Friday, 4 March 2016

DotM Mechtech Skyhammer

If you ask me, one of the best things - if not the best thing - about the original movie's toyline was the part made up of characters who didn't appear in the movie. It seems like a strange thing to say, but the robot cast was pretty small and, with a history and a catalogue of characters as awesome as TransFormers, it would have been remiss of Hasbro not to take advantage of it, even if most were straight repaints. There were fewer for Revenge of the Fallen, and there were characters who appeared in Dark of the Moon who, nevertheless, were not released as toys by Hasbro... But it did manage to continue the tradition of releasing a few wholly new characters who didn't appear in the movie.

Nice to know Hasbro gets its priorities right...

Vehicle Mode:
I've noted in the past that TransFormers helicopters tend to be on a scale from a bit rubbish to sort-of OK, favouring either robot mode or vehicle mode for believability, as well as tending to be a touch small for their size class. Skyhammer is one of those magical few that seems to strike an ideal balance. Looking like a modernised, more angular Hind or a new, heavier-duty take on Blue Thunder (not to mention bearing a more-than-passing resemblance to TF Animated Megatron), this easily rates as one of the most convincing TransFormers helicopters I've ever played about with. It's not without its gaps - a quick peek behind the side-mounted jet engines reveals a rather conspicuous, squarish gap in the helicopter's shell which shows through to the robot's belly, but it's only really visible if you're looking for it - from most angles it's effectively invisible.

Skyhammer has a fairly sober, fairly sparse paint job, with quite extensive coverage in silver paint along the lower half of the tail, including the fins, and then matte blue/grey paint - very well matched to the surrounding plastic colour - around the cockpit. There are touches of metallic cyan on the wings and the rotors' hub as well as in the circular details on the tail's white vents and a couple of strips just below the cockpit's canopy. Other than that, the only paintwork is on the backs of the jet engines and a couple of patches on the top of the helicopter, below the rotors. When it comes to car-based TransFormers, I'll often complain about minimal paint applications... but on something that's obviously military hardware, it makes much more sense that it's not super-colourful. Of course, military vehicles do tend to have markings, and some TransFormers figures would have them, but they're curiously absent from Skyhammer.

Another thing this model doesn't have is the otherwise ubiquitous geared rotor-spinning action. This is largely because of the way the rotor blades feature in transformation, but it's a nice change, and allows for more sensible use of the remaining vehicle mass.

Around the time this figure came out, Hasbro were producing lots of Generations/Classics toys with c-clip weapons and, while Skyhammer doesn't have any such attachments himself, he does come equipped with a bunch of rods to attach things to. The most obvious are protruding from his wing-mountable quad-rocket pods, perfect for those moments when eight rockets - and whatever else you might want to mount in the two spare under-the-wing 5mm ports - just isn't enough firepower. Less obvious are the pair that are stick up out of his jet engines, just below the rotor blades. The usefulness of these in helicopter mode is debatable, since just about any c-clip weapon attached to either point would then stick up into the path of the rotor blades. Those quad-rocket pods, meanwhile, can mount in any of four 5mm ports across his wings or those on the jet engines.

The Mechtech weapon is a large brick with a double-barrelled cannon at the front and all kinds of weird molded detail on the sides, some of which looks like it might be ammo storage. While mounting the weapon below the cockpit seems like the most sensible option with a single weapon of this size, it does mean the front landing wheel becomes inaccessible... which probably explains why a wheel-like detail has been molded on one of the back edges of the gun. It raises the helicopter to a strange angle, but it still sort-of works. Alternatively, the gun can be mounted on any of the four wing ports or either of the ports in the side-mounted jet engine-type things.

Robot Mode:
In a lot of ways, Skyhammer doesn't fit in with the movie line. In some respects, he looks more like a generic robot toy rather than any kind of TransFormers toy because his silhouette is so unique. Elements of it - the cockpit split across the shoulders, for example - hark back to many older toys (Laser Optimus Prime has similar large chunks of vehicle front on his shoulders), but much of this figure is entirely new and appropriately alien. In fact, from most angles, that cockpit split across the shoulders is one of the few visual cues that this is anything other than a generic robot toy... Which certainly seems to suggest that this is a successful alien robot in disguise. It's all very svelte, with slim arms, legs and waist, but nothing seems overly slim. Aside from the typically tiny head, the proportions are excellent, though the three-fingered hands dangle right to the knee when the arms hang straight down. It does a far better job of dealing with the vehicle mode's rotor blades and almost any other TransFormers helicopter I own, and they make a surprisingly effective bandolier even though the rotor blades still end up sticking a little over an inch out of his back. Half that is taken up by the folded-up helicopter wings, so it's really doesn't look that bad.

Very little new colour is revealed in robot mode, but the rotor blades break up the grey of the chest, and the lower torso/groin area comes out in mixture of bare white plastic with metallic cyan and silver paint. A couple of further touches of that paint are applied to details on the fronts of his hips. There's a fair bit of molded detail on the torso and thighs that might benefit from paint, but the plastic colour helps to show off the detail quite well without any embellishment. Looking over the body, there's an awful lot of molded detail that might easily go unnoticed, or be considered superfluous, such as the turbine-like detail on the insides of the vehicle mode chunks raised above the cockpit halves, extensive detailing on the backs of his shoulders, and even the area of his back that's covered over by the folded up helicopter wings. It's also interesting to note how well-suited to robot mode certain chunks of vehicle mode turn out to be, in particular the jet engine parts that end up as his forearms. Skyhammer's designer(s) really went to a lot of effort on this model.

The Mechtech weapon is just as unwieldy in robot mode as it was in vehicle mode, though Skyhammer can wield it quite convincingly as a massive gun... not so much as a 'sword', though. His missile pods, meanwhile, are just as adaptable in robot mode as they were for the helicopter. They can remain attached to the wings (though they get in each other's way on his back), they can plug into 5mm ports on the backs of his shoulders, they can plug into the 5mm ports on his forearms... or they can even be held in his hands if you feel that way inclined.

The head sculpt is a bit of a let-down - it's very detailed, yet nondescript. It's almost like a development of movie Jazz, but also reminiscent of Beast Wars Silverbolt (in fact, if the Club ever fancy turning this thing into a pre-Beast Wars Silverbolt, I'd certainly be down with that). The problem isn't so much with the sculpt as it is with the frankly bizarre paint job. I like that they picked out the central crest details with gunmetal paint (at least, to my eyes, it seems distinct from the metallic cyan used elsewhere, and darker than the silver on his crotch), but then part of the face has been splashed with a weird blue that isn't used anywhere else, and the optics are a little indistinct - probably unpainted, in fact - behind the translucent yellow visor.

Mechtech weapons tend to be large and unwieldy for either robot or vehicle mode, and Skyhammer's is certainly no exception. Worse than that, though, it's a large brick of a gun that transforms into a sword that can't even be held like a sword. Supposedly, this weapon can lock into the 'sword deployed' position by twisting the plunger, but mine refuses to budge. This is quite a widespread problem by all accounts, and apparently due to the plunger being attached to its sprue by its tip, and the excess plastic left there from its removal leaves it too long to reach it's 'twistable' position.

The mechanism is geared quite cleverly, so that anything mounted in either of the two yellowish 5mm ports on each side stay pointed in the same direction as the blade is deployed but, other that that, with it's minimal paint job, it's fairly nondescript.

Like most of the toys from the first three movies, Skyhammer's transformation is quite involved, with his arms compacting down and folding into his body, his legs extending and folding up to become the chopper's tail and the torso compresses by folding backwards just below the chest. It's all very original, and makes excellent use of the mass of the vehicle, leaving very few redundant parts. The trickiest parts are getting the shoulder flaps to tab together - one tends to want to slip below the other - and reconfiguring the wings for either mode because they get in the way of everything else but, with such a tidy end result in either direction, it's otherwise a satisfying process. Little touches, like the shin pieces that pop out as the legs fold together for robot mode, may not be up to Mech Alive standards, but they're cool nonetheless. I'm quite keen on the decidedly unusual way the rotor blades are taken care of in robot mode, forming a kind of cross-shaped bandolier rather than just hanging uselessly off his back or one of his arms - it's a design choice it'd be keen to see used again in the future. Another feature I quite like is the way the tail fins fold around his calves, with the vertical fin folding inside the right calf, and an otherwise redundant feature of the vehicle mode mirroring the appearance of its hinge on the left.

In theory, Skyhammer's articulation is excellent, with a good set of joints on the arms and legs, each with a nice range of motion. In practice, though, the fact that the upper leg is taken up with two transformation hinges has meant that the only place for a leg rotation joint is below the knee, which leaves him looking knock-kneed in some poses. Still, the independently hinged toe and heel pieces manage to keep him pretty stable. He also has waist articulation, despite it being entirely unnecessary for transformation. The position of his landing gear isn't exactly a hindrance to the movement of his hips, but they do look odd no matter what position they're in. Despite only having simple pinned joints, he's well able to hold up his Mechtech weapon, even on a fully outstretched arm, though the left elbow on mine is a little weaker than the right.

Skyhammer is a real curiosity. It's a cool, quality figure of a character who wasn't even in the movie, when some of the figures of characters who were in the movie either weren't that good or weren't widely released. It's easily one of the best TransFormers helicopters thusfar created in that it's economical with its mass, very tidy in its transformation and looks pretty convincing in either mode. All things considered, it's surprising this mold hasn't been used again more frequently - it's been turned into a BotCon attendee figure and used as Drift's helicopter form in the Age of Extinction toyline, and that's it... but that may be due to the complications in licensing movie-related molds which the Club has occasionally alluded to. Neither of those usages particularly appeal to me but, given the right paint job (coughBWSilverboltcough), I'd be happy to own another instance of this mold.

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