If there’s one thing the majority of the fandom loves that I completely agree with, it’s combiners.
Devastator, Raiden, Scramble City, G2 repaints, JRX, Road Caesar, TFCC Nexus Maximus (snigger), Brave toys, official, 3rd party; I love ’em all!
After the Devastator battles of 2012, it became pretty clear even to Hasbro that, yeah, there is a market for these things after all. But what was the problem to begin with? Why did Hasbro think the market would not respond?
History time. Hasbro’s problem with doing Combiners during the early days of the CHUG era was a practical one; they didn’t believe retailers would know how to stock them given the mixed scale would place them into different cases, and not all retailers stock all assortments. Given how annoying the distribution was for the Energon combiners back in 2003/2004, I guess they know what they’re talking about. After the shelf-warmer disaster that was the ROTF combiners (Energon Bruticus and Superion – both clogged up the aisles until FP released add-on packs), and the failed Titan Devastator combiner all in 2009, it’s not surprising they were cautious.
The solution: test the market with a video game tie-in, and make all five components the same scale so they can all be distributed in the same case assortment. This gave the world FOC Bruticus (the first rule of Wreckers club is we DO NOT TALK ABOUT RUINATION), and whatever your personal feelings on the matter; he sold very well, but with very mixed reactions online and in the fan community (leading to 3rd party add-on sets, and an entire replacement figure) and obviously the water had been tested, and it was lukewarm.
While that was happening in the retail stores, online dealers were selling TFC Hercules parts for up to $100/ £80 each, and Maketoys debut combiner Giant was selling for $350 / £300, and the online buzz surrounding these figures was HUGE!
I’ve spoke at great lengths about how the greatest legacy of 3rd Party releases to date has been the free market research that they gave Hasbro / Takara, proving just how much disposable income there is out there waiting for updates of these characters we all love. While Takara took the direction of upping the quantity of Masterpiece releases and quality repaints, Hasbro and Takara took a decision to commit the mainline Transformers to Combiners… in a big way!
Combiner Wars has been a huge success, and by making the entire line (excluding Leader classes) interchangeable and interactive (harkening back to that original Scramble City ethos of 1986), case assortments were no problem for retailers, especially with savvy fans knowing exactly what they want.
For me, the best part of Combiner Wars has been the randomness; Sky Lynx… a torso-bot? New characters with Rook, Alpha Bravo, and Offroad. G2 repaints including the never before officially released Stunticons (don’t let us down on Defensor now guys). SCROUNGE for goodness sake!!! Sure, there have been miss-steps along the way – such as making Blast-Off a plane, keeping Groove as a scout class ‘bot, and how token the Hasbro first attempt at Scattorshot was – but while Takara has capitalised on these miss-steps, Hasbro has also been quick to rectify and listen to fan feedback. And good on them for doing so!
Of course, while this has been happening, the 3rd Party Combiners haven’t gone away, and in many ways Hasbro are still playing catch-up, as we’ve now had 4 different Devastators, 2 Computrons, 2 sets of Dinobots, Abonimus and all the Scramble City guys, and are already well in to the realms of Liokaiser, Dinoking and the Seacons.
Today, we’re going to be taking a look at Maketoys third combiner offering; Guardia, their version of the Protectobots, and we will be doing so alongside comparison shots of the Combiner Wars Defensor.
AXLE / GROOVE
Groove is possibly the hardest figure of the team to do right for a multitude of reasons. His scaling compared to his other team members makes zero sense, but this is G1 influenced, and Maketoys seemed to judge the fans wants, needs and expectations better than Hasbro with this one.
The robot mode for Axle just oozes character. They’ve managed to do a complete 180 with the character and actually make him look cool. His hyper-stylised and uber-poseable lean robot mode is very reminiscent of manga stylings , and I think people could criticise the company for going such a different direction for Axle, however, I think we’ve all come to expect this sort of creative liberty from the amazing designers that Maketoys employ. If this was the first figure out of the gate from a new company, I’m sure it would be more divisive, but after Giant and Quantron, we have a bloody good idea what to expect from this company and designer, and stylised cool-ass ‘bots are the way to go.
Hasbro’s first attempt at CW Groove is a bit… well;
Transformation wise, the Hasbro bots win. I don’t want to have to say this four times, so presume I feel this way about all of the others except when I mention otherwise. The Maketoys ones are not awful to transform, I found them easier and way more instinctual than both Giant and Quantron limbs. I managed to transform all four of them from robot mode to vehicle mode without instructions all within the running time of Jaws 3 (1 hour 20). I say this a lot, but I genuinely believe that had these been packaged in alt. mode, the first transformation experience would be so much more positive it would improve people’s perceptions of the transformations.
Groove’s G1 figure was the first Transformers motorcycle attempt, and he was always a bit basic; making him a police bike might have hurt his aesthetic, but it provided the extra bulk necessary to pad him out for a combiner limb. It’s a bit unfair to compare the two we have here, as the scale is so different, not to mention the disparity in pricing. Hasbro CW Groove makes a great pocket money bot, and kudos to Hasbro for trying to think about scaling by making Groove a smaller bot and chest attachment, even if the majority of fans want the old-school look. As I always say, it’s great to have the option, and I love the attempt to add to the legacy of the brand not merely draw from it’s past that characters like Rook deliver. Overall, I like the idea of the small bike mode a lot more than the execution. Whereas the Maketoys one looks damn cool in both modes, and the bike mode is an especially pleasing end result.
ROVER / STREETWISE
Streetwise is a bit of an also-fan in the Transformers history book, except for an excellent Christmas issue of the UK comic. Perhaps it was a tad redundant having a second police car on the good-guys side? To further compound bargain-Prowl comparisons, they also made him a Nissan Fairlady. Doh! Thankfully, two things made this guy stand out back in 1986, one was his fairly unique transformation making his front windshield his chest, and the other was his unique head-sculpt, completely separate from his combiner peg giving him a lot of character. Thankfully, the Maketoys release; Rover, follows this unique transformation, which is great because I feel it gives his robot mode a really unique look. Not so the CW figure, as it could be one of 100 characters, but then none of the Combiner Wars characters seem to integrate car parts into their robot mode particularly well, leaving Prowl’s robot mode hood-less and killing a key part of his character in the process.
Head wise, I cannot fault any of the head sculpts of the Combiner Wars line, they are an absolute highlight of the line across the board, and Streetwise is no exception. Rover’s is equally good, similar enough to be recognisable as Streetwise, while different enough to
not get sued have a character all of his own.
Transformation; again you have to give it to Combiner Wars, just for it’s fun fiddle factor and done in seconds change. Rover isn’t too bad, but the more involved transformation does give him split down the middle syndrome, similar to the P:RID release of Vehicon. I feel this is the price we pay for a more involved robot mode which integrates parts. Contrary to this, the CW Streetwise is uber clean in vehicle mode, though fairly generic with a bit of a shell-former robot hiding within.
Technically, he transforms into a Sheriff’s car, rather than a police car. You wouldn’t know this looking at the CW release, which just has police lazily branded on him, and no efforts to even place a sheriff badge on him somewhere. Repaints have killed a lot of the car molds for me in the CW line, and I really like how distinct Rover looks, and his SHERIFF badges are hard to miss.
MT Himed / First Aid
First Aid, probably considered a Ratchet replacement for the 1986 range after the great cull of The Movie. First Aid’s face-plate has somehow always managed to convey a lot of character, and that’s definitely carried over into this sculpt. The inverse red cross on his chest somehow manages to look more Christian Rock album cover than I think it was intended.
Somehow, the boxy little ambulance guy ends up looking super suave. They’ve somehow kept him lean and athletic.
The transformation on Himed isn’t so bad, and honestly, I’m pretty amazed by the engineering involved. That’s a crap ton of robot packed into a tiny little alt. mode that ends up smaller than the CW toy. It’s one of the cleverest transformations I’ve played with, and at times makes you believe in mass shifting. Compact.
It’s hard to make an ambulance look super dynamic and interesting, but at least Himed looks like First Aid in alt. mode, as once again, that alt. mode could be any one of maybe 6 different characters. The clear windshield makes a big difference to me, and I also like the lack of huge, visible weapon ports. Yet all of the Maketoys guys can use their weapons for a weaponised vehicle mode no problem.
Katana is probably the most interesting figure in the set, in terms of what has come before with small helicopter ‘bots, and what we get here. Sure, we’ve had some decent helicopter toys with varied designs in recent years; Springer, CHUG Blades, Skyhammer – but few in a deluxe scale. Tomahawk came the closest, but his legs suffered a lot.
What we have here is a hyper stylised, lean, athletic poseable figure complete with all the hyperbolic terms I used with all the other figures, but with the added bonus of having a fantastic transformation.
Katana is the biggest member of the team, limb-wise, and he’s just great. So much fun to fiddle with, pose and play with. I know that rotors becoming swords is the biggest cliche to hit Transformers since green construction vehicles, but I think the melee weapons really help give him a bit of extra character and identity within this team.
In vehicle mode, Katana looks great, and little details such as fold-out landing gear makes a real difference. I also welcome the four helicopter blades over the two on Blades. Overall, I like the design solution to hide the arms as guns on the CW version, but I like the clean helicopter mode and the option to attach weaponry the MT version affords.
Interestingly, back in 2012 I opted for Hercules over Maketoys Giant, I preferred the bulk of the robot mods and found the transformation of the TFC versions to be more fun. Giant was just too far out there aesthetically, and different from my idea of Devastator. Fast forward a few years, and we have Quantron, Guardia, FP Intimidator and the FP Bruticus upgrade kit, and these combiners have such a distinct look and styling, that what I once considered a weakness, I now consider their greatest strength.
Maketoys transformation really are the other end of the spectrum to the CW, with CW looking like it hasn’t learned anything about transformations other than articulation since 1986. Is this a plus or a negative, and for which set? Well, that’s up to the individual, with many people preferring the Fiddle Former aspect of the CW range, and yes, they are fun, yet sometimes there is something more rewarding in a complex transformation, no?
Maketoys give me everything I want in a combining Bot, and I don’t mind the price-point as they feel like quality products throughout, and at no point was I scared of breakages, but at the same time there is a part of me that would have liked slightly simpler transformations. I feel there is a middle ground somewhere between complexity, pricepoint and aesthetic, which has not been hit yet with combiners, though I feel Classics era figures had the balance right, but no combiners. Go figure.
Despite the matching character choices and end game, these figures really are aimed at two completely different markets, and that’s pretty cool. The costs involved, not to mention the ease in which you can pick up the majority of CW figures, make the CW an obvious choice for the majority of collectors. Should you want something more, and you’re not afraid by the price of entry, then Maketoys have the stylised bots for you.
So which one is better? Quite simply, only the individual can decide.
Ultimately, I personally feel that with just a few minor changes, the CW would be great toys and very display worthy, but like a lot of Hasbro figures post 2011, they’re just a bit too simple, light, and cheap for me. I find the clip-on wheels particularly lame. For that reason, and space reasons, I am keeping the MT, but I’m holding out for a G2 Defensor set, so I can have the best of both worlds.
As soon as Vulcan is in hand, I will do a Hotspot comparison, and a combined mode comparison.
Thanks for reading.