Saturday, 27 February 2010

Galaxy Force Sonic Bomber

Over the many years of the TransFormers franchise, one aeroplane has been used and reused as the basis for vehicle modes for the airborne 'bots. From Generation 1 mini-bot Powerglide to... er... Universe Ultra Powerglide just last year, the A-10 Tankbuster has been an unlikely, but generally successful, form of disguise for these transforming alien robots. With each new toy, the complexity of transformation improved. Unlike most others, though, Sonic Bomber's alternate mode doesn't try to match the A-10 as closely as possible - it's derived from that plane, without actually being that plane... Think of it as a Sci-Fi Tankbuster

Vehicle Mode:
All the elements are there - very rectangular wings with a slight upward angle/curve, twin engines mounted at the tail, and bristling with guns and missiles. The influence of the A-10 is very obvious on this model. However, it's quite different in many ways. The tailfins are heavily stylised, looking sleeker, and the cockpit - if indeed that is a cockpit - is proportionally far smaller than on the original plane, suggesting either that this plane is far bigger than the A-10, or that it's not piloted. Hey, it transforms into a giant robot, so that's not really a stretch.

Overall, this alternate mode looks pretty awesome. The key-activated gimmick is a bit of a let-down, though - the nose of the plane splits open revealing (gasp) a honking great cannon with lights and sounds. There's no way a plane could actually do this and stay airborne, but at least the cockpit doesn't split open along with it. Nevertheless, I'm not sure how safe a pilot would feel, sat - effectively - right on the barrel of a massive gun.

One particularly cute feature of this plane is that it's flaps actually work. Largely, this is because these vacuum metallised parts serve another purpose when Sonic Bomber is in robot mode, but it shows a certain amount of thought.

Sadly the same cannot be said for the lights and sounds: the single button just behind the cockpit activates the same effects, regardless of whether or not the key gimmick is active, regardless of which mode Sonic Bomber is in. Considering the sound is of a small machine gun, it hardly suits the gaping hole with its single flashing red LED. Also, the LED even fires when the nose of the plane is closed, so there's this strange red glow in the white nose whenever the guns fire.

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Robot Mode:
It's a shame that Galaxy Force came along when it did. Had it been after the first movie, I'm sure they would have been able to make something far more substancial as a robot mode (just look at Powerglide) but, due to old-fashioned toy design and engineering, Sonic Bomber really isn't that good in robot mode. He's blocky, as wide as he is tall, thanks to those huge and intrusive wings, not very poseable (his arms are actually attached to the wings, so he doesn't even have proper shoulders but, to be fair, they do a decent enough job with what they've got) and, despite the size of his feet, he's not even that stable, and ends up standing on one edge of those huge plates.

As was fairly typical of plane-formers of that time, the entire nose section of the plane sits on his back, though it does serve a dual purpose: Remember that key-activated gimmick? It works for robot mode too, and gives him a large, imposing overhead cannon. Sadly, it can only ever fire upward due to the way it's mounted, and it still sounds like a machine gun... but you can't have everything.

Possibly my least favourite aspect of this model is the 'hands'. On each wrist is a slider which operates the barrels if his larger cannons. One barrel slides in entirely, another slides in half way... giving the appearance of very crude 'hands' in a fixed pose.

On the upside, while these 'hands' can't actually hold his spring-loaded weapons, or even his swords, he does come with holes on the outside of each wrist for mounting weapons, where they look surprisingly effective.

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Transformation is ridiculously easy, considering the size of this thing. The only complicated part is realigning the feet/tailfins at the end. It is good that they included a mount for the overhead cannon as part of the design, rather than leaving it to chance and a strong joint, but it almost seems as though this toy was originally conceived as a drone plane that could combine with Galaxy Force Optimus Prime without having a robot mode if its own.

A little more poseablility - particularly in the ankles - might have done wonders fot this toy. As it is, he's very difficult to stand straight, let alone in any dynamic poses. Proper hands would be the next favourite addition. I like how everything fits in vehicle mode... but it just doesn't do the robot mode any favours.

Combined mode:
Yep, if there's one thing that stuck with TransFormers throughout the Unicron Trilogy, it was the concept of 'Combination'. Obviously nothing new to the franchise, but this particular combination is probably one of the better ones, easily trouncing Optimus Prime + Superpants Jetfire from Armada, and Optimus Prime + Battesuit Omega Supreme from Energon. It even foreshadowed the combination of Optimus Prime and Jetfire in Revenge of the Fallen - note Sonic Bomber's colour scheme, versus G1 Jetfire. I find it very curious that, when Dreadrock and Sonic Bomber got their US/UK releases, Dreadrock (a transport plane) got the name Jetfire, while Sonic Bomber was named Wingsaber, a name that had been previously applied to a barely-transforming brick from the Energon line. The only similarity is that both combine with their line's Optimus Prime.

In this case, the combination is unweildy, but actually quite effective, and even manages to look quite reasonable (the gold is a little garish, but works well enough), considering it's basically a half-transformed Sonic Bomber stuck on halfway-to-Supermode Optimus Prime... and Prime weilding the twin swords could almost be the inspiration for Movie Prime's melee weapons.

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