Debuting in 2011 Kre-O Transformers is Hasbro's second foray into Transformers construction sets, after the wildly unsuccessful Built to Rule. This time, Hasbro enlisted help in the form of a partnership with South Korean construction toy manufacturer Oxford. Oxford brought a lot of experience to the table, having manufactured lines of military building block sets for years before the launch of Transformers Kre-O. The previous military themes played right into Hasbro's plans, contributing many parts based around vehicles and soldiers. Kre-O has since expanded into several of Hasbro's licensed properties, including Kre-O's indigenous brand “Cityville”, but this archive will only feature the Transformers releases.
Kre-O entered the scene with a broad variety of Transformers figures and sets, from the introductory price point of ~$10 all the way up to the flagship $60 Optimus Prime set. The sets varied widely in piece count and features, but all followed the same basic premise: the set could construct either an articulated Transformers character figure, or that character's vehicle mode, with a few pieces left over.
The vehicle builds were fairly comparable in style and detail to contemporary sets by rival brands Lego and Mega-Bloks, and were far better proportioned than Built to Rule. They used fewer unique pieces, reducing development costs drastically, and encouraging more creative play. The robot builds used a variety of hinges and rubberized ball-and-socket joints to achieve some level of poseability, while displaying vehicle parts prominently to give the appearance of transformation. Sets feature extensive sticker sheets that can be used to add more depth and visual interest, while not interfering with the ability of the toy to be disassembled.
All but the smallest sets included “Kreons”, articulated minifigures of drivers or Transformers characters. The Transformer Kreons were very Generation One inspired, making them wildly popular with fans. Larger sets included accessories or even mini-vehicles for use by Kreons.
Later sets began to follow themes, such as translucent “energon” pieces. Sets containing a large number of Kreons became commonplace, to satisfy demand for the tiny robots. Larger figures were engineered around increasingly standardized “skeletons” of ball-and-socket bricks, losing the detail and uniqueness of first-wave sets. Eventually, Kre-O began to center entirely around Kreons, introducing blind-packed Kreons with a few small parts to simulate an alternate mode build called “Micro-Changers”. Kreon Combiner sets were introduced with four Micro-Changers that could be built into a larger “gestalt” figure
While Kre-O Transformers continue production at the time of writing, waning popularity of the larger sets does not bode well for the series. Many first-wave sets saw massive clearances at fractional prices, but new sets continued to be produced, so it is hard to gauge actual sales popularity. Furthermore, Kre-O toys are polarizing within the older Transformers fan community. Only time will tell the overall success of Hasbro's second experiment in construction toy Transformers.