It all started when an unexceptional lorry trailer split apart and fell open to become an alien headquarters combat deck. That was Christmas Day back in 1984 when I received Optimus Prime. I was utterly captivated by this brand new robot in disguise and how a lorry cab could turn into a robot and how its trailer could turn into a base.
Optimus Prime’s “Combat Deck”–with its articulated repair arm, its radar dish, its spring loaded missile launchers, and its ability to launch its six-wheeled scout vehicle across the living room carpet–looked and felt like something from a science fiction movie. And I loved it!
I loved the idea that a lorry and its trailer could drive anywhere it wanted and suddenly fold open into a mobile command centre. It really captured my imagination as a kid. With all its accessories and features hidden inside, Hasbro wasn’t kidding when it said its Transformers were “more than meets the eye”!
Optimus Prime sparked my passion for Transformers bases. Even some 35 years later, they are some of my all-time favourite toys.
I was content enough with Optimus Prime’s trailer/combat deck for many, many months until I saw Metroplex advertised on television. I was dumb-struck! It was billed as “Earth’s last line of defence”. In that instant, seeing it transform from robot to battle station to an actual-to-goodness Autobot city on the sandy surface of some alien world (or advertising studio) along with that year’s Mini-Autobots, I wanted one.
Metroplex looked so futuristic and so much like the bases I imagined from all the science fiction stories I’d read; like some 1970’s artist’s impression of what a human space exploration mission might eventually use in the far future.
I yearned for a Metroplex of my own. A neighbour of ours owned one and kept it displayed in his bedroom window. If I ever went past his house on my bike I would sneak a glance up at that window at the back of Metroplex’s robot mode!
In the early 1990s, after all of my schoolmates had long outgrown Transformers, a friend of mine let me borrow his (quite badly damaged) Metroplex for a week or so.
It wasn’t until about 2005 that I finally had a Metroplex to call my own. My partner had tracked one down from Italy that was in excellent condition and still in its box. It’s one of the few Transformers I just couldn’t part with when I sold my collection in 2016.
There were other bases available back then: Omega Supreme and Fortress Maximus weren’t available officially in the UK. Scorponok, released in 1987, was utterly massive and utterly beyond my means. But one fateful Saturday in 1988, when my dad came to see me for the day we randomly ended up in Asda as Scorponok was in their sale for about £8. Even he couldn’t resist a bargain like that!
I naively assumed Fortress Maximus was the same size as Scorponok so imagine my surprise and joy when I learned of how massive he was. I bought the Brave Maximus version of the mould from Hobby Link Japan in 2001. At £63 (+ shipping), he was, at the time, the most expensive new Transformers I’d ever bought.
After spending the entire summer of 1988 searching for Powermaster Optimus Prime I did eventually get him for my birthday. The Combat Deck had been upgraded into a “proper” base this time but lacked the charm and features of the original. In fact, I think Powermaster Optimus Prime’s base mode is one of the very few bases to not include a vehicle launching feature.
In 1989, Hasbro launched its Micromasters sub-line and suddenly there were bases everywhere! The Micromaster range perfectly suited my tastes: “realistic” Earth-based vehicle modes, themed teams, small sizes, and… bases modes! And not only base modes but base modes that could connect with each other and link up in a myriad of ways to form an interconnected Micromaster urban sprawl in a configuration of your choosing! Phew!
Aside from a handful of teams, I only had one Micromasters base at the time. My dad bought me Countdown for Christmas in 1990. Along with Action Master Wheeljack, it was actually the last Transformers toy he ever bought for me as I was now a teenager at this point. So… you know.
I didn’t care about such things, of course, and so carried on buying Transformers for myself. In 1991, while on a trip to Peterborough, I got Overlord. I was so, so impressed with Overlord.
Since 1987 I’d felt that the quality of Transformers had been in a steady decline; cheaper materials and plastics, fewer action features, less imaginative transformations and so on. But Overlord (and his arch-enemies the Motorvators), felt like a huge step up from contemporary offerings. I had no idea of Overlord’s actual (Japanese) origins and that he was really a three year old toy from Japan effectively reissued for the UK market. I maintain, even now, that Overlord’s base mode is the best that the first generation years ever offered.
In 1992, Thunder Clash, kind of mimicking Optimus Prime, was released. Except in this case the trailer opened out not into a combat deck but more of a combat tower.
For my birthday in 2008, my partner bought me a MIB Trypticon. Trypticon was one of the Transformers on a long list that I had wanted to have in my collection since I first learned of his existence in 1988, when he was offered as a prize in a Marvel UK competition. Twenty years later I finally owned one of my own and he did not disappoint! I have owned Trypticon for almost ten years and I still treat him as though he were brand new. (I still haven’t applied the stickers!)
In recent times, Hasbro has dabbled in Transformers bases. For example, with its Cyberverse sub-line from the Dark of the Moon movie and, very recently, with the Generations and Titans Return ranges: Metroplex, Trypticon, Fortress Maximus, and Powermaster Optimus Prime have all been modernised. (I’m surprised there hasn’t been a Generations Scorponok though…)
I have a great fondness for the Titans Return range and the Transformers bases it released… even the likes of Soundwave who transformed from DAB radio mode to a base of sorts. (I won’t make a bass joke.)
Bases have been around since the very start of the Transformers toy line and I hope to see many more in the future. They offer an additional dimension to the Transformers’ science fiction(al) universe and homes for the robots themselves. Metroplex and Trypticon are still part of my (very small) vintage collection and will probably stay with me for the foreseeable future. (I also wouldn’t be adversed to owning Powermaster Optimus Prime and Overlord again… reissues will be fine, thanks!)
Transformers bases have been, and will continue to be, one of my most beloved aspects of my most beloved childhood toy range!
May your luster never dull, and your wires never cross!