Tuesday, 22 March 2016

TransFormers: Prime Skyquake

TransFormers Prime started its run killing off one of the Autobots, which pretty much set the tone for the series. None of the other key characters actually died, but the show certainly didn't shy away from killing off a less central character in the service of the story.

...And so, the first Decepticon to properly die was Skyquake... and while his brother, Dreadwing, may have had frequent appearances in the remainder of the series, he was only really interested in getting revenge for Skyquake's death and almost ended up in the G1 Thundercracker role of not being entirely behind Megatron's plans for tyranny. Skyquake only appeared briefly, but was utterly in Megatron's thrall, to the extent that he wouldn't consider Starscream his leader, even with Megatron out of action. Yet, since the series' first casualty, Cliffjumper, presented only a single opportunity for a repaint - as a zombie version - Skyquake and Dreadwing were more sensible chance to reuse a mold from TF Prime's limited character roster.

Vehicle Mode:
Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way first, because I've written about enough TransFormers aircraft that most of the discussion about visible robot parts has already been had. Like most jet-type toys, Skyquake looks great from above, but has his robot hands sticking out behind his afterburner, obvious robot legs chunking out the sides and, by extension, two large halves of robot crotch ruining the otherwise sleek front half. He does have a deployable (but otherwise static) landing wheel at the front, though it can get stuck on the crotch piece. The rear of the jet features a pair of molded, static 'wheels' that are sculpted in a way that suggests they were meant to be separate pieces, pinned into place (that is, I can't see any other reason for them to be sat in a cutaway portion of the robot's ankles) but either budget or safety constraints got in the way. There's also the chance that the mountings would have become too easily breakable had the wheels been pinned.

On the subject of breakable parts, the way the stabiliser wings are attached has led to stress marks appearing on both parts of the joint. Since the only stress that's put on the joint comes from the very last bit of transformation into jet mode, I don't foresee the wings actually breaking off, but it is rather troubling to see the marks already present on a new toy, straight out of its box.

This is a completely invented aircraft, bearing a passing similarity to the F-35, but with a few more angles on the wings, and a few more curves at the front. Ignoring all the obvious robot parts, it still looks like a fairly heavy-duty jet, and the military green and burnt orange/reddish brown paint job makes it seems fairly authentic - not quite camouflage colours, but close enough. The two large Decepticon insignia on his wings are framed in a way that's clearly meant to resemble military markings, but the silver paint means they stand out a bit too much, and the look has been done better elsewhere. The afterburner and cockpit have a nice coating of silver in the appropriate places, so the exposed grey plastic doesn't look too out of place. It's a fairly minimalist paint job, overall, but the plane looks all the better for it - when Hasbro adds 'feature' paintwork, it often looks terrible, though I would have liked to see a touch more silver paint on the nose and the underside of the jet. Perhaps I'll add it myself at some point. The level of molded detail is good - all the usual jet-style panel lines and details - and the seams are cleverly placed for the most part to minimise their impact on the jet.

One rather disappointing feature of a huge number of TransFormers toys over the last few years is the use of rubber for parts evidently deemed 'breakable' or otherwise potentially detrimental to the health and safety of young children. Skyquake's tail fins, the little wings just behind the nose, and the nose itself are evidently considered to be contentious in this way. While it's not a massive problem, I found that the tail fins on both had become warped in the packaging and, unlike some rubber parts on other TransFormers toys, they're reluctant to find their way back to their intended positions on their own. The protrusions from the tail fins are particularly awkward, with a tendency to drift off to one side, but to different extents. Given the constructions of the wings and stabilisers, I honestly can't think of a good reason for the fins to be anything other than rigid plastic, but I'm not well versed in toy safety regulations.

In another fine example of TransFormers toys with more weapon mounting points than weapons worth mounting, Skyquake comes with three 5mm ports - one just behind the cockpit and one on the underside of each wing. The weapons included, though, are the standard, oversized 'Poweriser' spring-geared brick and a sword. The gun is too large for just about any of the mounting points and its lever-activated features basically mean the only truly viable position is the one of the topside of the jet, while swords simply looks daft when mounted anywhere on a jet. One of these days, I'm going to have a good look through Shapeways for 5mm port compatible missile sets...

Robot Mode:
This was always going to be a tricky toy to make as the TV show's jet mode is fairly slim while the robot mode is hugely bulky, so a comfortably achievable middle-ground had to be reached. For the most part, I think the designer did an excellent job, as the overall look of robot mode is pretty close to the character in the TV show, albeit a lot slimmer around the waist and with slightly less bulky legs and upper arms. What's important, though, is the impression of Skyquake, and it really comes across. The designers somehow conspired to get the wings, tailfins and afterburner in much the right postition on his back and, while it doesn't get the stabiliser wings on the legs quite right, it's a close enough approximation of their postion, and they can be rotated into whatever position one finds most agreeable.

Skyquake's transformation reveals a lot of grey plastic and a few of the obligatory TF Prime Voyager translucent plastic parts which, I presume, were intended to make use of the LED in his main weapon to somehow illuminate his forearms or chest. It really doesn't work. Since the LED rotates to point forwards as it activates, it's not in a position that allows its light to be channelled into his forearms, though you can almost, just about see a touch of light in his chest with the weapon mounted (otherwise uselessly) on his back. While I believe I'm right in thinking there's more paintwork on Skyquake than there is on Dreadwing (as is so often the case - the first use is done on the cheap, the reuses have a slightly higher paint budget), it doesn't stand out. The silver on his forearm is so minimal and blends so well with the grey plastic of the upper arm that it's easy to miss, and the paint that frames the cockpit may extend a little way behind it but, in robot mode, that blends straight into the grey plastic of his neck. The orangey paint is a little sparse, but it's not as if robot mode required a great deal - just a couple of touches on the backs of his hands would have made a huge difference.

The Poweriser weapon is essentially the same as any of the others in its function: pulling the chunky lever at the back swings the barrel of his 'Shatterwave Cannon' into place and brings the LED into line... and, as with any of the others, its light doesn't quite make it through the space between the translucent plastic at the back and the barrel section, so the effect really doesn't work. That is, the light is perfectly well visible through the barrel, but the light doesn't spread through the translucent plastic the way it was probably intended. It's far more successful - and, frankly, far more stable - than the rickety, jam-prone messes that are Optimus Prime and Starscream's Poweriser weapons, and I appreciate than the battery compartment has been molded to look like the rear end of his gun - grip included - but the effect is completely wasted because he can't actually hold it that way. Making that grip a 5mm peg and adding a horizontal handle to the main body of the gun would have enabled Skyquake to hold the gun as he does in the show, with the side effect of basically allowing it to lock it in its deployed/firing position. Way to miss an opportunity, Hasbro...

The head sculpt is as detailed as that of any TransFormers Prime character but, bizarrely, it's molded in the rubber rather than plastic - this means that it's fully painted: green, gunmetal and copper on the tips of his horns. I have my doubts about the longevity of this much paint over rubber but, other than making his head rather squishier than it really needed to be, it doesn't harm the sculpt or the toy in general, nor would it have affected the light piping had the eyes not been overpainted. If I had a complaint about the sculpt itself, it would be that he appears to have been given a kind of smirk that suits neither Skyquake nor his brother.

OK, I admit it, I'm basically going to by trying to do this with just about any aircraft TransFormer from now on. This mold certainly wasn't designed with this sort of thing in mind, and it only looks convincing in the three photos below due to the angle of the shot, but it does look fairly good... That said, it shows how little of the jet is actually made up of functional robot parts - with the arms and legs deployed, the jet seems complete from most angles, since the only jet parts on any of the limbs are the stabiliser wings.

It may seems strange, but this mold feels to me like one of the very few mainline TransFormers Prime figures that properly transforms - that is to say, just about every part of jet mode goes through fairly elaborate reconfiguration to reach its robot mode position. The entire lower body is on a hinged piece that swings it up behind and below the nose, while the arms effectively swing inside that hinged piece to connect in below the afterburner. What's most impressive about the transformation is the attention it pays to the figure's back - unlike a lot of the others, Skyquake looks fairly true to the TV show's CGI from behind as well as the front because the afterburner/tailfin section swings up onto his back as his wings swing down at a slight angle. While it has been suggested that the joint facilitating the former movement is prone to breakage, it seems pretty safe to me, while those enabling the latter movement feel quite perilous just about every time. The only parts I have difficulty with are the slightly floppy silver torso fill-in sections and the awkward pegging of the stabiliser wings, but the only flaw I've found with the design (or perhaps the plastic tolerances) is that the pieces that flap up to give his wings their altered silhouette in robot mode don't clip into place and tend to flop back very easily. Another issue is that plastic flashing prevents his crotch coming together properly, though this is more evident on Skyquake than it is on Dreadwing, so that seems to be a 'luck of the draw' problem, and probably something I can fix with a scalpel.

Like most TransFormer Prime figures, Skyquake strikes a good balance between ball joints and hinges and is very mobile. The only problem is that his feet have absolutely no useful articulation, so it can be tricky to get him to stand in the more dramatic or expressive poses the rest of the body can achieve. The legs also have somewhat limited thigh swivel owning to the squared-off way the hip and thigh sections are molded, but that issue is far less problematic than the feet. With the arms being separate from the shoulder armour, it's generally quite easy to avoid any clashing, but the design of shoulder is such that his arms cannot hang straight down. On the upside, this enhances the impression that Skyquake is a very bulky robot.

Skyquake (and Dreadwing) are complicated, fairly impressive, yet ultimately a little bit flawed. At the more complicated end of TransFormers Prime, with lots of little bits moving around and some very thin panels, yet more than its fair share of obvious robot parts left very visible in its just mode. As a toy based on the TV show's CGI, it's generally successful, but entire lower leg sections really let it down in the action figure stakes.

On a related note, and as mentioned in a previous post (almost three years ago now! I seriously need to get through more of my old draft posts), I found that both of the Decepticon jet twins were misassembled, thankfully with the opposite foot duplicated on each one so, following some time spent with both figures and a screwdriver, I ended up with two figures with one left and one right foot each. It's pretty lucky, then, that Hasbro deigned to use the same plastic colour and paint pattern on both figures...

Finally, is it just me, or is anyone else weirded out by the fact that we had an entire TransFormers TV series and toy range in which there was a Starscream, but no Thundercracker or Skywarp? I was actually pretty content without the other two G1 Seeker being represented (until the Arms Micron figures turned up!) and both Skyquake and Dreadwing were better than average substitutes, not least because they weren't simple repaints.

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