Games time forgot: 2-XL

Who says a videogame needs to be on a TV? Or played with a controller? Or have graphics?

2-XL may have been technically marketed as a toy, but it was really a de facto game console: each available 2-XL cassette tape included different themes, questions, and storylines, all based around the central idea of having the player answer multiple-choice questions.

Yes, 2-XL was (ugh) educational in nature: kids could load a cassette into 2-XL’s adorable little robot chest, and sit enraptured as he taught and tested them on a wide range of subjects, from sports to science. In essence, 2-XL was an interactive, less creepy version of Teddy Ruxpin.

I had a 2-XL as a child, and I loved the hell out of it. Join me after the jump as I awkwardly channel some sense of nostalgia for this toy/videogame which played such an important part in my upbringing.

It could get weird.

Story:

The Tiger 2-XL was actually a remake of an identically-named toy from the 70’s. The toys were basically similar in every respect, save for the fact that (A) the original 2-XL used 8-tracks instead of cassette tapes, (B) the old one looked boxy where the new one looked sleek, and (C) I owned the new one but didn’t know of its predecessor’s existence until five minutes ago when I typed “2-XL” into Wikipedia.

Essentially, 2-XL was devleoped as an educational toy for kids who could teach varied facts and concepts in a fun, accessible way. Why read a geography book when you can learn about the countries from a friggin’ robot?

Gameplay:

I’m not 100% positive on how the 2-XL technology actually works, but I know that each tape included roughly a dozen questions hidden on both sides of the tape. The player’s answers determined where the tape would fast-forward or reverse to next; answer correctly, and the tape keeps playing forward as 2-XL congratulates you. Answer incorrectly, and the tape might rewind a bit to get to 2-XL’s different reaction. Or something.

Either way, 2-XL talked and functioned like a living being depsite his simplistic mechanics. He talked directly to the player, personally praising or lamenting the player’s abilities. In between questions, he might tell a personal story or an unrelated anecdote; as a reward for answering several questions correctly, he might even tell the player a corny joke (which he would then laugh hysterically at, of course). His eyes and mouth lit up everytime he talked, and his simplistic design kept him lovable, without falling straight into the uncanny valley like Teddy Ruxpin did.

In terms of actual interaction, the 2-XL couldn’t have been simpler. Put in a tape, start him up, and listen to the instructions: after he asks a question, the player is instructed to press one of four buttons on the robot’s base to answer. Given this rather straightforward user interface, 2-XL only asked true/false and multiple choice questions — but hell, what else would you expect from a kid’s toy?

Tiger manufactured around 50 2-XL tapes, each with a different topic. I can’t remember how many I had, but I recall owning Jurassic Facts, Incredible Sports Feats, and a few others. At the beginning of the toy’s run, these educational trivia tapes were the only available programs for 2-XL.

Later on, Tiger evidently decided that learning was for nerds and switched gears to adventure stories; instead of choosing correct trivia answers with 2-XL, players could choose which door Wolverine and Cyclops should go through in an X-Men adventure, or which building Peter Parker should jump to in a Spider-Man adventure. The interactivity remained, but the learning went out the window. Kind of a bummer.

Why you’re not playing it:

Probably — and this is just a hunch — because you’re not somehow stuck in the mid-90’s while surfing the Internet through a time vortex. Tiger stopped manufacturing 2-XL tapes sometime after 1995, and the toy has since faded into nostalgic obscurity. Personally, I lost mine; my family may have lost it during a move, or sold it, or given it to some needy, lazy friend of my mother’s who couldn’t be arsed to hire a babysitter.

I’ve got memories, though: boy, do I have memories. I remember the way he pronounced “question” always made me laugh (“and now, ques-CHOHN three!”); the robotic noise he made to mask the sound of the player rewinding or fast-forwarding to a new section; heck, I even remember how the raised 2-XL logo on the door to his tape-deck-slash-chest-cavity felt.*

I don’t believe I ever bought any of the licensed adventure tapes, but I assume they probably wouldn’t have had the character of the trivia games; as fun as it might be to play through a Batman-themed Choose Your Own Adventure book using 2-XL’s futuristic chassis, I imagine it wouldn’t have retained the innocent, educational charm which 2-XL’s own tapes frequently delivered.

It’d be dishonest to say I learned a lot from 2-XL, but I’ve certainly retained some of the information he taught me: before he mentioned it, I had no idea that the Earth’s ecosystem would totally fall apart if all the insects in the world died. I didn’t know about Babe Ruth’s home run record until I tried out the 2-XL sports tape. Perhaps I would have learned these things on my own anyway, but there’s no denying the entertainment value of deriving a significant amount of your childhood education and entertainment from a two-foot tall robot.

*Awkward.

Anthony Burch