I've seen and owned many strange Transformers-related items over the years. Hasbro's immense series of action figures was always the heart of the Autobots' merchandising universe, but just as sure as you could find toothpaste tube-toppers shaped like He-Man's head and Jabba the Hutt bubble bath, the robots in disguise have had their fair share of oddball buy-me entries. Just considering what I'd personally collected, there were Dinobot socks, pop-up books, inflatable bop bags, pinball games and beyond. Going a bit further, Optimus and pals landed themselves a train set, race car set and yes, even costumes.

You might've seen a few of the Transformers costumes before -- there were several available that were either made by Ben Cooper or adhered to the same style of "plastic mask and unsightly smock" camouflage. Regardless of how crappy the costumes were, it's always fun to dress up like a robot. Today's article focuses in on another sort of Transformers costume, and likely one of the rarest playthings out there with a Decepticon logo stamped on the box. Take a look...

It's the Transformers Decepto-Pack! For kids who preferred villains, this was a quick trip to heaven disguised as a cheap pile of plastic parts and priced accordingly. Described as an "action backpack that transforms into a full set of battle armor," HG Toys was smart enough to use packaging similar to that of the TF's action figures. It "felt" like a real Transformers item, even if the suspiciously generic-looking costume indicated otherwise.

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I didn't own this thing as a child, so now I'm trying to decide if it's something I would've went after. The Decepto-Pack surely had a limited run, and even within that, sales were probably mucked up by having the items stocked in the less trafficked toy store aisles -- you know, along with all of the sleeping bags and bed-topping play tents. It would've been passable as a Halloween costume, though that doesn't seem to be the driving intention here. The Decepto-Pack was simply for kids who wanted to look like evil robots, regardless of holiday excuses and personal regard for the skin on their face. (the mask is really tight and pointy, yeehah you see) I think I would've been interested in owning it, if only because the pictures on the box present a much more desirable end result than what was actually hiding inside. Let's inspect the contents...or at least, what's left of them.

Ah, frig. I'm missing around half of the parts, but the general idea still prevails. Up above, my Hulk piņata (the only guy in the apartment who can fit the mask over his head, and that includes our cats) balances his inner monster with an outer android. He's got the robot mask, breast-plate and shield. You can judge the Decepto-Pack's age by HG Toys' insistence on calling that thing a "breast-plate." Not a chest-plate. A breast-plate. A word that sends any socially active six-year-old boy into fits of giggles. Kinda like how you used to laugh whenever the teacher got past the first syllable while writing "assembly" on the chalkboard. With the mask, shield and breast-plate, the Hulk piņata is ready to kick all sorts of Cybertronian teeth with his unique blend of pliable armor and Tootsie Roll innards.

The shield features some unnamed Decepticon trapped in a dimensional rip that's locked him inside a hunk of plastic. I'm reminded of those old "Dinosaurs Attack!" cards, particularly the one where dinosaurs zapped to the future in the same spot where a human was standing, merging the two creatures into one hideously deformed monster of doom. I guess you had to be there. As for the breast-plate (tee hee!!), its size precludes anyone over 40 pounds from correctly donning the Decepto-Pack armor. Anyone above 40 pounds just looked like they were prepping themselves for a mallet-smashin' crab feast. And the mask? Well, we'll get to that in a few minutes.

Ideally, that's what a person should look like with the armor on. My Hulk piņata hadn't quite hit the nail on the head, but since he's the Hulk, I'm sure he hit the nail really, really hard anyway. The kid shown on the box has a perpetual look of determination on his face, though it's possibly more of a look of fear since that mask is capable of suffocating children faster than any pillow or misguided maternal giant owl ever could.

You've probably noticed that the kid has some parts lacking from the Hulk piņata's attempt at being a Decepticon. These parts were actually included -- here's a closer look at everything that originally came with the Decepto-Pack...

In addition to what we've seen, kids also received two wrist cuffs, a belt, and most importantly, a battery-operated laser gun that actually lit up and buzzed whenever the trigger was pulled. If anyone was on the fence in regard to buying this, that stupid gun would've probably pulled them to the cash register. The cuffs were alarmingly oversized -- so much so that even the illustrations on the box showed no effort of trying to hide it. The belt was similarly oversized, though none of this had anything to do with making a concession for fat kids. There's a reason the cuffs and belt were sized so precisely huge, and we'll see why in just a bit.

I could be mistaken, but I'm fairly sure the laser gun was available for sale either by itself or packaged with some other kind of Transformers playset. I've only come across the Decepto-Pack once, but that gun seems a little more common. HG Toys also released an Autobot version of the dress-up kit, so it's probable that the same gun was used in both. Actually, it's probable that both kits were entirely alike aside from the stickers. You know what the most probable thing is, though? That I'm the only one who cares.

Course, gun or no gun, the real driving force behind any kind of Transformers costume is going to be the mask. If the mask sucked, everything else sucked by association. It's the mask that dictates all, see. While what was included in the Decepto-Pack didn't quite "suck," it doesn't exactly seem all that comfy...

Good lord, it's the most poorly designed mask in history -- if not in looks, then certainly in feel. The spot where a kid's nose would go is too small to even truly consider it the "spot where a kid's nose would go." The tiny chamber is more suited for unfortunate kids born without a nose who need to wear masks during all outdoor excursions. And even then, who could pull off dressing like a Decepticon all the time? Would anyone want to end up like that old fat guy who dressed up like a cardboard Optimus and inadvertently became an Internet icon just as synonymous with "loser" as the people who still post the picture constantly seventeen years later under the false belief that it's still funny? Click here for it. Oh no, I'm one of them.

Now that we've established that anyone who wears the mask cannot breathe and runs a severe risk of breaking their nose, I should also mention that the rest of the mask goes a long way in making sure your entire head becomes dented and all sorts of fucked up. The ear-side strips are placed in such a way as to literally slice up the face of any Decepto-wannabes, while the front piece is chock full of inwardly slanted edges that aid the straps in a combined attempt to make children bleed from the head. This is no mere matter of some kids having heads too big to fit, but rather a universal design flaw that makes the Decepto-Pack armor set a perfect gift from parents who absolutely loathed their kids. There's no revenge sweeter than having a kid say "thank you" for a gift that's only going to make him seem redheaded and not related by blood. Oh well -- that's what they get for wanting to play the dastardly villain.

And, for what it's worth, I could barely get the thing to fit around the Hulk piņata's head. Was HG Toys talking about months or years when they tacked that "Ages 5-8" notice on the box?

Oh, remember the giant wrist cuffs and belt I mentioned earlier? They served an incredible purpose. Using all the various pieces of armor, the set could actually be transformed into a backpack. While I can't create this unbridled majesty with only half the parts, I can judge from the existing pieces' sizes that this particular backpack could hold little more than a pack of Tic-Tacs and maybe three pieces of loose-leaf paper. I guess this was more for short missions. It's a bad sign when even the painted illustrations of children on the box look sad and embarrassed to be wearing the product inside, but at least the boy's mother loyally adhered to the time period's honored tradition of haircuts-by-headbowl. Also: in the picture on the right, the illustrated boy looks like he was just caught trying to take a secret crap by the paparazzi. This ups the Decepto-Pack's collectible value by at least ten bucks.

Well, obviously, the Decepto-Pack was no candidate for "toy of the century," but I'm still glad it's out there. With the price of the more familiar vintage action figures having skyrocketed to heights where even fanatical devotees are going against long-standing beliefs that a company should never re-release old figures exactly as they were, things like the Decepto-Pack and Transformers' other weirder serve-ups are nice little gems that have remained comparatively cheap. A wise man once said: "If you can't afford Sludge, buy a pair of socks with Sludge stickers sewn on." See, he wasn't just wise -- he was the only person in history who ever said that.

I'll give it a 7 out of 10, for readers who cannot accept a review as "legitimate" unless it's followed by a letter or number grade made up on the fly by the particular author.

That's all she wrote for the Decepto-Pack. Now you know. I didn't think this article was going to end up as long as it did, so I wrote this little bonus section about the lesser-known but still cool rubbery figures known as the "Transformers Decoys." And I didn't even tell you about it at the beginning. Surprise!

I've noticed that while a lot of people remember having these toys, several don't exactly recall where they came from. The Transformers "Decoys" were, for all intents, vending machine-level cheapo toys that had their significance boosted by a very official tie to a very popular toy & toon franchise. Basically, they shrunk down over 50 Autobot and Decepticon figures, swapped out the metal and plastic for a single piece of colored rubber, and hocked 'em as "free gifts" packaged alongside the regularly sized figures. Though successful, I don't know if I'd call the Decoy thing an actual craze. They definitely persuaded children to buy some otherwise dreadful toys from the line's dwindle-down period. Seems like they're more popular now than they ever were in their retail days, with fans wondering why Hasbro didn't continue Japan's tradition of selling the little guys separately. For the absurdly low cost of production, surely there were good profits waiting to be gobbled.

The real interesting thing was Hasbro's attempt to give the rubber bits of inconsequence an honest-to-goodness origin story. Even more incredible was how well they were able to do just that. In most cases, a small booklet was included with each Decoy figure, more or less reiterating the fact that there's dozens of Decoys out there and that anyone who happened to stumble upon the booklet should probably spend all of their money to attain more Decoys. That was on one side of the booklet. The other side played host to a comic strip, which doesn't just reinforce the Decoys as an official part of Transformers lore, but actually goes so far as to doodle Autobot "First Aid" carrying around a little Barbie doll version of Ultra Magnus. Take a look...

(click picture to enlarge)

Even if you click that pic for the more readable large version, it's admittedly pretty tough to follow if you're not up to snuff on your Transy stuff. Obviously, they've established the Decoys as an integral part of both teams' battle plans: the "dummy" robots will draw enemy fire, diverting their attentions long enough for the trickier team to make good on whatever their focal goal is. Now, check out the focal goal involved here. This is one major, major major focal goal.

We've seen them a thousand times, these focal goals. There's a number of episodes that present a situation where Bumblebee must succeed in his mission, or else the Autobots will lose control of an Earth bridge -- usually an Earth bridge in the middle of the desert, nowhere near the cars that couldn't possibly drive through the bunch of pyramids to get near it anyway. Within these episodes, Bumblebee is serving a focal point of "bridge control," and that's cool, but it's no MISSING MATRIX plot. Folks, that's the #1. The end-all, be-all of Transformers' focal goals. When something bad happened (or could conceivably happen) to the Matrix, you knew the shit was on. This plot device was kept only for very special occasions, like theatrical releases or vastly promoted episodes where long beloved characters returned from the grave. And oh yeah, those little rubber toys, too. The Decoys got a "Missing Matrix" plot. Amazing.

Here's a look at some of the many Decoys that were available, spanning two colors and two teams of disguised robots in disguise robots. You might notice that the comic uses movie/post-movie era characters, while the figures are exclusively pre-movie. The figures (albeit in different colors) had been around for a bit longer than this "Decoy" promotion -- they just hadn't been put out for North America yet. And then they were! And we rejoiced! Lots!

Click on any robot head for the full-sized image...

(Thundercracker, Starscream, Sludge, Megatron, Blitzwing, Scavenger, Soundwave)

(Bombshell, Hook, Devastator, Shrapnel, Astrotrain, Mixmaster, Grimlock)

(Bonecrusher, Rumble, Reflector, Snarl, Ravage, Sludge, Shockwave)

(Skids, Grapple, Tracks, Hound, Inferno, Trailbreaker, Wheeljack)

I think I've gotta give Ravage the nod as my personal favorite, but mainly because he's the only Decoy I'd be able to pick out of a line from anything more than three feet away. Shockwave's figure was probably the most desirable, though -- the character was extremely popular even despite a mostly lackluster role in the cartoon. Plus, his other toy had really skinny legs that made no sense to anyone. The Decoy was small, but at least it looked like Shockwave.

I'm trying to determine if there's any way to tie the Decoys in with the Decepto-Pack to make this article more fluid, but the only thing I'm coming up with is the fact that they share the same first initial. As much as I'd like to believe otherwise, I know it's just not enough. Thank God I have a hammer and a skull. I will take this pain away with another. Decepto-Pack, Decoy. Death.

-- Matt (2/02/04)