Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Galaxy Force Ramble Drones

When I first got back into TransFormers, Galaxy Force was pretty much the perfect toyline for me, combining nostalgic character references with bold new designs and levels of articulation that just hadn't been possible when I first encountered the toy line back in the 80s.

While some homages were more obvious than others, the toy designers didn't shy away from taking things in unexpected directions, and some references were broader than others. Soundwave's design came across as a fairly logical extrapolation of the G1 character, except that he only had one minion.

Or did he? Technically, the Ramble drones were nothing to do with GF Soundwave, coming across more like evolved Scraplets, and the fact that their name was romanised to 'Ramble' rather than 'Rumble' seemed to confirm that these weren't intended to be a homage to G1 Rumble (and Frenzy), but that seems to be just a symptom of poor translation.

Vehicle Mode:
These things are downright weird. Up front, there's a very helicopter-esque cockpit, but everything behind that is pure sci-fi/videogame/anime walking tank. The construction is all very 'bare bones' since it's such a small model. Like the robots of Gigalonia, this seems to be an alternate mode of function rather than disguise. The front legs appear to be heavily armoured, as if to offer protection to the cockpit, while the back legs are equipped with drills and piledrivers.

The main body of the vehicle has a very bitty section featuring an armour plate that clips in just behind the cockpit, and a raised area mounted with a huge cannon (it's basically the same length as the drone's body, possibly slightly longer) which can rotate freely and tilt through almost 90° where it's not restricted by the body or legs of the vehicle. This cannon is also where the drones' key-activated gimmick his housed - insert a key and a long, serrated blade springs out from the barrel. Not sure how much use it would be in vehicle mode, but it's certainly an interesting choice of armament for a walking tank.

There's really not a lot more to say... It's a very simplistic model with a very simplistic colourscheme - black, grey and the secondary colour (they were available originally in red, blue and yellow, though I didn't bother with the latter as it wasn't an obvious G1 reference and I wasn't interested in troop building at that point) used sparingly on raised panels on each of the limbs.

Robot Mode:
Here's where the similarity to G1 Rumble and Frenzy becomes a bit clearer - notably in the arms and legs. The main body is, obviously, very different, as it has the vehicle mode's cockpit slapped on the front. Curiously, though, and I'm not certain whether by accident or design, the back view has a couple of irregular holes - literally just gaps between different transforming parts - which are not entirely dissimilar to those of the G1 cassettes. Just below those, though, are a pair of circular features like vents. Either could be taken to be referencing the drums in Rumble and Frenzy's chests.

Where he becomes different is that he has accessories mounted on his wrists. These simply flip over the drones' hands and can deploy drills (the vehicle mode's back feet) or pile drivers. These are a clear reference to Rumble and Frenzy of the G1 cartoon who, despite their very different powers, were both depicted using pile drivers to create earthquakes. Vaguely mushroom-like and topped with silver, they're also superficially similar to the weird electromagnetic/speaker panel things which turned up on the arms of movie Soundwave in Dark of the Moon. Just for fun, his arms aren't long enough, with these weapons deployed, to reach the ground, even when the drone is crouched right down.

The cannon weapon functions exactly the same in robot mode, though its rotation is restricted by the robot's head and its range of tilt seems marginally deeper. That said, it only tilts down further, as the upward tilt is restricted by the key slot in either mode. It was pointed out online that, if one were to detach the serrated blade from its key-activated mounting, the peg on the end is a perfect fit for the drones' hands... Unfortunately, no-one pointed out that this required breaking the tab that holds it in place so, sadly, my red Ramble drone now flings his blade across the room if ever I forget this and try to activate his gimmick. Even in robot mode, a turret-mounted blade doesn't seem like the best choice of weapon... Due to the way the cannon section is connected to the robot, it can be switched from one shoulder to the other, allowing the drones a hint of individuality.

The head sculpt looks almost insectoid, quite appropriate considering these things were depicted swarming around Cybertron like Insecticons. It's quite a plain sculpt, and almost cute with its large, light-piped eyes and a tiny dash of the appropriate colour on the central forehead crest - the only bit of robot-specific paintwork on the entire model.

All of the Ramble drones were given Decepticon insignia on the Japanese Galaxy Force versions, which is odd considering they attacked Autobots and Decepticons alike in the TV show. Then again, they were depicted with Decepticon insignia there, too... I'm not sure I understand why, not having seen the entire series, and taking into account that Galaxy Force toys tended not to have insignia when a character had no specific allegiance.

Scout class figures tend to have simple transformations, but these don't so much transform as simply reconfigure from a four-legged mode to a two-legged mode. It's literally just a case of shifting the four 'shoulder' joints, then flipping the turret and cockpit around. Simple, but pretty effective and always fun because it's so quick.

Another common feature of Scout class figures is their reliance on ball joints for articulation, and these drones are no different. They work out very well because all the joints are very tight - none of the sagginess associated with earlier (and later) ball-jointed figures. The feet are the weakest link, as they're just thin strips of plastic, hinged at the ankle. Getting them to balance can be tricky, but they can be made stable in a wide variety of poses... it's just a shame that none of them suggest active use of their drills or piledrivers... unless they're not meant to be used on the ground.

Obviously, it's just as poseable - and rather more stable - in vehicle mode, in which it can adopt some creepily spider-like positions. Being only four-legged, it can't quite reach the terrifying 'attack' positions of some dedicated spider TransFormers, but it's quite effective for what it is.

I suspect, given the way the drones were depicted in the TV show, that these were intended to be used for troop-building. Takara released all three colours of Ramble drones, while Hasbro initially released only the blue version, apparently followed later (weirdly) by the yellow version. I wasn't madly keen on these small, simplistic models and so only got the red and blue versions as semi-direct homages to Rumble and Frenzy, respectively. In hand, they're actually a lot of fun, but rather plainly decorated and very basic.

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