It’s been going on for at least a quarter of a century. As the holidays approach, one toy emerges as that year’s “must-have’’ gift. It’s an almost annual frustration for shoppers, all of whom can tell tales of early hours, long lines, and broken promises, as they cruised the malls and shopping plazas in search of a doll, gadget, video game, or other item.
This is by no means a complete list, just a glimpse at some of the more famous (notorious?) items that exploded onto the scene with little supply. — Jack Pickell, Boston.com staff
1983-84: Cabbage Patch Kids
The original modern-day, must-have toy. These character-based dolls were in high demand during the 1984 holiday shopping season, leading to chaos in the few stores able to stock the dolls. Tugging and shouting matches were not uncommon that season, as the dolls emerged from stock rooms onto sales floors.
1996: Tickle Me Elmo
Not since the Cabbage Patch Kids had stores seen anything like the demand for Sesame Street’s lovable, red fur ball. He talked, and vibrated enthusiastically if you tickled him (hence, the name). Cabbage-Patch-like drama played out in stores during the 1996 shopping season, the ticklish toy was in short supply.
The first virtual pet was an egg-shaped key chain with a small LCD screen on which the pet’s life was lived out. Some called it an annoying fad, and some schools banned kids from using them during class. Tamagotchi did, however, lead to an evolution of virtual pets that took on furrier characteristics and eventually found homes on the Internet.
Virtual pets got a little smarter and a lot hairier in the months and years following Tamagotchi. Meet Furby (cute, huh?). At first, Furby spoke only in his own language, Furbish. But over time, the toy cleverly adapted to English, creating the illusion that its owner was teaching it to speak. Furby also moved his mouth and ears, blinked his eyes, and made a wobbling motion that resembled walking. Furby was the must-have holiday toy of 1998.
Barbie with an attitude? The Bratz dolls had big heads, skinny bodies, and wore lots of makeup — and girls loved them. The original Bratz were named Cloe, Jade, Sasha, and Yasmin, but in subsequent years, spin-off lines of Bratz (Bratz Boys, Bratz Kidz) continued to sell well.
2002: FurReal Friends Cat
And they kept getting smarter… These virtual pets were loaded with sensors that created natural-looking responses to touch, such as stroking its back. The cats also featured different moods, cuddly, playful and irritable, which were influenced by how they were treated. Parents searching for these felines during the ‘02 holiday shopping season were most likely in an irritable mood.
2006: Nintendo Wii
Generations of home video game systems could have made this list, like the Atari 2600, ColecoVision, Nintendo Entertainment System, and PlayStation, all of which were in high demand during the first holiday seasons of their releases. But Nintendo’s Wii was almost impossible to get late in 2006, frustrating parents and kids alike. Its wireless controller went beyond push-buttons, translating a user’s hand, arm, and body motions directly into the system’s games.
2009: Zhu Zhu Pets
In 2009, the robotic hamsters seemed to be taking over the world — kids’ worlds anyway.
Patches, Chunk, PipSqueak, Mr. Squiggles, and Num Nums are their names, and they coo, purr, explore their surroundings, and respond to various stimuli. You can even buy accessories for them. Thankfully, they also have a sleep mode.