Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Cybertron Downshift

During the Unicron Trilogy, Hasbro seemed to play fast and loose with its character names and representations. The character named Wheeljack (Rampage in Japan) was a clear homage to G1 Sideswipe and, on the two occasions where a character turned up looking like G1 Wheeljack, he was named Downshift (Takara got his name right, though!).

Wheeljack as a character still gets a poor deal - while the G1 character was a scientist and weaponsmith, in the Unicron Trilogy he was just a rookie soldier. Even now, in TransFormers: Prime, where he actually looks like the original Wheeljack, he's just a roaming hunter/warrior with a penchant for explosives. The only recent version of Wheeljack that's really been Wheeljack was the Classics/Generations version.

While the Energon/Superlink version was a sports car decorated to look like the G1 Lancia Stratos, the Cybertron version took a whole new approach... So, when is a homage not a homage?

Vehicle Mode:
Yep, it's a muscle car. It doesn't appear to be based on any one car, just uses common design elements to give it a very 70s feel. It's also very green...

My feelings towards 70s cars have changed considerably over the years. As a child of the 70s, I've spent most of my life thinking the old American muscle cars were oversized and vulgar, with pointless features like W-shaped front ends, fins and altogether too much chrome. These days, with all car designs homogenising, I find myself pining for the days when cars looked unique and had some real style. 70s muscle cars are still oversized... but they had character.

The main body of the car is green, but the soft top and bonnet are black, and there are black and silver stripy details painted down the sides. Not only that, but, for once, Hasbro deigned to be quite extravagant, painting the protruding engine block silver and black, the front grille and bumper silver, the rear indicator lights silver and red (very unusual for Hasbro!) and the hubcaps are all painted silver. The only glitch in the paint job is the small block of black plastic at the rear wheel, which really needed some green paint to blend it in with the rest of the car.

What's surprising about this model is the extent of the transparent plastic. In most cases, the windows would be basic shell pieces that serve no purpose... but on Downshift, the roof section is something rather more elaborate. Most of it, granted, is a large shell piece of transparent orange that is just the roof section - textured and painted in such a way as to suggest the car is meant to be a convertible - but the key slot is partially concealed, folded down flush with the rest of the rear windscreen. Beneath the roof section is a block of black plastic which houses the main chunk of the gimmick's mechanics (the other part being in the front of the car), and which is molded with a few car interior details, such as seat tops and a sliver of dashboard.

Plugging the key into the slot causes a claw - also molded in the transparent orange plastic - to pop out from the front grille. It's quite a vicious-looking thing, with three teeth at the tip of each side, then three rows of serrations just behind. At the centre is some kind of strange crystal thing. Not sure what it's for, but it looks like a weapon.

Two spring-loaded missile launchers are included with Downshift, and both can be mounted on the vehicle thanks to 5mm sockets on either side of the car just behind the rear wheels. They're molded to sit as close to the vehicle as possible, despite its curves - there's even a notch carved out in the back so they sit flush against the rear indicator light moldings - but they're huge and blocky, and don't suit the vehicle especially well. Weirdly, both launchers also feature Mini-Con ports, though they don't affect the missiles one way or another.
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Robot Mode:
There's only a little more Wheeljack to Downshift in robot mode. The head sculpt is immediately obvious, with its 'crown' and 'ears' being a common design element for the character. The face, like that of the Energon/Superlink model, is more cartoon Wheeljack than toy Wheeljack - the former always has eyes and a battlemask over the lower half of his face, while the latter had a very simple, robotic face featuring a visor that looked remarkably like the battlemask worn by every other Wheeljack.

The other visual homage, believe it or not, is the look of the feet: they're designed to resemble the front of the Lancia Stratos. One could argue that the triangular designs on his shins are a reference to the red and green Alitalia livery on the G1 model, but it's a fairly tenuous link without the appropriate colouring.

Colour-wise, he doesn't look substantially different since this is quite and old-school looking robot mode - bonnet chest and everything. A couple of extra patches of silver are visible on the superwide power shoulders, and the black plastic is supplemented by a grey or gunmetal plastic for the hands, upper legs and groin area. The other touch of new colour is a little bit of gold on his knees. I guess it sort of matches with the transparent yellow used for the headlights, windows and 'ears', but it seems strange to introduce a whole new paint colour for such a tiny usage.

The weapons attach something like his G1 missile launchers, clipping over his shoulders. They're not such a secure fit there, and will slide from side to side quite easily. The can also be held in his hands, of course, but the launchers are so large, they look out of place as hand-held weapons.

The key gimmick works just as well in robot mode as it does in vehicle mode, despite a 90degree rotation of the car's roof, due to some simple-yet-clever engineering. The key just forces a pin forward in the piece underneath the roof. The claw is activated by the lever that pin moves out of the way, regardless of the angle of the roof. A claw in the front of a car might seem strange... but it makes more sense than a claw in the chest.
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Downshift's transformation harks back to Generation 1 at just about every point. While most of it echoes the larger, former Diaclone cars like Prowl and Jazz, the arms are closer to the sort of thing you'd get with a Mini Autobot, only slightly upgraded.

He's far more mobile than any of those G1 cars but, despite good jointing in his legs, Downshift doesn't really like complicated poses. The construction of his feet means they basically have to be oriented the same or he won't stand. Despite the look of the lower body, there's no waist articulation... though it is possible to introduce some by shaving away plastic on the two connecting groin pieces. Downshift's arms are fairly well jointed, if a little simplistic, but those massive shoulder pads hamper their poseability. The biggest disappointment is the head - it should rotate, but it doesn't rise far enough out of the chest to get clearance. This, too, can be fixed by shaving away plastic in the neck slot.

As toys of characters who did not appear in the associated fiction go, Downshift is pretty cool. The key activated feature is more than a little bizarre and the weapons are cumbersome, but the overall effect is pretty good. Strange that this has never been repainted in more G1 colours (its only repaint thusfar has been as a Micromaster homage in the live action movie line), considering a clever paint job would make for an awesome, more proper homage to Wheeljack. Who knows, maybe the Collectors' Club will cotton on, and make an exclusive of him...

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