Monday, 25 May 2009

Who'll Be The Next In Line?

One of the best things about the Classics line was the lack of re-paints. There were only 3, so I shall review them in one hit.

First up is Ultra Magnus. I remember when UM was a distinctive character, but all that went out of the window a few years ago when he became an easy repaint choice for Hasbro. UM benefits from being a repaint of a great mould, but frankly, the deco is pretty uninspiring. Essentially white with blue trim, the one ting I actually like is that he has two Autobot badges tampographed onto his shoulders.

Ultra Magnus came in a two-pack with Skywarp. Again, an easy re-paint (Thundercracker and Sunstorm to follow for Classics/Universe 3.0 perhaps?) Skywarp pretty much follows the original toy scheme. I have to say that the pink/purple paint used on this toy doesn't do the best job of covering black plastic. I have to say that I actually prefer this toy to Starscream.

Finally Cliffjumper, which I find to be the weakest of the three re-paints. The actual mould works quite well as Cliffjumper, but it would have been nice if Hasbro could have produced a new accessory that transformed into a large gun. Also the silver scratches (?) deco for the vehicle mode is atrocious!

Friday, 15 May 2009

Rock the Casbah

Well, I apologise for my tardiness! A bit of a delay getting 'round to this, a review of yet another excellent figure - Mirage. Yes, I know, these reviews are getting to be a bit like a stuck record (don't worry it won't be long till I get to 2.0/Universe)

Mirage, as with most of the original Classics line, is a character that first appeared in the first year of G1. I never owned the original toy, so I have no memories (fond or otherwise) of the original. Mirage is, however, a character that I have always felt was criminally underused in both comic and cartoon.
A aristocratic spy with no particular affinity to the Autobot cause, Mirage strikes me as a character with bags of internal conflict for a writer to exploit. Perhaps his time will come.

In time honoured fashion, I shall begin with a review of the vehicle mode. Mirage used to be a 1970s F1 race car, now he's a generic race car that looks quite a lot (but not the same) as a F1 race car (or Indy car for you Yanks). There's not a lot to say about the toy as such - it's a toy car, it has 4 independent wheels (no suspension). You give it a push, it rolls across a flat surface a fair way.
As far as the deco is concerned, Mirage is blue and white as has always been the case, and he still sports the number 26. The adverts tampographed to the toy offer a few nice homages - to the Autobots' human friends and the robotic race wiped out by Unicron early in the animated Transformers movie.

After a very satisfying transformation, Mirage stands as a willowy, yet powerful looking robot. This toy must also be one of, if not the, most poseable Transformer yet. 14 points of articulation. It doesn't sound much, but you can get some fantastic poses out of this toy. A nice touch is that the nose of the car becomes Mirage's pistol, which seems a fitting weapon for a sneaky spy.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Flamin' Groovies

So, continuing our countdown of the Classics Line, we reach Rodimus. Or Rodimus Major. Or Hot Rod.

Hot Rod is a reasonably interesting character; while Bumblebee is kid-friendly, Hot Rod is the rebelious teenager who'll come good in the end. And of course, he likes fish. As with most of the Classics line, this toy is a high-quality representation of the character. So without further waffle, let's, take a look at the car mode.
Hot Rod first appeared in the 1987 Transformers Movie, and as a character from the 'future' of 2005, transformed into a futuristic car. Classics Hot Rod shares all of the design features from the original toy: the bright orange spoiler, bonnet mounted engine block, exhaust pipes running the length of the car (reduced from 3 to 2 on each side) and the fiery design elements. What you can't see from the picture is that Hot Rods gun attaches to the underside of the car replicating an exhaust and the missile for said gun is designed to replicate billowing smoke and flames.

In robot mode, Classics Hot Rod captures all the elements of Hot Rod you'd expect. The bonnet forms the chest, exhaust 'guns' on the forearms and the spoiler appears as 'wings' on the robots back. Classics Hot Rod adds a couple of new features - yellow 'horns' have been added to the head, as a Jimmy Hill chin, which rather takes away from the youthful essence of the character.

A rather nice addition to the toy concerns the left hand, which features a flip-out circular saw - an homage to Hot Rod's undersea escapades in Transformers The Movie. Another nice feature is that the gun can be attached to the robots back, replicating a rocket-pack.

I have two small criticisms of Hot Rod. One is that there is less articulation when compared to other toys in the Classics line (but not so much that it's a problem), a related criticism is that the hip area is a sod to position. The legs can be moved independently, but are also attached so that they move together. The panels that appear there, I find, also get in the way.

Overall, Hot Rod is yet another near masterpiece in the Classics line.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

78 Stone Wobble

This is likely to be one of the shortest reviews I'm ever likely to write, or you to read. Classics Ramjet was based on the Starscream mould, with a few changes. So pretty much anything I mentioned about Starscream is still applicable.
The plane mode does a good job of replicating G1 Ramjet, particularly those red delta wings and the extra jet engines. The colour scheme pretty much follows the G1 toy, with the addition of a dash of gold, and looks... reasonable. You're never going to see a military jet painted like this, but then it's a made up jet so who cares? I have two criticisms; I think the nose is too short and the wings too narrow. Hardly disasterous.
In robot mode, the toy replicates the 'conehead' look the character had in cartoon and comic. I like the understated colour scheme of white and grey, but I'm not so sure about the gold. Mind you, it's not terrible, Ramjet has been in ill served in the last few years (Universe Ramjet, I'm looking at you). Because the wings form part of Ramjet's legs rather than his back, Ramjet actually has a better range of movement than Starsream. I'll quickly mention the missile launchers. The missiles are obviously meant to evoke the bombs that came with the original Ramjet toy, and work reasonably well in jet mode. They look pretty awful in robot mode. It would have been nice if Hasbro could have supplied a pair of the cannons from Starscream (and vice versa), so that the missiles could be changes for each mode.
Is this an improvement on the 'standard' version of the mould? No.

The Locomotion

Trains and Transformers do not mix. Don't believe me? Count the number of Transformers you own that change into trains. Yep, that's right. Not very many. While the Japanese love the things, here in the west trains seem to get a rough ride. If you want to ride on one (in the UK), you have to pay a small fortune, so that you can stand for the majority of the journey, and the chances are that the rail network doesn't even go to the place you want to visit. Japan, of course, has the bullet train.

Given the popularity of trains in Japan, it's no surprise that they crop up every now and then, but as a rule train Transformers are a little disappointing. Japan got a whole special team that combined to form Raiden, but I'm not sure anyone but completists really missed out. There was a Japanese Micromaster combiner team that made it to the western world during the Unicron Trilogy years, and again, they weren't much kop. And then there's Rail Racer, from Robots In Disguise. Rail Racer, I must admit, is probably my favourite 'combiner,' but the three individual toys aren't the best. This leaves Astrotrain. The first Triple-Changer I ever owned, Astrotrain always had a special place in my heart. Unusually for a Triple-Changer, both shuttle and train modes were pretty convincing. So, when it was revealed that Astrotrain would appear in the Classics line, I was pleasantly surprised.
First of all; shuttle mode. The more successful of Astrotrain's alternate modes. First of all, it looks, generally speaking, like a space shuttle. Always a good start. On the plus side, there's a retractable nose wheel, and a place to store Astrotrain's rifle on the underside of the shuttle. On the downside... Well, where to start? There's the tiny tail (at least there's a logical reason for that), there's superfluous wheels everywhere, and there's two halves of a train whacked onto the side of the shuttle. If your feeling generous (and I am), you can imagine that these chunks of train are, in fact, fuel tanks. If you're feeling generous. Bare in mind that this is far better than the train mode.
I don't like to criticise unduly, after all, I'd be pretty damn hopeless at designing toys. But, is this a train? No. It's a random selection of bits of space shuttle, folded into a rectangle, with the front of a bullet train stuck on the front. This is, by far, the worst Transformers alt-mode in a very, very long time. In my opinion it's worse than Universe Octane (look out for that review...). Personally, I'd rather have had an 'Astro' without the 'Train.' but then, it'd have been Blast Off.

Last, but by no means least, the robot mode. Which is great. I really, really, like Astrotrain's robot mode. It moves the toy from being average to quite good. I like the way the train mode kibble becomes arm shields and shoulder pads. I like the nods to the old Astrotrain - wings where they should be, rocket boosters as a back pack and the chest shield (that stunted tail was worthwhile after all). Astrotrain has a great range of movement, with 13 points of articulation, allowing some fantastic poses. And, unlike a lot of Classics/Universe figures, Astrotrain is armed with a good-looking rifle. Not a pistol, a RIFLE!. Not enough Transformers come with a big gun. It's a fact.
I must close this review by admitting that, in spite of the drawbacks mentioned above, I like this toy. It is certainly my favourite Decepticon from the Classics line (mind you, there weren't many to choose from), and including Universe, gives Cyclonus a run for his money.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

'Con'-fide in me

King Grimlock is back for a Kermodian review of Dropshot.

"I'm back once again with the ill behaviour! Yeah.... right, for my second review I'm going to step firmly into the current Classics 2.0/Universe/25th Anniversary series. Following on from the success of classics, Hasbro decided that they hadn't milked the cash cow quite enough and produced another filler line, but this time, they had a cunning plan. Repaints! Endless miles of repaints! Hmm, but how, asked a naive apprentice working his first and probably last day at the company, but how can we get the normally savvy Transformers fan base to accept these repaints as their favourite characters without them fragging us endlessly on forums? Well, replied the line manager, we won't have them as their favourite characters, we'll do them as....... Micromasters! Micromasters? Yeah, Micromasters, no one will remember what they originally looked like, or which faction they represented! Brilliant, roll out those boxes boys, I've just made us another million....

Or something like that. You see, classics featured all new molds. The entire line was new (with the exception of Devastator but the less said about him the better). Fantastic new toys to experiment with and fall in love with once again. There were repaints, but they were from within the line and, for the most part, expected and normally store exclusives. Prime as Magnus, Bumblebee as Cliffjumper, Starscream as Skywarp. These are accepted in the Transformers universe. And then 2.0 came along and we saw more and more repaints and fewer and fewer new figures. The series is knocking on the door of 9 months old and the UK still hasn't seen the first new mold voyager (Inferno for those who don't know). We have seen 7, count them, 7 repaints in voyager form. Blaster, Overload, Leo Prime, Heavy Load, Treadbolt, Blades and, my review subject for the day, Dropshot. Now for those who don't own ANY Unicron Trilogy toys, this isn't too bad a thing. Blades looks like G1 Blades and the Cybertron Evac toy it's based on was excellent to begin with. But when we are getting repaints of repaints then even the most patient fan can get a little tetchy. Dropshot started life as Cybertron Defense Scattorshot and has since become Autobot Overload and now Botcon exclusive Flak, which is the only character he should have been repainted as! And they even got the colour scheme wrong on him because they have plastered it all over Overload!!! Anyway....

On to Dropshot (you can kind of see how this review is going to go can't you?) and where he began life. G1 Dropshot was a 'Con Micromaster, a blue armoured personnel carrier with the military team. And you look at the original toy and you can kind of justify him becoming his new mold, a TOS-1 Buratino multiple-launch rocket system for those who care, but I'm lost on the yellow and brown colour scheme. Then without a warning, he became an Autobot! Yep, in 1991 he switched sides in the Japanese return of Convoy and hasn't looked back. In fact he hasn't looked anywhere because he just gets killed every time he makes an appearance. In the Armada continuity, now sporting a jet-styled robot mode, supposedly based on an unreleased G1 triplechanger, he is cut clean into by one of Unicron's Heralds (Bludgeon), in Energon he is swiftly decommissioned by Scorponok and in Shattered Glass he is nicely beheaded by Razorclaw, from behind no less! Clearly no looking back. Probably about time to head back to the 'Cons me thinks...

So maybe I should discuss the toy. First things first, the colour scheme is terrible. Brown, green and yellow. Brown and yellow treads? Don't be daft. For me though there is two things very wrong with it. Well, one very, one a little. The little one first. If you move the missile launchers up and anywhere, you can see his robot head and, in fact, most of his face. Not the best disguise really. It's a minor niggle but most G1 toys got this right at least. And secondly, you can easily see how he is going to be a robot. As I implied in my Megatron review, I love a good, complicated transformation, especially on larger figures. Dropshot just looks easy, you can get an idea of his feet, the split down the middle of the missile launcher screams 'ARMS' and the ball joints halfway down the treads almost spell it out for you. BUT... I like him in this form. A lot. He looks solid, dangerous and has masses of firepower. Insert that Cyberplanet key and out pops a multitude of weaponry. Why he needs it is beyond me with 20+ rockets sitting in the launcher but he has it and boy is it big. I really dislike the whole 'gimmick' things in Transformers. For me, the more that pops out, transforms or lights up of it's own accord (Animated aside) makes it more of a toy. Not an action figure or a collectible, a toy. And that loses something for me. And I know they are toys, but I'm a 28 year old chef and ex rugby player, I collect action figures! But all of it aside, I still like this alt mode. There is something very reassuring about military alternate modes, it conjures up imagery of war (obviously) and the sheer scale of destruction that the Transformers have been part of and you can give them license to run freely as a weapon of mass destruction, we would pick holes in cars or animal alt modes, but nuances in military ones are forgiven. So yes, I actually really like this alternate mode!

After 12 seconds of transforming, we have the robot. And anyone who owns this guy, I defy any of you to transform him without one of the stupid-ass ball joints coming out! Anyway. Fail! Sorry this is supposed to be an unbiased review of this DIRE robot mode. Sorry. But seriously this guy really doesn't look good. The colours have, again, taken a lot away from, what is essentially, a fairly good figure. His balance is terrible and this affects his articulation greatly. His legs don't move at all below the knee and only a little at the hips so he is fairly set from the waist down (a perfect g1 Micromaster homage, woohoo!). The arms fare a little better, articulation points at the elbows and shoulders but here everything is limited by the missile bays being attached to the forearms. If they were attached to the bicep like the seekers he would move much more freely I would care a great deal more for him. The hands pop out of the forearms and they have no covering panel so look fairly floaty and rubbish. I could go on but I'll just stick with he looks all wrong. I know some people love this mold but, unfortunately, I'm not one of them. I'll finish bashing him by highlighting his rifle which is actually quite a decent looking gun. In his alt mode it attaches on the side of the tank, safely tucked away, but ultimately useless. Now, in robot he has nowhere to put it except in his hands, which is fine until you activate the Cyberplanet key and have him holding those two massive pop out cannons. Then it has nowhere but upside down on his leg. Genius. In 'real-life' he wouldn't have any need for this rifle due to the mass array of exploding weaponry he already carries so why include it? I have, literally as I write this, found that you can slot it into a screw hole in his back and it actually looks quite cool, almost slung over his shoulder. But still.... oh, and I also noticed the massive hole in his back which makes it look like Trypticon has trod on him.

Maybe I'm being a little harsh on Dropshot. He isn't a bad toy by any means, but after the excellent range in classics and the fabulous deluxes and ultras in 2.0, he feels dated. He truly feels like a Cybertron toy. Which is a shame because with some thought the mold could have been used to great success. I got him for two reasons, firstly, I needed more 'Cons as the classics line is massively 'Bot heavy unless you own the Botcon 'Games of Deception' or the HTS exclusives and secondly because he cost me $6.49 brand new. The equivalent to £4. And I'm still this bitter about him. I wouldn't say write the mold off, but I would recommend getting the Autobot Overload version and call him Flak, at least that way he is a true 'classic' representation."

(I'm A) King Bee

I have a problem with bees. Real bees - love 'em, vitally important as they are to the world's ecosystem, and of course they make honey (yum). Bumblebees on the other hand, leave me cold. I just don't get. Even as a child, I hated Bumblebee (and Spike for that matter). Why would one of the Autobots SPIES (which surely necessitates a degree of intelligence, skill and common sense) get in so many scrapes? And of course, by the time the Michael Bay film came around the character was shafted by being speechless, and to make things ten times worse was the poster boy for the film.

I thought I should make this clear in case you think my dislike of the character colours my review...

In spite of myself, I think Bumblebee's car mode is pretty decent. Rather than a 60 year old car (or ridiculous super-car for that matter), we get a fairly generic, but pretty believable hot hatch. Completer with Peugeot 207 headlights, boy racer body kit and go faster stripes. For once I actually wish this toy had a sound chip; the sound of the petrol powered lawnmowers that tear around Britain's towns every Friday night.

There's not a lot going on inside the cab, but the seats work quite well, and the jetski trailer is a fun accessory. After a simple but slick transformation we have Bumblebee.

To my mind, this toy has more in common with Bumblebee's Throttlebot incarnation, Goldbug, but like all the Classics line is oddly vague enough to invoke any version of the character you care to choose. As I said, the transformation is simple, but does a decent job of tucking all of the car parts away. The only kibble is the car doors, but these become arm-shields in the classic transformers manner.
The toy actually has a pretty robust look about it, which doesn't really fit this character, but does go someway to making the mould work as Cliffjumper (review still to come!). My favourite thing about the mould is the head, which is not over-sculpted, doesn't seem to be based on a particular version of the character, but captures the essence of Bumblebee, as all the Classics toys should do for their character.
There is, however, one drawback to Bumblebee. He's impotent. Yes, I know it's not something usually discussed in polite company, but this is a toy of a character, who is a spy in an intergalactic war and doesn't have a gun. This, for me, is an unforgivable omission. On the other hand, the jetski trailer does transform into a jetpack, a nice nod to Actionmaster Bumblebee which came with a helipack.
In spite of myself, I quite like this toy. It isn't my favourite and is probably the weakest toy from the Classics line (but still miles better than many recent Transformers). However, it is a great deal of fun, sums up the character very nicely and no doubt flew of the shelves.