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Puzzler

GoBots
by yo go re

Transformers fans tend to look on the GoBots with scorn and derision, laughing about how inferior the Tonka/Bandai toys are. Today, we hope to prove them wrong.

In the battle over Earth, the Renegades enlist the aid of a secret GoBotron recruit - Puzzler. Made up of six unusual GoBots, Puzzler pieces turn from robot to vehicle, and each possess a specific mighty skill. When their powers combine, they become a formidable force. However, Puzzler has one weakness - and the Guardians have discovered it. Should even one Piece be unable to join with the others, the mighty strength will fade away. Each piece must then rely on his own specific skill to survive. The Guardians must keep Puzzler from piecing together. The fate of the Earth depends on it!

That's right, kids, it's a GoBot combiner. Released in 1985, Puzzler was a contemporary of the Transformers' famous Devastator, but since he was relegated to the GoBots Ghetto, he's almost unknown today. Hell, I have a nigh encyclopedic knowledge of my toys, and I didn't even remember Puzzler existed, let alone remember that I owned him, until a random search in the basement before Christmas brought the truth to light. Each of Puzzler's pieces gets a suitable name: they're all named after types of puzzles. Of course, this was the franchise that gave us Cy-Kill and Cop-Tur, so these things are frickin' Shakespeare by comparison.

We'll start with Crossword, the orange Porsche 930T. Now, there's only one car that looks good in orange, and that's the General Lee. A classy Porsche? Not so much. The car is a little more than 3½" long, and features real rolling wheels. Like most of the GoBots (and Transformers, for that matter) of that era, it has real rubber tires, and the chromed wheels spin freely. The windows are black, but the headlights are chromed. There are obvious seams all over the car, but no kibble.

Turning Crossword into a robot is very simple, but that's not unusual for the era. The GoBots had already done one Porsche by this point - Baron Von Joy - but this robot is entirely unlike him. The rear pulls back and splits to be legs, the arms spread out from under the doors, and a panel in the hood flips around to reveal the face.

The design really isn't too great, but it's not substantially worse than "real" Transformers were at the time. He's got a wee little head, painted silver but not chromed. He moves at the shoulders and waist, all swivels, but if you want him to bnd over to look at something on the ground, he can. In robot mode, Crossword stands 4" tall, and according to the box has "the crushing strength of six GoBots."

The fans praised Transformers as being new and innovative when it made the police car a Decepticon, but our next figure, Jig Saw, had blazed that trail 22 years prior. He's a Toyota Celica XX, done in black and white, with lights on the roof. The light bar is silver, but the lights themselves are red. His headlights and tail lights are translucent orange, and the car is 3¾" from front to back.

Jig Saw's conversion is even simpler than Crossword's: the rear flips over to become legs, and the arms pull out of the sides and rotate into position. No flipping faces, nothing. The arms have some trouble staying in their "up" position, wanting to drop back down, but even decades later, they're surprisingly stable. Because of the way he's built, the figure not only swivels at the shoulders, but also has hips and knees - you could sit him in a chair if you want! Maybe that's why he's described as "the master of disguise, bends into any shape."

The robot design is good, even allowing for the fact that he has half a car hanging off his back. The black and white asthetic has been carried over well, and there's a sticker on his chest to add some color. The sculpt of the torso is nice, angular but still organic, with just a bit of etched detail. Jig Saw does suffer from "head in a box" syndrome, and his arms are way too long to not have any articulation in them. At least he has some pseudo hands.

For a lot of us who couldn't get Optimus Prime as kids, the GoBot Road Ranger was our stand-in. And by that same logic, Pocket was my Sunstreaker. After all, he's a yellow and black Lamborghini Countach, just like the Autobot. Much smaller, of course, at only 3⅜" long, but he still fits the bill.

Pocket's change (ha!) duplicates Crossword's: the rear pulls back and splits to be legs, the arms spread out from under the doors, and a panel in the hood flips around to reveal the face. Lamborghinis are less rounded than Porsches, though, so the robot ends up looking distinct. According to the box, "Pocket's karate hand moves faster than the eye." Good for him! Shame he only moves at the shoulders and waist.

The robot design doesn't do anything to discourage the comparisons to Sunstreaker. Sure, the actual shape of the robot is inverted - Pocket's hood is on his shoulders, while Sunstreaker's hood forms his feet - but the windshield/chest is there, and the head... the head seems to be a direct copy of heavily influenced by Sunstreaker's, even including the "wings" on his ears. Is this intentional? Yeah, probably - the Diaclone mold that became Sunstreaker had been around since 1982, so that was plenty of time for Bandai to copy it.

We next inject a bit of class with Rube, the Mercedes Benz 500 SLC. A black towncar, Rube is 3½" long and has gray windows. Considering how these toylines always like unusual sports cars in primary colors, something as low-profile as a Mercedes Benz ironically manages to stand out. The grill and headlights are chromed, just like the hubcaps. And yes, again, rubber tires. Though the tail lights are translucent orange plastic, they've been vac metallized, as well.

Converting Rube is simple enough: pull the front half of the car forward, then bend the hood up. Pull the arms out to the side, raise the head from the chest, and rotate the waist. The only bio offered for him is that "Rube's super senses feel the slightest movement," which doesn't tell us anything, really. He moves at the shoulders and waist, and you can kind of flex his ankles (or toes?) if you like.

Rube ends up with some huge feet, but the way the wheels snap out automatically to act as the heel is pretty clever - and beat the Transformers' "automorph" gimmicks to the market by several decades. The most colorful part of Rube is the sticker on his crotch, which is an odd choice. His head is very small, and there's an obvious slide lever running up his chest. So far, Rube is the shortest robot in this bunch.

The little red Corvette is Tic Tac. The windows are black, and there are stickers providing some more colors on the hood. The tires are rubber, and though they're designed to roll freely, there are some clearance issues underneath the car that keep that from happening. The wheels and tail lights are chromed, and the front license plate is painted black. Turn the car around and you'll see it has those idiotic "fart can" exhaust pipes that nitwits use to make their tuners sound weak.

Tic Tac has an unusual change process: slide the rear of the car back slightly, so you can then unfold the legs; Fold the car down in the middle, unhook the hands from the stomach, and then pull the arms out to the sides before raising the front of the car back to where it was before. Told you it was weird. Tic Tac is described as "the evil mind behind Puzzler's schemes"

The robot's design is also strange. His combination hands/forearms are vac metallized, and permanently bent at a 90° angle. They seem to have thumbs, but they point off the bottom of the hands, not the top. There's a metal frame running around the face, which is total kibble, and the "hips" are blocky and unfinished. Let's just say that Tic Tac's lucky he's part of a combiner set, or he wouldn't be a big seller. Speaking of big, he's the same height as Crossword.

The final car is a Nissan Fairlady 300ZX. Well, maybe a Datsun Fairlady 300ZX. "Datsun" was the name Nissan sold their cars under in the US, and although they had already gone through the process of a three-year, $500 million rebranding to Nissan by the time these toys came out, Datsun was still far more familiar a car name even into the late '80s and early '90s. This one is blue, with gray windows. The tail lights are orange, and the car is 3½" long.

Just as Crossword and Pocket are basically the same toy, Zig Zag, who "has the furious speed of a striking snake," is the same as Rube. To convert him, pull the front half of the car forward, then bend the hood up. Pull the arms out to the side, raise the head from the chest, and rotate the waist. See? Same thing.

Zig Zag's robot form still has huge feet and a tiny head in a big black block, but other than that the body is fairly distinct. The arms are a different shape, and actually have hands, and although the chest is still bare metal, the angles are all different and his sticker/waist is a new design. It's still obvious that Zig Zag and Rube fill the same role on the team, but at least they don't look like clones.

None of the Pieces (what can I say? It's a cute team name, a la "the Constructicons") have any accessories, but not many GoBots did. That's still an unusual situation, though: remember, this is a combiner; where are the pieces that make it combine? Devastator, Menasor, Bruticus... every Transformer gestalt has had a bunch of extra bits to help build the bigger 'bot. Puzzler, however?

It's all built in.

Yes, despite the fact that Transfans love to claim that GoBots was an inferior line in every way possible, here we are with a toy that came out the same year as Devastator, yet still manages to get everybody assembled wihout the need for extra hands, feet, hips or any outside pieces at all. Transformers didn't manage that until, what, Rail Racer? Fifteen years later? [No, Magnaboss, 12 years --ed.] Rube and Zig Zag form the legs, Jig Saw provides the hips and waist, Tic Tac is the head and torso, and Crossword and Pocket are the arms. The hands fold out of the cars, Puzzler's head is hidden in Tic Tac's back, and that strange wire frame helps hold the chest together. You never have to worry about losing pieces and being unable to combine your toys. It's an impressive piece of work, and honestly looks and plays better than any Transformers G1 combiner.

The component pieces may be a bit lackluster even by 1980s standards, but Puzzler is a real gem, and almost completely overlooked. Forget your prejudices: here's a GoBots toy that's better than its Transformers counterparts, and yet can be had for a fraction of the cost. It won't cost you very much to put together this Puzzle.

-- 02/03/09


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