The Dollar Tree D a z e

Under the curse of the gray sky of winter, I find myself poised to incessantly strike at any creative notion my tiny mind concocts. Tonight I bring you the result of just that…

The almighty American dollar may not stretch as far as it used to, but that doesn’t mean I can’t waste some on silly garbage and write about it. I went to a local dollar store with nothing but a crisp $10 bill in my pocket, the dream of my purchases bringing an evening of entertainment, and the hope of finding the discount pleasantries among life’s low priced simplicities. 

My Rules: I can only go over $10 via tax. Immaturity and variety must be the themes within my purchases. I must navigate the store completely blindfolded (I made that last one up to see if you’re paying attention). 

Note: I recommend trying this experiment with a friend or loved one. Mostly because it’s always interesting to find out the excuses they produce to exclude themselves. 

Now The First Annual Ten Dollar Store Shopping Spree! 

I ended up in a fairly new Dollar Tree store that was quiet and organized. Which I realize is a rarity within the realm of dollar stores. There’s almost a feeling of superiority upon entering a store knowing every single item costs a dollar. You realize flashing a one hundred dollar bill could lead to the possibility of the employees silently bowing in respect as they close the store for you to shop in solitude. Or maybe that’s just me. 

Anyway…

For about twenty five minutes I found myself haunting the snack and toy aisles like a whiter, harrier Casper. I was confident with my haul. In fact, I even had to turn down some interesting options. But I had rules to abide by and a sad empty article to write. “For another time…” I thought as I made my way to the checkout aisle to be silently judged by the clerk. 

Now Let’s Dig On In…

Da Goods: 

  • Bag of Haribo Gummy Dinosaurs
  • Slab of Cheese Dip and Breadsticks 
  • Box of Vanilla Moon Pies
  • Zapp’s VoOdOo Potato Chips 
  • Mountain Dew Blue Voltage 
  • Ninja Turtles Activity and Coloring Book
  • The Most Swallowable Optimus Prime 
  • A Unidentifiable Grow “Creature” 
  • 24 Jurassic Park Crayons (Jealous yet?)   
  • Hot Wheels DONUT CAR 

MY TOTAL WAS $10.77

Dollar stores aren’t known for healthy food options. And although I’ve never really been a human raccoon, the point of this exercise was to indulge my inner child. And after my $5 junk food buffet..the next point of this exercise will simply be to exercise. 

The gummy dinos were an easy pick. There’s gummy everything these days so I figured the best option was to eat a bunch of animals that would naturally eat me. Sort of a lazy revenge plot 65 million years too late. The box of Moon Pies is a junk snack I never think about until they’re directly in front of me. I chose the vanilla flavor because I found out they made a vanilla flavor when I was standing in front of a box of vanilla Moon Pies. What a time to be alive.  

Zapp’s Voodoo chips are kettle cooked potato chips that taste like salt and vinegar got into a car accident with barbecue. They honestly could’ve been flavored like toothpaste because I was already sold on the bag littered with little voodoo dolls and old Halloween cassette tape font. The breadsticks with cheese dip reminded me of my brown-baggin’ grade school days and I probably haven’t snacked on these since. I also like how they’re packaged like some sort of cracker snack ammo belt. Lastly I had a Mountain Dew Voltage to wash down all my garbage. Mountain Dew’s flavor choices basically look like a gradient tool these days. But I always admire a beverage that makes people think I’m downing chilled window cleaner. 

Now when it came to junk of a different variety, the dollar store was even more impressive. From tiger puzzles, bags of green army men, knockoff family board games, and neon colored plastic alligators…the dollar store is a proverbial “Who’s Who” of “Shit I Don’t Need”. And I truly appreciate it for that.    

I had dinner…now the entertainment to go with it! The first thing I immediately grabbed was a Rise of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles coloring and activity book. You could stick the Ninja Turtles logo on a bag of dry mulch and I’d happily buy it. I threw in a Jurassic World crayon pack to assist me in my activity book adventures. I knew they wouldn’t be as quality as the Crayola brand but these had images of dinosaurs wrapped around the crayons. And I’ve always been someone who can overlook one’s faults if wrapped in images of dinosaurs. 

The next thing that caught my eyes were small bags of retro choking hazards disguising themselves as Transformers “mini-figures”. You can’t see the actual figures because they blind you with nostalgia by using the original Transformers box art. And it worked on me anyway. I picked Optimus Prime and although I’ll end up losing him by the end of this article he’s pretty rad for being the size of a Starburst. I find it humorous that dollar store Transformers don’t actually transform. You want Optimus to be a truck now? What is this? Walmart? He’s a dollar, man. He stays a robot. 

Yet the Hot Wheels were conveniently displayed to rectify the disappointment left by our Non-Transforming Transformer robots. Front and center was a Pink Donut Racing Car called the “Fast Foodie”. Ha. That’s good. And when you’re in that aisle with an armful of junk food and see a Hot Wheel shaped like a donut amongst all “regular” cars…you don’t call that happenstance…that’s called “fate” my friend. And you add it to the pile. 

Lastly at the end of the aisle was a display of Grow Creatures. They had a classic selection featuring sharks, alligators, mermaids, dinosaurs, and MONSTER FACE. Grows 600 PERCENT the package claimed. Are you listening to me? I could throw this guy into a bowl and wake up to the sound of him absorbing my block! This was easily the most confident purchase of the entire lot. Grab a handful of Zapp’s Voodoo chips as I watch my shrunken head grow. Life ain’t so bad. 

BUT IT CAN BE DISAPPOINTING…

Directions on the package stated it takes up to ten days for Monster Face to achieve full growing potential, which makes it one of the most patient toys I ever purchased. So I got cozy and documented Monster Face’s (now named “Sigourney”) progress. It was like watching a super delayed allergic reaction to bee stings. I noticed it stopped growing around Day 4. I can’t say it’s large enough to absorb my block. I don’t think it can even absorb my bath mat. Perhaps common tap water isn’t the best for growing monster heads? But I ended up with a cold clamy creature the size of a baseball. Now I don’t know what to do with it. What did anyone do with these things once they were “done” anyway?

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Even though the deconstruction of my purchases definitely broadcasts Lonely Manchild: Party of One vibes, this could be a fun experiment between friends or partners as you can learn a lot about someone through their purchases. What may seem nonsensical could lead to an interesting conversation, nostalgic recalling, or solemn discovery of one’s personal being. 

Or maybe they just like off brand cheeseballs. It can go either way really. 

As a kiddo, a trip to the dollar store often led to an excuse for me to leave with a sugary soda pop, a pack of outdated NBA trading cards, or an action figure that looked like Ultimate Warrior’s less impressive cousin Barry. And this is still an excuse…just with a ten dollar price tag to escape the monotony of adulthood. Sometimes the getaway is a low rent scavenger hunt that ends up looking like you looted a first grader’s birthday party. 

The key to this exercise is childlike wonderment. Though the junk food might make you realize you’re no longer a child as you’re propped up like a Jabba the Hutt puppet popping antacids. But that’s neither here nor there. If you choose to do this experiment I wish you Good Luck and Happy Dollar Days! And be sure to remember: this is only what you make of it!

Now, excuse me, I have to finish a Ninja Turtle word search and have 14 cracker logs with artificial cheese goop to devour. 

This 30 Year Old Star Wars Game…

A local toy store I frequent had begun selling online for the first time due to COVID-19 impacting their business. Though nothing stood out to me at first, I decided that I really wanted to feel good about myself that day and let everyone know what an honorable saint I am. Craving that familiar dopamine rush and the possibility of writing about more garbage, I decided to take the plunge on a $9 Star Wars Electronic LCD game. 

And here we are. 

I may be $9 poorer and have 2 less AA batteries in my life…but in return I’ve gained one more brain rotting article for your reading pleasure! Oh and also the Star Wars game too. That’s right. I got that. 

Often referred to as the “We Can’t Afford a Gameboy” gift, these LCD handheld games littered store shelves and junk drawers throughout the 1990s. I was guilty of having some of these games (I recall Jurassic Park and Power Rangers) as they’re known for bringing minutes of entertainment and being no child’s favorite anything. Just insert a couple batteries so these plastic waffles could annoyingly chirp as you tilt it in every possible direction just to see the screen. You then maniacally pound the buttons so it reacts in a manner resembling a real video game. After a few minutes of confusion and irritation you toss it in your sock drawer realizing you were gifted a fire alarm merely disguising itself as Sonic the Hedgehog 2. 

Star Wars: THE ELECTRONIC LCD GAME was released in 1991 by Micro Games of America. It’s based on the 1977 indie cult classic called Star Wars. More specifically, the Tie Fighter/X-Wing dogfight from the end of A New Hope. I found out there’s a reissued version with a much cooler face sticker and packaging featuring a gold reflective logo…but here I am with this one. Could’ve put Vader and Luke on it because that’s the part of the movie the game’s based on but…nah…here’s two robots. 

I’ve got a bad feeling about this. 

But, as it turns out, this game actually isn’t too bad. Imagine Space Invaders with a dash of Galaga run through a cheap LCD filter and you’ve got this game. The rules are simple: Tie Fighters rush in from the top to the bottom of the screen. You shoot them with your X-Wing. If you miss, the Tie Fighter stalls behind you and may attack while you continue your game. You get hit 3 times…the game is over. There are 8 levels. And the Tie Fighters fly faster with every level. Bada Bing Bada Boom. That’s Star Wars the Electronic LCD game. 

The manual doesn’t outright say you’re playing as Luke Skywalker. And there’s no way to “win” the game…you play until you die to get a high score. And we all know Luke doesn’t die in A New Hope (Disney kills him.). So, in my head, I’d like to christen this as Jek Porkins: The Video Game. And, yes, I believe playing in this state of mind does indeed make it better.

The biggest let down for this game was it didn’t play a single Star Wars jingle. You get your generic beeps and boops these games are known for, but at least let me hear a rendered 4 bit chiptune of the Star Wars song. You know the one. We all do. Instead, we get some generic sounding drivel that doesn’t even remotely remind you of any sort of galaxy far far away. 

The Radical: 

  • Gameplay is simple and fun 
  • Keeps your high score
  • Works as a drink coaster

The Lame:

  • No Star Wars Jingle! 
  • Doesn’t Turn Off
  • Could’ve used a Vader “Boss” Tie Fighter Level  

Overall, I give 3 outta 5 Bib Fortunas

The Official Galactic Rating System on whether De Wanna or Don’t Wanna Wanga

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I have yet to see these types of games “fondly remembered” by my generation. They were primitive (even back then) and the most popular games were “alright” at best. These aren’t anything I seek or collect and view them as “bottom of the barrel” nostalgia grabs. Yet what’s funny is that when I got this in the mail, I still got that jolt of childlike wonderment. I started wondering how it would play and what it would be like. Perhaps I got “one of the good ones?”. I haven’t received one of these games in probably close to 20 plus years, so I found it interesting that when I got this game…my brain registered it as if nothing had changed. I had the exact same thoughts and simmering excitement as I popped the batteries into this thing. 

Then the weird electronic carnival music immediately played and I thought, “Oh, that’s right. These were always trash.”

Also if you’re up for some more reading….

Marvel Projectors Action Figures!

MProjectorsIn 1994 there were action figures that projected adventures from their chests and I just found out about it…


As an adult, did you ever come across something in the toy aisle you just knew you’d love when you were a child? I ask because in my internet wanderings, I discovered ToyBiz’s Marvel Comics Projectors action figure line circa 1994

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“I’m the best there is at what I do and what I do is shoot out pictures from my cartoon show using a giant bulb in my chest…” -Wolverine

Ultradope, right? But what really toasts my Pop-Tarts is that I was prime age for these. Yet for whatever reason, I missed them. Unfortunately I do not have a time machine to correct this…but I do have money and an eBay account…which is almost the same thing.

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I really can’t help myself and it’s a problem…

I purchased Magneto, Cable, and Wolverine. Cable still had a Walmart sticker on the box from ’95 retailing for $9.95 ($16.65 with inflation). I honestly just wanted Cable but the same seller offered me a deal: All 3 for $35 including shipping. I couldn’t turn that down. That’s why you’re getting a pointless longwinded article.

Like a ton of X-Men merch from this era, all the packaging was made to look like a comic book cover. Which makes these action figures an eye-catching thing of beauty.  Cable’s packaging is different because it came from a later line that offered weapon accessories and “Action Phrases!”. I thought that meant Cable talked…but all it means is the projecting slides have speech bubbles. Well alright.

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When your favorite mutants come over to show you their vacation videos…

While unpackaging these figures I imagined an alternate universe where the X-Men were vain narcissists that went around projecting pictures of themselves out of themselves onto other X-Men as a way to assert dominance. I mean, what better way for Wolverine to show he can beat up Cable by simply projecting a picture of him beating up Cable ON Cable himself? Checkmate, y’know?

Anyway, that’s right the toys. Each figure comes with three plastic adventure “reels” the size of a quarter. You pop two AAA batteries into your favorite mutants back, pull on the projector to snap a reel into their chest, press their butt button to light it up, and click the knob to change the image.

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The process is pretty dang simple. I was gettin’ all tingly about lighting this bad boy up. I’m quarantined and the only thing I have to look forward to is showers and making coffee, so this was pretty big for me. And the result is surprisingly satisfying. I say “surprisingly” because it’s a tiny 25 year old lightbulb shooting out of an action figure. I wasn’t expecting much…so how good can it actually look?

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I mean, it looks good though…

Obviously, the closer your X-Man (?) is to the wall the more vibrant…but if you use this in a room that’s completely dark, the projection actually looks really awesome. And if you have multiple figures? Well…it’s a party folks. Each reel is a different adventure (the one pictured features Wolverine battling Omega Red) and each package came with a mail-away slip where you can receive an X-Men poster and 5 more reels for just $4.25. Ostentatious, dudes! All of the reels are basically fight scenes and X-Men poses, which is to be expected, but I found a sweet Genosha reel…which is great if you’re an old school X-Men-head like myself.

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All 3 figures projecting on the wall. Talk about getting LIT (I’m sorry about that)

I remember as a child my fear of the dark made my cousin gift me a Batman nightlight to “protect” me. And it was little things like that which made me feel better. To have a parent leave Wolverine to “protect” you at your bedside where you can project his pure “Bezerker Rage” taking up a whole wall in your room is a genius idea. It also makes me seethe a little more missing out on these when I was a child.

Projector

Other than reseller listings, there’s not much information on these action figures. Which, in our age of nostalgia gauging, surprises me because the idea and execution are uniquely AWESOME in their own right. Some browsing reveals ToyBiz produced Power Rangers Projectors  around the same time…yet that’s where it seemed to stop.

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The back of Cable’s box shows the complete line…

It started out as just X-Men but soon expanded to Spider-man‘s cartoon as well as the short lived Fantastic Four and Iron Man cartoons. Iron Man is about the only character aesthetically that fits with the Projector line.  Yet there is something intoxicating about a giant Lizard man that shoots images from his chest.


THE GOOD

  • Awesome vibrant packaging 
  • Figures are large and sturdy 
  • Each worked out of the box 25 years later
  • Good selection of characters for the time
  • Projector effect is decent

THE BAD

  • Slides have a slight blur no matter how much you focus
  • Very basic detail for such large figures
  • Would’ve liked some actual comic panels instead of just frames from the cartoons
  • I’m bummed this line never quite took off

The creative possibilities for a toy like this seems endless. I definitely would’ve longed for a Batman that projects the Bat-Signal. Yet the biggest missed opportunity, for me anyway, would be STAR WARS. An R2-D2 that projects Princess Leia or Darth Vader that projects a “hologram” of The Emperor? Take me now. Star Wars characters could project their assigned ships in which you could have them “fly” and “battle” on your wall with appropriate sound effects! Please. I’m dying.

While bummed I didn’t come across just one of these figures as a kid, I’m very grateful to have stumbled upon them decades later and had the opportunity to “play” with them. These are the first toys that come to mind that actually disappoint me with how cool they are. I can’t help but look at them and think “What if?”...which is I guess is fitting for Marvel Comics history. All in all, if you’re into this sort of thing I recommend you pick one up. They don’t go for too much currently, though they might now since my website has such massive influence over the collector market. Thanks for reminiscing over a decades old dead toyline involving spandex clad mutants that shoot pictures from their chests.

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