Sunday, 1 June 2014

Generations (30th Anniversary) Springer

I'm pretty sure I remember Hasbro announcing, some years ago, probably at a BotCon, that they weren't planning on making any more Triple Changers after Classics Astrotrain and Octane/Tankor, largely because they were prohibitively expensive to engineer...Of course, based on Classics Astrotrain and Octane/Tankor, that was a good decision, because the passage of time hadn't radically improved their ability to design such things.

Naturally, a certain section of the fanbase was up in arms... How could Hasbro neglect such characters as Springer? Sure, they've released toys called Springer... and so has the TransFormers Collectors' Club... but they've always had a single alternate mode, making them nothing but contentious 'fakes'.

In the meantime, companies like FansProject announced and then produced the likes of Warbots Defender (AKA Springer) and Assaulter (AKA Broadside), proving that, hey, making triple-changin' robot models wasn't so tough after all. Also during this time, the artists behind the comics published by IDW created some wonderful new designs for our old favourite characters... and so, for their 'Thrilling 30' lineup, Hasbro surprised us all with Voyager class updates for Blitzwing and a very Nick Roche-inspired Springer.

Car Mode:
Triple Changers have always tended to sacrifice at least one mode or another to achieve two passable vehicle modes and a robot mode. G1 Springer basically sacrificed all three. Warbot Defender did an admirable job of updating the G1 model and creating three modes that looked familiar and yet improved upon the original. This model takes a very different tack, seemingly with the intention of throwing familiarity out of the window in favour of delivering three entirely unique modes that actually fit their descriptions. Hence, car mode actually looks like car... Kind of a futuristic, armoured racing car/dune buggy, but it at least has four visible, rolling wheels, and the overall structure of a car. What struck me first about this model is how tidy and believable it is as a car... I mean, look at the 1986 original (Seibertron gallery) and you will see something that could just as easily be a submarine rather than a car.

In some ways, when I look at this car, I see further confirmation that someone at Hasbro/Takara Tomy has a serious Batmobile fetish. Paint this thing black and it'd look like a smaller, sportier version of the Tumbler. It doesn't look remotely military, particularly in comparison to Warbot Defender's ground-based vehicle mode, yet it does look powerful and potentially fast with it.

Naturally, this being Springer, he has to have a garish, acidic colourscheme, and this model doesn't disappoint with it's green roof, yellow bonnet and grey... pretty much everything else. The paintwork is pretty solid, but the colour matching on the yellow is terrible. The patch of the bonnet that's painted is a much brighter, more saturated yellow. The greens are much better-matched, but there's surprisingly little of it in comparison... or, at least, little of it is butted right up against the green plastic, so it's not as obvious that it's a slightly more saturated (and certainly glossier) green. It's actually more noticeable in my photos than it is in real life. One thing I really like in this mode are that the headlights are separate pieces cast in the transparent blue plastic used for his windows, painted over in yellow and stuck on the front.

On the downside, the grey plastic on his sides is largely unpainted - just a single strip of silver on each side - and that the rear end is almost as open and spacious as that of Warbot Defender... And, considering his 'spoilers' stick out so far at the back, it really looks as though something is missing there.

His robot mode weapons can be attached in car mode - the sword is stashed on the underside, cleverly  plugging in to helicopter mode's landing gear, while the double-barrelled missile launcher just attaches to the roof to become a rather unlikely and unwieldy cannon. It rotates on its main peg and, thanks to a pinned joint to the base of the weapon, can even tilt up and down a little.

Helicopter Mode:
The weirdest thing about helicopter mode is that going from car mode to helicopter mode is achieved by essentially the same method as with the G1 toy: you shift his arms around a bit and extend his legs. Literally the only other step is moving the cockpit further forward on the nose. Despite this functional similarity to the G1 model, the end result is a pretty fine helicopter. OK, it's not exactly aerodynamic, almost certainly wouldn't actually fly and has some fairly obvious car parts on display... but you can almost believe that this is a triple-changing vehicle. Some of its parts don't fit together exceptionally well - the hinged plate just behind the rotor blades absolutely does not want to plug into the legs on mine - but the overall look of the helicopter is decent from most angles.

I had some trouble with it initially because I didn't realise the tail is meant to be bent down a notch at the 'knees', and the rotor blades will clash with the tail fins if the legs are left straight but, once that was sorted, it was fine.

Naturally the colour scheme is basically the same as car mode but, due to the way things fold up, there's substantially less visible grey. One cool feature is that the lone strips of silver from car mode are repurposed as wing-mounted guns in helicopter mode.

One substantial improvement on the G1 model (other than, y'know, the whole frickin' model) is that helicopter mode actually has landing gear... which are retractable. One is housed in the nose while the other two are on the pale grey section of the tail, None of the wheels are free-rolling, but they're effective for keeping the model off the ground.

This is one of the very few contemporary TransFormers helicopters that has no gearing for the rotor blades but, considering how much transformation is packed into the model, that's no surprise. It's also a welcome omission, since the feature rarely adds anything especially great to a toy. The blades are also far more substantial than those that came with Warbot Defender and, due to the way they're constructed, always remain parallel.

Springer's main weapon, the double-barrelled cannon, plugs in underneath the nose of the chopper and looks pretty menacing, but this comes at the expense of viable undercarriage - there's no molded wheel on the launcher - and it only ever faces forward.

Robot Mode:
Nick Roche's artwork, stylised as it is, doesn't often lend itself to translation into plastic, but his design for Springer has been fairly accurately reproduced here. Given that Springer's vehicle modes are comparatively small for a Voyager, he's also a surprisingly tall robot... but then, he's pretty slender with it - his relatively low mass is distributed vertically in the main. He's broad-shouldered but otherwise quite a lean and lanky robot.

What's really surprising is that the overall design of the model - which parts end up where - is fundamentally the same as the original... it's just much bigger and more impressive. It looks like a robot that transforms into a car and a helicopter, as opposed to a small, awkwardly-shaped brick that would surely live a life of pain. The distribution of colour is much the same as well, albeit with rather more visible green and a complete absence of 'detail' added by stickers (though Reprolabels can help with that, should you so desire). There's not a great deal of paintwork unique to robot mode, which makes it look as though Hasbro have been typically miserly with their paint - the torso has some green an silver paint on either side of the vehicles' nose, there are a couple of splashes of yellow on the groin and a couple of touches of silver on the fronts of the shoulders... that's pretty much it... but, G1-style stickers aside, he doesn't need a lot of paintwork to be Springer.

Naturally, this wouldn't be Springer - sometime leader of the Wreckers - without his trademark sword, and this version is very impressive. It has a proper transformation in itself, with the two rotor blades clipping together securely and the guard pegging into the hilt to prevent the blade spinning in his hand. The double-barrelled cannon seems a little oversized for his robot mode, but it's just about large enough that you can pose him in a similar stance to the box art, hefting his massive cannon with both hands. The missiles fire by way of friction, and the launcher is cleverly rigged to fire one missle at a time, rather than both at once. Just to make things even more fun, Springer's sword can plug into the underside of the cannon, as an unfeasibly long bayonet.

Last, but by no means least, the head sculpt is fantastic. Owing more, again, to the eccentric linework of Nick Roche than to either the G1 toy or animation model, it's a decent size (though it looks a bit too small given the size of the rest of him), nicely painted with pale grey and a couple of touches of yellow, and features excellent light piping for his eyes. The sculpt features his trademark forehead crests and a couple of spiky protrusions out the back, and is far better proportioned than that of Warbot Defender or the G1 model, both of which are far wider than they are deep, making him look oddly two-dimensional. His expression is a bit on the bland side, but you can just imagine that he's looking stern in readiness for his next battle.

Switching Springer between modes is more complex that the G1 model (naturally) but substantially less fiddly than Warbot Defender, whose myriad joints became confusing without reference to the instruction booklet. Each mode is pretty solid and convincing, though the side parts of his chest don't like to peg in securely in robot mode and, as mentioned above, the roof plate doesn't like to peg in at all in helicopter mode. Some parts are a bit fiddly - notably connecting the rear wheel section to the car body - but the overall process is fun and rewarding because each of the three modes is so well designed.

All that clever design also shows through in Springer's articulation, not least in the fact that he has waist articulation that is not necessary to his transformation. It is restricted somewhat by the car/helicopter roof on his back, but it doesn't get in the way too much. The arms are surprisingly mobile given the large slabs of car bonnet sticking out of the top, but the only real problem with them is that the elbows don't quite bend 90degrees. I was surprised to see wrist articulation given the way the forearm folds in and out to become the sides of the car and the wings of the helicopter, but it does help make him nice and poseable There's even a small amount of wrist tilt available, due to the jointing there, so he can almost point his sword forward. I've seen some folks complain about his stability and back-heaviness but I've noticed their photos do not show Springer's green heel pieces extended. They may be small, but they make a huge difference to his ability to hold a dramatic pose without falling over backward. At a push, the spoilers/tailfins can be used as heel extensions, but they have to be angled out of true, so they're probably not going to be reliable.

When writing up Warbot Defender, I honestly expected I'd never see another TransFormers triple-changer again. It was a flawed model, but a competent one, and a good substitute for a 'true' Springer toy, considering Hasbro's homages to the G1 character tended to be helicopters (including the Live Convoy repaint packaged with the Noisemaze repaint as Ratbat), while the TransFormers Collectors' Club repainted Exigeyser, an armoured car. Now this model is available (if only on import for the time being), he has usurped Warbot Defender's place on my shelves.

This model is highly recommended, not only as a proper homage to Springer as he appeared in the G1 TV series and, more recently, in the IDW comics, but as a massive improvement on the G1 toy, and proof that Hasbro and Takara Tomy can pleasantly surprise we fans with something that's not only far ahead of our expectations but very firmly in the 'in our wildest dreams' category. Absolutely one of the finest models from the 30th Anniversary, making it a huge shame that Hasbro UK dropped the ball on such an auspicious occasion.

One massive advantage to having picked up the US version - of this and Rhinox - is that I got the 'full' bio and the first proper Tech Specs charts I've seen on a Western TransFormers toy since Generation 1... It's just a shame that the 'full' bio uses more words to say less than the old G1 bios, and that it's not printed alongside the Tech Specs chart with a character portrait, on a 'clip and collect' cutout panel, just like on the old boxes.

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