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What’s Hot, What’s Not : Video Games and Old Favorites Top Best-Seller List

Times Staff Writer

The craze that once fizzled has come back with a happy vengeance.

For the second December in a row, video games continue to head the list of what’s hot for the holiday season.

Rick Anguilla, editor of the New York-based trade publication Toy & Hobby World, predicted that Nintendo, the home video game that was launched in late 1986 and soared to the top of last year’s list, would capture more than 75% of the market share this year. The balance of the home video game sales to Christmas and Hanukkah shoppers is expected to go mostly to entries from Atari and Sega.

“To put things into perspective,” Anguilla said, “at its peak a few years ago, the highly popular Cabbage Patch doll did about $600 million in sales--and Nintendo will exceed $1.7 billion in the United States by the end of this year.”

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Nintendo’s basic Action Set costs about $100, and new this year is a Power Set (about $150), which includes a Power Pad on which a player can use his or her body movements to interact with something on the screen, perhaps aerobics or jumping hurdles. Software cartridges for the various brands of video systems are priced between $20 and $40.

Shortages Predicted

Anguilla predicted that there will be a temporary shortage of top-selling software such as Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, Super Mario Brothers II, Double Dragon, The Legend of Zelda, and its sequel Zelda II--The Adventure of Link. In addition to Nintendo itself, 30 companies are licensed to design games for its sets, according to Bonnie M. Powell, spokeswoman for Nintendo of America Inc.

The just-released Toy Hit Parade, a fixture of Toy & Hobby World, tells what is making toy retail cash registers ring:

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1--Nintendo Entertainment System

2--Perfume Pretty Barbie Doll

3--Micro Machines

4--Pictionary

5--Real Ghostbusters

6--GI Joe

7--Win, Lose or Draw

8--Hot Wheels

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9--Starting Lineup

10--Dolly Surprise

No. 2 on the list should come as no surprise to children or parents. Nearly three decades ago, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, Mattel Toys came out with a limited-quantity doll that had holes in her feet to fit over prongs in a plastic stand. If you still have one of the original Barbies, you can reportedly get between $600 and $1,000 for it.

“Since that beginning in 1959, nearly 500 million Barbie dolls and other members of her family have been sold worldwide,” said Mattel spokeswoman Candace Irving.

“Among this year’s new ones are Perfume Pretty Barbie (about $15), which includes a flacon of fragrance which the recipient applies. Another new one we have on the shelves this season is Li’l Miss Makeup (about $20), which allows a child to apply eye shadow, lipstick and blush just by brushing on cold water.”

Another Popular Doll

Angela Bourdon, corporate spokeswoman for the huge Toys ‘R’ Us retail chain, which is headquartered in Paramus, N. J., said another new doll appears to be doing well in sales this season.

“Its name is Dolly Surprise (about $13), and the surprise,” she said, “is that when you move her arms, hair grows through holes in her head.”

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For boys, miniature models are big, from the standpoint of toy sellers. Among the most in demand, Bourdon reported, are Micro Machines, which are 1 1/2-inch planes, boats, trucks and cars (about $10 for a 10-piece pack).

Another item selling well is Tuba-Ruba (about $13), Bourdon said. “It’s a body action game. Players wrap themselves in plastic tubing, and each one drops a marble into the starting gate. You twist, shake and turn until the marble works its way to the finish. The object is to finish as fast as possible.”

Toy shoppers for children and adults will find much that is new. According to Frank Reysen, editor of the industry trade publication Playthings, in New York, there are 5,000 new toys this year among an estimated 150,000 different toys.

Thousands of Items

The average toy supermarket, according to Jodi Levin, communications director with the Toy Manufacturers of America, has 18,000 different items.

But this season, Levin added, will also continue the back-to-basics trend that began a year or two ago.

“Construction sets, stuffed animals, arts and crafts, play kitchens, dolls will all do well,” she said. “Parents are looking to buy for their children the toys they themselves loved as kids.”

Humble Gifts Too?

Does that include such a humble gift as crayons?

“Tests reveal the smell of Crayola Crayons (about $11 for set of 72) is one of the 20 scents most recognizable by American adults,” Levin said.

One more: In 1935, a board game was marketed by Parker Brothers, and since then, 100 million sets of Monopoly have been distributed in 35 nations, in 19 different languages. Have no doubts that this year that total will grow.

Board games in general are still very much in, for children of all ages.

“Last year, while total toy industry sales were pretty much flat, sales of board games were up more than 13%,” Levin said.

Reysen said that the huge popularity of home video games in the first years of the decade shoved board games into the background. “But then came Trivial Pursuit late in 1982.” Its surge coincided with the plummeting sales of home video games.

Trivial Pursuit, Anguilla said, “made it OK again to be seen playing a board game. For a while the idea of people sitting around playing one had become passe. Now you can make a case for the resurgence being symptomatic of the times--it fits in with cocooning.”

Since they are in vogue, consider some of the games, board and otherwise (mostly ranging in price from $5 to $50), for youngsters and adults:

- Comrades, which deals with Soviet society. Players compete to go from peasant to worker status to Party member to Party elite. Its inventors call it Russian Monopoly.

- Balderdash, from the people who marketed Pictionary (now out with a second edition), requires players to bluff their opponents by inventing believable definitions for obscure English words included in the game. The opponents vote, and points are awarded for a good bluff as well as the correct guess.

- How to Host a Murder, one new episode of which is “The Class of ’54--The Return of Rock ‘n’ Roley,” set in a 1950s diner at a high school reunion of eight classmates (the players).

- Divorce Cope, a board game created by two social workers and meant for children of divorce and their families. Players acquire Good Mood and Bad Mood cards. Conversation is encouraged by question cards describing a problem, attitude or emotion.

- Dare, which requires either the answering of tricky questions or the performance of such dares as balancing of ice water on your shoulder while blindfolded.

- Free Parking, in which players feed their parking meters, then run errands to earn points.

- Gagline, which includes more than 120 cartoons for which players write funny captions. One person reads aloud each caption (originator at first undisclosed), the players each give a chip to some gag line other than their own, the names are then disclosed and the chips handed over.

The beat goes on, for all manner of budgets, for all manner of tastes, for all manner of ages:

- Grandpa Time (about $70), a real clock (with hands and digital display) that features two weeks of different bedtime and wake-up messages on an audio cassette tape. At bedtime, a grandfatherly voice tells a story. In the morning, his voice is heard amid the sounds of crowing roosters and singing birds.

- Starting Lineup Talking Baseball (about $90), an electronic stadium-shaped game that uses a sportscaster calling every play. Players at keyboards decide, on offense, how to swing and whether to steal and, on defense, how to pitch and whether to try picking off a runner.

- The Complete Conductor Kit (about $17), available at the Music Center Shop on the Plaza, which includes a cork-handled wood baton, illustrated instructions, and a certificate in conducting from the North American School of the Artsy and Somewhat Musically Inclined.

- Germs, small plastic creatures (about $3 to $5 each) that represent annoying yet nonthreatening things such as hiccups, sneezes, belly button lint, yawns, burps.

For those looking for pricier specialty toys, from Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills come the following humble hints:

- At Hammacher Schlemmer--a commercial flight simulator, which allows a behind-the-wheel pilot (observing graphics) to land at and take off from more than 80 airports (about $150).

- At Alfred Dunhill of London--a hand-tooled chess set (about $20,000) crafted out of briarwood and ebony, the woods used in creating Dunhill’s legendary pipes.

At this time of the year, rarely is heard a discouraging word, but it is a fact--as toy industry observers pointed out--that their business is dicey. This time, some said, it appears the roll has gone against expensive talking dolls.

“The prices may have been too high,” Reysen of Playthings said.

“People often want to get learning for their money now, not something that a child plays with for just a month, and then gives up on,” he said. “If someone spends $75, that buyer wants the gift to have long-term play value. With too many of the $75 talking dolls, they were limited as to how much they could say.”

Anguilla had a similar view. “The toy companies are realizing something now that they probably didn’t a couple years ago,” he said. “They are having to make things with play value. Talking dolls with price tags of $75 were showing up in closets as quickly as some $15 dolls. There was no inherent play value--maybe not enough left to a child’s imagination.

“People are taking into consideration the dollar-to-fun relationship.”

“If you buy a set of Legos,” Levin added, “you might keep a child occupied for years.”

So remember, this holiday time happens only once a year, and the name of the game is make someone joyful:

Cheeseburger yo-yos, Rex the Tyrannosaurus kites, Betty Boop wall clocks, Wee Sprouts that allow a child to grow a salad, chocolate Love Bytes in the form of floppy disks, the Couch Potato Game, the Flik Flat wristwatch for kids, the Radio Control Super Ferrari, the Who Framed Roger Rabbit Slumber Tent. . . .


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