Monday, 14 December 2015

Combiner Wars Blades

Pretty much the moment images of the Slingshot-substitute Alpha Bravo appeared online, everyone knew he was Hasbro's way of delivering Blades and, most likely, Vortex by reusing parts from an existing mold. Considering both Hasbro and Takara later released Slingshot as a repaint of Firefly, one has to wonder why they bothered... but I guess it gave them a non-critical character on whom to test the Combiner Wars Helicopter mold.

So, let's kick off the Protectobots with the first major mold re-usage in the Combiner Wars series...

Vehicle Mode:
Who would have thought that Hasbro's policy of reusing parts would give us a version of Blades who is physically identical to Alpha Bravo? Considering the Aerialbots are all (except Silverbolt) military jets, while the Protectobot Blades, traditionally, looked like a civilian rescue helicopter, the most obvious thing to change would be the forearms, as a rescue chopper hardly needs missile racks. Curiously, Hasbro seem not to see it that way, so perhaps the excuse is that they're fire extinguisher missiles, as used by the rescue ship in the old Sega Saturn game Burning Rangers? Who knows? Without tech specs on any of the Combiner Wars figures, we're basically left to decide these things for ourselves. I know it would have been tricky to give him the landing runners of the G1 chopper, but some variation in the mold would have been appreciated. Strangely, while Alpha Bravo tended to be back heavy in vehicle mode, tipping so that his nose tended to point slightly upward when placed on a flat surface, Blades seems better balanced.

Where G1 Blades featured abrupt changes of colour between his chunks of red plastic and chunks of white plastic, the Combiner Wars update features a more consistent colourscheme for the plastic - virtually all of the helicopter parts are red, with the rotors and the small robot shoulder wings in a pale grey. The only white is a stripe running most of the length of the chopper, then the missiles are silver and the cockpit windows are black. One thing I found strange is that all the same windows are painted as they are on Alpha Bravo - just a small variation there would have made all the difference to the look of the cockpit area. Not even the passenger section windows got painted in on this version, all the more unusual on a rescue vehicle.

But, in case anyone was in any doubt as the Blades' function in vehicle mode, the vertical wings on his tail are emblazoned with the 'Autobot Coastal Rescue' insignia (making him the only member of the team working for a continuity-specific organisation), and the engine casing features the word 'RESCUE' on both sides.

That said, he does come packaged with exactly the same weapons as Alpha Bravo - the dual-Gatling hand/foot weapon that only really works on the underside, and the belt-fed machine gun which only really works on the lefthand side. All the armament certainly suits the function of the G1 character, who was actually 'Air Support' rather than a true 'rescue' vehicle, but the markings of this version very successfully belie his preferred purpose.

Robot Mode:
If vehicle mode is a simple recolour of Alpha Bravo, then expectations are naturally lowered for robot mode. Essentially, Blades' robot form is just a repaint as well, but with the addition of a new noggin. The colour breakdown is very G1-influenced, with silver paint on the red torso taking the place of the original's stickers. It's all pretty simplistic, though - nothing really outstanding and, given the predominance of red plastic, I do feel that some other colour should have been added, even if that deviates from the G1 homage.

The lack of landing runners may be disappointing in vehicle mode, but here it's a real bonus, as his arms are unencumbered by useless vehicle parts, and his weapons plug into the tops of his fists rather than the sides. I think the placement of the helicopter's tail in his back looks far better than splitting it across his lower legs (which are now the cockpit), providing a useful means of almost keeping the rotor blades under control, and in much the same position as they were on the G1 toy.

The head is a much more detailed (naturally) and rather more 'filled out' update to the head sculpt of G1 Blades, only now he looks seriously pissed off. Other than that, it looks fantastic, and the G1-authentic pale metallic blue paint on the face is the perfect finishing touch. It's certainly a good start to the Protectobots that Blades' head is just a straight update/upsizing of the original, in all its boxy glory.

His angry face does make the wrist-mounted missiles seem a bit more appropriate, not to mention the handgun and the dual-Gatling hand/foot gun, though it's a shame he wasn't given more of a rocket launcher- or cannon-style hand/foot gun, to better substitute for his G1 leg-mounted launchers. Another odd decision, particularly in Blades' case, is that his rotors weren't made to be removable, so that he could wield them as weapons. If a pair of very sword-like rotor blades weren't ideally suited to a street-fightin' Autobot whose name is Blades, I don't know what is, and it surely wouldn't have been too difficult to remold the blades and hub so that the former plugged into the latter via 5mm pegs/ports rather than the slightly floppy bobble hinges they've got?

Transformation is exactly the same as Alpha Bravo, and all the joint tolerances seem the same, so the end result is a truly awesome update of the old G1 Protectobot brick. One of the best things about him is that, while his head features no light piping, he does have a darker shade of blue paint for his eyes, and the head isn't so boxy that its ball joint does nothing but turn - he can look up quite a way - and even down just a touch - without recourse to using the combiner joint to add tilt.

Had this model not already been used as the 'new Aerialbot' Alpha Bravo, I'd probably be really raving about Blades... but doesn't manage quite the levels of awesome it deserves. Reusing a single helicopter mold as both Blades and Vortex makes a kind of sense... but introducing a whole new (unnecessary) helicopter character detracted from the impact of both the Aerialbots and the Protectobots

The Protectobots were yet another G1 'Special Team' that I wasn't able to finish back in the 80s (and I'm debating whether or not to try to get hold of a G1 Streetwise and Hotspot now that I have these fellas... I may even decide to sell the three that I have at some point), so I was very pleased to be able to pick all of these guys up at retail, even if it was spread over a couple of months due to Hasbro's baffling release schedule. Blades isn't exactly outstanding, but he's certainly a worthy member of the 2015 team of Protectobots. the CW helicopter mold is solid enough, so let's hope it doesn't get too overused... (I'm looking at you, Victorion...)

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