LEGO Time Cruisers was a rather short-lived LEGO theme that lasted from 1996 to 1997. It was LEGO's only attempt so far at building an entire theme around the idea of Time Travel. The story revolved around the adventures of Dr. Cyber, his young assistant and nephew Tim, their monkey Ingo and their robot Wacco who traveled through space and time using very bizarre-looking gadgets which were fueled by spinning Hypno-Disks. To travel to a specific time, these machines depended on the power of... hats! Historical hats — pirate hats, wizard hats, knight helmets, space gear, tribal masks, basically every type of headgear from other LEGO lines that the set designers could include.
The theme's second year of production introduced an enemy faction called the Time Twisters, lead by the evil brothers Tony Twister and Professor Millennium. Their goal was to meddle with the past and steal items of value that they stored in their cylinder hats. Their crew consisted of skeletons and ghosts, for whatever reason.
Interestingly, the toyline was long predated by a comic series in the European LEGO magazine Klick Magazine. In 1994, Kim Hagen started illustrating Time Buster, in which Tim (then known as Max Timebuster) traveled through time and space in Dr. Cyber's Delorean-esque time machine to visit many different LEGO lines. International advertising for LEGO themes during this time also featured a character named Max Timebuster, depicted as an adult criminal who traveled through time to steal artifacts from various LEGO themes. In 1996, the comics were retooled to more closely match the newly-released LEGO theme, including changing Max's name to Tim and changing the time machine from a car to a flying boat, as well as letting Dr. Cyber join Tim on his travels. Starting in 1997, the German LEGO magazine World Club Magazine ran a new comic series by Hagen, now based upon the misadventures of Tim and his monkey Ali as they traveled through The Multiverse and visited many different LEGO lines, including LEGO Castle, LEGO Space, LEGO Adventurers, Aquazone, and Rock Raiders. These comics were discontinued after 2000.
Time Cruisers had a mixed reception, and nowadays mostly carries a negative connotation. "This reminds me of Time Cruisers" cry collectors every time LEGO puts out sets that on first sight look clumsily designed or just plain random. Indeed, most of the Time Cruisers sets looked like hastily slapped-together mishmashes of sets from various earlier lines than a theme of its own. There was no unifying design theme, other than the overabundance of play gimmicks. The sets had clashing, and often garish colors and the vehicles didn't quite resemble anything. In short, they looked more like random crap thrown together by a kid from his spare bricks, than an official LEGO line.
On the other hand, the Time Twisters faction's sets were better received, as they had an overarching and more-or-less consistent design style and color palette. Of course, these too had many playfeatues, but at least they looked like something. If the theme is fondly-remembered for anything, then it has to be the creative gimmicks (flapping wings, spinning gadgets, bouncing skull heads) and for its impressive collection of unique LEGO items. The designers took advantage of the concept to throw in as many interesting pieces as they could: besides the hats, there were magic wands, chromed swords, harpoons, crystals and trumpets, grails, dynamite, suitcases, and of course the ever-popular Orange Transparent Chainsaw. Even if they were questionable as models, there's no denying that the sets were good part-bags.
Tropes seen in this LEGO theme :
- Adaptational Villainy: Whereas Max Timebuster was just a kid traveling through time and visiting various LEGO themes in the Klick Magazine comics, he was depicted as a thief always on the run from the police in various catalogs and advertising materials.
- Added Alliterative Appeal: Tony Twister of the Time Twisters with his Twisted Time Train and Time Tunnelator.
- Animal Motifs: Bats for the Time Twisters.
- Alternate Universe: Apparently there's also a bit of this present within The Multiverse, since Tim apparently meets two different universes' versions of Dr. Kilroy; one is named Professor Articus, is Dr. Cyber's brother and immediately recognizes Tim, has a full beard, and his lifelong dream is to discover the portal to Armeron, while the other is named Professor Titus, does not recognize Tim, has mutton chops, and cares mostly about finding a T-Rex egg.
- Continuity Nod:
- Most of the different hats and pieces in the sets are continuity nods to other LEGO themes.
- In the comics, when Tim first meets Professor Articus and Linda Lovely, they are confronted by Mr. Hates and Slyboots. Articus mentions that Slyboots is a former prizefighter, which references the German audiotape adaptation of LEGO Adventurers, Die Jagd nach dem Pharaonenschatz.
- The Insectoids storyline is identical to that of the Insectoid Invasion book, even if the planet is called Armeron instead of Holox. There's even Aquazone factions present on the planet!
- Cool Car: The Delorean-esque time machine from the early 1994 comics.
- Cool Train: The Twisted Time Train.
- Crossover: All the hats used in this line are taken from other LEGO themes, allowing the time travelers to visit those other themes. This was taken to its logical conclusion in the comics.
- Dub Name Change:
- In the UK, Tony Twister becomes Baron Blomberg and Professor Millennium was known as Commodore Schmidt. They're still siblings, though.
- The monkey's name is Ingo in the US and UK, and Ali in Germany.
- The robot's name is Cranky in the US and Wacco in Europe.
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- In the 1994 comics, Tim's name was originally Max Timebuster, and he sported a very different look from his eventual toyline counterpart, wearing glasses and a red hat. Even weirder, international advertising depicted Max as an adult criminal who stole artifacts from different time periods. His time machine in the comics was originally a car, rather than the time boat. When the comic was retooled in 1996, Tim's name and the time machine's design were changed, but Tim's design remained the same. In the World Club Magazine comic series, Tim's full name was Tim Time Cruiser in the early comics, which was later changed to Tim Timebuster in later comics.
- Everyone Is Related: As confirmed by Word of God, Tim is Dr. Cyber's nephew. Dr. Cyber is also the brother of (at least one version of) Dr. Kilroy, who is the uncle of Johnny Thunder, who is the father of Josh Thunder. That's one unusually-large family tree for LEGO.
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: Ingo.
- Everything's Better with Spinning: A lot of spinning functions across the theme, including the Hypno-Disks which are responsible for powering the time machines.
- Fantasy Kitchen Sink: The time-travelers seem to have picked up a little bit of everything from all the LEGO worlds they have visited.
- Hell-Bent for Leather: Tony Twister's black leather jacket.
- If It Swims, It Flies: The fittingly-named Flying Time Vessel is a ship with wings that flies through spacetime. Time operates a flying boat in the Magic Mountain Time Lab set.
- The Multiverse: The World Club Magazine comics' interpretation of the LEGO Universe. Tim and Ali don't travel so much through time as they do between universes, and each universe is host to one to three different LEGO themes.
- Nonstandard Character Design: both Tim and Dr. Cyber have more cartoony-looking eyes than what was the norm for LEGO Minifigures of the time (Dr. Cyber even looks cross-eyed), and Tim also has a nose.
- The Noseless: Tim is one of the few LEGO characters to avert this. It's so weird that even the Detective has investigated it.
- Punk Punk: "Random LEGO parts from the bin"-punk for the Cruisers, "haunted castle"-punk for the Twisters.
- Time Travel: Mostly the casual kind, although the Time Cruisers make a point of not interfering too much with the past or future.
- Wind-Up Key: Wacco has one on his back.