Saturday, 31 October 2015

Armada Unicron: The Halloween Review

Today, I do something I've been putting off for a very long time. Armada Unicron was one of the first Transformers toys I purchased as an adult, having been away from the hobby for a prolonged period. What happened? Puberty, video games and anime, mainly. I got him at Woolworths for £25, for reasons of nostalgia, although I wouldn't consider myself a true collector until I went to Auto Assembly for the first time many years later. Yes, I am very old. Anyway, I got to reviewing toys, but I kept on putting off the Chaosbringer, until I decided, yes, THIS HALLOWEEN. So here we are, a review about the personification of evil in the Transformers brand. So strap yourself in, and find out why this toy commands £100 or so on eBay. First off, his mini-con buddy.

Dead End
Wow, talk about being overshadowed. As Unicron is an Armada release, and indeed their creator in the cartoon, he comes with a mini-con to facilitate gimmicks, despite the obvious scale issue this presents. Dead End has this dubious honour, and while he isn't exceptional, he does make for an interesting contrast with the big evil. He's a Mini-Me as much as a Mini-Con, having a moon for an altmode, with the suggestion of a maw on it, and unlike the big guy, is actually spherical. He also transforms very differently, resulting in a robot made out of sphere slices, with 12 points of articulation. The head is somewhat anonymous, although the horns do invoke his master. Both modes benefit from a very big gun, and the use of black to offset Unicron's brighter tones. There's also a unique interaction between the two, Dead End being able to form a turret for Unicron's planet mode via a specially indented, if loose, mini-con post, so the Unmaker can shoot what he eats. One complaint I would make is that he doesn't secure very well for moon form. He's easily overlooked, but he ain't bad.

Planet Mode
Setting the tone for this review, planet mode is an obvious 80's homage, but with a distinctly Armada spin. Many of the key design elements from the film are there, the ring, the tusked mouth, spikes, and the colours. This is contrasted by the use of transparent plastic for a majority of the surface, and the numerous mini-con posts. Its a reasonable facsimile of G1 Unicron(1), but right off the bat its got its own identity. And there's a lot going on here. I remember thinking when I got this, it must have been my first actual transformer in a decade or so, how intricate the detailing was. By modern standards, its fairly typical, just on a big scale, but back then I was used to stickers. Even the transparent segments are intricate and asymmetrical, if easily missed. Of course, this is not to say the presentation is flawless, and the problem stems from the mass and his outer ring. The backend exposes the robot mode hips, and is flattened out so it can rest on a surface, an important feature in a toy weighing 1.4 kilos, but its not the orientation you'd want for the mode. Its not possible to pose it charging something or nomming on the Death Star, unfortunately. Also, the extensive use of transparent plastic only highlights the flaws in the transformation, and even if they weren't, they don't conceal everything, and you can easily see the robot bits from certain angles. The Primus toy of four years later would not have these issues, but its something this toy is stuck with, making it a poor mode to display, unless you purchase a third party stand.

The absence of a stand, combined with the extensive use of translucent plastic, made photogrpahy a bit of trail, BTW. My apologies.

Play features are pleasant in this mode though, going beyond the obvious and present om-nom-nom action. There's two sets of triple missile launchers on either side of the mouth, which require mini-cons to unlock, Dead End's functionality, and a total mini-con powerlinx capacity of 27. This does create a scale issue as per Dead End, although arguably a worse one as the minicron at least looks like he should be there. Also, and I don't have sufficient mini-cons to test this, a full loadout can add 400 grams or so to his weight. That said, this Unicron was closely involved with them, with teams like the Air Defence Team and Space Mini-con Team having both acceptable altmodes and strong fictional connections. You can do a lot here.

Transformation And Build Quality
Compared to his tiny minion, Unicron cheats an awful lot. Its a really big ask to get a robot out of a sphere without it looking odd in some way, and the designers clearly prioritised the robot mode. As a result, Unicron is quite literally the biggest shellformer you've ever seen. The actually spherical bits of the planet mode are shell, which is completely removable. Actually changing between modes is however more involved than you might think, if only due to his considerable bulk. There is also an honestly clever use of his ring, which ends up forming wings. However, I do find the process a little annoying, there being a couple of pegs near the mouth which I can't get to dock for some reason. In terms of build quality, the toy is pleasingly robust, although not without areas for concern given the age of my example. The transparent plastic would be on that list, but its its used in fairly sensible manner throughout, and doesn't seem to have any warning signs. The rubbery plastic used for the spikes, horns and shoulders also okay. What was not a nice surprise though is that after taking down him for the purposes of this review(2), two of his ratchet joints had failed, the left knee and right hip. While not an insurmountable problem for posing, it is something I intend to take a screwdriver to. I also had some difficulty with the rotating mini-con posts, and the missile launchers seem to be on a hair trigger.

Robot Mode
And presenting the mode you brought this toy for. Having an undeniable presence, extensive play features, and better articulation than entire waves of Armada toys, Unicron demands your awe and terror. Visually, there's a similar remixing as the planet mode, but favouring the film this time. Its easier to list the deviations, with the head and chest area being the most significant differences which are not easily dismissed as compromises to reality. His head, with the best look of contempt I've seen on a robot, has a big M outlining the face, signifying the mini-con connection. The tusks from planet mode end up on the shoulders, rather than on his head, as you might have thought, but horns are on the head regardless. Transparent plastic is also extensively used for the chest, although thankfully not in a worrisome manner. Otherwise, its Flo Duery's art homaged via the lens of a mass market toy. So he looks like a Mecha-Satan, a Western Christian stereotype of a demon, then which is then filtered via Japanese toy sensibilities. Twice. There is no ambiguity whatsoever as to what this guy is. Even though he features orange and grey, colours not usually issued to the forces of evil, the imagery being used here is unmistakable. If its not the spikes, its the wings. If its not the wings, its those feet. If its not the feet, its the cruel hands. If its not the hands, its the face. And its all rendered like some horrible, alien, eldritch mechanism. This is not a nice man.

It is, of course, awesome.

There of course some minor complaints to be made with the overall presentation. His hands are hollowed out, with the right being entirely transparent plastic, and the backs of shoulders aren't painted when they clearly intended to be so. The planet segments are also a bit unsightly, but at least you have options on that front. The mini-con posts meanwhile end up being unobtrusive to the appearance, and neatly brings us to the play features, of which there are many. Taking it from the top, he has red flashing eyes, and the right hand lights up in the same manner as the eye, which is kinda random, but okay. He retains the triple-missiles from planet form, and technically all of the mini-con posts, although they end up on his back. He does also gain two shoulder mini-con posts set into rotary mountings, a really good idea other toys could have benefited from, and has several concealed areas when the little blighters can hide. His demonic sixpack opens, revealing a regrettably plain area for people to get in his belly, while opening sections in his shins look more like launching platforms which actually move. Mini-cons placed within these can actually stay there for the transformation, which is nice, and if you are so inclined, there's cavities in the forearms where the hands are stored, and two mini-con posts on the right wrist assembly. This gives the robot mode a fairly ridiculous mini-con capacity of 34, which again, I regret not having that many to properly confirm this number. The showstopper however is based around his chest, via an easily missed post on his back. This triggers possibly the most elaborate and impressive missile firing action ever to feature on a transformer. The chest grinds open with a high pitched noise which scares dogs(3), revealing new painted detail, and then firing a four-pronged missile larger than most mini-cons. If you have to have a firing missile in a transformer, you want it to be one like this. Not only is it an event, you'd have to try hard to loose the thing.

Now, a couple of paragraphs back, I made disparaging comment about the level of articulation in Armada toys. This most common criticism made of the toy line, as it favoured play features more than it did joints, with a few notable exceptions(4). Unicron is one of the exceptions, being able to move better than any contemporary toy, and holding up extremely well in comparison with modern giants like Metroplex and Devastator with a grand total of 48 heavy duty joints. Its extremely comprehensive considering the weight of the toy, the only weakness being the neck joint, which likes to lock in place while having no vertical movement. Each shoulder features three joints, all you need, and the shoulder armour is hinged for ease of motion. The elbows meanwhile are good for about 90 degrees, but are quickly forgotten in favour of the hands which have ten joints. Its not the most sophisticated hand design ever, but he can easily throw the horns and give you the finger. He can just about touch his hands too, although his massive pecs make this tricky. The lower body articulation is concerned with taking the weight, but kind of hard to find flaw with. He does have a waist swivel for example, something they could have left at home and nobody would have minded under the circumstances, but they went that extra step, and added hinged skirt armour. The hips and knees feature two big ratchets each, while his massive feet and ankles have a total of five, including such luxuries as articulated toes and ankle tilts. Unicron does not do elegant movement, he has no need of such things, finding a good pose is easy. Or, more accurately, an evil one.

While my example has started to suffer in the springs, Unicron's design is one that still holds up, and unless Hasbro's got a grand plan for him during Titans Return, is not going to be bettered any time soon. Its got a planet mode. Its massive. Its devilish. Its articulated. Its heavy. Its very 1986, but detailed as good as any modern toy. And it can handle more mini-cons that you own. Its true that the robot mode vastly outshines the planet mode, but let's be honest here, if its not inflatable, what fun is a sphere? And its also true that the engineering doesn't quite produce a sphere either, so I doubt you'll keep in him that mode. And yes, there is a retooled version with a more 1986 look, but you know, six of one, half dozen of the other. If you collect Transformers, this is something you need to put on your to-do list, because not only is he a great toy, its the unifying point between G1 and Armada.

And most importantly, he's awesome.

  1. Which was of course slightly retooled and redecoed from this.
  2. And all the dust in the world.
  3. True story. My grampa's dog did not like it, and I wasn't firing it anywhere near her at the time.
  4. Other exceptions include the Supercon version of Optimus Prime, and Hoist. Both are worth investigating.

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