Killer bots on the loose

Remember the good old days of robotic toys-well, last Christmas anyway-when the most threatening thing they could do was roll over and bark? Well a new breed of bots is on the horizon, and they've traded in the wholesome play of...
April 1, 2001

Remember the good old days of robotic toys-well, last Christmas anyway-when the most threatening thing they could do was roll over and bark? Well a new breed of bots is on the horizon, and they’ve traded in the wholesome play of their predecessors for old-fashioned action. In other words-on with the killing already!

One toy raising the pugilism bar is Trendmasters’ Rumble Robots. Combining the proven boys play pattern of destroying things with collectible card gaming, the line features six battery-powered talking bots (US$34.99 each) that are designed to wage battle against each other in a gladiator-like game.

The object is to destroy your opponent’s bot by tipping it over, hitting the kill switch located on its back, or firing your lasers at its target area until you’ve worn down all its life points. The twist to RRs? Each bot also comes with a set of strategy cards containing bar-coded information on one side that you swipe through its port before heading into battle. The cards program maneuvers and special powers that the bot can use during combat.

‘We wanted to figure out a way of marrying the role play of trading cards with robots, which were obviously big last year and will be big again this year,’ says Brian Weinstock, VP of creative at St. Louis-based Trendmasters.

The cards also play into a stand-alone card game, for which booster packs will be sold separately for US$3.99. There’s a lot of strategy involved in the both the robot and the card play, Weinstock says, which he describes as reminiscent of the board game War. For instance, swiping an unknown sequence of cards can result in enhancing your bot’s powers beyond anything described in the cards, which no doubt gives kids the incentive to keep buying and trading them. There is also a special swipe card that will revive your bot should its life points expire.

Trendmasters is launching Rumble Robots exclusively at KB Toys in May, and will widen distribution in June. Weinstock says the company will extend the line by releasing two more bots in the fall, and will follow up in Q4 with obstacles such as toy trap doors and land mines, which kids can set out during battles to increase the difficulty of play.

A multimedia marketing assault supporting Rumble Robots will hit later in the year.

Trendmasters will face some competition in the dueling bots category, though, in the form of Tiger Electronics’ RC Battlebots.

Like the hit TV show it’s based on, Tiger’s RC Battlebots closely resemble the buzzsaw- and hammer-wielding contraptions that contestants construct and send into battle each ep. Instead of destroying each other, though, the goal with Tiger’s toys is to disable your opponent’s bots by using your bot’s hammers and saws. A built-in sensor records the number of hits a bot sustains, and will shut the toy down after it has been struck three to six times. Each of Tiger’s RC Battlebots (US$40) is powered by a 6-volt battery and comes with removable chassis, wheels and other parts, allowing kids to customize their bots.

Tiger is also producing six other items, including Micro Battlers (US$19.99), a smaller version of the RC machines that offer kids a greater degree customization, and Micro Battlers Playset (US$29.99); Battling Bots, miniature bots that come with their own arena (US$14.99); a Battlebots Handheld LCD game (US$14.99); keychains (US$6.99); and Battlebots Headset Walkie Talkies (US$29.99).

As one of the more sought-after licenses leading up to Toy Fair, retailer interest in Tiger’s Battlebots line has been running high, says Marc Rosenberg, senior VP of marketing at the Vernon Hills, Illinois-based company. ‘Battlebots are different from anything that’s out there. It’s a property that requires thinking and imagination, but at the same time incorporates basic urges to build things and then knock them down,’ says Rosenberg. The same-name TV show has been one of the highest-ranked programs on Comedy Central since it began airing last August.

For the launch of the toys in September, Tiger is planning live events at key retail accounts. Promotionally, Tiger is also mounting a major blowout for the toys’ release, and at press time, had already snared a QSR deal for its line. Additionally, Malibu, California-based Jakks Pacific will be creating a range of more moderately priced Battlebots toys, such as keychains, mini vehicles, playsets, construction sets and spinning Battlebots toys. Also scheduled to hit stores in September, Jakks toys will retail for US$6.99 to US$29.99.

Buyer’s Reality: Jim Meyer, senior buyer of boys toys at Massachusetts-based KB Toys, thinks that RC Battlebots cars will be a must-have toy for kids, who, he says, are already watching the show. Furthermore, the battling play pattern of the toys should garner parent-approval, since the show is bereft of the blood-and-babes violence that has stigmatized other quasi-sports shows that feature combat, like professional wrestling, for example.

Also working in Battlebots’ favor are the murmurs that it may be moving to a broadcast network that would air the program earlier in the day than Comedy Central currently does, which would boost kid viewership and help drive toy sales. Meyer is equally hopeful for Rumble Robots’ prospects because of its dual-toy properties, especially the distinctive trading card component, which is already a well-established play pattern.

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