Wednesday, March 30, 2022

New Blood - 3rd Party Rundown 2022 Part 4

So here we are in the final part of this 3rd Party roundup for 2022. Since the last time I wrote about the scene a lot has changed. Some companies have ceased to exist while others have remained alive and well. And of course we have had a number of new players come in to try and make their own mark in the 3rd party scene. So let’s get to know some more of them shall we?

In the past few years, there has been a general shift in focus for many 3rd party companies. With the main cast of characters from the original Generation One cartoon having mostly been completed in the “masterpiece” scale, many companies have ramped up production on two other distinct styles to hopefully maintain collectors' attentions.

The first is the smaller legends scaled Transformers. The term “legends” is based on the Hasbro category for their smaller and cheaper price point Transformers. But the minute scale is basically where the similarities between 3rd party legends and the official products end. Because despite their small size, 3rd party legends are in many ways mini masterpieces in themselves with rather complex designs and engineering.

Magic Square and New Age

When it comes to 3rd party legends toys, the two front runners in this race are Magic Square and New Age. Now while I can see the allure of these smaller masterpieces, I am quite content with my current collection so I never felt the need to double dip and restart a smaller set of Transformers. So no I don’t collect legends so I’m afraid that my knowledge of these two companies is less than average at best. But I do have first hand some experience, however little, on both these companies.

For New Age, I got their very first release which was their take on the minibot Bumblebee called Flipper. It was really just a random novelty purchase during a trip to Singapore. He was relatively inexpensive and I thought that having a tiny bee would make a nice solitary desk piece in my collection. For a first release, Flipper really is impressive. He’s tiny…very tiny, with a very articulated robot mode that stands at a little under 2.5 inches. And his transformation is very intuitive with the end result looking very faithful to the vintage toy’s penny racer bug look.

As for Magic Square, I got their take on the lambo brother Sideswipe called Red Cannon. The only reason why I got this guy was that I figured a nicely complex legend scaled Sideswipe would make a great addition to my growing lambo brothers collection. While a Sunstreaker was teased in late 2018, Magic Square has yet to get to him, but I figure it’s only a matter of time since they did announce their intention to complete the original Ark crew. I figured it was best to bite on Sideswipe when he first came out to avoid paying the late tax on him years later.

Just like Flipper, Red Cannon is very impressive for his small size. I would even go to say his engineering at least matches or maybe surpasses anything Takara has ever done…even at the masterpiece level. Although I have to admit his plastic feels a little cheaper, which apparently is a common criticism with Magic Square in general.

Aside from the mini masterpieces that these two companies produce, another impressive feat worth mentioning is just how prolific both these companies have been. In a span of only a few years, Magic Square and New Age have done almost all the mainline G1 characters with many times both of them double dipping on the same bot…except Sunstreaker apparently. In the end though, it’s always good to have options.

Anyway, aside from the legends styled Transformers, the other growing trend in the 3rd party scene are the masterpiece styled Transformers based on the live action movies. Back in 2010, Takara and Habro got the ball rolling with their Movie Masterpiece Line (MPM). Then in 2019 they launched their Studio Series which was a more retail friendly line of movie based Transformers featuring more screen accurate designs. Both MPM and Studio Series brought new interest in the whole “Bay-verse” for collectors and so it was only a matter of time before 3rd Party companies followed suit, took that ball as well and ran with it.

Nowadays, 3rd party MPMs fall into two main categories, original designs and straight up knock offs or tweaked versions of official Takara/Hasbro products. While the original designs are pretty straight forward, it’s the later type of MPMs, the knock offs (KOs), that are a little more interesting….and confusing.

First of all, don’t get misled by the term “knock off”. Whereas in the past a knock off was understood to be a cheaper lower quality substitute for the real thing, the KOs that these 3rd party companies produce are more often than not better than the original. Most of these “knock offs” are made of better materials, have more paint and detailing and even some slight engineering improvements, especially in the case of Studio Series knock offs which are scaled up to a bigger size to fit in an MP shelf. Most importantly though, since these companies don’t have any development/design costs, their knockoffs are usually a lot cheaper than the original.

Wei Jiang and Black Mamba

While there are quite a lot of different “companies” making KO movie based Transformers out there, just like the robots that they produce, there seems to be “more than meets the eye”. Despite all the company names being thrown out producing KO MPMs, if you one digs a little deeper, they all seem to be linked in some way to two main names, that being Wei Jiang and Black Mamba. Since making KO’s of official products is more likely to get the attention of Takara/Hasbro, it makes sense that these two companies operate under numerous aliases.

In fact, Wei Jiang actually made the international headlines back in 2020, when their factories were raided by the Chinese police and were shut down. But chances are that they are still around in some new form or another. In the wake of Wei Jiang’s…closure, Black Mamba seems to have taken reigns as the top KO company out there. And they don’t even stop at official products either, even other 3rd party companies have had their original designs knocked off and oftentimes improved upon by Black Mamba and co. Which has led to them being called 4th Party companies by many collectors.

In the past two years, I have fallen into the rabbit hole of building up an MPM collection. 90% of which is composed of knock offs. While many collectors have debated on the morality of buying these 4th party Transformers, as far as I’m concerned, I just want the best bang for my buck. If a company makes a superior product and sells it for a more attractive price, for me, it’s a no brainer.

Anyway, despite a huge number of 3rd party movie Transformers being knock offs of official products, there still are a lot of 3rd Party companies producing their own original designs. In the last part, I talked about Unique Toys and Toyworld, two older companies that previously made mostly average Generation One MP toys that have found new life and popularity doing movie based Transformers. But aside from those two there are other newer ones as well.

Dream Factory

Despite this company seemingly being inactive at this point, I thought it was worth mentioning these guys because they came into the scene in 2019 with two notable releases. The first, and more impressive one was their masterpiece take on the live action Bonecrusher, called Steel Claw, and it was a completely original design. I jumped at the chance of getting this guy and did not regret it at all. I would give it a well above average grade since the transformation can get a little messy. But in the end it’s made of good materials and is not really a nightmare to play around with.

The second was their set of Dark of the Moon Wreckers that were more heavily retooled and improved versions of official releases from Hasbro. Yes technically these guys were knock offs, but I’ll give Dream Factory their due props for their original design of Bo…I mean Steel Claw.

Alien Attack

Ok so while I’ve never really owned anything from Alien Attack, I technically have experienced their work through an upsized KO version of their take on Dark of the Moon Dino called Firage. This KO was called “Dance of Death” and while I can’t really confirm this, it seems that the company behind this KO was Black Mamba.

Ultimately I was pleasantly surprised with this guy. Yes he does feel a bit fragile in spots, but that’s more because of his character design which has a lot of sharp pointy bits. But he’s fairly easy to transform and as I said looks really good. Anyway since Firage, Alien Attack has gone on to produce a lot more movie based Transformers. Unfortunately they haven’t been getting very positive reviews. Case in point, their most recent release of a Dark of the Moon Megatron looks amazing but looks like a complete mess to transform. I even have a hard time just watching videos of reviewers going through the overly complicated transformations.

Anyway Alien Attack have quite a number of interesting upcoming releases lined up for later this year and beyond. Hopefully they will have learned from their past mistakes and these newer ones will be designed better and be of higher quality.


These guys made their debut in 2020 with Mohican, which was their take on the diminutive member of Megatron’s Last Knight crew, Mohawk. Honestly I don’t remember this guy’s release making a big impact with collectors. But they definitely turned heads with their second release, which was an MPM version of Bumblebee from his solo movie. At this point, it seemed like every 3rd party company doing movie toys had their version of this Bumblebee. But Transcraft trumped them all. He looked like he literally stepped off the screen. It even made the official one by Hasbro/Takara look like a knock off.

As impressive as he was though, I passed on him. But what I did eventually end up getting was Mohican. And I ended up being quite impressed with this guy. Yes he’s tiny, but he’s got a nicely involved transformation and has a hell of a lot of personality in his design.

Yes I know, it’s not much to go by, but based on my first hand experience with Mohican and the strong reviews of their movie Bumblebee, I am looking forward to future stuff from this company (TLK Barricade please!).

Now while many 3rd party companies have moved on to Legends and movieverse Transformers, there still are a good number of others that have stuck to the G1 MP lane, despite the well being a lot drier. At this point most of these companies are tackling obscure fringe characters (perfect for completists out there) or producing better versions of characters that we already have.

Fans Hobby

Ok let's get this out of the way, I have absolutely zero experience with anything this company has produced. But I decided to make an exception and include these guys in my rundown because they have been one of the more prolific and well reviewed 3rd party companies out there these past years, With their name being the biggest give away, Fans Hobby have been heavily linked to original pioneer company Fansproject. I believe that a number of former designers from Fansproject moved on and formed Fans Hobby. They first came to my attention when they released their versions of the Monsterbots, Megatooth (Repugnus), Feilong (Doublecross) and Flypro (Grotesque). I came really close to getting these guys since I figured no one else would make MP styled Monsterbots but I ultimately passed on them. Aesthetically, they just didn’t look quite right to me, which would become a recurring deterrent for me getting any of their other stuff.

Aside from the fact that their selection of character releases never really appealed to me and despite being very well made, I always got a more oversized CHUG vibe from them. They didn’t seem quite MP styled to me. That may be unfair of me but hey it’s my collection right? Jury is still out though as I am now seriously tempted to finally get their reissue of Powermaster Optimus Prime (Power Baser) due out later this year. So we’ll see.

Zeta Toys

Do you remember Toyworld and how I wrote about them in my previous post allegedly not paying their designers? Well this is how the company Zeta Toys came into being. Composed of disgruntled ex Toyworld Designers, Zeta didn’t miss a beat and picked up where they left off with Toy World’s Constructor. They followed up their giant with two more impressive combiner sets, Kronos (Superion) and Bruticon (Bruticus) both of which I got and am very happy with. While their individual robot modes are more stylized, their combined modes are the true selling points for these guys. Zeta have quickly built the reputation of being the “go to” 3rd party company when it came to MP Combiners.

Anyway, despite their success with their combiners, they decided they wanted a bigger slice of the pie and set their sights on the Big Boys. In 2019, Hasbro announced their first Transformers crowdfunding project, Unicron. Standing at well over two feet tall, this would be the largest official Transformers toy ever made, and it would take over a year to produce. During the funding stage though, Zeta pulled off the extremely ballsy move of announcing their own version of Unicron. Granted it was not as big as the official one, it looked infinitely better (in my opinion) and a lot cleaner with close to zero planet kibble visible in the robot mode. Unfortunately for them, it seemed that Hasbro took notice as after a few weeks, all prototype pictures and basically any info on Zeta’s Unicron online disappeared. The word is that Hasbro laid down the law and forced them to scrap their project.

Eventually though, things cooled off once Haslab’s Unicron was fully funded and production was underway. And all of a sudden the same prototype pictures and pre-orders for the supposedly shelved Zeta Unicron began resurfacing, but under another company, “Studio Cell”. Now I’m not sure if this was just Zeta operating under a new name to avoid more trouble from Hasbro, or a truly new company that just bought Zeta’s designs. Either way, it’s Zeta’s design so I’m giving them the credit. While I passed on the Haslab Unicron, I did get the Studio Cell’s version. While he’s too small for an MP collection, he makes the perfect centrepiece for my Studio Series 86 display.

Transform Element / Deformation Space

In early 2018, Hasbro/Takara officially announced their upcoming Masterpiece Optimus Prime version 3.0. Meant to be the ultimate cartoon accurate Optimus Prime ever made, this guy came with a complete trailer and an endless slew of accessories.

It also came with a jaw dropping premium price of almost USD 500! Naturally, it wasn’t a big surprise when only a few months later, a couple of cheaper 3rd party MP Prime alternative options were announced. The first was the “Light of Freedom” by Magic Square, a company known more for their legends scaled toys. But what really got my attention was a Prime announced by a then unknown company Transform Element called “Op Leader”.

Anyway, I waited for both Primes to be released and properly reviewed before I got myself my Op Leader, and this turned out to be one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. For a supposedly brand new company, Op Leader felt like a release from a seasoned veteran. The material and quality was extremely good. Both robot and truck mode were very clean and streamlined (even better than the official one in my opinion). And the engineering was truly unique and original for a Prime toy. I mean, there are only so many ways to transform a robot to a truck, but Transform Element still managed to make their conversion feel fresh.

Anyway after Prime, Transform Element seemed to start throwing stuff at the wall to see what would stick. They did a movieverse Bumblebee and a couple of Beast Wars characters, all of which I wasn’t interested in.

Thankfully, after all that, they went back to the G1 well with their take on an MP Mirage called Speed Star in 2020. While the first run unfortunately had some QC issues, these were mostly fixed in succeeding runs. So I still consider it a win for TE.

And then in 2021 Hasbro Takara announced their new MP version of Starscream (and the obligatory recolors for Thundercracker and Skywarp). Now an updated seeker mode was something I had been wishing for for the longest time. Unfortunately, this new version just wasn’t doing it for me. It just looked…off, and the almost USD 300 price tag was a major turn off for me.

But just like Op Leader, years prior, within months of the official MP Starscream announcement, an unknown company revealed another option of an MP seeker which in my eyes looked a lot better and was around half the price. This time around it was a company called Deformation Space with their take on Starscream called “Crimson Wing”. It wasn’t long though that word started circulating that this was just Transform Element operating under a different name. Which made me look forward to Crimson Wing even more.

A few months later, both Takara’s MP Starscream and Crimson Wing were released and while the official one was riddled by a number of QC issues, Crimson Wing got mostly glowing reviews. It was never a question for me though, I planted my flag with Crimson Wing from the very start and he ended up as my number #1 toy purchase for 2021.

While many would claim that Transform Element/Deformation Space’s engineering is overly complicated, I completely disagree. Yes they may be more involved, but personally I find them very methodical and just require a proper way to go through all the steps. But once you “get it”, it all makes sense. Up next for them is their take on the Autobot Blaster which is expected to be released in a few months.

Anyway, one more final twist in this story is that apparently, it appears that the infamous 4th party company Black Mamba is actually the one behind Transform Element/Deformation Space. This would explain a lot, including how their releases feel very polished and expertly designed and constructed. In just a few years, Transform Element/ Deformation Space has quickly become one of my favorite go to 3rd Party companies out there. And I am looking forward to seeing what else they and all the other companies that I have covered have in store for all of us in the next five years!