Sunday, 1 October 2017

Titans Return Overlord & Dreadnaut

While I felt a little deprived over the likes of Fortress Maximus never appearing in UK toy shops (since he actually appeared in the Marvel comics, albeit at the same dubiously variable scale as he seems to have used in the cartoon), I wasn't even aware of the likes of Overlord until I became an adult collector, because I'd stopped collecting by the time he was released over here... and, these days, the lustre of most G1 toys has faded somewhat.

Overlord, being one of the 'playset' TransFormers toys, may yet have had a place in my collection, alongside my original G1 Metroplex, Scorponok and (2015's Platinum Edition) Trypticon as well, because he's unique in that he's a triple-changing dual-Powermaster with a fairly decent, quite sprawling base mode, but the lack of articulation in the robot mode is more of a sticking point for me these days than it would have been only a few years back.

But then Hasbro decided to update him for Titans Return, and a widespread release was more-or-less guaranteed (the 'less' part being dependency on Hasbro's increasingly dodgy distribution). As usual, I umm-ed and ahh-ed about whether or not to get him, more or less deciding against based on a couple of YouTube video reviews... but then caved in and forked out £60 for him at TFNation 2017.

So, was he worth it..?

Tank Component:
Given how common tanks have been in TransFormers toylines over the last thirty years, and how well they've been done, there's something immediately odd about Overlord's tank. For starters, the colourscheme is pretty ridiculous - a blue tank with a white turret and a big purple cannon? Not exactly subtle, is it? Then there's the teal stripes running along the upper edge of the tank body, and filling in at the back, without any obvious context. What strikes me as strange is that the teal paint is applied only to the upper surface, leaving the sides of the top/rear section as bare blue plastic, when it would have looked far better if the paintwork had continued, giving the teal part the appearance of a defined and intentionally-coloured section, rather than revealing it as the cheapest way to make the toy resemble the G1 version in robot mode. The only other paintwork is the blue on the central strip at the front of the vehicle, the tank treads - which are fully painted grey - and a couple of incongruous - G1-referential - patches of purple paint on the very front of the vehicle. It bugs me a little that the headlights very clearly sculpted into the front of tank are completely unpainted, but perhaps Reprolabels will take care of that sort of thing...

But while the paintwork is a little lacklustre and suggests some poor planning of the plastic colours for this mold, the detail is just as good as one would tend to expect from a contemporary TransFormers toy. The designers at Hasbro and Takara Tomy are well versed in creating tanks, so the body is covered with panel lining, rivet pits, vents, and hatches, while the turret features a translucent orange hatch into its cockpit and a sculpted machine gun. Given the mass of accessories that came with the G1 version - which included a separate, plug-in missile battery for the tank - it's disappointing that the turret-mounted gun isn't more of a feature, particularly in light of the fact that there's a Titan Master peg just behind it. I get that an additional weapon couldn't easily be part of the turret due to the way it folds into the robot's legs (though if the right side of the turret is anything to go by, the left side is certainly hollow enough to accommodate a fold-out weapon), but there's a distinct lack of interesting features to the tank as an individual vehicle. Paintwork aside, there are a few stickers on the tank, but the only ones on show in vehicle mode are the two Decepticon insignia on the front of the turret, without any of the surrounding tech detail featured on the G1 version's stickers.

The biggest disappointment with the tank component is that the turret is completely fixed in place, not even a few degrees of movement in either direction. While I wouldn't expect full 360° rotation like Combiner Wars Megatron, given that the tank basically splits in half to become the robot's legs, I'd at least hope for a few degrees of turn, accomplished by similar means to the truck/trailer mode of the Voyager class Dark of the Moon Megatron. Aside from obvious budgetary restraints, the main reason for having a fixed turret seems to be that the cannon actually plugs into the body of the tank, just in front of the turret, via the 5mm peg used as a grip by Overlord in robot mode. It's a shame that doesn't fold out of the way and allow the cannon to clip into the recess in the turret itself as, with the right budget for this toy, that would potentially have allowed not only rotation of the turret, but raising of the cannon as well, the latter having been possible on the G1 toy.

In terms of Titan Master interaction, there's the cockpit, obviously, the aforementioned peg atop the turret, and then a further four pegs running across the back of the vehicle... but with no means of attaching any spare weapons, they'd literally just stand there, as if hitching a ride.

Basically, what we have here is a tank that's very little use - or fun - in and of itself, and in a toy range that has produced so many tanks, that's more than just disappointing, it's downright poor planning. Given that the tank mold is exactly the same as Skyshadow's, one might think they'd try to introduce a few changes and upgrades for the Overlord re-use, but that's sadly not the case.

Jet Component:
Just like the original G1 toy, the jet is a somewhat angular, bulky, sci-fi take on the Blackbird - vaguely similar also to the movie rendition of the fictional Firefox jet. I'm more than a little puzzled as to why the body of the jet is black while the two engine parts are white with purple cones on the front, but that's exactly as per the G1 original. The overall look is perhaps not as sleek as the original from some angles, but I suspect this version more efficient with its mass.

Where the tank component suffers from a degree of colour clash despite its limited amount of actual decorative paintwork, the jet manages to be rather more lively despite being predominantly black. The central portion features a cockpit to seat a Titan Master (though it's actually easier to install one by opening the translucent orange door directly below the cockpit) as well as both stickers and additional paintwork representing stickers that were on the G1 original. The white engine parts feature stickers running back along the upper surface, as well as stickers on the purple fins at the back. The fin stickers are peculiar as they cover sculpted detail, so they don't even have an even surface to stick to - it puzzles me that Hasbro would go to the effort of adding detail to the plastic on both sides of the fins only to cover it over on the most visible side. As with several of the other Titans Return figures fortunate enough to feature stickers, the stock is a chrome-like film that doesn't adhere especially well and wasn't applied with any real precision in the first place, so you may find some stickers peeling straight out of the box. They look OK, though and, being a fan from the days of Generation 1, I have to confess for a certain warm nostalgia toward stickers... even if I may end up having to replace most of these a few years down the line.

The front of the jet is detachable, largely to act as a shield for the robot, or to be rotated 180° for base mode, but it also looks decent as a sled for the Titan Master pilot. There's a pair of fold-out landing skids at the back end of the detachable part, but the closest he has to rear landing gear is a set of protrusions that actually make it look as if wheels were supposed to be added, but were either missed on the assembly line, or just budgeted out of the toy. Upon closer inspection, these are the right size to accommodate the base mode connectors on other Titans Return Leader or Titan class figures, though it's a very strange place for such a connection given its position in Overlord's completed base mode, so I can only imagine it's there to facilitate a connection specifically for the jet mode instead.

Like the tank, Overlord's jet component is very detailed, with panel lines all over the place, and he seems virtually symmetrical (one sculpted panel on the back of the jet features two small indentations on the left, but none on the right), and nothing apart from the stubby black wings have been reused from Skyshadow. The back end of the jet is where everything falls apart, as there's nothing resembling afterburners or any obvious means of propulsion, just a pair of folded-up black fists in the white engine sections and a gaping chasm where the tank connects to form the robot's legs. Certainly not the most elegant bit of design work, but arguably a necessary sacrifice for robot mode.

While the tank's cannon can attach to the 5mm socket at the back of the jet, that leaves the tank entirely without armament. Thankfully, a close inspection of the very tip of the nose reveals a pair of tiny sculpted guns, either side of the Decepticon insignia. There are 5mm sockets on both of the white engine chunks, so it would have been nice to have a couple of extra accessories, particularly since the G1 original could make use of its accessory weapons in this mode.

'Combined' Vehicle Mode:
Before Overlord came along, Hasbro teased his imminent arrival by releasing a Titans Return update of Skyshadow featuring a recolour of exactly the same tank, but an almost entirely different jet. That jet could actually connect to a large tab on the top of the tank via a socket on its underside and, while I still wouldn't call it a 'combined' vehicle because no actual transformation was required, it was a secure connection that seemed to allow the jet to carry the tank. For whatever reason, the socket is not present on the underside of Overlord's jet component, so the two white doors on its underside are used to hook into slots on the sides of the turret... But it's a terrible connection and so Overlord cannot carry his tank. While the doors have tabs of their own for secure closure, there's no friction or actual clipping into in the tank's turret slots, and the weight of the tank is enough to nudge them open, thus releasing their hold.

Still, if Skyshadow's 'combined' vehicle form was unconvincing, Overlord's is just daft. I can imagine the jet carrying the tank into/out of battle, but not flying any great distance as a single unit. Even more baffling, there is a square socket on the underside of Overlord's jet component, but it's too small to accommodate the peg on the top of the tank's turret, and serves no obvious purpose. Given the lack of important detail in that section, I'm pretty sure a more secure connection, based on the method used with Skyshadow, could have been applied to this toy, though perhaps Hasbro felt that the doors themselves presented too much of a barrier to that.

Base Mode:
One of the big selling points of the original G1 Overlord was his sprawling base mode, created by partially transforming each component - by use of its two Powermaster figures - then connecting the pieces with a couple of ramps which would otherwise only be used as shin armour for the robot mode. The Titans Return version is... very much simplified.

Where the original split into three entirely separate parts, loosely connected only by the 'ramp' panels, the two components of this set remain whole in and of themselves, and just reconfigure slightly for base mode. The 'tower' is just the jet mode stood on its end with the nosecone flipped round 180°, the back end unfurled and turned up 90° and the arms extended sufficiently to provide support rather than being rotated round to reveal skyscraper detail like the original. The rest is basically the robot's legs rotated 180° at the hip, then bent 90° just above the knee, with the base connectors unfolded from the toes. According to the instructions, you're supposed to fold away both turret halves, but I reckon it looks that little bit more base-y with the cockpit half left up, as it provides a sort of shelter inside the leg, and an observation post on top. The fact that they are both supposed to be folded away is the whole reason the teal sections of the tank are teal - the paint is there to represent the ramps that clip onto G1 Overlord's shins in robot mode... But, without those separate ramp pieces, what are the teal parts intended to be on TR Overlord? A clear case of G1 homage for the sake of G1 homage. It's more than a little surprising that the Takara Tomy version is no different in that respect.

One thing this has over the original is the integration of the gun with the base mode - it's placed centrally, facing forward, rather than on one side as a weird tower or aerial. However, with no additional accessories, he loses the aerial, satellite dish, and whole lot of additional firepower. The G1 version had a double-barrelled cannon that folded out where this version only has the jet's landing skids, as well as another in the lefthand base platform, plus a third, separate double-barrelled cannon and a missile rack. It also had an articulated claw in the righthand base platform, though that was kind of an odd addition to an otherwise militaristic base. Compared with all that, this Titans Return update feels incomplete. While it features connectors to other bases, it has no ramps of its own, whether fold-out or separate, so none of the decks actually connect to ground level in any useful way. One thing it retains is the translucent orange tower platform, which features a peg to secure a Titan Master standing there but, on the downside, the compartment inside the tower isn't large enough to accommodate a standing Titan Master figure... This seems like quite a significant oversight given the toyline's emphasis on involving the Titan Masters as fully as possible with the larger base toys.

What's especially frustrating about the lack of accessories with this toy is that it could easily have been addressed by simply adding the c-clip attachments that appeared on Generations figures back around 2010. Some of the accessories from Straxus (aka Darkmount) or Skullgrin could have substituted for the missing G1 attachments. On the flipside - and really playing devil's advocate here - the fewer the accessories, the fewer parts to get lost.

This was never going to rival the larger playsets such as Fortress Maximus or Trypticon but, while it's not a bad attempt, I can't help but think that anyone familiar with Overlord of old will be disappointed by how cut-down this new version is, not just in size, but in functionality. Likewise, it's nowhere near as complex and extensive as Mastermind Creations' Carnifex - really, the only thing going for it is that it's a perfect fit to the existing Generations/Titans Return aesthetic.

Robot Mode:
At first glance, TR Overlord looks like a huge improvement on the G1 version - the proportions are much better, and he has working joints in the most important places for decent posing and play value. He's bulky enough to feel like a decent Leader class figure, but remarkably efficient with his mass, so he actually doesn't take up a great deal of shelf space unless posed dramatically. What's odd about him - and this is equally true of the G1 version - is that he goes from largely blue and white tank/mainly black jet, to being a robot with quite a varied colour layout, and virtually all the black ends up on the robot's back. With the turret halves folded away into his calves, teal paint covers his entire shins, and there's a line of white from each arm, across the chest, broken only by the grey elbows and the blue of the main body.

One thing that's rather surprising about TR Overlord (and which had been commented on in the video reviews that had almost put me off buying him) is the extent of the paintwork. Given how miserly Hasbro tend to be, and how the jet/upper body section features virtually nothing of the Skyshadow jet, it's surprising to see that a huge amount of this toy was molded in blue plastic, and has been painted - quite heavily, in some cases - to suit the character. I'm not sure what colour of plastic was used for the helmet, but it's thickly coated in glossy blue paint, the shoulder cones and handgun are thickly coated in matte purple, the groin is not only covered with thick, glossy black paint, but there's a touch of blue paint on top of that, around the translucent orange wheel, and the chest doors are largely painted white, with the silver tech detail outlined in blue paint. Quite why some of these parts weren't simply on different coloured sprues, we may never know - the white-ish plastic of his arms would have been perfectly sufficient for the chest doors and, considering how much blue plastic is used, there shouldn't have been any need for the helmet to be painted that colour. The problem with this much paint - and I mean specifically in the sense of how thickly-applied it is on some parts - is that it will eat up the molded detail on the plastic, and this is particularly evident on the handgun and the chest doors. I like that the latter have been painted to resemble the sticker detail of the original, but it fudges the detail horribly, getting it dangerously close to looking like a poor quality knock-off.

Robot mode reveals only a couple of new stickers - one featuring G1-style tech detailing, just below each knee, and an overlarge Decepticon symbol badly applied to his right shoulder, which was peeling straight out of the box on mine and will likely have to be replaced sooner rather than later. There are certain elements of sculpted detail that really look as though they should have been supplemented either by stickers or paintwork but, with so much of the paint budget already fixing issues with the plastic colours of so many parts, that will have to be left to Reprolabels. Then there are oddities like the black-painted 'barrel' detail in his upper chest, which seems to represent a fixed, protruding wheel on the G1 version.

Of course, the most significant difference between this and the G1 original is that, in common with all Titans Return figures of Deluxe class and above he's basically a HeadMaster rather than a dual Powermaster... But then those doors on his chest do open, and they do accommodate Titan Masters in their head modes - albeit with a certain amount of caution, as some are inclined to get wedged in there - and there are even slots inside suggesting that, perhaps, at one stage of prototyping, there were spring-loaded gimmicks associated with each one... but in the final retail version they are simple recepticles (somewhat grizzly, in that Overlord then has a couple of TransFormer heads embedded in his chest, peering out the whole time because the doors can't close when the slots are occupied!), and he lacks the pop-out weapons that made the G1 version so cool. It's even a little annoying that they actually went to the trouble of sculpting - and painting - the panel on the right and the six nozzles on the left, pretty much taunting anyone who knows of the G1 toy's features. I know it's unfair to compare a Hasbro toy to a Third Party figure, but Mastermind Creations' Carnifex had the pop-out weapons even without the active Powermaster feature, though plug-in Powermasters were introduced later via an add-on kit. Half the reason I picked this up was the Titan Master conversion kit by The Nottingham Robot Company which does a similar job... Though the fit isn't great, and one side in particular seems reluctant to release a Titan Master once inserted. Takara Tomy's version simply fills in the chest cavities with G1 Powermaster-like parts, so bringing back the full, spring-loaded functionality of the chest is going to have to be a Third Party upgrade... if it ever happens.

Weapons-wise, Overlord wields the tank's cannon as a handgun (a little more economical than the G1 version, on which the two were entirely separate parts) and the jet's nose as a shield. Robot mode doesn't necessarily need any more weapons, and has precious few places to attach them (I'm pretty sure most of the G1 toy's accessories would just have to be set aside while in robot mode), but the cannon doesn't look quite right. By default, the jet nose/shield mounts on either arm via a 5mm peg concealed within the landing skids, but there's a rectangular peg just in front of this as well. At first, I took it to be there solely to ensure the 'shield' rests evenly on the arm and to ensure the wing protrusion doesn't accidentally break the translucent orange canopy on the underside of the jet's nose if the shield is mounted on the arm a little too forcefully... but it's actually there to plug the nose into Overlord's chest for additional armour. Personally, I think it hangs a little too low, and ends up looking a bit daft with a Decepticon insignia on his extended groin (hence the lack of photos...). This tends to suggest that, at some point during the development of this toy, someone felt that this 'feature' was preferable to a Skyshadow-style firm connection between jet and tank in the vehicle modes... and I'm pretty sure they were wrong.

Given Overlord's appearance in the comics, I have to say I find the face on Dreadnaut's back to be a little bland. I wasn't expecting a full-on IDW-style broad, disturbing grin, but certainly something better than the standard 'grim determination' would have been nice. The eyes seem a little small, particularly when overshadowed by the helmet, and the fact that the silver face is framed by black within the blue helmet emphasises how small Overlord's face actually is within the helmet. Takara Tomy's version comes with two HeadMaster figures - one representing each of his two G1 Powermasters, and giving him a subtly different face ('masculine' or 'feminine', apparently) depending on which is used. I'm not sure that's an adequate substitute for the original's Powermasters gimmicks, but it's certainly an interesting take on the update.

Titan Master Dreadnaut:
I have to admit I was initially puzzled by the name 'Dreadnaut'. Not, I should say, because it referenced neither of the G1 toy's Powermasters, but because of the spelling. In the light of 'Broadside & Blunderbuss', I would easily have understood 'Overlord & Dreadnought', but Dreadnaut? As in 'Astronaut'?

But then it hit me - it's actually an excellent name, and possibly even quite clever. If an 'Astro-naut' is one who is trained to travel in outer space, (a) Dreadnaut is one who traverses terror... and what better partner could he have than Overlord?

Sadly, Dreadnaut is just a recolouring of Skyshadow's partner, Ominus, with no attempt made to match his colours to either of G1 Overlord's Powermaster partners. I also find it really odd that he body is completely unpainted black and grey plastic, but the head is painted teal and has gold over the face. It almost looks as though they did a head swap with a Titan Master from a Takara Tomy figure.

Neither of Overlords components features a particularly taxing transformation - the tank basically just needs the robot's legs folded back over themselves, while the jet requires little more than folding in the robot's fists, then replacing the nosecone on the body of the jet. Base mode is similarly half-hearted and, really the most exciting thing about him is that you can give him a slight height boost by leaving his heels in their tank mode position, then flipping out the toe section without lifting it to its intended position. This leaves a gap inside his foot, giving the impression of weird, high-heeled boots, but that's nothing shocking in a contemporary TransFormers toy. I've found the waist connection on mine to be a little loose - not to the point where his two halves won't stay together, but the soft plastic clip inside the prong is warped, and so doesn't seem to push back out when it meets the recesses inside Overlord's belly. It holds perfectly well, but pulling him apart again feels far too easy. Comparing TR Overlord to the version from Mastermind Creations, I feel Hasbro missed a trick by keeping the lower body in one piece, as the leg connection pegs in the Third Party version have been made to look like afterburners, and this trick would have significantly improved the appearance of TR Overlord's jet mode... They could easily have used Combiner Wars-style pegs to make that happen.

Overlord compares very favourably with other Titans Return figures in terms of articulation - all the basic joints are there, and his feet are surprisingly stable in either the intended configuration or the 'high heeled' look I've used in the photos above. What sets this above some comparable figures is the ankle tilt which seems to be there as much for base mode (since the connectors are concealed inside his toes) as it is for robot mode, since they tilt to about 90° to reveal tech detail on the insides. These joints are only pinned, so joint tolerance may vary from figure to figure, but the ankle tilts on mine are fairly tight - certainly good enough to support a decent pose. Having the chest doors open does get in the way of the arms' movement but, in practice, and until someone comes up with a proper solution to the lack of Powermasters, Overlord looks far better with them closed. There are two joints in the shoulder for outward movement - one is the intended articulation joint, the other was a transformation joint on Skyshadow's base mode. The latter offers slightly greater range, but both are limited a little by the large purple cones on Overlord's shoulders. One thing that really surprised me about this figure is that the helmet can tilt backward slightly, allowing Overlord to look up a few degrees as well as being able to rotate a full 360°. For obvious reason, there's no waist articulation but, given the way the two halves come together, it probably wouldn't have been that difficult to add it - it'd just mean having the legs slot to a rotating barrel in the belly, rather than a fixed channel... though I suspect part of the reasoning is the hinged base platforms sitting on Overlord's back, which would probably hinder movement at the waist.

I have to admit that TR Overlord is a lot more fun than I'd expected. Base mode is a let-down, though even that might be mitigated by interaction with some of the other TR bases. Personally, though, I've no intention to acquire any others at this point due to a lack of space... even though part of me would love to have the massive new Trypticon. I'm also not inclined to display any of my toys in base mode - again, largely due to lack of space, but also because I prefer my robots in disguise to show off their dynamic robot modes rather than their passive vehicle or base forms. Generally speaking, Titans Return Overlord is a well-designed toy and stands up reasonably well within the TR toyline even if it's very much cut down versus the original G1 toy. The mix of heavy paintwork and stickers is perplexing, and the plastic film stickers don't seem to have the longevity of G1's normally paper-based stock, so I'm hoping Reprolabels come up with some replacements, as well as supplementary detail stickers. Where it really falls down is the lack of Overlord's own accessories and the lack of 5mm ports to add accessories either taken from other figures or those created by Third Parties. While I like the idea of the chest accommodating Titan Masters - it fits in quite well with Trypticon being able to 'eat' them - it's disappointing that they don't activate any hidden features... and particularly frustrating that there's such a difference in fit between the left and right sockets and the different Titan Masters themselves.

Combined Vehicle Fanmode:
I've seen fanmodes of Overlord where his legs remain attached in vehicle mode, and just stick out the back - supposedly based on a similar trick with the G1 toy - but that seems a bit silly to me. Before I picked up Overlord, I'd (briefly) considered picking up Mastermind Creations' take on the character, Carnifex, only deciding against because it tends to be quite pricey on the secondary market, and I don't really have the space for such a large figure anyway... plus its base mode is actually a bit ropey (not that I'd ever display it in that form, it's just the principle of the thing).

One thing I did rather like about it, though, was its combined vehicle mode, where the two halves of the tank get attached to the jet's wings. TR Overlord can't quite replicate that... but what it can do is actually not that far off, and looks pretty reasonable. It's also vastly more stable than the barely-clipped-together, jet-with-underslung-tank so-called 'combined mode' offered by Hasbro. Your mileage may vary, but here's Overlord in my dreadnought mode...

Considering Overlord was something of a reluctant purchase, on the final day of TFNation and then only because I was keen to combine it with a couple of spare Titan Masters and the NRC upgrade kit, I'm actually pretty happy with it. I'd say he's not really worth £60 has he stands, but prices show no signs of coming down anytime soon - maybe once the Takara Tomy version becomes available, this version won't be quite so sought-after. Having said that, just a few improvements here and there - particularly a better use of plastic colours and less reliance on paint, actually having the chest sockets for Titan Masters serve some sort of purpose, and a couple of extra accessories - would have gone a long way toward justifying the price tag but, in its current form, I'd say it's about £15-20 too expensive for what you actually get.

In terms of overall appearance, Skyshadow is perhaps the better of the two... but, while his jet and tank look sleeker, classier and more coherent in matching black, red and silver, his base mode looks like even more of an afterthought. He also has the misfortune of being based on a G1 Pretender rather than something more suited to this style of toy. With both the tank and jet components lacking a certain something, Titans Return Overlord has presented customers and Third Parties with an ideal opportunity to complete a toy that Hasbro released in an effectively unfinished state, so it'll be interesting to see what accessories become available in the coming months. Of course, the downside to this is that one could easily spend another £60 on Third Party accessories just to make this figure worth the original £60 price tag...

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