mini-cons-01

I love Mini-Cons. Well, I’m not a fan of the current Robots In Disguise versions. They’re just little Transformers that link to certain bigger robots that have an awkward launcher tossed in. But the original Mini-Con concept are some of my favorite things to come out of the Transformers toyline. You may have seen them around my Christmas tree displays and I reviewed one group previously, but now I want to talk about the gimmick itself.

Debuting in Transformers Armada the Mini-Cons are “smart tools” that enhance the power of a larger Transformer, especially the ones in the Armada line because the gimmick was that the little guys would activate certain features on the figures. We’ll come back to that. And until they were re-conceptualized for the current RID line the originals were the coolest things. Little Transformers with a robot AND vehicle mode that could add play value to future Transformers while standing on their own. They were even compatible with a few past Transformers as I’ll demonstrate later. It’s too bad the fiction failed them.

Surprisingly easy to keep organized by team.

Surprisingly easy to keep organized by team. More on that later.

In the anime (the Japanese counterpart was called Micron Legend or Legend Of The Microns depending on the translation), all a Mini-Con did was boost a Transformer’s power and really didn’t speak much. The same was true for the comic, but they all had individual personalities since they could talk. In other words, they were characters only in the comics, and a few stood out from the rest beyond “the human companions awakened us and we combine so we’re special”. By Energon, the only Mini-Cons still around were a select few who didn’t do much in the show (again, they didn’t speak–just making electronic noises that sounds like the dial-up modem needs repair) and one lone Mini-Con in the comic that was connected to the planet and didn’t do more than talk about things. It wasn’t until Cybertron that any Mini-Con was given a personality in the show (the comic was never made since the company working on it folded) as only one of them could talk Earth speak. But the toys continued to have them long after connecting them to a larger Transformer did anything thanks to the reoccurring Transformers Universe line.

Tidal Wave and Red Alert, sporting the latest in Mini-Con fashion accessories.

Tidal Wave and Red Alert, sporting the latest in Mini-Con fashion accessories.

Thus some really cool play value was lost. Yes, for the Armada toys they activated a hidden gimmick but while they had “active” hardpoints (as they were called in the fandom at the time) there were also “dead” hardpoints that didn’t activate a gimmick, and that continued into Energon, and to a lesser degree in Cybertron. The Mini-Cons in that line did have a plug that would use the “active” hardpoints were they connected to an Armada figure.

You could say he's forward-compatible with Mini-Cons.

You could say he’s forward-compatible with Mini-Cons.

And there was some backward compatibility with some earlier figures. For example the Japanese reissue of the original Hot Rod toy could let the Mini-Cons take his guns, arming them for battle. Imagine a taxi with a huge cannon on its roof and tell me that’s not cool. The Optimus Prime from the original Robots In Disguise line (in the original Japanese version, Car Robots he was called Fire Convoy, so I combine the two and call him Fire Prime) has four “dead” hardpoints that you can attach a Mini-Con to, not counting two together on his arms. You can choose which one the Mini-Con sits on better, plus two on his shoulders where you have to choose one that won’t get in the way of his shoulder. My theory is that there was something left behind in the molding process (these points have a hollow center that isn’t needed to attach his battle armor to the points) that Takara or Hasbro saw as potential for play; possibly for armor like Fire Prime but it led to these next phase Micromasters instead. I have no evidence whatsoever about that so don’t use me as a rumor source. It’s just a theory.

It’s the missed opportunity that really disappoints me, and I can’t just blame the lackluster animation studio who made the Armada cartoon because the comic was the same way. They were introduced as smart tools but they don’t do any tool-related things. In the media. In the toys they totally can. I’m not just talking about later figures that had rocket launcher and handgun modes, or that combined into swords and guns. In their original form the Mini-Cons has so much more potential than “active gimmick” and “give me a power boost”. The gimmicks often hurt the toys while the boost was…never really demonstrated in the cartoon but did get more play in the comic. And it’s not that hard to figure out just by playing with the darn things what more they could have been.

The cutest traffic jam.

The cutest traffic jam.

You have vehicles with guns, blades, jets, and whatever else was needed to create their vehicle modes. Tanks and missile trucks would be mounted weapons for the larger bots. Helicopters and some jets make for good arm-mounted blade weapons. Heck, they don’t even have to be exclusively weapons. There was one team that turned into a shield when combined and still made good armor pieces, as did some alt modes. Some Mini-Cons could be used as grappling hooks, cables, repair tools (they’re MECHANICAL lifeforms after all, so that counts as medical), possibly a scanning device, or with some mistransforming you’d have other gadgets. Just turning into cars gave you flashlights thanks to the car headlights, and while the Mini-Con jets wouldn’t be strong enough to let a large robot fly, they could still boost a Transformer’s speed or jumping ability depending on what mode they were in. Why would you not utilize that to make combat more exciting or showcase features that benefit Autobots or in some occasions Decepticons off of the battlefield?

I could try to fit every Mini-Con I own into a group shot, but that's more time and table than I have.

I could try to fit every Mini-Con I own into a group shot, but that’s more time and table than I have.

And even without the larger Transformers, the classic Mini-Cons were still Transformers on their own. While the modern ones turn into disks, balls, torpedo-like things, and the occasional animal/weapon hybrid that is close to the concept at least, the old ones turned into various vehicles. (Sadly no other tools that could be used on and off the battlefield, like a telescope that doubles as a solar laser. The closest we got were a few satellites with missile launchers.) They had decent articulation for their size and one of the Mini-Con team gimmicks (they either partnered with a larger Transformer or formed teams with a shared theme, as seen in the second image) was extra articulation, a gimmick more for show than any real use in the line compared to their brethren. And some Mini-Cons could connect to some other Mini-Cons if they had the right points, creating more fusions and play value. The possibilities might not be endless, but there were certainly a lot to go with that Hasbro and their media partners failed to really demonstrate and utilize.

If I could start a third website it would be dedicated to showing the potential of Mini-Cons beyond the gimmicks of Armada since the gimmick went past that line and ended up backwards compatible with older figures by accident, if not by necessity mixed with intent as I theorize. I would show off what each Mini-Con can contribute based on where they could be mounted, demonstrate which larger Transformers could best utilize those Mini-Cons, and showcase what Hasbro failed to do and why I love these little guys. I would be surprised to see any more of these style Mini-Cons, the recently reviewed Mini-Con Assault Team being quite possibly the last of the style, since the modern version of Robots In Disguise has gone a different way with them, the preschool Rescue Bots having no interest in them, and the adult Prime Trilogy toys revisiting older gimmicks. And yet it’s highly possible that at some point a Transformer will be backwards compatible with a Mini-Con. There are also third-party lines like BMOG that do their own thing with the concept, but for the most part the original Mini-Cons are a memory; one that should be revisited to show what these smart tools could really do.

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