Sunday, 15 June 2014

TransFormers: Prime Beast Hunters Smokescreen

All things considered, I feel that Smokescreen - both in name and character - was a strange late addition to the roster of TFPrime Autobots. The main issue was that he seemed to be intended to out-Bumblebee Bumblebee in the reckless brawling and risk-taking departments. Granted, the Yellow One's partnership with Raf Esquivel toned down a lot of his behaviour, turning him into more of a giant alien robot 'older brother', but contemporary Bumblebees have tended to be daredevils... so why on Earth would we need another?

Furthermore, other than G1 Autobot diversionary tactician (including repaints in the Cybertron and movie toylines), the the name 'Smokescreen' had only been applied to the G2 Decepticon partner to Dreadwing and the bizarre Armada crane-thing. This character in TFPrime may have been a visual homage but, in every other respect, he was more Hot Rod than Smokescreen, even down to Optimus Prime's suggestion that he had the potential to become a Prime.

But enough about the character and the TV show... I'm sure you all want to know what I think about the toy...

Vehicle Mode:
There's no getting around the fact that Smokescreen is very white. Hasbro tried to disguise this fact with a fair splash of paint on the bonnet, roof and side panels, but it's just not enough to cover up how white Smokescreen is. Making matters worse, despite the fact that he has a fair amount of paint coverage, it's nowhere near enough. In the TV show, Smokescreen has two shades of blue on his bonnet - a darker one covering most of his bonnet and a lighter, metallic blue in three stripes running from the front of the vehicle to the windscreen. Hasbro's paint job has fudged this horribly. The pattern on his sides, featuring the 'Number 38' G1 reference, is badly simplified, lacking the chequering, and the sweeping blue part around the rear wheels has been shrunk and simplified, no longer connecting to the doors. The front and rear of the car, meanwhile, lack any paintwork, and the silver is missing from the hubcaps and the intakes just behind the doors, so the overall impression of this toy is that it is unfinished.

The molding is a little suspect, too. The front seems OK, but the spoiler at the back is far too large versus the CGI in the TV show... Then again, I suppose we should be grateful that Smokescreen got a unique mold in the US/UK, considering the first Japanese version was a slightly remolded version of the Knock Out model coloured only by stickers.

This having been released as part of the Beast Hunters line, it's strange that they went with Smokescreen's original colouration because, by the time the TV show gained the Beast Hunters subtitle, he'd switched to blue and yellow. Stranger still, Hasbro have only reused this mold, with a new head, as Prowl, and I would imagine that if there ever were plans to rerelease the Deluxe class Smokescreen in his alternate colouration, they have long since been abandoned.

However, this being a Beast Hunters figure, he comes with some bizarre rubbery accoutrements. First and foremost is his spring-loaded missile launcher, which can be mounted on his roof in vehicle mode. For the most part, the missile is pretty standard, but it also has a rubbery, hexagonal 'net' attachment - the 'Electronet' alluded to by the packaging. It's an interesting idea but, when the net is folded round and plugged together, it's barely large enough to wrap around one of my fingers, let alone any of the other toys in the TFPrime Beast Hunters line. The other accessory is called the 'Shadow Quill Armour' and does not, at any point, appear in the TV show. I get that these kinds of toys are extensions to the 'canon' of the TV show but, with so many cool gadgets appearing in the later episodes of the TV show, Hasbro decided to include just about everything but those that appeared. The 'Shadow Quill Armour' is basically a Mad Max-style alternate frontage to the vehicle mode, giving Smokescreen the spikes and other protrusions that were added to all Beast Hunters iterations of the original TFPrime Deluxes, but are curiously absent from Smokescreen's basic form. Both this and the 'Electronet' are molded in a nice metallic blue rubber, giving him some much needed additional colour, though the 'Shadow Quill Armour' itself looks as though it could have done with some paint...

Robot Mode:
Smokescreen seems to have fallen victim to a lot of hate over the toy's robot mode... Granted, the chest is completely faked and the real bonnet of the car is folded up on his forearms with his windscreen and the majority of his roof and, granted, the lower legs and feet are less than perfectly elegant. Granted also, his paint job is robot mode is as maddeningly inaccurate as that of his vehicle mode... but the overall look of him is actually pretty good... if still rather unfinished.

The inaccuracy of the paint job is extremely strange - his head is just plain wrong, with blue in place of both silver and red, but neither are replaced consistently. His face is completely unpainted, the chest is both lacking in colour generally and, just like the vehicle mode, gets the application of blue woefully wrong. The arms are striped with red and blue, the kneecaps have been turned red, and he has developed some stripes on his inner shins that just aren't there in the CGI. On the upside, at least in this mode, he's not almost entirely made of white plastic - there's a metallic grey and some black thrown in around the torso, arms, hips, feet and innards.

While the colours of his head may be wrong or lacking, the sculpt itself is excellent... making it all the more disappointing that it didn't get any silver paint to bring out what little detail was required for the face. It even seems to be more or less the right size... but then, Smokescreen does appear to have a disproportionately small head in the TV show...

Like most of the other TFPrime characters, Smokescreen had blasters which transformed out of his forearms, so the addition of a missile launcher, particularly one with a weird rubber 'net', seems pointless. I really wish the TFPrime toys had all foregone the silly and oversized spring-loaded, LED-lit weapons and had weapons which plugged into (and over) their hands to simulate the appearance of their signature weapons in the TV show... And the 'Shadow Quill Armour' is utterly useless in robot mode. It's kind of like one of those elaborate bikini-style 'armour' bras favoured by heroines in fantasy videogames - it doesn't cover anything remotely important. Most of its bulk, in fact, ends up sticking up behind and above his head and shoulders.

I have to admit that I find transforming Smokescreen to be a bit of a pain. The arms are far more complicated than they needed to be and have far too much of the vehicle shell attached to them. The way the bonnet folds back over the windscreen and roof at an angle is pretty clever, but leaves an enormous amount of extraneous bulk on his forearms. The strange combination of joints that bring the arms out into their robot mode position is also clever, but it doesn't fit into place very well and the ball joints particularly are prone to popping out. The way his door wings are handled is certainly original, but it does mean they're just another thing getting in the way when trying to transform him back to vehicle mode.

In spite of his decidedly odd construction, Smokescreen does have excellent articulation. The fact that so little of his feet actually touch the ground doesn't affect his stability a great deal, but it does highlight how far oversized his spoiler is. Some of the joints on mine are a little floppy, but he remains dynamic and fun. The extra bulk on his forearms doesn't affect the range of motion in his arms and it's only a little unsightly.

I may never understand why Hasbro didn't almost instantly re-release this mold in Smokescreen's alternate colour scheme from the later episodes of Beast Hunters, when the Autobots are 'on the run'. In many ways, it would have made more sense on a single release to use that colour scheme instead of this one, but, in spite of its flaws, I think this mold is too good to only be used once. They may have given him a new head, a police lightbar and paintjob and called him Prowl (recoloured by the Collectors' Club as Barricade), but this toy deserved another shot at being Smokescreen, damnit... And, since second runs invariably have better paint jobs, they might have made a more successful Smokescreen a second time round.

Smokescreen has turned out to be one of my favourite molds from the TFPrime line and I rather wish Prowl had got a UK release... that'll probably never happen now. If I'm lucky, I may be able to score a Barricade, if any are left over from this year's TFCC Subscription Service...

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