The Infamous LJN Toys: Ultimate Video Game Underdogs


In the world of video games, there’s a rich tapestry of titles ranging from the iconic to the forgettable, and everything in-between. However, not every game that hits the shelves is destined for greatness. In fact, sifting through the sea of games released each year, it’s clear that while there are gems to be discovered, there are also numerous titles best left unplayed. When we reminisce about games like “Skull Island: The Rise of Kong,” “The Lord of the Rings: Gollum,” or “The Walking Dead Destinies,” it might make us long for the “good old days.” But the truth is, every era has had its share of flops.

Many of these less-than-stellar titles found their way onto the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and, to a lesser extent, the Master System. Following the infamous video game crash of 1983, there was an industry boom, thanks in part to the success of “Super Mario Bros.” This attracted many toy companies to the burgeoning field of video games, lured by the promise of hefty profits. Yet, not everyone could match the expertise of gaming giants like Nintendo.

One notable player that entered the video game arena was LJN Toys, a company that was more infamous than famous. Originating as a toy manufacturer in 1970, LJN introduced action figures based on hot properties of the time: E.T., Indiana Jones, Gremlins, and popular American wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan, King Kong Bundy, and Roddy Piper. Their figures weren’t half bad, actually. However, their most popular line might have been the “Thundercats” toys, which today can fetch a pretty penny if still sealed in their original packaging.

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*Thundercats and wrestling figures by LJN Toys (Enlarge)*

But as LJN ventured into video games, they earned a less-than-stellar reputation, producing some of the industry’s least-loved games. Their lineup included licensed titles such as “The Karate Kid,” “Friday the 13th,” “Back to the Future,” “Nightmare on Elm Street,” and “X-Men.” While it’s fair to say that they attempted to inject a variety of unique mechanics into their games, none were really able to rise above mediocrity.

Take “The Karate Kid” for example. It incorporated action-platform elements and a tournament system reminiscent of the era’s fighting games, but with crude visuals and a lack of any real combo system. Players could just hit the kick button to win. It wasn’t the worst game they made, but it clearly showed that the ambition to capture the spirit of the film didn’t translate into a quality game experience.

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*The Karate Kid video game by LJN (Enlarge)*

Then there was the “Jaws” game based on the classic Spielberg film. Instead of creating an epic underwater adventure, players got a game resembling a Horde Mode, battling various sea creatures with a static background. The iconic shark confrontation was there, but freedom and exploration were nonexistent.

In a surprising twist, LJN’s “Friday the 13th” was peculiar yet strangely ambitious. The game’s mechanics allowed players to roam the Crystal Lake map, switch between different camp counselors, and face off against Jason Voorhees in a style similar to “Punch Out!” It was, without a doubt, challenging and ahead of its time in certain ways.

LJN also tried their hand with the X-Men franchise, resulting in a game that was widely criticized. Players could control mutants like Cyclops, Iceman, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, or Storm, each with unique powers. However, poor design choices, like the infuriating Magneto power-up which left you immobilized, rendered the game virtually unplayable.

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*X-Men game featuring Iceman and Wolverine by LJN (Enlarge)*

“Back to the Future” wasn’t completely terrible, having some variety in gameplay with skateboard sequences and a scene behind a bar. But, it was nothing to write home about—especially compared to the abysmal “Back to the Future II & III,” which proved to be an uninspired platformer filled with out-of-place enemies.

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*Back to the Future II & III gameplay (Enlarge)*

Interestingly, LJN’s downfall wasn’t directly due to its video game missteps, which were considerable. It was a malfunctioning toy gun that spewed defective paint that ultimately led to its decline. The company was sold by its parent company, MCA, to Acclaim in 1990 and finally shuttered for good in 1995.

The story of LJN serves as a cautionary tale of a company that overreached, trying to capitalize on popular licenses without the necessary experience or dedication to game development. The gaming world has seen its fair share of failed ventures, but LJN remains a notable example of how not to make a video game.

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