Saturday, 28 June 2014

Fangwolf and Mindswipe (Transformers: Age of Extinction Kre-O Microchangers)

Company: Hasbro

Year: 2014


A few weeks ago, I reviewed another character from the Transformers 4: Age of Extinction blind-bagged Kreons, an endearing ankylosaurus by the name of Silversnout. But I’ve picked up a few others, too. So today, we take a look at the two mammal-based Transformers from this dino-dominated series – Fangwolf and Mindswipe.  

If you’ve read any of my previous reviews of Kreons, you’ll know that Kreons are pretty much all built on the same basic body. Fangwolf and Mindswipe are no exception, though they both have unique aspects to their bot mode which make them stand out a little from their kin. 

Fangwolf is based on a character called Snarl from the Transformers: Cybertron series, which aired about 10 years ago now. I had watched the earlier series that aired around the same time – Armada and Energon, but I really didn’t like the animation style of Cybertron. As a result, I skipped it and the toys too – which is a bummer, cause I totally would have bought this awesome toy if I’d known about him. Aftermarket prices are currently a little more expensive than I would like to pay.   
Fangwolf’s bot mode is particularly cool. One of his hands is a wolf head! On the old Snarl toy, the wolf head was on the left wrist, but the picture shows this one on the right. I went with the older style, but the choice is up to you. His other hand holds a sword, which in alt mode becomes his tail. And as for his alt mode – his name gives away the secret; he does indeed become a wolf. Resemblance to a real wolf is not guaranteed, though.

Mindswipe is apparently based on Mindwipe, a G1 Headmaster toy. Apparently he had mystical hypnosis powers and could commune with dead Transformers – or more accurately, he wanted to, but couldn’t. I have to admit that I don’t remember him at all.  But he was a Decepticon then, and he's retained that allegiance now.

Mindswipe turns into a bat. His is probably the simplest “transformation” of any of the Kreons – you just pop off his helmet, face it forward and pop it back on. You can jiggle his wings and claws around a little to distinguish him more if you want, but it’s purely cosmetic. His head is the same piece as Fangwolf’s, but it’s cast in maroon, rather than white. It doesn’t specifically look like a bat, but combined with the wings it works as a whole.  His wings are enormous -- possibly a little too big, you'll definitely need the stand for him -- but they give him a really distinctive look that makes up for his overly simple bot-to-beast mode.   

Fangwolf comes with his sword/tail. Mindswipe doesn’t come with any additional weapons, but both come with the basic Kre-O stand that we've come to know and love.

All the paintwork appears to be done by tampographs, and all of them cleanly applied. However, I should add that this is the second Fangwolf I’ve bought – the paint scraped off some of the face on my first when I was trying to adjust his helmet. I haven’t had this problem with any other Micro-Changers, but I’d suggest you keep an eye on it.

Unusually, Mindswipe’s head is cast in black, and his face is tampo’d on in grey. It’s a really cool head, actually – I like the idea of mixing and matching it with other Decepticon pieces to make a custom one, but whether I follow up on that remains to be seen.   

Fangwolf gets a lot of points by virtue solely of being a wolf – just look at the name of this blog! Combine this with his arctic colour scheme, and we have a real winner here. Admittedly I’m biased due to his wolf status, but he’s one of my favourite characters from the series -- and I'm giving some thought to picking up a Cybertron toy of him, should I find one at the right price.  

Mindswipe is pretty good. He’s not my favourite from the line, but overall he’s $4 well spent.
This has been a fun series of Micro-Changers, and I should get some more reviews online soon. Hopefully the attendant movie will be fun too – I don’t expect great things, but it is pretty hard to stuff up giant robot dinosaurs. Hopefully some of these more obscure characters from the line will show up in the movie too, even if they’re only cameos.   

Transformers Generations: Skywarp

Series: Transformers Generations

Year: 2014
Company: Hasbro

RRP: See “Availability”

My first Transformer was bought c.1991. A friend of mine – the same friend who owned the Lego Ghost that intrigued me so, actually – had one, a grey or white jet, if I recall correctly. It was an amazing toy, and I immediately begged my parents for one of my own. They agreed pretty quickly, and shortly afterwards I found myself in possession of a black jet – I had to have a different one, of course. Many afternoons that followed (or at least a couple) were spent with my friend fwooshing our respective jets around the living room and backyard at his place. Such memories sparked a love for Transformers which has continued somewhat erratically to this day.

That black jet has long since broken and its name been lost to me, but thanks to the expertise of a friend of mine and TF Wiki I’ve managed to narrow it down to two possible contenders – Air Raid or the subject of today’s review – Skywarp.
Transformers historians will know that Skywarp’s creation could be perceived as being a little on the cynical side. There weren’t a huge number of Transformers when they were first released, and one way to create new characters without forking out the big bucks for new moulds was to simply re-cast an existing figure in different colours. It’s a toy trend that predated Transformers, and will likely continue for the foreseeable future. But anyway, Skywarp was one of (initially) three characters created using the same mould – his kin were Thundercracker and most famously, Starscream  

In the 30 years that have followed, there have been numerous Skywarp toys, most of them subtly retooled from Starscream moulds, to make them more distinct as separate characters while still saving on costs. But now we have come full circle, and we again have a Skywarp identical to Starscream!

The packaging for the Generations series is plain, but functional. The backing card has got a red background and the Transformers logo. On the back there’s some copy about the character’s background, and a photo of the toy in both robot and vehicle mode. It’s all printed on some nice sturdy cardstock, which in theory should make it great for MOCers.

The Generations toys now come packaged with an IDW comic book, given a Hasbro-exclusive cover to highlight the toy it’s packaged with. Skywarp comes with Part 2 of the Dark Cybertron story arc, which looks like it has some cool art but is (at this stage) somewhat incomprehensible to me, only ever having read one or two other issues of the IDW Transformers series.  As far as I could tell, the Skywarp appears in it once, and has no lines. The cover, while misleading, is great – drawn by Phil Jimenez, who has done some great work for DC in the past. 
Skywarp is held in place by papery string ties, which were much easier to get off than they were on Starscream. Additionally, the weak glue issues seem to have been addressed, partially through tape. Seems someone at Hasbro has presumably been listening to feedback.

This toy is the same mould as Starscream from the Fall of Cybertron wave. It hasn’t been retooled at all, as far as I can tell, just cast and painted in different colours. So much of what I said about that toy will apply here – I’ll be repeating myself a bit. As with Starscream, it’s a nice design which updates the G1 Transformers aesthetic for the modern age, without moving into the more realistic but less endearing “movie Transformers” territory.

I’m told that the current IDW comics continuity is based around G1, so technically this is a G1 version of the character, as opposed to a Fall of Cybertron one. However, no one’s going to dob on you if you use it for that purpose.
For articulation, he’s got:

*cut neck

*swivel-hinged shoulders
*swivel biceps

*double-hinged elbows
*cut wrists

*ball-jointed hips
*hinged knees

*hinged ankles (which I never noticed on Starscream)

His front “toe” is also hinged, but it’s more of his transformation than articulation per se.  
As with Starscream, I love the light-piped eyes. Thanks to a translucent plastic panel on top of his held, Skywarp’s eyes will glow when held up to a light source. It’s not a major feature, but it is a cool little touch.

I mentioned this in my Starscream review that one detail I would have liked to see sculpting-wise that I might have liked to see was opening and closing hands. When you look at the detail and overall vibe of the toy, the “clenched hands with a hole in the middle” seem a little odd by comparison. Still, as before, this is a minor quibble.
In aeroplane mode, he doesn’t directly resemble any “real” aircraft – rather, he’s some kind of futuristic fighter jet. The transformation process is identical to Starscream. The instructions aren’t in colour, which can make them a little tricky to follow – and again, the only area I really had issues with was the process of folding the arms into the underside of the jet. The image on the backer card shows him slightly mis-transformed, with his jet nose not tucked away in bot mode. But again, a minor issue.

Skywarp comes with one accessory – a gun with (manually) rotating double-barrels, just like Starscream. As seems to be standard with Transformers weapons, it’s ludicrously oversized compared to his robot mode, but still looks pretty awesome. The gun/s can be held in his hands, but there’s also a variety of 5mm plugs all over Skywarp – theoretically, the gun/s could slot into any of them, but how aesthetically pleasing they appear will vary wildly.

Paint apps are pretty minimal on Skywarp, and consist solely of flat colours. He’s cast in a grey, purple and black, with these colours also painted over other parts as necessary (e.g. purple on his grey chest, gray on his purple back etc). There’s a couple of pink highlights on his chest and back, and the Decepticon logo is tampoed in pink on both his wings (slightly smaller than on Starscream).

The edges are much less sloppy than Starscream, though there are still minor detail issues on his feet/thrusters. But the main problem area is his face – it’s not quite properly covered, and seems quite thick, obscuring some little details. It’s enough of an issue for me that I think I’m going to fix it myself, probably with some kind of wash.  

Ah…this is where Skywarp is Starscream’s inferior. Both of his arms pop out at the swivel bicep joint far too easily. I’m not sure if this is because they’re cast slightly too big for the joint, or if it’s a mould-related issue. But nonetheless it’s annoying – you can hold it in with some pressure, but this brings its own series of concerns – you don’t want to actually break anything. Check it before you give it to your kid and play carefully.

Skywarp has been out for some months in the US, but doesn’t look likely to show up in Australia anytime soon. I’ve only really seen Toys R Us and Target stocking the Generations line over here(with the exception of the T4 movie ones that have recently been released), and they seemed to primarily stock the Fall of Cybertron-related figures. Target put its Generations figures on clearance some months ago, presumably in anticipation of the movie line. So I’m hopeful that we’ll eventually get a few more released over here in the post-movie sales buzz.

So if he’s not out in AU, how did I get him? Well, he’s available on Amazon reasonably easily. I paid about $USD16 for him, which is quite reasonable, considering most of this range is $30AUD over here.

Skywarp is nowhere near as well-known outside of Transformers fandom as, say, Optimus Prime or his fellow Seeker Starscream. Truth be told, I remember nothing about him from the cartoon, but his cool visual aesthetic has really endeared me to him. Though the arms and face are an issue, I’m still extremely happy with him. I said in my first Transformers review that I’m philosophically I’m aligned with the Autobots, but the toys for the Decepticons tend to be much cooler. Skywarp continues this trend. As a jet – a purple and black jet – he is far more awesome than he has any real right to be.

As always, I think Hasbro is onto something good here. The Generations range is toy-ish enough for kids, but just nice enough to be collector’s pieces too. Again, I maintain that the price is a little high for what’s on offer (in AU, at least), but ordering from Amazon eliminated that particular issue.
How many more of the Generations line I buy is up in the air at this point – Skywarp was my big “get”, and I still have Scorn and Scoop waiting to be reviewed. While Metroplex looks amazing I don’t have the budget or space for him at this stage. Maybe the forthcoming Optimus and Megatron toys? Time will tell. But if I finish here, I think I'll be going out on a high.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Lego Review -- Rise of the Sphinx (7326)

Pieces: 527

Build Time: 1 ½ hours

Year: 2011

Theme: Pharaoh’s Quest
RRP: See “Availability”


I love Ancient Egypt, and Ancient Egyptian religion has always particularly fascinated me. Their curious animal-headed gods and the myths that surrounded them were particularly intriguing to me, as someone who had been raised (and still identifies) as a Christian. But in the 20+ years that I have been reading about Ancient Egypt, none have fascinated me more than Anubis. Jackal-headed, he appealed to my early fascination with dogs. Osiris and Horus may have been more prominent in the popular Egyptian pantheon, but for me it was all about Anubis.

Though there is very little mythological material surrounding Anubis, he was a very important deity, particularly in the New Kingdom era. The Egyptians of the New Kingdom believed that the path to the afterlife was guarded by various threats and hazards, and thus undertook all sorts of protective measures – usually in the form of spells, many found in the Book of the Dead, to protect themselves as they made this journey.

After the deceased had made their way through the various challenges, they would encounter one final test – the weighing of the heart, overseen by Anubis. The heart would be weighed against maat, here represented by a feather. My (limited) understanding of maat seems to be that it was some kind of universal order, and things could be either in or out of harmony with maat. We don’t really have a direct modern counterpart in other world religions that I’m aware of, but perhaps we might be able to draw an analogy with the concept of karma – namely, good deeds will be rewarded, bad deeds have consequences.  

If the heart balanced with the feather, the deceased was judged worthy to enter the afterlife. But if the heart was heavier than the feather, it would be devoured by Ammit, seen here as the crocodile-headed beast lurking beneath the scales. Ammit almost looks cute by modern standards, but she was terrifying to the Egyptians. To have your heart consumed by her was a “second death” – total obliteration of the soul, to my understanding, and the ultimate horror which seemed to exist in Egyptian metaphysics. So on this basis alone, Anubis would have a fairly vital role in Egyptian religion.

Additionally, Anubis was seen as important to the mummification process – to the extent that one of the priests overseeing the mummification process would dress as Anubis, presumably noting important details and reciting prayers and/or spells to ensure the safe passage of the deceased.

Were we to give Anubis a DnD-style alignment, we would probably call him “lawful good”. What relevance does this have to today’s review? Well, despite his reasonably benevolent presence in the pantheon, more modern takes on Egyptian mythology tend to paint Anubis as a villain – understandable, given his association with death, if inaccurate. This particular Lego set follows that mould, casting him as a sphinx and – judging by the context of the set – an evil one who springs to life when certain ancient artefacts are disturbed.

This set comes with three minifigures – Jake Raines and two Mummy Warriors.

Jake Raines is okay, but suffers from the same problem that plagues most of the Monster Fighters human characters – and indeed, most human characters in any sort of monster/horror movie. Namely, he’s just not that engaging. He does come with a few accessories though, most of which have slots on the car for you to stick them in – a pick (for archaeological digging), a bundle of dynamite (for old-school archaeological digging) and a shotgun (for blasting the undead back to their graves).

The Mummies are identical, with printing on both sides of their head. One side depicts a face with two unwrapped eyes, while the other shows only one unwrapped eye. You can use them to differentiate the two if you want, but I was happy enough with them looking the same. Additionally, they come with two weapons – a spear and a scimitar. How you divvy them up is of course your choice.

I do kind of prefer the minifigure Mummy from series 3 of the minifigures range. White wrappings and green skin just worked a little better for me, personally. Nonetheless, they’re cool troopbuilders, and they do look like they’d present a genuinely menacing threat to Jake Raines and his companions.

The set consists of three main elements. The first is the car. It’s a 1930s-style jalopy with a bit of hot rod thrown in, looking straight off the set of an Indiana Jones movie. I’m no real car fan, but it fits the pulp adventure style well and also wouldn’t look out of place with the Monster Fighters theme.


The second is the "temple" itself. This is the resting place of the golden sword, one of the artefacts which will apparently resurrect the long-dead Pharaoh if it falls into the wrong hands. This being an adventure-based set, I think it’s fairly safe to say that in most cases, it will fall into the wrong hands and the evil Pharaoh will return – but good will eventually triumph over evil. As a side note, the golden scimitar is identical to the regular one for the Mummy warrior, save its casting colour.  

The action feature of this section is kind of cool, though fairly unnecessary to me, personally. Pushing on a lever, the section of wall between Anubis’ front legs pops out, simulating the explosion of dynamite – you’ll see there’s even a little clip in there to click Jake Raines’ bundle of it in. The “explosion” then thrust the sword forth, revealing the ancient artefact to the world – now it’s up to you to decide whether the Mummy soldiers are successful in defending it.

Here is where the third element comes in – once the sealed chamber has been broken open and the golden sword revealed, Sphinx-Anubis can lurch to life, raising his legs up off the ancient podium it has sat atop for untold millennia, ready to wreck destruction on all whoever has disturbed him.

Sphinx-Anubis has a reasonable amount of articulation – his knees and ankles have ratcheted joints, and his hips all have swivel hinges. Additionally, his jaw can be opened and closed. I like to go for closed while dormant, open as he springs to life.
All of the hieroglyphics that dot the set are applied as stickers. I have mixed feelings about this; I tend to prefer printed bricks when possible, but I can also appreciate that people who build “outside the set” may have had their use from these bricks subsequently reduced. Fortunately I managed to align them all more or less correctly, a rarity for my often clumsy hands.   


This set is a few years old now, so your chances of finding it at retail are pretty slim. Finding it on the aftermarket shouldn’t be too problematic, but be prepared to pay through the nose. I found this set in a Barnes and Noble while visiting Hawaii a few weeks ago, for $USD50 – which seems about right (though I don’t think throwing in an extra minifigure would have hurt). However, I seem to recall it being far more expensive in Australia, which probably put me off at the time. The B & N I visited had one more of this set left when I bought it, but whether it will still be there now is pretty uncertain.

Despite my love of Ancient Egypt, I wasn’t too impressed with the Pharaoh’s Quest theme when I first came across it. I was also buying the second series of Atlantis at the time, and with my limited resources I couldn’t afford to be split between the two. However, the benefit of hindsight has revealed that there were a couple of cool sets in the range – particularly this one and the Scorpion Pyramid (7327), which was the big set of the theme.  

Wildly historically inaccurate, the Sphinx is nonetheless a fun set which fits well into an Indiana Jones-style pulp adventure setting, which is exactly what I hoped for. Purists will decry the exclusion of a more historically accurate version – and it would be nice to get one in future – but whether it would offer the same sort of play value is questionable. For the time being, I have a giant Lego Sphinx-Anubis, and that makes me very happy…and I’ve enjoyed it enough to also buy the Scorpion Pyramid!

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Playmobil Fi?ures Series 4: The Wizard

Company: Playmobil

Year: 2013



If you’re reading this blog, you’re no doubt familiar with the Lego Minifigures range – blind-bagged minifigures, each sold individually. Lego has been releasing them to massive success since 2010, with no sign of slowing down anytime soon. Playmobil jumped on this bandwagon pretty quickly afterwards, launching its Fi?ures range in 2011. There have been four series so far, each split into two subsets – one aimed at boys and one aimed at girls.  

The Wizard I’m reviewing today comes from series 4, which seems to have been released in late 2013 (series 5 is likely to be on the way soon, I imagine). The Fi?ures range does not inspire me to collect in my usual obsessive fashion, but this is a particularly cool Klicky and I decided I had to have him.  

Playmobil Klickies are built on one base figure (like a Lego minifigure), standing just under 3 inches tall. There seem to be a couple of variations (e.g. to allow for child Klickies), but most of the differentiation between figures appears to come from the accessories and paintwork. So if you’ve ever owned a Playmobil toy, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what you’re in for. However, there is an important difference with the Wizard – his robe is a solid piece, rather than simply being an accessory placed over normal legs.   
The face is cast in light skintone plastic, the body in black, the hands in white and his boots in black. Articulation is minimal – cut neck, cut shoulders and cut wrists. The hips are on a hinge, so the legs all move as one piece. Though minimal by action figure standards, it fits the aesthetic of the toy nicely.  However, the beard means that his neck movement is quite restricted, particularly once the cape is also added to the mix.

The Wizard comes with quite a few accessories – most of which I suspect have previously seen release in other lines, but I am no expert on Playmobil, past or modern. Those with more knowledge than me should feel free to comment below.
He comes with:

*a green wizard’s hat

*an ornate silver hatband, which somewhat resembles the Assassin’s Creed logo

*a green cape, with pointed shoulders

*a green belt

*a grey hairpiece
*a grey beard

*silver wristbands

*a set of keys (?) which attaches to his belt

*a black wizard’s staff, with a (removable) translucent green mystical orb

The “paint” on these guys seems to be largely the work of tampographs. In the Wizard’s case, it’s a little more ornate than we often see on a Klickie – a dark green pattern on the front of his lime green robe, with silver detailing further overlaid – but without hurting the simplicity of the overall design.
As he’s in a sealed bag, you won’t be able to check the paint prior to opening, but I had no dramas with mine.  

The Playmobil Fi?ures series has been lurking around toy aisles for some time, but they don’t seem to be very readily available – the main place I’ve seen them is Toys R Us, a local Central Coast toystore and once in the Reject Shop (Series 1 & 2 only, though).
Though the figures are blind-bagged, you should be able to find the Wizard reasonably easily – his hat and staff are both quite distinct and easy to feel through the foil. 

As I said in my previous review, it’s probably been close to 20 years since I have played with Playmobil, but it was a really cool experience going back to it, particularly after my enjoyment of the Ghost Knight.

But though I was over the moon when I first saw the Playmobil Wizard, I wasn’t actually as blown away as I had expected once I got him in hand. Though he’s cool, he didn’t quite “pop” as much as I hoped. This should not dissuade you from purchase, as after the incredible high of a glow-in-the-dark Ghost Knight, I suppose it’s natural that other releases might not shine quite as brightly by comparison. The Wizard is a great little toy and I’m very glad to have added him to the collection. Epic photos of the battle between the two will hopefully follow soon!