Friday, 13 July 2018

War for Cybertron - Early First Impression

And, lo, CGI images of three War for Cybertron (2019) toys were unleashed upon the internet... My initial impression?


But let's have a closer look, shall we? (Now with SDCC addendum!)

So we have 'Battle Master' Firedrive, who's essentially a TargetMaster figure, but that's now a size class in and of itself, so he'll be retailing separately for $5.99 (so probably £5.99 in the UK). He appears to be no more complicated than Takara Tomy's existing TargetMasters, perhaps even less complicated because he doesn't seem to have knee joints... but he does come with extra pieces to simulate weapons fire... if you like that sort of thing.

Then we have a Deluxe class Sideswipe, who doesn't look especially Cybertronian, despite the whole schtick of this line being that it'll be set on Cybertron. Bear in mind that we got a War for Cybertron videogame Sideswipe that actually looked non-terrestrial back in 2010, albeit one based on the WfC game's Jazz mold. This 'new' Sideswipe looks, at best, like some vanity project concept car from one of the big sports car manufacturers, taking design cues from the Ferrari 308 (at the front) and the Lamborghini Countach (with the vented protrusions on the rear wings). Robot mode appears somewhat clunky... Perhaps cleaner than the Classics version from 2010, and the head sculpt is perhaps closer to G1 than Classics... If you like that sort of thing. He comes with two weapons, apparently, which combine into a third, larger weapon... which looks suspiciously like the G1 toy's shoulder launcher (this appears to be what's depicted in the images, as a hand-held weapon). At this stage, I see nothing impressive enough to warrant forking out $19.99 (so probably £19.99 here) for yet another version of the same character... Though I do appreciate the apparent drop in price for a Deluxe class toy.

Finally, we have - gasp of surprise - another bloody Optimus bloody Prime. Again, the 'Cybertronian' vehicle mode doesn't look anywhere near as otherworldly as the versions shown in the eight-year-old videogame. In fact, it looks very much as though they took a G1-style Optimus Prime truck mode and just slapped a few extra, larger lights on it, removed the license plate section from the middle of the bumper, and added (possibly) guns on either side, ahead of the front wheels. His robot mode is almost indistinguishable from any G1-style Optimus Prime, and looks particularly similar to the recent Power of the Primes Evolution Optimus Prime, while clearly being an entirely new mold (and only Voyager class, at that!). He, too, comes with two weapons - a traditional-looking blaster, and a combination shield/axe thing... and, supposedly, the two can combine into another, larger weapon, though this does not appear in any of the images. Nothing about these images makes me feel keen to add this new incarnation of Optimus Prime to my collection, because it's so much like several others I already have in my collection. I mean, I wasn't planning on buying MP-10 five years ago, since I already had MP-01, and really liked that one... but I did buy MP-10... so it's not outside the realms of possibility that I may buy this toy after all... but it certainly doesn't excite me at this stage. In fact, I'm more excited by Unique Toys' Challenger - a Masterpiece-scaled figure based on a version of movie Optimus Prime that I actively dislike because the robot mode doesn't convince me it could possibly transform into a vehicle except through cheating the CGI.

The information provided for both Optimus Prime and Sideswipe makes a virtue of their "story-inspired battle-worn deco", and there's an awful lot of focus on their weapons. It almost feels as though Hasbro have been listening to/reading my complaints about the pathetic excuses for bios on the packaging in recent years... but completely missed the point of them. Yes, great, it's good to know that their weapons have names and model numbers - all very authentic-sounding, if not quite Budiansky quality - but there's still information about what a "W-50 Dual-Mech ENERGON Strikeshield" or a "W-5 Gyro Blaster" actually do.

Nor is there any information about Prime or Sideswipe themselves, as characters... but the phrase "story-inspired" hopefully suggests (a) that there is a story and (b) that we might actually see it in some form (perhaps the upcoming IDW comics?) and glean some impression of the characters from that.

Given the travesty that was the Machinima-powered 'animated' series based around the Prime Wars Trilogy, and the fact that the Prime Wars Trilogy was essentially re-treading ground I covered with my toy collecting back in the 80s, I'm actually feeling really jaded about TransFormers right now... Or, more specifically, Hasbro's TransFormers. Part of it is that I am very much out of space in my flat, and just don't have room to display much more... So, for me to consider buying something new, it has to really grab me.

Based on the images and information provided about these three, War for Cybertron (2019) won't grab me. It's yet another retread of Generation 1 toys, seemingly in the guise of being set before the war moved to Earth... but it's making the same bloody stupid mistake the original G1 cartoon did, in making the robot modes too familiar. While we never saw Optimus Prime's Cybertronian form in the cartoon, it stands to reason that it'd look as much like his terrestrial form as did Bumblebee's or Wheeljack's... and yet all the robot modes looked like simplified versions of the actual toys...

...Which were based on robots that turned into terrestrial vehicles.

I don't understand this bizarre need to pay homage to those terrible animation models, because they look so little like the toys they were intended to represent and thereby sell.

For Hasbro to bring a premature end to the Prime Wars Trilogy only to reboot into another version of the same story is both baffling and disappointing. After TransFormers G1/G2, we had Beast Wars - launching the franchise in a bold new direction. After that, things went sort-of back to normal with Robots In Disguise/Car Robots, which mixed a new aesthetic for the Autobots with Beast Wars-inspired Predacons instead of Decepticons. After that came the Unicron Trilogy, where Armada, Energon and Cybertron (aka Micron Legend, Superlink and Galaxy Force) brought both aesthetic and technical development to the franchise with each new chapter... After that (if we ignore the movie series, which is its own kind of alternate G1) came Animated, which was cancelled to make more shelf space for movie toys, and Classics, which developed into the ongoing Generations line which is an alternate G1 with improved engineering (sometimes) but less of a real-world aesthetic, because Hasbro/Takara Tomy simply can't get away with producing transforming toys of real-world vehicles anymore without paying hefty license fees to the car manufacturers.

TransFormers used to be about change - it was the whole premise of the franchise in the beginning: Robots In Disguise. Now, that's just a tagline, and we're seeing the same robots, in the same disguises (more or less), over and over again. Sure, there's some innovation in the engineering and the gimmicks, but where are the bold new ideas and the new characters? The last three or four years have featured mostly the same names, characters and appearances as the preceding ten years, over and over again.

I'm rather bored of it.

On the upside, it does mean I can just keep my eyes open for interesting new Studio Series figures, or Third Party stuff, until Hasbro actually show me something new and innovative.

Or, y'know, throw in a gratuitous Femme-Bot or two. That'll probably catch me out.

The big question in my head is "Who is this toyline for, really?". If it's for the kids, why is it just re-telling Generation 1? It's a story the vast majority will be unaware of (unless they got into TransFormers because their parents were into TransFormers), when they could start something entirely new for kids with no (or, at least, different) expectations of the character lineup, their appearance, and what's going on. If it's for the collectors, do Hasbro genuinely expect us to keep buying the same characters with marginal differences in their appearance and functionality, telling another different take on the same story we grew up with 30 years ago?

Perhaps the current generation of kids will appreciate this new batch of TransFormers... but it really feels as though the magic - that combination of awesome toy design and Bob Budiansky's character bios - has been gone for years, and what we've been seeing, and what's on the horizon now, is just a pale imitation... A tribute act that doesn't really understand what made the original so cool.

I actually bought a couple of G1 TransFormers toys on eBay recently - my two missing Protectobots, Hot Spot and Streetwise - but the plan there, really, was to complete the team and then consider selling the full set. There are only a few G1 toys in my collection that I'm particularly invested in, and many of them are very much the worse for age and wear. It's unlikely I'll be displaying them anytime soon but, even when I'm able to... will I still want to display these small, clunky old things with no sense of scale?

That, I think, is a question for another day...

SDCC Addendum:
After seeing the short video advertisement and photos of some of the toys at the San Diego Comic Con this year, my opinion hasn't shifted dramatically. I'll admit I'm curious about the new Ultra Magnus and Hound figures which the ad suggests will be part of the first wave (please, Hasbro, get a move on with the Decepticons!). The former appears to be another take on the Masterpiece/Combiner Wars structure where the large, armoured robot transforms into truck and trailer without separating, and without the constraints of a terrestrial form, it could prove interesting. The former is confirmed to be a G1-style figure, where the truck transforms into a unique and independent robot, not just a clone of the line's Optimus Prime, and there's also something of the Car Robots/Robots In Disguise version of Ultra Magnus to his vehicle mode. The latter appears as though he'll transform into something very much like a normal jeep, so the mixed messages of the line continue. That said, the Chromia-based-on-Moonracer looks to have had improvements made to the legs but now has an even more egregious backpack, while both she and Ironhide appear to be going for the 'hyper-detailed brick' aesthetic in their vehicle modes, which is fairly authentically Cybertronian, if you're going by the G1 cartoon.

I'm starting to wonder if, perhaps, this is going to be either an alternate continuity to the movie (as in, what may have happened if Unicron hadn't shown up and if Megatron hadn't invaded Autobot City because, instead, the Autobots already had enough Energon to power a full-scale assault to reclaim Cybertron) or simply what happened between the end of the TV show (which, theoretically, had a setting contemporary to its airing in the 80s) and the movie (which was set in 2005) - about a 15-year span of time which no-one has yet explored, probably because it's so thoroughly bookended by existing canon. Nope, turns out I was pretty much right first time: a video of Hasbro's panel confirms that it's a pre-G1 continuity, apparently dealing with the Autobots' last stand before they launch the Ark.

The Micromasters and Battlemasters were exactly what I feared they would be, more than a year ago, when the first hints about War for Cybertron came out. They're small, simple toys, much like the Mini Autobots of old. That's no bad thing in general and, to be honest, if that's the way the franchise has to be, perhaps thats for the best. TransFormers toys, for a while, kept getting bigger and bigger, and they really didn't need to. The size classes from the G1 toyline were fine, and the improvements in engineering since then mean that far more interesting things are possible at smaller size classes. The only problem is that the prices keep going up, so we're effectively paying more for less. On the upside, the Deluxe class robot formed by several Battlemasters is vaguely innovative.

It's a subject I've written about before (here, and as a brief sidenote at the end of this post) but increases are basically inevitable in this day and age. As long as the toys transform, and as long as they don't break within hours of coming out of the packaging due to inferior plastic quality, it seems as though we're just going ot have to put up with it.

No comments:

Post a Comment