By Nick Saunders
I never would have imagined that a toy line hybridization of Lego and Transformers would be as enjoyable to me as collecting actual Transformers themselves, but I’ve been hooked on these interlocking pieces of plastic crack for over two years. However, this year’s sparce tradeshow reveals and current lack of big-box retail engagement indicate the line is approaching its twilight. Not the porcelain-toned, histrionic vampire kind of Twilight, but equally dismaying and disturbing nonetheless.
Rival toy companies have been trying to integrate Lego’s designs into their product catalogues ever since the final Lego design patent expired in 1989. For those that have been collecting Transformers for awhile, you will recall that Kre-O is not Hasbro’s first attempt at translating the Lego concept to their toy properties. In 2003 Hasbro released a line called Built to Rule, which were building block sets based on Transformers: Armada and G.I. Joe. These grotesque abominations were utterly laughable in their heavy-handed disregard for design, and staggering ugliness proportionate to seeing Bea Arthur naked. As can be imagined, the line was a catastrophic failure and was cancelled within a year. Shaking in their boots Lego was not. It is unfortunate though, because the cancelled sets planned for 2004 were much nicer looking by comparison.
Based on the misersble failure that was BTR, I was actually surprised that Hasbro released Kre-O at all. Yet in the Fall of 2011 Hasbro released the line in retail stores nationwide. I was initially indifferent, but at the same time took immediate notice to how much better the build design was than the BTR line. I also found it intriguing that the larger sets blended design elements from the original Transformers toys and their live-action movie counterparts.
For Christmas in 2011, my wife bought me the large Bumblebee set as a surprise. The minute I sat down and built the robot mode (design constraints do not allow these to transform), I was completely hooked. I had not built a Lego set since I was 13 years old, and had completely forgotten how enjoyable it was. I immediately went out and bought more sets, twitching and scratching like an addict the whole way to the store.
The best part of these building sets is the potential for customization. If I didn’t like an aspect of a build from the instruction book, I simply rebuilt it to fit my liking. For some sets, this involved some minor tweaks (Sentinel Prime, Starscream, Sideswipe, large Optimus), and others complete rebuilds (Megatron, Jazz, basic Optimus, Prowl). To me these sets were the most fun of all, the creative freedom of restructuring the robots was in some ways therapeutic for me. Of course a few sets were amazing without any tweaks at all. There were a couple of duds too, I’m looking straight at your ugly arse, Stealth Bumblebee. No amount of rebuilding made that turd tolerable.
It would appear that based on the Botcon displays I browsed last month, no new Transformers Kre-O sets are forthcoming outside of a couple more Micro Changer combiner sets. Also, the current TF Kre-O assortment has all but disappeared outside of Toys R Us. Combine this with the impending release of the new Construct Bots line (think Bionicle for Transformers), and the writing is on the wall- finger painted by a rebellious toddler with authority issues. Kre-O is being put out to pasture.
So why is there such minimal retail support for the line? I have some theories. While the initial Kre-O assortments did go clearance at most major retailers, it wasn’t until almost a year after their initial release, which is not an abnormal occurence for any successful toy line. The full TF Battle for Energon assortment was released soon thereafter in all major retailers, indicating the demand was still strong and retail partners still engaged. I believe Kre-O cried its death knell after the horrendous performance of the Battleship line, which was released to cooincide with the equally horrendously performing film. Ironically, this film was also the death knell for the once promising career of Taylor Kitsch, but I digress. The sets themselves were appealing enough, but being tied to a dead movie concept kept sales down. They languished on shelves and were ultimately clearanced by Fall of 2012.
My belief is that this dismal failure unjustly soured retailers on the Kre-O brand as a whole, as evidenced by the subsequent Transformers, G.I. Joe, and Star Trek assortments being picked up solely by Toys R Us. Time will tell whether the line is truly winding up, or possibly just going on hiatus.
In the meantime, bring on the Construct Bots!