Even though the line was effectively cancelled in its original form after a little more than a year, it still continued in other forms (such as rebranded toys from older lines) for nearly three more years, coupled with the odd delayed release from its original run.
The current Universe line launched in 2008 shares its name with the old line, but has a different underlying concept.
History and overview
Initial conception and original run
The Universe line was originally intended to run concurrently with the main Energon line and the Alternators and Commemorative Series lines and consisted of the mass retail price points "Deluxe" ($10USD) and "Ultra" ($20USD). In addition, an unusually huge number of store exclusives single toys and multi-packs (often with additional Mini-Cons or Mini-Con teams) was released as well. Some of those multi-packs were even available at lower prices than the original releases of those molds combined. The OTFCC 2003 and 2004 exclusives were also branded "Universe".
The molds used for the Universe line spanned from as far back as late-Generation One to the most recent lines. Molds from Beast Machines and Armada were particularly common in the line. Some molds that had previously only been available in Japan (such as Big Convoy or the Micromaster Sixcombiner teams) were also made available to Hasbro's target audience for the first time that way.
The line was officially only available on the American market, although some toys (the aforementioned Micromasters, in particular) were released in some European countries in Energon and Cybertron packaging, coupled with a few American imports (such as the Battle in a Box sets) that were sold by online retailers and specialty stores.
Discontinuation and continuation
The Universe line effectively died as a mass retail line when Wal-Mart decided to discontinue the Ultra Class assortment in late 2004 due to low sales. Earlier that year, Wal-Mart had already stocked half a dozen of exclusive Universe toys, which had also ended up as shelfwarmers. The Deluxe assortment was cancelled by Hasbro shortly afterwards.
Two more KB Toys exclusive Deluxe toys (in Cybertron-esque packaging) followed in 2005, as well as two more KB Toys exclusive Micromaster waves in 2005 and 2006, respectively. Furthermore, three Ultra two-packs that had already been produced before the Ultra assortment was cancelled eventually ended up as Target exclusives, also in 2006.
Aside from those delayed releases of already planned toys (except for the KB Deluxes), the Universe line was still continued for nearly four more years (!) following the cancellation of the mass retail assortments, but now only in the form of rebranded toys from more recent lines such as Energon, Cybertron and Classics, with no redecos whatsoever. Those toys were mostly available from liquidator stores such as Dollar General, Family Dollar or Tuesday Morning. Even a new mold, which was available as a Chevrolet online store exclusive in 2008, used the old Universe logo in its instruction sheet.
Legacy and successors
After the Universe line had ended as a mass retail line, the short-lived 2006 Classics line briefly served as an all-encompassing line that contained a few redecos of toys from older lines (most notably Legends of Cybertron figures) in addition to new molds.
The 2007 live-action Movie toyline also contained a considerable number of redecos of toys from older lines, starting with the Target exclusive Scout Class assortment, later followed by other store exclusive redecos of toys from the Armada, Energon and Cybertron lines.
Hasbro ultimately launched a "new" Universe line in 2008 which combined the predominant "new molds" aspect of the Classics line with the "redeco" aspect of the old Universe line. The widely accepted way to distinguish between toys from the two Universe lines (it's unclear whether Hasbro officially thinks of them as one and the same, or as two lines using the same name) is the different logo. The old Universe logo was last used for Swerve, the aforementioned Chevrolet exclusive.
The redeco line (2003 - 2006)
Tiny Tins (mass retail)
Wave 1 (March 2004)
Deluxes (mass retail)
Wave 1 (June 2003)
Wave 2 (August 2003)
Wave 3 (October 2003)
Wave 4 (January 2004)
Wave 5 (March 2004)
Wave 6 (August 2004)
Wave 7 (October 2004)
Wave 8 (February 2005)
Wave 9 (April 2005)
Ultras (mass retail)
Wave 1 (July 2003)
Wave 1.5 (October 2003)
Wave 2 (November 2003)
Wave 2.5 (March 2004)
Wave 3 (August 2004)
- Whirl with Mini-Cons Makeshift and Gunbarrel
- Stockade & Magna Stampede two-pack with with Mini-Cons Terradive and Prowl
Wave 3.5 (October 2004)
KB Toys exclusive Micromasters
Series I (Protectobots - May 2004)
Series II (Constructicons - October 2004)
Series III (Railbots - September 2005)
Series IV (Aerialbots - September 2006)
Other store exclusives
KB Toys exclusives (September 2005)
KMart exclusives (July 2004)
"Market Six" exclusives (October 2004)
- Smokescreen vs. Ransack with Mini-Cons & Liftor & Refute (Battle in a Box two-pack)
- Ultra Magnus vs. Treadshot with Mini-Cons Over-Run & Nightbeat (Battle in a Box two-pack)
Sam's Club exclusives (September 2003)
- Nemesis Prime (August 2004)
- Overbite & Repugnus two-pack (March 2006)
- Long Haul & Hightower two-pack (March 2006)
- Bonecrusher & Scavenger two-pack (March 2006)
Toys"R"Us exclusives (March 2004)
Wal-Mart exclusives (February 2004)
- Ultra Magnus & Ironhide two-pack (Spychangers)
- Optimus Prime & Prowl two-pack (Spychangers)
- Side Burn (Deluxe)
- Prowl (Deluxe)
- Ruination five-pack (Armorhide, Mega-Octane, Movor, Ro-Tor and Rollbar)
- Sunstorm with Mini-Cons Inferno and Street Action Team (Sureshock, High Wire and Grindor)
OTFCC 2003 (July 2003)
OTFCC 2004 (July 2004)
Rebranding and other odds and ends (2005 - 2008)
Wave 1 (February 2005)
Wave 2 (August 2006)
Wave 1 (August 2005)
Wave 2 (October 2006)
Wave 3 (October 2007)
Wave 1 (October 2005)
Wal*Mart exclusives (November 2007)
- Opposites Attack (Excellion vs. Thundercracker)
- Search for the Pirate Moon (Downshift vs. Cannonball)
Other (September 2007/July 2008)
Chevrolet Store exclusive (March 2008)
In early 2004, a large number of stolen samples of toys intended for the Universe line appeared on eBay. Even though none of those toys were ultimately released, all of them were later officially revealed by Hasbro one way or another. Also, many of them later did see a release through other outlets than originally intended:
- Redecos of the Armada Super-Cons Hot Shot and Wheeljack as Generation One Smokescreen and Generation 2 Drench (but as a Decepticon like "Euro" Drench), respectively, including their respective Mini-Con partners Jolt and Wind Sheer. These were confirmed by Hasbro as an intended third Battle in a Box two-pack that would have been available from the same stores as the Smokescreen/Ransack and Ultra Magnus/Treadshot two-packs. While the "Smokescreen" redeco of the Hot Shot mold still hasn't seen a release, the "Drench" redeco of the Wheeljack mold was later released—with slight modifications—by the Transformers Collectors' Club as the BotCon 2008 exclusive "Shattered Glass" Sideswipe toy.
- A redeco of the Armada Giga-Con Jetfire, including redecos of his Mini-Con companion Comettor and the Space Mini-Con Team (Astroscope, Sky Blast and Payload). A listing found in a Toys "R" Us computer confirmed this as an intended TRU exclusive named "Spacewarp", which was ultimately never released. However, the Transformers Collectors' Club later released the toy in a slightly modified version of this deco, sporting a new head sculpt, as Astrotrain. While the Comettor redeco (named Starcatcher) was included, the Space Team redecos were replaced by redecos of the Cybertron Giant Planet Mini-Con Team.
- Redecos of the Beast Wars Deluxe toys Cheetor, Tarantulas/Blackarachnia, Transmetal Waspinator and Mutant Soundwave. More than two years later, an odd checklist update on Hasbro's public Transformers website (which was "fixed" days later) revealed what appeared to be the intended names for those toys, as well as their intended purpose: Leatherhide (Soundwave) vs. Blackarachnia and Nightprowler (Cheetor) vs. Waspinator were apparently intended to be two Wal-Mart-exclusive "Halloween Horrorcon" two-packs. While the Cheetor and Tarantulas/Blackarachnia molds were later used again as part of the Beast Wars 10th Anniversary and Beast Wars Telemocha lines, none of these specific decos have been officially released thus far.
- Redecos of the Generation One Seacons that were supposed to be available as a Wal-Mart-exclusive giftset, named "Piranhacons", with the combined form named "Piranhaking". Even though the aforementioned checklist on Hasbro's public website confirmed them as having been intended for the Universe line, Hasbro themselves stated at OTFCC 2004 that Wal-Mart had asked them to release them under the Energon banner instead. Either way, Wal-Mart later decided to back out of the deal. Instead, the Seacons (now under their original Generation One names again) are going to be available via the Transformers Collectors' Club in 2008.
- In addition, a Chinese distributor list leaked to the internet in 2004 contained the names of four more toys listed under the mass-retail Deluxe assortment, namely "Sonar", "Optimus Primal", "Optimus Minor" and "Thrustor". It's unclear whether there were ever any concrete plans behind those names, or whether they were merely placeholder names.
- The Allspark fansite also received details about planned OTFCC 2005 exclusives following the bankruptcy of 3H Productions. These included retools/redecos of Energon Strongarm as Brawn and Roadbuster, Energon Slugslinger as Devcon, Robots in Disguise Megatron as Beast Wars Transmetal 2 Megatron and Robots in Disguise Optimus Prime as Generation One Hot Spot/Defensor. With the exception of Hot Spot/Defensor, who was shown as a prototype, none of the other ideas made it beyond the design stage.
- The Grimlock & Swoop/Mega-Dinobot combiner was originally intended for the Universe line, which would have made it the first newly created mold(s) be initially released as part of the line. However, Hasbro ultimately decided to release it as a two-pack in the Energon line instead. As a consequence, Chevrolet Swerve was the first (and only) new mold to be released under the original Universe banner...in 2008, shortly before the second Universe line was launched.
- On their official Transformers website, Hasbro listed several combo-packs of Armada Mini-Con teams (Adventure Team/Sea Team, Road Wrecker Team/Night Attack Team, Race Team/Space Team) under "Universe". The actual toys, however, whch were available from Toys"R"Us and Wal-Mart stores and were unchanged from their Armada releases other than the packaging, came on Energon rather than Universe cards.