When I started this series of posts a few months ago, there were already quite a lot of 3rd party companies out there competing for your hard earned buck. While I covered a whole lot of companies in the previous posts, there were a lot more that I didn’t write about basically because at the time of writing I didn’t own any of their products or simply well...they didn’t exist yet.
Ace Collectables came out sometime late 2016 with their versions of a masterpiece Cliffjumper & his later repaint, Hubcap, named Tumbler & Hiccups respectively. Ironically, up to this point, despite being a pretty popular G1 character, no other company had attempted to make a masterpiece Cliffjumper so Ace’s offering was a welcome sight to many collectors.
Unfortunately, initial reviews weren’t that good. Tumbler was basically a “reshell” of the Takara Masterpiece Bumblebee...which meant that engineering wise, the toy wasn’t that different from Bumblebee, they just heavily modified it with new pieces. While concept wise this wasn’t such a bad idea since their original toys and cartoon appearances were VERY similar in design and the Takara MP Bumblebee was a great toy, Ace’s execution was just lacking. Loose joints, poor quality control and unnecessary use of diecast parts, left collectors with a mediocre toy at best.
Ironically, one thing most collectors agreed on was how beautifully both Tumbler & Hiccups came packaged. Their boxes had some great artwork and inside both came with a hard plastic display cases. If they only put in as much effort in their actual toy as they did with its packaging then this would’ve been an easy home run for them, unfortunately they didn’t.
Still despite average reviews, I (and a lot of collectors out there) still got Ace’s Tumbler (as well as Hiccups) simply because no one else was offering anything else and well he was selling at a really good price. Despite expecting the worst, mine turned out OK (amazing how lowered expectations can improve a toy in your eyes), fiddly and obviously a notch below quality wise compared to other 3rd party bots, but they’re both good enough for display purposes. And they match style wise so well with the official Masterpiece Bumblebee that I don’t foresee myself switching them out for another version from another company that may come out later...but we’ll see.
Open and Play
This year we had a bunch of 3rd party companies coming out with their own Masterpiece version of the Autobot triple changer Springer. Among them were the usual suspects, Fans Toys, Mastermind Creations, Toyworld and X Transbots to name a few. Included in the bunch was a new company that nobody had ever heard of, Open and Play. While pictures of their initial prototype looked promising, it seemed like no one was really giving them any real notice. A brand new company tackling a complicated triple changer as a first product seemed like a recipe for disaster.
Despite the skepticism, Open and Play continued production on their Springer and to many people’s surprise they managed to release their version, called “Big Spring” well ahead of most of the other more established companies. And what was more surprising was its initial reviews were pretty pretty good. Anyway, like many collectors, I am a rather impatient person and so after seeing more pictures of this guy as well as hearing even more good reviews and positive feedback I found myself actually considering getting Big Spring instead. An added sway factor was that his price was significantly lower than the other versions of Springer that were already out or up for preorder.
Eventually after a lot of back and forth thinking, I caved and ended up getting him...and I didn’t regret it at all. What finally won me over was that he looked great in all three modes, something most other third party Springers had a hard time achieving. He’s built very well and has a wide range of articulation and most importantly his design and transformation is not overly complicated, which seems to be what this company is going for. They literally want you to “open and play” with your toy.
Another thing worth mentioning is their packaging...or rather lack of it. Whereas companies like Ace Collectables gave us gorgeous packaging and a pretty mediocre toy, Open and Play gives us a pretty fantastic toy with very minimalist packaging. His box literally looks like a shoebox with basic flat colors and simple artwork. And in an unconventional move, Big Spring didn’t even come with any instructions! This is either their way of showing that they are a cheap ass company that can’t be bothered to print out some instructions or they have so much confidence that their design is intuitive enough for most collectors to figure it out for themselves. If this is the case, it’s a really bold move on their part considering Springer is a triple changer! And I’d have to say that while not 100% eazy peazy, Big Spring is far from frustrating and is actually fun to transform from mode to mode to mode.
In the end, Big Spring is not perfect. Some may argue that overall lack of paint makes him feel like less of a Masterpiece, but I don’t mind. I will admit though that he does have a FUGLY face (I did I slight mod on mine to make it look *a little bit* more passable), which is the only major negative this guy has, but ultimately it wasn’t a deal breaker. Despite its shortcomings, he’s a hell of an impressive debut product from a brand new company and he fits in great with all my ‘86 movie Transformers. Future Open and Play releases are definitely going to be on my radar.
This is another new company that first made waves by producing an upgrade kit for Hasbro’s Combiner Wars Devastator released in 2015. The set itself got pretty good reviews, although I didn’t feel the need to get it myself. It wasn’t long after that though that they started posting pictures of their next release which was to everyone’s surprise a full on 3rd party Transformer. Susanoo was their take on the evil Decepticon Pretender Bludgeon who was arguably one of the more cult favorite characters in the fandom.
Anyway, initial prototype pictures were stunning to say the least. Susanoo looked to be a highly detailed and articulated masterpiece version of Bludgeon and this definitely got my attention. As time passed and more and more updates came out it became apparent that while it was definitely an original DNA design, it was heavily influenced by the smaller and simpler Voyager Bludgeon that Hasbro released way back in 2009. Still that did not really discourage me as that toy was an old favorite of mine.
Finally, he was released in 2017 and I eventually got my Susanoo a few months later. So how did he stack up? Well….to be honest, he was really a mixed bag. On the positives he is absolutely gorgeous...in an evil twisted sorta way...easily one of the best looking Transformers on my shelf....period. As promised, he is highly detailed and very articulated. The amount of cool dynamic poses you can put this guy in is insane, to place him standing straight on your shelf would be a true disservice to the toy.
Unfortunately, it’s not all good...all that detail leads to a rather fiddly and slightly fragile toy...don’t get me wrong, he turned out more solid than I was expecting and he does have some weight due to some die cast parts, but little details in the toy are easily prone to breakage. Case in point moments after first fiddling with Susanoo I accidentally broke off 2 tiny tabs, which while not essential to the transformation was still quite annoying.
And then there’s the transformation itself. From a fantastic looking demon samurai robot, Susanoo turns into an equally detailed and fearsome looking tank...unfortunately getting him into either mode from the other is quite the headache. Again while Susanoo is loosely based on a simpler Hasbro toy, DNA Design amped pretty much every aspect of the original toy to eleven. And while on paper the transformation all looks straightforward, there are a lot of tolerance issues, little pieces held together by friction joints constantly falling off and basically a lot of multiple moves you must do in a certain specific way to make everything lock in and fit just right.
In the end, Susanoo, while quite admirable as a “first effort” from yet another new company is just too overly ambitious for it’s own good, they basically bit off more than they could chew. The good news is that I’m sure they learned a lot from this project and so I guess it can only hopefully get better from here.
So there you go! The latest rundown on what’s new Transformers 3rd party wise on my shelf. It’s quite amazing how many more companies there were for me to write about since the last time I wrote about them and I’m sure that even more are coming in the years ahead. And of course a lot of the older established companies are still churning out quality products and upping their game as well. The 3rd party scene is truly alive and well!