Although Transformers production had ceased in the US in 1990, culminating in the poorly recieved Action Masters line, sales were holding up well accross Japan and Europe. Whilst Japan concentrated on creating their own unique continutiy in the form of Headmasters, Masterforce, Victory and Zone, their latest effort Operation: Combination seemed to flounder. This line introduced the combining Micromasters (Six Liner, Six Wing, Six Turbo and Six Build) along with repaints of Bruticus and Defensor (Battle Gaea and Guard City, respectively) and 'vs' packs containing the European Predators and Turbomasters.
In the UK and Europe, however, we got a far more substantial line up of toys - nearly all of which were exclusive to the European market. In some ways, this made up for us losing out on the likes of Swoop, Perceptor and Shockwave. One of the key reasons that sales in Europe remained steady was due in no small part to the re-releasing of toys from the original 1984 - 1987 lines. Dubbed 'Classics', this line saw reissues of many characters no longer in production. Key Autobot favourites like Optimus Prime, Jazz and Prowl were made available again in spiffy gold boxes in 1990. Of these figures, Prowl is of particular interest as the toy comes with his Diaclone label sheet rather than the later Transformers issue. The following year saw the re-release of the 1986 merge groups, plus the Autobot and Decepticon Triple Changers and the Throttlebots. With these reissues, much of the die cast was removed from the figures - particularly amongst the merge groups (although the harder to find Arielbots retain their metal parts).
To bulk up the range, Hasbro UK mixed in new Action Masters (which proved more popular in our market than the US) and in 1991 added the fearsome Decepticon Overlord (from Masterforce, although the Powermaster engines Giga and Mega were simply named as 'Energon Mini Figures') plus repaints of the Autobot Road Ceasar team (Gripper, Lightspeed and Flame in Europe minus their combinig ability) from Victory. This deliberate sourcing of exclusive product to maintain interest in the line would step up a gear the following year. Especially as Hasbro UK were now in a position of having to generate their own product to fulfill demand, as there were no new imports to source from the US. Spurred on by the success of Japan's own market specific lines, Hasbro UK set about devising a new generation of Transformers exclusive to Europe.
1992: THE LOVE ALBUM
With Hasbro US focusing its attention elsewhere, Hasbro UK were keen to develop a new line. There were a few hurdles to overcome first though! At that time, International laws saw Hasbro UK as a distinct entity to its US parent, despite the overall control lying with Hasbro's offices in the States. This meant that Hasbro UK had to ask the parent company for permission each time a trademark of Hasbro was used. This understandably cost a lot of time and money to do with every single character they released. So during the run of the 1992 line, the decision was made to make cosmetic changes and alter the Autobot and Decepticon symbols to the ones we are familar with from Generation 2.
The first wave of figures saw the Turbomasters defend Earth from the rise of the Decepticon Predators following the return of the main Autobot forces to Cybertron. These new Decepticons were lead by the imposing Skyquake, the largest figure in the line. The Predators unique selling point (as well as suprisingly powerful missile launchers), was that each of the Deluxe Predator Jets could link up with the larger Stalker and Skyquake to reveal a battle scene showing their opponent (the Autobot Turbomasters) in the crosshairs. One of these depictions shows a more Prime-like version of the Autobot Turbomaster Thunderclash. This design will be familiar to owners of the Japanese Generations book, based as it is, on the unproduced 'Hyperdrive' figure design. Quite why this was left in is a mystery, suggesting that Thunderclash could indeed have been intended to be another version of Optimus Prime.
At a lower price point were the New Constructicons. These figures were never made available in the UK in their original form, although some imports made it to the UK during 1991 but were not widely available. Unlike the original releases, these new 1992 figures had changes made to their molds - most notably on Hook, Bonecrusher and Scavenger- that prevented them forming Devastator. They were packed only with their handheld weapons, on cards that showed all six figures on the front and contained the pictorial instructions for all six on the reverse (presumably as a cost cutting measure). These releases can be told apart from their later Generation 2 release as they contain grey plastic parts and no pre-printed logos on the figures.
Standing against the Constructicons were the four Autobot Rescue force vehicles. These were repaints of four of the figures from the Victory Breastforce merge group that made up Lio Kaiser. Again, like the Constructicons, these lacked the ability to combine into a larger robot and came with new weapon accessories in place of their Breastforce partners. They also had artwork depicting all four Rescue Force characters on the pack and came with construction style labels - some of which could not be applied as the instructions indicated. As with the Constructicons, none of these characters had individual names or tech specs.
All of these first wave figures utilised the original Autobot/ Decepticon faction symbols and carried on the tradition of the clip and save 'Robot Points', although these could not be used in the UK. Whilst exclusive to the UK and Europe, in 1997 Kenner (who developed Beast Wars for Hasbro) took the molds for Skyquake, Thunderclash, Rotorstorm and Stalker , heavily retooled and repainted them and released them as part of their Machine Wars line. These new versions had none of the gimmicks of their original 1992 release owing to the stricter safety standards of the time.
The second wave of figures, released in early 1993, were again a gimmick heavy line and sported the flashy, new faction logos on their packaging. All of these figures, from Basic to Ultra assortments (to use Beast Wars parlance), contained individual character artwork and bios, plus extensive use of light piping which allowed the robots eyes to glow when placed near a source of light. We also got colour changing vehicles (Stormtroopers and Aquaspeeders) and the intriguing Trakkons and Lightformers who had 'laser' targeting weapons platforms. The daddies of the line were Pyro, the Autobot commander (a futuristic fire truck) and the deadly Decepticon General Clench who featured a unique and satisfying transformation and a row of unbroken tens on its tech spec. Both these figures were obliterators and featured barrage-firing missile launchers. Pyro, unfortunately, is made with that dreadful gold plastic that came to the fore in the late 1980s figures. This plastic is poorly mixed and prone to crumbling and breaks very easily.
As with the previous wave of figures, Hasbro UK had gone to great lenghts to incorporate any gimmickry into the design of their figures. Of particular note was having the weapons become integral parts of the vehicle mode - most noticable on the basic assortment Axelerators and Skyscorchers. This meant there was less chance of parts being lost during play and was a design innovation that was carried through to Generation 2, Beast Wars and beyond. They also kept the line true to its core premise of robots becoming vehicles, jets and machinery - something that had been lost in the latter years of the 1980s. The line also featured some excellent design work, incorporating circuit-board imagery and a new Transformers logo.
The success of this line did not go unnoticed by Hasbro US. In 1993, they brought many of these new characters and their faction logos to the US as Transformers Generation 2. Sadly though, this line did not have a happy life and was cancelled in early 1995 - eighteen months after it launched. It would take Beast Wars and its radical reinterpretation of the Transformers to revive the brand's fortunes.
Simon Hall, Shipley, West Yorkshire - with thanks to Jelze Goldrabbit and Raymond T.