Even with the recent Armada cartoon and a slew of new & neoclassic Transformers toys, it's not really catching on the same way it did originally. I've got plenty 9-sided opinions about that, but the biggest problem is the rather ragtag way the new shit's been thrown out there when compared to all of the other 'revived' franchises, like Masters of the Universe and those filthy Ninja Turtles. While those lines got the needed attention and fan panhandling needed to rekindle their worth, all the current Transformers stuff looks more like something a sweat shop down in Guam put together after buying the rights to the name from the only elder statesman on the committee with a bit of a soft spot for Guam's con men. Guam. Fact is, it's making money, but not the kind of money anyone on the receiving end had hoped for.
In Hasbro's unlimited effort to make the cash before everyone moves on to jollier fads, they've also been re-releasing some of the classic figures, nicely repackaged, recolored, and repriced so high that nobody but geeks too old for toys could ever possibly buy them. To give you an example, 'Powermaster Optimus Prime,' one of the less talked about hits from the original line, weighs in at around four pounds and FIFTY. FREAKIN. DOLLAZZZ. Now granted, it's a big toy, and a pretty marvelous piece of plastic. But when you consider that the Masters of the Universe line offers the unbridled megafun of a huge 'Castle Grayskull' playset for the same price, something seems a little off. These toy companies need to realize that the public is stupid, but usually only stupid temporarily. While putting a 'Collector's Edition' sticker on the box to justify an extra 25 bucks to the retail might've worked a few years ago, we ain't falling for that shit anymore. Now 'Limited Edition' - that I could understand. I mean, at least then I'd know I was one of the owners of a rare item limited to a run of a mere 450,000. 'Collector's Edition' doesn't even mean anything, it's just a term devised so tagline writers had time to take short sabbaticals after a high-paying client sent the check.
In fact, almost all of the revamped classics are way up there in price. Sometimes, their costs almost exceed what the true originals fetch on auction outlets and antique sales masquerading as cheaper yard sales. Hasbro's missing the boat - there's a few obvious choices of characters with which to redo for the current sales floor, and they could be made available far cheaper than what we're seeing. These guys weren't necessarily your favorite characters on the cartoon, but no kid could resist their toy counterpart versions. The Transformers Cassettes!
Birthed by the Decepticon 'Soundwave' and his mortal metal HA enemy, heroic Autobot 'Blaster,' the Cassettes were easily some of my favorite childhood playthings from any series of toys. Compared to the other figures, they were extremely simplistic and much smaller. Essentially, it's just a bunch of robot animals that transformed into perfectly rendered miniature audio tapes. It's tough to explain why so many kids preferred this to the line's more exquisite figures, but a lot of it had to do with your ability to take the Cassettes anywhere. Ravage, a panther and my favorite of the series, also became my phony 'pet' taken to school each day. Honestly, I treated Ravage a lot better than our old dog, and certainly fed him more often. Because their names aren't buzzwords in Hasbro's offices, I wouldn't bet on a re-release. We can only hope. And pray. And prey. On the children. Today's article takes us back to an era of much cooler toys, and features a look at every Transformers 'Cassette' from the villain squad.
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Laserbeak, easily the most popular Cassette from the cartoon, was the only Decepticon who ever seemed able to get on Megatron's good side. Personally, I think Boss Bot just had a little thing for birds. Think about it for a second - all of the other bad guys, like Starscream and Thundercracker and their colorful jet brothers - all of those guys were given instructions from Megatron to do crazy things like turn half the planet into a bomb or make castles using every last card from a Pinochle deck. It's no wonder he always felt let down. But Laserbeak? All that thing had to do was take secret videos of the Autobots pissing on the Ark's walls when Optimus wasn't looking. It wasn't exactly a feat worthy of our ticker tape stashes. Despite that, Laserbeak still looked awesome and was the only bird in town who could shoot plasma beams out of its head.
You'd be amazed to see how much a complete Laserbeak sells for these days. Remember that giant 50 dollar Optimus toy? Laserbeak can go for more. And that's just what he'd cost loose - if we're talking about a packaged version, buying the bird would force you to get rent deferments for six consecutive months. Keep in mind, the toy is no longer than two inches. That's at least 25 bucks an inch. It'd be a bargain at a dick enlargement center, but with a Laserbeak figure it just seems indulgent. Also: Laserbeak's wings look just like the high-tech airplane food trays of the future as foretold in the dream I had last week.
Ravage, my main man, mixed the fury of a panther with the finesse of Sony. He was often seen on the show, mainly defying years of superior technological advancement by trying to bite the Autobot legs' while growling maniacally. I can say 'growling maniacally' with confidence -- it's right there on his official Tech Specs card. Just next to the power chart which seems to indicate that Ravage is capable of breaking the sun in half. I was more interested in the fact that owning his figure was like owning a tiny puppy dog wearing battle armor. I took Ravage with me everywhere, eventually losing him the Great Dirtbomb Fight of '88. That day, the sting of defeat was only heightened by the loss of my faithful robot Lassie.
Note the rubsign on Ravage's side. If you're unfamiliar with those treasures, Hasbro started adding the stickers after the first series of figures hit the shelves. Until you rub it, the sticker remains black and politically unaffiliated. Only with the heat of your fingers would it reveal the toy's true allegiance. You know, in case you couldn't tell from the menacing dark scowl or the fact that Soundwave spat the guy out of his chest on every episode of the cartoon. Though not quite as expensive as Laserbeak nowadays, it'd still cost less to have a plastic surgeon make you look like more like Bumblebee.
Rumble was one of the cult icons of the show, primarily because he had no problem mouthing off to the robots five times taller than him. He was sort of like the Sophia Petrillo of Transformers fandom - but instead of offering sage advice with a Sicilian twist, he's more apt to solve problems by turning his hands into blunt mallets and causing miniature earthquakes. Whatever gets the job done. Oddly, Rumble was one of the most well-spoken Decepticons, mixing his quick wit with a Napoleon Complex and a whole lot of mispronounced vocabulary words.
Oddly, according to the box art and toy catalogs, the figure shown above is actually Rumble's close cousin, 'Frenzy.' The figure only represents Rumble if we're going by the cartoon's continuity. I accepted it as being 'Rumble' long ago, but had to mention that anyway since the last thing the little man living inside my Outlook Express folders wants is to sort through 500 e-mails from Transformers fans angry about the error. The way I see it, the only way this guy could possibly be Frenzy is if Soundwave was really bad with the names of the people who lived in his chest. I just can't see it. Soundwave is supposed to have the memory capacity of a Dell.
Buzzsaw is basically the same figure as Laserbeak, just with different stickers. Though most have forgotten about him, Buzzsaw was technically the first Cassette sold in stores. The original Soundwave figure came packaged with this guy, making him one of the more difficult finds since he wasn't readily available in the cheap two-packs like the majority of the other tapes. I don't recall him showing up too often on the show, except on those special occasions when Soundwave tried to impress his superiors by going into Clown Car Mode and ejecting fifteen tapes in sequence. On the whole, Buzzsaw was an introvert who preferred the sanctity of his creator's robotic ribcage to the outside world. Plus, it's kind of hard to work two robot cassette birdies into the script.
Assuming you can find him on his own, Buzzsaw is far cheaper than Laserbeak. Since most dealers opt to sell him alongside Soundwave, it's more typically an investment between eighty and a hundred bucks, if not a little more. I'll leave it up to you to decide if a 2" birdbot with a hooked plastic beak is worth the cash. Still, it's pretty amazing that Laserbeak's two red stickers denote a collector's price more than triple that of Buzzsaw's. What's everyone got against gold?
Frenzy, or 'Rumble' according to the box, was essentially an exact replica of his cousin. The major difference is that Frenzy is better suited to camouflage himself in the fiery pits of Hell. Armed with two giant guns and a head so tiny it may as well not exist, Frenzy usually turned up on the show in complete silence. The guy knew he couldn't match the comedic stylings of his twin, so why bother emphasizing who had the better genetics? Soundwave tried to compensate by giving Frenzy the scarier name, but everyone knew he was only there to make sure the emotionally invalided Shockwave wouldn't be picked last for the Decepticon volleyball tournaments.
You need to be especially careful when buying a Frenzy figure, since most sellers refer to 'em by their Hasbro-given and totally incorrect names. Actually, if interested, your best bet is to be patient and wait until you see a lot offered including Soundwave and all his cassettes together. The price will be a turnoff, but it's indeed much cheaper than picking each one up separately.
Ratbat, who first appeared in Transformers: The Movie, is one of the most underestimated Cassettes out there. He's not raking in the sales to the same degree as his compatriots now, but he was certainly popular back in the day. Few could resist the charm of an audio cassette that turned into a purple bat - especially a purple bat with such an impressive wingspan. He turned up fairly often during the post-movie episodes of the show, but Ratbat's speech incapability and tiny size made him easy to miss.
Currently, Ratbat figures fetch a high price, but that's only because they were so easily broken. Unless you're lucky enough to find a packaged version and rich enough to buy it, the Ratbats you come across with frequently be missing ears, wings, weapons, feet, any anything else that could be removed by chewing hard enough. Don't feel too bad for him - Ratbat had a far more illustrious career in the comic book series, where the storylines weren't as often butchered by the emphasis on promoting toys.
The next two Cassettes are unique in that they've got multiple transformations, the final of which aids them in merging together to form a singular megabot. This was only done because the original tapes were so successful, and while the later editions were never as popular as those damn birds and Wrong Colored Rumble, they're still pretty cool and worth mentioning if only to boost this article's wordcount...
Squawktalk was different from his feathery tape cousins in that he was able to speak - and according to his bio card, that's all Squawktalk did. Squawked, talked, squawked, and yes, talked again. Serving as a translator for his Decepticon comrades, Squawktalk liked to fuck with authority by telling Megatron that various alien races were commenting on the size of his ass. As an action figure, Squawky followed the general theme of Laserbeak and Buzzsaw without being a total ripoff reissue, evidenced by his 'extra' wings and blue raspberry plastic. Squawktalk was only sold packaged alongside his symbiotic ally, Beastbox the Gorilla...
Beastbox the Gorilla looked more like the Autobots' kind of robot tape than a villain, mostly because it's really difficult to find pink, metal apes threatening. While that's impressive enough to make him one of my favorites, Beasty's figure suffered from odd mechanics that made him difficult to fit into Soundwave's chest. If one of the tapes denied you the chance to plop 'em into Soundwave and make hilarious breakbeat sounds with your lips, they usually weren't worth looking into. Beastbox remained popular sheerly by being a monkey. Very, very few monkeys in the original Transformers universe. Best of all, Beastbox could merge with Squawktalk to form a Decepticon capable of taking out most any Autobot...
When together, Beasty and Squawky were collectively known as Squawkbox, a clever play on words that makes the poor guy sound like a cellphone plan. Though easy to transform and fairly stable, Squawkbox still suffered from all the other tapes' affliction of having the skinniest, most inconsequential legs in Decepticon HQ. In an effort to offset that, he carries several guns larger than most SUVs. Notice that Squawktalk's previous tail wing now serves nicely as a loincloth. Ever the comedian, Squawkbox liked to sarcastically fall apart whenever one of the Autobot minicars threatened violence.
The last two Decepticon Cassettes came out much later in the line, and by that point, almost every kind of vehicle was already represented by one of the characters. If there's one thing Hasbro learned along the way, it's that kids absolutely loved robots that transformed into dinosaurs. The Dinobots were arguably more popular than any of the other 'themed' sets of Transformers figures, so they rolled the dice with these last two Cassettes and drew the prehistoric card once again. Though nowhere near as intricate as Grimlock or Swoop, few would deny that these guys were indeed shaped vaguely like android dinosaur people...
Slugfest, looking like a cross between a stegosaurus and a half of a green sandwich, had the worst biocard testimonial of all the Decepticons. You know things are bad when your own promoters refer to you as 'dimwitted and lumbering,' a description that should've been saved for the bad guys tall enough to get away with being stupid. Armed with high-tech lasers and low-tech bony plates, Slugfest remains one of Cybertron's most inspired entrees.
There's no dinosaur more heralded than the T-Rex, so Overkill was going to be popular no matter how much his biocard said he sucked. Actually, all the bio really mentioned was Overkill's penchant for talking a lot. Seriously. They make a passing reference to Overkill's superior durability, but it's mostly a story of a dinosaur so impressed with his ability to speak that he simply could not stop doing so. Since few kids actually paid attention to their figures' written blurbs, Overkill was more sought after on the merits of being a cool gray Tyrannosaur. With great attention being paid to realism, Hasbro crafted Overkill arms that were smaller than peas. Fortunately, you don't need arms if you've got giant cannons taped to your shoulders. Though made of cheaper plastic than the earlier Cassettes' usual metal, Overkill and Slugfest's overall rarity keeps them at a high price.
And that's the Decepticon Cassettes. Of course, the Autobots had their fair share of tapebots as well, but it just seemed wrong to put myself through the torture of describing thirty-thousand robot tapes so close to Easter. If Hasbro ever decided to re-release some of the aforementioned, I'd predict that they'd sell much better than most of what's out there. I'd bet my life on it. And my family's lives. And the cats. And Roy Orbison. Anything to get these guys back into stores. Sorry Roy.