Thursday, 17 December 2015

Combiner Wars First Aid

It always puzzled me, back in Generation 1, that there was technically only one Autobot medic - Ratchet - despite the ever-increasing character roster of the toyline and TV show. When a new medic eventually joined the team, he was one of the Protectobots, and transformed into a smaller, less detailed version of much the same so-called ambulance as Ratchet. He also got lumbered with the most boring and obvious name in the history of the brand.

With Defensor being the second Autobot gestalt in the Combiner Wars series, Hasbro granted First Aid his official return as one of the limbs of the Protectobot behemoth, but how does this update shape up?

Vehicle Mode:
Well, the first thing to note is that he's a retooling of Offroad, one of the Stunticons who never got a European release so, while it's not a new mold as such, it's new to me. Of course, being based on a mold that was originally a pickup truck/SUV, it's a bit beefier than the average ambulance. In fact, it's probably closer in feel to movie Ratchet (and especially the Rescue repaint) than something more traditional. In fact, for all the world, this think looks built to be a SWAT van rather than a rescue vehicle, and it's only the white and red paintjob (including the words 'RESCUE' and 'EMERGENCY' in white at strategic locations on each side) that make it seem like anything else. Even then, it's a seriously hardcore kind of emergency/rescue vehicle.

As well as the red stripes down the sides, the central part of First Aid's front end it painted silver, but the heavy-duty bumper, the headlights and, most conspicuously, the hubcaps have been left inexplicably bare. The lightbar is painted red at either end, and most of the windows are painted - as has been becoming alarmingly typical in Hasbro's releases, the rear window has not been painted to match the others, nor is there any other paint for the bumper, lights (not that there's much by way of molded detail for them) or even the fairly prominent windscreen wiper. This lack of paintwork means there's absolutely nothing to distract from the rather obvious robot feet jutting down from the rear bumper, below the central 5mm port. Given that the vehicle has excellent ground clearance everywhere else, the feet look especially silly and untidy sticking out the way they do, not least because they're not even molded to look like something that might be attached to a bumper. The 'detail' on the soles of his feet probably isn't even real 'detail' - it almost looks like vents, or the output of some kind of jet engine, but why would either of those be on the back of a rescue vehicle/ambulance?

First Aid's hand/foot gun is not typical of the toyline in that it doesn't naturally peg in via a 5mm port. It has the peg on top for its use as a hand or foot, but it connects to the roof via a narrow tab, then the thumb/heel wraps around to the rear, mimicking the appearance of his G1 cannons. Weirdly, though, his Combiner Wars weapon doesn't mimic the look of this original vehicle weapon - it's a four-barrelled thing with engine-like detail on the top, the same weapon that was packaged with Offroad. Likewise, his hand weapon is the very same axe that came with Offroad... not necessarily a bad choice for a rescue vehicle/SWAT van, but for an ambulance..? There's also the issue of its mounting. Aside from the port on the rear bumper, First Aid has a port on either side, just in front of the rear wheel... and the axe seems too large and oddly shaped for either. It almost would have made more sense to have a hole in the roof to plug it into, as long as it kept below the level of his cannons.

I like the repurposing and retooling of the extraneous Stunticon's mold, and I can just about get behind this as a vehicle for First Aid if it's a crisis rescue vehicle, built for extreme circumstances... that certainly suits the idea of the Protectobots in a more dangerous world - such as the one we live in these days, let alone one where giant alien robots are at war among us - and, considering the 'upgrade' that Ratchet got for the movies, it follows a similar pattern... but there's something a little uneasy about a character like First Aid - the Autobot doctor who hates to see any machine in pain - as a vehicle built seemingly for the battlefield.

Robot Mode:
While the proportions of some of the Aerialbots were a little odd, First Aid is pretty much spot-on... though maybe a little skinny in the arms. The torso tapers in gradually overall, leading to a groin section that is a little wider than that of any of the Aerialbots, which gives him a more natural silhouette... other than the hollow vehicle bonnet sticking up behind his head and the massively oversized lower legs, that is. The chunks of vehicle visible behind his torso don't stick out too much as the red parts are strong enough that they draw the eye more readily.

The paint job appears fairly minimal, but actually the entire torso is white plastic painted red. The torso is then broken up with silver panels on the chest (which doesn't quite disguise the pins for the arms' transformation joints visible in the corners of the panels), one of which contains an Autobot insignia, and the molded recessed tech detailing immediately below, which is picked out in silver. This is an excellent bit of paintwork that really helps give the impression of a fully three-dimensional robot with inner workings beneath armour panelling - it's rare enough for this kind of thing to appear as molded detail, but for it to be painted is almost unheard of. Unfortunately, similar details on his lower legs have been left unpainted, so the effect is lost there. At some point, if I feel up to it, I may paint in the leg details myself - I certainly feel that the molding deserves that extra bit of highlighting. The only robot-specific paint on his legs is the pair of blue panels on each kneecap, using the same metallic blue as the vehicle mode windows.

As with all the Combiner Wars Deluxes, the hand/foot weapon is oversized as a handgun, and First Aid doesn't really have anywhere sensible to mount it in robot mode. I guess it could be attached to one of the 5mm ports on the outsides of his legs, just below his knees, but that doesn't look at all sensible. What this model really needed was a 5mm port on the front of the vehicle, so it could be mounted as an over the shoulder cannon in robot mode - all it would have needed is a couple of rounded, recessed headlights rather than (or within) the thin, angular ones he has. It's a real shame because, this being a reshelling of Offroad with all the same weapons, he really doesn't look right wielding the axe either. Even when talking about giant alien robots, I can't imagine an axe being an appropriate accessory for any kind of medic. That said, he holds it well - and, being quite a long-handled axe, it's nice that it slips all the way through his hand rather than just pegging into a closed fist port - and the jointing of his arm is such that, while he can't point it, he can just about swing it in a semi-convincing fashion.

Like Blades, the head sculpt is pure G1 homage: it's very boxy and features enhanced detail on the old design. It even has the effect of the G1 head's second function as the combiner peg, as the 'helmet' is slightly thinner at the bottom than at the top. Despite a comparatively featureless 'mask'-type face, there's plenty of detail on the head overall, from the little details on his three crests to the panel lining on his recessed forehead and the protruding panels either side of his faceplate. The way the visor sits behind his central forehead crest and the raised middle of his faceplate almost splits it into two large eyes, but not quite. This is another mold that would have benefited by lightpiping, but the metallic blue paint looks pretty good.

All the familiar elements of a Combiner Wars Deluxe transformation are here, from the lower legs opening up to reveal and deploy the upper legs, to the arms being flattened down into the sides, to the car's bonnet simply hinging up and back over the shoulders. In most respects, it's similar to the G1 toy's transformation as well - only a tiny bit more complicated due to the legs, really - albeit slightly tidier (or not, opinions will vary) in what it does with the front of the vehicle: it may not fold away completely, but it clips into place (almost), and at least it isn't just a large flap sticking out backwards.

First Aid has much the same kind of joint setup as all the other Combiner Wars figures except for his shoulders. Despite being ball-jointed, they have an additional hinged flap of vehicle mode panelling which has a tendency to get in the way however it's placed. Flat against his arms, the effect is minimised, but then they're in the way of his above-the-elbow rotation. Lifted up, not only to they immediately clash with the tyres sticking up behind his shoulders, they restrict the movement of the entire shoulder, and the little pointed ridge right at the front makes things even worse. I'm not sure which is the dafter aspect of this figure - the way the front of the vehicle just bunches up behind the head and shoulders, or the massive, unnecessary plates over the shoulder joints. Other than that, the only downside is that his authentically boxy G1-style head is on a restricted ball joint that does little more than rotate. His legs have the usual range of motion, and the enormous lower legs offer good stability in just about any pose, though the fact that the feet aren't independently articulated can cause some poses to look odd.

One of the advantages of the Stunticons being passed over for a UK release (thusfar) is that both of Protectobot retools - First Aid, here, and Streetwise - are completely new to me, as I wouldn't have been able to pick up Offroad or Dead End even if I'd wanted to (which I didn't, because FansProject did it better) and, to me, even in spite of the somewhat lacking paintwork, First Aid looks a whole lot better than Offroad, both in overall design and most of his execution. It's a cool update to the G1 character, even in spite of the questionable design of his vehicle mode.

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