Monday, 28 December 2015

Combiner Wars Hot Spot

The leader of the Protectobots is another of the G1 combiner torso bots I wasn't able to acquire back when I started collecting TransFormers. I believe my best friend had the full set as I distinctly remember seeing Defensor up close... but that didn't really help me, because I had three out of five in the team and, for whatever reason, wasn't able to get my hands on the remaining two.

After Hasbro released the Combiner Wars Aerialbots in two separate waves, one of which never made it to these shores, they have thankfully adopted more sensible tack with Wave 3, and made it all Protectobots. Even then, while I managed to buy all the limbs in regular toy shops (a couple in Smyths at Friern Barnet, the rest at either the Brent Cross Toys'R'Us or the Uxbridge branch of Smyths), I still found myself having to order Hot Spot online. Whether impatience got the better of me, or he just didn't turn up on the shelves of my usual toyshops (hell, I even went looking in Lincoln!) for an inordinately long time, I'm still not sure.

The important thing is that I got him, right?

Vehicle Mode:
The moment I saw Combiner Wars Hot Spot in vehicle mode, I realised there was something familiar about him: he's based on the same emergency vehicle family as Dark of the Moon Sentinel Prime. That only lasts as far as the lightbar, though, and that's mounted rather further back that one would expect. After that point, it looks a lot more like the traditional kind of fire engine, where there's a flat bay all the way to the mobile ladder section at the back. Most of the truck itself is molded in a soft pastel blue, similar to the G1 toy, with the ladder section in a mixture of black and white plastics. There's a huge amount of molded detail, from the headlights and grille at the front, down the sides with loads of shuttered compartments and lockers, to the back where he even has molded tail lights... and his robot fists sticking out under the rear bumper.

Vehicle mode isn't exactly covered with paintwork, though. Most of it has been reserved for the robot mode and torso modes. What he does have is a set of front windows thoroughly coated with black paint (though the sculpted windscreen wipers are also painted black, so their detail is all but lost), silver for the front grille and headlights, then a line of red above the front wheel wells, red paint on the lightbar, and an Autobot Fire Rescue decal on either side. Beyond this, the vehicle is entirely without paint unless you count Hot Spot's chest piece, which is visible just in front of his rear wheels. Naturally none of the eight hubcaps or any of the molded details at the rear of the vehicle have any paintwork, but that's pretty much to be expected these days.

The ladder itself does not extend - unlike that of the G1 toy - but it has a (somewhat oversized) bucket and sprayer nozzle at the end, and does at least rotate the full 360° as well as raising without overbalancing the vehicle. The bottom end also acts as a mounting for his two rifles, which are conveniently molded to resemble water cannons. There are also mounting points on either side of the bucket, and these work just as well, if not better, as a place to keep water cannons on a fire engine. The bucket itself is quite shallow, as it ends up being Defensor's head, but its disguise is certainly an improvement on that of the G1 version.

Aside from having visible robot hands, this mold falls down rather badly in the hollowness stakes, which is easily visible in vehicle mode as the platform area just in front of the ladder's base has three wide strips cut out of it, revealing the robot's head peeping up at his own ladder. This also has the effect of letting quite a lot of light into the inside of the truck and, while it doesn't exactly make the blue plastic look translucent, it does highlight how thin some of it is. Furthermore, the roof of the front end has a huge hole running down the middle from the cab to the lightbar, and I'm really not sure why - it would have looked far better without, and I can't see why the gap was necessary in any mode. The back end also features a cutout area, but that's generally concealed by the ladder turret, so it's not quite so bad as some of the others.

Robot Mode:
Compared to his G1 ancestor, Combiner Wars Hot Spot is positively svelte in robot mode - gone are the enormous brick arms with cubic fists, gone is the basically rectangular body, and gone are the tiny thighs and huge moon boots... well, almost. The lower legs are still pretty huge, but everything else is better proportioned. There are only a couple of oddities with his overall silhouette: firstly, those shoulders... I mean, we've seen massive shoulder pads before on the likes of G2 Optimus Prime and even TF Prime Optimus Prime... but rarely would you see such well-defined shoulders sporting such obvious extraneous chunks on top, purely in service of vehicle mode... and these are even highlighted with the use of emergency striping and silver paint on the tech detail behind.

Robot mode brings a touch more colour variety to the mix with Hot Spot's traditional red chestplate including black panels, silver tech detailing and a small Autobot insignia. There are a couple of panels above the hip joints that got picked out in black too. I do find he's rather lacking in general, though, as the sunken tech detailing on his shoulders and forearms, as well as the large springs attaching the armour to his forearms, have all been left bare. While the paint job on the Unite Warriors version seems to pay more attention to these smaller details, I don't feel it's a better look overall because the areas left unpainted on that version are just as worthy of additional colouring.

Just like the original toy, the fire engine's ladder ends up hanging off Hot Spot's back though, on this toy, it adds some stability to counter the shift in the toy's centre of gravity - two prongs on the long black section of the turret assembly reach to ground level, and serve no other apparent purpose. The backpack clips in nicely and all the hinges are stiff enough that none of it flops around. It also doesn't rise too far above his head, so it's not overly intrusive except from the sides. It's untidy, I suppose, but this kind of thing tends to happen with TransFormers toys - any kind of vehicle mode ladder/crane/arm arrangement will end up either on the back or attached to one arm and, in Hot Spot's case, the back is definitely the best place for it, not least to enable a very efficient and self-contained transformation to torso mode.

The two rifles are the perfect size for Hot Spot, and he looks great wielding both - like a character from a giant robot John Woo movie. Like most Combiner Wars weapons, the moldings are a little suspect and gappy, but the cost-saving holes are kept to one side on each - what would be on the inside when mounted on the vehicle mode, as the necessary pegs are on one side only of each gun. It's a shame they can't be plugged together to give Hot Spot a single, double-barrelled weapon, but that would have required changes to the 5mm pegs intended as their individual handles.

The head sculpt is another excellent update of the G1 original, and cast in the same pastel blue as the body, to reference the cartoon rather than the original toy. The battlemask is then painted in a slightly darker cyan and - strangely for an Autobot - his eyes are painted red, though the G1 toy had red eyes for both Hot Spot and Defensor and, while the G1 cartoon made Hot Spot's eyes uniformly red, the Marvel comics at the time were completely inconsistent. The design of Hot Spot's head is dangerously close to that of some forms of Optimus Prime, but this Combiner Wars version is very distinct.

Torso Mode:
And so it is revealed that not all the paintwork budget was spent on Hot Spot's robot mode - the ladder turret opens out to reveal more emergency striping and more silver paint, though strangely lots of the other tech detailing is left as plain black plastic. The black paint on what was the sides of Hot Spot's knees does a fairly good job of presenting that area as Defensor's hips, but the yawning chasms above tend to draw the eye back inward, to the thinner and higher actual hip joints with their exposed screws.

The gestalt head sculpt is an awesome update of the G1 head, and with the bucket unfolded either side it it, has unrestricted rotation. The face is pretty neutral and oddly Police-ish - a look aided by the large 'Aviators'-style eyes. The face features some sunken tech detailing 'below the skin', and the helmet takes details from the G1 model and enhances them in every way. This is a far more interesting head than Superion's and doesn't feature any ridiculous rubber parts.

Another advantage this model has over Silverbolt is that the robot's fists are pegged in and out of the way, on the backs of the shoulders. What he does have is the cab halves protruding from the sides of his thighs at knee level, but the use of black plastic on the inside minimises their visual impact for the most part. The vertical protrusions from his chest plate look as though they might affect the gestalt's freedom of movement, though...

Hot Spot is a surprisingly simple toy to transform, but quite well designed regardless. The front end is his legs, the back end is his arms, and the body - what there is of it - is in the middle, so it's basically the reverse of the G1 toy. He's not without issues, however. The main problem is the way his legs come together in robot mode and torso mode. The instructions are a little vague for the former (the double-jointed 'knee' has to be bent forward from the upper joint to plug into the lower leg properly) while the connection for the latter is exceedingly tenuous - on mine, Defensor's right hip in particular tends to come loose without much assistance. The left generally seems pretty stable, which is rather odd considering the connections are identical. The other vague bit is the red chest plate - it's not entirely clear whether it should be in its robot mode position or its torso mode position for vehicle mode... not that it matters, really, as he has pretty good ground clearance either way. Transformation to torso mode - aside from the aforementioned issue with his right leg - is very simple, and I love the way the ladder wraps around the entire body to bring the bucket up to the area right behind the ladder turret, where the sides open up and the central part flips closed to create Defensor's head. I do find the chest plate doesn't peg into the body especially well, and it can be difficult to get the head properly seated on the shoulders, but it works well for the most part.

With such a simple transformation, one would tend to expect plenty of articulation, and Hot Spot doesn't disappoint. All the usual joints are there, with a good range at the very least. The arms are double-jointed - largely for his torso mode - but that, coupled with excellent outward swing and bicep twist, allows for some very expressive posing. His feet are a little awkward and the heels could have done with an extension for stability (an issue fixed in Onslaught), but the ladder acts as a stand in the more extreme poses, where the edges of his feet aren't quite enough to ensure he won't fall over. That said, positioned just right, he has no problem balancing on one foot, despite their subtly angled bases. Conspicuous by its absence is waist articulation, which really should have been possible on Hot Spot as there's nothing to prevent a joint either at the waist or at the groin, and having the ladder wrapped around him would keep him stable in torso mode.

Hot Spot is an absolutely fantastic update of the G1 character - far better than any of the half-hearted repaints that have kept the name available to Hasbro in the years since the original combiner teams appeared. It's not without its flaws, but he's a huge improvement on Silverbolt in most respects. He looks pretty good both as a standalone figure and as a team leader/torso for the gestaly, so Defensor really seems to be something to look forward to...

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