It’s the year 2004. The Energon line is in full swing and Hasbro and Takara unleashed one of the sexiest Transformers figures ever seen up to that point by eager collectors. The line was called Alternators in the US and Binaltech in Japan and it was comprised of super accurate recreations of real world licensed cars and the first figure was Smokescreen. When I first got my hands on Smokescreen, I was in awe. I truly thought we had reached the pinnacle of Transformer toy evolution. How could it ever get any better than this? Many Alternators followed and I bought them all. Now, I only still own one. The first one. Smokescreen. What are my impressions more than ten years later? Does the figure hold up? Why did I later sell off all but this one? After finding this figure at the bottom of one of my TF Totes, I’m anxious to explore the answers to those questions. Let’s start with the alt mode…
Smokescreen is a Rally Edition Subaru Impreza and a mighty gorgeous one at that. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the blue and yellow deco, but the shiny blue plastic is nice by itself and it conveys a decent new car finish without having to worry about sloppy paint. The rest of the markings are mostly tampos and there are a ton of them including sponsors from Snap-On Tools to Kenwood. The tires are rubber and even after being in storage for ten years, they show no signs of decay. As a big fan of Rally games on the consoles, this alt mode definitely scratches an itch.
One of the key bragging points of the Alternators line was the idea that you could inspect the car inside and out and have little clue that it’s actually a Transformer. In reality, all you needed to do was look into the rear window or at the undercarriage to see something is up, but this car still does a great job of remaining a robot in disguise. The doors, trunk, and hood all open like they should. The dashboard and interior seats are all fully realized and Smokescreen’s gun doubles as the engine. Hell, turning the steering wheel even turns the front wheels. To this day, I think Smokescreen represents an amazing feat of engineering. Even the modern Masterpiece line can’t make all those boasts, and at roughly the same scale.
Transforming Smokescreen is a tad fiddly, but going from car to robot isn’t too bad. It’s going the other way around that requires a lot of plates to be linked up exactly right to make the car work. In a line that would become notorious (and accurately so) for it’s tortured and complex transformations, Smokescreen here was probably the most reasonable one in the bunch. Certainly so when it came to the payoff in robot mode.
Borrowing from the robot designs of the original G1 Datsuns, Smokescreen strikes a very familiar and conventional figure. The back of the car forms the front of the lower legs and feet, the front wheels land on the backs of the shoulders, the front of the car becomes the chest, and the roof and windshield hang off the back. Yup, while the deco may be new and the model of the car different, this robot mode would be right at home wearing the colors of his G1 namesake. The hyper realistic detail in the car makes for some particularly striking details in the chest and overall the deco and tampos look rather good on the robot mode. The proportions here may appear a little squat and stocky when compared to the sexiness of the Masterpiece Datsuns, but I can’t deny this bot holds up.
One thing I loved about all the Alternators was the universally excellent head sculpts. While they weren’t all specific callbacks to their G1 namesakes, the spirit was certainly there.
Articulation was a pretty big deal with this line as well and Smokescreen has it in spades. The shoulders rotate and feature lateral movement as well. The elbows are double hinged, the wrists swivel, and the knuckles are hinged. The legs are ball jointed at the hips, and there are hinges at the knees and ankles. There are no lateral rockers, but the way the feet transform allow for some movement to help stabilize the figure in different stances. Lastly, the neck is ball jointed and there’s a swivel in the waist. Granted, the clunky feet can be difficult to work with when posing him, but Smokescreen is still a figure that is about as fun to play with as he is to look at.
As mentioned earlier, Smokescreen’s engine can transform into a gun, which is a pretty cool added gimmick in a figure that doesn’t need gimmicks to impress.
Does Alternators Smokescreen hold up? For me the answer is: Absolutely he does. You only need look at this figure and Masterpiece Smokescreen to see some similar ideas in place. Of course, the recent MP version sacrifices some of the real car elements for an all around more polished robot mode, and just one look at the newer figure and it’s clear that that it was a good trade off to make. And while I still get a whole lot of enjoyment out of this figure, I don’t think the same could be said about much more of the line. Even when I started to sell these off six or seven years ago, some of their robot modes were starting to feel dated to me. And I can still remember flinging Grimlock across the room out of sheer frustration while trying to transform him. This line was a great idea and I think if all the figures had been engineered as well as Smokescreen I’d still have a large collection of them. As it stands, about the only one I really regret selling was Hound. Still, it’s hard not to look back and marvel at what amazing this figure is now and how almost miraculous it was aback in 2004.