Remembering – Rock Lords
Remembering – Rock Lords
In 1984 Hasbro revolutionised toys with its line of transforming alien robots called Transformers. They were big business and many companies wanted to cash in on the sudden interest in transforming robots. Tonka toys answer to this was the Gobots, producing toys and an animated TV series to rival the more popular Transformers. In an attempt to keep up with Hasbro, who had Just released the very popular Transformers animated movie, Tonka released a movie called GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords, introducing a new type of transforming Robot called Rock Lords. Whilst Transformers and Gobots, all transformed into vehicles or weapons, the Rock Lords transformed into Rocks. Whilst they were never the most interesting of toys, they were clearly made with a lot of affection and they managed to find a place in the hectic toy market of the 1980s. 30 years on, we look back at those geo crazy creations that made stones and rocks interesting. We remember the Rock Lords.
You remember that scene in Big, where the guy is trying to pitch a robot that transforms into a building? Tom Hanks character, Josh, says he doesn’t get it. I kind of like to think that this is how the Rock Lords production meeting went. I imagine a bunch of suits sitting around a table, throwing ideas for the next big transforming robot. Suddenly someone pipes up, “ROCKS” and everybody gets real excited at this awfully strange idea! Expect nobody has the courage to say “I don’t get it?” and the whole things suddenly becomes a serious product. Let’s face it, that transforming building from Big was probably a better idea. But you know what, the Rock Lords did turn out to be kind of fun.
Based on similar transforming rocks from Bandai’s Japanese Machine Robo toy line, The Rock Lords were robots that transformed into various rocks. From tungsten to gold, the toy line covered them all, and whilst it’s hard to imagine a child sitting around rolling a ball of granite around as a form of entertainment, it was the robotic character within the stones that made the toys exciting.
Gold, silver or marble, each chunk of rock opened to reveal a robot in-disguise. The wide range of different looking robots had a real disorderly feel about them. There were rarely two figures that ever felt they were from the same species. And yet the story behind the Rock Lords told us a very different tale. The film ‘GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords’ introduced us to the rock-a-likes when a ship crashes on the planet Gobotron, occupied by a pair of transforming rocks Solitaire and her valet Nugget. They ask for the Gobots help in defeated the evil Rock Lord Magmar, who is killing the other Rock Lords in order to take their power sceptres. Whilst the species are divided simply by their allegiance to either good or evil, they are both native of their planet Quartex.
The figures had minute details that made the Rock Lords that little bit more special. The exquisite detailing on the rocks, the deep colours and painted screws, these were beautifully designed and well-made figures that any kid could enjoy. Made from high-quality plastic and die-cast metal , each one came with a weapon and a mini comic which told a story about the character, much like many toys lines were doing at the time. What made them stand out, on technical level, was their points of articulation. With things like ankle tilts and full shoulder and elbow joints, the rock lords had a range of movement that surpassed other toys at that time.
The figures arms and legs would tuck away neatly allowing for the robot to take on its rock form, and whilst this is probably the weakest thing about the toy line, the rock forms were really cool. Yes, there were some, such as Magmar, a brown molten lava creation, that looked like a joke plastic dog poo gone wrong. But on the other hand, you had wonderful creations such as Nugget and Tombstone that had obviously been made with a lot of love. And let’s not forget the jewel lords with Sunstone and Solitaire being highlights from this transparent plastic side line.
Jewel Lords were based on precious stones, such as Diamond and Ruby, and cast in transparent plastic to give them a more defined personality from the normal figures. They were not the only side-line that Rock Lords introduced. Shock Rocks were a series of three figures that had additional functions such as a powered hook and a flywheel and the Action Shock Rocks were three ball like rocks that transformed into battle stations.
Every great toy lines also has to have a series of companions, and the Rock Lords introduced us to the Narlies, a bunch of furry creatures that live on planet Quartex. They did not transform, instead these critters were basically a plastic toy on a wheel, topped with hair. When pushed around, the Narlies shook their tail and their jaw snapped. A far cry from the transforming Rock Lords, but someone was buying them as they ran 2 series of these toys and a single motorised Narlie too.
Tonka also produced two vehicles for the figures to ride in and advertised a cool looking playset that never made it into production.
Despite the introduction from the better Know Gobots Line, The Rock Lords failed to impress, even as the line grew with the introduction of new figures. With three generations of figures produced, the Rock Lords faded to obscurity and died in 1987 along with the Go Bots.
Hasbro, owners of Transformers, bought out Tonka in 1991, and with this acquisition, the Gobots and Rock Lords franchise. However, Hasbro only owns the fictional side of the property (character names, bios, storyline), the actual toys and their likenesses were only licensed from Bandai in the 1980s, were not covered by the Tonka buy-out, and are not available for Hasbro to use. This means that the possibility of the Rock Lords (or Gobots) every returning to shelves is very slim.
The Rock Lords had two whole years of shelf life. In that short time, they managed to inspire a whole generation to think outside the box. Transforming rock robots sounds like a really stupid idea, but it worked and playing with a lump of plastic granite was fun than it really should have been. They were never the best idea, but they were different. And as a kid, that was all that mattered!