Saturday, 10 August 2013

FansProject Crossfire 02A - Explorer

The Energon/Superlink gestalts were an excellent idea, executed in a rather lazy (or maybe just plain cheap) way. The individual components were fairly decent for the time and their size class, there just weren't enough of them... None of the finished gestalts ever had anything truly resembling hands or feet, and their poseability - excellent in theory - was always hampered by loose hip joints on the torso components - strong enough to hold up the individual robot, but not enough for the extra weight of the additional gestalt parts.

Even so, they are leagues better than anything Generation 1 gave us, and better than the Power Core Combiners simply because the limbs actually transformed into robots. FansProject clearly weren't satisfied, though. Their first task was completing Energon/Superlink's Superion Maximus, giving him proper hands and feet (which were also accessories for the individual planes in the team) and a G1-style handgun. Since that was so well received, their next major project took things a step further... two whole new gestalt components, homages to Swindle and Blast Off, which would 'complete' the Energon/Superlink Bruticus Maximus set.

I've already dealt with the completed gestalt, so it's about time the two components had their time in the spotlight... and I'll start with Explorer, aka Blast Off.

The packaging is pretty incredible, and basically set the standard for third-party releases. It's very well thought-out, with photographic representations of the model, both in robot mode and vehicle mode, over the old style grid pattern from G1 boxes, and a silhouette of Bruticus in the background. Crossfire 02A is officially designated 'Explorer' and comes packaged with 'Combat Unit Appendage Add-on Kit A'. The back shows further photographic representations of the box contents, including the enclosed parts as they will appear on the gestalt.

Inside, all the parts are stored in two layers of plastic bubble trays. The top contains Explorer and his weapons, while the Bruticus add-ons are in the lower tray.
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Vehicle Mode:
The box describes Explorer's alternate mode as an "unmanned drone-type Launch Vehicle"... so it's basically a space shuttle. The rerelease of this mold, Flameblast, was even done in shuttle colours, with cockpit windows tampographed onto the nose. This one is based mostly on G1 Blast Off, except that he's half light brown, half grey rather than all brown apart from the wings. Blast-Off had purple blocks decorating his wings, those on Explorer are purple and grey. There's also a gunmetal strip on the leading edge of the wings.

Unlike Blast Off, Explorer has no boosters molded into the model - the rear of the shuttle is where he keeps his robot feet. Given the level of detail and authenticity, this is something of a disappointment, but all that other detail does balance out this awkward absence (except... how does he fly, if he has no propulsion?). All the molded panel lines go some way to disguising the seams between parts, though there are points, such as the middle of the vehicle, where the needs of its transformation leave unsightly gouges in the otherwise smooth, sleek appearance of the spacecraft.

One strange outstanding feature is the tail fin, which appears to be composed of two parts, and has a hinge in the middle. This is because it's one of the robot's weapons, though it does a fairly good job of pretending to be a tail fin. Speaking of weapons, the set doesn't include any armaments that can be used by Explorer in vehicle mode. Given that Blast Off had attachable weapons, this is another disappointment in the alternate mode... and something FansProject have continued to neglect in their later additions to the Causality line.
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Robot Mode:
There can be no argument that G1 Blast Off's robot mode is a bit of an abomination. It didn't really have arms, hands or decent legs, it just had two halves of the shuttle's nose with the very tips folded round to reveal sockets for his weapon, and a conjoined block for lower legs. It was the standard, very basic G1 gestalt brick. FansProject have created something very special with Explorer.

It looks as one might have imagined Blast Off to look, in one's mind's eye, as a child playing with the toy... and, actually, very much like the G1 cartoon character. The colours are based on the G1 toy, with two shades of purple coming in to play alongside the black, grey and brown. The gunmetal rims of the wings are supplemented by additional patches of metallic paint on the lower legs and torso so, while vehicle mode might have looked a little drab, robot mode is anything but. The paintwork really brings out the molded detail on the model.

The head sculpt is a bit peculiar. It's basically like the G1 box-head, only with two separate eyes, painted red, rather than a visor. Fansproject didn't skimp on the paint for the head either - the faceplate is painted silver, and the grille on his forehead is highlighted with a dab more gunmetal paint. It looks pretty good, and it's mounted on a ball joint.

The two hand weapons which are packaged with Explorer can be used separately by this robot, or combine into an enormous shotgun for the gestalt. Both are very detailed weapons and, while comparatively large, they're not so big that they become unwieldy. As previously mentioned, the vehicle mode's tail fin disconnects and becomes an axe or sword for Explorer (depending on whether or not it's folded out), though it's only a dagger for the gestalt.

If there's one disappointment about this model, it's that the hollow nose of the shuttle hangs uselessly down his back. Given the way the central sections fold away to release Explorer's legs, it's a shame a similar trick wasn't used on the nose, to stow it more efficiently.
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Accessories:
Explorer comes packaged with Onslaught's cannons, two sets of missile racks for the Energon/Superlink helicopter (which double as Bruticus' extended shoulder joints) and a strange wheeled thing which isn't much use on its own since all the wheels are on one side. With its counterpart, packaged alongside Munitioner, it becomes a missile pod backpack for Barricade or part of a trailer, for converting Barricade into a more effective Onslaught.
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Shifting Explorer between vehicle and robot modes can get a bit fiddly because of all the panels that have to move around and connect together, and some of his edges are fairly sharp, meaning it can get quite uncomfortable if you're careless. Once you've gone through the process a few times, though, it becomes very easy. It's very cleverly done and, while I'm not a fan of excessive panelling, I prefer this model's means of disguising the legs to the usual method of collapsing the leg at the knee. Some pieces seem rather thin, but the plastic is very good quality, and I don't foresee it breaking through repeated transformation.

It's a massive shame that Hasbro and Takara Tomy can't seem to design TransFormers as well as this in terms of articulation. The Energon/Superlink gestalt components were good and, granted, this model came along at least six years after that series, but it's such a huge leap forward. It's incredibly well thought out, and it's no surprise the packaging boasts about its "18 points of articulation" (though I only count 16 unless the wing parts on the chest are supposed to count), because they're so well-used. Ball joints are perfectly sufficient and very dynamic for the arms and hips. There are swivel joints at the waist and in each thigh, the knees bend with more than adequate range, and the feet have ball joints to ensure firm placement and nigh perfect stability in even the most extreme poses.

This set is what caused me to sit up and take notice of FansProject, even more than the City Commander set. It's very well thought-out, solidly built and of excellent quality. Having the nosecone hanging off the back is detrimental to the appearance of the robot, but it's not a massive problem. The bigger problem for me is the lack of vehicle mode weapons... though I guess it could be argued that Explorer is a civilian vessel...

I know this is a premium figure, and effectively a limited edition, but it's really worth every penny - as an individual unit - for its articulation alone, without even considering it as an upgrade to an Energon/Superlink gestalt. However, if you do happen to have any version of the Energon/Superlink gestalt, this is a must-have.

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