Monday, 14 February 2011

Armada Unicron

In the wake of the 1986 Animated TransFormers movie, numerous attempts were made to create a toy of the Dark God, the Planet Eater, the Chaos Bringer, the Multiversal Singularity known as Unicron. Most never saw the light of day, except as either resin prototypes or display pieces at toy shows. In the case of the first attempts, this can only be a good thing... but, having seen the grey resin prototype of Beast Wars Neo Unicron, many fans - myself included - hoped that would get a full production release. Sadly, it was not to be... but TransFormers: Armada, which later became chapter one in the so-called Unicron Trilogy, brought the Planet Eater to centre stage and, finally, a toy was released. No surprises, it took the largest size class - Supreme - to do the character justice... but is this the toy fans had been waiting for..?


Planet Mode:
It's safe to say that Unicron's planet mode looks good from exactly one direction - dead ahead. Even then, with the folded away feet plainly visible on the underside, it only looks good - not great, certainly not awesome. It's not even particularly true to the design of the antagonist from the 1986 movie... but then, multiversal singularity or not, Unicron has appeared in a slightly different form in just about every continuity.

The big pull of Armada was, of course, the vast collection of Mini-Cons which both the Autobots and the Decepticons were searching for. It comes as no suprise, then, that Unicron's planet mode is able to accommodate a good number of Mini-Cons, aside from his own partner/moon, Dead End (see below). a total of 24 Mini-Cons can be attached to planet mode's outer ring, with active ports on either side of his southern hemisphere, which fire the six missiles stored there. Fully loaded, that's 27 Mini-Cons attached to Unicron. I gather this was supposed to grant him whatever power he needed to destroy the universe...

Planet mode is large, quite heavy and very unwieldy. There was at least one third-party stand available, so that Unicron could be properly displayed in this form, as the only other way is to lay the planet on its - essentially quite flat - rear. Considering that this was intended as a kids' toy, and not a collector's piece, it's a reasonable attempt at creating a viable, transforming planet... though obviously nowhere near as good as the Primus toy that came out in 2006's Galaxy Force line.

Aside from the nigh-ubiquitous spring-loaded missiles, Unicron's planet mode has jaws which are operated by the two enormous claws/mandibles. This is reasonably true to Unicron's 1986 animated origins, though the original Planet Eater had a ring of mandibles around it's 'mouth', with clamping jaws inside.
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Robot Mode:
Here's where he starts to look a little bit more like the Planet Eater of old. Robot mode contains many design cues from the1986 animated movie's planet-sized TransFormer. The colour scheme is broadly accurate, but incorporates transparent plastic for the chest, abs and groin area. Ignoring the huge chunks of planet on his lower legs and the unfeasibly large forearms, not to mention the lack of inner and outer 'toes' on his massive feet, the build is fairly close also.

The 'wings' or boney protrusions, or whatever they're supposed to be sticking out of his back are quite cleverly done, but movie Unicron had three on each side, while this model has only two. The planet shell pieces are quite awkward and, while they can be left on their assigned 'planet' sides, it seems to look better if they're switched round in robot mode.

All the same Mini-Con ports from planet mode are available in robot mode - though Dead End's socket is a little redundant - but robot mode has some additions. There's now a Mini-Con port on each shoulder, on a revolving platform which seems to be some kind of launching ramp, and there's a third active port on Unicron's back, which launches the massive doomsday missile from his chest. Both shins and his waist also act as Mini-Con 'prisons', opening out to allow some of the smaller robots to be placed inside.

And, if all that were not enough, Unicron also has a couple of electronic features - a button on the top of his head sets his eyes flashing red, and a button in his right wrist activates a light in his hand... which also just flashes. It's almost tempting to wish that the doomsday missile was left out, in favour of adding sounds to this model... but I guess a voice clip would have been unnecessary, and probably expensive. Still, it's a shame that the only sound offered is the shrill clockwork whirr as his chest opens and the missile launcher extends.

The face is similar to the animated original, but not identical - it features the 'M' motif used in the Mini-Con faction symbol around Unicron's eyes on his 'helmet'. 2010 saw a re-release of this figure with a more movie-accurate paint job and a resculpted head, since the episodes of the TV series set after the movie were known as TransFormers 2010 in Japan... It's almost tempting to pick up the remixed version, though perhaps an expensive luxury, rather than a necessity.
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Transformation is pretty simple for a model this size - certainly not a patch on the complexity of the more recent figures, even those of a smaller size class, considering Supreme is a size Hasbro is no longer intending to use. The hardest part it getting the wings/planet shell pieces to swing round on their joints and connect around the large claws/mandibles.

Poseability is actually pretty good - limited only by the stubbiness of the arms and the weight of Unicron's upper body. The feet are large and adaptable enough to accommodate some reasonably dramatic stances, but the ankle joints need to be balanced quite delicately. The hands are particularly impressive, in that they have wrist rotation and individually poseable fingers and thumbs. The head is also able to rotate and, more as a symptom of his transformation than as an intentional feature, it can also be tilted backward. Whatever position it's in, the electronics allow his eyes to light up at the touch of the button.

Overall, despite its flaws, I'm inclined to like this model: it's a fair attempt at creating an almost impossible toy - a planet that transforms into a robot - and it took three years for something better to come along... though Primus is also not without flaws. The extra features increase its play value substantially, raising it to the level of the old City-type TransFormers, like Metroplex, Fortress Maximus, Trypticon and Scorponok, though Unicron is far more poseable than any of those.

Mini-Con Dead End:
This cute little fellow could almost be considered a moon for Unicron, albeit a moon which has the ability to dock with its planet, thanks to a basic Mini-Con port in the recess above Unicron's jaws. He has an unfeasibly large gun attached to one arm, and can act as a turret in 'moon' mode, thanks to a freely-rotating equator. Poseability is not bad, for a Mini-Con, but the paint-job is very drab - the gun is nicely silvered but, aside from that, there's just a token few splodges of paint on the head.
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