Dork Age / Toys

  • LEGO:
    • LEGO had one from about 1997-2002 during the advent of "juniorizaton". Sets from that era were generally simpler and more crude than previously, using large, single-purpose parts as opposed to more complex subassemblies. Examples include Town Jr. and City Center (which replaced the regular Town line) — the cars were made of single-piece baseplates, and the headlights were usually just slopes with headlight texture printed on them (as opposed to using "washing machine" bricks with transparent plates on them). Castles were also simplified by using premade wall pieces. The era also had many poorly-received series, such as the Insectoids and the Time Twisters. However, starting in 2002 the situation started to become better - by 2005 the new City line was a complete antithesis to Town Jr. It wasn't only the Adult Fans of Lego (AFOLs) who disliked these years — the company genuinely suffered from major mismanagement at the time, which nearly lead to their bankruptcy. In the book Brick by Brick, an overview on how LEGO got itself back together, the relaunch of the more advanced City line is branded as a major factor in reviving the company.
    • LEGO's "Constraction" subline (Slizers, BIONICLE, Ben 10, Hero Factory) also went though such a period from '06-'10, beginning with the introduction of the "Inika" body-build, named after the Toa Inika sub-line of Bionicle, which basically consisted of an easily buildable torso with snap-on limbs, each made up of very few pieces. This type of construction hiked with the '08 Matoran, '09 Agori and '10 Ben 10 sets, figures whose torsos, upper and lower arms and legs (or in the Matoran and Agori's case, their entire limbs), hands and feet were made up of huge, single pieces and offered very little in the way of construction, focusing more on being "just" action figures.

      The Hero Factory 2.0 line in '11 ended this dork age with the introduction of the Character and Creature Building System, a radical design overhaul, that, although gave up on using the traditional LEGO Technic pin and rod connectors, made its figures more complex and incredibly well articulated again. In fact this redesign was so groundbreaking, some fans feared it would lead to stagnation again. In later years, LEGO experimented with expanding CCBS, incorporating complex Technic builds and inventive functions to keep it fresh, though after the failure of Bionicle (2015), CCBS' popularity took a nosedive.
    • When it comes to LEGO, the name Galidor is used as a synonym for failure. The theme was backed by a huge promotional push (TV show, games, McDonald's promo) and comprised a line of "standard" action figures with interchangeable limbs, which is where the construction part ended. While the toys weren't bad for average action figures, the series was met with scorn for doing away with LEGO's traditional building system and utilizing extremely specialized parts, and is considered to be their biggest bomb.
    • Bionicle's early 2006 marketing with its "hip" narrator in the toy adverts, rap songs, visuals that resembled spray-painted graffiti, and basically everything related to the Piraka sets was a huge shift in tone that tainted the year in many fans' minds, despite the actual toys and story being very well received. The Darker and Edgier promos from the year's second half that had a fetish for chain fences, rain and brooding pop-punk music also count, as do the odd rubber heads with bizarre grins the designers kept giving to the characters.
  • My Little Pony's toy line suffered this in the late '90s, when Generation 2 came along. They scrapped their previous chubby designs in exchange for a design that resembled horses instead of ponies. Generation 2 only lasted 1 year in most places. It was the only one that never got any sort of Animated Adaptation.
    • Another, short lived dork age occurred in 2009 with the G3.5 toy line, which limited the ponies to just seven characters alone (dubbed the "Core 7") and changed their designs to having large heads and hooves, but small bodies. The Core 7 was barely tolerated when it still had the typical G3 design, though fans were left with a sour taste as many ponies (including the Ensemble Darkhorses that are Minty and Star Catcher) were shoved aside and personalities were changed for the remaining ponies, but the redesign is really when the Dork Age set in. This awkward period ended in October 2010 when Hasbro switched to Lauren Faust's designs for My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, although your mileage may vary with the Generation 4 toys...
  • G.I. Joe had its first Dork Age in the early-mid '90s, when the line introduced more outlandish subsets like the Eco Warriors (basically, G.I. Joe meets Captain Planet), Ninja Force, and Street Fighter (no really!). Not helping was the decidedly bright and blatantly neon coloring for certain figures, as well as the overabundance of spring-loaded weaponry, among other gimmicks. Plus, there was the added competition from lines like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the coming of a certain morphenomenon, all of which spelled the end for the "Real American Hero" line by 1994. This was followed by a rather short dork age in the form the Sgt. Savage and his Screaming Eagles line, which introduced a Captain America-esque soldiernote  helping the Joes against new enemies, but the line was short-lived.
    • And following on Sgt. Savage was G.I. Joe Extreme, where the toys had Liefeldian proportions and designs and articulation was reduced down to five points. While Sgt. Savage changed the scale somewhat it still kept most of the traditional Joe articulation and sculpting style intact, while Extreme was a blatant Follow the Leader to The Dark Age of Comic Books.
    • The franchise took another major hit in the 2000s with G.I. Joe: Sigma 6. The idea was to reduce the massive number of Joes down to a small, more characterized group (the eponymous "Sigma 6") and could have easily done well as a reboot if not for the decision to take a design turn towards Animesque as well as largely discarding the eclectic uniforms of the characters for fairly bland sci-fi jumpsuits. To be fair, the Sigma 6 figures were pretty good action figures on their own merits, but they also had almost nothing to do with what made the franchise special. Later, Hasbro would try the concept again with G.I. Joe: Renegades, getting slightly better results but not by much.
    • The 2010s weren't much nicer: Neither of the G.I. Joe movies have left any kind of real impact on the public, G.I. Joe: Renegades went off the air after a single season despite some high praise, and other than some leftover waves from G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the toys became rarer and rarer on shelves. In fact, for 2014, there were more figures released as collector's club and convention exclusives (26) than there were for the 50th anniversary retail line (18, with a few being straight reissues included in multi-packs), and the retail line only saw limited distribution.
  • Transformers had its first Dork Age after 1987, when the original cartoon ended. With the Periphery Demographic still in its larval stages and the Fleeting Demographic having largely moved on, the franchise was at a rather low ebb, with no fiction except the somewhat obscure comics existing to back up the toys. The toys themselves were considered to be mostly awful (bar some standouts like the Powermasters), with a dearth of realistic vehicles or articulated designs and a tendency to downplay the idea of, well, transformation in favor of Follow the Leader gimmicks (Pretenders to Masters of the Universe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Micromasters to Micro Machines). By the final year of the franchise in America, they had created the Action Masters, which almost completely disposed of transformation in favor of basically turning into a reskinned MASK, with nontransforming Transformers characters driving around in vehicles. Nonetheless, the little fiction that did come out during this era, though obscure, was high in quality (Furman's comic run, the Victory anime).
    • The Transformers: Generation 2 era was an improvement, but not by much. Though it brought the series back to its roots and there were definitely some innovative toys (the Cyberjets, the Laser Rods, the Combat Heroes), a lack of cross-media support and its heavy use of Palette Swapped G1 toys meant that the line failed to get out of the original series's shadow, and got flattened by Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles in sales. The line's mostly remembered for its rather bizarre color choices and Totally Radical commercials. Fortunately, it was immediately followed by Beast Wars, which put the franchise back on the map.
    • Beast Wars was followed by Beast Machines. While the series was a divisive at best, opinions on the toys were a lot more unanimous. The figures were based on very early concept art, and looked almost nothing like the characters in the series (compare Optimus Primal with his toy counterpart). With "techno-organic" animals and "Cybertronian" vehicles, transformations suffered, with many altmodes just looking like a robot doing yoga. Scale was thrown completely out the window - the towering Silverbolt, Tankor, and Obsidian got tiny toys, while the miniscule Nightscream and Rattrap got some of the biggest. Top it off with one of the worst centerpiece figures in the franchise's history, in the form of Supreme Cheetor, and two actually decent molds (Air Attack Optimus and Megabolt Megatron) getting shunted off to Transformers: Robots in Disguise, and you had sales so bad that the franchise went through its first Continuity Reboot.
    • A good number of fans have taken this view of the main toyline post-2011. After Dark of the Moon's toyline underperformed, the budget for toys suffered increasing cuts, while plastic prices went up. This has led to many figures having their complexity reduced, losing out on paint, or being hollowed out to save money on plastic. Redecoes and remolds became more common, to save money, with Combiner Wars being particularly notorious for having only a handful of molds, and prices went up. Though there are still a lot of well-liked or well-engineered figures, including finally getting toys of some beloved characters, it's hard to compare the before-and-after and not feel a bit put-out.
  • As a general rule, many toy lines that were backed by Merchandise-Driven animated series fell into a Dork Age in the '90s. By the late '80s, parents' and teachers' groups had grown increasingly vocal in their criticism of 'half-hour toy commercials' and pushed for more educational alternatives. Their efforts culminated in the Children's Television Act of 1990, which restricted advertising for toys and food products during kids' shows and mandated that broadcast networks produce a certain amount of educational and informative programming per week (the source of the "E/I" graphic displayed on many edutainment shows in the US). The Children's Television Act pretty much ended the Golden Age of Merchandise-Driven kids' shows, and without their primary support networks, even those toy lines that didn't simply wither and die saw their popularity fade — and with it, the amount of effort that went into designing and making them.