Friday, 29 March 2013

TransFormers Prime Ultra Magnus

Hasbro and Takara have been bucking quite a few trends with the TF Prime toyline, which makes it a real shame that the excellent TV series doesn't have a great deal of exposure, and that the distribution has been diabolical for the few toys they release with each wave. For the most part, the toys are well-designed and interestingly complex, utilising some very new techniques to fold fairly large, detailed robots out of vehicles that are roughly equivalent to G1 toys in size.

Then you get Ultra Magnus... One of those rare cases where he's not a repaint of Optimus Prime - which can only be a good thing - yet one of the least complicated toys for his size. Indeed, there's very little difference in transformation between this Voyager and the Cyberverse version... But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Vehicle Mode:
Well, how unusual. Ultra Magnus is a truck. Something about this reminds me of the Animated version's alternate mode... and it's probably the very obvious legs-making-up-the-back-of-the-vehicle motif. Not only are Magnus's heel spurs quite visible - sticking up at the back with moldings that might be lights, if only they were painted - but his toes stick out quite obviously from below the rear bumper. Turn your eyes upward, and you're faced with Robo-Butt sticking out of the back of the cab. So much for 'robots in disguise'.

From every other angle the thing that strikes one most about Ultra Magnus is the dearth of paintwork. I know that's been kind of the bĂȘte noire of the TransFormers Prime line, but here it just looks ridiculous. Magnus is like a large blue brick (darker than is apparent from these photos - he's about halfway between RID Arcee and FE Arcee) with an anaemic red roof, a thin red stripe and expanses of silver for the front bumper, headlights and what I assume are toolboxes on each side. Making matters worse, it's blatantly obvious from the moldings (not to mention the pre-release publicity photos) that he was intended to have lots more colour - not least, silver smokestacks.

It's not even particularly apparent what kind of vehicle he's meant to me, but the Poweriser weapon seems to  suggest some form of firetruck... at least, it looks as though it could be some kind of water cannon/ladder hybrid, but it could just as easily be a form of heavy artillery. Whatever it is, it doesn't fit very securely - the sockets its pegs plug into must be angled outward to accommodate the pegs on either side of the hammer head, or you can flip it over and plug it's 'rifle mode' grip into one and the strange, quasi-G1-reference missile thing into the other.

There are five other ports for weapons - two on each side of the cab and one on the roof - but the Poweriser weapon really doesn't suit those, and the missile ends up looking a bit weak and lonely.

Robot Mode:
The similarilties to TF Animated Ultra Magnus continue: massive shoulders made up of the front of the vehicle... and a distinct lack of poseability. At least there's a bit more colour in this mode, with grey plastic appearing on upper arms and legs, and a few more touches of red and silver along with hints of white - no real surprise, since this is Ultra Magnus. By and large, though, he's still very, very blue.

As a throwback to Generation 1, almost every unique mold Ultra Magnus has had something going on with his shoulders, and TF Prime's iteration is no exception. Three grey... things... protrude upward from the shoulders - they could be missiles, they could be anything. I believe Magnus hasn't yet turned up in the series (soon to do so in the final series, Beast Hunters, if trailers are to be believed), so there aren't any clues available yet.

The head sculpt is functional... but it just doesn't say "Ultra Magnus" to me... With its two blue main antennae and a couple of smaller, grey ones sticking out of the back of his head, it's almost a younger, bluer version of Sentinel Prime from Dark of the Moon (and, assuming this is meant to be a firetruck, that's a fair comparison). What's really weird is that the eyes are light-piped, but painted over. With a sufficiently strong light source, the eyes still glow a little, but with the massive truck roof backpack, light has a hard time getting in there.

Weapons-wise, that missile doesn't look any better against robot mode than it did tagged onto the vehicle. A second one might have helped, as they could complete the G1 homage by plugging symmetrically into his shoulders... but they just seem too long somehow. The Poweriser weapon fairs a little better, but its gun mode is far too bulky to be especially useful - though I guess it compares fairly well with Blue Bolts, as wielded by the original Robots in Disguise Ultra Magnus, and even the dual-purpose BFG that came with FansProject's City Commander. Hammer mode is a mixed bag. Points in the plus column for the simple fact that this Poweriser weapon actually has a lock for its deployed mode, many more points in the minus column because the ridiculously huge shaft makes for a very unwieldy weapon. The LED effect is reasonable, but the colour of light is mismatched with the plastic.

A few points stand out about this model. Firstly, the shoulder ball joints are exceedingly limp. Ultra Magnus can barely hold his arms out, let alone carry his primary weapon in any kind of dynamic pose. It's not just that they're on very thin posts protruding from his body, the ball joint is one of the loosest I have ever encountered in a TransFormers toy... and a brief look around forums suggests this is not isolated to my toy. Secondly, with the way the shoulders transform, it's not immediately apparent that they're supposed to connect to the cab frame hanging off his back. I'm in two minds about this - on the one hand, plugging them together does make robot mode more stable, since the shoulders no longer drift back across his chest. On the other hand, pegging it all in means the cab framework impedes articulation in both the waist and the hips, because it's hanging down his back at an inward-sloping angle, and there are pieces of cab frame jutting out at the bottom. Lastly, relating to the lack of paintwork, there's even more molded detail visible in robot mode that's just crying out for a lick of paint.

As an aside, it seems strange that the designers included an area of transparent plastic in his torso, given that there's no way it could be lit from behind by his own Poweriser weapon - for one thing, light wouldn't get through even if the LED was in the right place... for another, the LED is in completely the wrong place.

Poweriser Gimmick:
Carrying on the Animated referencing, I guess it's normal for Ultra Magnus to wield a large hammer now? This is probably the only Poweriser weapon (so far) to feature a locking mechanism... which is daft considering that every single Poweriser weapon could really use a locking mechanism. For most, you can simply remove the spring, creating a proper, manually-operated version of the weapon... but that little trick doesn't work on all weapons, and certainly wouldn't work on this one.

Transforming Ultra Magnus is pretty simple in theory - there's really not much to it - but hampered quite successfully by lots of very thin plastic panels, and their need to tab together securely. The arms and the roof of the cab are particularly annoying in this way. Once that's all sorted, it's just a case of straightening (or folding away) the legs.

One of the things I find really frustrating about certain larger TransFormers figures - especially in this day and age - is fixed feet... particularly if they're fixed in a way that prefers standing to attention rather than posing. Not only does Ultra Magnus suffer from this, but his feet aren't even particularly stable. Add to that, the curiously common feature of stubby thighs coupled with elongated shins, plus the blockage from his vehicle roof backpack and what you don't get is good articulation of the legs. That wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the weak shoulders, stiff bicep swivel and clunky forearms. In terms of articulation, Ultra Magnus isn't a patch on Optimus Prime.

Magnus is certainly an imposing robot - broad-shouldered and heavy-chested - with a powerful-looking weapon (and a weedy missile, just for good measure) but, in terms of play value, I don't think he's really that great. The fiddly nature of the otherwise simplistic transformation, particularly the sheer number of small tabs that need to connect just right, frequently onto panels that really want to overlap, means he's likely to be quite frustrating for some, and I don't give some of the tabs a very long life expectancy.

Some of this could be forgiveable, though, if the paint budget had been increased a bit, if only to deal with the obvious things like vehicle mode's smokestacks. As fodder for customisers, Ultra Magnus might as well be a blank canvas. As a mainline toy, he's unforgivably plain.

Overall, Ultra Magnus isn't one of the most fun TransFormers out there, nor one of the prettiest... but if you can get him in a decent pose, he displays fairly well.

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