Monday, March 24, 2008

Revenge Of The 80's presents Lazer Tag vs. Photon: Which One Sucked Less?

For those of us oldheads (70’s and early 80’s babies) that can remember, back in 1986 we were presented with two toys/products that promised to bring us the “next big thing”. Worlds Of Wonder (Teddy Ruxpin, Action Max) offered Lazer Tag and Entertech (a division of LJN famous for their successful line of automatic water guns) presented Photon to the world.

Both of them were based on the laser tag phenomenon that took the South and Southwest by storm (and was also used in training exercises by the US government) but hadn’t yet spread to the Northeastern big cities where it was perceived that it could really take off.

This meant that it was up to each company to come up with the better marketing strategy and hopefully their product would win the hearts of the consumers. Let’s compare both below in a number of categories to see which one sucked less:

Product Name:
Lazer Tag got right to the point. The game was tag with lasers. Period. There was no confusion there. What the fuck was “Photon”? Most people that weren’t science geeks (which is damn near everybody) had to look up the word and even then that didn’t explain anything. Which is funny because when most people asked what ‘Photon” was, the answer was usually “laser tag”. Ouch! There was no Google bar or internet so no one knew that Photon even existed before they saw that box in the toy store where I lived (Boston). They caught an "L" on that one.

Lazer Tag: 1 Photon: 0

Equipment and accessories:
Photon came in a package where everything was tied together. The chest sensor could be attached to the helmet and the gun could be held separate (but still needed to be charged). Photon helmets came in bright red or neon/dayglo green. When you wore the outfit together, you looked like a complete and utter dickhead. The gun looked too plastic and overall the Photon gear was aesthetically lacking.

The Lazer Tag gear on the other hand all came with a black and red vest with velcro on it and a futuristic looking sensor. If you wanted an upgrade you had to buy an official StarVest. There was also a StarHelment and a StarCap (both of which would hurt people’s foreheads because of the clunky battery packs). The Lazer Tag accessories looked much cooler than Photon’s did partly because they copied the designs used by the popular miniseries/TV show “V”. This made some people (read: nerds) actually want to buy them.

The other main factor was that the Lazer Tag gun, the StarLyte looked much better than the Photon gun (plus it made a cool noise when you pulled the trigger). Sure the gun had a ghey ass name, but it looked and made cool ass sound effects and lit up (once you put the 6 AA batteries in it). Photon gun = GoBots, Lazer Tag gun= Transformers.

Lazer Tag: 2 Photon: 0

Marketing Campaign/Advertisements:
Lazer Tag was marketed as “the sport of the 21st century’ and “the game that moved at the speed of light” while Photon instead stuck to being called the “The ultimate game” and “the game of the future”.

Worlds Of Wonder took a futuristic approach when marketing Lazer Tag. They made commercials that depicted a future where there’d be Lazer Tag tournaments to settle all of the world's disputes, even to see who gets to keep the Statue Of Liberty for the next 100 years.

Another set of commercials showed a world in which Lazer Tag was the ultimate sport (and it looked a lot like Rollerball!). In addition, Lazer Tag advertised in comic books which comic style full page ads offering young ass long sleeve tee that said “Team USA” on them.

Photon’s commercials were pretty lame in comparison, merely stating that Photon was “better” than Lazer Tag. Like if that ever mattered! Another issue was that Lazer Tag's packaging looked all cool, futuristic and space age. The design, logos and fonts all looked professional while all of the Photon gear and logos looked like it was designed by some dude with a mullet and no future (it turns out it was).

Lazer Tag: 3 Photon: 0

Overall Playability:
Photon was a game system that was developed by one man and was originally based out of Dallas, TX where the first Photon center was created. Lazer Tag was merely based on different principles of the laser tag phenomenon. Photon was all one complete unit where you could score hits on the helmet, chest or gun and each item recorded the hits.

In Lazer Tag, you had to fasten the sensor to a velcro vest that always fell off (The sensor plus a nine volt battery plus running around equals velcro ain't gonna keep that sensor fastened to your chest like it does in those commercials!) . The beams weren’t always very accurate (on wide or narrow settings) and it was extremely easy to cheat at Lazer Tag. The helmet and cap where cumbersome and clunky, but the Photon helmet just looked stupid as all hell. Photon was much more accurate, though.

Lazer Tag: 3 Photon: 1

Spinoff Shows:
Lazer Tag was optioned into a cartoon made by Ruby-Spears called “Lazer Tag Academy” in 1986 that had a horrible premise. Needless to say it sucked pretty badly and there’s a reason few people remember it.

That high level of suckage paled in comparison to the even shittier “Photon” TV show that aired on syndicated television back in 1986. This live action show was made in the mold of Japan’s “Dynaman”, the inspiration for “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers”.

While the show was made in conjunction with Japan, the production value was terrible. I used to laugh at it more than 20 years ago and it’s only gotten worse with the passage of time. It’s so bad that I’m docking Photon a point for this cheesy bullshit (but Lazer Tag isn’t getting a point, either).

Lazer Tag: 3 Photon: 0

Lazer Tag had three novels made for it and some lunchboxes and other items made for the cartoon and that was it (Thank God).

Photon, however was a real game based in the Southwest so since it had a real fanbase it was able to secure some merchandising. They had toys made, including action figures, kites, lunch boxes and even a group of Photon novels (all written by comic book writer Peter Davis under a pseudonym because even he knew it was some ol' bullshit).

Needless to say, they all sucked (Electronic Warrior Challenge? That sounds space ghey!). No points awarded to either side.

Final Verdict: It goes without saying that Lazer Tag sucked less than Photon. The question remains, why didn’t either Lazer Tag or Photon blow up? I’ll answer that one! Photon ended up failing and it’s distributor Entertech got into hot water because it’s ultra realistic line of automatic water guns led to a few inner city kids getting shot by police and several criminals used them in robberies. Some thieves were killed either when it was discovered that their guns were fakes or shot because store owners or police thought their weapons were real.

Entertech was forced to manufacture their guns in dayglo, neon or odd colors after that and make them less authentic looking (for the record, people just had them painted black). Lawsuits and the overwhelming failure of Photon were two key elements that brought down Entertech (and gave a Black man the idea to make water guns for inner city youth that no one would ever mistake for real guns that we now know as "Super Soakers").

Worlds Of Wonder had several successful endeavors as well as some failures (they used to distribute Nintendo Entertainment Systems to America back in 1985-6 before Nintendo went dolo). Lazer Tag was a moderate hit but Worlds Of Wonder was ultimately done in by the stock market crash that happened on Black Monday.

It made their stock dip so low that they ended up selling off all of their toys and merchandise for bargain basement prices (Teddy Ruxpins, ActionMaxes and Lazer Tag sets were now all dirt cheap).

Before you knew it, Lazer Tag accessories were in discount bins in toy stores all over the country in 1987. By 1988, both Lazer Tag and Photon were things of the past and their shows were off the air and their merchandise was off the shelves and now only us oldheads remember any of this shit.



Wade Word said...

Thanks for the jog down memory lane,
Fellow Old-Head,
Wade Word

Aaron said...

I never heard of Photon until just right now.

The only people with Lazer Tag on our block were the spoiled brothers up the street.

Lazer Tag = Duck Hunt

DocZeus said...

Ha! I had the Photo Warrior Challenge toys as a kid so I guess I was partial to Photon.

Mike Dikk said...

Only rich kids had Lazer Tag. The rest of us had Photon, or the cheap knockoff brands.

Let's cut the crap here and talk about some fucking CAPTAIN POWER.

Dart Adams said...

@ Mike Dikk:

I guess you missed when I did this joint last year. Check out the final entry of the blog:


Anonymous said...

lazer tag was the shit!

Tim Barraco said...

hilarioussss! I am from PA and I had the red photon helmet and get up. I was the only one with Photon, and was stuck shooting the sensor for target practice while the richer kids played laser tag... I loved Photon, and always will!!! P.S. Great records on the side. ( i also realize you posted this story 4 years ago....)

Anonymous said...

We still have 2photon guns that work and my grandchildren enjoy them every time they're here!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this...oh the memories...

The Virgin Prince said...

I thought I'd read somewhere that Lazer Tag and Photon were compatible. Is that not the case?

Anyway, your grading scale seems a bit sketchy. Sounds like Photon was technologically more advanced, more comfortable to wear, and you got more for your money in a set. All good selling points.

Unknown said...

I had Photon in the UK. It was alright spose.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't the rich kid but I was about 12 years old when I had all of the lazer tag sets. I got them for cheap when they were going under. About 6-8 of my friends had them so we would meet at playground at night. We would forgo the chest sensors and everyone had to wear the caps. Star bases were used like land mines but they were so bright and loud that they were useless. We had so much equipment since they were cheap that one of our friends even taped 2 guns together and added a useless and heavy flashlight. Each team would have at least some rifles. We worried about cops, but hey never showed.

Seven said...

I remember all of this. As I kid I had ALL of the laser tag gear. The rifle, the target practice base, the lunchbox... however I had the photon books and I lived in a city with a photon center, so I was partial to photon. The was also another company - Daisy (yes, the BB gun company) who made a laser tag type system. Those guns were realistic also. Mine were taken because I took them to school and the assistant principal saw them.

Unknown said...

I know this is old. I had Photon in ‘87… Laser tag was for rich kids. But you forgot one thing: Photon was previewed in the movie “Big” with Tom Hanks. Everyone has seen that…