Thursday, March 24, 2022

Alive And Kicking - 3rd Party Rundown 2022 Part 3

The 3rd party Transformers scene is alive and well! Even with all the numerous dead and inactive companies that I wrote about in my two previous posts, there are a whole lot more out there still churning out unofficial Transformers products. How each of these companies outlasted others through the years is varied. But one thing a lot of them have in common is that they are not trying to be everything to everyone. They know who they are and what they’re good at making and have stuck to it. At the end of the day, it’s all about the product. And these companies have basically survived because they continue to regularly produce some damn good toys!

With all the current 3rd Party companies currently in existence, it would be too much of a fool’s errand to try and write about all of them. So I won’t. Instead, I’ll only be writing about companies whose products I’ve had first hand experience with. If I’ve bought something from them, then I’ll do my best to include them. So get ready…cuz this will be a long one.

Perfect Effect & DNA Design

I decided to lump these two companies together since they’re both best known for the same thing; making add-on kits for official Hasbro products. At least that’s what I’ve primarily bought from both of them through the years. What I find interesting though is that their respective trajectories have sort of been opposites of each other.

From what I remember, Perfect Effect first started making full figures. Way back in 2010, I got their Warrior Type F & R which were their takes on a Frenzy and Rumble. Granted they were meant to be accessories for some Hasbro released Soundwave, they were full transformable figures themselves. And since then they continued to do more stylized characters to varying degrees of success.

But as I mentioned earlier, they finally found the most success doing add-on kits for Hasbro Combiner Wars products.

And once that well dried, they have since switched their focus back on their more stylized full figures.

DNA Design on the other also started making noise doing their add on kits for Combiner Wars as well.

After Which they tried their hand on a full figure with their overly ambitious Susanoo in 2017. This was their take on a Masterpiece Bludgeon, which I got and quite liked, but it was far from perfect. It looked really good, had above average articulation, but it was finicky and a little fragile. Since then though, they have reverted back to making more add on kits for mainline Transformers.

Iron Factory

From the very start, Iron Factory picked their niche which was the smaller Legends scaled Transformers. And since then they have made quite a name for themselves with a very impressive rollout of highly stylized little Transformers. And it doesn’t seem like they are slowing down. Right now they’re pushing a cool looking Transformer/samurai cross over sub line which looks really good.

It’s not for me though and I have been basically cherry picking stuff from them here and there. I have their takes on the Decepticon seekers and the Autobot Lambo brothers Sunstreaker and Sideswipe. And I am very happy with both of these sets.

TFC Toys

TFC is one of the oldest 3rd Party companies that are surprisingly still around. They are actually pioneers on the scene having released one of the most important 3rd party Transformers ever, Hercules. Completed in 2012, this was their take on the Constructicons/Devastator. It’s iconic because it was the first 3rd party combiner ever released, blowing away anything Hasbro had made up to that point. Hercules had its faults for sure, especially compared to today’s standards, but back then, it was a true gamechanger.

Anyway, after Hercules, they continued to make other combiners through the years in their own style, not quite CHUG and definitely not MP styled.

In my opinion though, it was in 2019 when they finally released something really worth talking about. This was their ST Commander, which was an Optimus Prime based on some concept art for a Transformers/G.I.Joe crossover.

So instead of transforming into a truck, Prime transformed into a massive G.I.Joe vehicle, the Rolling Thunder. While I personally didn’t get it, it got generally favorable reviews and more importantly, it showed that TFC could go out of their comfort zone and make an impressive Transformer that wasn’t a combiner.

After releasing numerous repaints and versions of their ST Commander, in 2022, they finally released the other side of the coin, that being the Tyrant Dominator Megatron, which was also based on the same series of concept art that ST Commander was based on. This time Megatron transformed into the Destro designed helicopter tank hybrid, the Dominator.

Mastermind Creations

Mastermind Creations or MMC is best known for their two distinct sub lines Reformatted and Ocular Max, both of which are still active to this day. The Reformatted line focuses on Transformers based on the long running IDW comics series. While I am generally a fan of the comic, I never felt compelled enough to get any Transformer toys based on their designs.

What I did get into quite a lot was their Ocular Max line which focused on masterpiece styled G1 designs. I have a good number of MMC pieces in my MP collection, all of which I am quite happy with.

Their last major completed Ocular Max project was a Combaticons/Bruticus set. While they weren’t the only company doing a Bruticus set, their selling point was that their version was “all built in”, meaning all the combiner parts (like the feet and hands) actually were incorporated to the individual robots, so no extra parts were needed to form Bruticus. Unfortunately, I felt that their Bruticus was too small so I passed. They are now currently working on one of the first 3rd party Protectobots/Defensor sets. So all is quite well with MMC.

Toy World & Unique Toys

I decided to cover these two companies together since they both share similar trajectories. Both companies started around 2012-13 basically doing 3rd party Transformers for CHUG collectors. Later on they followed collector trends and shifted to mp styled transformers. But I passed on most of their releases since more often than not, there was always a better option out there that I went for.

Despite a number of mediocre releases, Toyworld does have one major feather in their cap, that being their MP scaled Devastator aka Constructor. Constructor basically re-wrote the book when it came to 3rd party combiners. It was considerably larger than any other previously released combiner and more importantly, more stable since it controversially employed “parts forming” in its…construction. Basically , the entire midsection, from the hips to the upper legs was a completely separate piece. It was an unconventional design since it basically did nothing when the combiner was split into its individual robots. But if your display (or play) priority was the combiner, then this worked perfectly for you. Anyway, Toyworld eventually messed up when they supposedly didn’t pay the designers of Constructor, so they broke off and formed another company (that will be covered in the next part).

Anyway, since that split, Toyworld has been doing a number of live action movie based Transformers, especially the “historical” WW1 designs shown in “The Last Knight”. I’ve never personally sampled any of them but once again, they all look amazingly detailed and have been getting fairly good reviews.

Unique Toys have also gone down a very similar route. After a number of mediocre MP styled G1 Transformers, they finally found their niche on live action movie Transformers as well. And I am a huge fan of their output. From their first release, an MP Lockdown from the Age of Extinction called Peru Kill in 2017, it’s been a string of really strong releases from them. While Unique Toys aren’t the only 3rd party company doing MP styled movie bots, they are in my opinion, the best at it, and it’s not even close. They have mastered the perfect combination of detailed design and not overly complicated engineering.

OK so while my Peru Kill is a legit Unique Toys release, Dragoon and Challenger are actually improved knock offs by another company called Black Mamba. But since these two still are designed by Unique Toys, I’ll give them the credit.

While initially they announced that their take on a movie Galvatron called Nero, released in 2021 would be their last, they have seemingly and thankfully back pedaled on that statement. Their next eagerly awaited release will be a Dark of the Moon Megatron, which will hopefully see the light of day later this year or early next.

Keith's Fantasy Club

After a successive string of MP styled releases over the years, KFCs has currently been subsisting on reissues of older toys and an endless run of retooled Junkions. But to their credit, they do have a good number of newer designs announced that are supposedly going to see the light of day in 2022 and beyond. While my long running KFC Blaster will most likely be replaced in my collection this year, I am still looking forward to the company’s version 2.0 Autobot cassettes, Ramhorn and Steeljaw which will hopefully be out soon.

As for the other KFC mainstays in my collection, Ditka (MP Blitzwing), Crash-Hog (MP Wreckgar) and the Horrorcons Kingorilla (MP Apeface) and Kingzilla (MP Snapdragon), it appears that they are pretty safe. I don’t foresee any other company doing better versions of these guys any time soon. That is unless the next company decided to take a crack at them!

Fans Toys

These guys have come a long way from a brand new company that was basically scared off by Takara into shelving their first major MP project in 2006. Today, Fans Toys is regarded by many 3rd party collectors, myself included as the current “king of the hill”. Ever since their first official release in 2013, they have gone on to release over 40 uniquely designed and engineered Transformers characters ranging from tiny minibots to the massive Omega Supreme. While they aren’t perfect, for the most part, they have built up a reputation for high quality and well built products.

As for me, even if I am very happy with a certain character from another company in my collection, if Fans Toys were to release a version of said character, I would most likely replace my existing one for it. That’s how highly I regard their products. And I am not the only one. Fans Toys have built up a fiercely loyal fanbase, some of whom will buy ONLY Fans Toys products, even over official ones from Takara.

And speaking of Takara, remember the first release that I mentioned earlier that Fans Toys shelved after being scared off by Takara all those years ago? Well last year, Fans Toys went ahead and released it, that being their take on Soundwave, called “Acoustic Wave”. Granted they released him under a “pseudonym” company, Robot Paradise (possible to avoid rocking the boat any further with Takara), there was no confusion here, everyone knew this was Fans Toys. And it goes to show how far they've come.

With multiple new and high quality figures announced and released every year it’s pretty clear why so many collectors place FansToys a level above the rest. It’s hard to see any other company matching them or even coming close, but there is one that seems to be taking up the challenge of going head to head with FansToys.


For the longest time, X-Transbots was just one of the many 3rd party companies churning out sub-par (in my opinion) attempts at MP G1 styled Transformers. In fact , for many, they had built up a reputation of releasing overly engineered toys that are a major pain to handle and transform. But to their credit, they never stopped releasing new products. And every now and then, they would put out a gem that would be generally praised by the collecting community. While you could say that if you throw a bunch of stuff to the wall, eventually something will stick, to their credit, you could see an overall improvement, however slight, in the products that they were making.

And in the last couple years, it seems that they have set their sites on Fans Toy’s throne at the top, using a tactic that FansToys is generally known for. You see, a common practice for Fans Toys is to announce a good number of releases every year, usually in the form of pre production 3D renders. When these toys are actually released is entirely another question. While they have generally been OK with releasing everything they announce…eventually, the wait can take years. Hell they still haven’t released their takes on Trailbreaker and Blitzwing, both initially announced way back in 2016. A lot of collectors suspect this as a bully tactic from the company. In the same way Takara’s announcement of an official MP Soundwave discouraged Fans Toys from releasing their version, Fans Toys is now doing the same with other 3P companies. And now it seems that X-Transbots is following suit.

In the past year alone, X-Transbots have announced a ton of new upcoming releases, mostly in the form of, you guessed it, 3D renders. When all of these will actually come out is anyone’s guess, but at the very least, they are making their mark and letting collectors know what’s coming.

While amping up the announcements is one thing, X-Transbots have actually gone a step further. A few years ago, Fans Toys announced their version 2.0 of the Autobot scientist Perceptor. By late 2021, word was that its release was just around the corner. Then out of the blue with no prior indications, X-Transbots announces their own Perceptor, not with 3D renders, but with actual production samples. But that’s not all, their version was advertised with a whole lot more accessories and at almost half the price of Fans Toys! More importantly though, they managed to get theirs out well before Fans Toys (which I am still waiting for). Unfortunately for them, it seems that the rushed production led to a lot of QC issues in the final product.

So while this was an admirably ballsy move by X-Transbots, at the end of the day, it’s the actual toys that have the last say. And in my opinion, while there has been a significant overall improvement in their designs, X-Transbots still have a long way to go before they can match Fans Toys in the quality department. But in the bigger picture, it’s all good in my book. X-Transbots needs a target to overcome in Fans Toys. And Fans Toys needs X-Transbots to keep them on their toes.

And of course, ultimately this isn‘t really a two horse race, as we’ll see in the final installment, there are even newer players that have come to life in the last five years that are looking to make a name for themselves as well in the 3rd party Transformers scene!