Monday, March 27, 2017

Filling in the Gaps – 3rd Party Rundown part 2

Collectors are completists. Whatever the items being collected, there is nothing more satisfying for a collector than completing a “set” of something. Transformers collectors are no different. We want everything; all the Autobots, all the Decpticons, the Dinobots, Insecticons, you name it we want it. And we want them done right. The demand can be so great that for many, Hasbro/Takara just can’t keep up. Enter 3rd party companies who have been producing characters that we’ve been clamoring for to fill in the gaps in our collections for the past 10 or so years. Here’s the second part to my 3rd party rundown.

Mech Ideas
There isn’t much to say here. They were a smaller company that offered 3rd party versions of the Jumpstarters Topspin & Twin Twist dubbed Apex & Geminus or together as the Demolition Crüe. They were very good for what they were and they fit in nicely with my Wreckers display. They also did versions of Huffer & Pipes in the Transformers Animated cartoon style called Bluster & Trench looking amusingly very similar to two Italian plumber brothers from a certain video game. I was tempted to get these as well since I was a big fan of the series, but ultimately passed on the pair since they didn’t get very good reviews. And that I think was pretty much it for Mech Ideas.

Mastermind Creations
These guys first got my attention with their Knight Morpher Commander. This was their version of Optimus Prime from the “Hearts of Steel” comic mini series by IDW. The story of which is set in an alternate universe where instead of waking up in 20th century from their crashed slumber, the Transformers instead reemerged a century earlier, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. So instead of transforming into trucks, cars and planes, they transformed into steam-powered machines. Knight Morpher Commander transformed into a steam engine.

While the idea was cool, the execution was not that great. The plastic used was brittle and the sculpt was just…OK and looking a little amateurish even from some angles. I held on to it cuz in the end I still thought it made an interesting and unique toy. I also got their “Hearts of Steel” versions of the seekers Screecher (Starscream), Stormer (Thundercracker) and Warper (Skywarp) who transformed into wicked looking prop powered flying machines that looked like they flew straight out of Da Vinci’s sketches. And while they looked a lot better than Commander, they were still very fragile and brittle. They look GREAT on the shelf..but please! Do not touch!

After those two, I was ready to write Mastermind Creations off until they started their Reformatted sub line with their first major offering the Feralcons (Predacons) and their combined form Feral Rex (Predaking). Prototype pictures of their first Feralcons Bovis (Tantrum) & Fortis (Headstrong) looked really promising so I decided to take the risk and I was pleasantly surprised. The quality in plastic and sculpt/design were night and day compared to their previous Knight Morpher offerings. They were solid and fun. Feral Rex, while not perfect still serves as the central piece to my combiners display to this day, definitely one of the most imposing Transformer I own.

MMC continued their Reformatted line with unique characters from the current IDW series. While looking really nice, I only ended up getting myself their take on the Wrecker’s original leader, Impactor, dubbed Spartan to round off my own Wreckers display. I’ll be the first to admit, the alt mode looks a bit…wonky, but the robot mode is fantastic and feels even better than the Feralcons. An added bonus is that the guy is colored purple & gold, which is just sweet for a diehard Lakers fan like myself!

Finally, MMC also has another sub-line called Ocular Max, which is their Masterpiece Transformers line. To date I have 3 of their offerings; Sphinx, their take on a masterpiece Mirage, Terraegis & Backdraft, which are their versions of Trailbreaker & Inferno respectively. While Sphinx received glowing reviews from the fandom, Terraegis and Backdraft have been a little bit more mixed. I for one belong more on the mixed with all three. I think Sphinx is a little overrated but with no official version from Takara, it’s the best masterpiece Mirage out there. The other two are also solid but their transformations, while pretty straight forward and not overly complicated just don’t feel as polished as I’d like. Still at the end of the day you could do a lot worse when it comes to 3rd party Masterpiece toys, and believe me there are a lot of wannabes out there. Minor nitpicks aside, for me MMC’s Ocular Max line is one of the best and you can’t really go wrong with any of their current offerings.

DX9
DX9 is one of the more prolific companies out there and their focus seems to be two pronged. They have a Masterpiece-ish line as well as a smaller Legends scaled (2-3 inches) line. I say Masterpiece-ish because the overall look is a little more stylized for most of their products. I’ve heard fairly good feedback about their stuff but for me most of them just don’t quite blend in with official Takara masterpiece products, so I’ve mostly stayed away from their products.

The one thing I did get from them was their one product that for me DID look like a Masterpiece and that was their version of Megatron dubbed Mightron. Now he’s definitely not a perfect figure, but his face….is PURE Megatron. He looks like he literally stepped out of the television screen. Mightron, and another Megatron masterpiece wannabe Despotron from another company, Maketoys were released around the same time. Of the two, Despotron was getting better reviews but he just didn’t LOOK like Megatron to me…so I went with Mightron…a decision which is now irrelevant since Takara’s official version will be released soon and it smokes both 3rd party versions (at least visually). So unless the Official Masterpiece Megatron is a transformation nightmare, it looks like DX9’s Mightron won’t be staying long on my shelf as the default Decepticon leader. But still on it’s own, it’s a really great toy that I’d whole heartedly recommend to anyone.

Unfortunately I don’t collect their legends scaled line so I have nothing to say about that. One thing worth mentioning however is that DX9 has FANTASTIC packaging art….very stylistic and sets them head and shoulders above most 3rd party companies.

Badcube
Ok these guys are one of the newer companies. Their sole focus so far has been on Masterpiece style Transformers. While I regrettably passed on their first offering of Brawny (masterpiece Brawn), they got my undivided attention when the produced a masterpiece version of my all time favorite Transformer, Sunstreaker, dubbed Sunsurge. Now I’d been endlessly hoping and praying that Takara/Hasbro would eventually release an official Sunstreaker since they had already produced his brother Sideswipe, but to no avail, he never came. So Badcube has my eternal gratitude for being the 3rd party company that finally answered my prayers. (to be fair, another company called Omnigonix had their own version released a few months later called Spinout…but he didn’t turn out so well).

Since then I have also gotten their takes on Hoist called Lorry, and the minibots Gears & Swerve, called Grump & Slick respectively. Now the biggest complaint I get from Badcube critics is that their designs are too overly complicated….like you have to completely turn the toy inside out to transform them. And I get that; to say their transformations are finicky would be an understatement. But here’s the thing, and this is my opinion, I like them. They may be complicated, but they make sense to me, and everything locks up and cleans up nicely. And the end result is a solid robot and vehicle mode. The first time will always be intimidating, but the more you do it, the easier it gets.

I tend to compare these guys a lot with Ocular Max. They both released versions of Trailbreaker and Hoist at the same time. These two characters shared the same toy mold in the original line. But for the sake of variety and wanting to try out different interpretations, I decided to get Badcube’s Hoist and Ocular Max’s Trailbreaker. The online video reviews made OM’s Trailbreaker’s transformation look easy and BC’s Hoist look scary…but in hand…guess what? I ended up appreciating Bad Cube’s offering more. This isn’t a knock on Ocular Max mind you which was also solid, but for me, Bad Cube was just more enjoyable.

In the end, I think I’m more in the minority when it comes to appreciating Bad Cube’s more involved transformation designs and that’s fine. I’m definitely looking forward to their next releases, which are a re-issue of their Brawn (Brawny) & Huffer (Huff) and possibly a Cliffjumper to round up their minibots before the year ends.

KFC
Keith’s Fantasy Club or KFC for short was another 3rd party company that I heard a lot about but never got around to getting anything from. They started out making “masterpiece” cassettes that were compatible with the official masterpiece Soundwave. They also did Autobot cassettes even if there was no existing masterpiece Blaster for them to go with. Now these initial cassettes drew a lot of negative reviews, poor quality etc, which is why I guess KFC never really made an impression on me. And even when they released their version of Masterpiece Blaster called Transistor I was still uninterested despite fairly good reviews.

But as the years passed I kept hearing more about KFC’s stuff and how much more the quality of their products had improved. So I finally decided to try out a KFC product during my latest trip to Singapore when I came across their version of the Junkion leader Wreck-gar, dubbed Crash Hog. And I was quite impressed! I was never a big fan of Wreck-gar but this toy really won me over. Aside from one irritatingly awful step, the rest of the transformation was fun and easy. The sculpt was very good and the construction solid. Crash Hog won me over to KFC’s side that I decided to give their Transistor/Blaster a try as well.

Unfortunately while not bad, Transistor definitely felt like a step backwards from Crash Hog but I really can’t take that against KFC since the mold actually came before. Slightly poorer QC aside, it still is a very good masterpiece representation of Blaster (and currently the only one). Which seems to be their strength….coming up with a good looking Transformer, but ultimately lacking in execution. But if the obvious improvement from Transistor to Crash Hog is an indication of where KFC is headed in terms of quality, then I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for whatever they plan on offering next.

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