, but the official lego website launched in 1996, so it counts! Are we in agreement that I can refer to legos as 90s toys? No matter how hard you try, you simply just can’t make a popular toys list in the last 7 decades without mentioning LEGO.
While classic LEGO’s where fun, it was during the 90s that LEGO began to branch out and bring creative sets based on popular pop culture franchises such as Back to the Future’s signature Delorean time machine and Batman’s Bat Cave.
Always a pleasure, I still enjoy sitting down with a LEGO set whenever I can. Thankfully, LEGO’s popularity has never soared down and it has diverse sets for different types of people with different types of interests. And the best thing about LEGO is that they’re still under budget and made for everyone, young or old. Nothing makes a better present than this for those who like building things.
Nerf Guns, 1969
The Nerf Gun was created in 1969, but it really took off once Hasbro acquired the brand in 1991. So yes, I’m making the executive decision to deem the Nerf Gun one of many stellar 90s toys as well.
While our grandparents and parents grew up playing cowboys and Indians when they were kids, we took it to a whole new level with nerf guns, the toy craze that annoyed the heck out of our parents.
During the summer, you couldn’t take a step out of the house without stepping on or getting hit with a orange foam pellet shot from a Nerf gun. Many enthusiasts have taken the Nerf marketing slogan “It’s Nerf or Nuthin’! a bit too literally with official Nerf tournaments taking place all around the USA during different times of the year.
While we absolutely loved shooting up the house with the bright orange foam pellets, dodging our mom’s broom was a mandatory survival tactic in the process, making for some really fun memories.
Koosh Balls, 1987
Koosh Balls definitely make the list of influential 90s toys. The Koosh ball is made of 2,000 rubber filaments and is a rather oddly satisfying toy to handle. Last year someone suggested me to get a fidget spinner to prove it’s more than just a fancy toy and could actually help me relax. After getting one and spinning it for 30 seconds I realized what I was actually missing; my favorite red koosh ball from 7th grade that I could squeeze the life out of. Koosh balls were basically stress balls for kids.
Squeezing these balls were an absolute blast especially when doing homework or listening to music as the rubber filaments produced a warm ticklish sensation that’s really enjoyable. While they are still available in the market, compared to the variation and colors in its heyday, color and design choices are comparatively limited.
Yo-Yo, 440 B.C.
Okay, I can’t even pretend that this toy holds some sort of special association with the 90s but they were no less popular. In fact, there’s even a Greek vase dating back to 440 b.c. that depicts a boy playing with a Yo-Yo. Regardless, this list of 90s toys really would be incomplete without the Yo-Yo.
Responsible for creating a whole generation of finger acrobats, the yo-yo is one of the most defining icon of the 90s youth culture. Simple In design but difficult to master just like poker, millions of kids all around the world spent countless hours mastering yo-yo tricks jus to impress their friends and siblings. I was freaking terrible at yo-yoing, my string always ended up in knots.
Rarely seen nowadays, they can still make a good gift for anyone you know who likes to play with their fingers and hands. Finding a good quality yo-yo these days is a bit difficult as they’re treated more like novelty items now, but you shouldn’t have difficulty finding one if you look a bit hard enough.
Spice Girls Dolls, 1997
If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with 90s toys. In 1997 the Spice Girls, hugely popular off of the heels of their single “wannabe” capitalized on their merchandising contracts and signed a deal with Galoob Toys to create the Spice Girls Dolls. The deal reportedly made $11 million and were the best selling celebrity dolls of all time.
These dolls were genius because you could get a concert stage in your set and um, of course we begged our parents to buy that add on.
Honestly, what even was that thing? Maybe a cuddly gremlin? Apparently it didn’t matter that its species was ambiguous because when Furbies launched in the 1998 holiday season over 40,000,000 units sold.
Initially speaking only in ‘Furbese’, the language of the imaginary Furbie population, this adorable monster that looks like a cross between an owl and a penguin starts using English words slowly to mimic the process of learning English from its owner. Don’t underestimate Furby though, that little gremlin thingy was programmed to be able to speak in 24 different languages in its prime.
The latest version of Furbies can be controlled using a mobile app and features voice and facial recognition software as well as LCD eyes. Furbies are a great companion for kids who are scared to go to bed alone by themselves and need a friendly voice in the middle of the night, not!
Easy Bake Oven, 1963
Sweet baby Mary I wanted one of these SO BAD. Now that I’m an adult and don’t cook perhaps baking a mini cake in an Easy Bake Oven will be my best effort at a home-cooked meal?
My cousin did have an easy bake oven, however. Ou very first baking attempt was on one of these awesome dough toy set that were popular among girls in the 90s once they got bored with their doll-house set. The miniature pots, pans and oven sets make for the perfect experimentation ground for enthusiastic novice bakers.
After mimicking our grandma in the kitchen with the set, we proudly presented to her my first baking attempt at something edible which made me really proud. The latest versions are safer and better designed and safer as the 90s versions used a light bulb for heating purposes, with the newer ones tungsten wiring for heating the ovens in the set. A really fun way to get kids gain confidence in their baking skills from an early age.
Crocodile Dentist, 1990
If you ask any American dentist in their late twenties and early thirties what made them passionate about their current profession, they’d most probably answer Crocodile Dentist.
This simple 90s toy involved extracting all the teeth from the toy crocodile’s mouth one at a time which a plastic scalpel while the crocodile head make biting motions and snaps it’s teeth.
A perfectly fun game whether played with friends or alone, we had a lot of fun that one summer we entertained Mr. Crocodile at our home with all our novice dentistry skills we could muster to free him from his toothy burdens.
Let’s Go Fishin, TBD
For the life of me I couldn’t find any documented history of Let’s Go Fishin, so if any of you have the scoop please feel free to leave the intel in the comments.
While the original fishing toy game by Pressman Toy was also something our parents played, the 90s saw resurgence in their popularity thanks to the more faster spins, larger sizes and colorful designs introduced by the different manufacturers.
Super-fun to play with, cheap and exciting all at the same time, I think my parents lost count of how many sets of these awesome toys they bought for us when we were kids.
This is the first game that I played that actually made me rage quit more than once, but I also loved it with equal fervor. Fishing toy games haven’t changed much since the 90s, so playing them should still feel the same should you decide to get yourself one this Christmas.
Magna Doodle, 1974
The predecessor of modern tablets specifically made for doodling and artwork, Magna Doodles were one of the most unique and influential toys I’ve come across, primarily because of its training applications in scuba diving which I discovered once I started diving lessons.
Many professional cartoonists and artists that I know of who grew up in the 90s started exploring their talents with a Magna Doodle Set.
Magna Doodle’s were immortalized in the 90s mainly thanks to the popular sitcom Friend’s where Joey and Chandler kept scribbling funny messages on one that they kept in their apartment across the seasons.
Talkback Dear Diary, early-1990’s
The Talkback Dear Diary was created in response to the extremely popular Talkboy which was made famous as a prop used in the hit movie series, Home Alone in 1992.
The perfect outlet for angsty teenage girls just waiting to pour their hearts out. The Talkback Dear Diary was the password protected place to deposit my nonsensical emotional ramblings into, you know, before my journal. I would say of all of the selections on this 90s toys list, the Talkback Dear Diary is the one that pulls the most at my nostalgic heart strings.
Sky Dancers, mid-1990’s
Not available for sale.
Do you remember those pretty little fairies with the pull-string? Such simple mechanics, but they really were satisfying toy to play with. The foam wings were perfect for launching dignified and petty attacks on our siblings.
On a serious note, while it all sounds like fun and games on paper, these dolls were also responsible for over 100 serious eye injuries which led these products to be recalled prior to 2000. Hey, at least we got to keep the Sky Dancer cartoon series!
The 90s were definitely the era of creating entire tv shows just to sell more toys. It was almost as if the minute the toy wasn’t a confirmed flop they were putting together an animated series.
The bane of every mom in the 90s, K’NEX made us feel like artistic geniuses. Similar to LEGO in concept but different in everything else, I’m surprised that nobody recognizes it these days, even 90s kids. Though not as well-known as LEGO, K’NEX still has a huge underground following worldwide which has still kept it in market.
K’Nex was arguably more sophisticated than legos because you could make all sorts of machines and structures with the parts. The K’Nex was definitely one of the 90s toys that a future civil engineer would’ve been drawn to.
The designs of K’NEX sets have also undergone major design changes with more complicated sets available nowadays. The main reason we never made progress with K’NEX as kids was because of the lack of manuals, but in the age of internet, Youtube has all the video manuals one will ever need to create Minecraft level detailed structures in real life.
Beanie Babies, 1993
Listen, I’ll admit it. Both my mother and I were crazy over beanie babies and she did allow us to drop major cash on the Princess Di Beanie Baby. I think it ended up in a box at the goodwill after I left for college.
Even McDonald’s sold the watered-down version of real beanie babies in their happy meals. They were about a third of the size and had less beans in them but they were good enough.
As an adult I’m pretty sure that the main reason I begged our parents to take us to McDonalds every once in a while was not because of the food but to get my hands on a new baby. I knew it, my parents knew it and McDonald’s knew it.
The Beanie Babies brand takes pride in being the world’s very first internet fad in the mid-90s. Seeing how each of these classic collectibles go for tens of thousands of dollars on eBay, I wish I held on to the ones I had. It’s easier to book a destination wedding then getting your hands on one of these plush classics.
Polly Pocket, 1983
Our list of 90s toys would not be even close to complete without Polly Pocket. Another toy turned animated series, my Polly Pocket collection was the object of my pride and joy. Polly Pockets hit stores in 1989 but they didn’t really take off until Mattel acquired distribution arrangements for the toy in the early 90s.
It was really fun piecemealing Polly’s make believe life together, snapping in her furniture and pets. Polly Pockets were the optimal toy for the on-the-go ten year old that valued both ample play time and convenience. Poly Pocket dolls have been discontinued for the last few years, but they will be making a comeback soon as announced by veteran Mattel Designer Garrett Sanders.
Did you own any of these influential toys? Any toys missing from the list? Let's discuss below.