Monday, 4 April 2016

MorphBots Final Battle Megabolt vs Hell Cat (aka Flamefeather vs Carroll)

Like most collectors, it's a rare occasion (and/or a special case) that I will intentionally buy a knockoff, but some seem too good to pass up. It was a few years ago that I first saw Meng Badi's 'AlteraTion Man' Carroll, knockoff of the first live action movie Arcee mold, released both in the original colours and in blue, possibly in reference to the newer TransFormers Prime incarnation. I was never able to find the individual versions, but recently discovered that the blue version was repackaged in a two-pack with a knockoff of live action movie Swindle, a mold I never bothered picking up because it looked a bit crappy.

Then, more recently, I found the 2-pack (which turned up in Thew Adams' Knockoff Beatdown IV) was available on Amazon and on eBay. Finding a suitably low price (£16 including shipping!), I ordered the set hoping that at least one of the figures would be of reasonably decent quality... but that's the thing with knockoffs: however low your expectations, there's always room for disappointment.

The first thing to note is that a lot of effort has gone into the packaging. Not only is it a large, colourfully printed box with windows for each of the two toys, but it has decent photography and trippy 'disco foil' for the rim of each window and the 'VS' lettering. Weirdly, though, along with photos of toys within the box, there's a piece of ripped off Alternators artwork, from Nemesis Prime, making this a fine example of the baffling habit KO makers have of using artwork from completely unrelated toylines on their packaging. The next thing to note is how ridiculously oversized the box is - both figures could fit comfortably into a box half the size.

MorphBots is a whole new name for these things as far as I can tell and, going by text on the bottom of the box, applies to a retailer called B&M, who operate a large chain of bargain stores in the UK. There's no mention of Meng Badi, but there is a 'Machine Boy' logo. The back of the box features the traditional TransFormers Tech Specs ratings for each character, both of whom seem to be pretty average across the board.

Inside the box is a huge - and largely empty - plastic tray, the only accessories you get are collectors cards featuring images of the toys and their Tech Specs, along with two large instruction leaflets that appear to be the original Meng Badi versions, since they refer to 'Megabolt' as Flamefeather (one of the three G1 Firecons) and 'Hell Cat' as Carroll. There's also a removable background picture of some kind of space scene, which could be used for display purposes... but it's not very interesting.

Hell Cat/Carroll
Vehicle Mode:
Like my Seeker OCD, I have an alarming urge to purchase every coloured variation of pretty much every Arcee mold, and this one has been on my hit list for ages. It never made it onto my Want List because, quite frankly, it seemed to become impossible to find anywhere and, being a knockoff, I didn't consider it a priority.

It's basically like the original movie Arcee, but with all the purple bits turned blue, some of the 'RC 1100' markings removed... and a huge loss of overall plastic quality. The first sign of trouble I had was when the plate that covers the robot's chest in vehicle mode detached all too easily during transformation. After that, I found the rear wheel just won't clip together, then it turned out that the very end of the bike - the bit with the numberplate on - isn't glued into place and has a tendency to fall off at the slightest provocation. The numberplate, it transpires, bears the only sign of any connection to the original KO, since it's labelled "MENGBADI TF3301", just like the AlteraTion Man toy, rather than "Massachusetts TF7407", per all three versions of the genuine article that I own.

The paintwork is basically the same - silver and gold on the sides, gold on the wheels - so, at first glance, this looks pretty classy for a knockoff. Only by handling it for a few momens does it become clear that it's actually a bit rubbish. Nothing quite pegs into place securely and that plate covering the area between the windscreen and the seat just won't sit flush. There was also some excess plastic between the spokes on the front wheel (most obvious in the photo of the righthand side, below), but I've since popped that out.

Robot Mode:
Here it became obvious that the tail end of the bike isn't the only bit that didn't get any glue - the bent silver bar and it's goldish/copperish pipework are also only loosely pegged into place on her chest, and that piece is surprisingly prone to coming loose. On a related note, the missile is molded in a very soft plastic - not rubber, but certainly not remotely rigid - as are the inner workings of her bow weapon. When I first got her out of the box, only one of its arms deployed when the missile was inserted. Opening it up, the firing mechanism seemed to have been slightly misassembled (or simply soft enough for some parts to pop out of their intended positions) and a few minutes fiddling seemed to fix it... except that now the missile doesn't like to clip firmly into place. Thankfully, it can be mounted on the peg on the outside of her left arm (a feature that it's taken me almost 10 years to notice!) to resemble the small forearm-mounted blaster from her concept art.

Several other parts feel soft, and the bike parts on her shoulders are even less inclined to stay in place than on the official versions of the mold. That said, it stands and poses well enough, despite the feet feeling more than a little off - I'm pretty sure the 'heel' and 'toe' sections are able to move too far apart, though it's easy enough to fix them in the right positions.

The head is painted much like the original movie Arcee, though perhaps even less extensively. The black paint on her 'beak' and on the sunken patch on her 'beret' seem especially perfunctory - roughly the right shape, just not large enough. She retains the light piping of the original, but now with a very dark red plastic.

Time to find some superglue...

Vehicle Mode:
The reason I passed on movie Swindle was that his vehicle mode was boring... most of the paint budget went on covering over the translucent grey plastic of the roof, rear windscreen and doors, and what was left was spent on the silver design on the sides, the hubcaps and the stripes of black on the front of the car. Not much has changed here, though I suspect the black paint on the front might have been slightly neater on the genuine article. He's also, obviously, missing the Decepticon insignias from the front of the car - where there's a suspiciously unpainted raised area - and the rear flanks. Neither version has painted details on the back, and the colour matching between the red paint and the red plastic appears to be about the accurate on this as it is on the real thing.

The big feature of the original - the spring-loaded weapon deployment - has been retained and works quite nicely, but it's really designed for use in robot mode. It could pass for a rocket booster in vehicle mode.

I'm not sure how this compares to the original, but I found the feet very difficult to transform back into their vehicle mode positions as they seem to clash with the wheelwells, and it took me ages to figure out how to prevent the torso framework protruding from below the car. Very little on this model lines up nicely, and the pegs than connect the rear flanks of the car to the central weapon section are incredibly tight.

Robot Mode:
Good grief.

I know this was a design from the game that accompanied the original movie - and the design of a Decepticon drone, no less - but this thing looks terrible from just about every angle. The legs barely look like legs, the arms stick out at a seriously weird angle and the monocular head would be virtually invisible were it not for the polo-mint-like grey ring around the 'lens' because it's so low-profile. It's got detail, but it barely rises above the level of the shoulders. It's also barely mobile - despite a loose ball joint - due to being stuck between two raised 'collar' pieces.

Making matters worse, the articulation joints on this thing are far stiffer than the transformation joints, the rear windscreen chunks on his knees are floppy and misaligned, and the torso is little more than a framework around the belly gun. What's more, that framework is made out of stiff rubber and moves in all kinds of strange ways during transformation. I'm sure the real thing was constructed from more sensible materials, but I strongly doubt that made it a significantly better toy.

Adding the icing to this pretty crappy figure is the dearth of paintwork - a few details on the forearm have been painted red, and there are a couple of stripes down his 'toes'. Other than that, the chunk of the paint budget that wasn't spent on covering the translucent grey plastic with red paint seems to have been spent coating the red plastic of the weapon chamber with a shade of grey paint slightly darker than the surrounding plastic.

The spring-loaded gimmick is pretty cool, though the translucent grey is very dull. In some ways, the weapon looks more like a bizarre crystalline growth rather than a gun, but I guess we've seen stranger. Also odd that Swindle's weapon is so similar to Wreckage's.

SERIOUSLY weird use of rubber!
So, here we have a set of knockoff toys - one a slightly poor incarnation of a mold I'm especially fond of, the other a terrible version of a crummy original. Given that the pair cost about the same as a single genuine Deluxe, the shoddy quality doesn't change the fact that it's halfway decent value for money and, apart from a few small details, Hell Cat/Carroll is actually a reasonably good repaint of the movie Arcee mold. The only reason I haven't split this off into a Femme-Bot Friday and a separate KO Swindle review is that I've written about the movie Arcee mold three times already, and a genuine Swindle wouldn't have been worth wasting much time on, let alone the knockoff.

Amusingly, until I got this set in hand, I had been worried that they'd both be floppy messes like the KO movie Fracture I picked up a while back, but the biggest problems I've had with Hell Cat/Carroll is that a couple of parts weren't glued on and the only true shortcomings of the robot itself were inherent in the genuine article, while the Megabolt/Flamefeather is, if anything, too stiff to pose easily. It had also occurred to me that my AllSpark Power Black Arcee might have been a knockoff due to some it its oddities, but owning Hell Cat/Carroll has cured me of those particular worries.

This isn't a set I'd recommend, as such, unless you're especially fond of one mold or the other... but, honestly, if you're even vaguely interested and can find it at a reasonable price (I wouldn't recommend forking out much more than about £20), it's certainly worth a look.

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