Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ode to GoBots


With the emergence of every great toy comes the inevitable pretenders that try to weasel in on the original’s superiority. Most of these come and go with a whimper but every now and then, a challenger rises to give the champion a worthy go at it. Among these were the GoBots, the red ribbon winners to The Transformers in the robot/vehicle combo toy wars of the 1980s.

Released in 1984, were actually a re-release by popular Japanese toymaker Tonk of their Machine Robo series. Like The Transformers that quickly followed them, GoBots were divided into two classes, “Friendly” and “Enemy.” With the launch of the animated series Challenge Of The Gobots shortly after the release of the toys, the designations were changed to “Guardians” and “Renegades.” The story began on the war torn planet of Gobotron. A disgruntled Guardian named Cy-Kill rebelled with a group of followers and formed the domination-bent Renegades to usurp power and threaten the freedom of the planet. But quick to thwart the Renegades were the leftover Guardians, led by the gallant Leader-1. The show picks up the story in the midst of this great conflict as the GoBots have taken the fight to planet Earth.

GoBots predated the show, largely to build its hype. The sheer number of GoBots that hit the market was staggering. Each robot was typically three to four inches tall and made of die-cast metal and plastic. And of course, just like The Transformers, GoBots alternated between robot and vehicle form. Hoods buckled, trunks split apart and flipped over themselves, heads emerged from exposed consoles, all to make machine into metallic man.

Unlike Transformers, GoBots came with no distinction – no heat sensitive decal – to help discern who fought for which side. The packaging was labeled, but once the toy was out of the box, you either had to wing it or tune in to the show and become an authority. Among the more recognizable GoBots were the aforementioned Leader-1, a jet fighter, and the despotic Cy-Kill, who, as his name suggests, turned into a vicious looking motorcycle. Aiding Leader-1 was the crimson sports car Turbo, while helicopter menace Kop-Tur did Cy-Kill’s bidding. Eventually, GoBots began to change in size and function. The Renegades brought forth Zod, the rolling, rearing, roaring robot dinosaur. Soon enough, Power Warriors also joined the Renegade ranks, foot high robots built out of smaller ones. Various spin-off merchandise came out such as books, toy guns, bedsheets, and the popular GoBots transformable walkie-talkies. New toy lines came out such as Power Suits and Secret Raiders. Because of their compact size and affordability, GoBots experienced noteworthy success until 1986 when they gambled on GoBots: Battle Of The Rock Lords, an animated feature whose box office and merchandise (robots that transformed into rocks) bombed.

While the show only lasted three years, GoBots made an admirable run at the Transformers throne with a deft combination of affordability and accessibility. Fans today still collect them, for while GoBots may not have been the champion, they were still a winner.

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