Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Upgrade & Accessorize! – 3rd Party Rundown part 1

If you are a regular reader of my blog, then you must know that when I write about Transformers, I usually mention the term “3rd party companies” a lot. For those of you not familiar though, these are basically companies that produce unlicensed toys that are meant to be a part of the Transformers toyline.

So as a Transformer collector myself, I have had quite the experience with 3rd party Transformer companies. I bought my first 3rd party product way back in 2009 from a company called Fansproject, which was one of, if not the first 3rd party company to come into existence (they were at least the first one I ever got to know). Since their humble start in 2008, the 3rd party market has exploded into over 40 plus other companies producing a good number of “transformers” every year.

Now I’m not claiming to be an expert with 3rd party Transformers, but I thought I’d give a rundown of the companies that I have had direct experience with. I’ll write about good and bad of these companies just to give a better idea for people who might be curious.

Like I said, this was the first 3rd party company that I learned about. They actually started out simply making accessories for existing official Hasbro/Takara Transformers. The first product I got from them was the upgrade kit for Hasbro’s Classic Optimus Prime (still probably one of the best Optimus Prime molds ever made in my opinion) to convert him to Ultra Magnus, or unofficially, to convert him into “City Commander”. I actually got the “Shadow Commander” version meant to go with the black Nemesis Prime.

This was the product that started it all for a lot of people. They produced a truck cab that could be taken apart and be reassembled onto the Prime mold as armor pieces and it blew everyone away, including myself. They then followed this up with their first fully transformable robot called “Defender” which was their homage to the Autobot triple changer Springer.

Other Products that I purchased from Fanstoys:
1) Munitioner & Explorer – These guys were homages to the Combaticons Swindle & Blastoff respectively. While they two were full figures, they were ultimately meant to be an upgrade for the Transformers: Energon Bruticus Maximus set which was in itself a homage to G1 Bruticus. I actually have a whole entry for this one so you can check it out here.

2) Protector – this was another upgrade set, this time for Classics Hot Rod to convert him into Rodimus Prime

3) Backfiery, Stormbomb & Thundershred – Their version of the G1 Insecticons, Kickback, Bombshell & Shrapnel reimagined as…ninjas? Ok so that sounds dumb, but the toys were really cool in hand. I ended up selling mine though when I decided to upgrade the Insections on my shelf for another 3rd party offering years later.

4) Assaulter – Their version of the triple changer Broadside. This is one heavy massive bot that remains my default Broadside on the shelf even if Hasbro has since released an official version.

5) M3 Intimidator – This is their version of Menasor comprised of their Stunticons Car Crash (Breakdown), Downforce (Dragstrip), T-Bone (Wildrider), Last Chance (Dead End) and Diesel (Motormaster). Despite the fact that the individual robots had finicky transformations, especially their leader, Diesel, the combined end result of Intimidator is probably one of the BEST 3rd party combiners that I have ever come across (and believe me there have been a good number of BAD ones).

6) Smart Robin & Quadruple U – These are their versions of the headmasters Brainstorm & Weird Wolf. Even if these guys were released back in 2013, they are still regarded by many collectors as having two of the most innovative conversion sequences for any official or unofficial Transformer to date.

Anyway, I have been a fan of Fansproject since my first purchase. For me, their name has been synonymous with quality. Unfortunately, recently, they haven’t been producing much stuff that I have been interested in. They have lost a bit of their luster and have been in many ways overtaken by other more recent 3rd party companies who have been releasing their versions of “Masterpiece” Transformers which seems to be the current focus of most collectors, myself included.

TFC ToysOk so these guys came to everyone’s attention when they announced that they were going to do their version of G1 of the Constructicons and their combined form Devastator that they dubbed as Hercules. To my knowledge this was the first major 3rd party full combiner ever made and with each Constructicon the size of an average Transformer voyager toy (around 5-6”), Hercules was a hulking 15” tall! He was definitely a giant for his time. Of course since he was the first, his overall cost was too much for me so I actually passed on him. I did however go all in on their second combiner offering, their version of the Aerialbots & Superion, Uranus.

Uranus didn’t fare so well with the fandom, TFC took more liberties with his overall design that were admittedly questionable. And the end result combiner wasn’t very stable. He was the first (and not the last) 3rd party combiner that I ever collected and for that alone he will always be special to me. I will always remember the moment after a few delays that I got the final “Aerialbot” and first formed Uranus…it was amazing!

Uranus was the last offering I ever got from TFC. In the end, I thought that their chosen aesthetic was a bit too chunky. And from the reviews of their later releases Prometheus (Defensor) & Ares (Predaking) which were lukewarm at best, I’m not regretting my decision. Although, their most recent take on the Seacons/Pirahnacon, dubbed Poseidon looks really good.

Perfect Effect
While many of these 3rd party companies tend to overlap in terms of what they do, there are some who try to set themselves apart by focusing on specific types of items. Such is the case for Perfect Effect, which is best known for their miniature Transformers and accessories. They started out with doing versions of Decepticon Soundwave’s minions, Ratbat, Frenzy & Rumble. But instead of transforming into cassettes, they transformed into weapons that were compatible with licensed Transformers. I got myself a Frenzy & Rumble, called “Warrior Type F & R” a few years back and then nothing else ever since. They were cool little dudes that unfortunately because of their style were pretty fragile even if their transformations were very basic.

Lately they made a lot of noise making add on accessories to Hasbro’s Combiner Wars line. Their replacement feet and hands for the Hasbro combiners were major improvements to the stock pieces they came with. They even could be broken up into additional weapons for the individual combiner bots. I passed on these though since I didn’t like the aesthetics, which looked overly busy. And I didn’t need my feet and hands to become guns…they just needed to be feet and hands. I didn’t want to pay extra for features I didn’t want.

I did however get one of their upgrades for Combiner Wars Devastator, giving the individual Constructicons better arms (some of them didn’t even come with working elbows!) and weapons. But ultimately for what I spent on the kit, I would’ve been better off with the Takara Devy which already came with remolded and improved parts….oh well.

iGearOK so this is a company I wish I never bought anything from. They were one of the earlier companies around and became popular for their “Faith Leader” which was basically a shrunk down version of the Hasbro/Takara Masterpiece Optimus Prime. For the longest time, this was what iGear was known for, taking existing official products and re-releasing them with some modifications (change in size, slight remolds to make different characters etc)….basically creating knock offs, which many collectors differentiate from 3rd party products which while in spirit infringing on intellectual IP are in themselves original products and designs.

Anyway, my first major purchase from these guys were their take on Masterpiece coneheads Ramjet, Thrust & Dirge, dubbed “Jet”, “Attack” & “Elegy”. These were of course knock offs of the official seeker toy remolded with new parts. For the longest time, these were my default coneheads until I recently upgraded them with coneheads from yet another KO company. By this time, Takara had already released their own official Masterpiece coneheads, but they were so bad…that it was an easy pass.

iGear finally started doing their own designs with their Mini Warriors subline which set to make toys of the Autobot minibots to go along with Hasbro’s classics/generations line. The first two, Huff (Huffer) & Spray (Seaspray) fit well but for their following releases, they inexplicably increased the size making them incompatible with the official product. For some reason, I insisted on getting the next five mini warrior releases even if I had no place to really put them. And their designs seemed to be get worse after each release. Ultimately I ended up selling off most of my iGear stuff. They eventually stopped making anything new or maybe morphed into another company, who knows? iGear is definitely a company I will not miss.

to be continued...

3rd Party Rundown : Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5