Friday, 8 July 2011

Armada Optimus Prime

"Hi, I'm HEXdidn't... and I wanna tell you about the TransFormers..."

Specifically the Armada incarnation of Optimus Prime, on this occasion. Say what you will about the cartoon that accompanied it (what little I've seen of it can only be described as 'shit', despite using many of the voice actors from Beast Wars, though whether it was entirely down to the US localisation, or whether the Japanese original was just as bad, I cannot say), the toy line had some highlights. Many of the toys were big, clumsy and blocky, but they at least had reasonable articulation. In fact, the Deluxe-equivalent version of Optimus Prime - fondly named 'Bendy Prime' - is still roundly considered to be one of the best of that line, and among the best articulated TransFormers ever... So surely the Leader Class analogue should be better, right?

Vehicle Mode:
Strange though this may look, Armada Prime's vehicle mode is actually not half bad, and was the first version of Optimus Prime since 1995's Laser Optimus Prime to come with a trailer that transforms into a battle station, just like G1 Prime.

It does look odd, though. Very odd. The truck looks more like a pickup than a semi/tractor, it's distinctly lacking in detail, has comparatively enormous (solid plastic) wheels, and has a nasty case of visible robot fists at the tail end. The trailer, meanwhile, is a bizarre jumble. The front end is open, revealing all kinds of inner workings, and the back end has no means of access. On either side, there are large boxes hanging off, and it is supported by tank tracks, rather than wheels. I'm not certain whether the top of the trailer was intended to act as a carrier for other Armada Autobots but, since none of them seemed to be in proportion, that would probably look a bit daft.

Somehow, though, it kind of works... It definitely looks like a kiddies version of TransFormers - almost Fisher Price in its blockiness - but the colours are very definitely those of Optimus Prime, so it is at least recognisable.

Also, it has pretty good play value in this mode - the trailer hitches onto the truck quite securely, and the whole thing moves well as it is dragged along the floor, following the truck around any corner you care to turn it through. The treads might be molded solid, but there are small plastic wheels underneath.
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Robot Mode:
And here's where you start to wonder where it all went wrong. It's only natural to compare this to the Deluxe-equivalent version of this mold, which combined a Mini-Con activated 'punching' gimmick with excellent articulation. This larger-scale model has no Mini-Con activated gimmicks and very limited articulation. You don't get anything like the freedom of movement in the legs, because the ball-jointed hips are enclosed in solid plastic casings which allow no backward movement and only moderate movement to the sides. The knees still bend, but the feet are basically fixed flat. The arms, meanwhile, are just bizarre... If the Deluxe version could have ball-jointed elbows, why not this one? Instead we have double hinges which don't move far because the upper arm and forearm are so darned large.

There are a couple of things that might almost be saving graces... the head features a push-button mouthplate-waggle gimmick, somewhat reminiscent of Masterpiece Prime, though not nearly as effective because the head is pinned, rather than being on a ball joint (another advantage to the Deluxe!). Also, the inner chest area has a molded 'Matrix of Leadership'. Not all that impressive, really...

And, like vehicle mode, there's not a great deal of paintwork, so this version of Prime looks clumsy, chunky and cheap...

He can carry the enormous hand-cannon, or the smokestack weapons from each wrist can be detached and combined into a double-barrel hand weapon made of transparent plastic. This would almost make sense if there were any electronic lights in this mode... but there aren't.
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Trailer, Base Mode:
This actually turns out to be the highlight of the toy, because it's packed with features, some Mini-Con activated, some entirely independent. The large blue boxes that hung off each side of the trailer become small Mini-Con 'garages'. There's a Mini-Con activated double-barrelled turret above one of them, a diminutive launch ramp in the middle, and a two-tiered tower above the control centre of the base. On another of the protrusions is a spring-loaded missile launcher which pops up on a long arm. There's a similar thing on the other side but, strangely, it's just molded detail. I've never quite understood why that is - other than cost-saving - because it would have been easy enough to add another launcher on that side, and there's no point to having molded detail that just looks like a missile launcher in that space.

There's still not an awful lot of paintwork on this mode - just a few splashes of gold here and there, but there is a large red LED mounted just below the transparent 'view screen' at the centre of the base. This is activated by the Mini-Con port just in front of it, and goes along with the uninspiring couple of sound effects emitted by the speaker (gunfire activated by this port, whirrs, clunky and other such sounds associated with transformation and combining).
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The coolest thing about this is that, given a set of batteries and a surface with just the right amount of friction/traction (smooth wood or vinyl isn't enough, thick carpet seems to be too much!), it transforms automatically. Inside the truck's cab is an infra-red LED, which signals the trailer as it's transformed. This signal tells the trailer to transform itself into either base mode or into...

Trailer, 'Superpants' Mode/Super Robot Mode:
Um. Yes. The trailer becomes a pair of trousers. With the truck transformed into 'torso mode', it plugs into the centre of the newly-erected 'Superpants' and becomes one of the most poorly-articulated TransFormers since Generation 1.

OK, it's obvious that legs formed out of the trailer are never going to be articulated... Even in this day and age, with the Dark of the Moon 'Ultimate' Optimus Prime, the legs are fixed, structural parts. The problem with this model is that you're hard pressed to even see the legs as legs. From the front, they're pretty chunky, from the sides it just looks like he's plugged into his trailer, and from the back it's an absolute disaster: even with such an apparently large footprint, Supermode Prime is leaning on a large chunk of trailer to keep himself upright, and the base's tower is only slightly collapsed against his back.

The reason for all the space behind the torso is that Supermode Prime is meant to further combine with Armada Overload, giving him a pair of over-the-shoulder missile launchers at the expense of even more of his already limited articulation. The torso could alternatively combine with Armada Jetfire in 'Superpants' mode, though the only version of that mold I own is TFCC Astrotrain, so I haven't taken photos of that...

In amongst all the chunky crappiness of this mold, there are a couple of cute gimmicks in addition to the automatic transformation between three modes of the trailer. Firstly, when transformed into torso mode, Prime's Supermode head is revealed by a spring-loaded gimmick that activates when the torso is plugged into the trailer. Secondly, a button on the right shoulder activates a second red LED in Prime's supermode fist, allowing the hand cannon, the double-barreled 'smokestacks' gun, or any one of the myriad variations on the Mini-Con Star Sabre to light up. On the downside, there are no worthwhile Mini-Con activated gimmicks available in Supermode.

On the subject of the head, I'm in two minds... On the one hand, it's quite a daring departure from the traditional stylings, yet retaining enough of them to be instantly recognisable as the face of Optimus Prime... On the other hand, it kind of reminds me of something from a Power Rangers series... In fact, the whole 'Supermode' thing feels more Mighty Morphin' than TransFormers.
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Mini-Con Partner Sparkplug:
Or 'Armada Bumblebee' by any other name... because, let's face it, that head is very clearly derived from the G1 cartoon version of Bumblebee. Yes, it's squared off, but the horns are there and the face is very similar. Even the size and overall built are more than reminiscent of Bumblebee... And yet, Hasbro decided to call him 'Sparkplug' referencing one of the human characters from the G1 mythos.

Sparkplug is very small and terribly flimsy, and has a nasty habit of falling apart. Thankfully, it almost seems designed with this in mind, as the joints all pop back together quite easily.

Vehicle mode looks like it's based on some form of Lamborghini... Robot mode looks a bit rubbish.
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The biggest disappointment in this version of Armada Optimus Prime is that a larger model should have a simpler transformation, and is more limited in just about every sense when compared to the Deluxe version. Transformation follows more or less the same pattern, just... there's not as much to it, and the end result doesn't look as good. And then, in Supermode, where only the arms are mobile, they're even more limited than the basic mode's arms: the 'elbow' is the basic mode's knee, but bending in the opposite direction, so it barely moves at all. Thankfully the shoulders offer full rotation, or he'd never be able to raise a weapon!

Remembering that TransFormers are toys for kids, not models for collectors, I'm inclined to like Armada Optimus Prime, on play value alone. After all, 'play value' is more than articulation, it's how interactive the toy is both for the child playing with it, and for the other toys involved. With five Mini-Con ports in his Supermode (plus three on the hand cannon!), three in base mode (plus the two 'garages') and four in trailer mode (not to mention two on the basic mode's backside), along with all the light and sound effects spread across all three modes, and the many interactive features of base mode, there's a lot of fun to be had with this toy. It may never take pride of place in a collection, and it may not be the most successful incarnation of Optimus Prime, but it's certainly fun to lark about with once in a while.

One word of warning, though... This model has been in my collection for about eight years at this point and, larking about with it as I wrote about it, I managed to drop it a couple of times. The first time, nothing serious happened - the tower's platforms came out of their struts, but they plug right back in without problems. The second time, he landed on his Supermode head, and one of his crests actually broke in two places. It's made of fairly rigid metallic flake plastic, so it's not exactly a surprise - all the metallic flake plastic from that period was especially prone to breakage. Further to this, while attempting to photograph Prime with TFCC Astrotrain in Superpants Mode, one of his arms broke off at the elbow - more metallic flake plastic fail, which has a huge impact on his play value.

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