Transformers: Armada marked the second sea change in the history of the Transformers. Bursting onto the scene in 2002, Armada presented a new unity of series design that had been lost since Beast Wars, as well as a series-wide play pattern, the first of several series, led by Japanese fiction, to do so.
Armada’s primary focus was the inclusion of Mini-Cons: transformers slightly larger than Micromasters that had special ports to unlock weapons and features on the larger toys. One Mini-Con was included with each full-size figure, and they were also sold in themed “Teams” in packs of three, replacing the basic class of figures. The figures were often larger and bulkier than their predecessors, and as such, Armada introduced a new set of size classes, with a corresponding increase in price. Electronics became commonplace, fitted to every toy larger than Deluxe class, and on one Deluxe to boot. These ranged from lights and sounds to the elaborate remote-control auto-transforming trailer for Optimus Prime. The figures featured many ports to interact with the Mini-Cons, but due to their blocky and fictional designs, there were seldom any smooth forms or shapes to break up with the tabs and sockets.
The series was incredibly popular, and as such, many recolors found inclusion in the line. It was the first of many Transformers series to feature almost every new mold in two decoes, and went so far as to include Beast Wars Transmetal toys fitted with “dummy” Mini-Con ports (which didn’s activate any features) and new decoes, just to meet demand for new figures.
A singular figure worth its own mention was the Conquerer class Unicron toy. Finally giving longtime fans a toy representation of the mighty enemy from both G1 and Armada, the figure met so little of the demand, that it was included again in the next series, Energon, unchanged before a redeco could be devised. Unicron became the focal point of the story, so much so that the next two series would focus on his resurrection and destruction, leading to Armada becoming the beginning of the so-called “Unicron Trilogy”.
Armada’s success rode upon several factors that would largely remain a part of Transformers until the live-action Movie line and beyond. Line-wide gimmicks were back in force, and would turn up so often that press releases about Animated made a point of mentioning that it would NOT have a line-wide gimmick. The influence of Japanese anime on the cartoon (to the point of basically being a dubbed anime) would also continue through the rest of the Unicron trilogy. This was in keeping with popular themes in boys’s toys and entertainment at the time, and undoubtedly helped to modernize the appeal of the decades-old robots and their story. Armada’s story would continue with Energon the following year.