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The History of LJN

I think it's safe to say that LJN was one of the most infamous companies in retro gaming. While a lot of people today mostly know them for their infamous video games, they had a presence in the 80s that went beyond just that(chances are, you owned some of their ThunderCats or WWF figures).The history of LJN is relatively brief, as the company lasted only 25 years. However, I'm sure it will hit home for a lot of people who were kids in the 80s and 90s.

LJN was founded in 1970 by Jack Friedman(1939-2010).The name of the company is the reverse initials of Norman J. Lewis, which was the company that Friedman worked for before he decided to branch off. One thing that you may or may not know, is that LJN got it's start in toys. Specifically, licensed toys. Some of their first products were based on hit shows of the 70s including Emergency and S.W.A.T.

LJN's first big hit would come in 1982 after the release of Steven Spielberg's hit film E.T. The movie was a huge success and LJN was one of the few companies releasing toys for the film, as merchandising deals had been turned down by Kenner and other companies. They sold nearly $25,000,000 in E.T. products.

LJN would continue to churn out a plethora of toys during the early to mid 80s.Some of these included dolls based on Michael Jackson and actress Brooke Shields, robot toys base on the popular Voltron cartoon, Dungeons and Dragons mini figures, and toys based on popular films of the time including Gremlins and Indiana Jones.

Two of LJN's biggest action figure hits in the 1980s were WWF Wrestling Superstars and ThunderCats. Wrestling Superstars featured popular wrestlers of the time, such as Hulk Hogan, Rowdy Roddy Piper, and Jake "The Snake" Roberts.I had a couple of these as a kid and while I liked playing with them, I always wished there was articulation. Then there were the ThunderCats toys! Based on the hit cartoon by Rankin-Bass(best known for their Christmas specials), these toys were really neat looking, and had some of the best villain designs. As a kid, I always wanted the huge Cat's Lair playset, but never got it.

From 1985 to 1987, LJN would be at the center of controversy, with the release of their Entertech line of water guns. The selling feature of Entertech toys was that they were made to look and sound realistic. This generated controversy in several American cities. Unfortunately,  police officers shot kids playing with Entertech and similar toys, not realizing they weren't real. Entertech products were also used in bank robberies, with criminals trying to pass them off as real guns. Because of all this, several cities including Chicago and Detroit, banned the sale of realistic looking water guns. This caused LJN and other companies to either manufacture the guns in neon colors, or put an orange tip at the end of them.

Also in 1985, LJN had been acquired by MCA. Under MCA's direction, LJN began publishing video games for the Nintendo Entertainment System(many of them based on MCA films).Some of their games included Friday the 13th, Back to the Future, and Jaws. LJN games have gotten mixed(but mostly negative) reception, to say the least. Personally, there's some that I like, like Jaws and Nightmare on Elm Street, and some that I don't like, like Back to the Future and Uncanny X-Men. However, I do think it is important to note, that all of their games were developed by other companies, and that LJN simply published them.

In 1990, LJN was purchased by Acclaim. In addition to their NES games, they also began publishing games for the Super Nintendo and Gameboy. Some of their titles for the SNES included Super Wrestlemania, and Spider-Man:Maximum Carnage. Their final game was a tie-in with the movie True Lies, and was released in early 1995.Acclaim closed LJN shortly after. Well, that was the history of LJN, their toys, and their video games. Feel free to share some of your memories about the company. Thank you for reading, and have a nice day!

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Mr Magic Posted on Sep 21, 2022 at 12:37 PM

Maximum Carnage was undoubtedly their best game. I remember the Terminator 2 game, their WWF games, the surfing game, and that Friday the 13th game.

When I was a kid, I never really thought of how bad their games were. I was just a little guy, enjoying Nintendo.

Benjanime Posted on Sep 21, 2022 at 06:25 AM

to be fair, at least their toys were worth it. i just can't say the same for their video games with how cheap they felt. friday the 13th used to scare me, now it just bores the heck out of me with that ridiculous map layout. jaws was, okay, but not a game i'd sit through either. i think the last LJN related game i ever played was maximum carnage on the SNES, for some reason i could never get past that wall crawling level.

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