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...

...Actually looks fantastic. Yes, his alternate mode is another Cybertronian jet rather than a development of his Dark of the Moon post-apocalyptic death tanker, and so it loses a few points in my estimation, but at least it actually looks like a jet this time, rather than an obscure weapon liable to inflict as much injury on its wielder as on its intended victim. Robot mode is suitably terrifying without resorting to just being a mass of shiny spikes...

And yet...

...Maybe it's just me, but Megatron no longer looks like a TransFormer. OK, let me clarify: The original live action movie Megatron didn't look like a TransFormer because he was just a mass of shifting spikes that proved impossible to turn into a decent plastic toy at any scale. Revenge of the Fallen Megatron had exactly the same problem, but the toy wasn't a complete disaster given what the designers had to work with, it just needed some third party upgrades to make it right... And yet, without a recognisable, real world alternate mode 'disguise', it was still a bit crap as a 'Robot In Disguise'. Dark of the Moon Megatron was the first halfway decent version, with a recognisable, terrestrial 'disguise' (albeit at a stretch considering Earth wasn't a post-apocalyptic wasteland in that film), leading to an excellent Voyager class toy that would surely have been a triumph as a Leader class toy. Then the design went batshit crazy all again with Age of Extinction's Galvatron, where the vehicle mode was excellent... but the robot mode gave so little indication of being something that turned into a truck, the toy had to resort to being a shell-former.

The new version of Megatron - and I'm sure the movie will go to great lengths to explain why he's gone back to that name rather than continuing as Galvatron... assuming it's even the same robot - has a far more believable alternate mode, despite not being based on a real-life vehicle of any kind. Unlike the first movie Megatron's jet mode, this one appears to have visible means of propulsion - highlighted by what appears to be a pair of large sculpted flame missiles - and a cockpit-analogue rather than a visible head. While we've not seen any images of the underside of the toy, the look of the Leader class vehicle suggests a fair bit of the robot might be visible below, but not to the extent of, say, RotF Jetfire. The Voyager class version actually has chunks of the robot's leg embedded in the wings as well, but still makes a decent robot. In short, it seems like a reasonable amount of thought has gone into designing the new Megatron's vehicle mode.

Robot mode, though..? While I was certainly no fan of the Shrike-like silver-and-chrome spiked look used in the first two movies, I'm not sure about this new fantasy aesthetic. Given that we've seen one dragon in the trailer, and toy images of a second, Megatron's look is more TransFormers: Skyrim than anything that has gone before.

It's almost as if there's a new crossover toyline, in which alien knights from some bizarre mediaeval future have been given the ability to shape-shift into spacecraft... except that there's just so little evidence of an alternate vehicle form in the robot's design that the alternate mode almost seems incongruous, if not superfluous. Granted, it's a development of Age of Extinction Optimus Prime's new look, which exhibited precious little sign of being a robot that could turn into a truck because it all happened by way of CGI trickery, and the resultant toy was a bit crap... but it strikes me as a very poor decision on Hasbro's part to allow these sorts of designs to appear in the movie, when it doesn't really match the aesthetic of most of the other robots in the movie, let alone translate properly into plastic.

Right now, based on what little I've seen of the movie in trailers, etc. I'm not looking forward to the completed movie and may even skip on it altogether... The toyline appears to have even fewer figures that I'd want to purchase than the Age of Extinction line, but we'll have to wait and see what sort of whims take me when they finally start appearing on shelves and online.

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...

Saturday, 18 February 2017

TransFormers United 2-pack: UN-20 Rumble & Frenzy

If there's one thing I find frustrating and disappointing about the TransFormers brand, it's the reliance on tanks to solve just about any issue with updating a character's form. Megatron can't be a gun anymore because gun toys are considered more dangerous and contentious in America than real guns? Make him a tank. Shockwave can't be a space gun anymore because space guns are still guns? Make him a space tank.

Perhaps I shouldn't be so fussy about a toyline which is still, let's face it, predominantly made up of cars... but surely there are better updates to contentious G1 alternate modes than tanks?

And yet, just because the extended Classics line had no Soundwave of its own (despite there being a sort of contemporary figure in one of Takara Tomy's short-lived offshoot lines), two of his more enduring minions appeared in somewhat familiar and sadly unimaginative forms...

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Unite Warriors UW-07 Decepticon Combaticon Combiner Bruticus

Back in the days of Generation 1, I had much better luck with the Decepticon combiners than the Autobots, managing to complete two of the former (Menasor and Abominus) and most of another (all the Seacons except Snaptrap, who I only picked up on eBay a few years ago) without any of the latter (3 out of 4 limbs for Defensor seems, in retrospect, a little underachieving). The truth was, the Autobots weren't that interesting - Defensor looked a bit boxy, Superion looked very gangly and Computron's components just looked pretty awful to me. Also, with G1 Devastator not making it over to these shores, I felt compelled to compensate by focussing on the Decepticon gestalts anyway.

The one I never got round to was Bruticus and, while Hasbro released his Combiner Wars incarnation as a G1 toy homage - with only one new mold (Brawl) and one reshelling (Swindle, from Rook), reducing Blast Off from a space shuttle to a jet (albeit a more appropriate vehicle  for a military unit) - Takara Tomy aimed for a more cartoon-accurate vibe and created a whole new mold for the Decepticons' 'Space Warrior'.

Of course, buying the Takara Tomy boxed set on import makes it rather more expensive than the version I could pick up piecemeal in UK toy shops... but is it worth the extra..?

Pricing Insanity

It's actually pretty rare, at the moment, that I'll buy any TransFormers in a physical shop, largely because there aren't any decent toy shops close enough to me that the potential for disappointment (nothing new in stock, limited selection, etc.) is outweighed by the likelihood of scoring an awesome new purchase. Out of town, the most easily accessible shop is the Uxbridge branch of The Entertainer. Across the outskirts there's a Toys'R'Us at Brent Cross, another at Watford and the Friern Barnet branch of Smyths (the latter more easily accessible from work than from home). I gather from a trip in to Uxbridge yesterday that the Intu complex will soon boast its very own - and permanent - Toys'R'Us, following the pop-up branch that arrived shortly before Christmas one year, then disappeared very soon into the New Year. The last time I regularly put in the legwork and visited toy shops was back when the Revenge of the Fallen toyline was in full swing, although I did pick up quite a few Combiner Wars figures in the Smyths at Friern Barnet.

We're also in something of a period of economic uncertainty, with the 'Brexit' referendum causing the value of the pound to plummet against the Euro, the US Dollar and the Yen. This would naturally have an impact on the cost of our Plastic Crack, but the pattern thusfar seems to show a specific, strange, yet not entirely unexpected bias. Leader Class toys have long been fairly stable in the region of £40-45, so the RRP of a Leader Class figure in the Titans Return range being £45/£45.99 seems perfectly acceptable (unless you get really technical and compare the likes of Powermaster Optimus Prime or Soundwave with Revenge of the Fallen Optimus Prime - same pricepoint, vastly different levels of complexity). Even the Voyager class figures have been creeping steadily upward from about £18 to £25 over the last decade. Size-wise, they've been reasonably stable so they presented probably the best value for money over that same period.

So, when I visited The Entertainer yesterday, while I was expecting neither to buy anything nor to even see anything new, I was surprised by a couple of things: firstly, they actually had TR Voyager class (triple-changin') Optimus Prime and Megatron (at £27 each); secondly, there had been a significant price hike in the Deluxe class Titans Return figures in only a couple of weeks: last time I was there, they were £20... Now they're £23.

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