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As kids' Christmas lists start rolling in, parents are likely to see some familiar names hearkening back to their own childhood.
Once-popular toys—including Pound Puppies, Care Bears, and Lite-Brite—are back on store shelves this holiday season. Not only that, but they're making hot holiday toy lists: Kmart called out figures from Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as well as the newest version of retro electronic memory game Simon (called Simon Swipe), while review site TTPM.com included reboots of 90s hits like Puppy Surprise.
It's a calculated choice for toymakers and retailers, analysts say. "You get a giant head start," said Jim Silver, chief executive of TTPM.com. Compared with a new toy, there's less investment, he said. Companies already have the equipment and specs to manufacture the toy, and strategies to promote it.
Stores, meanwhile, have some sense of that toy's performance from the first go-round, an important factor to keep product moving during the holiday shopping season, said Gerrick Johnson, a toy industry analyst for BMO Capital Markets. "Retailers want more product that they know is going to be safe," he said.
Resurrecting once-popular brands is a pretty safe bet. "You're able to pull at the heartstrings of parents, who are the ones actually purchasing the toys," said Jamie Katz, an equity analyst for Morningstar covering toy brands including Mattel and Hasbro. A toy they remember—better still, one they owned and loved—may shoot to the top of the shopping list, regardless of where it falls on the child's wish list.
Read MoreWal-Mart's hot holiday toy picks
In fact, although retro toys pop up in any given year, it's the age of the parents that's a big determination in which toys make a comeback. This season, it's older millennial parents (those who were kids in the late 80s and early 90s) who are likely to encounter that Ghost of Christmas Past. "I think Hasbro does a pretty nice job of connecting the cycles of what new parents recall from when they were kids," Katz said.
But make no mistake: These toys are retro in name only. Most have seen major upgrades from their initial versions.
Littlest Pet Shop, for example, now lets kids unlock virtual games with their collectible pet figurines, and adopt more virtual pets in an app. Some of the new Transformers toys transform in one step, based on parents' feedback that multi-step changes were tricky for kids, Hasbro told CNBC earlier this year. Several, including the reinvented Tamagotchi (a handheld digital pet) and Simon Swipe, take advantage of technological improvements, Silver said. "Simon was just pressing buttons," he said. "Now it's a lot more sophisticated."
Better get your nostalgia fix now, though. Retros hold may be waning.
Throwback brands tend to be more prominent in years when the economy isn't good, and toymakers are less willing to take risks, Johnson said.
"It's something that, in the past couple of years, has been a little less of an influence in toys," he told CNBC on Wednesday, from the floor of the Toy Industry Association's Fall Toy Preview in Dallas. Toymakers there are already previewing their hoped-for 2015 hits, featuring incorporated robotics and other bells and whistles.
"People are finally feeling more confident about dusting off new ideas,"Johnson said.