You can blame my friend Sean for inspiring tonight’s Showcase. Good or bad is up to you though. Ask most 80s kids about Lazer Tag and they’ll tell you it was awesome! And probably forgetting they misspelled “laser”. The initial set came with a belt, the sensor, and the greatest laser gun toy ever, the Starlite. Use the Starlite to score points on the Star Sensor; 6 hits and it’s over. Additionally you could get a vest to hold the sensor instead of the belt, as well as a hat or helmet with its own sensor. These didn’t look like toys. Kids looked like they were playing with daddy’s futuristic combat gear. Even the ads were these huge future combat scenarios with competitors in serious battle.
And then there was Photon.
Oh sure, the game was supposedly more interactive, and Enertech created “Photon Training Centers”, a mock combat arena that is still used to this day (we even have a couple “Laser Challenge” game areas here in Connecticut even though we never had an official Photon center that I know of). But the things LOOK like toys. The helmet looks cheap on its own, never mind compared to Lazer Tag’s Starhelmet. You can see how weak the Photon’s gun looks compared to the Starlite in this very advertisement. It’s no wonder Lazer Tag is the game everyone remembers.
But just as Lazer Tag had a TV show, the NBC Saturday Morning cartoon Lazer Tag Academy, Photon also tried to use TV to promote its game. However, they went syndicated, and live-action…using a couch-cushion budget that featured miniature set pieces and so much blue screen you’d think the wall ran on Windows. (There’s an extra pun there I didn’t intend. Sorry.) It won’t be a surprise to kids TV fans that the budget was this low when you learn DIC Entertainment was behind it. Right up to the end their live-action shows were so cheap that if you saw a high-quality one they probably only distributed it for another production company. Look at Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad and Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters From Beverly Hills, the other sci-fi action shows they produced. The former had Japanese stock footage to play with, and they still only had three sets…one of which was a darkened bedroom where all you saw were the villain, a computer, and a scanner! DIC made some good cartoons, but lousy live-action shows.
So did Photon do a decent job working around their weak budget? Kinda?