Thursday, 23 July 2015

Tente Roblock

With the newfound popularity of both Transformers and Lego, everyone seems to be making transforming robot toys out of building blocks now. Or at least robots that look like they should transform but don't. KRE-O and Lego Creative have all fielded robots in the past few years that look absolutely like Transformers but needing to be disassembled in order to change mode. Will there ever be an awesome line of transforming Lego robots?

Well, there already was! Tente was a Spanish company that produced Lego-like building blocks during the 70s and 80s. Whilst their blocks were similar in size to Lego, they weren't compatible as they featured thicker studs with holes in the centre to allow things like spires and the feet of mini-figures to plug in. They concentrated on making military vehicles and space-themed sets. Tente was also big on hinges - very big on hinges, in fact. This led to a fantastic line in the mid to late eighties of actual transforming robot sets: Roblock.

I had a Tente space set as a child, but never one of the robots. I only had the catalogue to gaze lovingly at. They not only transformed properly (and you can easily see just by looking at them how they worked) but there was an amazing array of interesting designs and colours. They had planes and cars and tanks, but also bases and guns and a weird dragon thing!

There was a bee-robot! How cool are bee robots?

Part of what attracted me to Tente was the surreality of the designs. They are often very strange and alien, helped by the unique spires and bubble-domes that Tente was known for. Each of these robots is bursting with personality and very few of them could be described as 'generic', though one or two seem to share similar designs.

Tente never saw a wide release in the UK and US (apparently Hasbro distributed them in the US, but stuck to mostly speciality model shops) and they were constantly embroiled in legal battles with Lego. It's a shame that Roblock in particular never got the exposure it deserved, as it seems like it would have been a firm favourite of kids!

The hinged pieces allow for each robot to have a lot of articulation which even beat out most of the Transformers of the time. Add in some really nice design work, and you've got a classic, if mostly unknown, toyline. If you want to own one of these, you'd better have deep pockets - though they are obscure, there's a small but dedicated fanbase and sets will cost you around a hundred each if you want them complete (unless you get lucky, of course).

That said, I've found a website which has scanned instructions for some of them. The question is - can they be replicated in Lego? I don't think Lego has the right sort of hinges. Hopefully some Lego expert is about to recreate the Tente robots as accurately as possible!

2 comments:

  1. Man, I would've been all over these had I seen them as a kid.

    ReplyDelete
  2. When I was a kid I had the Persus and Gamma 2 plus a large collection of the space sets. A few weeks ago I visited my parents with my 2 young kids and lo and behold they had saved all the Tente sets from my childhood. It was amazing to reassemble all those sets with my little ones. Loved your blog post!

    ReplyDelete