Go-Bots vs Transformers: My small-town perspective

Internet pal Rob O’Hara posted a photo of a whatzit antique mall find earlier this week. I knew I’d seen it before, and I knew some of my friends had it, but its identity escaped me. The answer got me thinking about Go-Bots vs Transformers.

A commenter identified it as a Go-Bots command center. I seem to recall it doubled as a carrying case as well. Go-Bots, if you missed that particular month of the 1980s, were transforming toys, like Transformers, that transformed from robots to vehicles. I was in third or fourth grade when they arrived in the small town where I was living, an hour south of St. Louis. They were made by Tonka, a mighty toy company, but they were a flash in the pan.

Go-Bots arrived first, or at least they did in our town. The rival Transformers, which everyone remembers better now, were made by Hasbro.

They were immensely popular. All the popular boys in my class had them, and bringing them to school and sharing them at recess seems, looking back, to have been the key to them staying at the top of the social ladder. It took a lot to steal our attention away from Star Wars. But Go-Bots briefly managed to do it, and we were still only a year or 18 months removed from Return of the Jedi.

But a couple of months later, Transformers invaded town. At first everyone just called them Go-Bots too, kind of like how we called Hot WheelsMatchbox cars,” but by Christmas, Transformers had overtaken them in popularity. Go-Bots hung on for a time, partly because they cost less. But the popular kids quickly moved on to Transformers.

As some of Rob’s commenters pointed out, the Go-Bots were superior in some ways, but the Transformers line was more extensive, as well as more expensive. Go-Bots never caught back on, in spite of both of them having an after-school cartoon, and being sold side-by-side in most stores. There was a full-length movie made about both of them too, but that’s news to me. Everyone saw the 1980s Transformers movie. I didn’t know until five minutes ago that there was a Go-Bots movie.

To get beyond the limited selection at Wal-Mart and Ben Franklin, you pretty much had to come to St. Louis. A couple of the kids would come up to St. Louis on toy-buying expeditions a couple of times a month; they had a lot of characters the rest of us just couldn’t get.

I never owned any Go-Bots, though I owned a few Transformers. I was never the first kid in my class to have anything, not that I feel traumatized by it today.

If you’ve ever used or heard the expression “those are so last week,” it seems to me that in 1984, Go-Bots were the epitome of that. I think Tonka just wasn’t as good at marketing as Hasbro. Transformers became a toy aisle staple. Go-Bots were a passing fad, kind of like Rubik’s Cubes and Swatch watches.

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