Sunday, 2 March 2014

DotM Mechtech Armour Topspin

This is another one of those models in my collection that sorta slipped through the net when I photographed a bunch of models a while ago, so naturally I'm dealing with it now rather than adding it to the enormous list of drafts on toys for the preceding two movies.

It's also one that I hadn't intended to buy, having heard almost nothing but bad things about the inconsistently-styled Deluxe class Dark of the Moon Wreckers. Frankly, I was hoping to get the Human Alliance versions of both Roadbuster and Leadfoot and, since no HA version of Topspin was planned, expected to just do without a complete set of movie Wreckers (thankfully my OCD never really picked up on the movie toys beyond the Starscream repaints... and I'm still missing some of them). Sadly, none of the HA Wreckers made it over to the UK's retail shelves, and I couldn't afford the import prices.

Also, being completely honest, I cannot recall why I decided to buy this repaint when the original was (a) more accurate to the character's appearance in the movie and (b) not dull grey. Still, this is the one I picked up... The question is, do I regret it?

Vehicle Mode:
One of the biggest problems with the Deluxe DotM Wreckers was that their car modes weren't consistent. Topspin and Leadfoot were produced in their 'Stealth Force'/weaponised alternate modes, while Roadbuster retained his full stock car disguise, albeit with some concealed weapons at the back (compare and contrast with the HA line, where Roadbuster was weaponised and Leadfoot was fully disguised, and the Legion class versions where Roadbuster and Leadfoot were weaponised and Topspin was fully disguised). It struck me at the time that it would have been vastly more sensible for the smaller-format models to be all fully disguised, and for the HA version to have a 'Stealth Force' part-transformation, which would have been easier given the slightly larger format. Still, I'm not a toy designer for Hasbro, so what do I know?

Topspin, then, is a heavily modified Chevrolet Impala, featuring some of the NASCAR sponsorship detailing, just like the original version. On the downside, he's predominantly an exceedlingly dull pale grey colour. On the upside, while he technically features less paint detailing than the original version, his 'Armor' version has a nice, dark gunmetal paint on the bonnet and the 'metal extrusions' on the sides are molded in a similar colour of plastic, making it look a little better. For the most part, though, the pale grey colouring is just so boring it counteracts virtually all attempts to add detail, both in the tampographed logos and in the moldings.

The latter point is a real shame, because they've really gone to town on the molded detail. Somewhere, under all those protrusions of Cybertronian spikes, the basic outline of the stock car is still there, and it all looks pretty good... or it would, in almost any other colour. The windscreen and all three rear windows are molded in a bright clear cyan plastic, while the side windows are open, with one side - the driver's side, I presume - covered over with a mesh.

There are splashes of black paint toward the rear of the car and at the front, around the wheel arches and windscreen, but this comes at the expense of any paint on the headlights. Now, granted, most stock cars wouldn't have headlights... but Topspin did, and really deserves a lick of paint to help them stand out in the sea of pale grey.

Being one of the big guns in terms of Autobot bringers of violence, it's no surprise that Topspin is well appointed when it comes to Mechtech ports - there's a line of four running from one side to the other, over the roof, plus another one on the exposed engine bonnet. What is surprising - in this mode, at least - is that none of them are the spring-loaded, self-concealing type that worked so well on some of the other models. It's a bit of a shame that this leaves Topspin with a nice collection of gaping holes but, given the 'modified' look of vehicle mode, they're actually not that prominent. And, let's face it, if you're not filling the holes with the packaged weapons, you're just not doing the model justice.

Topspin's Mechtech weapon is a combined cannon/claw thing which is best placed into the port on his bonnet, placing it front and centre in vehicle mode. The claw seems a bit useless in vehicle mode, and the weapon is very much oversized, blocking off a good chunk of the windscreen, but that just serves to emphasise the Wrecker's function. As well as the spring-loaded weapon, Topspin comes packages with a pair of machine guns/laser guns and what looks for all the world like a pair of automatic pump-action shotguns. These are all fairly basic chunks of plastic which are hollow on the inside but otherwise fairly well detailed, making Topspin look fully tooled up and ready to perforate some Decepticons.

Robot Mode:
There's no getting around it, this robot mode is kinda weird. On the whole, it's fairly basic and humaniform, with what appear to be design references to other movieverse robots (or - gasp - hints of consistency?). His feet remind me of Optimus Prime's, while his thighs are remarkably similar in design to those of Animated Lockdown. Weirdly, it seems as if Optimus Prime's redesign for Age of Extinction comes with at least one design cue from this guy - those multiple exhaust pipes on the shoulders are pretty distinctive.

Where it gets weird is with the honking great claws on his wrists and the mammoth cannons that almost appear to be floating just behind his shoulders. When I first saw the character - both in pictures from the movie and in toy form - it seemed as though those claws were his hands. While I couldn't tell any different when watching the movie, the toy makes it clear that he has 'proper' hands, and these claws are supplementary maiming equipment mounted on his wrists. The shoulder cannons are a different matter. They're mounted on ball joints on the end of semi-articulated arms (it's not clear whether their minimal articulation is meant to be useful in robot mode, or whether it's just there for transformation) and are where four of vehicle mode's Mechtech ports end up in robot mode.

The colour scheme is rather different to vehicle mode... it's almost as if he's wearing pale grey chaps and underpants while wandering around with his skeletal robo-chest completely exposed... And that's not necessarily a good look. Brightening up his dark gunmetal plastic are a four patches of completely inexplicable orange across his shoulders, along with the aforementioned exhaust pipes, which are coated in the dark gunmetal paint used on the vehicle mode's bonnet. The original version of this model had yellow in place of this model's orange and, while it was just as inexplicable, it seemed to fit better with the blue and slightly lighter grey plastic over the rest of the body. Other than that, the only robot-specific paint is a touch of silver on the top of the head and gold on some spring-like moldings on the biceps and shins.

Naturally, all of the Mechtech weapons can be mounted in robot mode - the smaller four can more-or-less keep their positions but, since they need to rotate 180° to face forward again, it's best to remove and replace them to avoid exposing their gaping emptiness. In robot mode, the spring-loaded Mechtech weapon either makes perfect sense or it seems rather peculiar. The gun form seems sensible enough, but attaching another, larger claw to the ports on his wrists makes the claws that are already there seem rather redundant... Might it not have been better to give him two, smaller spring-loaded claws, and just leave his hands free to actually hold other weapons?

The head sculpt is one of the strangest from the movie-verse. Hair became quite a popular accessory in Dark of the Moon and while Brains had crazy hair, Que had male pattern baldness and the Dreads had... well, dreads, Topspin got lumbered with a frickin' mullet. The face is typically overcomplicated and has either a prodigious chin or large mandibles, but the light-piped visor is pretty awesome.

Topspin's transformation isn't exactly complicated. Most of it is actually pretty elegant (the legs in particular are a quite brilliant variation on TF Animated Lockdown), with very little of the panel clash that has hampered some of the more complicated figures in recent years. One huge problem is that the ball joints in the shoulder cannons and hips are very prone to popping apart. The former will fall off when transforming in either direction, while the latter only tends to happen when transforming Topspin back to vehicle mode, since the hips clip together within the groin, and that joint seems just that little bit stronger than the ball joints either side.

He's a very dynamic and mobile figure, with an excellent range of motion in his arms (with surprisingly little clashing with the gun pods and even some slight movement in the wrist-mounted claws), a small amount of waist swivel remaining unobstructed by the car bonnet hanging off his back, decent knees supplementing the ball-jointed hips and even ball jointed ankles to keep his feet fairly level in all sorts of cool poses. His heels are a bit problematic, and he does have a tendency to topple over backward at the slightest provocation, but he's not too difficult to balance.

I'm honestly very confused about Hasbro's handling of the Wreckers from Dark of the Moon. OK, they weren't the much-loved Wreckers from the comics, and they had very little screen time, let alone dialogue, but for Hasbro to release two Deluxe versions each of Topspin and Roadbuster and then seemingly fail to release Leadfoot (in the UK, at least) at all seems more than a little daft. The Dark of the Moon toyline was appallingly mishandled and plagued by terrible quality control. It's also where it became very clear that the complexity of the models had exceeded the tolerances of the materials they were molded in, with bits snapping off and ball joints popping apart with almost every transformation.

On balance, I think I would have preferred the original version over this repaint and, since I cannot remember why I picked up this version when I wasn't planning to get any of the Deluxe Wreckers, it's all a bit of a mystery. It's a decent figure, marred only by dodgy materials and poor quality control.

Oh, and a terribly dull choice of colours.

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