Monday, 27 July 2015

Robots in Disguise (2015) Sideswipe

I genuinely intended to skip RID2015 completely. The look of the TV series - not to mention its focus on Bumblebee as team leader - just doesn't appeal to me. Then again, I said that about TransFormers Animated before sitting down to watch some episodes, and that won me over just enough to get me collecting the toys. RID2015 might be just as entertaining but, for the moment, at least, I don't feel inclined to give it a try.

The toys, meanwhile, look pretty terrible - cheaper-looking construction than TFAnimated, more simplistic than many of the TFPrime toys and the design generally has been a real let-down... but, on the upside, that's one toyrange I can save money on, allowing me to focus more on the likes of Combiner Wars.

Then Sideswipe came along... and, while I've heard and read lots of bad things about the toy, it looked interesting enough to be worthy of a closer look...

Vehicle Mode:
One of my gripes about the new Robots in Disguise series is that the vehicle designs are, frankly, a little too outlandish. Simplistic, angular and somewhat alien, even in their terrestrial disguises, they're another fine example of the show characters being developed before the toys. Of those that I've seen so far, Sideswipe's alternate mode is just about the most bearable. It may not be a Lamborghini, but it does look like a believable sports car, if a little on the exaggerated/futuristic side. He also retains his G1 ancestor's spoiler, albeit now molded in four parts across the transforming sections of the rear.

The front wheels are further evidence of the cheapening construction of TransFormers toys, as they simply clip on, while the rear wheels are pinned. I have no objections to this, per se, since it doesn't diminish this particular toy, and the wheels don't seem inclined to fall off, but it's certainly part of a worrying trend.

Unlike the movie series, the makers of RID2015 saw no reason to deviate from the fan-favourite red colourscheme for Sideswipe, so naturally the toy follows suit. However, the Hasbro version features an awful lot of unpainted black plastic that really shouldn't be there. It also has the usual problem of a generally miserly paint job (painted headlights, unpainted rear), compounded by terrible paint matching to the red plastic. In effect, it almost looks as though the doors and bonnet were given a coating of pearlescent white paint followed by a very thin coat of red.What I find weird about the paint job is the addition of Japanese symbols on his sides, since it effectively marks him as a reference to Drift of the comics, even though there's a (terribly stereotypical Samurai-looking) Drift in the TV show and toy range.

The new feature of this toyline is a smartphone code ring around the faction insignia... I have neither a smartphone nor any interest in the game the codes apply to, so it seems rather pointless to me. I guess it's added value to kids with the relevant tech, though...

Sideswipe comes packaged with an unpainted and rather basic sword which doesn't so much stow in vehicle mode as it does simply attach, rather conspicuously, to the roof. I could understand attaching on the underside, but a sword on the roof somewhat contradicts the concept of 'disguise', and I'm pretty sure he doesn't wear it there in the TV show. Of course, one reason it doesn't stash on the underside is that there's already too much of an undercarriage. It may be apparent in the photos below that his wheels don't actually touch the ground because of his folded up chest plate. There have been many TransFormers toys where the undercarriage almost scrapes the ground but this, in a car toy, is inexcusable.

Robot Mode:
The problem with designing CGI characters before the toy range they're intended to represent is that the CGI ends up being impossible to recreate in plastic - there's no way Sideswipe's headlights can end up on his chest, there's no way his lower legs can end up so slim, and there's no way his doors can just disappear. Don't get me wrong, I like the way the toy looks... I just think the CGI should better reflect this representation of the character. For example, the arms don't look too bad with the car's doors attached to them (and are somewhat G1-referential), but the doors simply disappear in the TV show, leaving small, spiked armour panels on his forearms. With the doors present on the toy's arms, he loses the both the spikes and the red panel... Unless, of course, the doors are meant to be the red panels. I do like the way the front fenders become Sideswipe's 'wings', but having the windscreen, bonnet and bumper sticking out of his back is more than a little untidy.

Robot mode's paint job is every bit as minimal as the vehicle's, with a few bits in the blue used for his headlights, including - somewhat surprisingly, considering how ineffective they are - a couple of details molded into his feet. Other than that, there are a couple of touches of black on his knees (that aren't quite extensive enough, versus the CGI), the silver on his face and the Japanese character stamped on his chest.

If the lack of sensible weapon storage in vehicle mode is disappointing, that same lack in robot mode is ridiculous. There are surely any number of ways a sword could be slipped in somewhere, or clipped on, but there's nothing... and, while Sideswipe holds it well, it's not the most exciting accessory one could hope for.

The head sculpt is quite good, for what it is - the punkish robo-quiff and cyber-mutton-chop sideburns looks decent in plastic, the face is so simple fouling it up would have required serious effort, and the smirk suits the character. Weirdly, there could have been light piping but, in choosing a smoky grey for the translucent plastic, Hasbro put themselves in a position where they had to paint his eyes blue... and they went with an opaque paint - probably the same one they used for his headlights/chest lights.

I have to admit that I was a little impressed by Sideswipe's transformation in terms of fairly ambitious engineering on a Deluxe class toy. It has its disappointing elements - such as the chest plate that completely screws up vehicle mode and doesn't hold his shoulders in place, and the 'wings' that don't clip into place and are on fairly loose joints - but it's remarkably well planned, it's only the execution that lets it down. That said, it is also very simple, even compared to some TransFormers Prime figures but, with this toy range aimed at a fairly young age group (six and up), that's to be expected. It is rather a shame, also, that no way was found to fill the gaping holes in the backs of his lower legs with, for example, the rear fenders and wheels, to give him a slightly more show-accurate look. One other feature that I find frustrating (and it may just be because I threw away the card with its instructions almost immediately and without, y'know, reading them) is getting his fender pieces back into vehicle mode position - they just don't clip into place without a struggle because the bumper is in the way.

Sideswipe is one of those figures whose articulation is good in theory, but marred by his flimsy construction and simplicity. Since the arms don't peg in securely at the shoulder, they're as likely to flop out of position as they are to swing out or rotate at the shoulder, or bend at the elbow. There's no waist articulation, but the hips are mobile enough, there's a strong mid-thigh swivel, his knees have a good range and his feet are surprisingly good considering their only movement comes from his transformation and his 'ankle' joints are halfway up his shins. The lack of wrist rotation or tilt does hinder his dramatic swordplay stances but, overall, he'd be very good if only his arms pegged into his body more securely. He could have done with ankle ball joints to improve his poseablility and stability, but what's there is just about adequate, despite not having anything like a traditional - flat - underside to his feet.

In spite of his simplicity and plastic tolerance issues, RID2015 Sideswipe is a rather well-engineered toy... and a lot of fun to play about with. Assuming he's indicative of the quality of the rest of the line, I can't see myself getting any more of Hasbro's releases, but I'm still vaguely interested in the Takara Tomy versions of Strongarm and Jazz.

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