Last time we looked into the overarching gimmicks of the later parts of the original Generation and saw 3 Masters’ lines: Head, Target and Power. Transformers Lockdown: Gimmicky Extensions With the exception of Powermasters all these ideas had potential and some good uses, but now we’re into the latter half and while the first half had 2 good one dud, for this it’s the reverse.
Powermasters were not the only overarching gimmick in 1988. Released in along with them were the Pretenders. The basic concept was a Transformer that goes inside an organic looking shell (in lore containing an actual organic structure). Now part of you thinks this is a good idea – the tag line is robots in disguise so this is a natural evolution of it. The problem is – think about it, lore wise this made little sense and toy wise… to fit in the shell the robot was very basic and the alt mode very… vague. The Autobot Pretender shells were made to look like large armoured humans while Decepticons had monstrous humanoid forms.
Later on Classic Pretenders were introduced which were classic characters like Starscream and Grimlock that had previously died in the comics (if you thought the movie killed off a lot you need to look up how much a cosmically powered Starscream did) brought back as Pretenders, but as said their alt modes were very basic to facilitate fitting into the Pretender shells.
Pretenders did appear at the start of Super God Masterforce. Here the Autobot ones had the ability to turn into human size while in their Pretender shells to better fit into human society. They got phased out very quickly once the Godmasters (Power Masters) took the stage though.
Pretenders weren’t widely utilised outside of Generation 1, IDW made some use of them so they actually saw more use than Power Masters did. They did however create two characters that have seen a lot more use. The Mega Pretender Thunderwing (because they did experiment with the Pretender shell being able to do more stuff) and the far more popular Blugeon whose undead Samurai form of his Pretender shell would end up being very iconic, to the point that future appearances in toys where he isn’t a Pretender would use that as the main look and not the small robot inside. He even ended up being a rival to Megatron as a Deception leader.
The next idea was released alongside the second year of Pretenders (the one that experimented with the concept and had Thunderwing). These were the Micromasters Small Transformers that were made to combat the rise of Micromachines. In lore these were explained as more energy efficient Transformers as opposed to the large ones. Released with them were play sets that you could combine to make full Micro Master Cities, plus Micromasters were usually released in multi packs so you would be getting 3 when you purchased. They were neat, I remember having some they lacked elbow joints so their arms were stiff but they did have proper alt modes be it very small. Yes this was the good idea of this, a simple small toy that had a bunch of stuff you can use it with, if I recall there was a comic where one of the Micromasters decided to become a wrestler.
And now… the worst idea Transformers ever had, yes even worse than giving live action movie writes to Michael Bay (we also don’t talk about Kiss Players… don’t look it up). Readers I present you with Action Masters… Transformers that don’t transform… yes.. They did this. They took a franchise well known for its transforming characters and made a main line overarching gimmick with the inability to transform. Major characters with ICONIC Alt modes were given this treatment. I apologies for any concussions you suffer from banging your head against a door or wall. These came packaged with a vehicle or weapon that could transform. Heck later Action Masters regained the ability to transform showing how idiotic the idea was.
But these were designers desperately trying to keep Transformers fresh and in panic doing silly ideas. After Action Masters G1 came to an end, the comic ended with a clash against Unicron and then Optimus coming back to life and things began with their next idea to save it G2.
As you can tell since I’m talking about it here, G2 was not the surge they wanted it to be. All it was was reediting the G1 cartoon, rereleasing a lot of classic toys but with new guns and new colour jobs and a comic book that is cringed at how dark and gory it was (the 90s comics everyone!) and the only worthwhile thing to come out of it was Megatron receiving a tank alt mode something he often defaults to now. It did not save Transformers. What came next did. You see Pretenders Organic shells and Micromasters smaller more energy efficient bodies would be used as a explanation for the next stage in Transformers Evolution, the era that brought Transformers back and has allowed it be with us to this day rather than dying out like so many 80s toy lines ( though a lot of those usually show up for a year or two then die again) and why we Transformers fans should praise Canada.