February 9, 2014

Sectaurs: Warriors of Symbion - The Toyline


While Sectaurs has many unique concepts of its own, it's pretty clear that Coleco were looking to cash in on the enormous success of Mattel's sci-fantasy phenomenon Masters of the Universe. So why did Dargon and his companions ultimately not have "The Power" with kids? Let's find out.

[For detailed images of the toyline, please visit this post on Virtual Toy Chest.]

For starters, the figures were quite expensive. Much more so than other action figure lines of the era. While Masters of the Universe figures retailed for $4.99, Sectaurs figures were a whopping $7.99. They were larger than He-Man and included a nice-sized bug companion (as well as a mini-comic, though MOTU figures included those, too), but to put it in modern terms, $7.99 in 1985 was the equivalent of $17.30 today. Not only would parents balk at those prices, but it put the figures out of reach of your average child's allowance (which is how I acquired the bulk of my toys as a kid). My weekly allowance in 1985 was $5.00 and there's no way I would've saved up for two weeks to buy a Dargon when I could buy two MOTU figures - or better yet, three to four G.I. Joe figures - for the same price.

It certainly didn't help that the media tie-ins were, as Noel and I found out over the course of the last few months, pretty mediocre. In the 80s, synergy between the toy line and its animated series was crucial if the property was going to be a hit. If those 80s cartoons were, as their critics claim, just 30-minute long toy commercials, then those commercials had to be entertaining if they were going to do their job and make the kids want the toys. The only thing the Sectaurs animated series would've had me begging for is the remote.

But it doesn't matter how awesome the cartoon is, because kids aren't likely going to want the toys unless they're cool as well. Which brings me to my final point: the figures were kinda lame. While the MOTU line is guilty of re-using the same body molds over and over, they also came in a wide assortment of colors and featured interesting, and ultimately iconic, head sculpts. Sectaurs figures were cast in slightly varied hues of blue and would've been virtually indistinguishable from one another on retail pegs. Kids have a notoriously short attention span, and if you can't grab them in a few seconds, you might as well forget it. The announced, but never produced, second series that appeared in Coleco's 1986 product catalog did feature much more colorful and interesting looking character designs. Alas, it was too late.

(the announced second line)

While the figures themselves might not have measured up, and the second rate Castle Grayskull-like Hyve might've been a bit boring, the line did feature one really cool idea in the form of the character's battle mounts. Made so that you could slip your hand inside and operate them like hand-puppets, the furry and nicely detailed Dragonflyer, Spiderflyer, Battle Beetle, and Trancula were way cooler than He-Man's pre-posed, hard plastic Battlecat. I couldn't find what they retailed for originally, but considering each mount came with its own rider, I'd wager at least $14.99, or about $32.00 in today's dollars. If these would have been the focus, and if they could've gotten the price point low enough, I believe the line might have actually caught on purely on the strength of the toys themselves.

One final note on the toys. Sectaurs actually managed to inspire at least two knock-off lines: the rather on the nose Insect Man (which should've been "Men", as there was more than one "Man" in the line) and the more interesting Guardians. Interesting, because it appears as if the Son Ai toy company re-used Coleco's Dargon mold.

As for other merchandising, Sectaurs had the standard ephemera like coloring and activity books, as well as other kid-ready items like book covers and tote bags. Nothing too ambitious. It appears that Coleco didn't go all-in on Sectaurs. A wise decision in retrospect.


NoelCT said...

Wow, the pricing on these figures is nuts! I could maybe see raising prices to that level after having already spent a few years building a following, but to debut at that cost with no brand recognition, indistinguishable figures, and cheaper competition which has already cornered the market? Again, nuts!

Great job, Tony. :)

Anonymous said...

I had a few of these, and a friend had one of the mounts.

One of the problems I noticed was that the antenna would tend to curl against the head when put into a toy box.

Another problem was that their weapon belts and the like were rubber, instead of the hard plastic of the MOTU figures. That doesn't seem so bad, right? Until you realize it's 'hole and peg' fastened and the peg is made of the same stretchy moderately soft rubber as the rest of the item. It was often frustrating to try to fasten the things, especially since MANY required them to be on the figure at the time. I hated their rubber gear SO MUCH.

The winged mounts were HEAVY, due to the hard plastic of the the body and wings. Add in the electric motor for the wings and the impact of those wings flapping, and you had a bit of a workout going! :)

The little insect companions were usually like bug-shaped pipettes, and could be filled with water to be squeezed back out in a stream.

And I can't believe I remember so much of a toy I didn't like all that much.

NoelCT said...

It's surprising the random things that stick with us sometime (see me and Computer Warriors), even when it's for something we didn't like all that much. And admittedly, it was a unique concept for a toyline, what with the handpuppet mounts, though I'm not surprised they didn't fully take into account the weight of the figures and heat of the motors. Both are probably why kids didn't keep playing with them after the neato-ness of the gimmick wore off.

Definitely strikes me as an idea with potential which fell into the hands of others who didn't put anywhere near enough thought into it.

Thanks for sharing your memories, uldihaa. :)

Tony Williams said...

Awesome perspective from someone who actually had the toys. Thanks for dropping the knowledge on us, uldihaa.