Written/Created by: Matt
Posted on 2.11.03.

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Robo Force is best known for Coleco's line of 80s robot action figures - the kind with the hose-like arms and suction cup asses. The toys were loads of fun and really well-made, but lacked the cartoon tie-in necessary for long-lasting success. They're still gobbled up by enthusiasts sheerly because they look so damn cool, and it wouldn't surprise me to see someone buy the rights and re-release the figures complete with hot new 21st Century packaging. But that's not why we're here today...

The characters in Robo Force were split into groups of good and evil robots, and at the helm of the hero ship was Maxx Steele. What Maxx lacked in personality was more than made up for by the fact that he was the very first superhero shaped like a vacuum cleaner. While the standard figures were around seven inches tall, Maxx found himself thrust into a brave new world in 1987. Ideal, another toy company, decided to turn him into the most intricate, largest, and active personal robot ever available to the public. Standing at over two feet tall with the kind of electronic wizardry that seemed abnormally high-tech for the time period, Ideal's version of Maxx Steele was, for all intents, every little kid's dream come true.


This thing was unreal. I never owned one, and the closest I ever got to it was at a Toys R' Us store near Christmas, either in '86 or '87. They displayed Maxx in those glass prison chambers usually reserved for the expensive video game hardware, so I knew he had to be something special. Oh, how I wanted a Maxx Steele robot under the tree that year. Unfortunately, this opus of electronically-enhanced genius arrived with the hefty price tag of 200 dollars, which carried a lot more value two decades ago. This didn't keep me from asking for it, but neither my parents nor Santa were sold on the idea of spending that much money on the toy store's flavor of the month. I got a Go-Bots bed tent or something for Christmas instead that year, which probably explains any kind of atheistic inclinations I've had since then.

Ideal only produced 5,000 or so of these robots, and obviously, far fewer than that still exist in working order nowadays. The toy more or less flopped, mainly because of the high price tag, but also because of consumer reports stating how poorly made it was. While the electronics side of Maxx was great, his outer body was made from cheap plastic which didn't exactly lend itself to a long, healthy life. Maxx moved from place to place using a kind of tank tread system, but they too didn't receive enough attention during product tests, and ended up falling apart at will. It's not that Maxx Steele was made from junk, moreover just that he wasn't built to handle the kind of wear-and-tear kids typically dished out on their playthings.

The robot was capable of learning new tricks through expansion packs, but Ideal gave up on Maxx long before any came into existence. Still, even with his original abilities, this toy was something else. If you're familiar with the more current flock of oversized robot pals swarming around, Maxx was a lot like those - he could move around, light up, use his arms to carry around and deliver secret messages, and all the other roboty robot things. His vocabulary extended well past a hundred words, and as an added bonus, Maxx had a working claw where a dick would normally be. He's the first sexed robot.

So, what does this have to do with Alpha Bits cereal?


Post's Alpha Bits remains one of the more successful kiddie cereals, sugary enough to satiate the youngins while still healthy enough to keep parents happy. It's done well, but Alpha Bits has never been a breakfast champ. Post has a long history of conjuring up some pretty creative means of promotion, so when they got wind of this amazing robot sweeping up the nation's interest, a deal seemed natural. Through a series of commercials, Post offered kids who ate Alpha Bits the chance to win one of fifty Maxx Steele robots. Since the toy usually cost hundreds, a lot of people were eating Alpha Bits for a month-long span in 1987. After that, we just went back to the Cheerios.

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For the run of the contest, specially marked boxes of Alpha Bits included two holographic 'laser stickers.' Now, back in '87, laser stickers in of themselves were probably enough to get kids eating this slop. However, Post had another trick up their sleeve. Fifty of these stickers were winning entries in the Maxx Steele giveaway contest. Of course, it's a safe bet that not all of the fifty winning stickers were collected, since this would mean that all of Post's Alpha Bits stock at the time were sold out. As great as this little giveaway was, it wasn't enough to sell every kid on the idea of giving up their Count Chocula in favor of cute little cornmeal letters which, in theory, could be puppeteered with a spoon to spell out obscenities during breakfast.

The real brilliant part of the contest was the comparatively low overhead costs. They weren't giving away trips to Paris or ten-day cruises - just a large handful of 200-dollar robots Ideal likely gave them free of charge in trade for all the advertising. And let's face it, there wasn't a kid in the country who would've rather won a vacation than a new robot friend, regardless of the estimated retail prices involved. Maxx Steele wasn't any ordinary toy. He was the toy. Any kid who had one of these received immediate and everlasting bragging rights, and probably got all the chicks.


There's still people out there today who, with zero interest in 80s toon & toy nostalgia, still try to hunt this Maxx Steele robot down. Maxx was constructed with the capabilities to learn far more than his original programming suggested, and there's lots of robot enthusiasts willing to shell out the 300 bucks just to see what they can make Maxx do. With a bit of knowledge and loads of patience, you could conceivably extend Maxx's vocabulary quite a bit. If you think putting that much effort into a twenty-year-old toy robot is lame, consider this: with any luck, you could program the thing to wander into a room, light up furiously, and recite the Canadian national anthem. That's a moment worth the time and money, especially if you tape an 8x10 of Robert Goulet's face over Maxx's head before sending him on the mission.

Admittedly, getting Maxx to do those sorts of things wasn't the norm. The few lucky souls who actually had one of these guys likely stuck with his Ideal-given abilities. Ironically, Post's little contest provides the only existing information on the toy for those of us who never had a chance to see it ourselves...


The fine print at the bottom tells us that kids had a '1 in 850,000 chance' of winning a Maxx Steele robot. For those keeping score, this means that you had a better shot of finding the world's tiniest violinist wearing the world's tiniest slacks inside an Alpha Bits cereal box. I'm not sure which victory is more impressive. Sure, Maxx is cool and all, but finding the world's tiniest violinist might be your only chance to eat someone alive without getting caught and thrown in prison. So I'm weighing the options here. A robot that can speak and roll around the living room...or the opportunity to swallow a violin player whole. I guess it's up to the particular person. I mean, tastes differ. I guess I'd have to go with Maxx personally; he provides a much smaller threat of causing indigestion. And I'm sure he could've been taught to play a violin eventually, anyway. Robots can do it all.

Maxx came packaged in a box roughly the size of Chile, complete with manual and remote control. I can't say for sure what the remote control causes Maxx to do, but I've seen pictures of it, and this thing had tons of buttons. I can only assume one of them made Maxx Steele self-destruct, and am holding out hope that another caused him to grow to an enormous size before shouting out something about being 'bigger than Jesus.' His arms connected at the fists, which created a great makeshift serving tray if you wanted to utilize Maxx as a cheap hand for cocktail parties. Though his outer-plastic was rather lightweight, Maxx's electronic innards were quite heavy. Maxx Steele wasn't just the prettiest robot out there, but also the most robust.


He really seems to like Alpha Bits cereal, too. I dunno though, he might be feigning interest for the sake of the commercial. It's hard to read a robot's emotions. This toy might've gotten more attention had it not been in direct competition with the year's other hot bot - R.O.B. for the Nintendo Entertainment System. You know, the one that only worked with the games nobody ever wanted to play? R.O.B. came out at the same time as Maxx, and considering the fact that he was packaged with the video game system everyone in the damn universe was pining for, most people threw their affections for Maxx to the side and opted for silly ol' R.O.B. instead. Poor Maxx. Atari wasn't the only victim of Nintendo's rise to power.


For some reason, the commercial ends with a shot of Maxx befriending a fire hydrant. I'm not sure I get it, but it's interesting nonetheless. Maybe Post and Ideal knew something we didn't. Maybe fire hydrants are all high-tech robots in a dormancy phase, waiting for the third sun of the fifth moon to awaken and take over. If this is true, I'm glad I don't have to walk any dogs. Not really because of the fire hydrant robots - I just hate picking up animal shit with inside-out Ziploc bags.

Though rare, Maxx Steele isn't completely inaccessible. I've seen these guys sell on eBay pretty recently, for anywhere between 200 to 300 bucks, and even higher than that if you're looking for one in perfect shape. If you're the kind of collector willing to spend that much cash on old toys, Maxx has gotta be a prime candidate. Compared to the hunks of plastic from other lines that fetch even higher, some might even consider him a steal. Since I currently can't afford to keep my phone line connected, I can't be one with that opinion.

Paupers do have an alternative, though...


The Maxx Steele Erector Set! It's almost as good as the real thing. If you're blind. And stupid. And deaf. And a wishful thinker. And Irish. (dunno why, just felt right when I typed it) No, it's actually kinda cool, and it sure costs a lot less than the real deal. It won't talk to you or bring you the newspaper, but a second-class-citizen version of Maxx Steele is better than none at all, right?


As fate would have it, the commercial is the only footage of the Maxx Steele robot available anywhere. I could be wrong about that, but I'm willing to take the risk since it makes the above download seem so much more important. So yeah, watch it. Just try not to get too upset on behalf of your inner-child. Sometimes we just need to come to grips with the fact that other people had cooler toys than we did. Sometimes we need to just sit back, relax, and send well-wishing, congratulatory cards to those people. They'll serve as a good distraction while our goons steal their big neat robot toys.

Remember that Nike Transformers contest we were promoting a few weeks ago? Well, several X-E readers took home a prize. See, not all contests are fake and nasty. UGO's running another one, this time giving away a brand new Sony Watchman every day in February. It's free to enter, and you won't get spammed by doing so. Click heah yo to throw your name in the hat!





 


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