Saturday, 18 October 2014

Generations (30th Anniversary) Tailgate & Groundbuster

I can't remember the last time I actually bought something in Forbidden Planet other than the occasional book or DVD. I fondly remember visiting that shop, back in its earlier days, and finding some amazing TransFormers stuff, from Robots in Disguise Megatron and Ultra Magnus, to my very first Binaltech model, Smokescreen. When they moved the Shaftesbury Avenue, the premises were slicker and more spacious (it was all too easy to trip over stock in the shockingly crowded old place!), but the quality and variety of stock interested me far less over time. For many years, they haven't stocked any TransFormers toys that weren't available - cheaper - at Toys'R'Us, and most of it wasn't even imported stock.

I do still visit occasionally and yesterday, being my wonderfully geeky girlfriend's birthday, was one of those occasions. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found something new and interesting... A Generations toy that isn't (yet?) available in the UK elsewhere... and which came in US packaging. The pricing was fair, too - approximately what I'd expect to pay for something in this size class these days - so I decided to part with £11.99 for an update to a G1 toy that I never owned and his 'TargetMaster' partner...

Vehicle Mode:
What's really cool about this update is that G1 Tailgate shared most of a mold with G1 Windcharger - the Pontiac Firebird - but, while Windcharger got updated into a Ford Mustang-a-like, Tailgate has become something that references an earlier iteration of the Firebird, most closely resembling the 1981 Firebird Turbo Trans Am. It has a few more angular details and the front end is almost completely redesigned, but the impression of the old-style Firebird is very definitely present in the proportions.

The colourscheme is not quite the same as the G1 model - the car shell is molded entirely in white plastic, but the windows are silver paint and Tailgate has gained a non-trademark-infringing flame pattern on his bonnet in place of the car's traditional rendition of a firebird. It breaks the monotony of the colourscheme, but it doesn't really feel like it fits... and I kinda wonder if we wouldn't have been better off with, say, painted headlights and tail lights, as well as extra silver painted onto the four prodigious exhaust pipes. On the upside, we do have plenty of silver paint on the hubcaps, and I know I often complain when that's lacking.

One point on the colourscheme: it's actually far more of a standard cyan than the tealish colour suggested by my photos - I guess this is one of those colours that doesn't reproduce well on an ancient digital camera (I had to use my old camera as the one my girlfriend gave me, being without a specific Macro mode, doesn't do close-ups very well, and this is a very small model!).

While Tailgate lacks the Firebird's raised area towards the rear of his bonnet, he does have a 5mm socket, which enables his packed-in partner Groundbuster to peg on. Mounting Groundbuster on the bonnet seems awkward to say the least - a miniature vehicle that sits on the front of the car and sticks out is never going to look elegant, but the grabby-claw action reminds me somewhat of Cybertron Downshift.

Robot Mode:
Hasbro's relationship with IDW has brought some interesting results, not least the Nick Roche-inspired Springer and the Don Figueroa-inspired Megatron. These artists have designed some excellent new interpretations of the old G1 bricks, and Hasbro have worked wonders in turning them into plastic reality. Tailgate is another Nick Roche design, and has translated remarkably well considering the size class. He has the bulky shoulders, broad chest and small, skinny legs of Roche's artwork, as well as the disproportionately small, redesigned head. It's a far cry from the G1 original, though the presence of the car roof sticking up behind his head somewhat mimics the G1 toy's appearance, where the head was molded onto the underside of the front of the car.

There is a pattern in Hasbro's TransFormers toys, in that one mode or the other suffers from a dearth of unique paint applications, and that holds true even for this model. Vehicle mode gets loads of silver and the flame design, while robot mode gets only a splash of blue for Tailgate's visor and a block of white on his chest. Granted, there are more colours of plastic, but Tailgate still looks a little unfinished. In some respects, the extent of the coloured plastic is surprising, given that Roche's design is basically white apart from the bulk of the chest and the crest behind his head, which are blue. In this way, I think Hasbro have actually improved the design without turning it into something slavishly G1-inspired.

Being such a small model, it's not especially detailed in its moldings and, as with so many contemporary TransFormers, there are some large holes in some parts to conserve plastic and reduce costs, but the overall look is very much that of Tailgate in the IDW comics. The head sculpt is a big part of this, as it's the much simplified, yet stylised Roche design. Granted, there isn't really space for more detail, but it doesn't really need it. It looks like Tailgate in the comics, and that's easily good enough. Part of me thinks it might have looked better in silver, since that would help it stand out a little more... but then painting the inside of the car roof/windscreen blue would have the same effect.

While he has no fold-out weapons like the recent Windcharger, he's not really a character that needed them. What he does have is a 'TargetMaster' partner in the form of Groundbuster, who can be held in Tailgate's hands. It looks just as ridiculous in robot mode as it did in vehicle mode because Groundbuster's third mode cannot be considered to be a gun in any way: it's just a grabby-claw thing with treads.

At first glance, I took this to be a strange kind of bulldozer with a spoiler, but Groundbuster is "a remote operated bomb disposal skid loader" according to one of Hasbro's designers, Joe Kyde. There's not much to say about it, except that the claw action can be 'activated' by sort of jiggling the spoiler upward and pushing it forward. It's not very efficient, though, and it's often better to just pull on the 'scoop'.

Naturally, Groundbuster is molded in the same colour plastics as Tailgate, but has even less paintwork - all I could identify in vehicle mode was the cyan panels on his treads.

It's kind of insulting to the brand to claim this model 'transforms' into a robot as literally all you need to do is stand him up on the rear of the vehicle and swing the treads out, as his stubby arms are molded on the insides. Robot mode does introduce a new paint colour - red - but that's about all you can say in its favour. I thought Armada Tidal Wave's Mini-Con Ramjet was bad... this thing is execrable.

Considering Tailgate's size, his transformation is quite involved. Some parts are fairly standard - the way the arms are formed out of the front and sides of the vehicle - while others are exceedingly unusual. Of particular interest was the way the exhaust pipes end up on the waist, without having to completely reorient the legs (the instructions sort of get this bit right, but it's helpful to get the arms out of the way). It does leave him with a strange 'tail' effect, but it's mostly disguised from behind by the positioning of the car roof.

Considering the remade Windcharger has some of the best articulation I've seen on a model that size, one would tend to expect the same from Tailgate, despite him being an entirely different mode. The former showed what could be done, after all, so the latter should be able to build upon that. The legs are pretty good - ball-jointed hips and knees see to that, but the soft-ratcheting ankles are pretty handy, too - pinned joints alone would risk being too loose. There is a significant problem with the shoulders, in that the sections of car bonnet sticking out of the back of his shoulders continually clash with the car roof on his back, and there's no good way to avoid it. On the upside, while I'd initially assumed Tailgate's head was fixed in place, a quick look down his back revealed that he does have a neck joint. This, too, is somewhat inhibited by the car roof, but it works well enough. My main gripe on the articulation is with the elbows, though. Despite being ball joints, they're obstructed quite severely by the car shell moldings on the outsides, which conspire not only to make the elbows surprisingly inflexible, but actually make it tricker to just transform them into and out of their robot mode position.

Amusingly, although there's already an existing (and excellent) Windcharger update in this size class, this model has been repainted and given a new head to create a second Windcharger. I'd understand the same character in a different size class (Warpath being a good example), but this is baffling... Especially when Hasbro are reluctant to repaint their more recent Seeker molds (particularly those from the live action movies, but also the excellent Masterpiece model) as all three Seekers.

Nick Roche's designs often don't look very 'transforming toy friendly', but the designers behind this model have pulled off something very impressive with Tailgate. He has a lot of character and the slightly upgraded colourscheme of the toy help to bring that out. The real letdown in this package is the supposed 'triple-changing' partner. I get that it's supposed to be referencing a G1 Micromaster, but Groundbreaker barely transforms, so he may as well have been a drone, like the limbs of a Power Core Combiner, or a basic weapon, such as those that come packaged with some Deluxes. There's nothing about the model that's especially clever and, in many ways, Tailgate would have been better off on his own.

Addendum 19/10/14: One advantage to owning the US packaging version of any TransFormers toy these days is that you get the character bio and tech specs on the back of the card/box. Tailgate's bio is clearly tailored after the IDW character rather than the 'machine rights' activist of Generation 1. On the downside, the bio is no longer kept neatly with the tech specs so, while one can 'clip and save' the spec chart, it's not quite the same as it used to be. Also, I should probably have checked a few other cards before buying the one I did, as Forbidden Planet's anti-shoplifting strip is right on top of Groundbuster's spec chart.

Oh, and here's a fun fact: Groundbuster's rank is higher than Tailgate's... so, technically, he's the boss in their partnership.

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