Sunday, 22 March 2020

Cybertron Hardtop

Hasbro's Cybertron line wasn't just their take on Takara Tomy's Galaxy Force toyline - it actually included a handful of figures that didn't appear in the TV show or the Japanese toyline.

Quite what the rationale was for this, I'm not sure anyone knows - it's not as if there was any shortage of Galaxy Force toys to repaint if Hasbro wanted new characters. It's entirely possible Hasbro's designers had simply been working away in the background, and needed a toyline - any toyline - to release their work into, and Galaxy Force/Cybertron was the best available option.

One such figure was Hardtop, who doesn't seem like a particularly good fit...

Vehicle Mode:
There's something very Energon/Superlink about Hardtop's vehicle mode - from the comparatively basic, not-quite-terrestrial, not-quite-'alien' aesthetic to the jumbled colourscheme, he almost looks like a missing Energon/Superlink combiner component. All that's really missing is the appropriate combiner port.

Dune buggies aren't the most common vehicle mode for TransFormers, particularly not Decepticons. Prior to Hardtop, there was really only G1 Beachcomber, and more recently we've only had Generations Sandstorm and Landmine from the first live action movie's extended toyline. Of these, Hardtop probably has more in common with the latter - in fact, Hardtop even had a rather subdued repaint as an alternate version of Landmine's Sector 7 buggy. It's not hard to see why such buggies so rarely appear, considering how little mass there is to the vehicle, and the way the back wheels are barely connected to the body of the vehicle. That said, as TransFormers dune buggies go, having all his wheels on these arms does give him decent ground clearance - even the protruding joint on the underside, just behind the front wheels, is a good millimetre or two above the base of the wheels.

Molded largely in a dark green plastic, Hardtop features odd blocks of minty green and, for no readily apparent reason, purple, along with black plastic for the wheels. Contrasting colours is one thing, but this looks like a production error, where two versions of the figure were being produced simultaneously, and components got switched between the two. There's not even any consistency in the plastic colour usage, with the front wheels mounted on purple hinged arms and the rear wheels mounted on minty green. The use of purple plastic for the frontmost 'door' panels looks especially bad, as it's surrounded by mostly dark green parts, some of which are painted, but none of which feature any purple elements.

The paintwork, generally, is surprisingly extensive for a Hasbro figure, though I guess I'm saying that in retrospect, and with reference to contemporary figures which might feature a handful of applications in only one or two colours. Hardtop has applications of black, gunmetal, yellow and gold, with all his lights picked out in yellow, both on the front of the vehicle and on the 'roof', with the enclosures for the latter fully coated in gunmetal. The outer faces of the rollcage are covered with the gunmetal paint, including the dinky sculpted wing mirrors (which would likely be useless given that the oversized rear end of the car would block much of their line of sight), as well as the equally dinky bullbars on the front of the vehicle. Gold paint appears on four spots - two at the very back of the 'roof', where the weapon can be mounted, and then on the top edges of a couple of green 'door' panels on either side. Black paint has been applied to the grille in the bonnet, the ridged sections on the 'roof' and the green part of the footplates on either side of the vehicle. I can only assume that the purple plastic is the 'unpaintable' type, since extending the black paint onto the purple section of the footplates might have made them look slightly more consistent with the rest of the vehicle.

While he does have a mild case of Visible Head Syndrome (it's actually down in the driver's compartment, so not actually visible in my photos), he's also notable for being one of the few mainline TransFormers toys to include a defined driver's seat. It's basically just a hinged flap sat in between the two chunky 'doors', but it's the sort of oft-neglected detail that one just wouldn't expect to see these days, let alone 15 years ago. Naturally, there's no steering wheel in the cockpit, but the back of the robot's head could be taken to be some sort of control system.

His weapon features what may well be the most pointless Cyber Key gimmick ever to appear in the line - his gun barrel simply flips round to reveal... a slightly longer gun barrel. Making matters all the more bizarre, the gun sight detail is sculpted onto the underside of the longer barrel so that it blends in well with the back of the gun while in its stowed position. The weapon pegs into a 5mm port at the very back of the 'roof' and extends most of the way to the front of the vehicle in its standard form, just edging past the front in its 'upgraded' form. The port allows it to rotate freely, but it has to be turned to one side - or detached - to make use of the Cyber Key gimmick, since the gunbarrels will otherwise catch on the rollcage or the roof-mounted lights.

Robot Mode:
Not only is there something distinctly Energon/Superlink about Hardtop's robot mode, there's also something reminiscent of G1 Beachcomber about him, to the point that it's truly baffling that niether of his repaints were as an Autobot, let alone specifically Beachcomber.

Hardtop is a weirdly constructed bot, with all the vehicle mode's strange clashing colour further emphasised by making the minty green more visible and adding even more of the incongruous purple, then slapping gold paint over much of what little dark green plastic is visible on the upper body. Again, it's amazing to see so much paint on a TransFormers toy when compared to more recent figures... though one can't help but think the paint budget could have been applied more... strategically? The only clever aspect is that the 'roof'-mounted lights of vehicle mode end up being the robot's toes, while much of the upper body is unpainted. Colour variation comes almost wholly from the multiple layers of overlayed plastic on the torso (neatly covering the copyright info molded in the middle of the chest), with only a couple of blobs of yellow paint on the black chest plate, while the vent detail in the groin is unpainted.

He's also not the most detailed or intricately-sculpted robot, with the chest and arms being made up of fairly plain panels, and the upper arms displaying their hollowed-out innards and his rollcage bingo wings. These are easily the ugliest, laziest parts of the robot, though it's understandable that the rollcage hasn't been made to collapse on such a small toy. The arms also seem far too long for his height, and the fact that the car's rear wheels transform up to the same level as his hands makes him look all the more gangly, despite his short stature and fairly bulky upper half.

As with a lot of Cyber Key-activated handheld weapons, Hardtop's gun is rather awkward and unwieldy in either of its forms. The gun itself is long and slim, very rifle-like, but the key slot adds a massive bulk to one side of the thing, unbalancing it and making it look as if it's in the wrong hand, whichever hand it's in. Had there even been a second 5mm peg, so that the key slot would end up on top of the gun, it might have looked better but, as it is, it's among the most awkward and - because the gimmick just switches the size/length of the gun barrel - the most pointless.

The head sculpt is just one more incongruous element in a generally incongruous toy - a rounded, minty green helmet, a silver-painted, but basically humanoid face with a yellow visor, and black paint on the 'ears'... it almost looks like something out of Armada rather than Energon, and is utterly unsuited to the more high-tech, robotic look of the vast majority of Cybertron/Galaxy Force figures. It looks very much as though the visor was intended to be light-piped but, as well as the visor itself being painted yellow, the back of the head is painted to match the minty green plastic. I dread to think what other parts would have needed to be translucent to accommodate light piping here...

The feeling that Hardtop is a misplaced Energon/Superlink figure is pretty much confirmed when it becomes apparent that his transformation is functionally identical to the Energon/Superlink Constructicons Sledge and Bonecrusher. The arms fold up and swing into place either side of the head to create the middle of the vehicle, the lower half unpegs at the waist, rotates 180° at the groin, then swings round via the central chest strip and pegs together to form the back end of the vehicle, allowing all the wheels to the swing down into place. He even has the little armpit flaps, though they don't extend over the chest the way they did on Sledge/Bonecrusher, or even tab securely into place.  Literally all that's missing is the Energon/Superlink combiner peg in the front of the vehicle and, honestly, it could probably have been accommodated with a few minor changes to the bulk of the vehicle. It really makes me wonder how and why Hardtop came to be...

Articulation-wise, he's remarkably similar to the Energon/Superlink Constructicon colour-swap figures, though somewhat less stable because he doesn't have the inner heel spur, and the knees are somewhat restricted due to their ball joints being sunk down behind the shins rather than being right at the top of the lower leg - the joint may as well have been pinned. The fact that both the thighs and the inner parts of the lower leg are largely squared off means that there's no rotation around the knee's ball joint but, on the upside, the fact that the front wheels flip round onto the robot's back means he doesn't have the same restrictions on his arm movement as the Contructicons did. He can achieve a very convincing kneel, more due to the odd positioning of the knee that the good proportions of his legs, but the flat knee and bulky toes make for good stability in this position.

In retrospect, I honestly don't know why I bought Hardtop, let alone both of the repaints. He's not a bad figure, by any means, just that he doesn't fit the aesthetics of Cybertron/Galaxy Force and feels very much like a toy that missed the deadline for the preceding toyline, but got released anyway. Hardtop is quite fun, but pretty basic, even for his size class, while the bonkers colourscheme and perfunctory Cyber Key gimmick weapon don't raise him above 'mediocre'.

His first repaint - into yellow, brown and khaki - appeared in the Cybertron line as a homage to G1 Swindle, and made a bit more sense, visually... while his inclusion in the extended toyline of the first live action movie might have had the most sober paint job of the three, but made for the least convincing aesthetic match.

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