16 Colorful and Nostalgic Toys and Games That Defined Generations

collection of colorful toys for kids

Kids are drawn to vibrant colors, which can also affect their behavior and learning. So, toys and games have been bursting with colors for as long as we can remember. Bright, contrasting colors can quickly capture a child’s attention, pique their curiosity, and keep them focused on an item. Thus, many nostalgic toys and games from every generation have utilized bold colors to their advantage.

Here are 16 iconic toys and games that will take you back to almost forgotten memories and emotions of the past.

1. Kaleidoscope (1816)

kid looking through kaleidoscope

No matter what generation you were born in, you’ve probably looked into a kaleidoscope at some point in your life. These tube-shaped toys have a rainbow of colors when you look inside, including colorful patterns that change as you turn the object.

These fascinating toys have been around since 1816, making them one of the oldest colorful toys in existence. They were first created by accident when Scottish physicist Sir David Brewster experimented with the polarization and refraction of light. He put long mirrors into a brass tube, which created incredible reflections that he hadn’t anticipated. He named the item a kaleidoscope because it means “beautiful image viewer” in Greek.

People predicted success with the kaleidoscope, so soon, cheap cardboard versions of Brewster’s invention were sold everywhere before he could patent it. It wasn’t until the 1900s that these items were more commonly sold as kids’ toys.

2. LEGO (1932)

pile of colorful Lego blocks

LEGOs are still one of the most popular toys today. They come in either an assortment of colorful blocks so you can make your own creation, or they come in sets so you can build a specific model. These famous toys can be traced back to 1932, when Ole Kirk Kristiansen, the creator of LEGOs, started making wooden toys.

He ended up naming his products by combining the Danish words “Leg Godt,” which means “play well.” At first, he didn’t realize that the name also means “I put together” in Latin. He didn’t come up with the concept for plastic bricks until 1949, and he first called them “Automatic Binding Bricks.” Only a few years later, they were renamed “LEGO bricks,” which is what they’re known as today.

Throughout the years, LEGO bricks have undergone many changes and added tons of new piece types. They have appeared in about 200 colors, including some transparent pieces and pieces with glitter.

3. Beach Ball (1938)

colorful beach ball by water

Beach balls come in nearly every color pattern, but they’re best known for having stripes of several vibrant colors. They’re one of the most popular beach toys because they’re small and compact when deflated, but they can grow into a large, lightweight toy once inflated.

Jonathon DeLonge likely invented the first beach ball, which started out as the size of a hand. As beach balls became more popular, more varieties appeared, including massive ones and ones with unique patterns on them.

4. Candy Land (1948)

Candy Land game illustration

Candy Land is one of the most colorful board games on the market, and it has only gotten more vibrant with time. The spaces have a variety of bold colors, and there are detailed candy designs along the edges of the board. However, this delightful game for children was developed during a dark time.

Teacher Eleanor Abbott came up with the idea for Candy Land while she was recovering from polio, like many other Americans at the time. She wanted to create something for children to do while they recovered. So, she invented Candy Land, which kids first played in the polio ward of the hospital. Of course, the game was a huge hit, so Abbott later pitched the idea to toy manufacturer Milton Bradley Company.

5. Troll Doll (1950s)

troll doll with bright pink hair

Trolls was a popular doll franchise that started in the 1950s, but these toys were far different from baby dolls. While their bodies were typically flesh-colored, each troll had wild hair that was a bold color, such as blue, pink, yellow, or red. The first versions of these dolls were wooden, and the creator, Thomas Dam, sold them door-to-door until their popularity skyrocketed.

Dam had a hard time keeping up with the demand for the dolls, so he changed the dolls from wood to a rubber body stuffed with wood shavings so he could produce them faster. These nostalgic toys have since inspired the popular kid’s movie franchise Trolls.

6. Paint-By-Number (1951)

girl completing paint-by-number

Paint-by-number products have been a popular craft kit for decades. They were created with the idea that you don’t have to be a famous artist to create a colorful work of art. These kits include a set of vibrant paint containers that are numbered to correspond with the numbered spaces on the outlines of images.

By following the instructions and painting in the lines, anyone can create a professional-looking painting. It ended up becoming a popular product for both kids and adults. While critics at the time were skeptical of how mindless paint-by-numbers are, it’s safe to say that we all need a relaxing activity now and then.

7. Play-Doh (1956)

colorful Play-Doh sculptures

Play-Doh is a popular sculpting toy that now comes in over 65 colors. However, it didn’t start as a toy at all. It began as a wallpaper-cleaning product in the 1930s. It was successful for about 20 years until the demand for wallpaper cleaners went down in the early 1950s. So, the wallpaper-cleaning invention was reformulated and repurposed to create a safe, moldable clay product that kids could play with.

The product officially became known as Play-Doh in 1956. At first, it was only available in white, but red, yellow, and blue were added in 1957. From there, the list of Play-Doh colors continued to grow so kids could craft the most colorful sculptures imaginable.

8. Barbie (1959)

Barbie doll legs with pink heels

Barbie is one of the most colorful lines of toys out there because of the wide selection of outfits, accessories, and buildings that go with the dolls. Of course, Barbie’s signature color is pink, but the items that come with her can include an extensive range of vibrant hues.

Ruth Handler created the first Barbie doll in 1959. It was a simple design with a black-and-white striped swimsuit. While there wasn’t much color happening with the toys back then, Barbie quickly evolved into a variety of styles, some of which were inspired by celebrities or created with the help of fashion designers.

Today, it’s estimated that there are about a billion different outfits made for Barbie and her friends, so kids can choose Barbie clothing of nearly any color and style.

9. Twister (1966)

kids playing Twister game

The game Twister is all about colors. It includes a mat with red, yellow, green, and blue spots, which correspond with colored spots on the spinner. To win, players have to put their hands or feet on specific colored dots without falling over.

Twister was the first game that required people to use their bodies as playing pieces. Inventor Reyn Guyer first came up with the idea, calling it “Pretzel.” The Milton Bradley Company quickly took interest in the idea and produced its own version, known as “Twister.” Charles Foley and Neil Rabens were credited with inventing “Twister.”

10. Lite-Brite (1967)

young boy playing with Lite-Brite

Lite-Brite is not only full of colors, but it involves glowing shades, which piqued the interest of many children. Marvin Glass, Henry Stan, and Burt Meyer invented this colorful toy after seeing a window display in New York City that was made with hundreds of lights of various colors. They created a smaller-scale version of that, which became the Lite-Brite.

Lite-Brites feature red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, pink, and white pegs. Kids can use the various colors to create a picture by placing the pegs in a pattern on the plastic panel. When you turn on the light, the pegs glow as a beautiful work of art, unlike any toys and games that came out during that time.

11. Hot Wheels (1968)

rainbow of Hot Wheels cars on the floor

There are over 20,000 different models of Hot Wheels, and these tiny cars come in almost every color imaginable. After Barbie spiked in popularity, most of Mattel’s customers were girls, so the company developed Hot Wheels as a toy to appeal to boys.

The first Hot Wheels were a series of muscle cars that were meant to be durable and roll long distances. Each car was painted with bold colors and designs to help it stand out. Mattel eventually added flexible tracks to go with these cars so kids had a way to race their new colorful toys.

12. Rubik’s Cube (1974)

vibrant Rubik's Cube close up

Rubik’s Cubes are popular puzzle toys that require matching the colors on each side to complete. Classic Rubik’s Cubes use the colors red, yellow, blue, green, white, and orange, but there have been many varieties of these products throughout the years.

This unique product was first invented by an architecture professor named Ernő Rubik. He used the cube to teach his classes about three-dimensional spaces. It first became popular as the “Magic Cube,” but it was later renamed Rubik’s Cube after its creator. Amid its success, other colorful puzzles were made for people who loved this strategic toy.

13. Simon (1978)

memory game like Simon for kids

Simon was another popular game that relied heavily on colors. The toy had four light-up buttons, usually red, yellow, blue, and green. The lights flashed in a pattern, and kids would have to repeat the pattern back to win. While it’s not as popular today as it once was, Simon is still an excellent toy for working on memory using vibrant colors.

Inventor Ralph Baer, who’s known for creating the first video game system, also created Simon. It was named after the popular children’s game, “Simon Says,” and based on an Atari game called “Touch Me.” It became a handheld version of the Atari memory game, which Baer felt was much better executed.

Baer carefully selected the colors and sounds for Simon to make it appealing to kids without being too annoying for those around them. Red, yellow, blue, and green are commonly used for Simon and other nostalgic games because they’re popular colors that are all very different from each other, allowing them to stand out.

14. Care Bears (1981)

orange care bear in blue pouch

Teddy bears have been around since 1902, and while they appeared in many forms, they were often colored realistically for a bear. Care Bears are a beloved brand of stuffed animals that took teddy bears and combined them with vibrant colors and designs that children love. These adorable bears started as colorful characters for greeting cards, and they later became a line of stuffed animals.

There are over 60 Care Bears and Care Bear Cousins, most of which are very colorful, including colors like pink, blue, yellow, green, and orange. Over the years, their style has changed and they have appeared in other types of media, such as TV shows, movies, and figures. Each Care Bear has a colorful design on its tummy, representing an emotion or virtue. So, they’re still popular because of their vibrant designs and positive messages.

15. My Little Pony (1982)

sparkly see-through My Little Pony

Like Care Bears, My Little Pony is another cute toy collection known for its vibrant colors. While Care Bears have colorful designs on their bellies, My Little Ponies have them on their thighs. There are hundreds of different pony characters out there, each with unique hair and body colors.

The vibrant toys were the first My Little Pony products introduced, but as they became more popular, the characters began appearing everywhere, including in movies and TV shows. The ponies occasionally get a new style when new versions of the toys come out.

16. Littlest Pet Shop (1992)

pink Littlest Pet Shop cat

Littlest Pet Shop is a collection of tiny pet toys with large heads that wobble like a bobblehead. These pets came with a wide range of vibrant buildings, items, and accessories so kids could create a colorful play area for their animal figures. Many of the animals were also colored with vibrant hues, making them resemble some of the most colorful animals in the world.

The first Littlest Pet Shop models were realistic-looking dogs and cats. Their proportions were similar to real-life pets, and their coloring was neutral. However, as the toys evolved, they had bigger eyes, less proportionate bodies, and more eye-catching colors, making their designs more appealing to children. While they’re not as popular as they once were, there are still plenty of dedicated collectors.