For a short time Zoids were as big in the UK as Transformers
, and just as expensive. Created by Tomy
in 1983, they were essentially a range of dinosaur-inspired robot fighting machines, constructed from plastic, and powered along your sandbox / bedroom floor / desk by small wind-up
motors. They were and remain extremely fascinating
, their designs noticeably more inspired than contemporary 'Battlemech
Instead of coming fully-formed, they arrived in component form, and had to be assembled with the aid of little rubber stoppers which held the Zoid together. Although Zoids lacked the interchangeability of Lego, they were nonetheless quite fun to put together, and their bitty nature made it easy to simulate battle damage. The Zoids were piloted by little gold and silver men which were not posable, although they did lend the machines a sense of scale.
For fight they did - the initial batch consisted of a few small Zoids, with no 'backstory', but by the second wave the Zoids had been split into red and blue varieties, each the mortal enemy of the other. The blue zoids were led by the mighty 'Zoidzilla' (a toy clearly based on Godzilla, and by far the most impressive of the range), whilst the red zoids were led by 'Redhorn the Terrible', a stegosaurus which resembled one of Syd Mead's wet dreams. These larger Zoids, and others, were propelled by battery-powered motors, and were beyond the pockets of most children. They were also wicked cool, and wiped the floor with other toys. Truly, children were lucky to be alive in the 1980s. Nowadays they are hideously expensive collector's items, particularly Zoidzilla, as a generation that couldn't afford Zoids as children has grown up and now earns money.
Although the toys remained obscure in the US, a Marvel comic was produced in the UK, combining reprints of the American adventures of Spider-man, during his 'black, symbiotic outfit' phase, with original Zoids strips concerning the fate of a team of human beings crash-landed on the Zoid home planet, with a third strip which usually didn't last very long (there was a brief Iron Man story, and something called 'Strike Force Morituri'). In typical Marvel fashion the comic was called 'Spider-man and Zoids' and ran roughly from 1985 - 1986. The Zoid storyline was a mish-mash of the two 'Alien' films and 'Flight of the Phoenix', with the Zoids cast as the remnants of a gladiatorial society, locked in mindless, mortal combat for all eternity, with some shipwrecked human convicts thrown into the mix. It was surprisingly engaging, although due to the declining popularity of the toys it stopped in mid-flow. There was an annual, too. All of this would be worth something nowadays if I had kept it.
As a side note, it often struck me that grown men were being paid money to write stories about little plastic toys - did they ever get embarrassed?
A computer game appeared in 1986 from long-forgotten software house Martech. It had a confusing, icon-based interface and was dreadfully boring, although the C64 version had an excellent, 'Laibach'-esque soundtrack from Rob Hubbard. It did provide this amusing quote, from an interview in Crash magazine, however:
[I asked the lead programmer how long] it would be before we could all be killing red Zoids at home. 'Not KILL', he reprimanded me. 'No?' 'No, definitely not kill. Kill is a banned word, anything but kill... destroy, mutilate, incapacitate, put out of action, rend apart - even tear into strips, anything but kill'.
Although Zoids vanished from Western shelves by 1987, Tomy continued production in Japan until 1995. It would appear that some of the range has been re-released but, as I lack knowledge of the Japanese toy market, I must pass the baton on...