Sunday, 12 April 2009

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.

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