Gobots was a line of transforming robot toys produced by Tonka from 1983 to 1987, similar to Transformers. Although initially a separate and competing franchise, Tonka's Gobots became the intellectual property of Hasbro after their buyout of Tonka in 1991. Subsequently, the universe depicted in the animated series Challenge of the GoBots and follow-up film GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords was established as an alternate universe within the Transformers franchise. While Hasbro now owns the fictional side of the property (character names, bios, storyline), the actual toys and their likenesses were only licensed from Bandai in the 80s, were not covered by the Tonka acquisition, and are not available for Hasbro use.
The Gobot toyline was based on figures produced by Popy of Japan (later Bandai), named Machine Robo. In 1983, Tonka decided to import the line into America after realizing Hasbro was doing the same with Takara’s Diaclone and Microman's Microchange lines, which became Transformers after crossing the Pacific. In another similarity to Transformers, Tonka decided to make the figures sentient robots, rather than human-piloted mecha as they had been in Japan, and divided them into two factions – the good Guardians and evil Renegades (although early figures were simply described as ‘Friendly’ or ‘Enemy’ on the packaging). The figures were all given individual names, in contrast to the simple designations they received in Japan.
The line sold well initially, but was overtaken by Transformers, something often attributed to Hasbro's much better promotion and media tie-ins – for example, Gobot figures had no character profiles on their packaging, whereas Hasbro included tech spec biographies for each character on the back of the card or box. Gobots were also largely considered by fans and the marketplace to be overly simplistic when compared to the more sophisticated Transformers line; whereas Transformers characters had iconic names (e.g., Megatron, Starscream, Optimus Prime) and multi-faceted transformation cycles (where the robot often did not resemble the vehicle), Gobots characters had much more obvious names (e.g., Scooter who changed into a scooter, Tank who changed into a tank, Dozer who changed into a bulldozer, etc.) and simplified transformation cycles (e.g. Tank and Dozer simply stood up to transform). 1987 was the final year in which new Gobots were released. In 1991, Hasbro acquired the Gobots range from Tonka Inc.
Tonka released the first batch of figures to stores in 1983. The bulk of the Gobot line was taken from the Machine Robo 600 Series line of figures, which were around 5–8 cm / 2-3 inches high on average. The robot figures transformed into a mixture of generic and specific contemporary machines, plus a handful of Second World War fighter aircraft, and a number of futuristic designs. This unnamed assortment, usually referred to as ‘Regular’ Gobots, was used throughout the four years Gobots were produced, and was later supplemented by figures from the Machine Robo Devil Invaders sub-line, plus some aborted Machine Robo figures and some commissioned from Bandai by Tonka.
Larger figures, averaging around 12–15 cm (5-6 inches) tall in robot mode, were released as Super Gobots . Some of these were drawn from the Machine Robo DX line, some from the MR Big Machine Robo line (these included larger versions of Leader-1, the Guardian leader, and Cy-Kill, the Renegade leader) and some designs not released in Japan. The line also included two gestalt-style figures, the car-based Puzzler and monster-based Monsterous.
Tonka did design some toys for the line, including the Guardian Command Center and Renegade Thruster playsets, and the motorized Renegade Zod. In addition to these, two versions of the Power Warrior were made for both the Guardians and the Renegades, using molds from the Machine Robo line and recolored. The Nemesis Power Warrior used a tank for the center body and was released only in Japan. A large playset called the Gobotron Fortress was also shown to have existed in various articles and catalogs, but it has never been released.
- 'Regular' Gobots
Note that the figures were not always released in numerical order.
Note that the figures were not always released in numerical order.
[*] Denotes that the figure was not released as part of Machine Robo. The figures with "MRT" designations were commissioned from Bandai by Tonka; the remainder of the figures unreleased in Japan were Machine Robo prototypes. The others, that are extras to the toyline, are Zod, Scales, the AM Radio Gobot, Convertable Laser Gun, Space Hawk, the Watch Gobots: Tic Toc and Gong, the Combiners: Puzzler (Crossword, Jig Saw, Pocket, Rube, Tic Tac and Zig Zag) and Monsterous (Fangs, Fright Face, Gore Jaw, Heart Attack, South Claw and Weird Wing), the Power Warriors: Courageous, Grungy and Nemesis, who was planned, but not released, the Secret Riders: Twister, Tork and Tri-Trak, the Dread Launchers: Chaos (Screamer), Re-Volt, and Traitor, the Boomers: Blast and Rumble and the Power Marchers: Hitch Hiker and Quick-Step.
Hanna Barbera produced a cartoon series called Challenge of the GoBots to promote the toyline, which ran for 65 22-minute episodes from 1984 to 1985. In 1986, soon after the end of the Challenge of the Gobots television series, the Gobots co-starred with the Rock Lords in an animated feature film GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords, again produced by Hanna Barbera.
In 1984, two Gobot children's books were published by Golden Books, an imprint of Western Publishing. The books, titled War of the Gobots and Gobots on Earth, were written by Robin Snyder and illustrated by Steve Ditko, and chronicled the origins of the Gobots. The Gobots were also featured in the 1986 book Collision Course Comet - Robo Machine Featuring The Challenge Of The Gobots, published by Egmont Books.
The closest thing to a Gobot comic was the Gobot Magazine, produced by Telepictures Publishing. This included a short comic strip, based on the Challenge of the Gobots cartoon continuity, as well as features on real-life robots, quiz pages and the like. It ran quarterly from Winter 1986 to Winter 1987, managing five issues. Unlike the Transformers comics, it was aimed at a very young readership.
In the UK, a Robo Machines comic strip was produced, using many of the characters from the Gobot line, but following a different continuity than the cartoon. This was written by Tom Tully, and ran in the second volume of Eagle from November 1984 to July 1985. After Fleetway discontinued their license agreement, the property was leased to World Distributors, who produced annuals following the cartoon continuity in 1986 and 1987.
A Gobots video game was released in 1986 by Ariolasoft on the Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, and the Sinclair ZX Spectrum  computer formats. Gobots software for other computers, home video game systems or coin-operated arcade game systems is unknown at this time.
Unlike Transformers, Gobots was released in several guises around the world.
- In the UK, France and a number of other European countries, Bandai released the figures as Robo Machine, utilizing most of the Tonka names. Later on, when the Challenge of the Gobots cartoon arrived, this was changed, or modified (often resulting in clumsy branding such as Robo Machines featuring Challenge of the Gobots or Challenge of the Gobots - A Robo Machine Production).
- In Australia, the line was released as Machine Men. The Machine Men name had been used also by Bandai in an item to market Machine Robo in America in early 1984, but after issuing six figures the line failed. However, Bandai's Australian release was successful enough to retain the Machine Men branding, which was even added to the cartoon when that began airing.
- In Japan, Bandai opted to keep with the Machine Robo line, rather than importing the Gobots due to licensing issues.
- Gobots Section at Toy Archive.com
- Gobots figures and parts identification archive at Transformerland.com
- Gobots Section at Counter-X.net
- Gobots Section at TFU.info
- A Gobots and Transformers comparison on Seibertron