Retro Toys and Games Making a Comeback

BOSTON ( MainStreet) -- Everything old is new again.

At least that seems to be the case as, once again, toys and games from the past have been reborn for a younger generation this holiday season.

Scholastic ( SCHL), the world's largest publisher and distributor of children's books, recently released its holiday edition of the Scholastic Kids Trend Report, a holiday guide to what books, games and toys are hot with kids up to 12 years old.

"We hear from children, teachers and experts that although high-tech toys continue to be the most popular with kids of all ages, retro is making a comeback," sys Sara Sinek, a Scholastic "trendspotter."

"Kids are discovering toys and crafts from their parent's era and are adding them to their holiday wish lists this year," Sinek says.

Toy makers and distributors have long been aware of what Hasbro ( HAS) refers to as the power of a "portfolio of iconic bands." Among that company's best-sellers were some very old and recognizable names: Nerf, G.I. Joe, Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony. The company has also benefited from the ever-popular line of Star Wars-related action figures and yet another wave of movie-fueled demand for Transformers.

Other staples of toy boxes over the decades have been Hot Wheels, Barbie, LEGOs and Cabbage Patch Kids.

The National Retail Federation's 2011 Top Toys survey, conducted by BIGresearch, confirms what's popular this year includes the classic and contemporary. "Holiday toy trends change like the weather, but one thing remains constant: children's love of both classic toys and all things electronic," says NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.

According to industry lists such as the one offered by Scholastic and a survey of toy department shelves and circulars, the following are some of the retro toys that are back and in demand this Christmas:

Children of the '70s may remember Squirmles, a worm/caterpillarlike creature made of soft fuzz that can be made to weave in and out of fingers and do "tricks" (as manipulated by a spool of nearly invisible thread). Videos of the little guy in action can be found here.

So how did this decades-old fad become a hot toy once again? You have a royal couple to thank.

At Prince William's wedding to Kate Middleton, a 3-year-old bridesmaid was getting a bit overwhelmed by all the pomp, circumstance and crowds. Prince Harry saved the day by giving her a pink Squirmles to play with, a cute moment caught live and broadcast globally.

Easy-Bake Oven
Retailing for just under $50, the Easy-Bake Oven is back with a technical twist. The biggest change: no more light bulbs.

While old-fashioned versions relied on a bulb to heat a tiny pan of brownie mix, the new edition has a heating element much closer in concept to a conventional oven.

A bigger baking pan also means an extended array of menu items for budding chefs, including red velvet cupcakes, pizza, pretzels and cinnamon twists.

Pogo sticks
If hula-hoops have made a comeback and skateboards remain as popular as ever, why can't pogo sticks once again bounce to the top of wish lists?

Pogo sticks were invented in 1919 by George Hansburg, an Illinois maker of baby furniture. The bouncing sticks became a national fad in the 1920s and have been popular various times since.

Scholastic's Trend Report lists wooden pogo sticks as an exercise-inspiring retro toy it has seen starting to make a comeback at toy stores, many of which have reported being taken by surprise by the demand and struggling to stay in stock.

With videos such as this one of extreme pogoing (if there is such a word) going viral, it may not be that surprising to see this old-school toy coveted by young daredevils.

The Smurfs
The Smurfs -- those little blue creatures, each named for a personality trait -- were introduced as comic book characters called The Schtroumpfs in 1958. The creations of Belgian artist Pierre "Peyo" Culliford secured their pop culture dominance in the 1980s, when kids and collectors stockpiled the tiny figurines in massive numbers. In total, about 300 million were sold.

This month, on the heels of a summer movie that introduced them to a new generation, The Smurfs were further immortalized by having their handprints cemented at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

"The Smurfs have been an important part of pop culture for the last 50 years. It seems only appropriate that their legacy be acknowledged by the Grauman's Chinese Theatre," said Bob Osher, president of Sony Pictures Digital Productions in a statement.

That PR stunt to drum up sales for the home video release doesn't change the fact that once again anything deemed Smurftastic -- from plush toys to a best-selling iPad game -- is a hot seller once again.

The Muppets
The perfect formula for rocketing toys up the list of best sellers: Take a parent who once owned them, add children to whom they can pass on their nostalgia and mix in a hit movie to make it all seem cool again.

It's worked to renew interest in any and all things Muppet-related.

Certainly, the kinder, gentler Muppet monsters of Sesame Street -- especially Elmo -- have been huge gift items every year (recall if you will the mob violence inspired by the search for Tickle Me Elmo dolls). The more adult-friendly Muppets -- Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie -- have seen their reign of toy shelves ebb and flow over the years.

Now, with a hit movie in theaters once again, a whole new line of Muppet memorabilia is once again on store shelves, and older items are finding new life (and higher bids) on eBay.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of Colorforms, those flexible vinyl stick-ons you can position on graphic backgrounds.

Invented by Harry and Patricia Kislevitz in 1951, Colorforms is one of the oldest and best-known brands in the toy industry (Popeye was the first of many licensed characters) with more than 1 billion play sets sold, according to University Games, the brand's owner.

A simple concept, it has evolved over the years as a toy that included games, puzzles and interactive books.

To mark the occasion of its anniversary, University Games has released a collector's edition play set as well as re-released the 1984 Michael Jackson-themed "dress-up" edition.

Rubik's Cubes
Since 1980, more than 350 million Rubik's Cubes have been sold worldwide, making it the No. 1 best-selling puzzle of all time.

"It's amazing that Rubik's Cube is still just as popular today as when it was first introduced at Toy Fair in 1980," says David Hedley Jones, senior vice president at Rubik's.

The classic puzzle remains a staple of toy department shelves. To up the ante, the company Techno Source has adapted it for its Rubik's Slide electronic puzzle game.

It touts the new toy as combining "the simplicity and fun of casual games with fast-paced, brain-busting cubing."

Much like the slide or "fifteen" puzzles from years ago, players begin each puzzle by checking the goal pattern and sliding the lights into the correct pattern by twisting and shifting the top panel. Once the puzzle is solved, it will advance to the next of more than 10,000 pre-programmed puzzles. There is even a "lightning round" for braniacs craving a fast-paced variation.

The new puzzle is a follow-up to the company's Rubik's TouchCube, the first completely electronic solvable Rubik's Cube. It has touch-sensor technology on all six sides, a motion-detecting accelerometer and colored lights in every square.

Old School Goes High Tech
Like the Rubik's Cube, other popular games of past years have also had makeovers that are proving popular this season.

Simon Flash takes the popular memory game, once blinking colors on a circular game board, and splits it up into four, movable electronic blocks. Technology dubbed by maker Hasbro as "wonder-link" allows the game pieces to be shuffled about and re-ordered, adding multiple variations to the already challenging game.

Other games getting a new lease on life include smartphone and iPad variations of classic board games such as Monopoly, Scrabble and Clue (the latter has a best-selling "Secrets and Spies edition").

Battleship Live, available at limited retailers in the U.S., features an electronic talking tower that calls the plays as well as sensing motion, "surprise game-changing events" and the use of spy planes "to keep tabs on the enemy and coordinate attacks."

-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.

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