Friday, 21 February 2020

War For Cybertron: Earthrise Optimus Prime

As Earthrise figures start to become available in the UK - online, at least, if not in bricks-and-mortar shops - I find myself having very mixed feelings about it. Siege feels as though it was prematurely terminated, with only a scattering of key characters having been released alongside two different iterations of Optimus Prime, neither of which were particularly inspiring. Meanwhile, a ridiculous number of other key G1 characters - Bumblebee, Wheeljack, Jazz, to name but three who appeared prominently in the pilot for the G1 TV show - were missing in action. No hyper-detailed Cybertronian vehicle modes for quite a number of signficant characters, while those we did get tended to be easily repaintable (Starscream becoming six other Seekers, Ironhide becoming Ratchet and Crosshairs, Prowl becoming Bluestreak, Smokescreen and Barricade, amongst others).

Earthrise launches with yet another new Optimus Prime figure alongside an upscaled re-engineering of a 15+ year old Starscream mold, and another scattering of characters, several of whom strongly imply repaints to come (Grapple will no doubt become Inferno... potentially also 'Hauler' and Artfire, Hoist must surely become Trailbreaker at least).

It's certainly not inspiring, quite apart from the fact that it's yet another damned G1 reboot, after more than 15 years of preceding reboot.

And yet, this new Optimus Prime actually tempted me... On the surface, it seemed to be something approaching what I really wanted out of a contemporary remake of G1 Optimus Prime - the feel and essential look of the original with the contemporary complexity of engineering coupled with a nod to the aesthetic developments from the live action movies. Given the rest of the War for Cybertron line in general, that seemed unlikely, but I felt like giving this figure the benefit of the doubt...

I'll actually make a special mention of this, since there are some very interesting changes to the packaging versus Siege. Where the inner backing parts in Siege featured a large design that acted as a military insignia specifying each character's division, unit and rank (full details on Hasbro Pulse), the Earthrise packaging features a cut-out-and-keep section of hex-grid map, and a G1-style 'decoder strip' (AKA small strip of translucent red plastic) which allows one to more clearly see the 'hidden' details of the map... The idea being, I assume, that anyone who collects the full set of Earthrise toys can put together a full star map relating to the Autobots' and Decepticons' journey from Cybertron to Earth, possibly indicating other planets that have turned up in TransFormers lore over the years.

It's a small thing and, to Cynical Adult Me, it seems a bit pointless... But I can honestly say that, back when I first started collecting TransFormers toys, I would have lapped this kind of thing up. I would have cut out these map sections, probably tape them together as I collected new figures, and spend hours poring over the map with the decoder strip as it grew with each purchase, to uncover all the secrets concealed therein. So, on that score, bravo, Hasbro! It's an imaginative use of the packaging that actually adds something to the toy and to what you tend to describe as a 'play pattern'. I'm a little puzzled that the one planet (or moon?) marked on this section of the map is labelled only 'Micron', but that's the kind of thing that one would hope the accompanying fiction would (eventually) explain to some degree. I mean, are the Battle Masters technically Microns/Mini-Cons, or what?

The military insignias haven't been entirely abandoned, however - Prime's has shifted down to the bottom panel of the insert, and indicates that he's (still?) a General in the ground infantry... Though it's struck me as strange than these insignias are not applied to the robots themselves, just the packaging.

In most other respects, the design of the packaging - in terms of both shape and content - is very similar to Siege, just with a new image on the side depicting a different selection of characters, hinting at both Unicron and Galvatron, while including a Quintession, Doubledealer and the crashing of The Ark as fairly significant parts of the picture... This makes me think that one of my theories about the War for Cybertron Trilogy - that Siege and Earthrise amount to the TV show up to and including the animated movie - may be at least partially correct. If this is the case, the final chapter may then be Season 3/4/5-based.

What's interesting - or perhaps just confusing - to me is that the picture appears to depict The Ark crashing down toward the wrong side of the planet. Clearly visible on the globe are the UK, Europe and Russia, with north Africa and Asia barely visible where the picture starts to fade to black to accommodate the 'Authentic TransFormers' and 'Earthrise: War for Cybertron Trilogy' logos. Is this to be the shocking twist of the series? Rather than crashing down in north America, the robots in disguise end up scattered across Europe? Will Bumblebee become a Citroën 2CV this time? Seems doubtful.

The instruction sheet presents a number of differences versus Siege - some subtle, some not... some good, some bad. On the positive side, they've used heavier paper stock and it's printed larger (admittedly I didn't buy any Leader class Siege toys, but Prime's sheet is close to A2 when unfolded). The instructions have better contrast and the steps seem clear... though the transformation is hardly complex (more on that later, though). Also, unless my eyes deceive me, there are G1-style Tech Specs readouts, in bar graph form, for seven categories in a - ahem - prime position on the front of the sheet. This is where things get a bit odd, though.

Because, for whatever reason, Hasbro decided to annotate the instructions using the Ancient Autobot character set rather than the standard English (Roman) alphabet. It's not a problem on the front, as the steps are only numbered using standard (Arabic) numerals in a futuristic/computer-y font, rather than described. On the back, however, features like 'maintenance dock' (trailer opened and stood on end), 'repair bay' (trailer opened, but resting horizontal), 'crane mode' (the repair drone thing detached from the trailer and plugged into Prime's back), 'Matrix of Leadership' (should be obvious) and 'storage' (three places to attach Prime's gun when folded up and not in use) are indicated in this annoying script that actually exacerbated a headache I was already suffering when I tried to decipher it, as it's printed in outline using turquoise ink on a black background.

I guess now I know how it feels for those who post comments about by (over)use of italics... But I digress...

This script is then also used (thankfully in its solid form, which is marginally easier on the eye/brain) to label the Tech Specs categories. Interestingly, Hasbro have reverted to the original G1 nomenclature - Strength, Intelligence, Speed, Endurance, Courage, Firepower (note, not Fireblast) and Skill - as well as cutting out all the rubbish where they give the weapons pseudo-technical designations without actually explaining what they do.

All of this almost feels as if they're specifically trying to appease me (again), because I've been harping on about their half-arsed G1-ness for quite some time now. Whether that's actually the case or I've simply drifted back into narcissistic fantasy, I have to say, once more, bravo, Hasbro! I heartily approve.

Now give us proper character bios again.

I'm not asking you to get Bob Budiansky back to retread the same ground he first laid for the brand in the early/mid 80s - he'd probably decline anyway, as he generally refers to the work he did along the lines of it being 'just another job' he did in the 80s... Get one of the newer IDW writers to take a crack at summarising their personality and armaments, emphasising the need to be detailed, but concise.

Vehicle Mode:
The main part of the package, Optimus Prime himself, is largely a positive experience in vehicle mode. Initially, he feels very small - I don't have it to hand, but he feels much the same size as the terrible Deluxe class Optimus Prime from the Classics Prime/Megatron two-pack, and minimally larger than the G1 toy. It's only slightly smaller than the Bumblebee movie Studio Series Prime, but the reduction in size this toyline continues to experience is very apparent in this one toy. It's also coloured very much like the aforementioned Studio Series toy, with a very anaemic, desaturated red rather than the bold, vibrant red Optimus Prime used to get pretty consistently.

Sculpted detail is good - not the bizarre excess of Siege, but still probably more than is strictly necessary. The front looks great, with only the amount of linework one tends to expect from a truck - it has the traditional grille, bumper, headlights, split windscreen (including wipers) and roof-mounted lights, with a decent amount of paintwork for all but the latter, which remain bare red plastic. The windows and headlights are molded in translucent blue plastic with the former fully coated with silver on the inside, while the latter have circular lamp details painted silver on the reverse. I was surprised to see the smaller strip-grille, just below the windscreen, is not only painted - though that's unusual enough - but painted in a slightly darker gunmetal colour.

The sides of the cab are closer to what I'd have expected from Siege in terms of superfluous panel-lining, though this does disguise the actual panel splits quite well. Probably the daftest part of it all is that whoever sculpted these panels neglected to include doors. All the more strange because they appear to have put door handles into the little recesses below the angled corner of the side windows. Somehow, I don't think the transformation panels on either side of the truck are also intended to represent doors, so this truck mode makes for quite a suspicious disguise if there's no easy way for the driver to get in. The traditional silver stripe wraps around from the front of the vehicle - becoming thicker down the sides - and the front wheel wells are also painted silver. Other than that, there's not much paintwork - an Autobot insignia on the left side only, with both the smokestacks and the petrol tanks painted silver, though the latter still struggle to stand out from the grey plastic of the robot's very visible thighs.

Naturally the back end of the truck is Prime's lower legs - as they have been since the very first Generation 1 toy - though his feet are now three parts, folded together to form the very back of the vehicle, rather than simply folded down flush with the shin. The sculpted detail on the 'toes' looks as though it was designed the wrong way round, with the smaller, lamp-like detail on the insides, but the fitting on the central part is asymmetrical, so the 'toe' parts are certainly assembled correctly. I guess it's the fact that the whole 'toe' detail is painted silver that confuses the issue of which side represents the lights.

The upper surface of the back end features the usual 'vent' sections, painted silver, while the wheel wells and central section between the legs are molded in the same metallic-looking grey as the trailer and thighs. Somehow, it doesn't look as weird as one might think it should, given the stark contrast in colour. I'm especially keen on the clever way Prime's gun can be folded up and plugged into the socket on the back of the cab, neatly filling a recess between his shoulders with mechanical bits that don't look completely out of place sticking out of the back of a truck cab. It's not the large metal plate we've seen on movie Optimus Prime trucks, from the original Peterbilt version to the more recent Western Star trucks, and even the flat-nosed truck used in the Bumblebee movie, but it looks just as good as those toys' interpretations of these plates.

The downsides to this toy are in the smaller details of the engineering, such as the petrol tanks that don't clip into their deployed position, and all too often end up folding themselves back into the robot's thighs. I'm also a little dubious about the wheels. The rear set are molded in black plastic and the hubcaps - what there is of them between flex slots for their mounting clips - are painted silver... but the front wheels are molded in the light grey plastic and the tyres are painted with a very dark gunmetal/charcoal colour. The mismatch in colour is just as apparent as the difference in design (the back wheels apparently having been recycled from one of the Studio Series toys). The wheels are also all really slim, where truck wheels tend to be wider to accommodate the heavier load they're expected to bear.

Additionally, wing mirrors are present on each side of the cab as very slight protrusions, but they're tiny and unpainted, and the section of window they connect to is all bare red plastic rather than the translucent blue overpainted with red, and it appears that some of the panel lining is fudged on parts of the hinge, though whether this is a fault with the mold or the materials, I can't be sure. The most glaring problem, to my eyes, is the harsh transition from the red around the front wheelwell to the robot's recessed grey thigh with the silver-painted petrol tank protruding... It would have looked better with a small red flap covering part of it, which could then fold in under the forearm for robot mode.

There's also a bit of either misalignment or just a glitch in the engineering of this toy whereby there's a very defined gap around the shoulder parts in the upper-right corner on each side. On mine, at least, the shoulder chunks appear to sit at a slight angle, but there's definitely no way to clip them in any tighter. This looks a bit crap given how precisely almost everything else tabs together.

While Prime's only weapon in this set is really designed to slot in at the back of the cab, it can - as previously mentioned - be stashed on the underside of the trailer or deployed via either of the 5mm sockets on either side of the cab, just above the petrol tanks. There are additional sockets between the pairs of rear wheels, but the gun's grip is so long, it hangs lower than the bottom of the wheels, so it's only practical when mounted pointing forwards on the lefthand side or pointing backwards on the right, which would have the grip pointing upward. Additional sockets sculpted into the smokestacks aren't much good for either storage or deploying the gun in this mode but, to be honest, the gun looks pretty daft attached to the sides of the truck, so it's really better off in its storage point.

Trailer/Combat Deck/Repair Bay/Maintenance Dock:
Unless I'm misremembering, this is basically the first non-Masterpiece, G1-style Optimus Prime toy to be packaged with a trailer since G1... and, for that, Hasbro are to be sincerely praised... However, it's a fairly qualified bit of praise, because it's immediately apparent that there's something off about the trailer. It looks like it was made for a smaller truck, for one thing. The length is reasonable, if not ideal, and it's essentially the right width... but it's far too short, ending up barely a centimetre taller than the cab, if measured to the tops of its smokestacks. That it's plain goes almost without saying - it's molded largely in a light grey plastic with a metallic/pearlescent sheen, the sides feature similar sculpted details to the original G1 trailer... but the stripes are painted in cyan with no silver backing, so they don't pop out to the same extent as those on the G1 toy's stickers. Same goes for the Autobot insignias emblazoned on the sides, on which even the red paint fails to make much of an impact.

The construction is also a bit suspect, to be honest. Where the original clipped together along its length, then got held at the back by clips on either side of the trailer door, this one has the two halves of the trailer shell closing around tabs on the door which, due to the squat trailer, ends up barely long enough to reach the ground, doing so at a ridiculously steep angle. Even worse, there's a 5mm peg right near the edge of this 'ramp' because it doubles as a small shield for the robot, making it impossible to 'drive' any figure up into the trailer... and that's assuming any actually fit. I've seen videos on YouTube that suggest the Prowl variants are about the only Deluxes that do fit, where almost any Diaclone-derived car fitted into G1 Optimus Prime's trailer - that was the whole point, after all. There's also the odd modelling decision to omit the rear bumper plate and instead sculpt tail lights on the bottom of the trailer door itself, leaving an ugly gap visible between the two hook-like protrusions from the trailer's rear wheel assemblies.

Another omission here is the holes in the roof and front of the G1 trailer which allowed the combat deck/repair bay's drone to stick out via its articulated arm. While this one's base features a hinge that allows it to be deployed outside the trailer, it's only about an inch taller at full upward extension, and the absence of a hole on the front of the trailer means the peg on the underside - for attaching it to Prime's back - leaves it standing at a weird angle unless the base unit is unplugged and rotated 180°. Then, neither way works if Prime's gun is plugged in to the back of the cab for storage because there's not enough space for both between the back of the cab and the front of the trailer thanks to the bizarre decision to stick the mounting point so close to the cab. This is particularly strange with sculpted detail resembling the MP v2's mounting point about halfway back from it. The gun can be mounted on two of three 5mm ports on the trailer's underside, with the one set between the trailer's wheels being too tight a fit unless it's plugged in via the grip, at which point it sticks out below the level of the wheels. It almost feels as though there was intended to be a Roller accessory that would become the trailer's rear wheels, or just some other weapon accessory to plug in under the trailer, but it got budgeted out of the package.

While G1 Optimus Prime's combat deck was replete with features - from the spring-loaded launch bay for Roller to the vestigial Diaclone driver seats and the repair drone with an opening cockpit (also capable of accommodating a Diaclone driver), articulated claw arm, a scanner dish and two spring-loaded missile launchers, all mounted on another articulated arm of its own - this new model is... shall we say "a little cut-down"? It has a pair of legs that swing down below the repair drone to keep the trailer standing without being hitched to Prime, but they're just clipped in place, and both the legs and the central deck are molded in a very flexible plastic that doesn't feel very stable. With the trailer opened out, it doesn't take much force to distort the central deck, and the slightest of nudges will cause the legs to collapse because they don't clip firmly into their upright, supporting position. There's also nothing much to keep the sides of the trailer horizontal, and one side on mine has a distinct tendency toward sagging.

The sculpted detail on the insides of the trailer appear to very much resemble those of the MP v2 trailer, albeit without the silver paint, the foldaway chunks and the upscaled representation of those vestigial Diaclone driver seats. What it does have is four 5mm sockets on each side to accommodate all those weapons Prime doesn't have... or bits of Weaponisers, should one happen to have them handy. That said, they're all very close to the roof of the trailer, so they're not necessarily as useful as they might be for extending the functionality of the combat deck/repair bay.

Roller is no more, so there's no need for a launch bay, though its memory is served by some detailed protrusions from the central deck, just in front of the repair drone. There's also a 5mm peg right where he might be stored, furthering the impression that additional accessories were budgeted out of the package. The repair drone is present, but now has two stubby, fixed-grip claw arms mounted on ball joints for a decent range of mobility. The drone also features a couple of 5mm ports on the front, for the blast effects packaged with some Siege toys (none included with Prime, so I'm wondering if they will have been completely exclusive to Siege or if they're only packaged with smaller toys) or any spare missiles one might have lying around. Its cockpit is sculpted detail on an entirely hollow shell, with the back open to reveal its cavernous interior broken up only by a single structural support running through the middle, and there's no paintwork on it at all. The drone is mounted on an arm jointed for swivel and tilt at the top, with only one hinge at the bottom... However, the base itself is hinged at the back, so the whole unit can be extended higher than one might otherwise expect. Sculpted detail only appears on the front/underside of the arm, and the back/upper side of the base, with large empty spaces on the reverse in each case.

The entire drone/arm assembly can be unplugged, as previously mentioned, and attached to Optimus Prime, along with the removeable central section of the trailer door/ramp, which then acts as a tiny shield. I had hoped that the drone assembly could be attached to Prime's back in such a way as to resemble Sideswipe's jet pack, but the peg is relatively central in the assembly's base, with the 5mm socket rather too high up on Prime's back for this to be convincing. Quite why Optimus Prime would want to wear his repair drone as a backpack is anyone's guess, and it's not like he can just pass it on to Ratchet because (a) that character is currently only available in his Cybertronian form and (b) he already has his own back-mounted equipment.

There has been a habit for some time to stand Optimus Prime's trailer up on the door end and pretend it's something completely different. Here, the instructions refer to this as the 'Maintenance Dock'. For this 'mode', the Earthrise toy's repair drone has to be fully extended out and over Prime, but I've always felt it looked a bit silly with any version of Prime. The movie-style annular form for the trailer at least tried to look like more than a trailer stood on one end, but this doesn't, and so looks like a super-cheap display frame for the robot. Given that I've been throwing away the Studio Series figures' displays, it's fairly safe to say this one will just get shoved to the back of the shelf.

Overall, I'm really not impressed with this trailer - it's too small, underdecorated, under-featured and rather too wobbly... but I can imagine it'll look (slightly) better as part of a larger base made out of linked Siege and Earthrise figures.

Robot Mode:
Optimus Prime is one of those iconic characters who tends to be instantly recognisable, to a degree, even when designers have deviated from the traditional G1 look. Part of this is the colourscheme - all very 'red, white and blue' (albeit arguably silver or grey more than white) and super-patriotic. Undoubtedly part of the reason he became a pseudo-father figure to so many American kids back in the 80s. The main part of it, though, is that the design of the very first toy was a masterwork in minimalistic transformation leading to a robot that looked exactly how you'd expect a robot to look if he disguised himself as a truck - windows on the chest, grille on the belly, bumper acting as a 'belt', then legs and feet formed out of the blocks that the trailer hitched onto - it really didn't need to be any more complex than that. It's no surprise that, even when the vehicle mode changes and the transformation is altered radically, some of these features still get faked in, such as on the G2 Battle Convoy and Galaxy Convoy. Even the live action movie retained the most iconic design cues, albeit heavily embellished.

All of which to say there's really nothing new to the way Earthrise Optimus Prime looks. Of the toys I own, and outside of the Masterpiece line, this figure probably looks the most like the animated interpretation used in the G1 TV show, just with the harder angles and somewhat excessive sculpted detail that has typified the new War for Cybertron toylines thusfar. It's certainly less egregious than on many of the Siege figures, aiming more for a sort of 'miniaturised Masterpiece' look which, while it works well enough, somehow still looks excessive even when compared to, say, the Studio Series interpretation of Bumblebee Optimus Prime. For me, it's the combination of overly enthusiastic panel lining and 'layers' of detail over essentially boxy limbs that's so jarring... Fewer right angles would really have helped.

The feel of him, in hand, is a little off-putting. The plastic is matte - not quite grainy, to the extent of TransFormers: Animated, but the sort of thing where the angles and details feel softer than they should, and certainly the appearance of the red plastic is lacklustre - in every sense of the word - compared with older toys (and even some recent, pre-Unification of World Brands products from Takara Tomy). That desaturated red colour might look OK in isolation, but stand him with any older Optimus Prime toy - especially the G1 original - and he looks utterly dull by comparison. It's slightly better than the Studio Series (Bumblebee) figure, but really not by much. The grey plastics - both the light and the dark - are much the same, albeit with the benefit of a slightly metallic/pearlescent swirl in the lighter grey. About the only saving grace in terms of the plastic used here is the blue used on his lower legs, which is still not quite so sharp and glossy as that of older toys, but it's certainly richly-coloured and also has the benefit of a subtle metallic swirl. But for that, the whole thing would feel very cheap, like some of the older knockoffs of live action movie toys.

To my eyes also there's something odd about his proportions - he looks excessively lanky, given that almost 12cm (4.5") of his 17cm (just under 7") overall height comprises his legs, and his hip joints are right at the top of this. He has the common issue of having lower legs about twice the length of his thighs, but this is both exacerbated and alleviated by putting him in a kneeling position because, on the one hand, the leg with which he's resting on the knee looks much more natural... but, on the other hand, the one that's bent in front of him appears now to come out of his belly, almost, because the hip joint is so high and leaves none of his traditional yellow 'belt' detailing visible. The transition to the red upper body suddenly seems very abrupt, particularly since they've chosen to narrow his waist almost to the same extent as the very stylised Classics Optimus Prime, but the folded up package of bumper and wheels sticking up from his backside has far less visual impact on his appearance from the front. The back is otherwise fairly tidy, while the detailing on the central part of his back, where his gun can still be stowed, is far more effective than that of the backs of his arms - it feels almost as though some parts of the sculpt are more 'finished' than others.

The use of a dark grey plastic (almost looking like a curious, desaturated brown in some lights) for the shoulder joints and barely-there biceps - along with some structural parts on his back - is quite jarring. I'm quite glad its use was kept to a minimum, especially since it appears to be the softer, more flexible plastic that is often being used for joints now... and is probably much the same as the flexible floor of the trailer, now I think about it.

About the only genuine features of the truck visible on robot mode are those iconic chest windows and the comparatively small sculpted smokestacks on the shoulders. The chest stands out quite a bit further than the rest of the torso - a good 3mm at its shallowest point - so the silver strip is often in shadow, and the belly grille seems even more recessed than it actually is. Both the faux-grille and the stripe are painted silver, but there's a touch of overspill on either side of the grille. It's then quite disappointing to see that the stripe isn't carried over to the pieces that fill in the sides/back of his waist area... but they are partially obscured by his bumper-and-wheels butt plate, so it's understandable. Other than this, there's precious little paint visible here that wasn't visible in vehicle mode - the blue patch on his crotch and the hands are both painted in a rather gorgeous, rich metallic blue, but the smaller details of the sculpt - like the barely visible arrows on the tops of his forearms, just behind his wrists - are unpainted, leaving plenty of room for Reprolabels to improve the look of the toy.

The legs have the barest minimum of angle added to the thighs - an outward nudge at the top, inward tapering on the front and back just above the knee - to prevent them being completely boring, squared-off boxes, but the detailing at the backs is far more interesting than what's on the fronts, yet neither are especially interesting - very little depth is implied by the sculpt, just outer armour. While the arms are asymmetrically sculpted, the legs are, for the most part, just mirrored. Additionally, much of the lower legs is recycled from the Siege version of Prime, just with a new back plate. The way this is fitted is part of what made me so curious about this toy to begin with: where the Siege version could fold its wheels onto the inside of the legs, leaving the outsides smooth, this version follows the traditional (toy) look of keeping the wheels visible in robot mode... but the use of recycled Siege parts made it look as though the back of the lower leg might be able to open to accommodate the wheels... With the toy now in hand, I can confirm this is not the case: the grey back plate is very much fixed in place and, despite the appearance of a pinned hinge in the calf, it's a joint in the sense of 'keeping the separate parts together' rather than 'offering articulation'.

The real shame is that all of this is molded in the grey plastic rather than the blue so, while the sculpted detail on the backs of the lower legs is more interesting than that of the fronts, with more angles an the impression of mechanical detail covered by armour down at the ankle, the whole leg looks pretty bland from behind. The only variation in colour from the rear is the silver of the petrol tanks folded into the thighs, the blue of the feet and the outer sections of knee joints, and the black of the tyres... It's puzzling that so much more effort seems to have gone into the detailing of the back, when the plastic colours don't match and the only paint work is as much for vehicle mode as it is for the robot.

The chest opens up to reveal a removeable Matrix of Leadership - something that hasn't really been a staple of Optimus Prime toys, even in the form of fixed, sculpted detail. The entire inner chamber is painted with the same gunmetal colour as the small strip grille below the windows, and is very nicely detailed. Getting the Matrix out can be a bit of a pest, as the space vacated by the windows is quite narrow - just about wide enough to accommodate my fingers, and definitely more suited to those of kids - and the item itself is pretty disappointing. It's molded entirely in translucent blue plastic, then sloppily painted with silver and orange/copper, and the 'jewel' in the middle is entirely hollow from the back. Prime can hold the Matrix by hooking it over his thumbs, then closing the hands around the corners of the handles, but he can only bring his arms close enough together to hold it in both hands by manoeuvring his arms up over his head, or with his arms wedged in against his waist, just below the silver stripe. Even so, it's a nice addition... even if it somehow falls short of even the Power of the Primes version of the Matrix, which was geared toward the Prime Master gimmick.

Prime's main weapon, as always, is his Ion Blaster - not referred to as such in the instructions, as mentioned, there are no Siege-like details there at all - and this one is a seriously meaty hand-cannon. It looks to be an entirely new sculpt, with an almost comically large barrel and far fewer protruding parts - details like sights, etc. - than other recent offerings. It essentially looks like a tube covered with panel lines, with a plunger at one end, with just an ammo clip and two 5mm pegs sticking out to any real degree. The hinge that allows it to be folded up for storage is cleverly disguised within a small embellishment on the top, and the whole thing is molded in the pale grey plastic but - with the exception of the 5mm pegs - painted a very dark, gunmetal/charcoal colour. Given the hinged fingers, I was concerned that his grip wouldn't be great but, thankfully, the thumb and palm alone grip the pegs amply well. When not in use, it can be folded up and pegged onto his back, or into any of the available 5mm ports on his arms or legs. Additionally, as mentioned, the drone and a section of ramp from his trailer can be plugged into these additional ports. The ramp section makes a deeply unconvincing shield, barely covering his forearm, and the repair drone looks rather silly... I'm particularly miffed that it doesn't work very well as a jetpack when collapsed down, since it still sticks up behind his head. If any spare Weaponisers happen to be available, these can be broken up and attached to the various ports, or held in his hands if the pegs are long enough. Certainly plenty of mileage in attaching these upgrades... and I strongly suspect we'll end up with an Earthrise Ultra Magnus to take advantage of this mold.

The head sculpt has been recycled from the Siege version of Prime, just with a slightly different paint job - the mouthpate, naturally, is painted silver, as is the interior of his central crest... but the sliver of face visible 'behind' it is upainted blue plastic - giving him more of a Marvel Comics Optimus Prime look - with the eyes picked out in a metallic blue that's lighter than the paint used on his hands, but far darker than the look of the gunmetal-backed translucent blue windows, and they're actually quite difficult to see unless the light catches them a certain way. Some pre-production photos suggested his eyes would be G1 toy-accurate yellow... but it looks as though Hasbro chickened out once again, and decided to maintain consistency with the cartoon. The sculpt itself is good, if simplistic and unimaginative, looking like a miniaturised version of the second Masterpiece Prime, though perhaps with even more of a lean toward the cartoon. The front half is molded in blue plastic, but the back is painted the same metallic blue as the hands, and catches the light very differently. I get that Hasbro doesn't feel the need to reinvent the wheel here the way it did with Classics, but it's nevertheless disappointing both that it's a reuse of the previous line's head sculpt and that neither offer anything new.

Based on what little I saw of the Siege line (I've still only bought four sets from that line), I wasn't expecting a complex transformation, and wasn't surprised to discover how familiar this all felt - Prime's arms bend to the full extent of his elbows, the hands flip into his wrists, and then the arms fold in against the body, slotting in behind the sides of his waist once the fill-in pieces fold back behind his spine. The upper body has to spin 180°, then the chest unfurls into the truck front and side panels before pegging loosely into the legs, which do little more that swinging up 90° to meet the back of the cab. It's simple and efficient but, while didn't really need to be groundbreaking, it feels as though all the effort went into the upper body, and the legs basically just peg together behind the cab. There are certainly no utterly glaring QC issues in the way this toy was put together, but mine does appear to have a slight misalignment in the chest window section, so that it doesn't sit flush on the torso, but leaves a slight gap under the left side of the chest. This is only visible in robot mode, however, and it fits together perfectly in truck mode. There's also an alarming 'click' when transforming that section due to a lack of clearance with the upper back section of Prime's chest. A little work with a scalpel improved this, but I did see one YouTuber who found signs of plastic stress marks around the hinge due to this lack of clearance.

We're at a point with TransFormers toys that a certain level of articulation is fully expected every time. Earthrise Optimus Prime certainly doesn't disappoint on that score. His head is on a ball joint with a decent range of tilt along with its full 360° rotation, the arms rotate a full and unhindered 360° around the shoulder, swing out 90° and, due to transformation, can even swing back all the way to their vehicle mode position. The biceps rotate 360°, the elbows bend 90°, the wrists rotate 360°, and his fingers can flex open. The waist can rotate a full 360° during transformation but, in robot mode, this is restricted by the folded up bumper/front wheels folded up on his back, though the bumper plate can be unclipped from its mounting. The hips have an unhindered 90° swing forward and out to the sides since the 'belt' details are part of his hip sections on this version (where they were separate and seem to be very slightly in the way on the Siege version), but their backward swing stops at a rather paltry 25-30° due to that bumper plate again. He has the standard hip rotation, which can travel a full 360° with only the slightest push outward due to the outside face of the hip being higher than the inside, the knees bend to at least about 130°, and the ankle rocker takes the feet easily to near enough 40°. Additionally, since the 'toe' and 'heel' pieces are hinged for transformation, the heel can be bent down to offer additional support in poses where one foot would otherwise be balancing on the toe alone. The only downside is that the feet have absolutely no forward/backward tilt, and the 'toe' can't fold up beyond it's flat-to-the-ground position. Still, it's a pretty good dynamic range and allows for some pretty dramatic posing.

Given that the last 'proper' G1 Optimus Prime toy released in a main toyline was the Classics figure released in 2006, and given that Hasbro have essentially been rebooting G1 ever since, it's quite surprising that it took almost ten years to get Combiner Wars Optimus Prime, only for that to be swiftly followed the Powermaster version in Titans Return and the Evolution version in Power of the Primes, each with trailers that actually formed the bulk of the Leader class robot mode rather than being a separate accessory. The Classics Optimus Prime mold has been re-released several times, most recently as TransFormers Cloud Optimus Prime (one of the few Japanese releases to bear the character's western name). Even the most recent re-releases of G1 Optimus Prime have been without his trailer, and this so-called Leader class set gives some indication as to why that might be: the potential for competition.

Specifically, both the trailerless G1 reissue and the War for Cybertron: Earthrise toy retail for approximately the same price - £50/US$50... Hasbro have often said that they don't reissue the G1 trailer as well because it would be too costly to do so, but if consumers are only given the choice of paying that much for Optimus Prime without a trailer or Optimus Prime with a trailer... there's a better chance they'll go with the new version because it can be considered more 'complete'. If Hasbro were to release a G1 Optimus Prime with all the original accessories, I can imagine more people would be interested in that, almost regardless of cost, because there's just so much more to the trailer, even if the robot figure is simplistic and not as poseable by today's standards.

Objectively, I'd have to say that the full G1 set is still a better toy, while the Earthrise figure is objectively a better TransFormer/action figure, with caveats about the quality of the materials and the build. That the trailer is designed to interact with other Earthrise figures is a bonus if you're invested in building up sprawling bases using the larger figures released over the last few toylines. Personally, I don't have the shelfspace for that sort of thing, and tend not to buy things like individually packaged TargetMasters, Battle Masters like Sound Barrier (whose sole function is to be a connecting piece between other toys), or the Deluxe class base/Weaponiser Ironworks. If I didn't create any expansive Prime Wars bases, the chances of my doing so with War for Cybertron are pretty slim.

The bottom line here is that I'm pretty torn about this toy. I've already replaced the Classics Optimus Prime on my shelves with this figure, not least because it's just a better traditional G1-style Optimus Prime than the Classics figure ever was. Both are essentially Voyager class toys, both small according to previous toylines, but the older one is a larger truck that forms a smaller robot with far more wasted mass in the form of large, immobile panels left on view. Both end up with the bumper and front wheels folded up on the back, but this has less impact on the newer figure. In a way, I certainly like Earthrise Optimus Prime more than I'd expected... but also substantially less than I'd hoped. That trailer is the biggest disappointment in terms of play value, but the unimaginative design and cut corners, in terms of both engineering and quality of materials, becomes quickly evident. Also, I don't think anyone, these days, expects much from a stock Hasbro paint job... and I'm certainly glad they didn't continue using the awful foil stickers from the Power of the Primes toyline... but it seems really sad to have to wait for a Reprolabels set to bring out the best in the toy.

And, if anyone's curious, here's the difference 14 years makes. Note than both are surprisingly boxy in their overall design (though the older model has more depth to its sculpted detail, particularly on the thighs), and both artificially narrow the waist by disguising that section of the robot's torso within vehicle mode panels... but the one of the left hides those panels better (inside its chest) than the one on the right:
Main improvements, on the left: Head on ball joint, wrist rotation, (joined) finger articulation, slightly less restricted
waist articulation, ankle tilt. Trailer included in package
Main losses, from the right: light piping, more extensive paintwork, plastic quality, vibrancy of red plastic. Third Party
trailers available

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