Splinter: I’m A Hero! by DX9

Yes, it’s still Transformers Thursday. No, this is not a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles review. I’m checking in with yet another Third Party Convertobot and this time it’s DX9’s Not-Wreck-Gar, who is most definitely not a Junkion, was never voiced by Eric Idle, and did not appear in any films in 1986 also starring Orson Welles and Judd Nelson. With this being the fourth week in a row of 3P Transformers love, you might think that I’m diving head first into these guys again. The truth is, I’ve just found some good deals and I’m taking care of unfinished business before I try to pull out from Imitation Transformers collecting altogether. And with that having been said, let’s check out Splinter!

I love this packaging. Nothing about it takes itself seriously, but man does it feature some great and colorful artwork! I only own one other product from DX9, and that’s their upgrade kit for Combiner Wars Megatron. It’s a great kit, but it came in bland and boring packaging. This, on the other hand, well like the copy says, it’s just beyond my imagination! Besides being a hoot, the box is completely collector friendly. The figure comes in a plastic tray in his robot mode with his weapons and wheels laid out beside him, but let’s go ahead and get started with his alt mode.

As expected, Splinter is a motorcycle and I think this is a really solid alt mode, but it does fall short in a few areas. There are clearly some robot parts showing through, particularly under the seat, and I think that keeps Splinter from hitting that high Masterpiece quality pedigree. I also think the handlebar area could have used some more polishing. The handlebars themselves are kind of floppy and the headlamp is quite obviously on a hinge, and I’m not sure why they opted to make it out of translucent red plastic. I also really wish he had a proper transparent windshield.

Now, that’s a lot of nitpicking, but considering that this is a 3P figure aimed at the Masterpiece market in both cost and scope, I think they’re all fair points. And to be fair there’s also plenty of good stuff going on here too. The coloring is very much on point. That orange-brown plastic they used for most of the body certainly suits the homage and the chromed out engine and exhaust system looks really sharp and elevates the look of the toy to that premium level. The black flames on the gas tank are a nice touch, as are the rubber tires. And while I don’t know squat about motorcycles, I do really enjoy the style they went with here. It looks to me like an older bike, and while it’s obviously not as squared off as the original G1 toy, there are just enough boxy bits here and there to drive that homage home without compromising the look of the alt mode. I’m also very pleased with how well the bike mode stays together and the fold down kickstand is certainly welcome. Again, it’s a solid alt mode, but it’s the lack of fine tuning that keeps it from truly running with the official Masterpiece bots.

As far as scale goes, Splinter’s bike mode is pretty close to being suited for 6-inch scale figures and I tossed out a shot of Hasbro’s Marvel Legends Ghost Rider mounting him to give you an idea of what that looks like. Of course, that means he’s nowhere near in scale with the Masterpiece alt modes, as evidenced by the above comparison shot of him with Masterpiece Ironhide. He’s enormous by comparison. Now, I’m not going to hold that against Splinter, because until the toy companies work out a way to employ actual mass shifting in their products, you’re going to have to sacrifice the scale of a motorcycle alt mode to make the robot mode work. And in the end, it’s the robot mode’s scale that I really care about. So let’s get this guy transformed and see how that robot mode fares!

Transforming Splinter is not an overly complex undertaking, but I found that there are a few steps that are more difficult then they should be. The clearance on the arms, for example, is way too tight and you really have to have them in a very precise position to get them to fold in and out of  for the bike mode. It’s also worth mentioning that Splinter requires a fair amount of parts removal and this initial above shot is him without those bits re-attached yet. Both wheels and both exhaust pipes come off and there are additional spiked plates for the wheels that don’t fit into the motorcycle mode at all. Some fans are likely to cry, Partsformer! Me? I think it would have been cool to work those wheel plates in as saddlebags or something, but overall I think it’s fine and, as we’ll soon, see it does give you a number of options on how you want to display Splinter in his robot mode.

One option is to put the wheels on the shoulders, which looks good, but it’s not really how I picture Wreck-Gar. It’s also a dead giveaway that this mold was also used by DX9 as their Not-Cy-Kill from the Go-Bots. That’s right, kids… Third-Party Go-Bots! Anyway, let’s try again…

Ahh, that’s more like it. This is how I’m used to seeing Wreck-Gar. Actually, it’s usually with one tire on his leg and the other worn as a shield, and that’s possible here as well and I’ll demonstrate it when I get to the weapons. Looking beyond the position of the tires, I think this is a really solid robot mode. I kind of miss G1 Wreck-Gar’s nipple guns, but I still like the design and sculpt of the chest. There’s a fair amount of detail in it and the gray and silver paint hits make it pop, as does the yellow plastic in his hips and forearms and the extra hits of red paint. I’m usually not a fan of asymmetry in my robot designs, but Wreck-Gar is a Junkion, so I’m cool with the fact that his lower legs are mismatched. The shocks from the bike mode look really good as pistons in his legs and the feet, formed by the seat and the front of the bike, give him a stable stance. The overall aesthetic forms a nice compromise between the boxy G1 look with just the right amount of sleek curves in the lower legs. Not bad at all!

From the back, things are a little rougher, but there’s nothing back here that really wrecks the figure for me. They did a fair job tidying things up, particularly with the engine parts folding in to fill the void in his torso.

The head sculpt is OK. It definitely looks like Wreck-Gar, but I think the head may be a little too small. And I’m not judging that by the fact that the G1 figure’s head was enormous. Part of my issue here might be that the neck post is so small that it kind of looks like the head is just floating there. The chrome pieces on his shoulders are probably the biggest departure from the original design, but I actually kind  of dig them. What I don’t like is that the hinges that the shoulders are on do not lock into place and will swing away from the body pretty much every time I articulate his arms.

The spiky wheel covers peg right into the wheels and I have to say I really dig them a lot. Granted, they present more of a general Junkion aesthetic then Wreck-Gar himself, but I just really like the way they look, especially when pegging one of the tires to his forearm as a shield. They do add quite a bit of bulk to his lower body, but I’m willing to accept that for the added dose of bad ass that these pieces bestow upon him. Plus, he can wield the exhaust pipes like clubs, which makes for quite a striking display when coupled with the shield.

The exhaust pipes can also be converted into rifles, which have a pretty cool retro design to them and they even have scopes. The chrome on all of these parts look fantastic and really adds a lot to the figure.

In terms of scale, the robot mode succeeds at Masterpiece scale where the bike does not. I included a shot of him with MP Ironhide, which in retrospect was probably not the best choice since Ironhide is a lot bigger than the rank-and-file Autobot cars, but hopefully you get the idea.

I realize I wound up being a lot more critical of Splinter than I have been with other recent 3P offerings. In the end, I like this figure a lot… I really do! In fact, after playing with him for a couple of days, I went ahead and ordered Salmoore and Cocomone, DX9’s versions of the Go-Bots’ Cy-Kill and Crasher. So even with all the nit-picking, that should be taken as an endorsement. But here’s the thing… I bought all of these at half price and so I’m willing to be a lot more forgiving of some of the criticisms I had with this guy, then if I had paid the original $75 for him. I don’t feel as if this is anywhere near a $75 figure, even by the usually inflated 3P standards.

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Evil Bug Corps: Kickbutt by BadCube

Here we are, folks, at BadCube’s final entry in their line of Not-Insecticons. Over the last two weeks I’ve looked at Claymore and Hypno, and now it’s Kickbutt’s turn. And yes, if you haven’t noticed some might say that Kickbutt bears something of a resemblance to that Transforming grasshopper Kickback, but I’m sure that wasn’t intentional and a total coincidence. Also… his name is great. Kickbutt. Lolz. Copyright infringement can be fun!

This is the third time seeing this packaging. It’s a fully enclosed box with some nice character artwork on the front. On it’s own, there’s nothing too remarkable here, but if you put all three packages together it creates a little panorama of art, which is kind of neat. Kickbutt comes packaged in his robot mode, between two clear plastic trays, but I’m going to “kick” things off with his alt mode.

Yup, he’s a grasshopper. Or locust. I’m not sure, because I’m not one of them bug doctors. In any event, Kickbutt’s alt mode looks absolutely fantastic, although of the three it is the most fiddly. Part of that has to do with the nature of his alt mode. Grasshoppers just aren’t as compact as beetles, so his legs required a bit of extra futzing when I was posing him to get all those legs even. Either way, I don’t want to make it out to be a big deal and it’s worth the effort because this bug mode is every bit as great as his fellow Evil Corps members.

Some points of interest include his ass-gun (they don’t call him Kickbutt for nothing!), the face shield that keeps his robot head from peeping at you when you look underneath, and the wonderful articulation in his legs. Not only are his back legs fully articulated, but his fronts are as well. Like Hypno, Kickbutt’s legs can hold him so he’s standing with his undercarriage completely off the ground. The butt gun may turn some people off, as it’s definitely the biggest departure any of these designs take from the original G1 models, but I actually enjoy that it incorporates the gun into the alt mode. Plus, he can still shoot at things when he’s running away.

The articulation also means that he can be posed with his back legs rearing up and kicking, which is pretty damn cool.

The deco here falls right in line with his peers and includes the same lovely black plastic with a smooth satin finish, purple plastic, and some red and blue paint hits for detail. I really dig the pencil thin blue lining that circles around those recessed gears on his legs. As this is the “Collector’s Edition” upgrade, Kickbutt features chromed out wings, a chromed out butt gun, and a yellow translucent plastic hatch on his back.

And here are some quick shots for scale comparison. Like his buddies, he dwarfs his G1 counterpart, and rightly so, as those guys are roughly equivalent to today’s Legends Class figures. On the other hand, he’s just a bit bigger than your average Masterpiece car, which for me makes him scaled perfectly with Takara’s MP line. So how’s the robot mode?

Pretty damn great! (Even better if you remember to turn both his fists the right way, which I sadly did not! DAMMIT!) Now, if you read my other Bug Corps reviews, than you’ll know I found Hypno and Claymore to have pretty comfy transformations. Kickbutt breaks that trend. The first time, I converted this guy it was a fidgety nightmare with bug and robot parts flopping around everywhere! He was not fun to transform. But the second time (and a couple days later), I attempted it without instructions and I was surprised to find that I had no problems. So, it’s still pretty fiddly with a lot going on, but it’s fairly intuitive, and it’s impressive just what a clean bot form it produces. The proportions on this guy are great and he fits the bill as a great looking MP version of Kickback.

The deco remains pretty consistent with what we saw in bug mode, with that lovely combination of black and purple and some extra hits of silver and red to make things pop. Once again, the translucent yellow chest plate and those beautiful chromed out wings are exclusive to the “Collector’s Edition” and I couldn’t imagine going any other way with these guys. I really dig the little bit of extra sculpted detail on his back and the fact that they painted it in yellow to more closely match the deco of the other two buggy bots.

Also, like his peers, Kickbutt can store his gun on his back.

The head sculpt is superb and follows the Sunbow animated model of the character, rather than the G1 toy. The silver paint looks sharp and I can’t even begin to properly express my love for that red paint they used for his visor. It looks amazing. His yellow antenna swivel, so you can pose them to give him a little more expression if you like. Also, like Claymore, Kickback comes with an extra smirking face. It’s a great bonus, but not something I’m likely to bother with ever swapping out. I will, however, eventually make use of that spot in the middle of his chest for a Decepticon sticker.

Kickbutt’s gun features the same great “tommy gun” design that the original toy’s gun had. It also features the same spatula handle design that the other Bug Corps guns use. It simply tabs into the slot inside the hand and you hinge the knuckles closed around it.

And yes, Kickbutt also comes with another squishy plastic Energon cube. Before wrapping up, let’s take a look at some size comparison shots for the robot mode.

Yup, he towers over his official G1 counterpart. I love checking these out side-by-side and seeing what a great job BadCube did updating the design. And once again, I think these bugs scale beautifully with the Masterpiece cars. Kickbutt has the edge over Smokecreen, but only because of his shoulder wings. Otherwise, he’s about a head shorter, and that works perfectly for me!

As I mentioned in the previous reviews, these guys are currently selling as a set at $140 for the “Collector’s Edition” and I can honestly say these feel like one of the few bargains of the 3P Transformers market. At just under $50 a figure, they’re certainly a little cheaper than the official MP figures of the same size. I think BadCube did a great job here on just about every level. The plastic quality feels good, the engineering has just the right level of complexity (at least if you account for the initial shock of Kickbutt’s transformation) and the designs hit that wonderful sweet spot between Sunbow animated model and original toy homage. I feel as if this trio fills a vacant hole in my collection. The Legends Class Insecticons were fine individually, but they just don’t match up well enough as a set for me to fully enjoy them. These fellas, on the other hand, really make for a great looking team. And while I hear that Fan Toys’ Not-Insecticons are also pretty spectacular, I’ve got no regrets having gone with these guys.

Evil Bug Corps: Hypno by BadCube

Last week, I kicked off my look at BadCube’s Not-Insecticons with a review of the leader, Claymore, and found him to be an excellent bug-bot. Today I’m pressing on with Hypno, who you could possibly argue is inspired by a certain Transformer called Bombshell. But I’m sure that BadCube’s lawyers would suggest otherwise. The Bug Corps are scaled to go with Takara’s Masterpiece Collection and as I write this are readily available at a few online retailers for some very good deals.

I bought my Bug Corps as a set, but they come individually boxed. The boxes have some nice artwork on the front, but are otherwise unremarkable. The figure comes packaged in his robot mode, between two clear plastic trays. You also get a beefy instruction book that covers all three figures, a character card, and an Energon cube. I should also note that I’m looking at the “Collector’s Edition” set, which for a little bit more money gives you some chromed parts and translucent chests. Let’s start with the bug mode!

Hypno’s cyber-beetle mode is a fantastic update to the original G1 toy. This new design retains the large boxy body with rounded edges as well as the down swept head, large bug eyes, six legs, and long silver proboscis. He features some simple sculpted panel lines, which are just enough to add detail and still let him keep something of a smooth, animated appearance. The coloring here features a lot of black plastic, which has a nice satin finish, yellow plastic for his eyes and under his belly, and purple plastic for the head. The deco is rounded out with some red and blue paint hits on the body for detail and that gorgeous chrome on his proboscis.

This is a really solid bug that locks together perfectly, and the die cast gives it some decent heft for a figure this size. One of the things I dig the most about this guy is his set of chunky and fully articulated legs. Each leg features several strong hinges, and the legs are capable of holding Hypno so that his undercarriage isn’t resting on the ground. I’m not entirely sure why this pleases me so much, but it does.

Once again, this premium edition features the transparent yellow panel on the top of the head, and he has some surprisingly good articulation in the proboscis. Not only can it hinge up and down, but the front of it can swivel. The plate on the front of his head also floats on a joint, so it can move a bit side to side to get an even better range of motion out of that chromed out sucker.

Here are some side-by-side shots of Hypno in his bug mode with other figures. He’s obviously a lot bigger than the original G1 toy, which is no surprise as those were quite small and roughly equivalent to the modern Legends Class. The shot of him beside Streak shows he’s just a bit bigger than the MP cars. As with Claymore, I think this scale holds pretty well as the original Insecticons were about on par with the original Autobot cars. So far, I’m thrilled with the way this guy turned out, but how about his robot mode, eh?

Not bad at all! I found transforming Hypno to be a bit more fiddly than Claymore, but really not by much. A lot of the engineering involves his robot legs packing and unpacking into the back of the bug. There’s also a clever flip that happens inside his torso to exchange the robot head with the front of the bug head. Another key point worth mentioning is that his proboscis actually detaches to become his weapon in robot mode and I think that works great. BadCube selected some iconic aspects of the original toy to remain, like the tenuous way the arms attach to the shoulders, but they also streamlined a lot too. There’s virtually no bug-kibble on the arms at all, just the blasters that he has on his forearms. I will say that I think the front of Hypno’s lower legs look a bit unpolished, but it’s not all that bad, and they added some paint hits to help spruce it up.

The back of Hypno presents a very clean robot. Again, there’s really no bug-kibble to be seen. Even the two insect legs that reside back here are folded up neatly on his little yellow backpack. The back of the legs look even more refined than the front, with some blue and red paint down near the ankles. About the only thing I can gripe about here are the exposed screw heads, and that’s to be expected. Also, the backpack serves as a storage for Hypno’s gun. It simply clips right on.

Bombshell always had the most distinctive head sculpt of the Insecticons, and by sheer coincidence so does Hypno! I’ve always loved the mouth plate on this guy. It looks like a knight’s visor. The paint used for the eyes casts a cool shimmer effect, which can look like light-piping from certain angles. And, of course, on top Hypno has a faked out diminished version of his proboscis, which can be angled up and down for firing Insecti-shells. Once again, the chest plate on these “Collector’s” versions is clear plastic and he has some silver painted panels down near his abs.

The articulation here is right on par with Claymore. The arms feature universal movement in the shoulders, double hinges in the elbows with swivels, and swivels in the wrists. The legs have rotating hinges in the hips, with some lovely clicking ratchets, double hinges in the knees, and the ankles feature both hinges and lateral rockers. He can rotate at the waist and he has a ball joint in his neck.

As mentioned earlier, Hypno comes with a chromed gun, which is actually formed from the insect mode’s proboscis. It has a spatula-shaped handle that tabs into a slot inside either of Hypno’s fists and holds it pretty well.

And finally, Hypno comes with the same type of Energon cube that we saw with Claymore. Yup, it’s just a squishy cube of pink plastic, but cool nonetheless. Finally, let’s check out a couple of size-comparison shots.

Hypno towers over the original G1 version of Bombshell and he comes up just a little short of Masterpiece Streak, which feels perfect to me. I really dig the way these two styles fit together, making Hypno quite welcome on one of my official MP shelves.

As I mentioned last time, this “Collector’s Edition” of the Evil Bug Corps set me back $140, which makes these guys about $47 each and I think that makes them an incredible value. Indeed, it’s hard to find many MP scaled third party convertorobots of this quality for under $50 these days. The engineering is complex enough, but not overly fiddly, the tolerances feel fine, and there’s nothing involved in the transformation that feels like it can damage the toy. Yup, in the end, I give Hypno two Proboscises up. Sorry, I’ll never get to use that word again, so I might as well go nuts. Anyway, that’s two bug-bots down and my love for the Evil Bug Corps remains unshaken. These guys look fantastic together, and I’m all the more excited to bring the final member of the trio in next week when I look at Kickback… I mean… Kickbutt!

Evil Bug Corps: Claymore by BadCube

I promised y’all that I had plenty of Transformers to keep Transformers Thursday going through most of the Summer, but I didn’t say they’d all be official products. Nope, today I’m going back to the world of Third Party convertorobots, a place I haven’t visited in nearly two years. It would be premature to say I’ve given up on the 3P stuff, but I’ve obviously pulled back on it a lot. I do, however, still have some unfinished business, like finally getting a set of Masterpiece-quality Insecticons. Shrapnel, Bombshell, and Kickback have always been among my favorite G1 characters, and there’s been no shortage of 3P versions to choose from. It was a recent deal on Bad Cubes’ Evil Bug Corps that finally got me to take the plunge.

These fellas were sold as a set, but they came individually boxed, and they’re each certainly worthy of their own reviews, so I’m starting today with Claymore, who could very possibly be mistaken for Shrapnel, but I’m sure that wasn’t intended at all. The figure comes in a rather unassuming enclosed box. There’s some cool artwork on the front, but not a lot else of note. Inside, Claymore is packaged in his robot mode, between two clear trays. He comes with a beefy instruction book that covers all three figures, a file card, and an Energon Cube. I should note that Claymore comes packaged with his pincers off. They snap into place via ball joints and I’m a little apprehensive about popping them on and off a lot, as it’s bound to stress the socket’s plastic. It’s a tad annoying, because if you want to put him back in the box, you have to take them off again. Anyway, let’s go ahead and start with his alt mode.

Claymore is a cybernetic stag beetle and if you’re looking for a faithful update to the original toy’s alt mode, this is definitely it! This bug is beefier and certainly locks together better than his G1 predecessor, but still retains all the familiar characteristics. You get the squared off body, the dual thrusters in his bug butt, the thinly disguised robot arms on the sides, and the long yellow feet. The bits of added die cast also give the figure a satisfying degree of heft. The coloring on this figure is absolutely perfect. Keep in mind, we’re looking at the premium “Collector’s Edition” release, which means the pincers and head are beautifully chromed out and the hatch on top is translucent yellow plastic. The black has a nice satin-matte finish, the purple is just the right shade for a proud Decepticon, and the yellow on the feet really pops.

In addition to locking together really well, this mode features a few other notable improvements. The pincers, as mentioned earlier are ball jointed, so you can get a lot of nice movement out of them. Besides opening and closing, they can be raised and lowered and moved independently of each other. It’s fun to play around with them and they can be posed to give him a lot of personality. Also, the chrome shield that covers Claymore’s robot face is not connected to the pincers, so you don’t have to reveal the robot head when you open and close them. The feet are not only hinged at the body, but also at the front tips, so you can have Claymore rear back a bit, which makes for a nice angle for display in his bug-bot mode.

If your curious about size comparison, he’s certainly a lot bigger than the G1 originals. Well, obviously… those bugs were tiny! In beetle mode, Claymore is about on par with a Masterpiece car, actually just a little bit bigger, which feels perfect to me. Now, transforming this guy is obviously a lot more complex than the original toy, but it’s actually not that bad at all for a Masterpiece-level figure. Not to get ahead of myself, but I find Claymore to be the easiest of this buggy bunch by far. Most of the work lies in packing and unpacking the robot legs, which is to be expected. The clearances and tolerances all feel good, and while I certainly had to consult the instructions the first time I took him from bot to bug and back to bot, I have been good to go on my own after that.

All of those successes from his beetle mode translate beautifully into a fantastic robot mode that hits all the points I’m looking for in a Masterpiece style Shrapnel. The proportions on this guy are great and he’s a damn solid robot. In fact, the only thing I’m going to gripe about here is the way the halves of the chrome face shield kind of just hover there above his shoulders a little too much in the foreground. If BadCube could have hinged these to fold backwards, I’d consider this fella a perfect 10. As it is, I’m thinking he’s approaching a solid 9. I just thought I’d get that quibble out of the way because it’s literally the only negative thing I have to say here. So, allow me to hit some of the cool high points…

I love this head sculpt and the silver and metallic red paint used for the face is very striking. Claymore does include an alternate smirking face, but the difference to me is negligible and I doubt I’ll ever go through the bother of swapping it out. The sculpted detail on the translucent yellow chest plate is great. It’s hard for me to imagine going for the yellow-painted-chest version on these figures. Maybe the appeal there is that it looks more like the animated style, whereas this is more like the toy. And yes, I do plan on slapping a Decepticon emblem on there when I get around to it… maybe for the final group shot. Finally, I really dig the metallic blue strips on the sides of his chest. They add that little extra pop to the deco.

The forearms feature mounted guns. which are always handy when you’re a member of an Evil Bug Corps. These are also articulated as part of the transformation, so if you want to give them an extended firing mode, that option is available to you.

The beetle legs pack pretty neatly away on his back and offer a convenient place for Claymore to store his gun. All in all, he’s pretty good looking from the back. You do get some exposed screw heads, but even those aren’t terribly obvious or unsightly.

If you remove the gun from his back, you can also make out some of the silver paint detailing, which is a really nice touch when you consider it can only be seen here or when looking at the beetle mode from underneath. BadCube could have totally left this out and nobody would have noticed.

The gun is painted in the same satin-silver as the figure’s upper legs. This is also the same paint used on the pincers on the regular edition set. The handle is a little odd, as it’s just a flat square that tabs inside the hand and then you close the hinged knuckle around it. It’s worth noting that Claymore is the only one of the three that doesn’t have a specific function for his gun while he’s in bug mode.

Claymore’s articulation is excellent. The arms are ball jointed at the shoulders, there are swivels in the biceps and wrists, and the elbows are double jointed. The legs have ratcheting hinges in the hips, which supply a satisfying click when re-positioned. The knees are double hinged and the ankles are hinged and have lateral rockers for those wide stances. There’s a swivel in the waist and the neck is ball jointed. All the joints on my figure are nice and tight, although I do feel like the ball joints will loosen fairly quickly and may eventually need some dabs of furniture polish, because I can’t stop playing with this guy.

Again, on the issue of scaling, Claymore’s robot mode dwarfs the G1 toy, but more importantly it scales beautifully with the Masterpiece cars. If you don’t count his antenna, Claymore comes in just a little short of MP Lambor, and I think that’s right where he’s supposed to be. The style of the designs match quite well too.

The included Energon Cube is just a squishy cube of pinkish plastic, but a nice addition nonetheless. And we all know how Shrapnel loved his energon… energon.

My longing after 3P Insecticons goes all the way back to FansProject’s Causality bugs, a set that I procrastinated on just a little too long before it was sold out at most retailers. After that it was a long internal struggle over whether to go with Fans Toys bugs or this Evil Bug Corps by BadCube. There were many pros and cons for me and in the end, it was just so close to call that I wound up at a stalemate. I couldn’t decide and wound up buying neither. It wasn’t until this set became available on clearance at a certain E-tailer that I decided to pull the trigger. And judging by Claymore alone, I’m very glad I did. The “Collector’s Edition” set was $140 (about $20 more than the regular editions), which makes Claymore about $46. Not bad at all for a Masterpiece scaled Third Party change-o-bot. The quality is certainly here and the engineering is just complex enough, but not overly complicated. Next week, we’ll press on with a look at Bombshell… er, I mean… Hypno!

AL-01 Upgrade Kit by DX9

Yeah, there’s a title that just pulls you in, doesn’t it? In case you aren’t familiar and the catchy name doesn’t ring a bell, the AL-01 Upgrade Kit is a third-party set designed to enhance your Combiner Wars Leader Class Megatron. It’s crazy to think about how this whole third party Transformer thing started with unofficial upgrade kits for existing official figures before a few of these intrepid companies just decided to say, “screw it, let’s just make the figures.” I have plenty of 3P figures, but this is actually my first upgrade kit. It’s designed to do a bunch of things for the Megatron figure, some of which work really well and others are debatable.

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For what is essentially just a bunch of parts, DX9 executed the presentation here pretty well. The set comes in an enclosed box with some nice artwork. The front of the box has a sillouette of the figure with the parts attached and some blue and purple geometric patterns. The back shows you the parts on the actual figure and offers some very rudimentary instructions on how to use them. Surprisingly there’s no instruction sheet inside, but most of the stuff here is self explanatory and chances are if you can’t figure out how to put them on a certain way (like on the tank mode), you needn’t bother.

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Inside the box is a plastic tray that contains two hands, two feet, a gun barrel for the shoulder, a muzzle for the fusion cannon, and two leg wraps. The plastic quality for the set is very good and while there is some paint spray on the inside of some of the pieces, which cannot be seen when installed, the paint is otherwise very sharp.

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DX9 actually found ways to incorporate all of these parts into the tank mode, and while I appreciate the effort, most of them feel like an afterthought and that’s not why I bought this kit anyway. The leg wraps are the worst. They’re just supposed to clamp on the front and back of the tank and I won’t even bother with that. The feet actually don’t look too bad on the top of the turret, especially if you want to put a figure up there. The muzzle looks OK on the end of the main gun. As for the gun barrel attached to the side. Meh, I could take it or leave it. This isn’t a figure that I ever really display in alt mode, so none of this matters much to me at all. I’ll also note here that I’m not going to be bothering with the replacement fists. All they do is add hinged fingers and adding that feature is not worth the effort for me to take the arms apart. With all that having been said, let’s get to the good stuff… the enhanced robot mode!

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The muzzle for the fusion cannon fits over the front of the missile launcher and it definitely improves the look of this piece. It does not, however, magically transform it into the G1 fusion cannon. It’s still too long and the front and back are still too narrow, but I certainly prefer the figure with it on.

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The fake gun barrel is kind of a silly idea since it literally adds kibble to the figure, but it does so to help achieve an iconic feature of Megatron’s design. The intention here is that you can clip it to his right arm and if you articulate the arm you can bend the barrel so that it’s always pointing up. Who wants to bother with that? Fortunately, it can also be plugged into the screwhole in the backpack for what I think is a much better effect. I wasn’t sure whether I would bother with this part, but I have to say in the end I think it looks pretty good and I’m keeping it on.

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Finally, you get the real reason I bought this kit and that’s for the feet and leg wraps. The wraps peg onto the outside of the feet and secure quite well to the figure without inhibiting the knee articulation. Besides bulking out those scrawny lower legs, they add a pistol-grip look to the outsides of the legs and that familiar red panel to the interior. I absolutely love the way these look.

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The feet are basically just bigger “shoes” that peg into the bottoms of Megsy’s feet. The silver on these match the silver on Megatron almost perfectly and they add ankle rockers. The rockers don’t have all that much depth to them, but they will keep his feet flat on the floor in the normal stance, which is a beautiful thing. More importantly, they give Megatron that little bit of extra height that makes him capable of going toe to toe with MP-10. That’s the main reason I bought this kit and I’m happy to say that it succeeds while also making the figure’s lower half look fantastic.

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The only real downside of this kit is that it retails at about $40, which is almost as much as I paid for the figure. Granted, everything in the 3P world is more expensive and I can’t argue that the pieces here are well crafted and work well with the figure. And considering, I’m still well under what one of the 3P Not-Megatrons would have set me back, I’m extremely happy with this investment. I thought this figure was pretty spectacular to begin with and now I think he’s even better and I have absolutely no qualms about standing him on my Masterpiece shelf, at least until Takara comes along with something better.

Warbotron Combined!

Few things have riled my OCD like Warbotron naming their initial combiner Warbotron. In the name of sanity I couldn’t call today’s Feature “Warbotron by Warbotron.” And it gets even more annoying now that the company is on to other combiners. I’m starting off with a petty rant like this because I have precious little else to rant about when looking at this amazing Third-Party homage to Bruticus. Yes, there were a few initial bumps along the way, but once I got over the hump I beheld this amazing behemoth on my desk and I did gaze upon it in awe…

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Hell yeah, that’s Bruticus all right and man, do I love this thing! Much about the combined mode speaks for itself. At about 18-inches tall, he’s a heavy beast of a figure and he’s really nicely proportioned. I know there was some question about the colors being too bright on the individual bots, but I think the deco looks great as the gestalt. Even from the back he looks pretty clean.

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So, let’s talk a bit about putting him together. The only real hurdle I had was in getting Fierce Attack into the torso mode and that’s just because I couldn’t get the left shoulder assembly to lock in straight. I played around with it for like ten minutes before it suddenly just seemed to right itself. Maybe coincidently (or maybe not) that happens to be the shoulder on the robot mode that’s really tight, but hey alls well that ends well. I like that there are little arms in the back that swing out and lock the shoulder assemblies into place. Boy, Hasbro’s Combiner Wars Menasor could have used that very thing. Sure, you could argue that using Fierce Attack’s trailer to make the upper legs and pelvis is parts forming blasphemy, but I don’t care. I’m fine with some degree of it in combiners and at least it serves a purpose as part of the truck. Apart from getting the shoulder right, getting to the torso was easy-peasy as is most of the rest of the combiner modes.

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Sly Strike and Heavy Noisy are definitely the easiest, especially if you’re going from their alt modes. You’re basically just parting the backs to get the feet pegged in and then folding down the fronts to get the combiner sockets up and ready. Plugging them combiner pegs in below the knees is a bit tricky. They have tabs that lock them into place, and I had to push them with a screwdriver to get them inserted and locked. The same method (and a fair amount of force) was needed to get them out. Fortunately, these are sturdy toys and I wasn’t too worried about breaking anything. The feet form a stable foundation for this beast to stand on and the ankle joints are strong and allow for lateral rockers as well as swivels. Sly holds his perfectly, but every now and then Heavy Noisy tried to drop his. The heavy ratchet joints in the ankles are just stronger than the connection where the ankle post pegs into the legs, so it’s a good idea to hold the figure by the ankle when adjusting the feet. I’ve had Heavy Noisey’s cupola drop off once while posing him and Sly’s side panels sometimes pop out (as evidenced in the above photo), but even these are uncommon occurrences and easily fixed with some adjustments after posing.

warbrute3Air Burst and Whirlwind’s arm modes, on the other hand, are a little less sure of themselves. They’re basically made up from a half-transformed stage between robot and alt mode. In reality these are very similar to the configuration used on Hasbro’s current crop of combiner arms, complete with the twin bars joining bicep to forearm. The robots arms on either figure don’t really peg in anywhere and that’s a little annoying, but that didn’t seem to be a problem when I was playing with him at all. The hands hold in place very well and the combiner ports on the arms are not as difficult to work with as the legs. The only other quibble I have is that I didn’t have anywhere to go with Air Burst’s thruster packs in the arm mode. I should also point out that I have not yet done the torso swap for Air Burst, which means that the hips (or in this case Warbotron’s right elbow) doesn’t ratchet like Whirlwind does. That’s why in the pictures where he’s holding the gun, my Warbotron is a lefty. Otherwise posing the arms feels great and those locking bars behind the shoulders keep everything tight and together.

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The head sculpt is awesome. It’s very G1 Bruticus and it’s made by flipping a helmet and mask right over Fierce Attack’s head. You still get a full range of ball joint movement in the neck. The horn can also be positioned either straight up or angled forward. I also love the fact that they provided a familiar shaped plate on the chest just in case you wanted to put some kind of… oh, I don’t know… maybe a faction sticker there?

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I’ve already hit on some of the particular points of articulation in the arms and legs, but the overall poseability here is great. The crotch plate is hinged to allow for unimpeded forward movement at the hips. With heavy ratchets in the hips, ankles, and knees, Warby’s legs can take his substantial weight in a variety of action poses without too much fear of toppling over and never sliding into the splits in wide stances. In fact, the only time I had issues getting him to stand up was because Heavy Noisy dropped his ankle connection a couple of times. Once I started posing the ankles with a firm grip on the bottom of the leg that wasn’t an issue anymore.

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Naturally, Warbotron can wield that massive gun that came with Fierce Attack and he holds it beautifully. There are pegs on the inside of his hand to secure it and each of his multi-hinged digits can wrap around the grip tightly. Again, if you want him to hold it aloft in his right hand, you’ll have to invest the time in the torso swap for Air Burst. From what I’ve seen it’s not a big deal, but I didn’t want to hold up this Feature until I had time to do it, and fair is fair, I like to give my impressions of a figure as he ships and not after tinkering on the buyer’s end. Nonetheless, even as big and heavy as the gun is, the ratcheting elbows allow him to hold it directly out in a firing position. Not too shabby.

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For me a combiner team is as much about the team of individual robots as it is the combiner, particularly since I display most of these teams as their individual robots. That having been said, Warbotron lives up to the all the hype and excitement that got me to start down this expensive path slightly over a year ago. He’s well thought out (Air Burst’s torso not withstanding!), wonderfully proportioned, and generally fun to play with. He scales very well with the Generations Deluxes and if you want to cheat on scale a little, it’s fun to have him interact with the Legends. Of course, that leads us to the inevitable question: With MMC’s Feral Rex reigning supreme as my favorite Third-Party combiner, does Warbotron get to knock him off his throne? Gosh, that’s a tough one. It’s really, really close. I have more nostalgia for Bruticus than I do Predaking but both are such impressive looking figures I don’t know that I could definitively pick one over the other. I guess if I had to make a decision I would give the nod to Predaking, but that would be mostly because the Feral Cons were such a well-rounded package whereas Warbotron had a few hiccups along the way. In the end, let’s just say it’s really, really close and that both are likely to remain the best versions of these gestalts available (official or otherwise) for a long while.

Warbotron: Fierce Attack (WB-01E) by Warbotron

So, let’s call this Not-Transformers Thursday because I’m fresh out of new Hasbro TFs to look at so I’m taking this opportunity to check out one particular unofficial release that has been on my shelf for a few weeks now. It’s hard to believe it’s been a little over a year and a month since I featured Air Burst, the very first release in Warbotron’s series of Not-Combaticons and now I’m finally getting to sit down and take a look at the last one. I present to you, Fierce Attack aka Not-Onslaught.

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The figure comes in a box with the same deco that we’ve been seeing all along only this time it’s very long and not so tall. You get a silver outer sleeve with some nice monochrome graphics. Lift off the sleeve and you see a colorful window box displaying the toy in its vehicle mode. The box features some kick ass artwork, a grid pattern very evocative of the old Hasbro G1 boxes, and it’s even purple like the old G1 Decepticon boxes. So pretty!

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Much like Fansproject’s Not-Stunticons, Warbotron delivered all the limbs of this combiner in their robot modes, but packaged the torso in his alt mode. I’m fine with that. It actually makes plenty of sense when you see all the extra bits this dude comes with. With the exception of a few oddities in the spelling, I’ve really enjoyed the presentation of this series and this final release is no exception.

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One thing’s for sure you definitely get your money’s worth in plastic and extras with this set. The tray comes loaded with big, chunky parts, including the truck and trailer, a set of combiner hands, a set of combiner feet, a combiner chest piece, a massive gun, and two smaller and yet still massive guns. You also get a baggie of transparent yellow thingies, two baggies of rocket packs to attach to truck mode, and a bagged replacement torso for Air Burst. As for the ephemera, you get a thick B&W comic book, a folded instruction sheet, and a color character card. Phew, that’s a lot of stuff! Well, since Fierce Attack comes in his alt mode, we might as well start there.

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Fierce Attack is a military style truck with an extra flatbed trailer, which is not part of his standard robot mode. In fact, you get a lot of stuff here that isn’t part of the robot mode and in some cases not even part of the truck mode. This line has featured a little bit of parts forming from the beginning, and that hasn’t bothered me at all and it doesn’t bother me here either. Extra combiner parts were a fact of life from the beginning and while I’m all for incorporating everything into each robot, I’m fine with going this route too.

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With all that having been said, I really dig this truck mode a lot. The panel lines and sculpted rivets give it a great armored look, the front grill looks a tad weathered, and the sculpted windshield wipers and flip out side mirrors are nice extra touches. It’s ugly as sin, but then it’s a military truck so that’s pretty appropriate. The flatbed trailer plugs securely into the back of Fierce Attack’s cab hitch making for a really long vehicle. The cannon backpack can peg in securely right above the trailer hitch. When combined with the missile packs on the side, Fierce Attack is certainly an imposing presence on the road and a great homage to G1 Onslaught.

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The instructions are silent as to what you can do with the combiner parts when you aren’t using them, but if you dig through some of the original promo images, you can probably come up with some neat stuff. The combiner feet work well enough on their own as attack drones and Fierce Attack can comfortably carry one of them on his trailer. If you really want to make a statement, though, you can combine the two feet, the hands, and the combiner gun together for a giant piece of artillery that Fierce Attack can tote around. I love the look of this piece, but I’m still trying to see how they built the launch pad for Air Burst.

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Transforming this guy is fairly simple, which has more or less been the case throughout this series. When you’re done you get a damn fine looking robot mode. In keeping with this line’s aesthetic, Fierce Attack has a number of departures from Onslaught and yet I would have no problems recognizing him as an homage to the character. Generally speaking, I tend to enjoy the Third-Party stuff that engages in a little artistic license rather than just straight copyright theft. The windshield chest, for example, is new, but I like it a lot. I’m also very fond of the giant twin cannon barrels coming up off his back and the way they look like they could double as a jetpack. The overall coloring of the figure also looks right on the money. Even the head sculpt is wonderfully appropriate and features some bitchin’ purple light piping. This guy looks like a powerhouse, just the kind of robot to lead this band of destructive force.

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That’s not to say I don’t have a few quibbles with this guy and most of them land squarely on his shoulders… literally! The shoulder construction is a bit odd in that you have to move the shoulder wheels independently in order to get the lateral movement out of the arms. Also, exposed screw heads on the front of a Transformer is something I’ve taken issue with Hasbro about more times than I can count and if I don’t find it acceptable on a $20 figure, you can imagine what I think of it on a $120 figure. Lastly, the shoulders on my figure are excessively tight. Rotating the arms makes a scary creaky noise. From what I can tell that’s the case on most of these figures and not unique to my own. There are some other things that could have been done better, like the flaps on the lower legs that just sit there and look rather unfinished. If you could have swiveled those around and pegged them in it would have taken care of them a lot better. I like to peg in the rocket clusters from the truck mode on these to give them a more polished look.

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Fierce Attack’s backpack can be removed and split apart into two huge guns. He can wield these in both hands allowing him to really live up to his name. Admittedly, having him hold both looks like overkill and borderlines on silly, but having him brandish one as a rifle looks good. On the other hand, I prefer him with his iconic backpack and that’s where these will likely stay. I may just wind up giving him Sly Strike’s pistol. On a side note, there’s something about these guns that look like they might work as some kind of booster rockets and added guns for Air Burst. They even have little fold out wings. I’ll have to do some experimenting and get back to you on that.

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There’s no doubt that Fierce Attack has more issues than any of the other figures in this series. I suppose a case could be made for him having more issues than all the others combined. None of the problems here are crippling, however, and apart from some tight shoulders, the QC on this figure is without fault. He feels like he could have spent a little more time in the cooker, but even as is he makes for a fine leader for my Warbotron Combaticons. I have this set displayed prominently in their individual modes, right above my MMC Predacons, and man do they all look great. But as the old saying goes, “the proof is in the combining” and next Thursday I’ll be back to cobble these guys togehter and see what we got.

Lost Exo-Realm Volar with Velos (LER-03) by Fansproject, Part 2

Welcome back, lovers of legally-suspect third-party convertorobots! Today I’m wrapping up my look at Fansproject’s Volar, a figure who is most certainly not in any way meant to be perceived as a Dinobot named Swoop. Yesterday I checked out the packaging, Volar’s alt mode, and Velos’ robot mode and today we’ll switch it around and look at Volar’s robot mode and Velos’ weapon mode. Let’s get to it!

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Hot damn, do I love this robot mode! I mentioned yesterday, that there aren’t too many surprises when it comes to Volar’s transformation. The beast mode’s legs unfold into the robot’s legs, the arms fold out from the back, the beast head locks into the chest, and the back half swings back to reveal the head. That’s the reader’s digest version of the engineering here, but there’s not a lot more to it. Compared to the sometimes tortured steps of getting Cubrar and Columpio back into their dino modes, this guy is a snap. And hey, complexity isn’t always necessary. What’s here works beautifully and certainly makes for a great looking homage to G1 Swoop. One thing I was particularly happy to see was that Volar’s wings are not connected to his arms, so you can have independent movement of each. You do still have plenty of options as to how you want to position them, but it’s damn nice that they will stay put no matter what you have Volar’s arms doing.

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Those wings are indeed the biggest departure from the old Swoop we all know and love, which is something that was evident in his alt mode. They have a hooked, almost sickle-like design that really drives home the fact that this is more robot thaen beast. It also makes him look rather bad ass. The rest of the design is a lot more familiar, right down to the way the dino head splits in half with the front forming the center of the chest and the back making up the back of his robot head. It’s also worth mentioning that Volar is a lot more svelte than his two bulky brothers. His waist is really thin, but with broad shoulders and the big set of wings to back him up, he still fills out his form pretty well and can certainly hang with Cubrar and Columpio. He also feature some great articulation. The arms have shoulders with rotating lateral hinge, swivels in the biceps and wrists, double hinges in the elbows, and the fingers are together on one hinge. The legs are ball jointed at the hips, swivel at the hips, double hinged in the knees, and ball jointed in the ankles. Volar can swivel at the waist and he has a ball jointed neck.

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Fansproject has a way with robot head sculpts, and Volar is another great example of that. The face is clean and simple with some beautiful blue eyes.
The color pallet remains practically unchanged from the alt mode. You get a lot of grey plastic, with a red torso and pelvis, and that great satin gold and silver. It’s all rounded out with some black trim. As mentioned yesterday, Velor comes with an optional blue torso if you’d rather go that way, but I’m happy keeping his colors matching Columpio and Cubrar.

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When it comes to weapons, Volar has a lot of options. His missile launchers can be left on his wings, front or back, or they can be wielded in hand like guns. I would have liked the option to mount them on his arms too, but I can’t find any way to do that. Like his predecessors, he comes with his own unique translucent red bladed energy sword, which can peg onto his hip for storage. Between keeping his launchers on his wings and his sword on his hip, Volar can easily tote all of his weapons around with him, which is one of the many features I love so much about this line.

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And speaking of weapons, Volar’s little buddy, Velos, can transform into a funky looking crossbow. It’s a tad unwieldly, but since we’ve already seen a couple of axes, I like that they mixed it up with a new kind of weapon. Velos’ transformation isn’t as clever as either Derpan or Tekour but it still works fine for me. The Targetmasters were never a selling point for me and this line, but they’re certainly neat little bonuses and definitely add value.

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I’m now three figures into this line and with each release I’m happier that I went with Fansproject for my Not-Dinobot needs. I’ll confess I really like the more traditional designs of some of the other companies doing these in Masterpiece scale, but I still expect to get those from Hasbro one day. Besides, which, I’m really enjoying Fansproject’s slightly more original take on these characters. These figures strike me as something more unique that we aren’t likely to see again. At just under a hundred bones, Volar is a pretty good value for what you get, at least in the relative world of pricey third-party Transformers. His size makes him just right for my Generations shelf, as I’m of the belief that these guys should be bigger than Optimus and a lot bigger than the regular Autobots. He also fits in great with FP’s own Function Series. And speaking of which, Fansproject, you still owe us a Function-X Skullcruncher. Don’t think I forgot about that!

Lost Exo-Realm Volar with Velos (LER-03) by Fansproject, Part 1

[If you dropped by last week during my temporary shut down, you may have gotten a raw preview of today’s Feature. I had forgotten it was scheduled to go out and it was indeed not yet complete. It was probably up for a day or so before I stumbled upon it while tinkering with the site, spat Jameson all over my monitor, and quickly took it down. Anyway, here’s the finished, final version and hopefully the last of the wrinkles from last week that I have to iron out. -FF]

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that every Third-Party Convertobot company out there has been taking a crack at their own versions of The Dinobots these days. While some of these companies have been brazenly shooting for “as close to copyright infringing G1 likenessas as they can get” styles, Fansproject has been presenting us with a little more of a unique look to these prehistoric-based Transformers. That tickled my fancy enough to get me to shell out the monies for the first two, Columpio (Not-Sludge) and Cubrar (Not-Slag) and I was quite pleased with what I got. To me these are something more akin to what we would get from Hasbro if they ever did a proper Generations-updated style of Dinobots, only far more detailed and complex. The Lost Exo-Realm figures flirt with the G1 designs just enough, while still bringing plenty of originality to the table. I can’t see any rhyme or reason to the order these guys are being released (I mean, who starts with Sludge?), but their third release is Volar (Not-Swoop) and this guy landed on my doorstep last week.

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There were some differences in the presentation of packaging between Columpio and Cubrar, but things seem to have settled down now as Volar’s box is very similar to Cubrar’s. There’s some great artwork on the front and lots of pictures of the toy on the back. The front flap is secured by some of the strongest velcro I’ve ever encountered and lifts up to reveal a window showing the goodies inside. The contents include the two figures, a bag of weapons, and an instruction booklet. Also included with my purchase was a replacement pelvis and hips for Columpio, which some may remember shipped with some rather loose hips. Getting bonus parts to improve on earlier releases is something I first encountered with Mastermind Creations, but it’s cool that Fansproject is following suit. Will I swap them? Probably not. It’s not a huge issue with me, but it’s nice to know I have the option. Anywho… as has been the case with past LER releases, Volar comes packaged in his alt mode and that’s where we’re going to start.

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I don’t know what’s what in the dinosaur world anymore, but back when I was a kid we called something like this a pterodactyl, although I seem to recall Spike calling it a pteranodon in one of the episodes of the Sunbow cartoon. Either way, it’s one of them flying dinosaur sum’bitches. Overall, I think this mode is pretty well done, but I’ll also admit that I’m grading it on a curve because this is a tough alt mode to do much with. In a lot of ways it reminds me of FP’s Sigma-L (Not-Mindwipe) because you’re pretty much always just going to have the robot feet tuck in to be the animal’s legs, and the arms tied into the wings. Volar does a few interesting things, like the way the arms fold behind him to form a sort of jetpack and the fact that he has a cute little dinosaur tail, but looking at this mode still tells almost the whole story of how this thing is going to transform.

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That having been said, what’s here is pretty damn cool. I totally dig the head, which is extremely evocative of the G1 character design. The wing configuration has more of a hooked profile than I remember the original toy having, but it’s quite distinctive and pretty vicious looking. The wingspan is an impressive 13-inches or so when fully extended and there’s a lot of articulation there to work with. Each wing has universal movement at the point of connection to the body and is hinged in two places, so you can fold them up and put them at his side when Volar is standing at rest. The head features some limited movement at the neck, but mostly up and down and a little tilt side to side. The jaw is fully articulated and can open pretty wide.

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If you’ve been collecting the retail releases of this line, you know what to expect from the deco. Volar is mostly molded in red and gray plastic and features that same great satiny gold paint that we saw on Cubrar and Columpio. There’s also some silver and blue accents as well. One thing Volar is missing is the shiny metallic silver found on his two predecessors. In this case the silver is more like a satin finish to match the gold. Swoop comes with a red torso, but if you want to mix it up for a little Sunbow cartoon accuracy, a blue torso is included so long as you’re willing to do the work to switch it out. I’m not one for disassembling my $100 toys, so pardon me if I don’t show you both versions.

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Volar features a pair of (non-firing) missile launchers, which can be attached in a couple of different ways. They can be clipped onto his back, or more specifically, they are held by his robot hands, which jut off the sides of the jetpack. They can also be pegged into his wings for a more G1 accurate look, either front or back.

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Of course, one of the cool little bonuses of the Lost Exo-Realm line is that each figure comes with a little Targetmaster-style buddy. I don’t know if it’s really appropriate to call the previous two Targetmasters because they turn into some kind of chopping or bludgeoning weapon, but in this case, Velos is some kind of crossbow. I love the idea of these little guys and they have featured some really impressive sculpting and design work, but having the huge weapon shaft sticking off of their backs has been a downer. I’m happy to say that Fansproject fixed that problem with Velos by having the the end of the shaft unpeg to become his weapon with the rest of the shaft pointing upward behind his back. Ironically, apart from this huge improvement, Velos is probably my least favorite of these three little figures. He’s perfectly fine, but I like the looks of the others better and their own little weapons were much cooler.

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Aaaaand, that’s where I’m going to break today because my trusty word processor is telling me I’m well past my arbitrary and self-imposed word count limit. Tomorrow I’ll swing back and check out Volar’s robot mode and Velos’ weapon mode!

Warbotron: Whirlwind (WB01-D) by Warbotron

Sometime around the middle of last year, Warbotron appeared on the scene and turned some heads with pictures of their set of Not-Transformers combiners that were certainly Not-Combaticons and most definitely did not form a giant robot called Bruticus. With rapid fire bursts, they peppered the Summer of 2014 with Not-Blast Off, Not-Brawl, and Not-Swindle. But by the end of the summer we were Not-Seeing-Any-More-Releases. I can’t say I was terribly worried. These guys had delivered three great figures so far and with so many things out there to spend monies on, delays are sometimes a welcome treat. Well, here we are seven months later and finally the fourth release in the series is on my shelf. He’s Whirlwind and some might say he bears a slight resemblance to a G1 Transformer called Vortex. Then again, others might say differently, but we’ll get to that in a little bit.

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I truly love Warbotron’s package design. The box comes with a wrap-around cardboard sleeve with some slick monochrome artwork and lettering. Slip it off and you get a more traditional (and more colorful!) window box showing off the figure in his robot mode and some absolutely bitchin’ wrap-around character artwork. The package is the same size as the boxes used for the other releases and they sure do look great lined up on the shelf. We’ve seen the boxes for the previous three figures, so I won’t spend a lot of time on it here. Let’s kick things off with his alt mode. GET TO DA CHOPPA!

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Obviously, Whirlwind is a very different model helicopter than G1 Vortex and I’m perfectly fine with that. I mean, Sly Strike was a Humvee instead of a jeep and he turned out just fine. The alt mode here is solid enough, but I feel it is certainly the weakest in the line so far. Helicopters are like motorcycles… they make for challenging Transformers. I think it’s pretty clear that Warbotron sacrificed a little on the alt mode in order to make the robot work and I support that decision. We basically get a chunky attack chopper with deploy-able weapon pods on the wings (they can fold down into firing position) and a huge ass cannon on the chin. The placement of the tail fins feels a little awkward, like maybe they aren’t far back enough on the tail boom, but otherwise Whirlwind is OK albeit not spectacular.

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The coloring consists of mostly gray plastic, which works well for both a military chopper and the G1 toy homage. There’s also a little blue and silver thrown in and some nice brushwork on the barrel of the cannon to make it look used. The yellow canopy was an interesting choice, in that it invokes G1 Whirl quite a bit. I don’t hate it, but I might have preferred a different color canopy. Maybe a more traditional Decepticon color like purple. There’s not much else to say here other than the rotors will spin and there are three hinged landing gear on the bottom for Whirlwind to rest on.

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Whirlwind probably has the simplest transformation of the pack so far. There are no scary tolerances, weak hinges, or leaps of faith. In terms of quality and engineering Warbotron started on a pretty solid foundation with Air Burst and the figures have gotten slightly better with each subsequent release. In other words the engineering is smooth and simple and the plastic feels great. On the other hand, there’s nothing mind-blowingly clever about the engineering here either. Indeed, with the way the arms fold up to form the wings and the legs the rest of the body, we’ve seen this thing many times before. But hey, it works well enough. Some collectors may have issues with the parts removal, basically the entire nose of the helicopter detaches to become a gun. It’s been a design element in all of Warbotron’s figures so far, so I imagine that anyone truly bothered by it would have jumped ship on this line by now.

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I totally dig Whirlwind’s robot mode, but collectors looking for a solid G1 Vortex homage will be disappointed. This guy wears his cockpit on his chest, which I think looks great, but it also makes him one of the larger departures from the traditional Combaticon design. Otherwise, Whirlwind is a little slimmer than his brothers, but he still has enough bulk to carry the team’s overall aesthetic. It’s cool how they made that work out because many of Hasbro’s helicopters have had pretty lanky robot modes. Whirlwind wears his rotors on his back, although they can all be detached as weapons, and his helicopter wing guns land on his shoulders, although there’s room for customization there as well.

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The head sculpt is extremely simple as Whirlwind sports the visor and mouthplate combo that leaves him rather expressionless. The light-piping in the visor is great and it’s featured on the two vertical panels on his “helmet” as well.

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The coloring on this guy really shines through in his robot mode. It’s largely the same gray and blue plastic as seen in his chopper form, but with some additional purple and silver trim and that beautiful transparent canopy making up his chest. He’s a surprisingly bright and colorful figure under the proper lighting. I like it a lot!

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The nose cannon from the chopper requires just a couple of folds to become Whirlwind’s big weapon. It can mount on either of his forearms or he can just hold it like a gun. I tend to prefer mounting it. It’s certainly bulky, but all in all I think it works just fine. It would have been nice to be able to attach it to his back or something (like Heavy Noisy’s cannon), but I guess Whirlwind already has a lot going on back there with his rotors.

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Speaking of the rotors, all four can be removed and used as blade weapons. They can be held in his hands as swords or you can peg them into his forearms as arm blades. I really dig this option a lot. The shoulder guns are also capable of being held as pistols or plugged into his forearms. There’s certainly a great deal of customization available here and that always makes for a fun figure.

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Whirlwind is the figure I expected to like the least out of this team and I was quite surprised that it wasn’t the case. In fact, he may very well be my second favorite next to Sly Strike. I do tend to like the alt modes of Air Burst and Heavy Noisy better, but Whirlwind’s robot mode is great looking and lots of fun. As with the previous three figures in this set, Whirlwind set me back under $90 and that’s not a bad price for a 3P figure of this size (Voyager Class) and quality. In fact, I’m actually pretty surprised that the previous three releases are still readily available at most e-tailers at the original price. These are great figures on their own merits, and I think they’re going to be all the more spectacular when the final team member arrives and I can finally check out their combined mode.