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Official Article

GoBots Merchandise Revisited


Let’s face it, GoBots never had the staying power of their fellow transforming robot vehicle competitors The Transformers. From box art, to robot design, cartoon adaptation and catch phrases (Robots In Disguise/More Than Meets The Eye), Optimus Prime’s Cybertronian cohorts were just cooler. But despite the common misconception, GoBots was not a mere imitator, simply hopping on the Transformers bandwagon to cash in. The truth is, Leader-1 and the GoBotronians debuted weeks before the Transformers in toy aisles and on TV.

Tonka seemingly did everything right with GoBots, releasing toys at multiple price points, with Hanna-Barbera to create stories and characters, even licensing plenty of tie-in merchandise not directly related to the toy line. So today, let’s look back at some of the non-robot products that carried the GoBots name in our local drug stores.

Gumball Machine Coin Bank

I don’t know about you, but nothing was cooler to my 4 year old self than gumball machines. The idea of bringing one home always appealed to me, but I was usually imagining one of the standard red metal and glass globe models on a stand. Admittedly, this was way cooler. Not only were you getting a gumball dispenser, but a bank and a toy all in one!  

The other plus was that if a kid’s fascination with GoBots faded as they got older, they could easily leave the dispenser in jet mode while playing “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins on their stereo and live that Top Gun life. The only poor production choice I feel is selling the thing with the gumballs pre-loaded. Likely stored in a humid garage for years, this machine has melted gumballs in the bottom, yuck!

GoBots Camera

Unlike the previous item, this licensed GoBots camera does not transform into a “Mighty Robot”. It’s just a camera with some stickers on it. While it may have been fun to take some pictures of your GoBots toys assembled on the floor of your bedroom, it’s kind of a letdown. But maybe they were banking on children being excited to have, “A real camera just like mommy’s and daddy’s”.

My solution as a child would definitely have been to build a robot body out of Construx and then rubber band this camera to the top as a head. "Film-Bot" would have been a hit for me at playtime. I wonder if he would hang out with Fearless Photog from the Masters of the Universe create a character contest?

School Supplies

Kids were always looking for a way to bring toys to school and what better way than a pencil sharpener in the shape of a transforming robot jet. Granted it didn’t actually change into the jet, but it was still way more fun than walking up to the crank handle sharpener bolted above a trashcan in the classroom. For some reason though I imagine teachers having a problem with your pencil pouch boldly displaying the word “KILL” on it. It feels like something you would have to cover up with a scratch n’ sniff sticker of a pickle to avoid a call to your parents.

Pinball Game

“Rack Toys” like this pinball game were usually 2nd tier amusements reserved for moments of desperation on a family road trip. You were sick of playing license plate bingo, so at the next gas station you begged your parents for this GoBots Pinball Game and a pack of Big League Chew. One thing I’ll say about this game is that you better have your pencil and paper ready to keep score. Just look at all the math you had to do with plus and negative score slots. You could legitimately convince your parents this was an education tool to keep your mind sharp on vacation. Seriously…math is hard.

Racing Game

Here’s another handheld bit of fun to pull off the peg at the local pharmacy. In the days before Game Boy or even Tiger Electronics handhelds, this was the low cost option to play games on the go. Apparently the object of the game is steering a generic robot through space while moving the paper beneath by turning the knob on the left with your thumb. Talk about hand eye coordination, this is like rubbing your stomach and patting your head, real deal multi-tasking!

And look, more math! You start with 10 points then deduct 1 point every time you go off the “orbit path”. Of course you were on the honor system in the back seat of the family station wagon or in the dentist’s office waiting room, so who was really keeping tabs? You could declare yourself a GoBots  Racing Game champion without any fear of reprisal. But how could you live with yourself?

Nestle Quik Giveaway and Poster

If you read comic books in the mid-80’s you no doubt saw this ad for the Nestle Quik Challenge of the Gobots giveaway. The single tone coloring on the robots is way off, but it was still a striking bit of advertising for the time. While most kids were competing for a chance to win a complete set of GoBots by buying their can of Quik, one of 250,000 other prizes was this GoBots poster. Apparently Tonka didn’t have the most skilled artist in their marketing department, because the perspective on this artwork is all over the place.

Just look at that tiny jet blasting the larger than life Leader-1’s forearm at the top or the imitation AT-AT command center at the bottom which is supposed to be a vehicle that the individual GoBots can fit inside, but Cy-Kill’s foot is almost as large as the entire vehicle. While we’re on the subject, putting Cy-Kill front and center also calls quite a bit of attention to the fact that this villain had the absolute worst transformation design of any toy in the line. What is up with carrying the motorcycle wheels on his back? Clunky, not classy.

Collegeville Halloween Costume

Now this is pretty neat, a classic 1980’s Halloween costume from Collegeville. I’m not gonna lie, as a child of the 80’s, seeing the word “retarded” on the front of the box makes me giggle. Shouldn’t it read “Flame Retardant”? Anyway, the futuristic grid graphics on the box are great, and I love how they just put drawings of the toys on the top, which are being obstructed by the many price tags that show just how neglected the costume was in October 1984. Would you pay $5.49? Nope. How about $2.74? Still too pricey. Fine, $1.37 final offer. Sold!

Of course the real magic is hiding within, as we get a look at the plastic smock with Leader-1 printed on it, which comprised the “costume”. Really, this is just a full body bib. Why Collegeville never marketed their costume overstock throughout the rest of the year with that kind of gimmick is beyond me. The mask isn’t anything special either, it ends up looking more like the dumpy cousin of the MASK logo. Ah well, as long as you walked home with 20 fun size 3 Musketeers bars, who cared if your costume was goofy lookin’?

Leader-1 Friendly GoBot Set

But why restrict your dress-up time to October 31st, when you could play GoBots all year long with the Leader-1 Friendly GoBot Set! There’s so much to unpack here, so let’s get to it. First off, the set includes 2 “Arm Protectors” which following the Halloween costume protocol, have stickers featuring the toys affixed to them. Which is absolutely necessary in this case, because besides the paint job, there is absolutely no resemblance to Leader-1. If anything, the helmet makes you look more like Sark, the villain from TRON (Google it, I’m not wrong).

Next let’s look at the 2 example photos of how to play with the set once you combine these pieces with the GoBots Medallion. You can be a Mighty Robot by wearing your best yellow polo shirt and raising one fist to the sky, while bending your other at the elbow, an articulation which none of the GoBots had. Or most hilarious of all, convert yourself into a Mighty Vehicle, by jutting your arms behind your back and bending over like a doofus so your older brother could give you a swift kick in the pants.

Now to be fair, the Transformers dress-up kits that I covered in this article a while back weren’t much better at duplicating the robot look of the toys in costume form, yet this is still somehow worse. But hey, this kid flexing his arms looks pretty happy, so who am I to judge from behind my computer screen 30+ years in the future?

So that’s it for this exploration of GoBots merchandise, but if you’ve still got a soft spot in your heart for GoBots you’ll definitely want to check out the Valentine’s Day Special episode of RD’s Retro Detention over on the RetroDaze YouTube channel. Our resident troublemaker gets all of these items gifted to him by a secret admirer and hilarity ensues. So check out that video and all the other wacky episodes in the series at this link.

Vaporman87 and I are having a blast creating the retro world of RD, Hamato and Dutch on a monthly basis and invite you to join our over 1,000 subscribers to the channel as we continue to present the continuing nostalgic adventures throughout this next year. See you there!

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Vaporman87 Posted on Feb 07, 2020 at 04:13 PM

I truly believe the world needs to be better flame retarded. I mean, just look at all the wildfires we have. We should be holding signs in protest that read, "Retard the World!"

But in all seriousness, having held some of these items in my hands, I can say that Tonka sure gave it their best effort in an attempt to compete with Transformers, but in the end GoBots was just missing that special something that isn't always capable of being pinpointed. I had some of the figures myself, and I did play with them, but it just wasn't the same.

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