Aaaaand we're back.. whaddaya mean that was quick, eh? You sound like the missus.
The last article saw Masterpiece Ironhide, Combiner Wars Shockwave, Unique Toys Buzzing, Maketoys Rioter Despotron and Iron Factory Lord Scorpion nab spaces 10 through 6 in my 2016 Best Of list. Wanna know who made the top spot? Read on..
5: Iron Factory IF-EX 12 Armored Tactical Staff
If you were to ask me to sum up everything I rate about this company's output and everything that distills the essence of the Iron Factory experience into one powerful shot, I would point you in the direction of this trio, originally released in the first week of this year and still to be bettered in spite of them firing off some absolutely blinding figures over the past twelve months. Iron Factory virgins - this might just be your cherry popper.
The effort made in translating Andrew Griffith's Cybertronian Prowl design to pocket sized plastic toy is evident in almost every element of Captor, his repaint Silverflash and the retool Smokebomber. And the end result is a set of toys that feels truly complete.
HD crisp lines, tiny but perfectly applied painted highlights, modular robot forms, vehicle modes and weaponry along with some serious articulation are all crammed into each 3.5" figure, meaning your play and display options are ridiculously well served here. Crucially they didn't leave the fun out of any of this, transformation is simple and there's none of the half assed vehicle modes or fiddly and finicky elements that I have found in their recently released Muramasa and Norimune (review soon), a pair of bots with whom these seem most immediately comparable.
This lot might not have the flash of the Asura Knights nor the demonic sass of a Soul Reaper, and they certainly can't compete with the brutish swagger of Lord Scorpion, but where the Armored Tactical Staff manage to outshine their peers is by taking all that glimmers about Iron Factory's play pattern and incorporating it into every facet of these figures diamond sharp designs.
4:Titans Return Triggerhappy
I'm the sort of heathen philistine that has been left cold by Titans Return as a whole. Indeed, it's the only CHUG line that I have actively skipped the majority of since, well.. ever, despite the era Titans homages being my Transformers. Something's not quite right there and off the back of Triggerhappy I think it might be me.
This toy, man. This damn toy.
Triggerhappy makes being this good look easy. All of his achievements have that casual air of cool that betray the design savvy of the team who created him. He comes across as effortless but that's only because almost everything about him is so well refined, considered and balanced. Titan Master Blowpipe might let the side down a bit with his bare blue body but that paint budget went to good use elsewhere as Triggerhappy rocks numerous highlights across his deco that help bring this Decepticon to life.
One of the best things about this toy - and it's great to be able to say this about a mainline figure from Hasbro, who have copped some arguably deserved flak these past couple of years - is that there's a transformation for the ages here. Innovative, inventive and intuitive, it's not dumbed down yet remains hugely accessible and is a pleasure to see come together through its myriad twists and turns. Actually deciding in which mode to display Triggerhappy proves a struggle too, as both robot and star fighter are superb and the joy of converting him whenever you walk past the addictive little bastard is hard to resist.
And that, my friends, is what being a successful Transformer is all about.
3: Spark Toys ST-01 Alpha Pack
This one almost managed to elude me, so much so it was only a few days before Christmas that I finally bit the bullet on him. And in doing so I damn near took my own head off.
Yes friends, Alpha Pack blew me away. A very faithful rendition of Don Fig's cult Optimus Prime design from the War Within days, the aesthetic, as in the comic, presents a hulking powerhouse in both forms - this guy must seriously pull double duty every day in the gym and garage while topping up his downtime with the roboroids - and it's to the credit of Alpha Pack's design team that he manages to capture the essence of Dreamwave's house style without also looking like a fucking blow up doll.
Bear in mind this is a) Spark Toys' debut and b) Optimus Prime. You can't join the party by ballsing up Optimus Prime, people will rise from their basements and lynch you. So it's a good job that Spark Toys have released this big ass bot with zero QC errors and the sort of fit and finish that comes along once in a blue moon, let alone first out of the gate.
Alpha looks and feels absolutely glorious. Tabs will tab and pegs will peg on this Leader sized bot without hassle or worry, and the paint.. there's the most gorgeous paintwork everywhere. There's even paint that catches the parts you have to put in an effort to see just because his creators wanted them embellishing. Because they wanted their first attempt at a figure to finish up and ship out the best it could be. And it did. Certain established companies could do with taking note.
The toy has got some very decent if not outstanding articulation, a pick up and play transformation and feels substantial in hand. Above all else, mate he's just sheer fun to mess about with. Some criticisms come from a questionable weapon grip and the lack of storage for the ax in vehicle mode, but these are minor quibbles.
With one hell of a first showing, Spark Toys have thrown themselves out there as a Third Party to watch in 2017. ST-02, their War Within Megatron, cannot come soon enough.
2: Wei-Jiang M-01 Commander
When it thunders, the thief becomes honest.
Age Of Extinction was by and large a terrible film and by and large a terrible toyline. Its one real saving grace was the Voyager Class Evasion Mode Optimus Prime and both Hasbro and Takara knew it given the amount of decos they put their flagship boy out to work in. That being said you can't help but look at the figure, good as he is, and not feel that the poor sod had wound up at the helm of a budget toyline being chartered through a terrible storm, flogged red raw even as his ship went down.
|Night meets Day|
Enter Wei Jiang and the realisation of potential.
M-01 Commander is a knock off, inescapably, of the aforementioned toy. But it's a knock off that has been created with the utmost of care and attention, and one that has brought with it a deep appreciation of the source and the majesty of what its untapped ultimate form might hold.
Retooled, revised and refined to the point where he can stand a class apart, not just from the wrecks of the toyline from which he has arisen, but from the majority of Transformers in general, Commander has completely eclipsed the original and not only in height. Additional engineering, stronger joints and the crispest of sculpting fill in the gaps missing from the Voyager's budget while the stunning paint job and considered use of diecast bring a premium look and feel to proceedings. A plethora of accessories and more than reasonable price seal this seedy backstreet deal.
Walking a bold new line between outright theft and standing on the shoulders of giants, M-01 Commander has not just upped the game where the KO market is concerned, it has changed it. How deep you choose to swim in these murky waters is entirely up to you, but when a figure this accomplished can make good on squandered potential long after the inspiration has made its money, I can't help but applaud Wei Jiang's intentions and results. A revelation.
1: MP-32 Beast Convoy (Masterpiece Optimus Primal)
'Top that!', I cry, referring to the majesty of M-01 Commander. '勝!!!', yells Takara (I think?) as the boss monkey casually swings away with the top slot and the toyline that seduced me twenty years ago returns to lay claim to my twisted spark. Beast Wars was a game changer in terms of what could be achieved with Transformers as toys and where they could take the TV show with writing. It was, is and always will be a big deal. And not just for the no small amount of controversy that follows it around.
As such, everything about MP-32 Beast Convoy feels like a labour of love and a point that needed making. Hardcore Geewunners were not happy about his monkey butt marking its territory on coveted Masterpiece real estate. Hardcore Beast Wars fans asserted that the twenty year old original toy still had legs and did not require an update. In the face of this release, both arguments are rendered invalid by the following sentence:
Masterpiece Optimus Primal is one of the greatest Transformers ever made.
While something doesn't sit quite right with me about the current direction of the G1 Masterpiece line and its insistence on edging closer and closer to accuracy in a cartoon renowned for its errors and (more galling) visual simplicity, I'm happy to be the world's biggest hypocrite and bestow plaudit after plaudit to Takara for making the Maximal commander look like he literally walked off the screen *ducks*
So MP-32 does the animation accuracy thing almost perfectly, but he maximises (oh yes I did) his potential as a satisfying Transformer too, something I doubted when Takara debuted the maquette of his gorilla form. Despite the bipedal beast to bipedal robot thing going on, there's some standout steps in this transformation that again mimic the show to a tee. Yes, there's some robot showing in his gorilla mode. No, I don't know how it could've been avoided and man, you're damn right it doesn't put me out. Compromises have to be made at some point when the animation model you're working from cheats.
Those small flaws hardly matter. Both modes are utterly lush. The joints are tight but fluid, the light up eye gimmick and face swapping elements unobtrusive. That hydrographic paint transfer they've used all over the figure to mimic 90's CG fur is a class act (but watch those rub spots) and this continues with the cold metallic hues exposed in his robot form. Beast Convoy is a beauty of a figure to behold.
The multiple faces included for both robot and gorilla imbue Optimus Primal with the very essence of his animated counterpart. Warmth, anger, sarcasm. It's all captured in these face sculpts and the big ape is articulated enough to take full advantage of this. I genuinely can't walk past the figure without smiling or picking him up to have a little fiddle with. I've been marathoning the Beast Wars animation again because of this toy and while you could nitpick until the Preds come home,
unless you're vehemently opposed to the Beast Wars concept, there's not a whole lot of fault to be found here.
So there we have it. A fantastic piece, a fitting celebration of the Beast Wars 20th Anniversary and a toy truly deserving of the title Masterpiece, MP-32 Beast Convoy is my Transformer of 2016.
This year has been a highlight in collecting, and I know that I've barely scratched the surface of what has been released. I don't doubt that you're scratching your head at some of these choices either. But that's the beauty and the beast of modern day Transformers collecting; the staggering, staggering choice. Something to please and piss off everyone. And don't forget these are the opinions of but one man. Eager to hear your choices, and hope you enjoyed the year in robots as much as I did.
And with that, let me thank you wonderful sods for reading, thank you for the kind words and support across the 'net and allow me to wish a very happy, healthy and prosperous new year to you, your families and your friends.
Part 1 of the countdown can be found here
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