Originally created 09/23/99

Toys duke it out for supremacy



"Ahhh! You smashed my head!" whines one brutish voice.

A loud, otherworldly laugh replies. Then a burp, followed by some sputters and buzzes that escalate into a fit of manic giggles.

"I'll slam you to the mat!" comes a grunted warning.

Behold what could be the first sounds from toy store aisles for the upcoming holidays. Two new contenders have stepped into the ring to go battery-to-battery for multimillion-dollar stakes and the title that in holidays past was held by champs such as Beanie Babies, Tickle Me Elmo and Cabbage Patch Kids.

In one corner, trying to out-tremble Furby with its own brand of frenzied wobbling, is Playmates' OOglies, ticklish plastic aliens prone to interactive hysterics and wacky gibberish. In the other corner, Toy Biz's WCW Tuff Talkin' Wrestlers, large action figures modeled after trash-talking TV wrestlers that spew forth more than 100 different ad hominem challenges.

"We feel they're going to be big just because they're such a wow," says Kathryn Maciel, Toy Biz vice president of marketing, of the first four 12-inch macho wrestlers -- Goldberg, Kevin Nash, Diamond Dallas Page and Sting -- that were shipped to toy stores at the end of August. Four more of the Tuff Talkin' Wrestlers ($39.95 for a set of two) will be unveiled in time for Christmas.

The prospective audience? Youngsters 4 and older who cling to every insult uttered on television's boisterous World Championship Wrestling matches, Ms. Maciel says. "We try to re-create the wrestling experience for kids. We figure the kids who watch WCW programming are the main target."

Besides the muscled deltoids and banal bantering voiced by the actual wrestler, Toy Biz is betting that its Smart Sense technology, built into each figure's chest, will capture the imagination of wrestling fans and even a wider market. The infrared sensors enable each Tuff Talkin' Wrestler to recognize and antagonize each of the others -- and even address their remarks to kids who dare twist their legs or pile-drive their heads.

"I'm Goldberg, and I fear no man!" yaps the bald, tattooed Goldberg figure in a typical shouting match.

"Goldberg, you can't survive my jackknife power bomb!" longhaired pretty-boy Kevin Nash figure shouts back.

"Nash, get ready for the jackhammer!" Goldberg warns.

OOglies, on the other hand, are just a lot of "hilarious laughter and sound effects," says Ryan Slate, vice president of marketing at Playmates, who acknowledges the alien creatures' direct challenge to Furby. The point is to "interact with the character in a kind of a nonsensical manner -- to laugh along with it, to ask it questions and get answers in OOglie gibberish, basically have fun with it and be entertained by it."

Conceptually a combination of Tickle Me Elmo, Furby and a 1975 American Motors Pacer, OOglies ($14.95) arrive on toy store shelves this month in various disguises -- from ballerinas to cowboys to football players. And there's the plain old OOglie.

Jump-start an OOglie by pulling its tail. After saying hello, it goes into warm-ups for uncontrollable hysteria should you tickle its feet. The more you twist an OOglie's foot, the more the vibrating alien laughs, its eyes changing colors and spinning, body wobbling into motion. To calm an OOglie, pat it on the head.

Like Furbys, they talk a language all their own, uttering OOglie phrases when their heads are pushed down. Pulling an OOglie's tail causes it to make more sound effects -- any of which it can memorize.

"They were developed as these alien creatures from outer space who hit Earth and try to morph into the first thing that makes them laugh," Mr.Slate. The initial wave of OOglies will consist of four characters, with 24 more to follow before the end of the year -- which, at their modest price, encourages collectibility.

"The transformation is never complete, but they become all kinds of different characters. Some people like the cows because they collect cows. Some people like the football character and its burps. ... And there's the whole added feature with the added tunes; one of them can burp out Mary Had a Little Lamb. It's sheer entertainment."