In what may well be the biggest comeback since Lazarus, video games are predicted to be the triumph of the toys this holiday season.
The craze that captured the nation early in the decade only to fizzle into relative oblivion is seen by industry experts as the leading buy this year.
Local stores already are reported to be having a hard time keeping in stock the Nintendo Entertainment System (about $140 for the deluxe set, plus $25 to $50 for cartridges). And Atari Corp. (which started it all with Pong in the '70s) is enjoying similar success with its new XE video game system (about $150 for the system, plus $20 for cartridges). Sega also has a video entry (system about $100, cartridges $30 to $40).
"Retail sales to consumers for the video game industry are expected to reach $825 million this year, much of it during the holiday shopping period," said Bonnie Powell, spokeswoman for Nintendo of America Inc.
That doesn't quite match the $3 billion that was spent at the peak of the craze in 1982, but it will be a big improvement over the valley of $100 million that sales of the video games plunged to in 1985.
"Besides," said Frank Reysen, editor of the toy industry trade publication Playthings, "there hasn't been a holiday single blockbuster since the Cabbage Patch doll in 1984 and Trivial Pursuit the year before that."
Rick Anguilla, editor of the trade publication Toy & Hobby World, added that there probably won't be any such triumphs in the four weeks ahead either. "Cabbage Patch was like Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak," he said. "Anybody who comes close will be doing pretty well. Cabbage Patch and Trivial Pursuit were aberrations. You can't expect an encore every year."
So what else will Christmas and Hanukkah shoppers for toys (both for children and adults) have to choose from? What's hot, what's not this season?
Starting at the top, for those with champagne wishes and you-know-the-rest:
Hammacher Schlemmer in Beverly Hills is offering a hydraulic helicopter amusement ride that enables a child to pilot it to a height of 7 feet and travel 5 feet. The price is $5,400 and it is not recommended for indoor use.
"For someone older," store manager Jeff Overdorf said, "you might want to consider a talking scale with memory ($97). After up to five members of a family each programs in what he or she weighs, every time that person steps on it, the battery-operated scale announces how many pounds have been gained or lost. And, even if you don't feel you've earned it, the scale signs off with: 'Have a nice day.' "
The ever-popular pasta machine, after a run of about 25 years, is a definite out this year, according to Hammacher Schlemmer spokeswoman Susan Sanders.
"Our market analysts identified the trend a couple months ago," she said. "People don't want to spend the time with the machines. What we've replaced it with this year for the first time is an automatic bread maker ($334). You simply put in flour, yeast, salt and shortening, and in four hours the machine comes forth with a one-pound loaf of homemade bread, complete with the aroma throughout your home."
Hot Dog Cart
Aroma of a different kind, and different price, can be obtained also from Hammacher Schlemmer with a Delancey Frankfurter Cart ($3,795), complete with umbrella, a familiar sight in New York City for decades, and increasingly being seen on the streets of Los Angeles.
For further exotics, F. A. O. Schwarz in Costa Mesa is offering (for $1,500) a 56-inch replica of a double-hump camel.
The same store also is selling a 2-foot-high, 24-karat gold musical carrousel, complete with 16 miniature animals, 128 blinking lights and stereo cassette player with two speakers. Price: $12,000.
And Beverly Hills Motoring Accessories, for $6,000 to $12,000, will let you select a back seat from one of your favorite cars of yesteryear, and convert it into a couch for your living room--even if your choice is an Edsel. The customized sofa comes complete with tail lights that flash on and off at the flick of a switch.
All of which doesn't mean you and your children can't have happy holidays on a more modest budget. In fact, when asked what will be hot this year, the opinion of Douglas Thomson was: "Basics."
Thomson, president of the Toy Manufacturers of America, said in an interview that boring as it may seem to some, such standbys as Etch A Sketch, Lego Building Systems, Bubble Mower, Hot Wheels, Monopoly, Matchbox, teddy bears, crayon sets, Barbie, Mr. Potato Head and GI Joe all figure--in the absence of a standout seller--to do well.
"The retailers will be ordering them on a steady basis, the reason being they'll know they won't have to mark them down," Thomson said. "And consumers will find that prices will remain relatively low, because manufacturers will schedule longer productions runs."
As did Reysen and Anguilla, Thomson said certain video games will do well this year.