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Forgotten Toys: ZBots

There have been countless toylines that have graced the shelves of toy stores across the world. Some would become powerhouses through homes and children’s toyboxes. Others would fade as quickly as they are seen. Others fit somewhere in the middle. They sell enough to create multiple waves of product, yet not enough to be a perennial staple of the toy shelves.

Micro Machines Z-bots logoZ-Bots would be one of those. Galoob introduced them as a subline of their popular Micro Machines line and it consisted of small articulated robots of many shapes. Unlike many toylines in the ’90s, there was no accompanying media to flesh out any storyline or help promote additional sales. Only the traditional advertising modes of cross-sell packaging and television commercials would help children find the particular robots they wanted spend their allowance on.

The story of Z-Bots was entirely told via the packaging of the toys themselves. The Micro Machines Museum has a full write-up of the truncated story. With the many colorful robots all having names and there being two distinct warring sides, I’m surprised no effort was made in the creation of a tie-in television show. At the time there was no direct competition. In 1992 Transformers was long gone and wouldn’t be returning until the following year with its short-lived Generation 2 reruns. I can’t help but think there was a missed opportunity for Galoob.

Waves 1 & 2 of Z-bots

The first two waves of Z-bots

The toys themselves are quite well made, being on par with the quality Galoob was putting out with its Micro Machines toys. The colors are bright and well varied throughout the line. The first two series consisted of basic robot designs and were sold in packs of three, usually with two “good” Z-bots and one “evil” Void. Most were loosely based off of old science fiction movies, usually with some added technology to fight their war. Others were shaped with sports equipment.

Waves 3 & 4 of Z-bots

Later waves of Z-bots, including converting, punching, and 'biting' robots

Later series not only began adding intricate details to the models, but began adding gimmicks as well. Z-Bots that linked together, did primitive transformations, or had a giant opening mouth were now included into each pack. The Z-Bots even became smaller with the release of Mini Z’s. These came in multipacks could easily be purchased in bulk to assemble a tiny little army.

Additional Z-Bots were packaged with vehicles of different sizes. They ranged from a single robot tank or wheeled vehicle to a giant robot fortress that could hold many Z-bots and even one of the smaller vehicles. Galoob even tried their hand at fast food tie-ins. First was Burger King, with 5 basic figures given out in their kids’ meals. Also included were themed “pogs,” piggybacking on another popular kids fad of the time.

Additional z-bots

From Left: Linkbots, who connected with each other to form a vehicle; Combots, redecos of early Z-bots in camoflague; Burger King promotinal items

In 2010 another toy company, ToyQuest, attempted the same formula of Z-bots, but met with utter failure. Their Androidz line failed to sell during the holiday season and were quickly clearanced out. Their robot toys were very similar in size and were sold again in multipacks or with vehicles and playsets.

Collecting-wise, Z-bots don’t cull the same prices as the perennial powerhouses such as Star Wars or GI Joe, but there is a market out there. Ebay prices appear to fluctuate depending on which particular robot figure is being sold, but with no obvious “rare” ones. The only things I can find that is even close to collecting holy grails seem to be some of the later figures. Mike at the Micro Machines Musuem seems to actively collect these toys and has a list of the ones he wants. All are from the later series, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that slowly the toyline was receiving decreased returns as it went on. The fact that these were tiny toys surely doesn’t help collecting nowadays. I’m sure many were lost while kids were playing with them actively and more were most likely thrown away as they didn’t have the same presence that larger toys did.

The may be a day when these toys come to the forefront again, but it is highly unlikely. They were never popular enough to warrant any additional media to help perpetuate their brand and simply existed as hunks of plastic. Other brands may have returned from the bowels of obscurity, but sadly the biggest hurdle now isn’t a lack of fan base, but business conglomeration. Hasbro now owns the rights to Micro Machines with its purchase of Galoob in 1999. The idea of introducing another robot-based toyline on the shelves and taking away market share from their best-selling Transformers toyline would not be a good business decision. But the original toys will always be there. Many are sitting unsold on eBay just waiting for someone to pick them up and relive a small part of their childhood.