GoBots is a toyline and media franchise created by Tonka, which ran from 1983 to 1987. The primary rival of The Transformers in the toy aisles of the mid-1980s, the line consisted largely of figures that Tonka had licensed from Bandai's Japanese Machine Robo series, given new identities, and promoted through an animated television series.
Following Hasbro's acquisition of Tonka in 1991, GoBots became the company's intellectual property, and characters and elements from it have appeared in some limited capacity in various pieces of Transformers media.
GoBots in the 1980s
The original Machine Robo toys were created by Japanese toy manufacturer Popy and released in 1982: a dozen small (two to three inches in height) robots who could transform through simple multi-step processes into vehicle modes, some based on modern Earth vehicles, others on more "alien" conveyances. The success of the line saw it continued into 1983, expanding to include larger "Machine Robo DX" figures. Also in 1983, Popy was reincorporated into its parent company, Bandai, who elected to take Machine Robo global. The series was exported to Europe as Robo Machine, and to the United States and Australia as Machine Men—but while the European and Australian releases met with success, the American Machine Men series failed to take hold.
1983 also saw the beginnings of Hasbro's partnership with Japanese toy company Takara to release their Diaclone and Micro Change toys in Hasbro markets as The Transformers. Rival toy company Tonka did the same, licensing the Machine Robo toys and developing new names and identities for them as the "GoBots"—a race of beings from the planet GoBotron who had "evolved" into machine lifeforms as they replaced their worn out organic bodies with mechanical parts. Released at the tail end of 1983, the GoBots toyline was a success and continued into 1984, with more Machine Robo toys being imported by Tonka to expand the series, along with a handful of newly-created larger figures and playsets.
It was in 1984 that the big media push for the line began, with Challenge of the GoBots, a five-part animated television mini-series produced by Hanna-Barbera airing in September. The cartoon featured the majority of the 1983-1984 product line, and established two trios—Leader-1, commander of the friendly Guardian GoBots, along with Turbo and Scooter, and Cy-Kill, evil lord of the Renegade GoBots, and his minions Crasher and Cop-Tur—as the "leading players" of the franchise around whom most stories would revolve. A full series of sixty additional episodes was commissioned and began airing in 1985, even as the GoBots toyline continued to swell. The cartoon was exported to other countries, which saw Bandai's pre-established and still-running Robo Machine and Machine Men lines modified to incorporate its trappings; a Robo Machine comic strip began publication in the UK comic Eagle, which used many of the GoBots character names and concepts in a very different scenario.
GoBots began winding down in 1986, with a hodge-podge of remaining Machine Robo toys and figures culled from other sources comprising the final additions to the toyline. A theatrical movie, Gobots: Battle of the Rock Lords, was released in March, serving largely to set up Tonka's new spin-off toyline, Rock Lords; a second season of the Challenge of the GoBots cartoon was not produced. The last few figures limped over the finish line in early 1987, and the line was cancelled with a handful of toys unreleased.
Though this marked the end of GoBots in the United States, Machine Robo carried on in Japan, with a new animated series, Revenge of Cronos being released in mid-1986, followed by a sequel, Battle Hackers, in 1987. Robo Machine continued its success in Europe, to the point that Revenge of Cronos was imported to France and dubbed as Revenge of the GoBots, an ostensible sequel to the Challenge of the GoBots cartoon.
Though Hasbro obtained the GoBots intellectual property in 1991, they have been content to let the franchise lie fallow, outside joking "easter egg" appearances by characters in comic books, and periodic use of the line's name as a trademark, beginning with the 1993 Transformers: Generation 2 Autobot, "Gobots". Since then, the name has been used to refer to another Generation 2 subline, the "Go-Bots", in 1995; as the name of a Playskool spin-off line, Transformers: Go-Bots in 2002; and as a sub-group within the 2011 Dark of the Moon Robo Power line. Individual GoBots character names have seen little to no use on Transformers products, save for in 2003 when "Leader-1" was used as the name of Transformers: Armada Megatron's Mini-Con partner.
In 2004, Takara took the first tentative poke at using the GoBots fictional property under the Transformers banner with the "G1 GoBots" set, an e-HOBBY-exclusive redeco of six recently-reissued Autobot "Mini-Vehicles" from the original Transformers toyline. Though the figures were not colored like the GoBots characters, early online images of the set labeled each of the six toys with the name of a GoBot who shared an alternate mode with each Autobot: Bad Boy, Bug Bite, Path Finder, Road Ranger, Small Foot, and Treds. However, Takara eventually dropped the names from the final product, though the biographical information included with the toys still identified them as the "G1 Gobots," visitors from another universe with technology astoundingly similar to that seen in the GoBots cartoon.
A long dry spell followed, until the 2007 release of Fracture, a Crasher-inspired redeco of the 2006 Transformers: Classics Mirage figure in the live-action movie toyline. Originally, "Fracture" was intended to be Crasher herself, having crossed dimensions, with her bio making reference to the original character's personality and powers, but this idea was abandoned; in fact, deco artist Joe Kyde later noted that for the toy to see release at all, they had had to prove to Hasbro higher-ups that the color scheme actually existed on a real life racing car, suggesting the desire for a bit of plausible deniability. Subsequent movie-series toys Backtrack and Deadlift have deliberate deco homages to the GoBots Night Ranger and Spoons (respectively), complete with tampographs of the "MR-**" designation numbers from the original GoBots toys.
It was also in 2007 that Fun Publications, the Hasbro licensee responsible for organizing BotCon, the official Transformers convention, and the Transformers Collectors' Club, dipped their toe into the GoBots waters, which would eventually lead to the largest scale "revival" of the GoBots property yet. Using the e-HOBBY "G1 Gobots" set as a springboard, the 2007 BotCon Transformers: Timelines comic book "Games of Deception" featured Bug Bite and implied that he had crossed over from the GoBots' world into the Transformers'. This was made explicit in the 2008 prose story "Withered Hope", which featured the other G1 GoBots and established that the GoBots' home universe was being destroyed by a mysterious Cataclysm. This plot thread was left hanging for many years, but was eventually returned to in 2016, when further Timelines prose series Beast Wars: Uprising and Spatiotemporal Challengers picked up the action. Meanwhile, from 2015 to 2016, the Fun Publications Facebook Q&A columns "Ask Vector Prime" and "Renegade Rhetoric" told many new tales of the GoBots that continued the adventures of the animated series.