TFC are a very hit and miss company for me. I LOVED Hercules (the first 3rd party Devastator back from 2012) when it was released, and I’m the controversial one who slightly prefers it over Maketoys Giant. Although Giant looks amazing in combined form (and I love that particular designer’s aesthetic), I prefer Hercules as toys to fiddle with, as I feel they look great in vehicle mode, great in robot mode (they’re starting to date now, mostly in the leg area) and are fun to transform.
TFC’s second combiner was Uranos (Superion), and while I absolutely adore the limb-bots for their ultra Earth-world realistic alt. modes and full of character robot-modes, there were a few odd choices along the way. Their Silverbolt analogue was changed from the Concorde-style we all know and love into a Lockheed M-21 (incorrectly known by most as a Blackbird (probably because of X-Men), but from the same family as the A12 which evolved into the SR-71 later used as Jetfire in Revenge of the Fallen), and included a sixth bot – a D-21 drone – as a chest shield option way before Combiner Wars was even a glint in Hasbro’s eyes. 3rd Party really has been influential in a host of different ways. Uranos left a bad taste in a lot of fans mouth’s by the inclusion of the “Wing’s of Uranos” add-on set (yes, it’s a astronomical pun, there’s a grammar one coming later too!), containing weapons, missiles and a more accurate chest-shield that many felt should have been included from the start – unlike the “Rage of Hercules” set which genuinely felt like an optional extra.
History lesson over? Almost (and yes, I’m aware I use brackets too much, so much so I just got called in for a Parenthesis / Teacher meeting, ho-ho).
TFC released two more combiners with little fanfare. Ares (Predaking) alongside War-Lord almost objectively lost the Predaking wars of 2014/15 to MMC’s mighty Feral Rex, but was still a well built and highly competent combiner which has it’s fans to this day – although with it’s ultra re-designed character design, I still argue it feels like an updated Beast Wars type of combiner rather than Predacons. Almost simultaneously, they started work on their Defensor homage; Prometheus, a piece you don’t see all to often or hear about much, and you very rarely see for sale, perhaps because it sold in extremely low numbers, or because the people who do own it, love it?
Either way, TFC went from having THE must have toy of the year in 2012, to barely registering in the last few years of Best 3P toys as voted for by the fans, coupled with a single figure Reflector release that barely anyone liked and ended up being massively clearanced everywhere, and it’s not been a good few years for TFC. With the rise of other combiners from more popular companies, and newcomers like Warbotron, is there still a place for TFC?
Enter Hades. An extremely ambitious 6-bot combiner, as an homage to Takara’s Japanese exclusive Liokaiser, as seen here on the Kapow blog previously.
Let’s take a look at the first four releases so far.
H-01 Minos / Hellbat
A great first release, and what a joyful experience in hand. The robot mode is very sleek and sexy, almost feeling like a femme-bot in the shoulders and waist (there I go body shaming – femme-bots can be ANY body shape, natch!). His robot mode is almost too sleek, as I fear he’s a slash meme waiting to happen. Like all of these guys, his head sculpt is fantastic. I never understood why their robot heads of the G1 originals are so animalistic given their vehicle alt. modes, but I love it as it gives the entire team a unique look and shared identity.
Jet mode is almost flawless, what can I say. Landing gear is great, and although robot pieces are visible underneath the jet, that’s something that even the biggest MP jets suffer from, although I can’t help feeling some of the Uranos guys stored the arms more compact than this guy manages to.
His transformation isn’t perfect, as I often felt I was shaving that 1 mil of plastic off for extra clearance, but never in a way that is painful or detracts from the toy, it’s just that everything is very tight, solid, and has a place to go with not much wasted motion. Overly designed? Thankfully, no, and once you figure out how to rotate the cockpit down and around, using the clearance provided by the landing gear bay doors, you’re done with the tricky bit!
Five out of six of these Hades guys have very Combiner wars feeling legs, with them opening and rotating and locking the knee joints into place rather than the older slide and click joints we’ve seen loads of in the past. Now I’m unsure of the chronology, but looking at the lead-time for 3rd party toys I’m doubtful they had any Combiner Wars toys in hand by the time they were designing these, unless these are VERY fast-tracked. If they’re rushed, they do not feel it at all, every inch of this guy feels very well designed and executed with zero corner cutting. Unlike Combiner Wars, these guys have hands and feet too, not just solid molded blocks, so that’s a bonus!
H-02 Thanatos / Killbison
Because H-01 and H-02 were released together and Kapow were sold out of Minos, this guy was my first experience with any part of Hades. Named after the Greek daemonic personification of death, Thanatos has a lot to live up to, and he delivers! Not only is there a highly competent real-world looking tank, but what an amazing robot! This is a huge character update, much needed compared to the original toy, and includes a few updates over the original character art too whilst staying VERY close, with an option of displaying his robot mode with tank treads folded down, or up the leg like his original design. Great stuff.
The transformation is fun, but fiddly at times as there is a lot packed in there, mostly due to his legs also storing his combined mode foot; it’s a great storage solution, but as the foot stores differently in robot and alt. mode, in can make it tricky and overly complicated until you get it down. As the first transformation has to be into alt. mode (all toys should be packaged in alt. mode to make the robot reveal more fun and revealing than opening a box), panel-lining on the tank can be a little tricky and times, but no worse than the fun movie toys. It’s definitely a huge leap in transformation over the original, which were great fun but very simple.
H-03 Cerberus / Jaruga
Time for the Marmite filling on this otherwise awesome sandwich.
Jaruga is the weakest of the bunch by far. His robot mode is great, if not particularly accurate with his massive child-bearing hips, and I’m sure they could have come up with any solution to improve those bloody floating wheels on his arms and hips, it is 2016 after all. There is nothing wrong with the robot, it’s a solid build, full of personality, and in some ways his chunky nature gives him extra identity in a team of varied body-types; Minos the gymnast, Thanatos the fighter, Cerberus the power-lifter / sumo, and Rhadamanthus the all-round athlete Captain America leader type. I’m reaching, won’t you reach with me? His head sculpt is FLAWLESS at least.
In vehicle mode, he is even more disappointing. I don’t get what that alternate mode is at all. A buggy of some sort, I guess? But I only guess that because I know the original. I was going to compare it to Energon Beachcomber as an insult, but actually, Energon Beachcomber has a better front end. In it’s defense, I never really understood what the alt. mode of the original toy was supposed to be, but while that was built in a vacuum, this had a clear guideline to follow. Am I being too harsh? Agree / disagree, leave a comment.
So why the change? Is this TFC slipping into Uranos territory again? I don’t know, but my educated guess would be that every change is one of necessity, and they’ve put the stability and functionality of the combined mode ahead of the individual’s figures needs. It’s not the worst reason in the world to do this, and the robot mode and combined mode are sure to be how the majority of people display these, but I can’t help feeling there was a better solution that would make this guy feel more like Jaruga, and less like a placeholder until something better comes along.
Until I build the combiner (as some people have done with 2 x Minos and 2 x Thanatos, but I like to preserve the combination as an occasion once all pieces are in), I won’t know for sure if these changes were valid.
H-04 Rhadamanthus / Leozack
The star of the line so far, make no mistake. This figure should launch a thousand Botcon Leozack’s onto eBay, as they’re not needed anymore (and goes for a similar price to this, so I’m not sure why some people complain about the cost of 3rd party when this is infinitely better than an Energon Starscream repaint).
This guy is oozing with smarm; just look at him.
The only complaint I have about robot mode is that my preferred hands-on-hips arrogant pose does exacerbate his combiner clips on his triceps. These are easy enough to hide in any of the other hundred poses I’ve displayed him in.
As great as his robot mode looks, his alt. mode looks equally great. Undeniably an F-14, he invokes the best part of his original figure and Classics Jetfire, with a little bit of Brave Jet Sabre thrown in for good measure. His colours absolute pop, and the attention the figure gives to making sure everything pops into place is brilliant.
Transformation wise, his legs deserve extra mention for the ingenious fold out panels which minimises and stabilises the storage of his arms in jet mode. Sure, he still has a lot of robot kibble underneath, but at least it’s stored, not flapping about. His hands can be a little fiddly to unstore once they’ve been folded away for alt. mode, so be careful there, these modern unposeable trigger hands can easily jam. The storage of the combined mode head in his chest is fantastic, and the way his robot head stores inside that bigger head for alt. mode is also very cool.
Something to note on all these guys, is that their chests looks great, even without their Breastmaster partner. This is great news, as the triple changing beasts looks great as a target master, or as an animal companion. There are a lot of design liberties taken with all of the beast partners, but none of which detract from them, and not HAVING to display them as chest-plates like the G1 toys really opens things up. Great stuff!
Another plus point; I transformed EVERY SINGLE ONE of these with NO INSTRUCTIONS. Why am I shouting? Because this feels like an accomplishment for a 3rd party combiner. Not for me, but for them. With something like Hellfire, the transformation is instinctive to anyone who has ever held a G1 Inferno, with these guys experience with the original toys counts for nothing, and the fact that out of the box you can transform these using only picture references, counts for a lot. As mentioned early, I just wish they had been packaged in alt. mode first.
The colours are ever so slightly off, but with the rarity of the G1 toys and the cultural divide between G1 puritans and 3rd party fanboys or people bulking out their CHUG collection, how many people out their will own both? And out of those people how many will be bothered by the colours? 30 years on, few toys are pantone matched to their original designs. It doesn’t feel like the colour choice is an iGear fast-one, waiting for a “G1” re-release six months later, it feels like they picked the right colours for the toys they were making, rather than slavishly following the originals.
So here’s a question I will hear if I don’t answer it: are these designed for MP or CHUG. The answer as always is whatever YOU damn-well like. Given how small the G1 toys are, and how big this is sizing up to be, these feel like Masterpieces, and I certainly can’t see anyone giving us a better Liokaiser anytime soon, and I’m not sure I’d ever want a bigger version. Masterpiece is a brand or maybe a state-of-mind, rather than any specific scale or size, and let’s be honest; Transformers has NEVER had sensible scaling. Ever. Wrist rotation? Check. Ankle tilt? Check. Necks for full posing? 3 out of 4. Individual fingers? No. Amazing toys? ABSOLUTELY! Why else would I spend 4 hours on a Saturday writing about them?
I heartily recommend these to everyone, not just combiner fans, or Liokaiser fans, these are simply great figures for the adult collector who wants a little more from their combiners than what Hasbro offer.
With Aiakos and Hypnos still to come, things are looking good. Very good. I’m not merely saying that Hades is looking great, I’m saying that when all is said and done, TFC and the fans might consider renaming Hades as TFC; Redemption.
Hey, TFC, really want to really impress me? How about H-07 DEATHCOBRA!!!
Kapow Toys have been supporting 3rd party toys and TFC since the very beginning, you can get all of Hades on their site and pre-order the rest, and the first parts of TFC’s forthcoming Poseidon adventure (Piranacon) right here.