As a spoiled ’90s kid, I might be a little bit biased in saying this but clearly the ’90s had the best tech toys for kids. With Nintendo gaming consoles, Yak Baks, Tamagotchi, and Power Wheels Jeeps to keep us entertained, we had more fun than the Fortnite generation ever could.
Yes, the ’90s were drenched in flannel and grunge music. Its citizens loved malls and MTV and cringey slang, wore buck-wild JNCO jeans, and fawned over boy bands and hip hop music videos. We even had AOL chat rooms on the World Wide Web, beepers, and gigantic colorful iMacs, and we also had some of the most awesome tech toys. But while the decade brought us many … unique … memories to remember, it also gave us all kinds of fascinating technology, much of which laid the groundwork for the current tech we can’t live without.
From a decade obsessed with often weird technology came the iconic egg-shaped Tamagotchi: Digital pets you could attach to your keychain. Having a Tamagotchi not only proved how cool you were, but it also meant you had your own personal digital puppy to take care of. Or was it a cat? A monster? An alien? Whatever they were, absolutely no one had a perfect track record of remembering to feed them and keep them alive. The beepy devices were also some of the first to get banned from classrooms. P.S. You can still buy Tamagotchi today.
Nintendo 64 (1996)
Of all the gaming consoles that came during the ’90s (including the Sony PlayStation or Sega Dreamcast), none were more iconic than the N64. Despite the ridiculous controller, the console brought us such video games as Goldeneye 007, Super Mario 64, 1080 Snowboarding, Perfect Dark, Donkey Kong 64, Banjo-Tooie, Pokemon Stadium, StarFox, WaveRace, Turok, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. You can still find the odd Nintendo 64 for sale at local game stores, but almost always in used condition so buyer beware!
Made popular by Kevin McAllister in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, this bad boy could record anything, and change the sound of your voice. The TalkBoy (and the pink and purple TalkGirl that came out later) was essentially just a tape recorder but its voice-pitching abilities meant hours of fun for young kids.
Bop It (1996)
Though the handheld electronic game lacked flash, Bop It was still a pretty tense game. It yelled out commands for players to follow, like “Bop It,” “Pull It,” and “Twist It,” and had corresponding physical inputs on the device that could be manipulated. There were multiple game modes, and players would compete to win the most points. You can still buy the game today, though it has a more modern design, but the original will always be hard to beat. Literally.
Sony Aibo (1999)
The adorable robot puppy was almost as much fun as a real puppy. The beagle look-alike had an autonomous design that responded to its environment was fun for kids of all ages, especially those that had allergies. There are newer versions of Aibo available today, though its $2,899.99 price tag is probably too expensive for anyone to enjoy.
Sega Game Gear (1990)
Since the iconic Nintendo Game Boy came out in 1989, Sega snagged the first handheld gaming console of the 90s with the Game Gear and got everyone excited with the color screen. The console featured popular titles like Sonic: The Hedgehog, The GG Shinobi, Sonic Chaos, and Land of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse. The Game Gear was also known for having exciting peripherals, like Gear to Gear link cables, a screen magnifier, a carrying case, cheat devices, and car adapters for staying entertained on road trips.
Game Boy Color (1998)
Seeing the enthusiastic response to Sega’s color screen, Nintendo released the Game Boy Color, which also had—you guessed it—a color screen. Kids liked them because they were smaller, took fewer batteries, and came in cool colors (hence the super dope commercial). The console had a whole fleet of Pokemon and Zelda games, as well as other popular titles like Super Mario Land, Donkey Kong Country, Kirby’s Dream Land, Pocket Bomberman, and Mario Golf.
Tickle Me Elmo (1996)
This one goes out to all the young millennials. Because Elmo was pretty much everyone’s favorite Sesame Street character, Tickle Me Elmo was the perfect merchandise for young kids: a soft and loving plushie that laughed when you tickled it. The toy also inspired multiple violent frenzies when it soared in popularity after being plugged by then-TV host Rosie O’Donnell. People seriously got injured in stampedes trying to get to the dolls, arrested for fighting over the doll, and even attempted to ambush a delivery truck full of the dolls. Wait, wasn’t Tickle Me Elmo supposed to represent love and happiness?
Yak Bak (1994)
Similar to the Talkboy, the YakBack also let you record short audio snippets and replay them until everyone around you was annoyed. Later editions of the toy even allowed you to alter the pitch of your voice to be extra annoying. The toy’s capabilities and small design made it easy to hide in your pocket, bag, locker, or anywhere else, and even though Yak Baks were fun for kids, they were undoubtedly the bane of many parents’ and teachers’ existences.
Tiger Electronics Handheld Games (1994)
While they weren’t exactly a dedicated gaming console, the artillery of Tiger Electronics handheld games were still a total blast to play with. And at around $20 a pop, they were cheaper than consoles and new console games, too (though the cost of buying several of them would add up over time). Tiger managed to land all kinds of licenses from Batman and Robin and Disney’s The Lion King to X-Men and Mortal Kombat. And good news—Hasbro has recently even rereleased a few titles if you want to relive the fun.
Power Wheels Jeep (1991)
The Power Wheels Jeep was the dream of every ’90s kid. It meant we could hop in and get the hell out of dodge (at least until the battery ran out halfway around the block). Sure, it didn’t actually go very fast, but if you were four, that thing ripped and it let you roll up to your friend’s house in style. And by the way, millennial and Gen Z parents, we have an obligation to pay it forward to our kids with newer Power Wheels.
Hit Clips (1999)
I love the ’90s, and I love everything on this list … except Hit Clips. These were a precursor to MP3 players, but took an insane left turn somewhere. Each clip could only play a short chunk of one pop or rock song (usually just a riff or the chorus), and playback was of the lowest possible quality. Individual Hit Clips cost just under $5 a pop, and required you to purchase the teeny companion boombox, which cost $20, as well in order to play. I’ll stick with CDs, thanks.
Dream Phone (1991)
Dream Phone was an electronic board game that revolved around the pink plastic “phone” it came with. It’s kind of like a combination of Guess Who and junior high, but if both went really well and there was no such thing as rejection. Basically, you use the phone to call (fictional) guys to get clues about which (fictional) guy likes you, and you’ll whittle down your options based on things like location and what he’s wearing. It was called Dream Phone because it was the dream phone scenario for anyone who dreamed about calling a cute boy in real life.
Polaroid i-Zone (1999)
The Polaroid i-Zone let you take photos, print them off immediately on decorated paper, then cut them out and stick them anywhere you like. Granted, it came out at the tail end of the decade, but it was such a phenomenal idea that portable photo printers are still very much a thing today. And yes, the camera was low quality, but with three aperture settings it was easy to use and perfect for decorating mirrors, notebooks, and lockers.
Fans of digital pets quickly came to love the enigmatic Furby, with its moving ears, cute sayings, and thousand-yard stare. Furby resembled an owl or a hamster (though it was an homage to Mogwai from Gremlins). The toy was an overnight success and remained massively popular for years after its initial release, selling over 40 million units in the first three years. When you first got it, it spoke “Furbish,” a gibberish language, but slowly started using English words. The National Security Agency of the United States did ban Furbies from being on NSA property in 1999, however, over concerns that they could record or repeat information that was classified; the ban was later withdrawn.