Sunday, 5 February 2017

Unite Warriors UW-07 Decepticon Combaticon Combiner Bruticus

Back in the days of Generation 1, I had much better luck with the Decepticon combiners than the Autobots, managing to complete two of the former (Menasor and Abominus) and most of another (all the Seacons except Snaptrap, who I only picked up on eBay a few years ago) without any of the latter (3 out of 4 limbs for Defensor seems, in retrospect, a little underachieving). The truth was, the Autobots weren't that interesting - Defensor looked a bit boxy, Superion looked very gangly and Computron's components just looked pretty awful to me. Also, with G1 Devastator not making it over to these shores, I felt compelled to compensate by focussing on the Decepticon gestalts anyway.

The one I never got round to was Bruticus and, while Hasbro released his Combiner Wars incarnation as a G1 toy homage - with only one new mold (Brawl) and one reshelling (Swindle, from Rook), reducing Blast Off from a space shuttle to a jet (albeit a more appropriate vehicle  for a military unit) - Takara Tomy aimed for a more cartoon-accurate vibe and created a whole new mold for the Decepticons' 'Space Warrior'.

Of course, buying the Takara Tomy boxed set on import makes it rather more expensive than the version I could pick up piecemeal in UK toy shops... but is it worth the extra..?

Packaging:
I have to say that I really do like Takara Tomy's Unite Warriors packaging - it's a good, sturdy box with a large window behind its magnetically sealed flap. On the front is a downright gorgeous painting of a bulky, menacing (and fairly toy-accurate) Bruticus in the ruins of a city - dark and rather desaturated though it may be, to the point where you'd be hard pressed to identify what colour has been used on some parts of the gestalt, and even the explosions look quite grey - with the back of the box displaying photographs of the components and the gestalt.

This particular box arrived with some scuffing on the back, but I'm not overly fussed. The only problem with these things is that it almost seems a shame to remove the figures from such a good display box... But I've never been one to keep my toys 'mint in sealed box', and I did make room on my shelves for Bruticus.

Also, it's rather difficult to write about toys in any detail if they stay in their boxes.


Vortex
Vehicle Mode:
Somewhat predictably, Vortex is the same old Alpha Bravo mold in both the Hasbro and the Takara Tomy sets, without a single modification... or is he? This version - for no apparent reason (aside from, y'know, G1 accuracy) - has four rotor blades rather than the two of every Combiner Wars iteration. For me, it doesn't make a massive difference in this mode, but I appreciate that meagre effort at recreating Vortex authentically.

This is also one of the very few reuses of this mold that paints in the majority of the sculpted windows - the two outermost ones on each side of the nose are left bare aside from a Decepticon insignia stamped into the larger of the two, but the row of four windows down his sides and the window in the roof are painted with a nice, glossy black. This same paint has been applied to the raised areas either side of the rotor blades and on the tail rotor, evidently to further the G1 toy resemblance.

In fact, so much effort has gone into turning this new mold - ill-suited as it has been to just about every usage so far - into a serviceable Vortex, it seems strange that the missile pods and the nose have been painted cyan rather than a deep sea green. The colour they've used here isn't even accurate to Vortex's animation model, which used a far darker shade of blue. Round 1 to Hasbro, it would seem, with their more toy-accurate and varied colourscheme... Though I doubt I'll go so far as to pick up Combiner Wars Vortex to substitute for this one. It's disappointing that they didn't remold the nose, arms or tail even a little but, while the missile pods aren't strictly G1 accurate, they are at least appropriate on what, in this usage of the mold, is supposed to be a military helicopter.

He comes with the same weapons as Alpha Bravo, etc. but, obviously, can't mount either of them on his nose, as the G1 figure did.


Robot Mode:
Here again, Takara Tomy have gone for accuracy to the animation model, which ignored its own linework and had bold black bars down its shins, rather than across them, to represent the cockpit window on the toy. Other than that, he's a very bland grey and cyan repaint of Alpha Bravo. They've tried to liven things up a touch by making it appear that his missiles are mounted on a sort of vambrace/gauntlet and by using two different plastic colours for his combiner peg, but he's really not that exciting.

While the four rotor blades may have worked well for vehicle mode, they're nothing but trouble in robot mode - it's easy enough to get two of the blades nestled between the fins on his back, but the other two just won't fold back enough, and so they stick out at about a 45° angle, and I can't help but think they'd get in the way. What this adjustment to the mold needed was a way to split the central part of the rotor blades into two V-shaped halves, one of which could lift up and rotate round 180° to peg into the lower half, thus bringing all four blades in between the tail fins... Or, alternatively, a way of bringing the rotor hub up/back over the tail so they could hang down, movie Blackout-style.

Vortex has the stock Alpha Bravo head, with a red visor and silver faceplate... which works as well as one would expect, given that the Alpha Bravo mold was basically created to become Vortex.

On thing I noticed on this figure is that the 5mm socket that acts as wrist/ankle when Vortex is in limb mode is already showing signs of plastic stress. It doesn't seem excessively tight, which suggests a certain brittleness about the plastic... Something I'll have to keep an eye on, even though I don't expect to be playing around with him too often.


Swindle
Vehicle Mode:
At first glance, it's very hard to believe this is just a reshelling of Rook's overall structure, but the back view really gives it away, being identical in everything except the molded detail. From every other angle, Swindle looks like a heavy-duty, all-terrain vehicle - not quite the Jeep of the G1 original, more like an armoured dune buggy covered with rollbars and with a large storage bin/battering ram on the front. It looks quite a formidable vehicle, and I love the extensive molded detail on every surface, from the riveted armour panels on the bonnet to the equipment satchels on each side.

The vast majority of the vehicle is a dusty/sandy yellow, almost mustard-coloured plastic, with the bonnet painted purple purely for the sake of accuracy to the G1 cartoon character's animation model. The roll cage is painted silver, as is the pipework toward the back and on the front storage bins, The hubcaps and diminutive headlights are also painted silver, and that represents the sum total of the colourscheme. For the most part, this simplicity suits the idea of a military vehicle, but it's one of those molds where the sculpted detail cries out for a black/brown wash to suggest weathering and to make the detail pop out a bit more.

Where this reshelling falls down is that Swindle's fists are extremely visible within the roll cage and he lacks any of the details one would expect to see in the interior of a vehicle. At this point, it ceases to be remotely believable as this kind of vehicle, and I do wonder why they didn't just give him opaque windows instead of an open roll cage. Well, that or simply make him a new variant on the CW Offroad/First Aid molds, either of which look suitable for reuse as a sort-of military vehicle.

Swindle comes with a whole new weapon in the CW/UW line, a 3-barrelled miniature Gatling that can mount on either of the two 'shoulder' ports or on the central peg, thanks to a socket molded into the side of the weapon. His hand/foot weapon is a sandy-coloured double-barrelled cannon which can also mount in any of these locations thanks to the peg on the top side and a socket in the 'palm'. When mounted on the central peg, the machine gun can be stacked on top of the cannon via its side socket for a more all-in-one-armament look. The fact that it's the same colour as the vehicle is a mixed blessing - on the one hand, it suggests the same 'desert camouflage' look as the main vehicle (and will fit with the G1 animation model for Bruticus, which had his feet the same colour as his lower legs), on the other, it blends a bit too well with the rest of the vehicle, which just ends up making the fully tooled-up vehicle look blockier.


Robot Mode:
In robot mode, it's a lot easier to see Swindle's resemblance to Rook. The large, chunky arms, the broad, heavy chest and the enormous moon boots are all hallmarks of the original mold. For all that, though, Swindle still looks unique: while the biceps, thighs, hips and groin are all common to Rook (not to mention more structural pieces like the tilting section of the foot, behind his 'toes') everything else is new. Swindle's top half is nigh on perfect - looking like a bulked-up version of the G1 animation model. The sculpted detail doesn't quite match that idea, as the headlights and grille above his hips leads up to a chest designed to resemble the front of a jeep rather than its windscreeen, as this same mold was used in green, with a new head, as Hound. This apparent duplication of parts isn't a big deal to me, but it does show how Hasbro/Takara Tomy planned their figures with a view to cutting costs by reusing as much of each mold as possible.

I noted some rather obvious hollow parts on Rook and, to be honest, Swindle is even worse - the backs of his forearms are basically the same, but lack Rook's fairly substantial flaps on the sides, while the shins look terrible - pitted and incomplete, like one of those oversize knockoffs where the maker has tried to reduce plastic consumption. The painted pipework doesn't do much to offset this look. It makes for a very strange comparison with the original usage of this body type.

Swindle's machine gun becomes a handgun in robot mode but looks a little strange pegged into his fist due to a wider section on the peg, intended to represent the gun's vehicle mode mounting - it never quite looks as though he has a firm grip on it. It could just as easily be pegged into the shoulder sockets, but one has to imagine that the hands were resculpted into more traditional open fists (as opposed to the closed fists with forward-facing guns/sockets on Rook) for a reason. Alternatively, as another new feature of this reshelling, the machine gun can also be pegged into the underside of the vehicle mode roof section hanging off his back to give him an over-the-shoulder weapon. That particular mounting doesn't quite work for me - both in that it's very difficult to attach, and that it just doesn't look that great - but I can see it being more useful on Hound or, potentially, another repaint as Outback. While the hand/foot gun can be mounted on either of his shoulders or held in his hands, I think it looks best when wielded underslung - even on a bulky chap like UW Swindle, it's too big to function adequately as a handgun, similar to virtually every Mechtech weapon - Deluxe class figures are just too damned small for such bulky weapons.

The head sculpt is, at once, rather nondescript yet brilliantly Swindlesque. The defining feature of the G1 figure's tiny box of a noggin was that his huge optics were the only feature picked out in paint. Just about every subsequent interpretation of Swindle has paid similar attention to his eyes, even FansProject's version. This one takes aspects from the G1 animation model, the IDW interpretation and even the TFAnimated version... all that's missing - most regrettably - is the indulgent smirk that should serve as a warning to anyone attempting to make a deal with him, as if his name wasn't warning enough.

Despite being a reshelling of an existing mold, Swindle is one of the winners of the set... but I'd feel pretty positive toward this figure just because he has proper arms and legs - rather than the sticks with a combined shoulder/elbow joint in the middle and stumpy block leg/feet, like the G1 toy - . If there's one thing Combiner Wars/Unite Warriors has done exceptionally well, it's updating and improving the limbs of each gestalt.


Brawl:
Vehicle Mode:
And so we come to the first wholly new CW/UW mold... and, in a somewhat ironic approach to 'wholly new', it's a Decepticon tank. That's hardly unexpected, though, as even Hasbro kept to Brawl's traditional alternate mode. Like several other models in this set, his colouring is a little off - the majority of his plastic is a warm olive green rather than anything that might actually look military, and only Hasbro's G2 boxed set version got any camouflage paint... though that was purple. All this version gets is a coating of gunmetal paint on the main cannon (or possibly just an excellent gunmetal plastic), some patches of silver paint toward the back of the vehicle, dark gunmetal paint all over the treads (immobile, naturally, with little wheels embedded on the underside) and a Decepticon insignia stamped on either side of the turret.

Brawl's vehicle mode is a disappointment on several levels - first and foremost, the turret doesn't even turn. This one small feature has been a staple of TransFormers tanks as long as I can remember, the only exceptions being molds like G2 Megatron, due to the way his arms transformed into the turret (a feature recently fixed by CW Megatron, using a technique previously used by Galaxy Force Backguild). It also doesn't peg together very securely, with an ugly great gap about halfway down its length where the robot's arms and legs refuse to properly meet up except when manually compressed into place. Then, right at the back, there are large hollows where the robot's feet were designed as raised areas containing empty spaces instead of solid soles or flip-out parts. The toy's designer(s) have tried to add detail inside, but it only really works right at the bottom, at the back of the treads, where it appears the designer has placed indicator lights and some venting - maybe not the most appropriate detailing for a tank, nor in the most appropriate place given that it's the underside of the robot's heel more than it is a valid bit of tank detailing, but at least it's not another vast chasm in the plastic.

On the upside, the vehicle mode itself is replete with asymmetrical tank-like detailing where it really counts, from armour panelling to hatches, and Brawl's transformation seams, while annoyingly obvious in places, are at least aligned with the sculpted seams of tank detailing. The cannon is able to tilt upward due to a fairly clever means of connecting it into the turret and can also be removed entirely (if somewhat reluctantly - it's a very tight fit on mine) for robot mode. The hand/foot weapon - coloured, like Swindle's, to match Brawl's primary plastic colour - can attach via the socket on the top of the turret or via a grey peg that swings up from the back of the turret, which pegs into the palm socket on the weapon. At first glance, the weapon may seem identical to Swindle's except in colour, but it's actually only the gun barrels that match - the main body of the gun/back of the hand is entirely resculpted for this model. It's a subtle difference, but welcome nonetheless.

Whether it's deliberate or not, CW/UW Brawl appears to feature a subtle design reference to movie Brawl, in that his head is slightly visible, just in front of his turret. Granted it's not facing out, but it's interesting to see it there. For further movie referencing, Brawl's hand/foot gun can be stashed on the rear of the tank, covering over some of the gappiness, but introducing other weird detailing and looking more like part of the Leader class toy than any detail of the real-life vehicle used in the movie.

Overall, it'll never be rated as one of the best TransFormers tanks, even in its size class, but some sacrifice is to be expected to ensure his place in the gestalt... and, to be honest, I'm just glad they didn't reinvent him as an H-Tank.


Robot Mode:
Brawl's overall robot mode design isn't that far removed from the G1 toy, it's just larger and better articulated - he has the same chunky lower legs, super-slim thighs, barrel chest and large, powerful arms as his simpler, 30-year-old predecessor. The biggest difference to his overall silhouette is that the front of his treads are now on his shoulders, with his forearms coming out of the central portion of the treads. The shoulders are a rather awkward arrangement - a rotation joint in the upper arm joined to the body via a hinge - and the extent of his shoulder mass above the joint means they clash with his torso and the turret on his back, limiting their movement in all kinds of annoying ways.

The big talking point with Brawl is his waist, which is basically an interlocking set of joints rather than anything solid-looking - after the enormous barrel chest, his body becomes concave until the groin, which is a large, protruding box. This appears to be the correct configuration, and it clips in firmly enough (on mine - I've read that's not always the case, particularly on the Hasbro version), but it looks as though something is missing. It is possible to rotate his combiner peg out one notch to fill this space, but then the waist no longer clips together. It honestly doesn't take too much by way of creative posing to disguise the gaping hole that is the central part of Brawl's torso, but it does look as though it was meant to close up more completely.

Weapons-wise, Brawl follows the G1 model of moving the tank's turret onto his back but, rather than give him a separate handgun, the actual cannon is removable and can be plugged into his fists or his forearms. His hand/foot gun can do the same, but his stubby forearms and the positioning of the bicep joint can cause some clashing and reduced articulation with such the bulkier weapon. One interesting detail is that the simple act of transforming Brawl appears to reveal a set of three cannons molded into either side of his chest and picked out in gunmetal paint.

The head is another bone of contention for some - the sculpt is perfect but, where the Hasbro version looks very plain, Takara Tomy have given him a red faceplate and an orange crown. Given that Brawl's colourscheme is otherwise pretty uniformly green-ish and grey-ish, these colours seem incongruous in person, but they're derived from the G1 cartoon's animation model and do bring a bit of variety to his look.


Blast Off
Vehicle Mode:
And from one new mold to the next - the much-vaunted 'proper shuttle' mode for Blast Off... and, actually, I have to admit I think it's a little bit crap. I noted when I wrote about Alpha Bravo that his front end bore a certain resemblance to the Space Shuttle and part of me hoped that Blast Off would be based on that mold with just a few modifications to the rear end of the vehicle. When I learned that Blast Off would be wholly new, rather than based on any existing mold, I was pretty excited... until I saw the first images. Clearly, this is some kind of space craft... but it ain't the beloved Shuttle. The body is flatter overall, with a larger, wider nose section, and the robot's arms just hang off the sides and lay over the wings. He has only two boosters and his tailfin comes in two parts that peg in toward the back of the craft. Elegant it ain't.

I've read nothing but complaints about Takara Tomy's choice of base plastic colour on this figure, and it's not hard to see why... it's a strange, slightly-burnt orange rather than Blast Off's traditional brown. It may be somewhat similar to the colour from his animation model in the cartoon, but it's way too light. It's also rather oddly distributed, with the majority of the craft being a very dark brown, either in plastic colour or paintwork, with a mid-brown on the robot's cuffs and purple around the cockpit area as well as on the two main boosters, and the bare orange plastic popping up on the tip of the nose and in patches all over the craft (not to mention all around several transformation seams).

The three raised areas on the topside, just behind the cockpit area, serve no obvious purpose other than becoming a reference to the cartoon animation model, and I'm not sure what the plates above the boosters are suppose to be other than flat surfaces to act as the robot's feet... As 'robots in disguise' go, this isn't an especially effective disguise and, given FansProjects' version from three years ago is smaller and generally better looking (not to mention having a more appropriate colourscheme) this is quite a let-down from Takara Tomy. That said, Explorer doesn't have boosters, which is a pretty significant omission on a space shuttle.

Blast Off's handgun can stow in the underside of the (otherwise hollow) nose, and doubles as a landing wheel... all he has at the rear is a pair of curved protrusions which are painted silver, so I didn't initially realise they were intended to be 'wheels'. His extremely weird hand/foot weapon can peg into the topside of the craft, but I can't figure out what it's actually supposed to be... He also has 5mm ports on the undersides of his wings, but no additional weapons to plug into them. Weirdly, and as if he didn't already have more 5mm ports than he could be reasonably expected to use, his boosters each incorporate another port. Blast Off, like the CW/UW Aerialbot molds seems to suggest that more weapons - something specifically for vehicle mode in particular - were considered at some point. The G1 toy had guns that plugged into the boosters, but a similar arrangement couldn't work here because his arms are in the way.


Robot Mode:
While this all-new-mold Blast Off certainly bears a more than passing resemblance to the G1 cartoon's animation model, he's really not that well-designed. The nose collapses in on itself then folds down to become one of the most protuberant chests - proportionally speaking - on a TransFormers toy since the original Diaclone-derived G1 Autobot cars... only this isn't the front of a car, it's just an enormous block of collapsed shuttle nose. It looks for all the world like he has a tray coming out of his belly, and then a large chunk of vehicle mode is balanced upon it. But the strange design decisions don't end there. Takara Tomy's Blast Off is a partsformer - his tail fin could, conceivably, remain on the backs of his legs, but it's intended to plug into his back in robot mode, into sockets either side of his combiner peg. The booster feet are taken directly from the animation model and look rather awkward and oversized compared to the more foot-like protrusions of the toy which were mirrored by FansProjects' Explorer. On the upside, and like Rook/Swindle, they feature some sideways tilt, giving him a firmer stance in splayed-leg poses.

An odd feature of Blast Off's transformation is that the flap at the bottom of his chest protrusion actually pushes the combiner peg out of its resting postition. It doesn't move far enough to click onto the next ratchet but, even if it did, it strikes me as quite a design flaw, especially when the tailfin has to peg over it. The underside is grooved to accommodate a protrusion from the back of the peg, so it's not as if the tail can't plug in fully, but it's fairly obvious that the combiner peg isn't sitting flush in the body.

His arms are quite unusual in the Combiner Wars/Unite Warriors line in that, not only does he have the standard 5mm fist ports, but he also has 5mm ports on the fronts of his fists, like Rook. Additionally, each forearm has not one but two 5mm ports on the underside. This seems a little odd, considering most weapons would cover over the second hole and, in any case, Blast Off only comes with one weedy little pistol - quite a contrast to most other Combiner Wars weapons, though it probably uses about the same amount of plastic - and the ubiquitous hand/foot weapon. The latter makes no more sense when wielded by the robot, though at least he has plenty of mounting options - like Swindle's hand/foot weapon, it looks slightly better when underslung on his forearm, but it's no clearer what it's actually supposed to be.

The head is mounted on a hinged platform so it can be moved out of the way of the combiner peg in limb mode - and that is the only time the head ever needs to move. Unfortunately the platform is very much inclined to pop out whenever flipped round or jostled slightly, and never seems to pop fully back in in the lefthand side. The head sculpt itself is fairly simple and very reminiscent of the G1 animation model. I quite like the sweeping side panels on the helmet and the slightly jutting chin of the faceplate, but it's otherwise pretty nondescript, even featuring the same colour paint for both the optics and the faceplate.

I'd really hoped to like Blast Off a lot more than I do. Personally, I'm not in the least bit fussed about the orange plastic - TransFormers characters are more than their colourschemes - but this just isn't a very well-designed toy. While I'm glad Takara Tomy went the extra mile to make Blast Off a unique model (at least until their Technobot Strafe appeared, as a substantial reworking of the mold), and he's one of those rare figures that actually looks pretty good from behind, he looks utterly ridiculous from either side thanks to the jutting chest chunk and comical booster feet. All in all, and I rather wish they had reshelled Alpha Bravo instead... Don't get me wrong, though, this is far better than the Firefly/Quickslinger repaint that Hasbro released... it's just clumsy and nowhere near as awesome as I'd hoped it could be.

It's interesting to note that, in Takara Tomy's recently revealed Baldigus set, the arms have been reversed to allow the folded-up nose to become Movor's backpack rather than chest, so he looks more like the Marvel Comics interpretation of Blast Off, if not a better-proportioned version of the animation model. This also means the tail halves can be plugged into his chest so he resembles FansProjects' Explorer/Flameblast.


Onslaught
Vehicle Mode:
What's rather clever about this mold is that it's not immediately apparent that it's only a very slight reworking of Hot Spot, flipped back to front and given a few new pieces in an attempt to make him look like a coherent yet different vehicle. I'm not sure it really works, not least because the chunk of folded up Bruticus dressing in the middle is such a jumble, and the 'back' end is a completely open mess - with the combiner ports no longer covered by a cab. Perhaps some enterprising third party company will come up with replacements for Onslaught's feet that are more like Hot Spot's and give the vehicle a proper, closed rear end.

The majority of the vehicle is molded in a rich blue plastic with a fine metallic flake component, and all the molded detail stands out well... but this includes what were Hot Spot's sirens (now at the back) which are no longer appropriate to the vehicle. The new pieces at the 'front' aren't even in a matching colour - perhaps painted over to ensure the eye is drawn to the new parts that clearly mark the 'front' of this vehicle... or perhaps they're molded in a different plastic colour, and olive was just the best paint colour available.

Therein lies the underlying problem with Onslaught: while there is certainly a dominant colour in terms of volume of plastic, the overall vehicle still ends up looking a bit of a mess because of the exposed Bruticus parts and the strange choice of a very Brawl-like olive green for the twin cockpits on the front. These colours aren't entirely inconsistent with Onslaught, but were used more logically in the G1 toy. It really feels as though the back end should have been entirely redesigned, but that just wouldn't have been as efficient as this re-usage undoubtedly is, in spite of its flaws.

The gaps running down the middle of the vehicle weren't as apparent on Hot Spot thanks to the presence of the ladder sitting over the worst of them. Onslaught really has nothing to disguise the gaps at the front or back and, while the slotted chasm that is the central portion of the vehicle is largely covered over by the gestalt parts, the empty space above the robot's hips is rather more glaring on this vehicle than it was Hot Spot because this vehicle looks as though it should be an armoured box on wheels, and that lower-lying central portion isn't consistent with the rest. With the wings spread out, the 'turret' section can just about rotate, but the pale grey back section toward the back is molded in a way that suggests it's supposed to remain flush with the rear section, loosely connecting below the lightbar-that-isn't.

The paintwork is fairly minimal in this mode and, ignoring the mixture of plastic and paint colours adorning the central chunk, appear mainly on the front of the vehicle, with the aforementioned olive cab sections and a silver bumper. Unfortunately, where Hot Spot's blue fists blended in with his blue rear end, Onslaught's gunmetal fingers end up being quite apparent, hanging out below the front bumper. All eight of his wheels have silver hubcaps, but there are plenty of other bits of molded detail that are crying out for a touch of paintwork. It basically seems that most of the budget went on the Bruticus armour bunched up in the middle.

What's really sad is that the central chunk could act like a turret if it weren't for the need to fold Bruticus' chest wings out of the way... And they'd quite happily fold upward if it weren't for the entirely unnecessary protrusions about halfway along, which clash not only with the guns, but with the folded up armour itself. Very strange design choices, here. Another issue is that, while Defensor's head folded out to disguise itself as the bucket at the end of Hot Spot's ladder, Bruticus' head just sits there, peeping out of a chunk of plastic whose main purpose is to conceal the lower half of the gestalt's head. Why the head itself couldn't transform in some way, I don't know, but it looks a bit silly where it is.

Whether it's an unlucky fluke of my version - and there were certainly several of those - or a widespread issue with Onslaught, the back section seems to angle down very slightly. It sits level on any surface, and the issue doesn't affect the vehicle's ability to roll, but it does look weird with Onslaught in-hand.


Robot Mode:
While vehicle mode is a huge let-down, robot mode looks just about perfect... at least on first impressions. There were always certain elements of Hot Spot's appearance that seemed more suited to Onslaught (not least the 'spring-loaded' armour detail on the cuffs). Rather than being a straight repaint, though, new parts have been created for the fronts of the shoulders, chest and feet. The new shoulder panels give the appearance of several sections of bulky, overlapping armour fitted over the actual shoulder, which looks far better than Hot Spot's inexplicably huge, emergency-striped shoulder chunks. The feet are tiny, fairly nondescript flaps of plastic, but the chest has been remolded and painted up to closely resemble - and improve upon - the sticker detail of the G1 original. It's an intricate pattern of what looks like exposed electronic components, giving the impression of a 'bot who's so confident in his prowess, he can go into battle bare-chested. The base colour is a dark gunmetal, with the 'components' picked out in red or yellow paint, or, quite cleverly, as it gives the impression of more colour without adding to the paint budget, left with the blue plastic exposed. Whereas Hot Spot's chest plate was designed to mimic the original and be a conspicuous red plate on his chest, Onslaught's is designed to look like a coherent part of the torso, featuring gunmetal and silver paint on the lower section to give the appearance of layered armour.

The groin area is painted to resemble the animation model from the G1 cartoon, which appeared to compress the front of the vehicle into the robot's waist and groin, with headlights on the front of the 'belt' above the hips. The headlights are simple circles of silver paint as there's no molded detail to support them, but it looks just about OK.

I can't help feeling, when looking at Onslaught in robot mode, that the olive paint on the cockpit boxes was an error and that, like the Hasbro version, the paint should have been applied to the fronts of his shoulders. It would appear not, however, as the animation model for Onslaught does have the outer faces of the arms in olive, so the positioning of the painted part is correct according to that... it just doesn't look right in either mode. Even more odd, the insides of his forearms have been painted olive, though that's something you would only tend to notice in certain poses, as it's otherwise obscured. I was pleased to see the springs on his vambraces are painted in the same dark gunmetal as his fists, enhancing the impression that they are separate pieces of armour attached to and protecting the robot's forearms. Another oddity of the paintwork is that the outer sides of his lower legs are blanket-covered with a lighter gunmetal and silver paint, not acknowledging the sculpted detail in any meaningful way. This is all in the service of the combined form, but, even so, it seems strange - particularly give the attention paid to his chest plate - that they didn't choose to take advantage of the details.

One of the most significant changes between Hot Spot and Onslaught is the introduction of heel spurs though, to be perfectly honest, they make no difference to his ability to balance unless he's basically standing straight-legged. They flip out from behind the wheels on his inner ankles and stop dead once flush with the line of his foot, so simply spreading his legs apart means the spur no longer offers any support. They're also far enough to the outsides if his legs that twisting the legs at the hip joint, to splay his toes, has no significant effect to his stability. The heel spurs are all very well for keeping him from toppling backward due to the weight of his backpack when stood to attention, and they're certainly less conspicuous than Hotspot's use if his ladder for stability, but the foot area really should have been designed with more poseability in mind, perhaps with a new, tilting section that would cover the combiner ports in vehicle mode, and fold to the outsides of the legs in the combined form.

The backpack looks just as bad as one would expect folded-up Bruticus chest armour to look when put together with a barely disguised Bruticus head and hung off Onslaught's back. The mess of colours and the uncertainty over the correct position of the 'wing' parts in either form means it doesn't look especially coherent, and those 'wings' are very much inclined to get in the way of the arms.

Onslaught's head sculpt, I was surprised to find, is entirely new and unique to Onslaught. it's a fairly simple, yet quite intimidatingly expressionless visor-ed helmet, and seems pretty similar to the G1 original, albeit in the same blue as most of his body, with the visor painted a very warm yellow and the battlemask painted silver. Given the Hot Spot's head is similar enough that they could have reused it, it's nice to see they went to the extra effort.

The weapons packaged for Onslaught are, sadly, exactly the same as Hot Spot's, just molded in a brownish gunmetal plastic and with the barrels painted silver. They fit together far more securely than Hot Spot's pair, but the combined rifle still just looks like two large handguns plugged together, and was never going to look good as a single weapon to be wielded by Bruticus.

Straight out of the box, I had huge problems rotating one of Onslaught's thighs, and this turned out to be because of a piece of plastic stripped from the mushroom peg and obstructing the joint. Once I'd cut that off, the thigh swivel was much smoother, without becoming loose, but it was another sign of slightly dodgy quality control on this Takara Tomy boxed set. On the upside, and unlike the Collectors' Club's SS4.0 Bludgeon, the knees are assembled correctly and clip securely into place.


Bruticus
As mentioned throughout this write-up, Takara Tomy went for a full-on cartoon homage in their Bruticus, with the chest plate painted in a way that seems to imply it's supposed to be made with leftover parts of Blast Off, a silver groin, gunmetal legs, and feet coloured to match the components that form the lower legs. This last point is both a strength and a weakness in that it makes it that much harder for Bruticus to look good in anything other than his default configuration. The G1 toy came with grey fists and feet, maintaining the interchangeability of the limbs. Hasbro's version of the Combaticons followed suit, but one would have to add the Perfect Effect PC-09 upgrade kit the Takara Tomy boxed set version to achieve the full 'Scramble City'-style interchangeability.

Onslaught's hips aren't great for Bruticus as they clash with the lower section of the torso armour - it is hinged to allow it to swing up and out of the way, but it starts looking a bit odd protruding from his groin unless he can be posed to give the impression that he's bending over at the waist... which is no mean feat on the less-than cooperative stock feet. I've also found that, despite a subtle improvement to the tabs and sockets on Onslaught's legs, Bruticus' right leg has a habit of coming loose under Swindle's weight, leaving him rather unstable. Everything else seems pretty solid - although my Blast Off's hips do tend to sag under the weight of Legends class Shockwave - and he's generally OK once set down on any surface, but that's another disappointing QC issue for the boxed set.

Something quite odd about Bruticus is that he doesn't really have any 'small' components - Vortex is comparatively slim, but the shoulder and wrist areas are still fairly bulky. Even so, the hands look rather too large and the feet too small, though he just about pulls off both in certain poses. He is a large, bulky gestalt who really lives up to his name. Vortex's rotor blades sadly cannot be rotated as a weapon/shield as they're blocked by the transformed tail section, but I guess that could be put back into its vehicle mode position with fairly minimal loss of shoulder range. It's a shame that section can't simply unpeg and be repositioned elsewhere on the arm, but that would require more substantial remolding than Vortex got.

As mentioned above, Onslaught's guns can peg together to become a longer gun for Bruticus, but it seems too weedy, and messes with his overall appearance - the cannons sticking up behind his shoulders are as much a part of Bruticus' look as they are Onslaught's. Weapons from other members of the team can be pegged into various sockets dotted around, but they're really no substitute for Bruticus having a suitable weapon of his own... which is where Perfect Effect's PC-10 upgrade comes in.

The head sculpt seems like a fairly light reworking of the G1 original - very similar in its proportions, but just a touch more detail and generally sharper sculpting, even on the back of the head. Bruticus was one of the few G1 gestalts that could actually move his head, being a helmet added over Onslaught's rotating noggin, so the stock head has no improvement in articulation versus the original. The head is molded in a light gunmetal plastic and the red eyes contrast well with the white-painted battlemask. This is another reference to the animation model, though the cel shading would tend to suggest the mask was actually silver rather than white.

I like the look of Takara Tomy's Bruticus far more than Hasbro's G1 toy-based, yet comparatively bland version, but it does feel limited to a single layout, when the whole point of Combiner Wars was to take a more freeform, interchangeable approach and simply suggest a preferred layout of the limbs.


Collectors' Coin:
I'm really, honestly, not making any effort to obtain these... it just so happens that, of the two Unite Warriors sets I have thusfar purchased (and from two different sources, I might add), both have arrived with the appropriate Collectors' Coin. As with the Grand Galvatron coin, it's really well presented in an envelope designed after Bruticus' chest, and features an image of his head (seemingly modelled closely on the toy) encircled by tech detailing. It's a nice addition, but not really my thing...


And so we come to the question I asked at the beginning: is Unite Warriors Bruticus worth the import premium? I'd really like to be able to recommend it unreservedly - this is, after all, Bruticus as he is meant to be, with a unique Blast Off who transforms into a shuttle, despite that alternate mode being utterly incongruous in an otherwise militaristic team. The Bruticus-specific paintwork - the insides of Onslaught's legs and the jumble of chest armour - seems like a vast improvement on Hasbro's minimally painted gestalt. I'd even argue that the QC issues on mine are just bad luck... but, at the end of the day, I felt a bit let down by the stock UW Bruticus. It's cool, but the sum of its (slightly questionable) parts is pretty much precisely what you'd expect it to be, and no better. Part of it, undoubtedly, is that having picked up two sets of Perfect Effect's hand and foot upgrades, the stock, multi-purpose units just look a bit crappy, and part of it is that the Hot Spot/Onslaught mold wasn't flawless to begin with. The wraparound ladder on Hot Spot was far less obstructive of the gestalt's motion than the jumble of armour parts on Onslaught, however well decorated they are, and the repositioning of the torso robot's arms for the gestalt leaves Bruticus looking conspicuously slim at the waist... though that does seem to be something of a common theme with the Combiner Wars torsos.

There are basically two ways of looking at this: either you want a G1-accurate (or, more specifically, a G1 cartoon-accurate, apart from Blast Off's colouring) Bruticus, or you're happy with a more strictly military team with Blast Off reimagined as a brown jet rather than a brown shuttle, and with Slingshot's head. If you're in the former camp, you might object to Blast Off being orange but, ultimately, this should be the one you will want to own, because Hasbro's cheap laziness will likely offend your sensibilities. If you're in the latter group... well, chances are, you'll have picked up all the separate components, so the idea of a boxed set with an incongruous shuttle won't be of any interest.

Hasbro also released a lurid G2 repaint of their set, featuring Blast Off as a white jet sporting a purple camouflage paint job... and I'm sure that set will have its proponents as well...

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