Saturday, April 16, 2016
Top 5 Worst Transformers Rip-Offs – Saturday Morning Weirdness
Some Robots Should Stay in Disguise
I gave much of my childhood and my parents’ money over to Hasbro’s Transformers toys, which were vehicles, weapons and electronics that turned into plausible robot models after articulating the correct joints and hinges. At best, these toys could be considered interesting puzzles, something akin to a Rubik’s Cube except with a decidedly cooler end result than uniformly-colored sides of a cube. In reality, they were a nearly ceaseless stream of collectibles that constituted a complete wallet drain for any poor sucker endeavoring to purchase the love of a child. Yet as insipid as Transformers were, there were even worse pretenders to the throne, and we’re going to look at the five best examples of these shitty toys right now!
Imagine the thrill of an industrial dumpster changing into a robot, and you’ve imagined the enigmatic and very stupid Mysterians. Produced by Marchon, Inc., the Mysterians were geometric shapes, reminiscent of skyscrapers and change machines, that could turn into dubious-looking robots. Perhaps the strangest thing about the Mysterians is that they had no supporting network cartoon or comic book, at least that I can remember. I suppose that since the robotic forms of these toys looked more like maintenance droids cut from the first Star Wars movie, there wasn’t much of a story to tell about them.
Many people around my age have fond memories of M.A.S.K.—that’s Mobile Armored Strike Kommand, to the uninitiated—but that’s because they don’t remember how shitty and disappointing the actual toys were. The idea here, “where illusion is the ultimate weapon,” is the members of M.A.S.K. would drive around in innocuous-looking vehicles that could sprout artillery and/or fly at the push of a button. The problem is that if you have to choose between your Lamborghini turning into an awesome robot or sprouting a couple of machine guns from its headlights, you’re going to pick the robot every time. Additionally, many of the transformed versions of these vehicles were a bit suspect, for instance the hatchback that could take flight when both of its gullwing doors were opened. While firing rockets through the windshield of a classic car is probably great fun in real life, for fantasy play I prefer gigantic mechs do the heavy lifting.
There isn’t much information out there about the Convertors, but everyone had at least one in their collection—probably provided by a well-meaning aunt or broke grandmother who thought she was getting the right thing. She wasn’t. These were the toys that the Go-Bots looked down on, and the Go-Bots were considered trash. Poorly-made with transformation puzzles that were unchallenging to the point of being insulting, Convertors missed the point of this fad entirely by having unconvincing animals and vehicles transform into less convincing robots. Though the parent company Select gets some points for sporting not one, but two exotic birds that transformed into automatons.
2. Computer Warriors
This toy set falls a bit outside of the transforming robot category, but it is so wrong-headed in terms of what kids think is cool that I had to include it. The idea was that miniature evil aliens or something hid in everyday household objects, waiting for the perfect opportunity to infect our computers. So the, uh, computers spit out miniature beings of their own to combat them. The reality of this Mattel toy line was that boring shit like pencil sharpeners and alarm clocks would unfold to reveal weaponry and gadgets, and little figurines to operate them. Computer Warriors reached its internal and cultural peak with the Pepsi can, not only a cross-corporate marketing coup but also an early indicator to budding potheads that you can stash your drugs in everyday household objects, too.
1. Rock Lords
One major problem with designing a transforming toy is that you’ve got to come up with a decent robot design that can collapse into a reasonable facsimile of the disguise it is trying to emulate. Tonka’s Rock Lords, a spinoff of their Go-Bots line, did away with this conundrum by having them transform from robots to boulders, and then confused things by having some of the boulders be solid gold or cast in weird colors that aren’t found in regular geology. The transforming aspect to most of these toys was a joke, but I take real offense at the fact that these toys were clearly designed by people that hate children. “Kids like robots that turn into shit, huh? Well give ‘em robots that turn into fucking rocks. Kids like playing with rocks, right? Now get the hell out of my office, you know I’m stinking drunk after 2 PM.” The lack of care and attention given to designing and making Rock Lords contrasts conversely with the fact that the first and only Go-Bots feature film hinges around their introduction. Tonka must have felt like if they could get the little buggers to buy robotic rocks, they’d be printing their own money.