As the 80's waned, The Transformers drifted farther from their origin point, and despite new innovations, nothing seemed to catch the attentions of children like the original concept. 1988 yielded over 60 new Transformers designs for the United States, and surprisingly, only 50 in Japan as the two toylines continued to diverge.
The main advent of the 1988 series was the Pretender. Pretenders were thin, lithe-looking robots with vague alt-modes that fit into humanoid or monster shell, allowing it to disguise as an “organic” creature. Despite the novelty of these toys and their adaptations to beast, vehicle, and combiner shells, they were generally not well-received. They continue to be a polarizing factor among adult collectors today, who decry such designs as the reason for the eventual downfall of the Generation 1 line.
In Japan, 1988's Transformers were part of Super-God Masterforce, a sequel to Headmasters, which had an inexplicably self-contained story surrounding the new characters, and only making scant references to those that came before. The toyline was more different than the Hasbro releases than any previous year, including Takara-exclusive redecoes, new molds, and even engineering differences in figures released by both companies. Strangely, many of the Hasbro versions of various molds were in fact available in Japan as mail-aways. However, the series excluded a number of new molds used by Hasbro, including six of the new Pretender designs.
In Europe, the variety dwindled further, dropping many of the new Pretender molds from the lineup, while including no indigenous or Japanese releases. Europe also seemed to lack the second issues of previous years' toys, and the mail-in promotions that made older toys available in US market
Though Generation One was in its dusk years, the competition had fared worse. By 1988, Hasbro had eliminated the trademark rubsigns. Invented to differentiate Transformers as the “real deal”, there were no competitors left to necessitate this distinction. Die cast had also gone the way of the dinosaur, as had rubber tires, and vacuum-metalized chrome parts.