I think Thundercats was the first toy line I can recall that made multiple sizes of the same figure. They sold a large, hard-plastic figure and a smaller action figure (think classic GI Joe and then the GI Joe action figure from the 80s). Even as a child, I always thought that was clever. What a great way to maximize exposure. Kids with little money could still get Lion-o, Panthra, Cheetara, and so on. But those with more cash could get the bigger figures. Because, of course, the bigger figures were better because of course they were.
Voltron would introduce some multiple sizes of their robots, of course. But it wouldn’t really be until Transformers Prime that I saw a toy line that seemed to thrive on multiple sizes of the same characters. In the Prime toy line, it seemed there were sizes of each figure going up in $5 increments, from the pocket-sized $5 figures to the gargantuan $50 figures.
I still think that’s a brilliant want to ensure fans get the characters they want, regardless of financial situation.
But I have noticed that I’ve gotten older, though I still remain a toy fan, I find myself more interested in the smaller figures. If we assume price isn’t a major consideration (which may be a hazardous assumption; toys are getting expensive!), what is the appeal of the smaller figures over the larger ones? As a child, I gravitated towards the gigantic Thundercats toys. They were the ones I asked for come birthday time. And now, I find myself pursuing the toy aisle for the smaller figures.
Last holiday season, I received the largest Transformer toy available, the Generations-line Metroplex. Over two feet tall (and every bit as awesome as it sounds), it accommodates the smallest figures in the Transformers lines and I find myself really glad of that.
One possible explanation for what has changed is what the smaller figures offer. In the earlier toy lines, the figures compromised movibility and likeness. The smaller Lion-O figure mentioned above didn’t look nearly as good as the larger figure, and he wasn’t as mobile and posable. That doesn’t seem to be a limitation these days. The smaller figures seem just as beautifully sculpted and just as posable as their larger counterparts.
In fact, what the larger counterparts usually offer are lights, sounds, and more complex transformation sequences (at least in the case of the Transformers). Maybe the issue is that the toy industry has reached a point where the bigger toys don’t have as much to offer as the once did, at least not compared to their smaller peers.
I suppose the observation could also be made that I have grown more mature, but as a thirty-something still playing with toys, I’m pretty sure that’s not a valid statement. 😛