MY FAVORITE Z-BOTS
By Jonathan Wojcik
Having recently reviewed loads of Mega Man X bosses, I have no further excuses to leave robots and mechanoids out of Bogleech.com, and today I share with you what was, in fact, my very favorite line of toys for the very longest period of my childhood, a line of toys that, despite years of success, never made enough of a splash to see much of anything in the way of comic books, cartoons, games or any lasting nostalgia.
More importantly, kid-me completely ignored their hero and villain designations in favor of crafting completely new, original stories, and we're going to talk a lot about that as I review my favorites.
Having long lost most of my original, huge collection, all images are being borrowed from The Micro Machines Museum, a fansite that has miraculously remained the same since almost the 1990's internet.
We'll start with what's probably one of the single coolest of all Z-bots and one that I actually do still own, a robot whose body is also his head and evokes a giant, alien brain. He's one of the only things in the whole series with any organic-looking details, and I always loved his little suction-cup mouth, giving him a real octopus-like vibe. Each of his arms also has two points of articulation, because they can twist up and down but the big, red hooks also bend side to side, like a pair of pincers! You may also notice that his right pincer limb includes an additional, rotating saw-like weapon, a detail that wasn't at all necessary but feels like it adds so much.
One of the designated "evil" robots - which is about all the storyline we ever get - it's obvious this guy is supposed to crack open other robots and suck out their own "brains," or something along those lines, but I kind of flip-flopped between making him the leader of the villain robots and the leader of the hero robots. In both cases he was as fearless and charismatic as he was insidiously brilliant, an almost wizard-like figure who could hack into electronics from a distance, which of course, in robot terms, is just plain psychic power.
I guess without even realizing it, I kind of thought of Brainiax as a robotic Mind Flayer.
This was the Series II robot they advertised the hardest, and certainly a memorable little bastard. Another that's just a big head with limbs, you can see that Nastee has jaws like a shark, but what this photo doesn't show off is that he has a second mouth for a right arm. Together with his menacing, thin green eyes, red mohawk and color scheme, I don't need to tell you he was supposed to be a bad guy, and there were even times I made him the lead bad guy in opposition to Brainiax's heroic stint, but later, he evolved into a completely unaffiliated, lawless robot raider who pretty much sounded and acted like the Tasmanian Devil.
Yes, this robot's name is SUCKOID, and somehow, it never ever crossed my mind how hilarious that was, nor did I ever think it was stupidly cheap of them to just replace his legs with a generic, standard, clear suction cup you can buy at a hardware store. No, there was instead a time when I thought Suckoid was AWESOME, and so awesome in fact that, once I decided Nastee was a force of chaos and Brainiax an evil genius, Suckoid was the main "good guy" robot.
I do not know what made me think he was leader material. The superhero color scheme? The shiny blue visor? I definitely like how his two different arms just end in two different weird metal horns and his face looks like a pilot's oxygen mask, but the fact that he just has a big rubber suction cup and no legs is difficult to justify. I wish I could say I was clever enough to interpret him as hovering leglessly, the sucker just a symbolic stand-in for an antigravitational field that allows him to go up walls and dangle from ceilings, but no...I just plain had him "hop" from place to place by suckering to the ground, then yanking himself off, and I still thought that was badass and exactly the robot whose job should be to thwart a megalomaniac who is 80% brain with scimitars for arms. I'm sorry, Suckoid. Wait, I mean COMMANDER Suckoid. Sorry again!
This was one of the few Series I bots I got my hands on back in the day, since for some reason the original series barely appeared in toy stores where I lived before the second rolled out.
Armetor was long one of my favorites, however. I have always been a sucker for "walker" type robots (and, for that matter, organic designs) with two long legs supporting a compact body, and I especially loved that cute, tiny little head on top, which was difficult to get a grip on with your fingers but still articulated to turn, regardless, as was the cannon slung underneath its body.
As menacing as Armetor looks, it was actually much shorter than most other Z-bots, which I also found appealing. The designers must have liked it a lot, too, since they repainted as no less than three other characters including a predominantly white one, a hot pink one packed with a vehicle and a desert camouflage military version.
From day one, I liked to think that this particular model of robot was a rare, antique war machine still widely feared for its incredible firepower and impenetrable armor - that other robots tremble with terror when this adorable thing waddles out onto the battlefield.
I was really into that "cute but scary" thing, it seems, because I amped it up even more for this little guy. Actually the very shortest figure, Beedy's rounded body and darling name made it feel like it should have been somebody's bumbly little sidekick, but Beedy's gun arms, gun eyes, gun "ears," rugged grey colors and villain designation told a different story.
So, what kind of role did I end up giving little roly-poly Beedy? Intergalactic Bounty Hunter, what else? The child of Boba Fett and R2-D2, a small but ruthless little bastard who manages to survive just about everything thrown its way and just keeps coming until the job is done. Though you couldn't literally do so with the figure, I remember pretending that Beedy could retract into a perfect sphere and just sort of bounce around.
So you can surely guess that this was one of my top favorites. Worpex was probably meant to evoke a mosquito, but without obvious wings, it felt more like a menacing weevil-like beetle or even an assassin bug to me, and whatever the case, there's obviously no way this wasn't a robot that drained the energy or fuel from other robots. It even had a color variant called Squitoid and another called Lunar-tick, and of course I had all three, but there was something about Worpex's black and white motif that appealed to me the most.
It goes without saying that I thought this line of robots could transmit "computer viruses," and maybe even use them to take over the minds of their victims, so they were basically a kind of robot-insect-vampire, and gave other robots the robot equivalent of the creeps. So much so, nobody really liked having to work with them whatever side they might be on, but being shunned and feared was just fine by them and always worked to their advantage.
Just look at this thing! It has tiny legs, oversized arms, claws like a sloth, a midsection that actually resembles guts, and fanged, monstrous head that's actually broken, one entire side of it missing its outer casing! Cy-fang is clearly not a robot in its full working order, or perhaps even a robot that was meant to exist at all. I liked to think it was a junkyard-dwelling scavenger, the robot equivalent of a "mutant" or even "ghoul" and just wanted to be left in peace, eating scrap metal and protecting other broken machines. The "Z" on this figure's chest actually does mean it was meant to be one of the virtuous, heroic robots, so they weren't always typecast by appearance.
A great thing I figured out later was that all Z-bots were held together by a single screw and that their arms and legs had the same sized pegs no matter the size of the rest of the limb, and Cyfang was, of course, perfect for mixing and matching body parts with other robots. At some point I believe I even wound up with one of Cyfang's color variations, and I replaced Cyfang's little legs with another set of clawed arms, making it even more like a sloth.
A great thing about the Z-bots was that they had no single aesthetic style, so you really felt like these were machines from all across time and space, like this 1950's-looking antique. It's funny how real robots already completely skipped over any period of looking like this, but perhaps Fusor was just a nostalgic at piece intended to evoke obsolete science fiction designs? If I'd thought that hard about it back then, I'd have probably made him a big nerd.
Instead, I took Fusor at face value as a very, very, very old robot, with a much more mechanical mind than other Z-bots, and of course one of the inhabitants of Cyfang's scrapyard world. You may notice the little ram head symbol, which you may have figured out by now is the series villain symbol, and it is pretty interesting that they thought this clunker was scary enough for an evil empire called, incidentally, the "VOIDS."
By the way, Fusor, amazing processing power you're displaying there for us.
So what role CAN'T this one have played?? A goofy, fanged robot skeleton with an axe and an eyepatch can be virtually anything. They apparently expected Bonz to be a hero, which is very cool, but surely Bonz would at least be a hero of the anti variety, or at least a really wild, reckless sort of hero. I don't think I ever settled on one thing for my Bonz to be; he looked great as one of the junkyard guys I'd invented, but he also worked as a sadistically violent bounty hunter, a chaotic pirate captain, a Zorro-like vigilante do-gooder, a Skeletor-like bumbling overlord, a tough but stupid henchman, and eventually even the new heroic leader after I decided that poor Suckoid just didn't cut it anymore.
How does a guy with a suction cup for a butt compete with a cybernetic skeleton pirate?? As soon as Bonz walked through the front door, Suckoid may as well have just looked him up and down, put a little hat on, picked up a little suitcase and thanked everybody for giving him a good run.
The odd thing about Traktar is that it was introduced in the same series that featured "transforming vehicle" Z-bots, but it wasn't actually categorized as one of them. I guess they wound up with one extra design they still wanted to keep, and before you say "he doesn't really transform, he just falls on his face," that is LITERALLY what most of the transformations were, or less:
Don't strain yourself TOO much, Krayniak.
I really loved Traktar, though, because its face was just those bulging amphibian-looking eyes on either side of a tire. The result almost has a cicada-like vibe, to me, and I liked to think of Traktar as another "cute" one, a real friendly little transport robot who couldn't even talk, but could get really scrappy defending its friends.
Tragically, Traktar had a seat on its back, but very few Z-bots had legs both sized and spaced properly for actually riding on it.
This is a weird one, and not because it has a third leg sticking straight out of its crotch. No, Toze is a weird one because, as a little boy growing up in the 90's, cartoons taught me that all main hero teams needed to have at least one (but typically only one) designated Girl Character, who was also usually a love interest.
I do not know what possessed my child mind to choose Toze in particular as the Sexy Lady Z-bot, but that's what I did. Toze was a girl robot and many many other robots wanted in on that, but if she wasn't into it, like really really not into it, she shot them because her hands were machine guns.
Oddly enough, this robot even came in a bright pink variation, but I guess I hadn't succumbed that hard to cartoon cliche's. In fact, I remember thinking Toze's pastel seafoam green was a really cool color, to the point that I wanted that to be the color of my room when we finally moved into a real house. My mom insisted it would be "pukey" and that I'd get sick of it, so I got stuck with boring old white drywall. I still don't really think I'd have come to hate a Toze-colored room.
The reason I show two very different robots here is that, originally, Tiddo and Shleppy had the design you see on the left, in different colors, an obvious knockoff of a Star Wars Astromech droid. I don't know if they were asked to change it or they just decided they could do better, because eventually, both Tiddo and Shleppy were rereleased with the model you see on the right. It's still the same "cylinder with legs," but with so many new details added on that it's virtually unrecognizable.
TIDDO and SHLEPPY
What stood out to me immediately, however, was the jagged line just under their heads, which simply does not read as anything other than sharp, metal teeth, so I couldn't help but think of these two as metal-eating trash disposal robots.
It's a shame this robot wasn't literally themed around barnacles, but it was the very last major line that introduced thematic "teams" that included some sea monster robots, and this vicious-looking mechanical fish person remains one of its most memorable additions. You have to love that it has a set of jaws in its waist!
But...are those really what they look like?
...TWO suction cups!?
It's a good thing Commander Suckoid already retired before he could see this. I think he would have had an existential meltdown.
This was a military repaint of an older Z-bot, but it was the only version I had, and I thought it was really cool at the time. There was just something I loved about the big turbine body, the doofy little airplane-nose head, and the lanky arms that actually form airplane wings when straightened. It wasn't one of the "transforming" characters, but it more or less had a simple, elegant "flight mode" gimmick, and the whole design had such a vintage robot feel that I not only decided Tomahawk was another "older model," but, of course, a grandfatherly old war veteran, an obsolete pilot (of himself, I guess) that now taught other robots how to survive in their post-human world.
Towards the end of Z-bots run, they tried to entice more buyers by adding a "MINI-Z" to every package as a free bonus. These were actually a selection of Series I character designs scaled down to incredibly small size, like this shrunken version of the Shleppy line. I didn't care much about most of the Mini-Z's, but I remember really liking that my "trash-eating" robots were among them, so naturally I imagined this version to be a swarming little pest that would try to pick apart other robots for recycling.
The only other "Mini-Z" I came to care about was this tiny version of a jetplane-like robot I was otherwise indifferent to in its full size form. I don't know why, but I decided its tinier version should actually be not only the main villain's right-hand man, but disproportionately dangerous and conniving. I actually never watched the original Transformers, but what I'd accidentally done here was rip off the character Starscream, from his personality to his plane motif, only the Starscream of my Z-bots world was also one foot tall.
I desperately wanted to like this one more than I did. It was a cephalopod-themed Z-bot named SLYMME, for pete's sake, but alas...the design always felt just too plain to me, and the awkward way the tentacles were held out to the sides was a real bummer. They could have at least been splayed out like a couple of windmills, but no, SLYMME was doomed to an eternal T-pose that just didn't look or feel quite right in any situation. I include Slymme here in the off chance anyone into Z-bots asks me why I didn't, so, now you know why I hypothetically might not have if you didn't already make me self conscious about it in a future I've already now averted. NICE GOING.
Speaking of Z-bots I should have liked more than I did, you may have noticed at the top of the page that there were such a thing as "BITEBOTS," whose entire bodies could pop open into beastly jaws! It was a really awesome gimmick for any kind of robot and a very fun way to give these small figures an impressive action feature, but for whatever reason, none of the Bitebots ever stood out to me that well as designs...except perhaps for Gripjawz, despite being one of the very plainest and simplest of them.
I think this is quite simply because, at rest, Gripjawz looks like a friendly, cheerful yellow dinosaur with a big, bright smile before it tears itself open into a mouth complete with warty, red tongue. None of the other Bitebots really felt like they had as surprising a contrast, as much personality or any particular reason to be Bitebots, and I don't even know if the smiley demeanor was completely intentional, but it stayed with me, and I liked to think this was another resident of the "Junkyard" where robots go when they just were not meant to be that way.
As an extension of Series II, we eventually got a special line of toys known as the "Linkbots," robot trios who could stick together to form what kind of resembled a new, different machine and totally not just those three robots lying on top of each other. These photos for whatever reason do not actually show the third member forming the front claws of the complete monstrosity, which, trust me, made it at least 5% more impressive.
The robot's names also "linked together," but the way they chose to split that up was even more bizarre than the robots themselves. I mean, you might think they would call these three Buzz, Kutt, and Er, right? No. These are Buz, Zku, and Tter, thank you very much!
This particular version was actually given out in fast food kid's meals, but it's the version I include because I really liked its psychedelic colors, and specifically, I really liked Tter. I never played with all three together, but imagined Tter as a sort of digital, holographic bug-critter Z-bot.
This was probably the linkbot squad that worked the very best. The three component robots worked well enough on their own and all looked pretty cool in their own ways, while the final helicopter looked like a helicopter. The name worked a little better, too, with the three robots known as N-tor, Cept, and just 3. I guess they added the "3" entirely so that could work.
Obviously I liked this set primarily for N-Tor. It doesn't show here, but you were actually meant to stand it up on two of the bladed, and there's a weird little head (to the right) with a face like a pair of binoculars. Neat looking, but I much preferred to pretend the yellow dome in the center was the actual head, and that this was N-tor's natural arrangement like some sort of flying, bladed robot starfish. I think I may have cast it as a security drone that hunted down intruders and chopped them into bits.
There's no good photo of how this one links together, but the packaging artwork gives you a good enough idea. It was a pretty cool vehicle with tank treads, clawed limbs and a gun on top, yes, but I really just include it here because it brought us the single most unfortunate being in the entire line, for multiple reasons. Say hello to the robot simply known as "OO:"
...And say goodbye, because I think I'm about wrapped up on reviewing Linkbots, much like OO should be wrapped up to prevent the spread of diseases.
How cool is that head?! It's a robot with a bunch of pink, worm-like eye stalks! I interpreted the pink marking below it as an additional visor, but I'm wondering now if it wasn't meant to be the "mouth." The rest of Eyeze unfortunately doesn't really mesh well with the predominantly pink head, and I think I would have opted for shades of blue and purple on the body. I like that it was painted to look "damaged" though, too, that's a pretty unique detail for this line!
I never had a personality or powers in mind for Eyze, and remember kind of treating it as a minor enemy goon, which I now regret. I think I'll rectify that now, decades later, and decide that Eyze should have been prime material for the "Kooky Doctor" Z-bot who knows how to repair other robots, but really wants to be experimenting on them and trying to "improve" them.
This was another model that I originally missed out on from the earliest figure waves, but when I saw their tiny, tiny images on the back of a package, I misinterpreted them as ostrich-shaped robots with their heads slung down on long "necks," which I instantly wanted more than I had ever wanted any material object in my life up to that point. Unfortunately, there wasn't such a thing as Ebay yet, I never saw Z-bots in second-hand stores and nobody else I knew had ever gotten a Monicon or Blastor either. I thought I'd never even see one at all until, one day, years after series one had ceased production, a bunch of leftovers just suddenly appeared on the shelves of my local toy store - including BOTH these weirdos - and I freaking FLIPPED.
MONICON and BLASTOR
Even though they were not, in fact, long-necked robot birds, I actually wound up liking them even more than I thought I would. Their guns now read to me as "trunks," making them look like weird robot anteater heads or even giant gas masks with legs, and I loved how their eyes were set in those little domes. Having waited what felt like aeons (two entire years!) to get my hands on either of them, I wanted them to be the absolute scariest, deadliest Z-bots of all; bots that even the notorious Beedy would have balked at having to face down.
And yet...I cannot for the life of me remember what kind of story or powers I actually gave these two. I hate to say it might not have even been anything more clever than just very, very powerful rayguns, and that is such a disservice to how unique a design they have. I'm going to make up for this one, too, and official declare that their guns actually beam computer viruses long-distance, making them essentially "poison-breathing" robots. I feel like that works both with Monicon's wasp-like colors and Blastor's swampier palette.
And now you know we're at the end, because I always try to end on my single #1 favorite thing in a given series, and you should know just by looking that nothing could ever possibly surpass this one for me. This was actually a Z-bot given out exclusively in Burger King Kid's Club Meals, and I was RABID to get this one the second I saw it advertised. Not only was it one of my beloved "roundish things with legs," but a truly monstrous design with piranha-like teeth, snail-like eyes, backwards-pointing knees and even a row of overlapping scales down its back, which you can't see here, but which made the whole thing feel that much more bug-like.
I eventually ate enough chicken tenders to end up with not just one, but FIVE Jawbreakers, and the rest pretty much wrote itself: this wasn't a unique robot at all, but an entire "species" of animalistic mechanical creatures. I decided, of course, that they must eat metal to survive and replicate, they they drooled acid, that they hunted in swarms, and of course that they could leap like a bunch of giant, hungry metal fleas.
Sometimes, I cast them as a type of "wild animal," something robots had to be wary of if they were to venture through the wastelands of mars or future earth or wherever the heck things were staged, but other times, I thought their very arrival should be its own epic event, invading from the depths of space like a plague of world-eating alien locusts.
Somewhere in the back of my head, I had actually planned on doing this post since the very beginning of my website...but somehow, it wound up taking me almost twenty years to get around to it, and I still wound up with much, much more to say about these silly little plastic robots than I ever expected. Please remember to check out almost every other Z-bot over at The Micro Machines Museum!