I was two things as a kid: spoiled and nerdy. I didn’t just have Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dino riders, GI Joes, and a Super Nintendo (nerdy!); I had tubs and tubs of them (spoiled!). But in 1991, on a chilly November night, I plopped myself in front of the TV for some Inspector Gadget and, in a commercial, saw the realization of every dream my toy-obsessed young brain ever had. His name was My Pal 2, and I needed to have him.
When I brought My Pal 2 up during an editorial meeting, my soulless colleagues here at Digital Trends didn’t have the faintest idea what I was talking about. Now that I’ve shown them, they won’t stop making fun of me, so allow me to explain: My Pal 2 was an interactive robot made by Toy Biz in 1991 that talked, (kinda) walked, and featured a number of interactive games, like “Simon Says.” There’s no record of a My Pal 1, presumably because My Pal development resulted in such a remarkably awesome robot that “1” wouldn’t do it justice. But My Pal 2 was more than just a robot; I had a lot of friends as a kid (real ones! I swear!), but they weren’t “Pals.” At least, that was my expert assessment after watching this commercial.
Like I said, I was a nerd, but it’s important to remember that robots sort of dominated kid culture at the time. We had Transformers and GoBots, and we were still playing with the most popular robots of them all: R2-D2 and C-3PO. When Rocky was all rich and famous and wanted to buy his annoying son the coolest toy in the world in Rocky IV, what did he buy him? A walking, talking, sassy robot named “SICO.” For a kid in 1991, My Pal 2 was the closest we were coming to SICO.
Sure, My Pal 2 could spit out a few phrases, but dollmakers began placing phonograph mechanisms in their products as far back as the late 1800s, and My Pal 2 was no “doll” anyway. A “doll” didn’t light up and ask you if you wanted to play. A “doll” didn’t handle a ball like Michael Jordan and throw it like Joe Montana. How many “dolls” would let you play a game of ring toss onto their head? Five years before “Elmo-mania” swept the nation and adults started stampeding on each other’s crotches to snag one, My Pal 2 had his very own secret spot you could tickle to make him laugh. My Pal 2 had a nightlight (not that I needed one. Just throwing it out there). My Pal 2 could guard you door and bark like a dog if anyone walked by. This thing was alive!
In the weeks building up to Christmas, I was relentless in my pursuit of this marvel. And what I mean by that is I whined constantly to my parents. Turns out, it worked (spoiled!). Come Christmas morning, My Pal 2 was waiting for me beneath the tree. It also turned out my expert analysis of the commercial was slightly over-enthusiastic. It couldn’t handle a ball like Jordan or throw like Montana, and that tickling, in retrospect, was a little creepy. But when it barked? My cat was terrified.
These days, if you replaced a kid’s tablet or smartphone with a My Pal 2, you might as well hand them a cup-and-ball. Hell, you might as well hand them a piece of cardboard. But even if you had traveled back in time with a brand new iPhone 5 and tried to make a trade with me, I would have bitten your ankles until you gave me back My Pal 2.