Review: TECH WARS

In the mid-1990's, MCA/Universal created an animated series that was truly a superb piece of work. Called EXO-SQUAD, it followed the adventures of a squad of soldiers from, the future -- J.T. Marsh and his friends, as they sought to free the Earth and other planetary colonies from the tyrannical grip of the Neo-Sapiens, genetically engineered beings who had conquered their one-time creators. The series ran for sixty or so episodes, ended on a VERY frustrating cliff-hanger (the war was over, clean-up was underway, and an alien vessel showed up and kidnapped most of the main cast), and was likened to everything from G.I.Joe to Robotech.

Especially Robotech, and that may have been what killed the toy line. Yes, of course there was a toy line. This is a toy review column, after all. Anyway, Playmates was responsible for the toys, and they did a truly superb job of it. The main "gimmick" of Exo-Squad was that the characters used a wide variety of battle armors called "E-Frames". They were cybernetically linked into these suits, and they came with a wide array of weaponry, and were literally worn like futuristic armor with a bit of extra size and plenty of features. Sort of what you'd get if you crossed a knight's armor with a modern day fighter jet.

The toys, as I said, were superb. The figures were nicely detailed and almost as well articulated as a 3 3/4" G.I.Joe, a rare feat then or now. They were slightly smaller, just a little over 3" in height. About the only fault one could find with them was that the Neo-Sapien figures were the same size as the humans, whereas in the show, they were noticably larger.

The toys did well for several years, but (my opinion here) Playmates started getting twitchy about all the Robotech comparisons, and actually acquired the license to Robotech and turned out a series of Robotech toys under the Exo-Squad banner. The idea was to kill the only major potential competition to Exo-Squad by making it PART of Exo-Squad. The result, unfortunately, was the equivalent of having a gun, seeing a potential threat on the horizon, and shooting oneself in the foot.

The Robotech toys were a rather odd misture of miniature ships and other odd lots, they weren't to scale with the Exo-Squad toys, the explanation on the packages as to how it all worked together was something of a stretch, and the excellent Exo-Squad animated series which supported the line (and vice-versa) never once made the slightest mention of anything relating to Robotech -- not that this is any great surprise.

So, Exo-Squad eventually faded into the clearance aisles, the victim of corporate paranoia and, one would surmise, insufficient ratings or discouraged disinterest to resolve the cliffhanger on the animated series. Darn shame, too. It's not often a toy line THAT cool comes along, and there was more in the works.

Anyway, I was in K*B Toys just prior to Thanksgiving, wandering the action figure aisle, and I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Was that an E-Frame? Can't be -- the packaging is all wrong. Hold it -- that IS an E-Frame. What the heck!?

It seems that Re:Play! toys, a separate division of Playmates Toys (although they don't broadcast it as such), has reissued around half a dozen E-Frames under an entirely new product name. They've also reissued the Ronin Warriors toys under the same name, apparently determined to live up to the "Replay" name -- makes you wonder if they've got anything in mind for Star Trek or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I doubt there's a market for "Adolescent Genetically-Warped Martial-Arts Tortoises."

But I digress. It's also worth noting that Re:Play! is currently headed up by a number of prominent former Hasbro executives, but don't ask me for names.

Anyway, the new product name is TECH WARS. Re:Play has taken the E-Frames and redone them pretty much as is, just recolored them. Now, these are highly-articulated, very well-detailed toys. Plenty of weaponry, including spring launchers, excellent features overall, and very well made. If they've done them straight out of the same molds, which would be the most economical, then these "Tech Wars" should be excellent.

They've sculpted new heads for the figures. They're not as detailed as the Exo-Squad characters, and they're certainly more generic, even though Re:Play! has gone so far as to create character names and profile backgrounds. The figures also look to be as well made as before.

The concept is VERY similar to Exo-Squad. It reads: "In the year 2058, Earth has combined its military defense forces into a single froup utilizing state-of-the-art TECH SUITS. Fully armed, TECH SUITS allow a pilot a variety of powers and immense strength. These new soldiers have their work cut out for them, as they face the S.H.O.C. (Sentient Humanoid Ordnance Commandos), robot warriors designed to fight alongside humans, but instead revolt and attack! The S.H.O.C. now hold the world in a grip of fear. Led by Earth's greatest heroes, the TECH-SUITS ready themselves for the ultimate battle against the S.H.O.C. and a chance to win freedom once again for the human race. The TECH WARS have begun..."

They've substituted robots for the Neo-Sapiens and that's about it, in other words. To be fair, they DO acknowledge the original influence. A line among the fine print reads, "Product Designs Based on Exo-Squad. (c) 2001 Universal Consumer Products". Interesting that Universal has maintained the copyright even though they haven't done much with Exo-Squad in about six years. Smart move, though.

So, do I recommend these toys? Well, there's not very many of them -- five or six (not all appear on the package back) -- and they're not very expensive -- $7.99 apiece for a fairly well made, nicely articulated, well-detailed toy (an apparent K*B exclusive). Granted, there's no real major concept behind these. There's no Tech Wars cartoon or anything. Nor is there likely to be, I imagine. And the new heads on the figures do make THEM look pretty generic. But -- say you're an Exo-Squad fan. Say you've got the toys, and want to bolster the ranks a bit? This isn't a bad way to go about it. And at the very least, if they're as or about as well made as Exo-Squad, then it's STILL a cool and well-made toy that would likely give a child a lot of enjoyable play time. And you can't argue with that. So, TECH WARS may be a little offbeat, and a slight rip-off, but it's still pretty cool.