Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The 1984 Ideal Toy Fair catalog starring Robo Force PART 2: Assortment 48076-The Robocruiser and Dred Crawler!

Robo Force was structured more like traditional action figure line instead of a robot figure line like Transformers or GoBots. This meant the Robo Force figures were the core of the line and would exist entirely at the entry level price point while the more expensive items would be vehicles and playsets. This is the way most non-robot action figure assortments like He-Man or G.I. Joe were structured in the 80s, with the mid and high level price point items being extensions of the brand the figures could interact with. Transformers and GoBots were able to circumvent this pattern by initially just offering larger robots to fit the various pricing tiers. The downside was that when they did experiment with vehicles and playsets, the robots were in so many different size classes that not all of them interacted well with the other toys. But from day one Robo Force had the action figure advantage where all of the figures were guaranteed to work well with the playsets because there were no scale conflicts. In order to fill the mid and high price points, Ideal just made bigger and bigger Robo Force vehicles. And for only five bucks more than a figure you could get the least expensive vehicles in the Robo Force line-the Robocruiser and Dred Crawler.

Robo Force Vehicle Assortment
No. 48076

Robo Force Robocruiser

This "good guy" robot action vehicle features a unique air activation system: insert the special "Air Bot" activator into the nozzle on the vehicle, squeeze, and the vehicle starts to move! Air is the secret. The "Air Bot" pumps up a balloon that makes the motor start and the periscope rise, indicating the fuel status. There's a working robot transport lift that picks up robots plus laser swivel cannons and more. The vehicle accepts all Robo Force Action Robot Figures. 2 "AA" batteries required (not included)
For ages 4 years and up.

Pack: 12pcs. Wgt: 1.4 lbs. Cube: 6.2
Robo Force Dred Crawler

The enemies of the Robo Force attack in this motorized action vehicle, which features a unique air activation system: insert the special "Air Bot" activator into the nozzle on the vehicle, squeeze, and the vehicle starts to move! Air is the secret. The "Air Bot" pumps up a balloon that makes the motor start and the periscope rise, indicating the fuel status. There's a working pincer attack clawand laser swivel cannons. Accepts all Robo Force Action Robot Figures. 2 "AA" batteries required (not included).
For ages 4 years and up.

Pack: 12pcs. Wgt: 1.4 lbs. Cube: 6.2

Although the Dred Crawler and Robo Cruiser were designed to hold any Robo Force figure, the Toy Fair catalog and packaging would depict them being piloted by the leaders of the respective Robo Force factions, Max Steele and Hun-Dred. The color schemes of the vehicles compliment those two figures so well that I wonder if they were not designed with these drivers specifically in mind. On a minor note, once again what we get with the vehicle descriptions in the Toy Fair catalog is only a vague allusion to robot war, with one side described as the "good guys" and the other their enemies. But what was not vague was the exciting description of the vehicles' propulsion systems-a bizarre combination of pump action and battery powered motorization. I really like the idea of a starting mechanism different from the traditional on/off switch other battery powered toys had. And although the Dred Crawler and Robocruiser had the same propulsion system they were two totally different designs, with the Crawler being the more sleek and low to the ground of the two. I am so sorely tempted to get myself a Dred Crawler off eBay just to figure out the specifics of how the propulsion system works because it sounds so fascinating. It is both ridiculous and brilliant how Ideal combined the concepts of air power and electricity within a theme of advanced robotic technology.


The Air Bots struck me as very similar to the Astromech Droid concept from Star Wars, except in Robo Force they actually contributed something important to the function of the vehicle toys beyond just sitting in them. You actually needed the Air Bot to start the toy. If you look closely at the catalog pictures you may notice that the Air Bots differed greatly in design from the actual production versions. You can see the final production versions in the excerpt above I've scanned from a Robo Force promo ad that appeared in Robo Force magazine. (Check out the entire ad here.) Although they're the same design used in both vehicles just colored differently, the prototype Air Bots shown in the Toy Fair catalog have a much more bloated look to them. Strangely enough both Air Bot variations appeared in the Robo Force books, with the pack-in comic "Showdown in Space" using the final production version and the prototype showing up on the Dred Crawler being piloted by Hun-Dred on the cover of "The Maxx Steele Trap". Although they appeared by default whenever a Robocruiser or Dred Crawler was shown in a Robo Force book, the Air Bots didn't get much characterization. "Showdown in Space" is the only instance of the Air Bots being featured on their own outside of a vehicle in any Robo Force book or comic I've ever found, with the Air Bot from the Robocruiser piloted by Wrecker even getting some speaking lines!


Actually even the Robocruiser isn't used much in the Robo Force fiction beyond very brief appearances. While the Robocruiser may have dominated when it came to newspaper ad appearances, by far the most common of these two vehicles in the Robo Force media was the Dred Crawler. Dred Crawlers are constantly featured in almost every Robo Force book. They're the main mode of transportation of Hun-Dred and his crew and consequently they're seen almost every time the bad guys show up. It's almost as if there were a concerted effort to push the Dred Crawler over the Robo Crusier in the advertising materials. I don't know why this would be necessary given that I think the Dred Crawler is the cooler looking of the two. Ideal may have felt that the bad guys wouldn't sell as well as the good guys, or maybe it was just that with the addition of the Command Patroller the good guys had more vehicles and less space to devote to each of them. Whatever the reason, there is a definite imbalance between the frequency of Dred Crawler vs. Robocruiser in the Robo Force fiction, with the bias totally in favor of showcasing the Dred Crawler. In "Showdown in Space" Wrecker even pilots a Dred Crawler after his Robocrusier is blown up!

Playworld 11/15/84
Playworld 12/02/84
Playworld 11/14/85

Perhaps the biggest advantage to Robo Force being based on completely original sci-fi robot designs is that its vehicles couldn't be criticized as being out of scale with the rest of the line. Oftentimes with toys like Star Wars' AT-AT or the Millennium Falcon compromises had to be made to fit the figures while still making the vehicles in a compact scale so proportions would look a bit off. But with Robo Force there is no preordained idea of scale, proportion or what the vehicle was supposed to look like, so everything looked right! I don't think the GoBots ever reached this level of figure/vehicle integration with their Sky Hawk and Power Suits, and the Transformers wouldn't come close until they became more traditional action figures with their Action Master line over 5 years later. But until then it was Robo Force that would find the perfect balance between action figure and toy robot line, melding perfectly the sci-fi robot with a variety of accessories and environments to interact with. Although Robo Force may have gotten laughed at for being robots that couldn't turn into vehicles at a time when everybody else was doing it, they had at least one advantage. The difference between Robo Force and Transformers is when Maxx Steele's car dies he has it fixed. When Sam Witwicky's car dies he has a funeral.

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