Saturday, 16 January 2016

TransFormers: Prime Beast Hunters Soundwave

Very few of the Beast Hunters toys were of any interest to me - it was good that Smokescreen got released (even if it was only a poor representation of his original colourscheme), but the remolds - in all their gaudy, marble-plastic glory - seemed superfluous because the characters in the TV show didn't change to match. In total, I picked up three: Arcee (because, duh), Knock Out (aka Croc Out, because he did look awesome) and Soundwave.

The original version was eerie enough, being very well executed in plastic despite being so slender and oddly-proportioned. How does a Predator-style drone TransFormer fare once it's had the Beast Hunters wackiness treatment?

Vehicle Mode:
This really is a weird one, even for Hasbro at their weirdest. Soundwave's original drone form has been remolded to the point where it almost looks like one of those part-transformed, weaponised, 'Stealth Force' vehicle modes used by the Autobots in Dark of the Moon - armour plates have shifted and extended, certain parts are bulked up, certain parts look 'uncovered' - in particular, a couple of recessed dome-like bits not quite halfway down the nose, which could be cameras or weapons - and the whole thing no longer looks capable of unaided flight. Curiously, the wingspan of this version is greater than that of the original, and he has curvy bits on the wingtips as well as three feather-like panels sticking out of the backs. For no obvious reason, he also has a third, central tail fin, and the hood over the cone at the rear has been remolded to the point where it almost looks like a Galaxy Force key slot.

The big new thing in the Beast Hunters toyline (for whatever bizarre reason, never explained) was the marble effect in some plastic parts. I can remember sorting through quite a few Soundwaves in the toyshop to find one that was pleasingly swirly, as many had large blobs of colour rather than anything that actually looked like a marble effect. On Soundwave, this effect is used in the blue/grey parts closest in colour to the original Soundwave, then there are several additional plastic colours - blue, yellow, black and a particularly unpleasant brown. Perhaps as a consequence of this excess, there's not much paintwork - the wingtips, the aforementioned feather-like panels on the wings and part of the ridged crest on the nose have been granted a touch of shimmery yellow paint. This version of Soundwave has also been given Decepticon insignias on each wing - a feature curiously absent on the original.

Beyond remolded extremities, the major addition to this version is a weapon - specifically the 'Talon Grapple Cannon'. Like all these things, it looks far too big and bulky - particularly on so slight a vehicle as Soundwave - and it's also sculpted in the ridged and warped style of the Beast Hunters line, though with no obvious beast-like detailing as per the Echohawk Bow packaged with BH Arcee. The spring-loaded launcher is molded in the blue/grey marbled plastic, while the claw is molded in the horrible, incongruous brown plastic. Missile and launcher are connected via a short cord which performs the dual role of ensuring the missile isn't accidentally lost when it fires (hey, it happens!) and making it more 'grapple'-like. The missile itself is a claw of two parts, with a small lever on the inside which, in theory, is positioned to close the claw as soon as it hits its target. Unfortunately, the claw is so small, it doesn't fit round anything much larger than an adult finger, so trying to wrap it round any other Beast Hunters toy is basically out of the question. The launcher can peg in between the wings on top, in the socket normally occupied by Soundwave's minion on the underside, or into the sockets on either wing... though the latter would tend to unbalance him in practice. Trouble is, the main peg is molded at an angle, so it never points properly forward unless mounted via one of its side pegs.

Robot Mode:
While Soundwave's vehicle mode doesn't bode well, his robot mode is surprisingly good-looking... Though I'm wondering if that's just because it looks to me like a homage to the 2003 Universe repaint of Machine Wars Soundwave. Just look at the colours: blue, blue/grey, yellow and brown - even the distribution of colour seems to hark back to his bigger, bulkier ancestor.

In terms of build, there's not a massive difference to Soundwave's Beast Hunters look - the difference to the legs is barely noticeable from most angles and the major difference to the body is all in his minion. The arms are very visibly different and, if the Slenderman arms of the original weren't weird enough, now he has an awkward kink in his forearms as the extended and bulked-up wings don't allow them to fold out flush with the wingtips. For me, the arms are the weakest part of this remold - it's as if they tried so hard to alter the vehicle mode, the effects of the changes on robot mode weren't properly considered. It also seems a little sloppy that his arms use so many different types and colours of plastic - it doesn't look bad, as such, but then I like the apparent Universe homage... I do feel that it looks unnecessarily jumbled. Likewise, while Laserbeak was coloured to blend in as thoroughly as possible on Soundwave's torso, Ravage's colourscheme makes him a far less subtle appendage. He's a decent enough fit, but not as snug as Laserbeak... and I'm never quite sure what to do with his ugly brown forelegs...

Since Soundwave doesn't have fists, there isn't really any good way to mount the Talon Grapple Cannon in his hands. Then again, given that the obvious handle is molded at an angle, it's be awkward to hold in any traditional fist. Thankfully, the secondary pegs on either side of the main handle can be used to connect it to the bulked up forearm. I tend to fold the rubbery part of the forearm back into the wing to better replicate the TV show's method of having weapons transform out of the robots' wrists. It's a bit on the heavy side, though, and not easily wielded in any useful fashion.

This being the line where all the robots went all spiky, Soundwave has been granted a new head sculpt, though it's surprisingly subtle compared to some. Since he was already quite spiky at the front, some of the detailing on the top of his head has been raised to become secondary crests, and he appears to have some kind of reinforcement to his visor - a couple of little pieces protruding in from the sides at approximately nose-level. His head is more highly decorated this time as well - with the armour panels on his chin painted silver (and thus becoming a bit confused with Ravage's tail, sticking up just below) and his black 'crown' getting some yellow paint on the central crest. The visor itself is now painted metallic yellow, so the head almost harks back more to G1 than to Universe.

Something I really like about this remold is that it gave Soundwave an alterative minion - one who never appeared in the show, to be sure, but Ravage is an iconic character in his own right. Sadly, this thing doesn't actually do a great deal. Like Laserbeak, it's transformation is pitifully simple due to its size - the back legs angle out to slip into Soundwave's shoulders, the front legs roll either forward or back, depending on your preference, and that's it. The stock colourscheme - glossy jet black body with silver back... and brown legs - looked terrible, so I started colouring it before even taking photos for this blog. I'm intending to paint the remaining brown parts silver at some point.

For such a small figure, there's a reasonable amount of detail, and it certainly looks better than the War for Cybertron data disk Ravage despite being a fraction of the size. Personally, I'd have liked to see a range of these diminutive minions for TF Prime Soundwave... but I accept there's almost certainly no market for them. There was a set of two additional minions produced by X2 Toys a few years ago, but they weren't exactly inspiring, so perhaps the idea wasn't that great after all...

In spite of the remolded parts, there's not a single difference in the way this version of Soundwave transforms versus the original beyond the rather incomplete-looking arms. I do find that some parts don't peg together as securely or as easily as the original (pegging the forearm into the shoulder for vehicle mode doesn't feel as solid, and the legs/rubber nose parts really don't like to connect together to form the nose of the drone) but I suspect that's plastic tolerance issues rather than problems with the remolding.

Something that has changed significantly is his articulation. The bulked up forearms no longer have quite the range of movement the original had without making use of the ball joint that's mainly intended to facilitate transformation. The legs, meanwhile, suffer from larger protruding parts at the back, which clash horribly whenever the thighs are rotated, either on the ball joint at the hip or the dedicated thigh swivel. I also find the head slightly more difficult to pose, between the wobbly, spring-loaded neck and the clash between the armour plates on his chin and Ravage's tail.

While the crazy colourschemes of most of Hasbro's Beast Hunters line were an absolute turn-off to me, Soundwave manages to transcend both that and the more awkward aspects of his resculpt. Assuming the choice of colours is an intentional homage to Universe/Machine Wars Soundwave, this is a very cool nod to the older, boxier toy. If it's just a coincidence... it still manages to look pretty cool - far better than the majority of the Beast Hunters line. That, coupled with a cool-but-limited new take on Ravage makes BH Soundwave an amusing addition to my collection... But when I saw the Takara Tomy TransFormers Go! version, I knew I'd have to get that as well...

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