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     Technical Data
    Filed under: — David @ 8:32 am

    I just noticed that on the side of the Soundwave box there is a little section titled “Technical Data”, listing the same standard eight attributes as in the original Transformers’ Tech Specs: Strength, Intelligence, Speed, Endurance, Rank, Courage, Firepower, and Skill. Actually, it says “fireblast” instead of “firepower”, which could be just to make it fit in the odd-shaped border, which it does just barely.

    It’s a shame, though, that it lacks the picture and character description that the original Tech Specs had. There is such a paragraph on the box, but it’s completely separate from the Technical Data, and there is no dotted line indicating that you should cut any of these things out and keep them, or in other words, that you should care at all about the character rather than just the toy.

    I once tried to come up with a role playing game system based on Tech Specs, though I eventually lost interest because it was a solo effort. The idea was appealing because you wouldn’t have to figure out any scores because they came with all the toys. On the other hand, the scores weren’t always consistent. For example, the speed scale changed: originally cars got a 7, but this was later changed to something like 4.

    Filed under: — David @ 8:45 pm

    The new Transformers Cybertron version of Soundwave, which I just barely managed to convince myself to buy, is an interesting concept, but there are some flaws that leave me uncertain as to whether I’d recommend it to a fellow fan.

    First I have to give them credit for paying homage to the original character, rather than slapping an old name on a new toy like they seem to do so often these days. Instead of a cassette player with transforming cassettes and batteries, Soundwave is now a stealth bomber with transforming bombs. Of course this raises the question of what he does after his guns and Laserbeak have exploded, so maybe it’s best to just think of them as data canisters of some kind that don’t really explode. I do like the new shape, and I’d probably buy more “bomb” characters if they made any.

    Both guns and Laserbeak transform into a hexagonal prism shape and can go either in the chest compartment or under the wings, although the wing position is tricky because you have to find just the right orientation so that the tabs will actually hold the thing in. Even when I get them to stay, they’re usually not very secure.

    One of the things that lured me in was that the box bills Laserbeak as a Mini-Con, and I like those. It would be interesting to mix the Mini-Con and cassette ideas. But it turns out Laserbeak is not a Mini-Con. He doesn’t have the logo, or the standard peg-in-a-hole for attaching to the hole-in-a-peg on a larger robot (which Soundwave doesn’t have either). He does have a little peg though, which allows him to perch either on the tip of one of Soundwave’s wings or on his arm. I also like the fact that his transformation design gives him three jointed feathers on each wing, which makes for nice-looking poses.

    Speaking of poses, Soundwave continues the trend of having very good articulation. A lot of earlier Transformers were notoriously bad on this, and I appreciate Hasbro (or Takara, or whoever is doing the actual designs) making this a priority. I wonder how much this is influenced by the fact that the CG characters in the cartoon match the toys so closely. The better articulated the toys are, the more closely the CG characters can match them.

    On the down side, transforming Soundwave is confusing and hard to get right. The legs in particular don’t seem to really snap into place in plane mode. One trick, by the way, is it seems the knee joints should be bent by one click for them to fit in right. I’m pretty sure I’m doing it right, but the fit is still a bit mushy compared to most other Transformers.

    Overall it gives the impression of a good idea that falls apart a bit in the execution. It’s because of this that I have a hard time deciding if I really like it or not. It seems to be growing on me a bit, though.

     Han morphs the Falcon into mech mode
    Filed under: — David @ 5:16 pm

    Yep, that’s a line from the box - the Star Wars Transformers Millennium Falcon. The front half turns into Han, and the back half into Chewbacca. It’s pretty cool, considering the Falcon mode is pretty faithful to the original. It’s always easier to make a Transformer look good if you can take some liberties with the vehicle mode.

    I’d say Chewie looks better than Han, especially in their heads. How do you make a robot Wookiee head look good? You replace the hair with flowing ribbed cables. Han’s hair, on the other hand, is his weak point. It’s parted. A robot doesn’t have parted hair. Plus he looks like he’s sad. But all in all he looks better than some of the other figures in the line, like Boba/Jango Fett with their skinny legs.

    I think this is the only toy in this line with electronic sounds. Han has some lines from the movies, and they actually sound like clips from the movies rather than an immitation. Chewie has a couple of roars.

    The only real annoyance is the side missile launcher. I don’t think it corresponds to any weapon on the original Falcon, and the missile gets in the way during transformation so that you have to take it out and put it back in afterwards.

    My favorite little detail is that Chewbacca, like Vector Prime and Unicron, has hinged flaps on his waist so that you can bend his legs forward. It’s one of those little details that suggests that there was some real thought put into these toys.

    On the flip side, the Cybertron line now has a new Unicron (bottom right of the picture) which transforms into a vehicle, and not even a big one - it isn’t even big enough to merit a box, just a blister pack. What’s up with that?

    I’ve also given up on the comics. Dreamwave was doing great until they imploded, and I just can’t keep the new stuff straight, between the new titles and the reprints from the 80s. Here’s hoping the movie gets us out of this slump… or at least brings some better toys.

     Earth Planet, Leader Class
    Filed under: — David @ 10:24 pm

    Cybertron Optimus Prime is surprisingly sophisticated. I was especially interested by the way the leg pieces fit together. The overall shape of the truck mode is an interesting take on the old idea, since it’s not trying to look exactly like a real truck.

    This one also has more key action - in two places this time, though one tends to pop out. I still prefer Minicons. It looks like Vector Prime is the only one in the Cybertron line with a Minicon, plus one new set of three. It’s interesting how the Minicon concept seems to just be fading rather than disappearing with the end of the Armada line. I’d rather it faded more slowly, but this is better than nothing.

    One thing that had me puzzled for a while was the fact that the middle set of wheels can flip out to the side. I wasn’t sure what the point of that was, since it’s not necessary for the transformation and it isn’t mentioned anywhere in the instructions. Finally I decided it was so they wouldn’t get in the way if you wanted to bend the legs out that way. Vector Prime has similar hinges that allow the legs to be bent forwards. It’s really nice to see them adding little touches like that, so the figures don’t just transform but are actually poseable as well.

    Like Vector Prime, Optimus also requires two AAA batteries so he can have his flashing lights and sounds in one of the big guns. That, by the way, is the one where the key pops out.

    Starscream, by the way, is freaking huge. He actually rivals Unicron, and the store seemed to have more of him than anything else. It’s not at all apparent why he had to be so big. The transformation doesn’t look very complex, so he would have worked just fine at a smaller scale. I was tempted to spend the extra $10 and get him instead of Optimus. The coolest thing, though, is that he comes with a crown. Now all we need is a new Galvatron to step on it.

    Unfortunately, the TV show still sucks.

     Batteries not included
    Filed under: — David @ 9:35 am

    If I hadn’t read about the upcoming Transformers Cybertron line, I would have thought the comeback that started with Armada had petered out. I didn’t find a single Energon toy worth buying, and Toys R Us has been marking them down for the past few months, including a Megatron-Optimus bundle that still doesn’t seem to be selling very well.

    Yesterday, I went in and saw the first of the Cybertron toys. There were two that tempted me: Optimus Prime and Vector Prime. I probably would have gotten Optimus, but anything after the 20th Anniversary version is unavoidably a letdown.

    So I got Vector Prime instead, reserving Optimus for a possible future purchase. There were two things that intrigued me. First, he comes with a Minicon, which surprised me. I had gotten the impression that with Energon they had abandoned the Minicon concept, but I’m glad to see that’s not true. There’s even a new three-pack of Minicons. Anyway, Vector Prime’s Minicon was a big plus. The other was the design and concept of this particular Transformer. He’s supposed to come from Cybertron’s ancient past, so he combines the intricate detail often associated with “ancient alien technology”, and the rounded, bulky shapes that evoke a paladin’s armor, complete with sword. I’m pretty satisfied with it, overall.

    I was surprised to find that it required two AAA batteries which were not included. This is the first Transformer I’ve gotten since Trypticon (almost 20 years ago) that required you to buy your own batteries. Trypticon had an excuse: he was big, and he actually walked, so he needed some relatively beefy batteries. Vector Prime just has sounds, so why he doesn’t just have a watch-sized battery like the noisy Armada toys I bought is beyond me.

    Then there’s the whole planet key thing. The keys are the MacGuffin device of the new Cybertron cartoon (which, judging from yesterday’s premier, sucks as much as Energon did), replacing the Minicons from Armada. They even have the same function in the toys: they unlock certain features when you plug them in. In Vector Prime’s case, he makes different sounds when you move his right arm, which is apparently his sword arm. This, of course, makes the battery issue that much more ridiculous.

    But back to Minicons versus keys: keys are boring. Minicons can transform, and they are characters on their own. They were a really good idea. Maybe they think it’s too hard to sell a new season of the cartoon based on the same idea, but the cartoon has bigger problems. The original show didn’t try to reinvent itself all the time, and look how many fans it got. But I guess things were different then.

     Freedom is the right of all sentient beings
    Filed under: — David @ 3:38 pm

    My graduation present came today. I was thinking I wouldn’t be getting any deliveries, since it’s a holiday.

    Optimus comes in robot mode in the box, which makes sense since that’s what they really want to show off. Also, interestingly, the inside of the box is printed with images of the inside of the original trailer. The Japanese version, I have read, comes in a box that can actually be turned into a trailer; this one just sort of hints at it.

    I have become familiar with Hasbro’s twist-tie method of packaging Transfomers in recent years, and I finally decided not to waste time untwisting them. I got some scissors and just cut them.

    You can read the customer reviews on the Amazon page to get all the details, so I’ll just cover my own impressions and discoveries. My favorite details are the vents on the shins (which open when you press the feet in), and the pistons on the ankle and elbow joints.

    At first, like any Transformers fan, I tried to figure out how to transform it without looking at the directions. I made some headway, but soon gave up. The transformation is quite complex to achieve the cartoon-style robot mode, and I soon found that there are some things I never would have figured out on my own, especially the way you’re supposed to twist the feet around.

    Another favorite detail is the way the hands extend and retract. Most toys like this would have a sliding lever on the forearm, but this is much classier. A hinged panel opens (don’t confuse it with the “communicator” panel) and effectively becomes the sliding lever. After sliding it, you fold it back the other way, and it becomes all but invisible again.

    The energy axe is cute, but I wouldn’t have cared if it were left out. It was only used in one episode of the cartoon, and I always thought it made that scene a bit silly. Anyway, the key thing about it is that it is not a solid piece of plastic, as you might at first think. It can twist, which is good because the way it shipped was at a 90° angle to what would have actually looked good. I was trying to figure out how to attach it at the desired angle until I discovered the joint.

    Another key which took me a minute to discover: when you’re collapsing the legs for truck mode, you have to push in those barrel things, and the key is to push on the lower ends of them.

    The main disappointment is the short smokestacks. I had read that they were shorter than the Japanese version, but they really are stubby - shorter than in the pictures. I kept re-checking the box for some extensions to snap on. But it doesn’t bother me that much, since the rest of the toy is so darn cool. This is my fourth Optimus, after the Power Master, Robots in Disguise, and Armada versions. I’m tempted to pick up the G1 re-release just to complete the set.

     Double fun
    Filed under: — David @ 6:00 pm

    I went around to a couple more Toys R Uses today to see if I could find more JLU figures. Previously I was only aware of one, but it turns out there are two more within reasonable driving distance.

    Both new stores has similar layouts, different from the one I usually go to. This has been a pet peeve of mine. A few years ago, they changed all their stores’ layouts to a new style. It does look better, but the thing I liked about the old one was it was the same in every store. Anywhere I went, I knew where to find stuff. Action figures were in the middle near the back. There were some exceptions, like the two-story store in downtown Santa Monica, but even the one I found in Japan was pretty much the same.

    Anyway, in the second store I was very surprised to find Hawkgirl. Not the expected JLU Hawkgirl/Batman/Elongated Man pack, but the original. The one I’ve been looking for for… what is it? A year and a half? Two years? And there it was, in the front of the rack, no less. I had given up on finding it at least six months ago.

    The thing is, I’d still like to get Elongated Man, just for fun. So what will I do if I end up with two Hawkgirls? Will the original still go for $30 online, now that it’s less scarce? I’ll put off opening it just in case. Normally I’d open it right away; I think my toys look better out of the packaging.

    Oh, and I also picked up the Apples to Apples Party Box in one of those local game stores with the gaming tables in the back full of 10-year-old kids playing Yu-Gi-Oh. The “party box” has twice as many cards for only $5 more, so I was happy. Quite a successful trip, all around.

     First of the Unlimited
    Filed under: — David @ 11:12 am

    On a previous visit to Toys R Us, they had some Justice League Unlimited figures, but no new characters. Apparently I was too late. On my way home last night I decided to stop by again in case they got a new shipment, and I was in luck. I picked up the three-pack of The Flash, Dr. Fate, and Green Arrow. They also had Superman, “invisible” Martian Manhunter, and Braniac, but I wan’t going to buy a set with 2 out of 3 useless figures.

    I already have a Flash figure, but this is the new version with more articulation and hands better suited for holding accessories. But this brings me to the really odd thing about the set: there are no accessories. Normally I don’t care about the accessories they make, but there should at least have been a bow for Green Arrow (though he does have a quiver). It was also interesting that the two new figures don’t have peg holes in their feet. The most annoying thing is that Dr. Fate’s feet are at an angle such that you have to bend his legs back pretty far to get him to stand up, leaving him looking up into the sky. Or the upper shelf.

    Overall, I’m pretty satisfied with the set, mainly because of the variety of characters we’re getting now (kind of makes up for Batmand Beyond). It does feel a bit cheap, especially compared to my last purchase, the Ultra Humanite, which is a nice solid figure. But it’s not bad. I’m looking forward to getting more.

    What remains to be seen is if I’ll finally find that elusive Hawkgirl figure.

    This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

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