2012's hottest toy trend: Nostalgia

@CNNMoney February 16, 2012: 11:22 AM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- It may be 2012, but the toy industry is starting to look a lot like it did a generation or two ago.

A resurgence of classic toys from the 1960s, '70s and '80s, including Easy Bake Oven, My Little Pony, Hot Wheels and G.I. Joe are outshining some of their most high-tech counterparts, including last year's robotic pets.

Now the Big Wheel is set to stage a comeback.

The well-loved tricycle is being re-launched this summer by Kids Only, a division of Jakks Pacific (JAKK), and it's already getting a lot of buzz.

Aside from the price -- the Big Wheel will cost $30 to $50 depending on the size, up from the $20 it cost back in the 1970s -- nearly nothing has changed about the ride-on toy that took over sidewalks after it was first introduced in 1969. (Currently, the few available Big Wheels fetch up to $100 on secondary market sites like eBay.)

"It has the same colors, same look -- it's the exact same toy," said Ron Cohen, president of Kids Only.

After remaining relatively strong during the recession, toy sales started to slip last year. U.S. retail sales of toys generated $21.2 billion in 2011, down 2% from $21.7 billion in 2010, according to market research firm NPD Group.

As a result, toy makers are sticking with safe bets like brand extensions of toys that have performed well in the past, said toy analyst Christopher Byrne. To that end, combining a classic toy, like the Big Wheel, with an accessible price point is considered a recipe for success.

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In the last few years, number 2 toy maker Hasbro (HAS) has had great success tapping into this trend by bringing back such favorites as the Easy Bake Oven, Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony.

Easy Bake Oven, in the classic 60's style, came in 2007 followed by the return of a slimmed down Strawberry Shortcake in 2009.

My Little Pony, which was originally introduced in 1983, was re-launched twice in the past decade -- once in 2003 and again in 2010. More than 100 million of the colorful little ponies have been sold worldwide since 2003, making it Hasbro's strongest performing girls brand in the U.S. last year.

Another toy icon, Mr. Potato Head, is going to turn 60 this year and Hasbro is marking the special occasion with two anniversary-edition spuds. Otherwise, the mix-and-match toy remains largely the same as it has always been -- for a reason. To date, Mr Potato Head has sold more than 100 million toys in more than 30 markets around the world, according to Hasbro.

"[These toys] fare well because they continue to be relevant," said Adrienne Appell, spokeswoman for the Toy Industry Association. Plus, "parents don't want their children playing with just high-tech products, the iconic toys balance out the toy box."

Other classic toys, like Barbie and Hot Wheels, both by number 1 toy maker Mattel (MAT, Fortune 500), have consistently been among the toy industry's best sellers. In 2011, Barbie's sales reached $2.7 billion and $1.1 billion worth of Hot Wheels were sold world wide. That far exceeds Mattel's newest hot toy, Monster High, which notched $425 million in sales last year.

But not all old toys are without a 21st century twist. "There's a definite advantage to having that cross-generational relevance," said Margaux Vega, spokeswoman for Mattel. Although, "we incorporate technology to keep things relevant," she added.

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This year, Mattel will debut its latest Barbie with a built-in camera that stores up to 100 pictures and retails for $49.99. That doll will be available in August. And the 2012 version of Hot Wheels "Power Tower" wall tracks has a moving elevator and other battery-operated parts for $44.99.

G.I. Joe, Spider-Man and the Avengers figurines are also getting a makeover this year, as well as a supped up version of 1967's Battleship, all from Hasbro and tied to the upcoming releases of major motion pictures.

In addition, Playmates Toys is re-releasing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures in conjunction with a new television show on Nickelodeon.  To top of page

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