Remembering the Toys R Us Nostalgia of Buying Games in the 90’s

Back in the 90’s before GameStops were on every corner and internet shopping was a thing, I bought most of my video games at Toys R Us. I’d pace an entire aisle of laminated game covers, lifting up the ones with cool artwork and checking out the back-of-the-box details underneath.

For every birthday I’d take my money to Toys R Us and repeat this process until I decided on one special game — taking the pricing slip out of the plastic folder tucked away beneath the artwork sleeves, paying at the register, and walking the paid ticket over to the storage area where I’d be handed my new purchase.

Buying a game was exciting.

With Toys R Us announcing the closure of 182 locations nationwide, I wanted to take a trip in the Way Back Machine and talk about some of my gaming memories at the one-time gaming giant of the late 90’s.

I remember going into Toys R Us back in the 16-bit era. They had all of the different consoles assembled behind a glass window, including SNES, Genesis, Turbografx 16, 3DO, and Atari Jaguar. One day, in 1996, I walked back like I always did, pressed my face close to the fingerprint-riddled glass barrier, and something new caught my eye — the Virtual Boy.

virtualboy

The thought of a new Nintendo console was exciting and I couldn’t wait to try its upcoming demo kiosk. Of course, we all know how that one turned out. The console gave me a gnarly headache and made me nauseous, due to its dark backdrop and flashy red lines.

When the original PlayStation “released,” a friend and I went to our local store to see what the console looked like. Little did we know, the console had come out nearly a year prior. There wasn’t readily accessible internet access (thus, no gaming websites) to keep up to date on things and I didn’t start seeing PS1 games show up in magazines until 1996.

bloodomen

I remember walking down that familiar aisle of laminated game sleeves and a small section in the corner was dedicated to PlayStation. We flipped over sleeves for Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, Battle Arena Toshinden, Warhawk, and Rayman, amazed that games like Tekken could run on a home console. I never wanted a console so bad in my life.

That Christmas I asked my parents for a PlayStation, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, Tekken, and an incredibly bad point-and-click adventure game called Chronicles of the Sword. I was really into RPGs and since Toys R Us just had these artwork sleeves with the back of the box printed on them, I gambled on Chronicles of the Sword based on the art and name alone. I was beyond disappointed.

chroniclesofthesword

This wouldn’t be the last disappointment, though.

Like clockwork, I’d take birthday or Christmas money back to Toys R Us, peruse the PlayStation games, and since the internet wasn’t much of a thing yet, judge based on cover art and whatever I gathered from the back of the box. Sometimes the gamble paid off, as Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain’s “vampire Zelda” formula proved to be my absolute favorite early PlayStation game, along with Resident Evil.

Sometimes they were duds, though, like the “setting traps in a mansion” game Tecmo’s Deception, which had a rad haunted house on the cover.

tecmosdeception

As a big RPG fan, if I flipped over the sleeve and saw turn-based combat, I was instantly sold. That’s all I cared about; knowing I’d get to go home and get lost in a new world with interesting characters and world-ending stories.

It’s how I ended up with games like Beyond the Beyond, Wild Arms, Revelations: Persona, Suikoden, and Jade Cocoon, and more often than not I was pleased with my purchase.

persona

Sometimes they’d mark games down tremendously, and I remember grabbing things like Mega Man 8, Crash Bandicoot, Jet Moto, Coolboarders 2, Twisted Metal, and Tekken for $10 each. My mind was blown by the fact that I’d usually walk in with money and leave with one new game, but instead left with 5 or 6 $10 ones.

Part of me misses those days; the mystery of it all. As GameStop, Best Buy, and Walmart became more prominent, I found myself visiting Toys R Us far less frequently.

I haven’t actually purchased a game at a Toys R Us since those days, but I’ll always have a fond nostalgia for its aisle of laminated artwork sleeves and their accompanied price tickets.


*featured image by The Caldor Rainbow.

15 thoughts on “Remembering the Toys R Us Nostalgia of Buying Games in the 90’s

  1. I can still remember trips to Toys R Us in the early 80’s. Our town didn’t get ours until 1986 or so. So it was a rare treat when my folks would take my siblings, and I 45 minutes away to visit Chuck E Cheese, then pick out a toy or a game. Before the famed Ticket system, they had displays. I remember seeing an aisle of Atari 2600, and Intellivision games. Not to mention the massive selection of Masters Of The Universe, Thundercats, GI Joe, Transformers, Go Bots, and Star Wars figures to choose from. One time we hit up TRU before going to a drive in to see The Last Starfighter. I got ROKKON, the best vehicle in the MOTU line. It was a giant buzzsaw Skeletor would drive in. When you pushed it, the blades spun all around. It was awesome. When we finally got ours the NES had been out, so I can remember seeing the tickets for NES, Sega Master System, Atari 7800, and late life Atari 2600 games. I can still remember when I was either 12 or 13 getting my copy of Mega Man there, after having beaten Mega Man 2, and 3 I’d never seen the original in a store ever. Low, and behold our TRU had it. So I harangued my Father until he finally agreed to take me so I could drop my allowance on it. In hindsight, totally worth it.

    I still hit them up today from time to time. Usually for stuff for my nieces. But sometimes if there’s a retro collectible too. And they’ve even gotten the occasional game you just don’t see at the big box, and game retailers. I hope they’ll survive even though it does look bleak. They’re the only toy retailer left after Kay Bee fell several years ago. So many old stores from my childhood no longer exist. Woolco, Bradlee’s, Caldor, Child World, Kay Bee, Odd Lot, Mc Crory, Ames, to name a few. So many memories. Back then, going to pick up something felt like an event.

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    1. The TRU that I went to as a kid in the early 80s is still open, oddly enough, and it’s the one mentioned in this article. My mom and grandmother went shopping every weekend, so I’d end up in TRU (since it’s attached to a mall) and eye up all the big rubber wrestling figures, TMNT, He-man, and the Starting Lineup MLB figurines. When I got a NES in 85 I just asked my parents for whatever games I liked that I played at my babysitter’s house. She spoiled her kids and had like 50 games at a time. The first time I remember shopping for my own NES game was at Lionel Kiddie City, where I used birthday money to buy Castlevania 3. They had a huge NES area that was right next to the Captain Power toys I was obsessed with, and I actually went there to buy one of those lol. I loved Simons Quest, so when I saw Dracula’s Curse, I knew that’s what I wanted. I picked out some SNES stuff at TRU, but mostly asked for games that looked cool in Nintendo Power.

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    2. Speaking of Kay Bee, though. I used to get clearance SNES games there every month. I’d get $5 a week for allowance and save all month to spend $20 on something in the clearance bin. Lots of mediocre stuff, like Demon’s Crest, but Mega Man X and Earthworm Jim were in there.

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  2. I have the Toys R Us song from the advert stuck in my head now!
    I don’t actually remember buying games until quite a bit later in life but I did the cover art choosing with books and I found some of my favourite books that way. Unfortunately I just can’t do that now, I have to search for reviews or something before I make my decision which is really annoying, although to be honest if I’m going to pay £20 for a book I want it to be a good book, I don’t think they used to be that expensive.

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  3. Growing up, Toys R Us was always for my action figures and actual toys- I usually hit Electronics Boutique and Babbage’s when I was younger.

    That said, watching Toys R Us become more and more scarce in my neck of the woods has been sort of depressing, so it’s nice to see some folks’ memories. :) Nicely written.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Growing up in the 80’s I spent many a weekend in Toys R Us looking at the old rubber WWF wrestling figures, TMNT, He-Man, and Starting Lineup MLB figures. I started gaming on NES in 1985, but never *looked* for games in Toys R Us because I always just asked for whatever games I liked that I played at friends houses. By the time I was wise enough to look through gaming mags, Nintendo Power, GamePro, PSM, it was the end of the SNES and beginning of the PS1 era.

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  4. Loved this. I have a flashback post of this sort queued up as well, Toys R Us held some great memories for me, including one location that sadly was listed on the closings sheet. Something about bringing that ticket to the front desk felt so official!

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  5. We used to go to Toys R Us for birthdays and each kid could get a “present” (though the birthday boy/girl would get a better one). I usually went for a stuffed animal regardless. I think GameStop and EB Games existed by the time I was old enough to buy my own games, so I never really thought of TRU as my supplier. It makes me sad that they seem to be going to way of so many other brick and mortar stores though. I have a lot of good memories there even if they aren’t gaming, and many people have that :(

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    1. I used to end up there every weekend since my mom and grandmother went shopping at the mall on Saturdays. Lots of time spent looking at the toys, but it wasn’t until the late SNES/beginning of PS1 that I started using my own money to pick out my own games. I usually just asked for the ones I liked playing at a friend’s house or something, since his mom was big into the NES and bought just about every game that came out.

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      1. Damn, the only games my mom ever liked were the game show ones like Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy. She…was not a gamer in the least, but since it kept me and my older brother from beating the crap out of each other, she tolerated it for that. My dad worked at Acme where they rented games, so he was ALWAYS bringing something new home. It’s how I developed my love of puzzle games like The Adventures of Lolo 3 and it’s how I first played FFVI. Ah nostalgia.

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  6. This was an excellent trip down memory lane. Thank you! By the way, I may have had the only household with TWO Virtual Boys headsets, since my brother and I insisted on getting our own.

    Liked by 1 person

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