I'd gotten several requests to do this one, and since it's a much more important plaything than most people realize, it seemed like a good time to dust off the ol' "Petster" and show the world his many tricks. One of the best side entrees from the "Teddy Ruxpin era," Axlon released the robot kitty in 1985 with a steep retail price justified by some seriously high-tech capabilities for an 80s toy. Picture a super-sized Furby with wheels, and that's Petster in a nutshell.

Though it might seem like another Ruxpin rip-off, Axlon actually had a hand in creating both items. The company's frontman was no stranger to robotics -- Axlon fashioned tons of 'em, of all kinds, and even a few used for home video game systems and computers. Petster was in good hands. The toy wasn't a mere stop-and-go creature; aside from all the usual remote-controlled and sound-operated movements, Petster was equipped with a sensor that let him stroll along, safely "exploring" without hitting into any walls or kiddie feet. It might not seem like a big deal now, especially after we've seen hundreds of toys that could pull off similar feats. Well, this thing was the prototype -- there's been tons of electronically enhanced wonders to hit store shelves patterned directly after Petster, and had the cat not set precedent for robots affordable enough for a kid to receive on their birthday, the long-lasting fad might've never come to be. If you've ever enjoyed a cute little robot toy, you owe Petster some thanks.

That said, it wasn't an exceedingly popular item. It cost a lot, and at the time, the market was becoming saturated with oodles of competition in the "robots for sale" department. Because the technology was relatively new, at least for these ends, all of those sorts of toys came with preclusive price tags. Strange as it sounds...if Petster was just hitting the stores now, he'd probably cost less than he did back in '85. Plenty of children owned the things, but this wasn't the kind of gift you received for raking the lawn or acing a book report. This was strict winter holiday/birthday present fare only. It was up to the particular child if they wanted to blow their "big gift" wad on a fuzzy robot cat, but hey, to each his own.

The commercial spots were adequate, but they didn't really play up Petster as the insanely elite superpower he needed to be to justify that immense price. A bunch of kids fondled the cat, and though we caught some glimpses of the toy in action, nothing screamed out for a parent to part with a hundred bucks over it. Children who took the risk of spending their birthday wish on this thing were rewarded with an unexpectedly fun monster who was the next best thing to owning a living pet. Let's meet the cat of the hour...

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Petster arrived in a huge cardboard cat carrier. Give Axlon a little credit for not serving up some overpriced plastic version to make you spend more dough. While most toy packaging ends up in the trash, Petster wasn't something you wanted to leave out in the open. Robot toys have a nasty habit of breaking easily, no matter how bulky and durable they seem. Besides, who would ever want to throw away a cardboard cat carrier? Petster peers through a clear window in the front, smiling contentedly cause he knows he's too damn cute for anyone to keep in that box too long. See, most toys don't know it when they're cute. I told you -- this freak was high-tech.

Its official name is "Petster Deluxe;" I assume "deluxe" is toy carny for "forty bucks extra." Furthermore, there's no "official" Petster -- even the cat wasn't a sole proprietor. There was a doggy version of the toy, though it looked more like a tiny dog who swallowed a big cat and thus became shaped like his meal. (pic) The "Petster" line didn't end there, either -- there was everything from dinosaur to penguin varieties, and for the truly devoted completist, a Petster goldfish. The kitty seems to have been the only one who enjoyed any notable success, but it was good to know that your pet had a family out there somewhere.

And there he is. Petster. It's absolutely huge, too. Around seventeen inches long, nine inches tall, and fatter than any real cat I've ever seen. The more recent crop of these kinds of toys are usually much smaller, so Petster seems all the more impressive. Included was a remote control that attached to his collar by a wire, though he worked just fine without it if you clapped at him loud enough. When you turn it on, Petster's eyes shine with the glow of two green LED lights, creating a pleasant yet eerie appearance and possibly instilling a sense that the toy was haunted. For whatever reason, the fur on mine smells like a box of Christmas decorations just pulled down from an attic after five years of dormancy. Tough to describe that smell, but most of you should know what I'm talking about. It's a good smell. It's the smell that fills you with holiday cheer.

His sound-operated functions are the best testimonial to Petster's capabilities, but I prefer the remote control. Rolling on its powerful wheels, you could guide the kitty with precision past almost any obstacle. This wasn't one of those stupid electro-toys that only worked on a linoleum floor -- Petster rolls just as well on carpets, and can even pull himself over small lifts on a good day. To make the toy feel more special, three additional LED lights illuminate his collar. As he rolls over the horizon, Petster will sporadically belt out assorted beeps and strange sounds meant to represent "purring." That's all fine and dandy -- the thing that's really selling me on this is the fact that, technically, I'm driving a cat.

Petster's underside contains both his wheels and battery compartment -- the bitch takes six "D" batteries. Six! I can't remember ever owning anything else that needed six of the monster-sized batteries, and once you get past the amount of money needed to make Petster come to life, you realize just how powerful the thing must've actually been. Can't cars run on six "D" batteries?

Obviously, the cat's weight increases dramatically once it's armed with the needed alkaline. Kids always seem to like their toys more when they have to struggle to lift 'em, though I'm not ruling out the possibility that I just made that up to fill a paragraph. Petster also speaks French and knows the batting average of anyone who's ever played for the Kansas City Royals. Additionally, he holds the Olympic record for pole vaulting. I love writing articles about obscure robot cats. Nobody's going to actually read this one; I can say whatever I want.

My favorite "Batman" movie is "Batman Returns." Not because I didn't like Nicholson's "Joker," and not because the future sequels sucked so much. "Batman Returns" is my favorite "Batman" movie because it's the only "Batman" movie featuring a scene where Alfred bitches at a newspaper vendor. Also, and this is just a theory -- wouldn't it be perfectly safe and fine to eat your own shit? I mean, it was already inside you, what harm could it cause? Red rhymes with dead and shed.

While Petster was a good consolation prize for kids who weren't allowed to have real pets, he's actually a lot more fun in the company of live animals. Our cats became curious and irritated as soon as we turned him on, alternating between running away, hissing, and cleaning clumps of urine-drenched cat litter from their paws. Petster was persistent in the chase, and since cats are pretty stupid when you get right down to it, they had no idea that I was the true controller of this robot beast who stalked them. Foolishly, they all hid behind me for sanctity -- a poor move, as it only gave me an open shot to glide Petster right into their terrible little cat faces. As I conjured up every bad cat-related memory I could, running the gamut from clawed furniture to broken lamps, Petster's movements seemed more speedy and erratic. He tasted blood, and he wanted more. Who was I to deny?

The toy's true potential is only unleashed after you take off his leash. The remote control works great, but Petster is infinitely more interesting without it. If you clap at him loud enough, he'll obey commands and perform all sorts of tricks. Certain clap formations will cause him to do something that closely resembles the moonwalk. Petster will fall asleep and purr if left alone for a while, but when awake, he'll even respond to your incessant chatter with assorted conversational beeps.

It's here where Axlon etched their spot in history -- these Petster toys are still collected and highly regarded by robot enthusiasts, who share an appreciation of how intricately constructed the beasts were, especially for their time. They were the first of their kind, and set the template for almost twenty years worth of similar playthings. As an added coup, anyone who weighed less than two pounds could've easily used the cat as a transport device. As things stood now, at least you could make it deliver secret notes to the other side of the living room.

To understand the many nuances of your robot cat, Petster arrived with a 23-page owner's manual/training guide. It might not have been the first book a seven-year-old ever read, but it was probably the longest. The book is absolutely insane -- I can't make any sense of it. It's filled with caricatures of little kids and Petster fondling each other and strolling around parks, occasionally explaining his functions using nothing but dots and tiny star-shaped graphics. According to the manual, Petster could even play freeze tag. Seriously. Other games Petster was allegedly capable of playing included golf, championship golf, bowling (?!), fetch, and something called "obstacle course." Whatever -- I just wanted to see the thing roll around and run over my real cats, and for those ends, I was satisfied.

Follow the link below to view the original commercial, which was likely Petster's only appearance on television. Most people have never been on television, and I think I speak for the majority when I voice my disappointment at being far less known than a twenty-year-old robot cat who may or may not play championship golf.

As mentioned, Petster toys weren't limited only to cats. Here's a few of the others...

Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure I had the Petster "Hamster" as a kid. The "Spider" version seems a little more interesting, if only because, you know, it's a robot spider. The "Dog" was a smaller version of the one I talked about earlier, though at least it actually looks something like a dog this time around. None of the variations shown above could do anywhere near as much as the "deluxe" cat version, but if a parent didn't feel like spending forty-thousand dollars on their kid's Christmas present, they were terrific alternatives.

These days, the original "Petster" can fetch up to a hundred bucks on the collector's market; less if he's without his cardboard carrier. The hamster, spider, and other smaller versions are probably the toughest finds -- I haven't seen them offered in years. Is Petster worth the cash? Depends on how much you want a robot cat who plays golf and makes purring sounds like the drumbeat on a cheap Casio keyboard. I leave it up to you.

Petster is a bad kitty! We just bought that couch!!! What a bad cat!!!! Hey how did he get up there??
Petster loves to hide under tables. Petster also loves eating with his cousins, "Marla" and "Marla 2." (not pictured: "Marla 3")
AWWWWW THAT'S the cutest thing I've EVER seen! Go cats, it's your birthdays, go cats! Petster loves playing the "Tetris" board game, too. We're glad someone does!

- Matt (11/19/03)



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