Just when you thought you've seen every type of merchandising tie-in with your fave kiddie cartoons, here's Thundercats and Transformers electric racing sets. I'm sure it's just a matter of time before I stumble onto a box of expired Masters of the Universe breakfast sausages. Neither of these are easy to find today, I'd say it's impossible but then someone would e-mail me a picture and an 'I have one, stupidhead!' message. The last thing I want to do is wake up tomorrow and have to add a footnote to this paragraph. Let's just say they're tough to come across and you'd have an easier time finding someone who was satisfied with the payoff scenes in 8MM.
Like everyone else, I had my share of racing sets, but never either of these two. Kinda sucks, because if I had cars shaped like Lion-O and Optimus, I probably would've taken better care of 'em. I think every child has at one point become convinced that the crappy, bland cars which came with race sets were too boring to allow - we'd always try to figure out some way to rig a normal Matchbox or Hot Wheels car atop the frame, ultimately breaking the entire set in the process.
Plus, kids could invest a lot more emotionally in racing with these sets - after all, it's hard to feel all that attached to 'generic red car #1' or 'blue car with missing wheel.' When you slap cartoon characters on there, suddenly the games become a lot more intense. Now you could ride that fine line between good and evil, with the fate of the planet resting solely on your ability to navigate through the plastic course as fast as possible.
If a car set could get you to emote, you knew it was worth buying. Still, the question remains: which set should you buy? I know it's a little late to ask, but it's something you need to consider in case an angel from toy heaven flies to your window one night, giving you a choice between these two gifts from God. You wouldn't want to waste the one-in-a-million shot of meeting an angel from toy heaven with the wrong choice, would you? We'll start with the Thundercats...
The Eye of Thundera racing set pitted Lion-O against one of his enemies on the long trek towards the Cat's Lair, beautifully rendered for the commercial with gray pieces of cardboard. I always hated it when these sets emphasized the 'racing' aspect of the toy, since it's a tried and true fact that there's always one side of the track which pushes the cars along faster than the other. It took all of five minutes for kids to figure out which was the holy side, and we'd end up spending more time fighting over who got it than actually playing with the stupid thing. I always preferred the tracks that had obstacles or different routes towards the finish - at least then the winner wasn't determined by the precise point in the track where the black plastic started warping.
Oddly enough, Lion-O's up against S-S-Slithe in his S-S-Slithe-shaped S-S-Slithe car. Why didn't they use Mumm-Ra? Okay, the idea of Mumm-Ra participating in a Nascar event is pretty comical, but it's not like the guy wasn't a flawed work of art anyway. He named his dog Ma-Mutt, and it wasn't even done as a sort of highbrow self-parody. It's not like Mumm-Ra's above racing cars.
Slithe was just one of the evil mutants who hunted down the Cats for ten years while they were asleep on a spaceship. They don't ever provide a really good reason for wasting their lives hunting Thundercats, but the way I figure it...they've already wasted ten years, why the hell not? You can call Slithe a lot of things. Walking cucumber, King of the Lisps, Joey Tomatoes - but ya can't call him a quitter.
You know every kid wanted to be the Lion-O car. Who'd want to be a green lizard when you could control the Thundertank and the lead hero? S-S-Slithe's car was for guests only. Before you start thinking about the kids who prefer playing with bad guys, I'd like to draw your attention to Lion-O's vehicle - it can pop up, revealing the Thundertank's massive metal jaws. The only thing even slightly remarkable about Slithe's car is that it looks positively nothing like him.
I hated it when these commercials used props that weren't really included with the toy - for me, if I was a kid watching this, the biggest selling point I'd notice was that the 'Eye of Thundera Racing Set' came with these great plastic boulders. It didn't of course, but you're gullible when you're young, and you just don't think anyone would lie to you about rocks.
It happened a lot, and it wasn't just with cat-themed race car sets. Remember the old Dentine gum commercials where they showed it with this great red and white stripe action? I'd always get suckered into buying it, only to find a piece of plain old red gum beneath the wrapper. Where was my white stripe? Where were my plastic boulders? Why must these life lessons always be so painful to learn? No stripes and no rocks - it's just no fun at all.
Lion-O doesn't really need to win the race. He's already doing a hell of a lot better than most cats. The guy should be shitting in boxes and swatting shoelaces - instead he leads Third Earth's mightiest band of superheroes and gets to hang out with robot bears. The mere fact that he can drive a race car has gotta be a moral victory for him.
As said, the set's incredibly tough to find. I can't locate it even in reference anywhere else. In a way, I'm sort of proud to bring it into the spotlight again. But another part of me is kicking myself. If it's that rare and none of you have ever heard of it, I could've spent the last ten paragraphs telling you it came with live gerbils and Thundercats-shaped chocolate, and you'd have no choice but to believe me. Oh well, here's the Transformers edition of racing car sets...
At least this one made some sense - Transformers are more inclined to race than Thundercats, because after all, most of them are cars. It's also a bit cooler than the previous kit because these cars could turn into robots! Well, sort of. They're pretty sorry looking robots, but at least they have heads.
The set comes with one Autobot and one Decepticon, and they're not meant to represent any of the actual cartoon characters - they're just generic Transformers who look sickly and emaciated. We can overlook that because of the immense playtime opportunities - you could line your real TF figures alongside the track, making them cheer on their scrawny little comrades while holding encouraging signs and pennants you cut out of construction paper. I know it doesn't sound like much, but look how cute this is:
Best yet, you could make them race in robot mode. Oddly, the Nameless Autobot and Nameless Decepticon were twins aside from the color scheme, revealing once and for all that chosen professions on Cybertron have nothing to do with nepotism or any sort of caste system. I think the bad guys just became 'bad guys' because their voices were too raspy to convince anyone otherwise.
As an extra bonus, the whole set glowed in the dark when you hit the lights. Course, it had to be really dark to cause this, and I don't know many kids who liked playing in total blackness or who could do it without ending up doing something that'd get 'em in trouble. I guess they just felt the toy needed something since the robots looked so dumb and their arms appeared more like cubed hawk talons. I dunno, I would've been just as satisfied with some plastic boulders.
It's also another impossible find - I guess neither of these things sold well or had anything resembling a nationwide release. I'm sure the money spent on production of these sets far outweighed the money spent on just making their action figure counterparts, which were infinitely more popular and a lot less of a strain on the consumer's wallet. It's always a telltale sign that a toyline is going down the tubes soon when they start marketing toys that come with hundred-dollar motors or sixty-five voice sounds. It's the toy company's last ditch experiment to inspire interest - when it doesn't work, they pack up camp and move on to the new flavors-of-the-year. They still would've been great fun, though.
Larry: But why do you always get to be the Autobot?! I want to win too!
Tom: My head's shaped like a mushroom, haven't I suffered enough?
Larry: Well my head's shaped like a giant lemon, you don't see me complaining.
Tom: Yes, but all you have to do is cut your hair. I'm cursed with the curl and a lifelong affliction - I should be the Autobot.
Larry: Well my father is dying and there's a rumor I might have Lupus. Come on, let me be it.
Tom: I thought only girls got Lupus?!
Larry: Which brings me to my next point...
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