Thursday, 10 January 2019

War for Cybertron: Siege Skytread Flywheels

One of the biggest surprises of the Power of the Primes line was the appearance of the G1 Duocon Battletrap in the form of two combining figures - Battleslash and Roadtrap. Before the first images turned up - a remarkably short time before the two figures actually arrived in shops - there had been no hints of Duocons featuring in PotP, but they turned out to be the most innovative offering of the line, which was otherwise a retread of Combiner Wars with added elements of Titans Return.

Of course, making Battletrap surely meant that a full Duocon Flywheels was on his way, to replace the poorly-executed and otherwise redundant Titan Master/Triple-changing Vehicle combination, Skytread, released under the Titans Return banner, right?

Well... Kinda... In fact, it didn't happen at all within Power of the Primes, and when the second Duocon was finally revealed, he turned out to be a closer homage to the G1 toy than Battletrap had been...

In keeping with Hasbro's current trend toward putting almost everything in boxes, the WfC:Siege toyline nevertheless has to attempt to stand out from the crowd as much due to its irregular shape as its artwork. Rather than being properly square, like the boxes used throughout the Prime Wars trilogy, the lefthand side sticks out at about a 30° angle so the character art is at least somewhat visible from the front, while the righthand side features a movie poster-style image of the Ark launching from Cybertron amidst a selection of character images of varying sizes topped by a menacing closeup of Optimus Prime's optics. Much as I liked the battle scenes on the backs of G1 boxes, this just isn't in the same league and the actual content of the image is somewhat muddled by its small size, the fussy art style and the overall darkness of the image. It's a nice nod to G1, and might have looked better printed slightly larger over the back of the box... but, to me, it looks like it's trying too hard to convey a sense of scale and drama.

The back of the box sticks to the usual product shots and gimmick explanations with absolutely no character bio. There's no collectors' card, nor anything like full Tech Specs, but the instruction leaflet does name his weapons and - bizarrely - gives separate stats for three qualities, seemingly pertaining specifically to the guns. Strength is obvious and identical on both sets of graphs (15/20), but the remaining two could be accuracy and range or firepower and speed. His EM24 IR Laser Launcher (aka the tank's main cannon) has 12/20 for the first and 15/20 for the second, while the HV Electron Breacher (the robot's handgun) has 14/20 for the first and only 9/20 for the second. The formatting of these sections is a little suspect, with 'EM24' and 'HV' writ large, and the remainder set small, in a block of 25 language versions of the text. Curiously, while the combined form of his guns is named - LRRF Suspension-Ray Super-Launcher - it's not given any stats of its own.

I don't understand what Hasbro thought they were doing with these details. If it's an attempt to emulate Bob Budiansky's writing, they're providing incomplete information that's missed the point of the details on the G1 Tech Specs... if it's intended to introduce some kind of stat-based play pattern, there's no explanation of how it's supposed to work. As for Flywheels' character... well, there's always the bio Budiansky wrote back in the 80s...

Jet Component:
TFWiki describes G1 Flywheels' jet component as an F-4 Phantom II, but I see precious little indication that this is correct in either the original G1 toy or this new remake. To my eyes, both look far closer to the Hawker Harrier, albeit without the turbines either side of the cockpit (a feature coincidentally shared with the F-4 Phantom II). Thing is, however you look at it, it just doesn't look Cybertronian, particularly when compared to upcoming WfC figures like 'Tetrajet' Starscream, or the dreadnoughts like Shockwave and Soundwave. Hasbro have caused themselves problems by incorporating this style of figure into a toyline ostensibly set on Cybertron, paying such close homage to a G1 toy that represented a terrestrial jet.

The original toy was chubby to the point of being almost Super Deformed, while this one is far sleeker and more realistic-looking... at least until you look at the massive chunk of robot parts dangling from the undercarriage. It's fairly neatly done and, if you put the jet on a brown background and squint, you could just about convince yourself the jet is hovering. Perhaps on a larger figure, the arms could have been folded entirely into the body of the jet, but simply adding a chunky undercarriage doesn't help this jet look alien.

The jet itself is molded in a dark, slightly purplish red, much like the G1 toy, though thankfully has vastly more paintwork. I'm a little puzzled by the choice of gold as the highlight colour - applied to the leading edge of all the wings and fins, as well as a couple of parts either side of the cockpit and the raised intakes toward the back of the main body - but it certainly stands out. The cockpit canopy is painted over in cyan and has a Decepticon insignia stamped on top, but there's none of this toyline's 'battle damage' evident on this half of the figure.

While this set only comes with two weapons - the aforementioned EM24 IR Laser Launcher and HV Electron Breacher - the former has to be attached to the tank or it's just not a tank. The Electron Breacher can then be attached below the jet's nose, on its top surface or under either wing - use of any one socket leaving plenty of options for further upgrades with Battle Masters, Micromasters or upgrade parts from the larger figures. Curiously, there are no attachment points for the 'Fire Blast' accessories packaged with the Battle Masters.

Tank Component:
Just like the G1 toy, Flywheels' tank component appears not to be based on any real-world tank. Perhaps this is to the toy's benefit, as it could be argued that it's a Cybertronian design. Either way, it's basically a brown wedge on treads, and is the only part of this set which displays WfC's much-vaunted 'battle damage' paint applications. On Flywheels, this amounts to a smattering of silver splotches on the sides of the vehicle, just above the treads, which are painted gold. This gold paint also appears on a couple of raised details on the front of the tank and on the barrel of the EM24, so this vehicle seems comparatively plain aside from its sculpted detail, which amounts to armour panelling for the most part. The back of the tank is a disaster area remarkably similar to that of Roadtrap but, where the PotP Duocon component has his hips poking out the back of his vehicle mode, Battletrap has an open back end which shows through to an unfortunately placed hole on the underside of his groin, set between his legs.

Overall, the sculpting is quite close to the G1 original, taking into account the tank forms the entire lower body of the robot, so the 'turret' is bascially a couple of shin panels wrapped around his thighs and groin. It's also been made entirely symmetrical, where the G1 original was slightly different between its left- and righthand sides, including the fact that his handgun could only be attached to the righthand side of the tank's front. The funny thing is, symmetry is not something one would tend to associate with tanks - not the terrestrial kind, anyway - so he ends up looking a little contrived and artificial. Add the fact that, not only does the turret not rotate (so far, so G1 - the turred on that figure became the robot's inner body and arms), but the EM24 is attached in such a way that it can't rotate, let alone tilt up or down... and, due to (supposedly) overly long pegs, the turret won't flatten down far enough to allow the gun's 5mm peg to slot firmly into its socket. I've read online that this can be 'fixed' by shaving down the pegs on the tops of his heels but, in my experience, there's no way to get the connecting piece to push down far enough onto those pegs to make an appreciable difference. What it really needs is for the connecting piece to feature larger depressions in the back to accommodate the angled section at the very back of the EM24.

While the treads are fixed, the tank is equipped with four rolling wheels embedded in the underside... However, while one set rolls freely, the other set has a scuffing point that causes them to catch. The funny thing here is that there's nothing about the model or the way it's designed that precludes the use of free-rolling treads, so it's just a matter of parts count and the fact that rubber parts on TransFormers these days tend to be jet/rocket nosecones or other potentially dangerous/fragile protrusions... It might have been really cool to make Flywheels one of the few TransFormers tanks that actually has functional treads, but I can understand why they didn't bother... Still, that and the lack of any movement on his turret make him a pretty useless tank toy, in my opinion.

Aside from the central socket for his main gun, he has four additional weapon ports - one either side of the main gun and one on either side toward the back of the tank. Any one of these can comfortably accommodate the HV Electron Breacher but, given how close the front two are to the turret and how low to the ground the back two are, I'm dubious as to how useful they will be for TargetMasters, Battlemasters and other such components.

Robot Mode:
So the two vehicles leave a lot to be desired... but robot mode is a nigh-perfect update and homage to the G1 toy. I really liked the G1 Duocons, despite their wierd proportions and lack of articulation, because the idea was something new and interesting - each one had a land- and air-based vehicle, meaning they could tackle the Autobots on two fronts without even transforming... But there's no denying that 1980s toymaking was just not up to the challenge of doing such a novel combiner justice.

WfC:Siege Flywheels looks just like what one would see in the mind's eye while playing around with the G1 toy. He's also surprisingly like the box art of the G1 toy, albeit with a few liberties taken here and there. I do think they missed a trick in casting his waist panels in the maroon plastic, since the jet's nose was draped over the tank's brown insides on the original, but this colour layout works well enough. It does feel strange - not to say wasteful - to find the bulk of the jet component just sitting on his back, completely unaffected by transformation... but the wings can be angled back to give the arms a bit more clearance if desired.

Aside from the two different colours of plastic, a few touches of gold paint are visible on the front of the robot, while the majority end up on his back. Previously unseen applications on his forearms are about the only new touches, but the jet's canopy and the two touches of gold on either side of the cockpit do wonders to break up the chest area. The legs have to rely on sculpted detail, rather than paintwork, to look interesting, with the shin panels replicating - and expanding on - both stickers and sculpted detail on the G1 toy... It all looks great - and nothing like the excessive detailing of some of the other WfC:Siege figures thusfar revealed - but it's a real shame they didn't add pink/red/purple paint - or even some of those diabolical PotP stickers - to add a bit of extra colour... Oh well, I guess that's what Reprolabels is for...

There's no shortage of options for having Flywheels wield his weapons - either can be hand-held or mounted on his shoulder, forearms or calves, plus he still has 5mm sockets on his jet wings (probably not that useful in robot mode), the soles of his feet and his back, though the two from the front of his tank component get concealed inside his ankles. One of the gimmicks of the line is the modular weapons, so the HV Electron Breacher can be plugged into the back of the EM24 Laser Launcher to create the LRRF Suspension-Ray Super-Launcher. This larger weapon can (just about) be wielded two-handed, but you're limited to having him direct it to one side or the other. Then again, since he has a decent range of waist movement (the joint being placed below the 'belt', though still restricted by the jet's tail on the back) he can easily twist around to direct it just about anywhere. I do like the idea of modular weapons - and it's certainly an improvement on the G1 toy, on which the tank's cannon lurked behind his jet nose chest - but the execution on Flyweels feels a little underdeveloped and tacked-on... and no doubt contributed to the issues with plugging the main cannon into the tank.

At first glance, the head sculpt looks like pure G1... but it's actually better proportioned and perhaps a little more detailed. The helmet is broadly the same, but the visor is far smaller, taking up less of the face, and allowing the nose, mouth and chin a bit more prominence. It's also nice that the visor has been painted red, rather than left unpainted - like the G1 toy - or included in blanket coverage in silver paint over the whole face. The sides of the helmet don't protrude as far forward as on the G1 toy and the overall sculpt isn't quite so detailed as the Titan Master figure, but it's easily identifyable as Flywheels.

While this version naturally loses the spring-loaded combine-and-transform action of the original - not to mention the individual components' robot modes of PotP Battletrap - the manual transformation of each component is intuitive and fluid, and most parts tab together very well in both modes. I did initially find that one of the shin panels wouldn't stay tabbed into place in tank mode, but a combination of shaving down the tabs on the backs of his feet and jiggling the waist joint - not to mention putting way more pressure on the tab than I'd prefer - generally seems to fix it. The jet doesn't really do much, and so feels a lot like the jet component of the G1 toy, overburdened with the robot's arms as unsightly cargo. The hollowness of the lower legs is cleverly concealed by the shin panels, but there's no such option on the forearms, sadly.

One of the big changes in War for Cybertron (2019) versus the Prime Wars trilogy is the move away from ball joints for the (theoretically) improved strength and stability of pinned hinges and mushroom pegs. If Flywheels is anything to go by, this is certainly the right move... but I have no shortage of TransFormers toys on which these styles of joint were loose straight out of the box, so I really don't think their reliability can be guaranteed in mass-produced toys any more than those of ball joints. Still, Flywheels has the full complement of joints for the toyline - apparently ankle tilt is to be standard in all figures of Deluxe class and above - and seems to remain nicely stable in a wide variety of poses. Having the waist joint below the 'belt' has reduced the impact of the jet tail on his poseability, but I wish they'd been able to eliminate it entirely by having the tail hinge up onto the robot's back rather than staying dangling behind him. Also, the one ball joint that remains in this figure - in the base of the neck - means that he has quite an expressive range of head movement.

To be honest, I rather wish this figure had come out in the Titans Return toyline (with the option of attaching Titan Master Skytread in place of the head) or just in one of the older Classics/Generations lines. The lack of individual robot modes for two vehicles feels like a huge step backward from Power of the Primes Battleslash/Roadtrap/Battletrap, but it might have made a bit more sense had Flywheels been developed and released a couple of years before rather than a year or so later. He's a good toy, and an excellent update of the G1 concept and figure... but nothing about him really fits with the core concept of the new War for Cybertron line - or anything post-Power of the Primes, for that matter - either in terms of aesthetics or intricacy, so it feels as though he's just been dumped in the current toyline after being left in development for too long. Depending on how little I end up buying of this new toyline (and I'm getting less certain of any of it, the more I see photos and video reviews of the first waves), Flywheels may simply end up displayed alongside my Classics/Henkei/Universe/Generations figures rather than with the newer stuff... and Battletrap would end up going with him just for continuity.

I'm glad to have a Flywheels figure to go with Battletrap, and I'm glad he's not too tied up - aesthetically speaking - with the rest of War for Cybertron... but that just makes him more of an incongruity within that line. Other than that, I just wish he had a bit more paintwork than just the odd touches of gold...

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