Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Robots in Disguise Optimus Prime

It's strange to think that the entire Robots in Disguise line almost completely passed me by when it was in the shops - in fact, the first I saw of any of it was in Computer Exchange in Harrow, not in a toyshop - and that I didn't actually buy any of the toys until the line had pretty much ended. Like Megatron and Galvatron, I picked up RiD Optimus Prime in Forbidden Planet (probably paying a silly premium), without ever having seen the toys in a traditional toy shop. To this day, I don't know if this is an official UK version or a US import... all I know is that it's not the Japanese version.


Vehicle Mode:
I think I'm right in saying that RiD was the first time Optimus Prime had been a firetruck... He'd been several different kinds of truck in the past, but never anything quite like this. At first glance, it looks a little awkward and floppy... not to mention a little cartoonish owing to the enormous windscreen. The front section is where most of the weight is, thanks to the electronic lights and sounds, but the rear is pretty heavy because of the ladder... in between these two parts are four pegged-together pieces which somehow manage to be just strong enough to hold everything in place, though the firetruck doesn't look particularly solid.

However, if it's not sturdy, it's certainly big - just over ten inches long, in fact, and with a 'ladder' that extends to a little more than twenty inches. That 'ladder' has a full 360 degree rotation, and can be raised to vertical. It also houses a secret, spring-loaded gimmick: four independently sprung missile launchers. At the touch of a button on the base of the 'ladder', they pop out ready to fire. At the end of the 'ladder' is a large box with even more spring-loaded fun: a pair of hose nozzles which pop out when a button on the top of the box is pushed.

Aside from the spring-loaded gadgetry, Optimus Prime comes with lights and sounds in the form of his emergency lightbars and a siren/speech and, whether this is intentional or not (I've only seen a couple of episodes of the TV series, so I can't be sure) the cab can separate from the rear of the truck and roll around independently, thanks to a hidden third wheel at the front.

Naturally, being a fire truck, he's basically red, but there are a few painted details, such as the silver on the roof of the cab, the indicator lights (front and back) and the markings on the doors (three Japanese characters and the word 'Cybertron', both throwbacks to the original Japanese toy - strange that Hasbro didn't make changes to this) along with a couple of Autobot logos about halfway down the length of the truck.

Weirdly, while no effort has been made to hide the super robot's head, just tilting the antennae/ear guns down is just enough to disguise it for a casual glance, since they look like extra water nozzles. One rather cute feature of the 'ladder' is the control seat molded on one side... not that there was ever a figure made to sit there...

It's certainly not as impressive as the Galaxy Force firetruck but, frankly, this one looks more like a firetruck!
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Robot Mode:
The first surprise with this toy is that the basic robot mode of Optimus Prime is so small, being formed from only the cab of the vehicle mode. That said, if vehicle mode looked a little plain, this is anything but: the entire chest is chromed in Prime's usual red and silver, with metallic blue 'windows' to keep the traditional look.

Transformation might be simplistic, but it does allow for a well-articulated and exceptionally poseable robot mode... Though it also makes him look rather chunky, almost like something from the super-kiddie-fied, virtually non-transforming 'Go-Bots'/'Rescue Bots' sidelines that have appeared over the years.

The head sculpt is rather bland, and I personally find it disconcerting that it has a 'neck', and yet sits on a ball joint with a substantially thinner post, so the head doesn't look as if it's properly connected.

One rather cool feature is that the hidden extra wheel that allows the cab to move around independent of the trailer turns out to be Prime's handgun - to some extent, RiD tried to follow the Beast Wars example of having weapons becoming part of the vehicle, rather than requiring that they be stored separately.

The lights and sounds remain active on the smaller robot and, strangely, they're not altered in any way... it seems to be a random rotation of few phrases ("Optimus Prime, maximise!", "Autobots, transform!" and "Fire!" followed by the sound of gunfire) and a brief snatch of siren, whichever mode Prime is in.
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Attack Mode:
But the fun doesn't end there... The trailer can be pulled apart, and pieces can be added to the diminutive Autobot leader. The base of the ladder splits in half revealing two racks of missile pods which can be attached to his shoulders, and the linking parts can be split and attached to his forearms giving him larger hands and wrist-mounted cannons. At this point, he's still pretty much as poseable as he is in his basic form, but the attachments do have a small impact.
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Battle Mode:
And, for those times when bigger hands and missile pods simply aren't enough, the rest of the trailer can be attached to create this fully upgraded 'Supermode'. Attack Mode's missile pods become the feet, and the 'ladder' assembly drapes over his shoulders to give him a new head, the spring-loaded missile launchers and the enormous, over-the-shoulder, double-barrelled cannon.

Obviously in this form, articulation is somewhat hindered. The cab-bot's ball-jointed ankles are rendered ineffective by the attachment of the supermode's feet (though this can be fixed by not pegging in the shin guards), and the arms are slightly less mobile because the extended shoulders have a habit of getting in the way or falling off.

The new head sculpt is far more impressive and imposing though, while the cab-bot's head is Optimus Prime's familiar blue, this one does little to break the monotony of red on this model, other than adding silver trim and chromed antennae/ear guns. That said, there are liberal applications of metallic blue and a dark gunmetal colour dotted about, with something approaching 'emergency orange' splashed across his chest in this mode.

Standard mode's handgun can be attached to the shoulder, but the hinge just in front of the socket prevents it being fixed securely in place, so it tends to fall off with the least provocation. The new chest plate, while eschewing the traditional 'windowed chest' look of Optimus Prime, keeps some continuity with the Autobot Leader by having a flip-open 'Matrix annexe' beneath the chromed Autobot logo on his bandolier.
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Battle Station:
Otherwise known as 'The Other Thing You Can Do With The Trailer'. The way the side panels attach seems a little haphazard, frankly, but it's quite impressive how, by simply folding out the sides of the 'ladder', it is transformed into a kind of antenna/communication tower. The supermode's hands really do not make effective gun turrets because they just look like hands, but the double-barrelled wrist cannons are quite effective.

Sadly, the super robot's head is not disguised in any way other that just kind of looking down, so it almost looks as if this battle station is hanging its head in shame.
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The only part that truly 'transforms' is the cab and that, as previously mentioned, is very simplistic. Attaching parts for Attack Mode is easy and stable enough, but Battle mode can be a bit of a pest because of the waist extension and the rather flimsy pegging together of the 'ladder' rig on his shoulders. It's hard enough to get it firmly in place without the waist suddenly deciding to pop back up, bringing the basic robot's head along with it.

Robots in Disguise Optimus Prime certainly hails from a time when fun and play value were of paramount importance in the line. It may not be the most complex TransFormer, and the fact that it's supermode makes it a parts-former as well, but it's certainly a lot of fun to play with. The only real disappointment is in the lights and sounds - aside from being pretty boring in random rotation, rather than being context-based, they're basically inaccessible and entirely redundant in Battle Mode.

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