Combining robots (in the shape of Popy's earlier Chogokin range or one of its' many imitators) are older than transforming robots so it was little surprise when Japanese manufacturers began robots that combined and transformed. Even Takara got there first with their Diaclone Construction Robo and Train Robo, but by 1985 Bandai were on the same page and issued the Machine Puzzler as part of Machine Robo. This consisted of six small robots (slightly larger than their '600 Series' figures) that could either turn into cars or merge to form one larger robot. The toy was advertised in Japan with an accomplished stop-motion commercial and released as a boxed set containing all the figures.

Later the same year Tonka used the figures for Gobots, naming the large robot Puzzler, and giving the smaller robots individual names (all loosely puzzle-themed - Crossword, Jig Saw, Pocket, Rube, Tic Tac and Zig Zag). They were assigned to the Renegade faction, and were available either as individual carded figures, or in a boxed giftset. The robots appeared once in the Challenge of the Gobots cartoon series. During their introductory episode, "Auto-Madic", the Puzzler robots seemed to be drones rather than fully-fledged Gobots. At least they got another commercial , though.

The toys also came out carded for the European Robo Machine line and in Australia for Machine Men (where they were initially released at the same time as Monsterous - a catalogue advertises them as Friendly Robots, but whether they were released as good guys is currently unknown; well, it's unknown to me, anyway).


TIC TAC

While the other five robots all have individual features sacrificed to some degree in order to facilitate making Puzzler, none suffer quite as badly as Tic Tac. His vehicle mode, a Chevrolet Corvette, isn't to my tastes but is well done, with some nice engraving and even a sticker to break up the red.

Sadly that's as good as it gets for Tic Tac, whose transformation is very simple and results in an ugly little robot mode. He ends up with T-Rex style little arms. They aren't even the right shape, just tiny silver hooks coming out of his elbow at 90°. Some nice work on his head and the chromed torso goes to waste because of this cramped feel, best expressed by the thin metal frame (used to hold Puzzler's upper torso together) around his face that hammers home that this bloke wasn't really designed to be a robot in his own right. He's the poorest figure of the bunch, utterly hamstrung by having Puzzler's head inside him.


JIG SAW

Jig Saw's vehicle mode is one of the sharpest of the group, a Toyota Celica XX police car (I'm guessing police car from the lights and colours; maybe a pace car?). It's all neat, straight lines and looks very good. Join lines are minimal, the colours are sharp and the quality is great - a really good heavy feel to the car, nice rubber tyres and glued-on transparent lights.

The transformation is very simple, with most of the figure's moving parts devoted to Jig Saw's role as Puzzler's lower torso and thighs. His robot mode is thus very limited. It's mainly hindered by long, thin arms, though at least there's a semblance of hands. The biggest problem is his chest looks so barren, which really isn't necessary for Puzzler. There is a small sticker and a little engraving, but these rather make it look like Bandai noticed the problem, and thought this half-arsed solution would actually suffice. It's a shame really, because some paint apps or a couple more stickers would have livened him up a treat. The arms are also a shame as Jig Saw actually has articulation in his legs. And not just at the hips, at the knees too. He's the most articulated Gobot ever. But if only they'd bunged the knee joints on his freakishly long arms I'd be happier.


CROSSWORD

Crossword (a name which flounders a little when needed to have a double meaning - don't mess with this Renegade, or he'll have a cross word with you) turns into a bright orange Porsche 930T. The 930 is a nice enough car (the same model was used for Baron Von Joy successfully), but then it'd have to be stunning to look good in orange and it isn't that pretty. This rendering also lacks the neatness of the 600 series sports cars despite some attempt at detail. The biggest problem are the number of heavy join lines on the vehicle for robot mode sections, culminating in a big hole at the back for one of Puzzler's hands. The stickers do at least break up the orange assault a little but it's a doomed effort.

Crossword's robot mode isn't any great shakes, either. The configuration is very simple - front end becomes top half of robot, back end becomes bottom half. Sometimes simple can work (Turbo follows the same layout and is rather sweet), but here it doesn't. Most of the problem is the curvy 930, which means Crossword has whacking great big legs and a fat belly. This all means his head looks smaller than necessary and as Bandai have gone with the chrome-dome approach (cf. Ace, Sky Jack et al.) the effect is nearly comical. The tiny waist/thigh section and thin arms result in a very disproportionate robot, though if we're being positive the Puzzler mechanics at least result in a turning waist.


POCKET

Pocket forms Puzzler's other arm and follows exactly the same transformation pattern as Crossword. His car mode however is the Lamborghini Countach, which is produced at a smaller scale in order to make the figures the same size. The result is a much lower vehicle, while the yellow/black scheme works a lot better too. The level of detail is passable, including rubber tyres and chromed headlights.

The robot mode also looks a damn sight better, too. The thin arms are still there (I'll say it now - nobody from Puzzler gets good arms, except the big guy himself), but the flatter car body means he looks less rotund. He also has a much better head design - it looks a lot like Sunstreaker, funnily enough. Coincidence? Well, considering the Sunstreaker mould had been in existence since 1982, probably not. Pocket is hardly a classic Gobot, still being a bit too lacking in proportion and style to look really good (though he's probably just about better than the other Countach Gobot, Spoiler), but a much better body shape means he looks much better than Crossword.


RUBE

Rube is modelled on a Mercedes 300SL. A Mercedes is a fairly classy car to own, but in the glamorous world of Gobot car modes a family saloon does look a little bland. The black colour scheme is quite nice though, as are some details like the chromed radiator, plus the usual rubber tyres (though the lights are all moulded rather than separate parts, something of a disappointment).

His transformation sequence is good, though, with a couple of nice, simple twists. Rube forms one of Puzzler's legs, which does result in him having large feet, but for some reason I absolutely love the design of these, with the wheel popping out to form the robot heel. No idea why I like it, it's just a fun little piece of design. The transformation results in a turning waist too, which in addition to moving arms lifts Rube above average for Gobot articulation, and there's a nice head design (Crossword aside, most of the Puzzler robots do alright on this score). However, the arms are quite small, giving the overall impression of someone designed by Pat Lee. They also work loose very easily due to being plastic parts on metal and the connections getting worn over the years. The giant button on his chest doesn't help matters much.


ZIG ZAG

Zig Zag forms the other leg, and thus follows the same layout as Rube. He's Pocket to Rube's Crossword, once again due to a smoother and prettier car mode. Zig Zag is modelled on the Nissan 300ZX which is impressive right there, much nicer than the Mercedes thanks to a smoother shape (and, while admittedly not particularly exotic, much sportier and thus more fitting than the 300SL). The two-tone dark blue/black colour scheme looks sharp too. Like Rube, detail takes a step down with more moulded headlights, but there's still a respectable amount of detail.

The transformation is once again the same as Rube, but the robot mode benefits from the more aerodynamic Nissan, with the feet notably being a lot less chunky. However, that aside most of the drawbacks remain in place, including the stumpy, loose arms and chest button.


PUZZLER

On to Puzzler himself. The combiner follows a simple enough basic layout - four limb robots and two forming the torso (similar to Devastator), but the clever part is there are no extra parts. Everything is already included on the individual robots. Some of the construction is fascinating - the top half of Puzzler is supported by Jig Saw's lights, while the arms don't so much slot into holes as get gripped between the two ends of Tic Tac. It shouldn't work, but it does, and very well at that, resulting in a surprisingly solid robot.

Puzzler is about the same height as most Transformers combiners, but much more compact, and thus seems a lot more imposing - especially when you consider that the regular Gobots are relatively small, coming up to his knee. Puzzler generally looks fantastic, with his roots as six cars clearly visible without just looking like a pile of cars. And on top of this, there's actual useful articulation too. The arms move at the shoulder, elbow and wrist while there's even a little movement in the legs, with the figure being well-balanced enough to actually use it. The limbs are also sturdy enough that even if someone does fall off, you know they won't break on contact with a shelf.

There are a few problems too, though. Combining him without instructions can be tricky (though hopefully this image will help a little), mainly because he's so different to most things of this sort, which can be a little frustrating - the construction of the torso especially is neither intuitive or the kind of thing you can make out from most photos. Hell, I'm only guessing I have it right now.

There are a few more aesthetic problems as well - Puzzler's head is a fraction too small for his body, giving him a pinhead appearance which is a shame - there's no real reason a larger head couldn't have been concealed in Tic Tac seeing as the small figure was already so ludicrously compromised. The front half of Jig Saw rather crudely juts out from Puzzler's crotch, which is irritating because it breaks up the profile of the robot. I've also yet to find a good place for putting Jig Saw's arms in combined mode - they just sort of dangle ½" in front of his thighs. I improvise them a little by slinging them back then resting the things on the top of Puzzler's legs, but it's hardly ideal.


SUMMARY

Despite these niggles Puzzler is still an interesting and fun combiner. The large robot looks good if a little old-fashioned, and is flexible and strong enough to be an excellent display piece. The individual figures are a bit more mixed, as combiner parts are wont to be, though Pocket, Zig Zag and Jig Saw are all worth a look as passable smaller Gobots. Puzzler does have the advantage of being fairly cheap to collect as well and there's no need to hunt down any accessories, which simplifies things. Puzzler isn't a masterpiece, but he squares up well to most combining toys from the 1980s, and is an impressive addition to any Gobots collection.


THE FACTS
[Corrections? Let me know!]

RELEASES:
1985, Machine Robo - Machine Puzzler
1985, Gobots - Puzzler (figures also sold individually as Crossword, Jig Saw, Pocket, Rube, Tic Tac and Zig Zag)
1985, Robo Machine - Robot Puzzler (figures only sold individually as Crossword, Jig Saw, Pocket, Rube, Tic Tac and Zig Zag)

PARTS:
None

WEAK POINTS:
Jig Saw lights
Rube & Zig Zag knees