Saturday, 29 April 2017

TLK Definitely Out...

After a false start last weekend - when I was under the mistaken impression that The Last Knight toys must have hit the shelves because photos were cropping up all over the internet - I popped back over to the recently-opened branch of Toys'R'Us in Uxbridge this morning, with a somewhat greater sense of certainty that I'd find something new and exciting...

...And, initially, I was disappointed - their 'Action & Adventure' section at the back featured only RID2015 and Titans Return stuff, and precious little even of that. Of course, Toys'R'Us have the habit of putting the new and exciting stuff right up the front of the shop but, sadly, in the Uxbridge branch, this location is utterly counter-intuitive, because the racks face into the shop, and you'll likely only glance at them on your way out again. Most of it is still full of toys from Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One, but I did happen to notice the new 'Premier Edition' packaging of Hasbro's The Last Knight toys, and gladly picked up the interesting portion of Wave 1 (ie. not the AoE Bumblebee repaint).

Of course, I say "gladly", but a look at the price tag certainly gave me pause: £22.99 for the Deluxes, £32.99 for Optimus Prime. Putting things in nice display boxes and labelling them 'Premier Edition' isn't enough to make them premier quality, and the paint jobs on the Deluxes looks pretty sparse even in the boxes. Sure, Optimus Prime has a mass of silver paint over his torso and shins, but the arms and chest panels are lacking the flame pattern and there's very little detail work in general... When something is described as 'Premier Edition' and comes with a higher than normal price tag, I'd expect something significantly better than the average mass retail paint job, even if it's not as opulent as some of the Collectors' Club's output, and I see precious little here that might fit that description.

Essentially, we now have Deluxes at the old Voyager price tag (circa Dark of the Moon, if not Age of Extinction) and Voyagers costing as much the now defunct Ultra class (those toys that were a touch larger than a Voyager and often featured lights and sounds, but weren't big or impressive enough to count as Leader class) and I've yet to see what a Leader class figure will cost on this sceptred isle.

The odd thing about all this is, what with the reduced size and complexity of the figures, the dull paintwork and the increased cost, I've gone from being super-excited about a new TransFormers movie toy range and high expectations for a cast of toy-only supplementary characters, to thinking "Well, the movie sounds as though it'll be crap, so perhaps it's a good thing that Hasbro are currently less likely to produce an extended range of characters under this 'Premier Edition' banner".

There is the sense that actually producing toys to accompany these movies based on a toyline is now a perfunctory process for Hasbro, not helped by the fact that they permitted the designers of the movie robots to create characters who cannot be translated into transforming plastic models without resorting to just folding the robot up inside a vehicle shell. The first three movies just about managed this with varying degrees of success, but the decline into shellforming certainly began with Dark of the Moon and took on a life of its own with Age of Extinction.

I'll obviously go into more detail on all three of these - and any others I might pick up from future waves - at some point (hopefully soon) but, while I'm not absolutely disappointed in them, even at these inflated prices, there's still plenty of room for improvement, though it seems increasingly unlikely - in these economically uncertain times, where Hasbro has to have multiple continuities on the go at all times - that we'll ever get back to the awesome detail and complexity of the Revenge of the Fallen toyline...

Sunday, 16 April 2017

CW Sky Lynx Addendum


Several Subtle but Worthwhile Adjustments to a
Flawed but Fun Figure

Straight out of the box, there were several issues with Sky Lynx. First and foremost, not one of the white hip-caps had been properly attached in the factory, so I had to remove and reseat all of them. Next up, I couldn't understand why the two angled fins had been attached backward (ie. angling forward) compared to the main upright fin, so I switched both around. It has a negligible effect on the look of the Sky Reign torso, but nothing serious and, frankly, both vehicle mode and robot mode look far better with all the fins angling backward.

The two vertical extensions of the red neck
piece had to have their tips shaved back
to allow the joint to move
The more serious modifications actually required the use of tools: in Sky Lynx's robot neck, there appeared to be three hinges - one at the base, one at the mid-point where the red part connects to the grey, and one at the back of the head - but only the outer two would move. Upon closer inspection, it appeared that the red part of the hinge had been melted slightly, or otherwise damaged, such that the warped plastic blocked the movement of the joint. Cutting away a thin sliver of plastic on each side released the hinge, granting smooth movement and a more natural-looking 'curve' to the neck.

The blue parts of the wings are exceedingly floppy, and I'd seen a fix online where the wings are opened up and a layer of sticky tape is placed over the hole in the blue part to add some extra friction. For mine, I used pieces of plastic film because, basically, while I remembered the gist of how to fix the problem, I'd forgotten that sticky tape was used... It worked exactly the same way, but the downside was that the pieces of plastic film had to be held in place with tweezers because, unlike tape, they didn't adhere to the plastic of the wing.

Definitely a more natural, animal-like look
The front legs form the gestalt's thighs and, straight out of the box, the ratchets are barely functional. Fixing this required the gestalt's groin to be unscrewed to access the workings of the joint. There are small white plastic pieces seated in grooves on the inside, but the grooves are so deep that the protrusion barely meets the teeth of the ratchet wheel. They need to be yanked out so that the grooves can be filled slightly. I used four slivers of an old business card (two in each groove seemed to fill to a more functional depth), but thin styrene sheet might be longer-lasting for this purpose. Once done, the ratchts are firm enough to allow Sky Reign to stand even in some fairly wide stances.

The back legs were a different matter, and - I believe - more personal preference than assembly error. I think the idea of the back legs is that the hip and ankle are the only joints you're meant to use in robot mode - the 'knee' is really just a transformation joint. Thus, the thigh is supposed to be more than just the broadly circular hip joint, the actual knee - where the combiner point sits - is fixed at a 90° angle, and the ankle is intended to be poseable. There are two problems with this idea:
  • With a longer thigh and a fixed knee, the sculpted 'wheel' details on the belly flap get in the way of the legs, and they can't raise into a natural enough standing position.
  • The ankles are generally far too loose to be worthwhile, and sag under Sky Lynx's body weight.
Hence, in just about every photo of CW Sky Lynx I've seen, his back legs were in a bizarre zig-zag configuration that just looked wrong. I figured all it needed was for the lower red sections of legs to switch round for the legs to look more natural without exposing the screws in robot mode (technically, one could just rotate them round, after all, and then flip the blue feet upside down, but this exposes the screws). As a result of this change, the blue feet are stopped in a fairly natural position, allowing the leg as a whole to look more natural without any sagging. It also leaves the combiner ports on the backs of the legs, where they're far less intrusive on the overall look of Sky Lynx.

There are two problems with this, however:
  • In vehicle mode, the feet no longer fold into the lower legs and just have to either be left extended out the back of the vehicle, or be folded over each other. Given that the rear of the vehicle looks crap without modification, neither of these solutions makes it look any worse and, arguably, overlapping the feet offers some improvement on the stock model.
  • With the feet attached upside down, they no longer peg into the shoulders in Sky Reign's torso mode, which leaves the rotation joint effectively giving the gestalt an additional joint at the shoulders, allowing him to reach across his own chest to a small degree. Swings and roundabouts, I guess...
I also feel that the rear claws didn't need to be extended quite so far from the ankle, so perhaps some enterprising Shapeways user will come up with shorter, alternative feet for this configuration, with a peg at the toes so they can lock into the shoulder for greater stability in gestalt torso mode...

Sky Lynx - The Fan Modes

Naturally, when it was revealed that Sky Lynx was no longer the gestalt machine-beast-thing of yesteryear, it didn't take long for fans to start messing about with his transformation to create a 'dinobird-only' form and a 'lynx-only' mode, with varying degrees of success.

Clumsy and lumpy, there's far too much breast on this weird hybrid bird, though it actually looks pretty good from behind. From the front, the wings seem way too small to be effective... but then, he does have rocket boosters for thrust... My reconfigured legs work far better than the stock figure's, not least because his feet actually support his weight, but mainly because they bend in the right direction to be robo-drumsticks.

Sky Lynx's weapons look best as an extended tail in his form, giving him another point of balance if necessary. They can be mounted on this wings, but don't look any more effective in this mode than they do in vehicle mode.

Not perfect by any means - the legs are even more bizarre in this form than on the official transformation - but the biggest problems are the continued presence of the wings and the undisguised shuttle-tail. Most folks seem to take advantage of the former to make him a sort of robo-Sphynx, but the latter has no truly effective solution. The best I've seen has the shuttle's nose fully extended, then twisted upside down at the robot's neck joint... it looks more like a tail that way, but it's an extremely chunky tail. Due to Sky Reign's head coming out of the booster section of the shuttle, Lynx mode has a large white ruff with wings of its own... Not exactly majestic, but not terrible either.

The weapons can be mounted on his front legs, and look pretty good there, though quadruped beast-type robots traditionally have their weapons mounted on their bodies or their back legs.

Combiner Wars Sky Lynx

Back in the days of Generation 1, Sky Lynx was yet another of those toys that Hasbro 'appropriated' into the TransFormers line and, like Omega Supreme and Shockwave, he never appeared in the UK (in retrospect, it's rather suprising we got Jetfire!). In fact, Sky Lynx was one of the very strange few who never had an official Japanese release until appearing in the Encore line back in 2008... and he's still never had an official UK release.

I'd been debating whether or not to try to track down the Encore figure - it's still fairly easily available almost ten years after it appeared, albeit pretty expensive on the secondary market - when, all of a sudden, a year or so ago, Hasbro released images of a whole new Sky Lynx for the Combiner Wars line - a Voyager class figure that would become the torso of a wholly original gestalt named Sky Reign. It met with a fairly mixed reception, so I wasn't entirely sure I wanted it after all... and only really made up my mind when I realised that my purchase of the Deluxe class Groove left me with three 'spare' limb-bots (two from the Collectors' Club's Subscription Service year 4), giving me the opportunity to level the playing field between Autobot and Decepticon gestalts with a slightly customised Sky Reign.

But is this new Sky Lynx sufficiently glorious as a homage to be worthwhile in and of himself..?

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Last Knight/New Designs - Early First Impressions

So, we've been seeing photos from a couple of toy shows featuring toys from the line accompanying the new live action movie, The Last Knight and many of them look... familiar. Bumblebee is yet another reshelling of the honed-to-perfection figure they got right back in the Revenge of the Fallen toyline (only to take several steps backward with each subsequent figure, culminating with the over-simplified mess of a toy based on the over-complicated mess of CGI that was Age of Extinction 'Bee). Drift and Crosshairs are reshellings, with the most exciting aspect of the two of them being Drift's new, eyeball-melting orange colourscheme and an inverted transformation versus the AoE Deluxe. There's a new Optimus Prime - obviously - which looks leagues better than either of the Leader Class figures from the AoE toyline, despite being only a Voyager. The only major improvements are with the Decepticons... A new Barricade looks decent, a new seemingly generic character known only as 'Berserker' is the Crankcase toy we should have got in the Dark of the Moon toyline, rather than the brittle piece of crap than came out at the time...

...And the new Megatron...

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Titans Return Hot Rod & Firedrive

It should come as no surprise that, when the Classics line came along in 2006, certain characters from TransFormers: The Movie - set in 2005/6 - featured quite prominently. Hot Rod - rebranded as Rodimus, no doubt for complex legal reasons - was one of the very first releases, and the mold was reused about a billion times over the years, twice by the Collectors' Club, and most recently appearing in a Platinum Edition boxed set. It was a decent mold for the time, but certainly not one of the best... and plenty of people have been wanting a proper Deluxe class update of G1 Hot Rod for a good few years, given that we have two Masterpiece versions as well as interpretations for other continuities (though surprisingly not TF Prime where, arguably, Smokescreen took his role).

Cut to Titans Return, where Hasbro is basically reliving their glory days once again by rebooting the entire Classics line, and remaking quite a few characters who received adequate toys ten years ago, but are now considered ripe for updating into the latest part of the continuing Generations line... and, finally, we have a Hot Rod named Hot Rod rather than some variation of Rodimus...

Friday, 24 February 2017

TransFormers Collectors' Club BotCon 2007 (Timelines) Springer

Back while Hasbro were still insisting that they wouldn't be doing Triple Changers in the foreseeable future (I'm actually a little hazy on whether that was before or after the lukewarm Octane (aka Tankor) and Astrotrain), there were several attempts to repurpose more standard two-form TransFormers into one of the much-beloved characters from the 1986 animated movie, Springer. Hasbro themselves released a version of him repainted from Galaxy Force Live Convoy in a two-pack with Ratbat repainted from GF Noisemaze, then followed that up with Springer as a Legends class Osprey helicopter as part of the extended toyline for Revenge of the Fallen. That took care of Springer-as-Helicopter... but what about Springer-as-Armoured-Car..?

Enter the BotCon 2007 additions to the Games of Deception boxed set, where a ground-based version of the character was repurposed out of a surprisingly appropriate source...

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

TransFormers Legends (Titans Return) LG25 Blurr

Back in the 80s, the G1 Blurr toy was an easy pass for me: a large, poorly proportioned mess of a robot that transformed into a sci-fi doorstop of a hover car and, in the thirty-plus years since the character's introduction in the animated movie, only one Blurr toy - the TransFormers Animated version - seemed worth picking up thanks to its improved design and articulation.

...And then Titans Return happened, and Blurr's G1 wedge-shaped alternate mode returned, with massive improvements both to the vehicle mode and the robot mode... albeit with the slightly incongruous Titan Master aspect tacked on. Blurr had been one of the G1 Autobot TargetMasters, along with Hot Rod and Kup, so reinventing him as a HeadMaster initially seemed like a poor choice. That, coupled with Hasbro's hideous colourscheme (seemingly based on the G1 toy, but with less colour variety) made him an easy pass all over again.

But then photos of the Takara Tomy version, from their Legends line (continuing from their 30th Anniversary releases), surfaced, and suddenly the HeadMaster aspect didn't seem so bad after all... And it's about time I posted about something properly new... Though, unlike the other TF Legends figures I've picked up, I won't bother writing about the packaging...

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