Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Opinion: Current and Upcoming Toylines: PCC/Dark of the Moon

It occurs to me to jot down a few thoughts on some of the newer toylines/sublines in the TransFormers family for anyone out there who has the slightest interest in my thoughts on such matters... There probably won't be a great deal of these posts, and it's really only occurred to me this evening, while watching reviews of some of the DotM toys...

Power Core Combiners:
As a fan of TransFormers from the dim and distant days of Generation 1, I have to say I'm not impressed by PCC as a toyline, and I hope it doesn't carry on too much longer. Aside from the incredible mold reuse (at least two or three repaints of any one torso, with the possible exception of the Dinobots), the whole concept seems like a step backwards.

In 1985, Japan and the USA got the Constructicons - a team of six small TransFormers which could combine to form the super robot Devastator. It was a bit of a brick, but looked cool and imposing, even though it wasn't particularly large. The following year, Devastator was joined by five teams of five true TransFormers which each combined into one super robot: Superion (Aerialbots) and Defensor (Protectobots) for the Autobots, Menasor (Stunticons), Bruticus (Combaticons) and Predaking (Predacons) for the Decepticons.

None of the individual toys were particularly impressive, and the smaller models that formed the limbs in the teams from '86 were extremely basic and tended to have virtually no articulation, though they did have hand-held and vehicle-mounted weapons.

Jump forward in time to Energon, and all the Autobots could form upper- or lower-bodies for super robots in each size class, and there were new teams of Aerialbots, Constructicons and Combaticons with improved articulation both for the individual models and the completed gestalt. The only problem with these new teams was that their five members used only three unique molds, with repaints differentiating the characters. Even so, they were a step forward from G1.

And now, for 2010/2011, we have the Power Core Combiners. On the plus side, the gestalt forms have articulation which is as good as, if not better than Energon. On the downside, the main body is about the size of a large Scout or a small Deluxe, and the limbs are non-transforming 'drones' that automatically form one specific limb once plugged onto the torso.

Granted, it's possible to switch the arms round, and it's possible to switch the legs round. It's also possible to use a limb drone from one team on a different team's torso (and, in fact, this is where most of the repaints come in!)... but and arm-drone will always be an arm, and a leg-drone will always be a leg. Limited interchangability on a tiny, non-transforming drone is, quite frankly, boring and cheap.

And then there's the molds themselves. While the vehicles are all pretty good and reasonably detailed, and the individual robot modes of the torso-bots tend to be decent enough, the gestalts all seem to look spindly and weak, and the head sculpts are invariably bland or downright ugly.

Even the addition of 'Mini-Cons' in the form of partially translucent, triple-changing weapons does little to improve the line, especially since the Mini-Cons are also subject to excessive repainting within the line, and frequently don't seem appropriate to the larger robot they're partnered with.

Now, obviously, one has to remember that these are intended as kids' toys and not as things for Collectors... so it should come as no surprise to readers of this blog, and should be of no disappointment to Hasbro that PCC is highly unlikely to ever feature on this blog. I think the concept is misjudged and the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

Dark of the Moon:
It's a sad fact that sequels tend to reuse the same characters... Otherwise, how does one follow the developing story? When it comes to movies based around humans, and the resulting toylines, you can expect multiple costumes relating to specific movies or specific scenes within the movies. Franchises like Star Wars are built on this... and both kids in the target demographic and the Collectors will tend to buy all versions of each character for their own reasons. Toylines based around comic books have a similar advantage, and each iteration of a particular superhero will have a new and exciting gimmick (or just better articulation!). Even looking at the movie based on another of Hasbro's toylines, GI Joe, you have the basic uniforms of the characters, the Accelerator Suits, and all the vehicles used by the Joes and Cobra... and that's just from the first movie.

When it comes to a movie like TransFormers, though, where the vehicles are the characters (or vice versa), what reason does one have for upgrading when the new movie's toys come out?

Well between the first one in 2007 and the 2009 sequel, the answer was "massive upgrades to the quality and complexity of the toys". Movie 1's Leader Class Optimus Prime was awesome for the time... I couldn't see how they could possibly make anything better back in 2007. But the mold was blocky and, let's face it, inaccurate to the CGI model... so when the toyline for Revenge of the Fallen came along, getting the new - utterly awesome and still unsurpassed - Leader Class Optimus Prime was a no-brainer. Likewise, Megatron. By and large, the Voyager Class toys remained the same - Ratchet and Ironhide remained indentical bar some cosmetic changes or weapon upgrades, though Starscream did get a massive upgrade in the form of a complete remold, so the only new toys I picked up were the new molds, and most of them were Deluxes, based on the newly introduced characters. I saw no point buying the 'new' characters that were either slight retools (new heads) or simple repaints of Movie 1 characters.

And then there's the small matter of Bumblebee... Sure, he's the 'main' character, despite having no real dialogue, and he's the 'kid appeal' character... but, really Hasbro... how many Bumblebee repaints, retools or remolds do we need, and must he appear several times in every size class?

Now, when I look at the upcoming toys for Dark of the Moon, I don't see a whole lot for me to buy, and I'm sure I can't be alone. Cyberverse? Easy pass. The new Voyager Class Optimus Prime? Ditto. Deluxe Starscream? Come on, Hasbro, are you even trying? The Ark playset? Not even if I was 10 years old again. Even the remolded Jolt is of limited interest because he barely appeared in RotF and, so far, I have no reason to suspect he's any more integral to the plot of DotM to warrant another purchase, particularly since I don't even like the look of the remold.

And just don't get me started on the new Leader Class Bumblebee with his massive Mech-Tech backpack...

Leader Class Sentinel Prime is of interest... and the new Voyager Megatron may yet replace my Leader Class RotF Megatron simply for reasons of shelf space. The new Voyager Ironhide looks good, but the Leader Class one looks better, would be more or less in scale with the Human Alliance range, and I'm not sure I want both. The Deluxe 'Wreckers' looked reasonable, but now I see one of them is getting the Human Alliance treatment, so I'm tempted to wait and see if the other two get the same. Shockwave is a no-brainer, too... but, by and large, most of the toyline either looks like crap (and not even because of the oversized Mech-Tech weapons) or just isn't enough of an upgrade to the RotF iteration to warrant buying again. Look at the new convertible Sideswipe - if anything, that's a step backward from the first RotF version if only because it's completely unpainted, and yet still supposed to represent a silver car. Sidearm Sideswipe is about the best version of that character, and I almost passed on him because I'd already got the first version.

The real shame is that, having reported a massive drop in profits in the last quarter, Hasbro seems doomed to continue that trend because they're releasing a range of shrunk-down, underpainted, unimaginitive toys for what could be one of the summer's most profitable movies.

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