If only he could have been in two places at once, things might have been different. Instead, Martin Abrams of Mego Toys had a choice to make – bid for the merchandising rights to produce toys based on a film called Star Wars, or continue working to secure the rights to a toy called Microman with the Japanese company Takara. He chose the latter and, in hindsight, it proved to be an enormously costly mistake. But if there was a bright side, it was that millions of kids had the opportunity to experience a decidedly cool line of toy figures known as Micronauts.
Released in the United States in 1976, Micronauts were an exhaustively complete line of toy figures, vehicles and playsets, with interchangeable parts that could be easily combined to create new and exciting variations. As the story went, these little guys were actually microscopic entities who lived in their own miniature universe. These well-sculpted and designed figures had silver metallic faces (with sort of an Elvis hairstyle) and, unlike their eventual Star Wars counterparts, were completely articulated, featuring bendable elbows, wrists, shoulders, and knees, along with a head that swiveled. With a little imagination, they could be posed in positions that C3PO could never hope to attain.
The original small figures measured 3 ½” in height and a whole cast of characters was made available. The primary figure was Time Traveler, the common man of the Micronauts universe, who was made out of translucent plastic and came in a variety of colors. Next up was Pharoid, a slightly more advanced entity, sporting an opaque chest that glowed in the dark and a nifty sarcophagus called a Time Chamber. Moving up the food chain, the next figure was the Galactic Warrior, featuring a die cast metallic body and matching limbs. He was also armed with a large gun that could fire a rubber projectile at his foes. Then there was the Galactic Defender, who kept the home planet safe while Galactic Warrior was out stirring things up. The Defender came complete with a sword, jetpack, laser gun and transparent blue helmet. And rounding out the good guys was Space Glider. Also die-cast, he sported some nifty spring-loaded transparent wings, freed by a small button on the side of his backpack – at least as long as you handled said wings with care, as they were rather delicate and easy to break.
An army of good guys, however, isn’t much fun unless they have some bad guys to battle and Micronauts had you covered. The two main foes were Acroyear and Acroyear II. The former was a ferocious looking character, sporting oversized roller skates and a pink metallic sword. Being a little top-heavy, however, his knees didn’t always do a stellar job of supporting his weight. His partner in crime was of a similar design, but without the skates.
Then there were the larger figures, many of which had battery-operated motorized parts. One such creature was Microtron, sort of a hybrid between a tank and R2-D2. Although he was technically one of the good guys, he was adorned with a devilish head. But, he also sported some nifty triangular feet, compete with motorized treads. His evil counterpart was the equally large and aptly named Nemesis. He looked remarkably similar to Microtron, but was easily identified by his purple appearance. Other large figures included Ginat Acroyear, who boasted a body that could be converted into projectiles. The largest guy was Biotron, Sporting a shiny silver head atop a massive body, it was easy to understand why the other Micronauts might feel a little intimidated around the big lug. His only potentially equal adversary was Phobos, an equally massive dude. And although it was harder to find in America, another character named Blizzard rounded out the series of larger figures.
An army must have leaders, and two major characters took on these roles, one for each respective side – Force Commander and Baron Karza. Both were referred to as “Magno” figures, mainly because magnets held their hip, shoulder and neck joints together, all of which could be rotated 360 degrees and allowed the various parts of their bodies to be detached and reassembled, often in some bizarrely surrealistic ways. Force Commander was dressed in white, connoting his loyalties to the side of good. A trusty futuristic steed named Oberon was available for him to ride atop. Karza, as one might expect was pure black, with his own horse, Andromeda. And if one were so tempted, the body parts of both men and horses were also interchangeable.
Vehicles and city sets rounded out the collection. Dozens of vehicles were available, with the most popular being the Hydro-Copter, Battle Cruiser and Mobile Exploration Lab. Each had room to transport multiple Micronauts and had their own array of interchangeable parts, allowing for endless design modifications. Cities were undoubtedly the most impressive additions to the Micronaut collection and, as a result, came at a stiff price. These beautifully detailed pieces sported almost a baroque meets Logan’s Run appearance, complete with rocket tubes, which transported figures at breakneck speed, thanks to a little help from internal air pressure. Two sets were available, Micropolis Megacity and Stratastation, complete with motorized and interchangeable parts, which provided a home base for the assorted space warriors.
One of the coolest things to occur with the Micronauts line was that their toy competitors also happened to be made to the same 3 ½” dimensions, meaning that they could battle their Star Wars and Shogun adversaries when they got tired of fighting each other. Of course, all of this fighting often took a toll on these sometimes fragile figures. Rubber connectors would occasionally become dislodged or break, but luckily for Mego, it was much easier for consumers to simply replace the figures rather than try to fix them.
Having said that, Micronauts were a wonderfully detailed, precision crafted product, and found enormous success in Japan. Sadly, however, they could never really compete against the allure of the Star Wars figures, and as a result, Mego Toys eventually discontinued the line and declared bankruptcy. Another company purchased the licensing rights and attempted a comeback with their own line of toys called The Inter-Changables but it simply wasn’t meant to be. Eventually, the battle came to an end, leaving Micronauts merely a fond memory for millions of kids who, over the years, concocted some truly bizarre fighting machines with the tools they had been given.
If you harbor memories of playing with the Micronauts back in the day, we welcome your recollections in our comments section, as we tip our hats to these mechanical toy warriors of yesteryear, here at Retroland.