Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Hunt for the Decepticons Battle Ops Bumblebee

One thing that cannot fail to strike one about the TransFormers live action movie franchise is how focused it is on Bumblebee, and how he has become the 'Kid Appeal' character. Whereas it used to be that there were several iterations of Optimus Prime in just about every toyline (consider the many reuses of Armada's so-called 'Bendy Prime'), Bumblebee has used the lion's share of the plastic in the movie toy ranges.

The obvious question is "Do we really need another Bumblebee?" The first movie had about half a dozen Deluxe Class Bumblebees alone... Revenge of the Fallen has added several more into the mix. Then there's the two iterations of the so-called Ultimate Bumblebee, and the Human Alliance version (with another of those to come in the repackaged line). There's also the miscellaneous Fast Action Battler versions, the Legends versions, the Limited Edition repaints, the Gravity Bot, RPM, Beatmix Bumblebee... In 2007 alone, including Japan-only releases and fast-food tie-in 'toys', there were 24 interpretations of movie Bumblebee, so you could be forgiven for thinking all the Bumblebee bases have been covered by now...

But, according to Hasbro, you'd be wrong... Because, in the Hunt for the Decepticons part of the yellow-packaged, post RotF, 'TransFormers'-branded toyline, they have given us Battle Ops Bumblebee: a slightly shorter, yet more proportionally accurate, lighter-on-the-electronics, more ultimate than Ultimate figure.

Vehicle Mode:
Well, it's a Camaro. Moreover, it's the production model of the 2010 Camaro. It looks suitably Muscle Car-y and, glossiness aside, it's accurate to the car's appearance in Revenge of the Fallen, but there are some issues with the paintwork: At the front, the lower grille has a jarringly unpainted patch right in the middle... it looks very strange, and strikes me as a bit of a sloppy mistake. At the back, it's all a little sparse - the rear lights are painted red, the Chevrolet logo is painted gold, the numberplate and exhaust pipes are painted... but that's it... and there's an awful lot of strange-looking protruberances back there, not all of which are transformation joints. The stripes on the car are mismatched at the back, too - the righthand one is too narrow right at the back, and doesn't match up when it gets to the rear windscreen.

Still, from every other angle, it looks great. All the windows are clear blue plastic, the car body is mostly metallic-flaked yellow plastic. The doors open (taking part of the car frame with them, but you can ignore that easily enough - just about every other Bumblebee has fudged the design in much the same way) and what you see inside is, unfortunately, robot parts. This model certainly doesn't disguise itself as well as the smaller Human Alliance Bumblebee...

The lights and sounds can be activated by the push of a button at the front of the car, but they're nothing really special. You do get engine noises, but not to the extent that was available with Ultimate Bumblebee.

On the upside, this model can reveal its weapons in vehicle mode - yank back part of the bonnet and the windscreen, and two gun-things can be flipped out onto the bonnet. These, too, have lights and sounds.

Also on the impressive side, this model has rubber tyres, though they are quite firm rubber - nothing like as soft as those on the likes of the Binaltech models.

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Robot Mode:
At first glance, this is easily the finest example of Bumblebee's robot mode to appear in plastic form - the proportions look almost perfect... However, it's still fairly limited in its own way. From the front, it looks fine, from the back it looks much like the Human Alliance figure... but from the sides it is deeply flawed. When standing straight, it always looks as if it's leaning backward and, while you can tilt the torso and/or the ankles to give the chest the proper angle, everything else is then leaning forward, and the head is looking down.

The big selling points on this model are the over-the-shoulder cannons (from Deluxe-sized Cannon Bumblebee), the flip-down visor (like Human Alliance Bumblebee and one of the more recent Deluxes, Battle Blade Bumblebee), at the 'transforming' arm-gun (similar to Battle Blade, while other iterations have either had a separate arm-gun or no right hand)... Oh, and those lights and sounds.

The cleverest aspect of this model is that some of the lights and sounds are related to whether the visor is up or down - there are two speech clips triggered by the chest button in each case, neither of which are particularly inspiring, and a further clip is set of simply by shifting the visor.

Slightly less clever is the fact that the gun-arm gimmick seriously inhibits the right arm's movement - it's geared to automatically straighten the arm and deploy the gun as the arm is raised, so there's no outward movement, and the arm is either at rest (elbow at a 90 degree angle) or extended. The button on the shoulder activates the gunfire sound, and the accompanying light inside the gun, behind the transparent blue hand. I did find the sound effect for deploying the gun goes on a little too long... whether this is a flaw or an intentional feature, I do no know.

Naturally there's no waist movement but, maybe it's to do with the lights behind his eyes, but the head on mine doesn't like to turn and, after applying a fair bit of force, leaps round in increments of about 45 degrees... but even this is limited when the shoulder cannons are deployed.
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Tranformation is not dissimilar to the HA mold, just slightly more complicated, with a few extra steps, and with less effort made in trying to disguise the robot parts in vehicle mode. I'm quite impressed with the way the chest hinges into place, the way the electronics are stowed in the chest area, and the fact that they've kept the movie model's split heel design, and the piston just behind his toes.

The legs, in theory, are quite poseable and, in the main, fairly sturdy... but the hips are somewhat restricted by the car panels which, on this model, are far larger than normal - actually folding over the top of the hip. Coupled with the rubber hoses over his hips, this blocks a lot of movement both forward and back, and outward. The main knee joint is exceptionally stiff - moreso even than the mid-shin joint used in transformation - but the rotation joint at the knee is very loose. There's an excellent ankle joint as far as tilt is concerned - and even a small amount of independent 'toe' movement - but there's no separate ankle rotation, which does limit his stability in the few extreme leg poses he's capable of. It's also not helped by the toe part being molded to be flat to whatever he's standing on when his legs are dead straight - a slight angle might have been more effective, but the tilting split heel does help keep him stable.

The geared gun-arm really would have been better off without the sound and lights gimmick and with more articulation, but I do quite like the spring-loaded hand... much preferable to the fixed-pose hand on the other arm... I cannot believe that, even on a model this size, we're stuck with an essentially open hand with that only has a single knuckle joint for all three fingers, and a flattened out thumb... all with no wrist rotation. That has to be my main bugbear with this figure - and just about every other Bumblebee figure.

All that said, this is ultimately a kids toy, despite the hefty £60-£70 price tag in the UK (hint - Argos seem to have the best price right now) - all the gimmicks are geared toward play value, and they do succeed on that level. Battle Ops Bumblebee is certainly one of the most faithful adaptations of the CGI model from the movies, but it's likely to be compared to Ultimate Bumblebee. It tends to come out on top, simply by being a better, more proportionally accurate model, but the trade-off between making the cannons accessible in vehicle mode, against losing the lights at the back and the wheel-movement activated sounds seems a little strange. Certainly the gun-arm on this is a big improvement on the stubby, fixed pose, spring-loaded missile-launching version on Ultimate (or even the Human Alliance version), as is the fact that there's no need to detatch parts to reposition them so, on balance, but particularly because it's substantially cheaper, this model is probably the better buy... it just somehow feels like it's not as good as it could have been.

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