Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots
Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots is a two-player action toy and game designed by Marvin Glass and Associates and was first manufactured by the Marx toy company in 1964. It features two dueling robot boxers, Red Rocker and Blue Bomber, mechanically manipulated by the players, and the game is won when one player knocks the head off of the opponent. The 2000s version of the game by Mattel features physically smaller robots.
Each player takes control of one of the two robots: Red Rocker and Blue Bomber, both of which are standing on a platform molded in bright yellow high-impact polystyrene plastic, representing a boxing ring. By pushing plunger buttons on a pair of joysticks at the base of the platform, players make their robot punch at their opponent's robot. If a robot's head is hit with sufficient force at a suitable angle, the head will overextend away from the shoulders, signifying that the other player has won the round and pushing the head back to the shoulder and getting ready for the next round.
Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots has enjoyed far-ranging success in the United States, selling in the hundreds of thousands and becoming something of a minor popular culture phenomenon. The game was developed for the Marx toy company by the renowned toy design firm Marvin Glass and Associates. The toy was inspired by boxing games that appeared in arcades in the early 1960s, using mannequins made of metal that would fall over if a player managed to hit the button on the chin of the opposing player's dummy. After some development, Glass decided to cancel the project in 1963 after the death of boxer Davey Moore in the ring. Burt Meyer felt that the toy was too good to go to waste, and suggested that they "de-humanize" the characters, making them robots that fall apart, rather than humanoid figures that fall over.
Text on the box suggested an outer-space backstory for the two robots. The red boxer is "the rollicking Red Rocker" from Soltarus II, and weighs in 375 pounds. The blue opponent, the "beautiful Blue Bomber, pride of Umgluck", weighs in at 382 pounds.
The toy first became available to retailers during the 1964 season. Marx produced the action set, virtually unchanged, for well over a decade, until the packaging and characters were updated for the 1977 sales season with a more overt outer-space theme to make it appeal more to buyers looking for space toys following the release of the movie blockbuster Star Wars.
The game was available in the United Kingdom during the 1970s, where it was sold under the name Raving Bonkers. The two robots were renamed, with the "Blue Bomber" becoming "Basher Bonker" and the "Red Rocker" becoming "Biffer Bonker".
Marx Toys also released an updated version of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots called Clash of the Cosmic Robots in 1977. It featured robots of a design more suitable for the Space Age. The redesign was inspired by the success of the film Star Wars, released that May. Instead of a red robot and a blue robot, Clash of the Cosmic Robots featured PROG-2, an orange robot with a head more like that of RoboCop, and V-STYX, a white robot with a long, protruding mouth (but no eyes). The boxing ring was molded in black to give the game a look reminiscent of outer space. Stickers and decals (for both the robots and the ring) were provided, following the same concept.
For a period of time in the mid-1990s the blue robot was changed to a darker shade of blue and given the old PROG-2 head. The red robot was changed to a grey color (though the instructions referred to him as "silver"), but retained his classic head. Their respective names were changed to "Bolt Crusher Bob" and "Gear Grinder Greg". As in Clash of the Cosmic Robots, stickers and decals were provided for additional design. Aside from the cosmetic changes, the game remained the same.
In 2000, a remake of the classic version was developed by Mattel—at approximately half the size of the original model. In addition, an action figure line, a PlayStation game, electronic handhelds, a head-to-head plug and play and bobble head dolls have been recently introduced. The PlayStation game was Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots Arena, published by Mattel Interactive, and was developed by Paradox Development using their successful game engine from the completed, but cancelled, Thrill Kill video game. The video game and action figure lines represented a newer, updated version of the robots, whereas the reissued game and licensed products were all based on the original Red Rocker and Blue Bomber characters.
In popular culture
In the Game Boy Advance video game, more robots were introduced, including the "Orange Oppressor", the "Yellow Yahoo", the "Green Grappler", the "Purple Pyro", the "Pink Pummeller", the "Brown Bully", the "Silver Stretcher" and the "Black Bruiser".
Al McWhiggin (Wayne Knight), the main antagonist in the 1995 Disney/Pixar animated film Toy Story's 1999 sequel Toy Story 2, owns the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots playset and has it in his office at Al's Toy Barn in the Tri-County area, where Utility Belt Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and his Andy's toys, Rex (Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger) and Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles) are searching for Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks) around in his office while Slinky Dog (Jim Varney) asks them if they have seen his friend Sheriff Woody, to which the Blue Bomber politely says he has not. Then the Red Rocker starts arguing with the Blue Bomber over which one of them Slinky Dog was asking the question to. They then fight, with the Blue Bomber defeating the Red Rocker when his head popped up, after which the boxing ring bell rang and the fight was over. In a deleted scene, Buzz Lightyear throws the Evil Emperor Zurg's (Andrew Stanton) ray gun battery to the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots. As a result, Zurg was beaten up by the robots while trying to get the battery back, after which the boxing ring bell rang again and the fight was again over.
They also appeared as a cameo in Disney/Pixar's 2004 animated film The Incredibles, where the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots appeared in Mr. Incredible's room. They are voiced by the film's director, John Lasseter, (Blue Bomber) and one of the co-directors, Lee Unkrich, (Red Rocker). These robots are also used in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory during the Oompa Loompas' musical number about Mike Teevee in the TV room at Willy Wonka's factory. They also appeared at the 72nd Academy Awards alongside the Toy Story cast presenting the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. They also appeared as a giant video game arcade in many Dave & Buster's locations when it debuted and opened in December 26, 2016.
Near the end of the adventure video game Space Quest III, the player character Roger Wilco and the main antagonist Elmo Pug fight each other with gigantic Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots. Roger Wilco has a grey robot while Elmo Pug has a red one.
- Walsh, Tim (2005). Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Created Them. Andrews McMeel. pp. 164–165. ISBN 9780740755712. Retrieved 21 October 2020.
- Paxton, Bill (2019). A World Without Reality: Inside Marvin Glass's Toy Vault. Bill Paxton. pp. 179–181. ISBN 978-0578405261.
- Rich, Mark (2000). 100 Greatest Baby Boomer Toys. Krause Publications. pp. 87–88. ISBN 0-87341-880-8. Retrieved 21 October 2020.
- Louis Marx and Company (1964). "Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots". Marx Toy Company Trade Catalog.