Sunday, 1 August 2010

FansProject WB001 - Warbot Defender

Or Springer, by any other name...

Considering he was one of the key players in the animated TransFormers: The Movie back in the 80s, it's surprising that the character hasn't appeared more often in the toylines. Then again, he was a Triple-Changer - transforming between Helicopter, Armoured Car and Robot modes, none of which were particularly effective back in The Age of the Brick. Since then, the character has been applied to more 'normal' two-mode TransFormers - a Legends Class Osprey from the original (live action) movie line, a TransFormers Collectors' Club/Botcon figure (repainted from Galaxy Force Exigeyser/Cybertron Defense Hot Shot), and in a 2-pack including a reprinted Marvel Comic (repainted from Galaxy Force Live Convoy/Cybertron Evac, along with Ratbat repainted from Galaxy Force Noisemaze/Cybertron Sideways). This means he's been a helicopter, and he's been an armoured car... but not in the same toy... and it seemed unlikely that it would ever be thus again.

Until the awesome FansProject announced their Warbot Defender: even from the blurry shots of the grey pre-production prototype, it was obvious that this was Springer... and that he would once again be a Triple-Changer. Not only that but, with contemporary toymaking nous at their desposal, they've improved upon the original in many impressive ways.

Armoured Car Mode:
OK, granted, calling this an armoured car is a stretch - it's a seemingly random description for such a bizarre vehicle mode. Then again, paint it black and tell me it doesn't look like another version of the Batmobile from the Christopher Nolan reboots. Certainly, the angular panels on the sides and toward the back almost make it look as though it's meant to appear stealth-capable. Somehow I don't think the lurid colourscheme would aid it in that direction.

Still, it's a reasonably solid alternate mode - most of it seems to peg in quite securely, and there aren't too many big holes to ruin the fludity of its appearance. And, let's face it, as a homage to a G1 Triple-Changer, this is at once very familiar and an excellent upgrade. At least this thing looks roadworthy from most angles - the original almost looked more like a single-man submarine. Armoured car mode looks a little shoddy from the back, and it occurs to me that some kind of hand-held shield could have been made to disguise the gaping hole between his legs, but it wouldn't necessarily have been in keeping with the character.

All of the accessories are stowed in some form or another in this mode - the two pistols are plugged into his (otherwise hidden) fists to act as front-facing guns, and the sword is clipped underneath.
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Helicopter Mode:
Surprisingly, in a lot of ways, the helicoper form is probably better than the armoured car. While it's certainly oddly-shaped and without a stabilising rotor on the tail (the G1 version was similarly afflicted), it looks very much like a futuristic heavy attack chopper. Obviously there's no landing gear, but the rear wheels from armoured car mode are still there, and the guns in their chopper mode mounting could almost double as landing skids.

Naturally, the sword becomes helicopter mode's rotor blades but, while the G1 version opened outward from a very blocky sword, Warbot Defender's takes the more common/contemporary route of rotating one blade over the other. This allows for the rotor blades to be incredibly slim, but it does mean that it's only friction holding them in line... and, while they do spin, friction just isn't enough to hold the blades in line when they're also spinning.

Helicopter mode is far more awkward and spotted with random-looking panels but, since there's far more to it than G1 Springer, it's easy to suspend disbelief, and call this a halfway decent TransFormers helicopter... albeit an unofficial one.
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Robot Mode:
Here's where all of FansProject's hard work pays off... almost. Warbot Defender's robot mode is among the best fan-made products I've ever seen. It's more-or-less in keeping with the feel of the Classics/Universe aesthetic, and certainly on a par with them in terms of articulation and poseability. It even has more-or-less the same arrangement of colour and, more importantly, looks a lot closer to the animation model of Springer than the G1 toy could ever hope to.

G1 Triple-Changers were, by and large, a failure - toys could not be made complex enough to support two vehicle modes and a reasonable robot mode. Those that looked OK were pretty much stuck in a fixed pose, and the best one could hope for was some arm articulation. It's no surprise that Takara/Hasbro have steered clear of reinventing them until recently, but at least Animated Blitzwing was reasonably successful, if only because the animation models were so stylised to begin with. Classics Astrotrain and Tankor/Octane were certainly big improvements on their G1 counterparts, but neither are without flaws in at least one of their vehicle modes.

The amount of detail on this thing is impressive also - there are so many molded extras, like the yellow pods on his elbows and hips and the myriad panel lines, and the paintwork does an excellent job of bringing it all out. The only problem is that this model is quite top/back heavy and, with feet that don't have any heel support, this leads to balance issues even when he's standing straight.

It's also very impressive that the mold has been designed with the ability to stow his weapons in mind. His pistols can be stored in the sides of his shins, and his sword plugs neatly into a hole behind his left shoulder. It's worth noting that, while his pistols are nice and solid, the sword is flimsy and doesn't hold together as well as it does when opened out into rotor blades.
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The articulation on this model is a clever mix of ball joints (neck, elbows) and ratchets (just about everything else), meaning it's pretty secure in its posing and, once the balance issues are overcome, it can look pretty dramatic. Considering the jointing of the feet (they tilt forward as a necessity of transformation, but do not tilt back at all) I'm pleased to see that FansProject added a joints to the shins to allow Warbot Defender to stand with legs splayed.

Transformation is understandably complex - far in advance of the G1 model, yet simple enough (once you've followed the instructions at least once) that it's not frustrating to get him from one mode to the next. Some of the parts don't necessarily peg together perfectly - in particular, I found it difficult to keep his arms in place when transforming the legs into helicopter mode, but everything gets there in the end.

This cost me about £65 - perhaps a little over the odds for a model only slightly larger than a Deluxe - but, considering this is a fan-made model on a limited run, and the fact that it's an extremely high-quality product, both in build quality and paintwork, and that it features die-cast parts (the chest/vehicle front and the two helicopter tail halves - most likely intended to bring its centre of gravity forward and down), and that it's only available in the UK because it's been imported from China, it's a very good price. It's presentation is just excellent - the model comes in a plastic bubble/clamshell inside a cardboard frame, inside the printed cardboard presentation box which is, in turn, inside a stiff plastic box. Like FansProject's City Commander set, the instruction booklet also features a comic though, unlike that model, the instructions are not presented as part of the comic.

Further captioning best left to the imagination...

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