Another year, another Transformers line …

It’s that time again: Hasbro has a new Transformers cartoon coming very soon, this one picking up a few years down the road from where Transformers: Prime left off. Unlike both Transformers: Animated and Transformers: Prime (and the turn of the century’s Beast Machines, for that matter), this show’s corresponding toys are actually on shelves before the show has hit the airwaves. This year’s show is called …

Transformers: Robots in Disguise.

Yes, this used to be the name of one of the two Transformers series that IDW’s been publishing for the last two years. They changed that book to simply Transformers back in November. Yes, this was also the name of the English dubbed version of Transformers: Car Robots that aired on the Fox Kids block back in 2001. Given that the primary target audience for the new show was between negative nine and negative four years old when that show was on the air, this isn’t that big a deal. Of course, unless the disguise element of Transformers is really coming into play in this show — with lots of covert activities and missions where hiding from the locals is paramount — it does seem a bit lazy. Then again, subtitles on U.S. Transformers cartoons haven’t been any good for years: Armada never quite made sense, Cybertron was about traveling to other planets that weren’t Cybertron, and Animated … well, what the hell do you think the rest of those cartoons were? Still pictures?

Anyway, over the last couple of weeks I’ve nabbed a few figures from the new line (while trying to find some of those pesky pre-Combiner Wars Generations figures I still need). First we’re going to talk about …

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Strongarm, the show’s (first?) new female character and the first Transformers character of any importance to carry that name.

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Strongarm and our next contestant both showcase how the new cartoon-based figures are somewhat simplified compared to what we got for Transformers: Prime and especially that show’s First Edition figures. Ball joints only appear at the hips, shoulders, and neck. Elbows and knees are simple hinges. You’re not going to get a lot of dynamic posing out of Strongarm — especially with that clutter on her shoulders and biceps. Still, she can cut a good heroic fists-on-hips pose and a decent shooting pose.

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Strangely, Hasbro decided to mold a muzzle flash onto her gun, which means neutral gun-holding poses are going to look weird unless you cut that thing off, which I expect a lot of collector types are going to do. Cheesy as it might be, though, I don’t hate it.

Speaking of things folks might hate, you’ll probably notice that her fists are basically molded into giant blocks of vehicle mode stuff. This is part of the whole simplified design philosophy that Hasbro was testing out during the tail end of Transformers: Prime early last year, taking cues from the small sub-ten dollar toys and blowing them up to the main line. It really doesn’t bother me much; I’m just glad that the hood panels attached to the arms fold in, rather than sticking out awkwardly and further impeding movement. I’m more annoyed by the very busy upper arms — but even those don’t bug me that much.

I am quite taken with Strongarm’s head design, a slightly feminized (read: she has lips) variation on the classic Autobot Car look (see also: Prowl, Bluestreak, Smokescreen) with head wings that kind of remind me of Wheeljack. I also like how, unlike her card art, the actual figure looks fairly boxy, powerful, and like she means business, a total 180 degree turn from most female Transformers up to now.

Transformation is clear and fairly easy. The only things that weren’t immediately obvious were the fact that you need to flip her around at the waist to fold up the legs the right way and the order of operations to get the door wings and the truck back tabbed in.

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In vehicle mode, Strongarm is a chunky, solid police SUV-sorta-thing that feels good when it rolls. It reminds me a lot of the Transformers: Energon Ironhide figure, which also had big tires and felt like a solid truck toy for kids that they could bash their siblings over the head with without damaging the truck much. The back of the vehicle is kind of odd-looking, the bed area basically holding the front of Strongarm’s legs along with something that might be a gun rack? But, y’know, Transformers has been bad at truck beds for a while; it’s far from the worst back end of a truck I’ve seen.

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Her gun can either be mounted on her lightbar or hidden beneath the truck via pegs on the sides of the gun and a port hidden behind Strongarm’s chest plate. I dig the two storage options, especially since you can probably pose a smaller figure on the truck back to man Strongarm’s roof-mounted gun.

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So, while Strongarm wasn’t one of the female Transformers I was looking for the day I found her, I’m not disappointed in her at all, really. She makes a fine addition to the ranks of the female “robots in disguise,” with a conversion far more like that of one of her male counterparts rather than the kind of embarrassing “fold up a skinny girl robot and hide her in a vehicle shell” sort we’ve seen in the past. (Arcee had shades of that, though not as badly as 2005’s Transformers: Cybertron Thunderblast, who basically wears an entire flattened-out speedboat on her back.) Strongarm provided me with a very good first impression of 2015’s Robots in Disguise line.

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The same day I came home with the new cartoon’s take on classic fan favorite Grimlock, the brawny bot who turns into a Tyrannosaurus Rex. The new design eschews his old color scheme of gray and gold for a simple green and black deco that might be a reference to the 2001 Robots in Disguise show, where his name was attached to a green construction vehicle in about this hue. The gold face reminds me of the 1989 Classic Pretender figure, though that toy’s face was actually more of an orange.

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Two things that immediately jumped out at me about this new Grimlock. First, he doesn’t come with any weapons. I assume that’s due to the fact that, like Beast Wars‘s Dinobot, he starts the show on the other side; apparently he’s one of the Transformers fleeing a crashed prison ship. He didn’t have one to start with, and maybe the Autobots just don’t trust him with one yet. Fair enough. Second, like Strongarm above he’s got that stupid Autobot symbol with the QR Code-style ring around it that goes with the Robots in Disguise mobile game. They’re stickers, and they don’t help the look of any of these figures, but Grimlock’s specifically looks tacked on and breaks up the design badly. There are definitely other spots that could have gone — on a shoulder, perhaps?

Articulation-wise, he’s actually about on par with the 2006 Classics Grimlock; the only thing that toy had that this one is missing is a bicep swivel which, honestly, this figure could have used. The two have very similar shoulders and similarly aggravating, nigh-unto-useless knees.

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One place where this figure, or at least my copy, fails is in the strangely-designed ratcheting elbow joint. My Grimlock’s right elbow makes an audible “click” when it moves up, but if you leave it be in a raised position it falls right back down to a straight-armed position. Meanwhile, the left elbow clicks both ways, and in fact is very hard to move back down; there’s some real resistance on those teeth. Funny thing is, this really doesn’t bother me; between the limited articulation and the failure of the toy to come with any accessories, I don’t see any reason why I’d need him to hold a pose with his elbow bent. Maybe if it was the other way around and it was causing his dinosaur mode to collapse, then it would be a problem, but as it stands? Just a quirk, maybe a “buyer beware” if that would bother you. Still, much like the problem with my Rodimus figure a week and a half ago, you’d think Hasbro would know how to make a non-crappy simple joint in the year 2015. But no, for this toy they had to go and make a weird one with that gray block there. Bizarre.

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Grimlock transforms in roughly the same way that Grimlock figures have transformed for thirty years. Arms become legs, dino head swings over robot head, legs become tail. There are some minor twists; the shoulder joints move down rather than the entire chest plate assembly, and most of the legs stay roughly in place while panels on the inside of the legs flip around and form a large portion of the dinosaur’s back and his tail. It’s all fairly intuitive and a little bit clever.

The resulting beast mode actually looks more like Godzilla than a Tyrannosaurus Rex, especially given the colors. There are shades of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers‘ Dragonzord here. He doesn’t pose much; the knees don’t move since they were designed only to serve as robot elbows. His little useless arms move up and down. Thankfully his jaw does move without a spring-loaded gimmick. It can be a little tricky to balance him to stand upright, especially on an uneven surface.

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He is a bit small for a Grimlock figure. Normally the character is positioned as a towering brute — and indeed, from images we’ve seen from the show, this version of the character should follow suit. However, I guess for the time being they’re only doing “normal” figures in this scale. Still, while display shelves won’t look quite right, he’s still a fun figure to play with and change from mode to mode, bum elbow joint notwithstanding.

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I’d even say he’s a better figure than most of the Grimlock figures we’ve gotten recently, including the Age of Extinction and Fall of Cybertron versions. His proportions in both modes beat any version of the movie Grimlock hands down, and he doesn’t have the weird gaps and sketchy plastic quality of the video game version of the Autobots’ fire-breathing behemoth. Even with the QC glitch, I’d recommend this dude.

On the other hand, I can’t recommend …

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… Decepticon 1 Step Changer Underbite, a very cool looking toy that came recommended by video reviewers I trust. Sadly, I think this is another victim of quality control problems.

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Things start off promisingly. Underbite is a rad-looking weird Cybertronian car-tank-thing in metal flake purple with gray and neon red highlights. His beast mode head is obvious, but it doesn’t detract from the toy’s look.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work, based on two of the video reviews I’ve seen: squeeze his back wheels ONCE, and he converts into a four-legged beast with an underbite. Squeeze them a SECOND time, he converts back to Cybertronian vehicle mode.

Here’s how it works in practice …

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Here I am squeezing his hindquarters to keep him in beast mode. If I let go, he (imperfectly) flips back to vehicle mode. After I did this a few times his cockpit area started drooping down, showing off his beast head a bit too much. Something internally is already wearing out on day one. What an abject failure of a toy.

The worst of it is, the folks who got Underbites that actually stay in beast mode seem to love the guy. “Best of the wave,” they say. And it’s a great-looking piece. But I’ve seen a couple more videos — from folks I don’t follow and wouldn’t have looked at if I hadn’t gotten curious — who’ve gotten figures that work the same way that mine doesn’t, and that makes me think we’re looking at something like a 50/50 failure rate here.

Situations like this, and the Rodimus situation, and to a lesser extent Grimlock’s weak elbow, are really putting me off of putting more money into this collection. Maybe twenty-nine years is enough. I’ve been thinking about getting out for a while. I’m going to see if that replacement Rodimus that Hasbro promised me turns up this week, and if it does maybe I’ll contact customer support about this broken wretch as well. Then again, maybe I’ll just put this piece of junk in the trash where it belongs and swear off the whole thing …

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I do hear the Bumblebee figure from this wave is pretty good, though. He’d probably look pretty cool standing next to these two, especially given that he’s now wielding a nifty blue Energy Sword of Justice. (I’ve also wanted to compare and contrast that design with the Vehicons from Transformers Prime, because I’m pretty sure he’s been turned into one of those, only yellow and not faceless.) Oh, decisions, decisions …

 

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