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A Return to Plain Ol' Toys : Electronics Are Out as Manufacturers Try to Recoup Losses

February 09, 1988|DENISE GELLENE | Times Staff Writer

The toy that has generated the most interest so far appears to be Kenner's Starting Lineup. Each major league baseball, football and basketball team is represented by plastic figures of star players, including Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela.

Some retailers are impressed. Richard Brady, co-owner of Play Co. stores in San Diego, said the toy is appealing because it is both a toy and a collectible. "Boys can play with them and collect them like baseball cards."

Starting Lineup is competing against at least four other new action figures. Hasbro's Cops, 5 1/2-inch policemen and robbers, come with miniature cap guns. Playmates has the Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtles. Mattel is reviving its Masters of the Universe line with six new super heroes, and is giving away star characters He Man and evil Skeletor to retailers who order the new ones.

Consumers will also see plenty of line extensions. Coleco's Cabbage Patch Kids are back with hair that grows, and Coleco's Alf is running for president. Hasbro's My Little Pony has hair that grows, tails that wag and toe-nail polish.

Toy makers are reviving old favorites, too. Mattel is bringing back its Lie Detector game, a whodunit that was first sold in the early 1970s. Hasbro's Playskool unit is bringing back Counting Eggs, and Mighty Mac trucks.

Toy manufacturers say simple toys offer a number of advantages over high-technology toys.

Since simple toys are inexpensive, parents buy them all year round. Generally, expensive toys do well only at Christmas.

Also, the fashion dolls and plastic action figures are easy to design and manufacture, so toy companies don't have to worry so much about costly development or production delays. Last year, technical problems with electronic toys caused late shipments to retailers, resulting in lower sales.

Many toys this year stress simple themes, such as cops and robbers, or are licensed from popular characters, such as Kenner's Ghost Busters, or Galoob's Star Trek toys. Toy firms can save on promotional costs for these toys because children already know what they are. "They don't require a great deal of explanation, unlike some high-tech toys," says Anguilla. Electronic toys haven't disappeared. Mattel continues to promote its Captain Power, its laser-shooting spaceship and action figure set, despite lower-than-expected sales. Mattel is adding four new interactive space machines to Captain Power, including a $70 Power Tower that contains a satellite that shoots "laser" beams.

Mattel is also introducing an interactive version of Wheel of Fortune, the popular television game show. The evening Wheel of Fortune program will be specially encoded so that a viewer can play along with the television. It retails for about $60.

Other companies, including Hasbro and Galoob, have new toys powered by silicon chips. But these toys are significantly less complicated than last year's high-tech playthings, and also less expensive.

One of the hottest prospects for this year, industry watchers say, are orange electronic drumsticks, called Hit Stix. The drumsticks, by Nasta Industries, make a drum-like sound, even if waved in the air, and retail for around $20.

Another musical electronic toy comes from Hasbro. Called Body Rap, the toy has eight musical sensors, which can be clipped to clothing. When touched, the sensors imitate a snare drum at varying pitches. It retails for $40.

And Galoob has Flash Ball, an electronic ping-pong game played with beams of light. At $80, it is one of the year's most expensive new toys. Still, it costs considerably less than Galoob's unsuccessful Mr. Game Show, which sold for as much as $125 last Christmas.

"For electronics to work, the toy has got to make sense," says Stephen Schwartz, marketing vice president for Hasbro who thinks Body Rap will do well "because of the sound, not because it has a microchip."

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