There’s no greater form of entertainment than ‘90s toy commercials. These ads shocked and astounded and tantalized their young target demographics, offering kids from coast to coast the dream that they, too, could spray their foes in the face with water using only the sound of their voice. Or that a simple game night with a friend could turn into a futuristic battlefield complete with hoverboard fighting.
Of course, toy commercials from the ’90s oversold their products to a ridiculous extreme. Every Saturday morning ad made it seem like the plaything in question was the most awesome, radical piece of merchandise ever created. The toys sold in ’90s commercials could make you cool and popular and grown-up… and when you actually bought them, all those promises came crashing down.
What Was Promised: A night of fun with your friends, with the possibility of making real-deal cakes and confections – provided what you wanted to eat was smaller than a human fist.
What Was Delivered: First of all, the light bulb wasn’t even included with the oven, so you had to hope one of your friends kept a 30-watt bulb in their backpack. But even worse, the ovens didn’t actually make beautiful pastries. The results tended to be puck-shaped cakes that didn’t taste so good.
What Was Promised: The Nintendo Virtual Boy promised users the foremost technology in gaming. Supposedly, as soon as players jacked into the system, they’d experience a real 3D adventure the likes of which the world had never seen.
What Was Delivered: The Virtual Boy did everything but deliver. Rather than offer the true 3D experience depicted in the commercial, it gave audiences a strange red world made of weird lines that messed with your depth perception. Speaking of vision problems, woe to the Virtual Boy user who wore glasses. Good luck wearing that headset and your spectacles at the same time.
What Was Promised: The Shout ‘n’ Shoot promised the most intense water fight any preteen could ever imagine. The commercial showed a voice-activated, multi-directional water headset that sprayed your opponents with nothing but a word.
What Was Delivered: Aside from the fact that the Shout ‘n’ Shoot made its users look like idiots while they were wearing the contraption, the voice-activated soaker, while functional, ran out of water quickly.
What Was Promised: In the commercial for this tie-in to the Masters of the Universe cartoon, a child is gifted with a magical saber that lights up with “power” and makes the sound of metal on metal. He’s then forced into battle against Skeletor.
What Was Delivered: Buyers didn’t receive a magical blade, but instead a bendable, plastic toy that required a lot of batteries.
What Was Promised: Hours of rude, crude, globule fun that not only grossed out your parents and teachers, but was also easy to play with and not messy at all. Gak was like putty but goopier – and, most importantly, it offered the promise of fart sounds.
What Was Delivered: Kids whose parents bought them a carton of Gak got a huge goopy mess that was hard to play with and even harder to clean up. Getting Gak to do anything other than stretch out and bubble up was tough. To make matters worse, if it was left out of its container too long, it dried up and became even more useless.
What Was Promised: The Ricochet sold in the TV ad was a four-wheeled RC car that flips and bounces all over the place. Users were supposedly able to drive it off small embankments – and the toy would keep rolling no matter the position in which it fell.
What Was Delivered: Kids who drove this RC at breakneck speed discovered the car wasn’t as unbreakable as it seemed. If you bought the car, you also had to buy a separate battery pack, and there was no guarantee the whole thing wouldn’t smash into a million pieces.
What What Promised: In the Cool Tools commercial, a group of kids are given a set of miniature tools that look and feel just like the set Dad uses. The toy tools allow the kids to help out with home projects – just what every kid wants.
What Was Delivered: In actuality, Cool Tools were just small facsimiles of actual tools. There wasn’t much the “tools” could actually do. They could bonk stuff and mess with screws, but as far as accomplishing anything around the house, they were useless.
What Was Promised: CGI hoverboards, fire, and a gnarly theme song. The commercial for Crossfire offered a futuristic battle that’s part pinball, part bumper cars, and all within the confines of a board game.
What Was Delivered: Crossfire was definitely a board game, but instead of the effects-laden one-on-one experience, this game made you and a pal push around a couple of plastic pucks with metal ball bearings.
What Was Promised: A real-life voice recorder that could be used to trick your friends and loved ones into thinking they were hearing what they weren’t. A tie-in to Home Alone II: Lost In New York, this toy’s commercial promised users they could manipulate their voices to sound like parents and siblings.
What Was Delivered: The Talkboy performed its noble duty as a tape recorder, but it simply played recordings back at various speeds, fooling no one.
What Was Promised: Socker Boppers advertised themselves as being “more fun than a pillow fight.” Their large plastic hand coverings made it so you and your friends could whomp each other without fear of pain or hurt feelings.
What Was Delivered: Pretty much the exact opposite of fun. Socker Boppers were inflatable and plastic, but it’s not like they were cotton-soft force fields that fit around your hands. Getting socked and bopped in the face still hurts, no matter what material you’re getting socked and bopped with.
What Was Promised: A “super” oven that could make giant bugs and spiders sure to gross out your parents and little sister. The advertisement also made it seem like users would be able to grow their own Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.
What Was Delivered: In reality, the Power Rangers that users could “grow” were actually molds of wobbly Rangers of indeterminate color. These weren’t the action figures every kid was desperate to have in the ’90s, but something closer to the Putty Patrol.
What Was Promised: A rollicking good time in the front yard while you and your friends slid effortlessly down the slick yellow sheet. Slipping and sliding looked like a breeze in the commercial; surely it would be even easier in real life.
What Was Delivered: In person, the Slip ‘N Slide was a medium-length strip of yellow plastic that could mean pain and embarrassment if placed incorrectly on the ground. If you threw yourself into the toy’s embrace with too much force, you were likely to fall to the ground like a chump rather than slip or slide.
What What Promised: Commercials for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures and accessories were among some of the most misleading of the ’90s. Every commercial featuring those totally tubular turtles showed a smoky New York City backlot where the action figures did battle. The faux cityscape is best seen in the commercial for the Party Wagon.
What Was Delivered: In reality, these New York City backlots were never available to kids. The closest your Turtles could get to a worthy arena in which to tear around in their Party Wagon was your mom’s kitchen floor.