Whoever came up with the idea for Zoids, it was probably their single stroke of genius in this lifetime. I can just see them now, lying in the bath one night, thinking "Kids like robots. Kids like dinosaurs. Kids like stuff you can take apart and put back together. Kids like guns. I wonder..." - and then the blinding flash of inspiration - "CONSTRUCTABLE ROBOT DINOSAURS WITH GUNS!" Not quite as catchy as GIANT MECHANICAL SPIDERS WITH HUMAN HEADS maybe, but, as Ashley Pomeroy notes in its excellent writeup, it was enough to take the UK toy market by storm.
I don't remember who bought me my first Zoid, but I remember putting it together. It was a Trooperzoid, built to resemble the upright stance of a predatory dinosaur such as Allosaurus or Tyrannosaurus Rex. At first I thought it would be too complicated for me, but the instructions were good and the plastic pieces were durable enough that you didn't have to worry about breaking them if you tried to force a leg into an arm socket, for example. It was all held together by small rubber caps that fit over plastic nubs. I put the tiny gold man into the cockpit (which was also the head of the Zoid), and I wound the little black motor up, and put it down on the table and let it go. It walked slowly, the motor making a hissing sound. It was actually pretty amazing to see something that I had just built moving like that, with no glue or batteries. I mounted the guns on their pegs and made a game where the Trooperzoid would stalk through a platoon of my Star Wars figures, wreaking havoc until a tragically decapitated Boba Fett managed to detonate his jet pack next to it, blowing the zoid to bits.
I didn't think too much more about it, even though I thought it was a pretty cool toy, until someone, obviously noticing how much I liked the first one, bought me a Scorpozoid. This one was even cooler - it had a spider/scorpion kind of vibe going on, with guns of course, and it and the Trooperzoid fought many epic battles, sometimes side by side, and sometimes against each other. My Zoid epiphany came when I was assembling them both one day, and tried attaching the Scorpozoid's legs to the Trooperzoid's body. It didn't quite work, but an idea was born, and I spent the rest of the day splicing the two creatures together in various different and probably horrific ways.
I needed more raw material, and my parents bought me more Zoids. I got the Spiderzoid (the weak cousin of the Scorpozoid, it always got its ass kicked by the others), the Hellrunner (extremely cool evil Red Zoid, looked like it wouldn't be much good in face to face combat until it revealed its fucking huge hidden gun), and the Znake (very cool snake design, unfortunately in my imagination it was only good for betrayals and spreading of confusion). One Christmas all my wishes came true when I woke up to find the legendary Zoidzilla outside my bedroom door. Unfortunately all of Zoidzilla's parts were bigger than the normal Zoids', so he couldn't be cannibalized or spliced together with them into my growing army of Spider-scorpo-trooper-snakezoids, but this minor disappointment was more than made up for by the discovery that he roared and his eyes lit up and he had HUGE FUCKING TURBO LASER GUNS. I spent an hour building him, he spent a half hour blowing all the other Zoids to pieces to establish his supreme authority over them, and they all went on to bigger and better things, like scaring the shit out of the cat.
I was a ten-year-old zoidcrack addict. When my family went to London my biggest excitement was going to the giant toy store, Hamleys, to get the rarer Power Zoids. I built up an impressive collection of the bigger Zoids, including Zoidzilla, Krark (scary pteranodon-like flying Zoid), Redhorn (giant red mechanical triceratops with enormous weapon. How cool is that?), Gore (think King Kong with lasers), Zabre (black and silver saber-tooth tiger) and Mammoth (actually he was my sister's, but he knew where his true loyalties lay). I hid the little gold drivers all around the house and held search and rescue missions for them. I took the guns from three small Zoids and loaded them onto the Trooperzoid until he was so badass that he fell over when he tried to walk. I laid them all out in battle formation on my bedroom floor and took photographs.
I even bought the comics, because I was a Spiderman fan already, and the Zoids strip had started running together with Secret Wars for a while before it moved to Spiderman. It started out pretty cheesy, and obviously intended for kids, but within a few issues something had happened - suddenly the storylines were getting more sophisticated, the artwork was better, and the Zoids strip was becoming the main reason I was buying the comic. The original plot was ditched (Who created all those robots in the first place anyway, and why are they all fighting?) in favour of a more human-interest one (space freighter crashlands on Zoid-infested planet). The comic ended just as it had reached its finest hour with the Black Zoid story, in which an unhinged cyborg creates an uber-Zoid and tries to kill - well, everyone really. It was Terminator meets Jurassic Park, and the good guys won, of course.
After a couple of years enough hormones got into my body that I didn't find the Zoids as interesting any more, and started discovering pornography, 2000AD and cigarettes. My mother refuses to throw them out - "I think those toys are better than any others out there, they teach kids all kinds of things while they're putting them together" - and its impossible to tell her that even though she's right - they were the best toys ever - toys like that have their day and then pass, and you can't resurrect them. Intact, fully functional Zoids are now collector's items, not as valuable as Star Wars figures but still enough to keep the toys within the hands of devoted collectors. I don't know if any collectors would be interested in my mutated, mutilated and much-played-with army, and I don't think I even have any of the instructions any more - I threw them out because I knew how to assemble and disassemble each Zoid, and probably could have done it blindfolded for most of them. It's a toss-up which were my favourite toys of all time - Zoids or Star Wars stuff - but there's no doubt in my mind who would win a fight between them. Zoids kicked ass.