Friday, 3 May 2013

TransFormers Collectors' Club 2007 Exclusive (Timelines) Astrotrain

One of Fun Publications' stated aims when they took on the license as Official TransFormers Collectors' Club was to release two Club exclusives per year, and to pick up some unreleased store-exclusive repaints from the much-maligned Universe subline. Their first choice was 'Spacewarp', originally a straight repaint of Armada Jetfire packaged with three space-themed Mini-Cons. For several reasons, changes were made along the lines toward getting it made, including a whole new head sculpt to go some way toward explaining the name change. Astrotrain was eventually released about a year late... and met with a rather tepid reaction.

Packaging:
The official Club got off to an interesting start with solidly-build collectors' piece boxes for their exclusives. Some love them, some hate them... They serve their purpose, and the artwork is often pretty cool but, in many ways, I'd be just as happy with a plain box made of lighter card, and the foam insert might just as well be replaced with the same kind of plastic tray that mass releases get... though this presentation does suggest that the Club takes its exclusives very seriously. Shame they're not so good at releasing them on time...
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Vehicle Mode:
Well, it's loosely like the Space Shuttle, though perhaps one that had take on a few too many heavy-calorie payloads. It's also those traditional Decepticon colours (and, more specifically, the original G1 Decepticon Triple-Changer colours) black, dark grey and purple. Clearly someone on Cybertron decided these colours alone wouldn't strike quite enough terror into Autobot power cores, as he's highlighed with lots of yellow linework and some kind of weird white patterning on the wings. Pushing the description "robots in disguise" to its very limits, Astrotrain has a massive Decepticon insignia plastered over his cargo bay doors. Then again, one can hardly call a grey, purple and yellow shuttle 'a disguise' (certainly compared to the TF Collection re-release of G1 Astrotrain), so maybe advertising his allegiance is a moot point...

One semi-cool feature of this model is that its cargo bay doors do open, though you can't get any cargo in because that's where he stores his arms. They can actually be rotated out of the way to an extent, but then they're hanging out the bottom.

Just like the original iteration of this mold, Astrotrain is peppered with Mini-Con ports - one on each wing will drop his bombs/missiles and one on the top booster pops out an extra couple of forward-angled fins from his smaller side boosters. His main partner, Starcatcher, can be plugged in under the cockpit to serve as landing gear... oh, the ignominy.

What makes Astrotrain quite unusual - aside from the fact that he was so late in being made available - is that his electronics are still in place, while most (if not all) other Club exclusives since have had them stripped. There's not much going on with the sound effects... Tilting the topmost fin forward results in a kind of satellite bleepy effect, while tilting it back gives two different kinds of firing effect, depending on whether or not a Mini-Con is plugged in... but it's pretty cool that they weren't removed.
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Robot Mode:
Just the sort of clunky mess you'd expect from TransFormers: Armada, to be honest. Those wings are always in the way and, while it's nice to have the electronics in his weapon, that gun is just too big... and just looks likw one of his boosters from his alternate mode, because that's precisely what it is.

Parts of Astrotrain seem a bit wobbly, though this is the fault of the original mold, rather than the result of any degradation. It's not even the joints that are wobbly, it's the overall construction of the model. This is basically two halves of body connected to the torso at the shoulder, which is also a transformation joint. That said, he stands pretty solidly... but, considering the size of his feet, he'd be in a pretty sorry state if he wasn't stable.

The weapon looks ridiculously large and bulky... but that kind of makes it the natural equal and opposite of G1 Astrotrain's enormously long rifle, which was almost as long as he was tall. I guess this weapon is geared more toward Timelines Astrotrain's girth.

Of course, the big feature is the new head sculpt... and it's pretty disappointing. I saw the production art for this thing, and the final sculpt looks nothing like it. The differences might be subtle, but the end result is a flat-faced, bug-eyed mess with an enormous chin (shame it wasn't marketed as TF: Animated Astrotrain!). I'd also query the use of purple as the base colour for the head... not just because it looks awful, it's also not true to any version of the original.
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Transformation is mostly pretty simplistic, not far off the complexity of a larger Generation 1 toy. Unlike those, however, this mold is reasonably well articulated. The shoulders have good, solid ratchet joints both for rotation and for outward movement. There's bicep swivel, another ratchet at the elbow and even wrist rotation. The legs are somewhat less impressive in that, while they bend at the knee, the only other joints, at the hips, rotates freely or splays the legs ever-so-slightly. There's a little movement in the ankles, largely because they're involved in transformation but, overall, it's interesting to see how closely the articulation resembles that of the G1 original, just with a couple of extra joints here and there.

Mini-Con Partners
Starcatcher:
Also known as the cousin of NASA's Mars rover, Curiosity? Starcatcher is pretty bizarre, frankly. He seems to be a Mini-Con designed specifically to act as landing gear for the shuttle vehicle mode, though he does appear to brandish some kind of cannon... though, who knows, perhaps it's a transmitter? The thing on the back could be a solar array, too...

In 'robot' mode (and I use the term loosely) it reminds me of Johnny Five from Short Circuit. As is typical with this kind of thing, each arm is half of the cannon/transmitter/solar array wotsit that sits on top of the main vehicle. He gets by without proper legs because he has wheels... but he can't be much use without arms (unless that thing passing for a left arm is a honking great cannon...).

The most disappointing aspect of this Mini-Con (aside from, y'know, literally everything else about the model) is that it features absolutely no paintwork... Nothing to highlight the eyes, none of the chest 'details' are highlighted, and the molded details on the white plastic barely show.

I guess we should be thankful that Armada used so few purpose-built Mini-Cons.
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Astro-Hook, Astro-Line, Astro-Sinker:
Basically a repaint of the Giant Planet Mini-Cons from Galaxy Force/Cybertron, but picked out in Timelines Astrotrain's main colours, and named (supposedly) referring to servants of Unicron from the old Marvel comics. Can't say I ever got that far in Marvel's TransFormers comics...

The colour patterns seem to be identical to the original mass release of this team, just with different colours applied... which makes Astro-Hook and Astro-Sinker no more or less garish than the Galaxy Force/Cybertron trio... But Astro-Line is pretty trippy.

This is an odd set to be packaged with a space shuttle - a construction vehicle, a plane and a submarine. They suit their names (apart from Astro-Line, which is a bit off the wall for a plane!), and none of them are especially great models... but they're a cool addition, and cement the impression (given by his bio card) that Astrotrain has moved into Privateering, with these guys doing most of the legwork.
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Overall, this is a really mixed bag (or box!). Astrotrain, in and of himself, looks OK in vehicle mode, doesn't do so well in robot mode, and generally exemplifies Armada, for better or worse (mostly worse). The much vaunted new head sculpt could have been so much better, and the 'value added' Mini-Cons are pretty average.

Then again, this was Fun Publications' first exclusive, and they're due some respect for trying. Were it not for them, this model with this colourscheme would never have been anything more than a set of publicity images intended to woo retailers. They took the idea, gave it a home and a unique head sculpt, and gave the world a fairly cool collectors' piece.

Obviously, this incarnation of Astrotrain is not a Triple-Changer unless you count SuperPants mode, which was intended to allow Armada Jetfire to combine with Optimus Prime as a kind of flying supermode (referenced in Revenge of the Fallen, bizarrely). Since it occured to me that I didn't have any photos of Astrotrain in SuperPants Mode with Armada Prime, I tried to remedy this situation... Prime promptly fell off SuperPants Astrotrain and one of this arms (the normal mode ones that stick out of Supermode's back) broke off at the elbow. This marks the second time the gold flake plastic in my Armada Optimus Prime has broken.

And, naturally, the one photo to managed to take was out of focus.

2 comments:

  1. Someone, PLEASE post a photo or a video of Astrotrain combined with Armada Optimus and Sentinel Maximus!

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    Replies
    1. Hiya Anonymous, and thanks for popping by! I'd gladly oblige if I had all three (and if Armada Optimus Prime didn't keep breaking whenever I take him out of the cabinet!), but I didn't pick up Sentinel Maximus, or any other variation on that mold.

      I think I probably will replace my Armada Optimus at some point, and have another go at adding combined photos with Astrotrain...

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