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RETRO REVIEW: GoBots

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For our first Throwback Thursday retro review, I’m going to take you all the way back to 1985. It’s the year where two of the top three songs were performed by Wham!, WrestleMania debuted, and Back to the Future debuted. It’s also the year where you’d be able to fire up your console television and watch Challenge of the GoBots.

Youngsters nowadays likely look at GoBots and think they were some cheap corner store rip-off of Transformers. Not so! Both GoBots and Transformers started in Japan in the 80’s - GoBots by Bandai and Transformers by Takara. They both came over to the US in 1984 - GoBots from Tonka and Transformers from Hasbro.

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Most kids fell into either the pro-Transformer or pro-GoBot group. It was basically the two political party system for male children in the 1980’s. And while I had a handful of GoBots, Transformers were my preferred robots in disguise. GoBots always felt like the red-headed stepchild. And it wasn’t an unusual occurrence to see young GoBot children standing alone against the wall during recess.

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Both lines featured robots that transformed into vehicles and back again. The majority of Transformers were fairly intricate figures. There was a lot of twisting and turning and you might have even had to read – eek – instructions! The GoBots felt a little held back by their simplicity. Their robot form looked entirely too vehicle-y with a little head and a big body.

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Take, for instance, the GoBot I was able to snag off of eBay. Named Stallion, he’s an “Enemy Robot Sports Car”. Whatever marketing genius dreamt that up was just appealing to kids’ inquisitive minds and their love of a good backstory. In six moves, as shown on the back of the packaging, he’s transformed.

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Part of the problem was that, in general, GoBots were much smaller than Transformers. They were in the same scale as Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars. And that’s what we didn’t get! Kids didn’t realize that these were the real robots in disguise. You could hide them right alongside your Matchbox car and only the eagle-eyed kids from “Gifted Class” would be able to tell the difference. Heck…Stallion even has rubbery tires on those wheels. That’s some high–class stuff right there.

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It’s unfortunate that GoBots petered out by 1987. Transformers had taken over the market. Though, looking back, I can see why. The Decepticons weren’t the “Enemy Robot” and they weren’t constrained by transforming into vehicles. Megatron was a toy gun. Soundwave was a fake microcassette recorder with little cassettes that turned into badass animals. Then the Dinobots came along and transformed from a robot to entirely less conspicuous extinct metal dinosaurs.

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So how does the toy hold up to today’s standards? For likely sitting in a box for the past 30 years, it’s in pretty good shape. You can transform it back and forth without worry of the plastic breaking apart. It feels like a new toy. 

Alas…it’s likely that we’ll never see these GoBots reproduced like we have with various other toy lines from the 1980’s. Hasbro acquired Tonka back in 1991 and they got the names and storylines of the GoBots characters, but the toys and likenesses are still owned by Bandai.

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