Sunday, 19 February 2017

REVIEW: Badcube OTS-09 Grump & OTS-10 Slick

When TakaraTomy released Masterpiece MP-10 Convoy, a new goal was set in many collector’s minds. Suddenly, it seemed like completing a set of scaled, animation-accurate figures representing the G1 cartoon cast might become a reality, even if it was one likely to take some time to come to fruition. That was six years ago, and whilst we still have some distance to go in terms of the official line, it’s incredible to think that collectors who bolster their ranks with third party additions are actually nearing at least one particular finish line - the season 1 Autobot Ark crew. In producing Grump, arguably the first Masterpiece-styled Gears, Badcube have given us what could be considered the final piece of this puzzle.

I’ve been hoping Badcube would produce a Gears ever since the likes of Huff & Brawny, and now finally here it is. Of course, in a fashion that is becoming something of a tradition for the company, Grump is being released in tandem with Slick, a rendition of G1 Swerve. It’s always amazed me how Badcube can produce quite different figures from what is basically the same mould, so I was certainly interested to see how they would get on with these two.

Final note before I begin – these are retail samples, so they’re exactly the same as what’s available now. So, let’s not waste any more time and jump in to take a look!

Both figures come packaged in the usual block-coloured boxes that regular Badcube collectors will already be familiar with. I’m a big fan myself, and I’m really pleased that they’ve kept this quite consistent throughout their run so far, with the exception of their Evil Bug Corps.

Inside the boxes, I was slightly surprised to find that the figures themselves come packaged in robot mode, as I have become accustomed to Badcube’s products being in vehicle mode. I guess it helps to make sure the boxes are as tiny as they are! As well as the usual instructions & character cards, you have some pretty neat accessories with both robots.

Included with Grump there is a blaster, a small hand attachment and a tiny little rectangular circuit card. Those last two accessories are both homages to different parts of the G1 cartoon season 2 episode Changing Gears; in fact this whole package makes it very clear that Badcube did their homework on that episode, as we shall see! Included with Slick you have a spare head with a screaming face, and a blaster.

As these guys have both been packaged in robot mode, let’s kick things off there. The first thing you’ll no doubt notice right out of the box is how incredibly tiny they are! They’re pretty much the same size as Masterpiece Bumblebee, which I think works exceptionally well myself. You’ll hopefully also notice that they look pretty great!

Yes, those are some relatively clean robot modes overall, with Grump especially doing a great job at hiding most of the vehicular kibble to give quite a sleek humanoid form. It’s only really a couple of bits on the legs that perhaps betray this slightly, but overall it works really well. I’d say they’re two nicely proportioned and very attractive looking ‘bots. You’ll no doubt also notice some of the rather obvious moulding differences between the two figures, which we will cover in more detail in a second.

So, let’s look at Grump first, as he’s surely the one of the two that most collectors will be more interested in. It’s also quite clear that he was the focus when this design was being put together, although again I’ll cover off those comparisons when looking at Slick, specifically. First thing to note here is the bright colours – he really pops and certainly looks very cartoony!

Also of note here is the attractive silver paint that’s used. It mixes well with the vibrant blue & red colouring, and looks great. I’m very much looking forward to adorning that spot on his chest with an Autobot logo, too!

I have to say this is pretty much what I would have wanted a Masterpiece-styled Gears to look like. Again, the legs could perhaps be a little bit cleaner, but overall I really think that Badcube have done a great job here. I’d add that Grump also very much evokes the original animation. If anything, he looks less goofy!

Gears' animation model

He’s also quite nicely articulated, and more than capable of pulling off some neat poses. I’m a particular fan of the large range of motion available at the ankles, which makes a lot of unusual poses possible. The hip skirt does slightly impede the forward range of leg motion though, and it’s a shame that there’s no hand articulation to speak of. Admittedly, this is in keeping with Masterpiece Bumblebee yet again, but I do think that fixed fists don’t always look great in various poses. Still, it’s a good range overall.

I’m impressed with some of the little touches that really help to evoke the character, including things like the perfectly shaped chest and the contours of the shins & hips. Then of course, there’s the head. I really do think that they’ve absolutely nailed the character with this one – that headsculpt is spot on Gears, and the moody expression is just perfect.

Of course, one of the big gimmicks with this figure is the alternate face, which is revealed by a simple mechanism of lifting up the silver face itself, rotating it around, and pushing it back down into place. It’s simple enough, even if I was unnecessarily nervous about scratching the paint whilst doing it. The alternate face is a complete contrast – it’s happy Gears! This is a clear homage to the part in Changing Gears when his personality is modulated after Megatron removes a circuit card from his chest, and it looks brilliant!

But wait, there’s more, because Badcube have seen fit to work in a lift-up chest piece that reveals the character’s inner robotic workings, all as seen in that episode. It’s remarkably detailed and absolutely spot on to the animation. The circuit card accessory fits into a little slot inside easily enough, though I have to say that removing it is a lot more tricky, and will almost certainly require a pair of tweezers or something!

Overall I can only say that I absolutely love the inclusion of these little details with this figure, and I really think it does the character justice. I’d also add that I only realised later that Badcube actually packaged Grump with his smiley face on display, which I am guessing is because the circuit card accessory is not shipped inside his chest inside the box – now that’s attention to detail! All-in-all here, you have everything you should need to recreate some classic scenes from the cartoon.

"A secret sensor scan of all the Autobots..." (With Masterpiece Starscream & DX9 Mightron)

"...revealed that you alone have the special circuit I need."

"Fill the energon cubes, Autobot slave!"

"Your special circuit card, Gears. Here you are." (With Hasbro Masterpiece Optimus Prime)

The other main accessory here is the hand attachment, which also references the same episode. It’s a small welding torch which Gears uses after he has been enslaved by Megatron. Again, it’s a neat little cartoon homage.

In fact, I’d say that Grump overall does a bang up job at representing Gears as I remember him from the cartoon, especially when you’re trying to recreate some of his classic scenes. He looks great when lined up next to some of the other Masterpiece-styled figures!

With Masterpiece Ironhide

With Masterpiece Bumblebee

With Badcube Brawny

With Badcube Speedbump

With Masterpiece Skywarp

Also with Masterpiece Wheeljack

Also with FansToys Willis, Masterpiece Ratchet & Maketoys Downbeat

Also with Badcube Sunsurge

With Badcube Wardog & Lorry

Badcube's season 1 Autobot line-up with Hasbro Masterpiece Optimus Prime

Yet it's the full Ark crew line-up that surely sells the deal on this one! I've arguably waited over thirty years to take this picture!

So, Grump has certainly impressed so far, but what about Slick? Despite being the same basic mould, it’s quite clear that there are some notable differences between the two, as even the most rudimentary examination reveals.

The most obvious points are no doubt the shoulders, which feature the sides of the front bonnet folded down over the top. They do just kind of hang there as opposed to being fixed in place, which can feel a little cumbersome at times. However, it is at least true to the character and doesn’t hinder articulation for the most part as they can be moved out of the way for posing. You’ll possibly also notice that the wheels on the sides of his legs are present, as opposed to being folded inside as on Grump. In actuality, you can transform Slick either way, depending on your preference, though the wheels being left out is certainly more animation-accurate. Unfortunately it does mean that the back of the legs are left hollow, giving the slight impression of Grump being the focus of attention when designing this mould, but I don’t really find this to be a big problem myself.

With the wheels folded in on the legs

With the wheels folded in on the legs

The other major difference is of course the head piece, which is entirely remoulded for this figure. Sadly, it’s fixed in place and so doesn’t allow for any movement. This means that the only head articulation available is a tiny bit of movement on the neck ball joint itself, though this is mostly impeded. To me, this is bit of a drawback with this figure, as it does mean that posing him is limited to stances where he’s looking forward.

That’s not to say that he’s not otherwise poseable though – I still had tons of fun with him, and managed to crank out plenty of decent stances. You just have to be a little mindful of him looking forwards.

So, Slick is perhaps not quite as, erm, slick as Grump overall, but I will say that he’s still very nice! He certainly does look great, and I am a big fan of the attractive moulding details and lovely little painted touches on his chest.

As before, the chest itself can be flipped up to reveal some entirely different robotic detail. The circuit card slot is gone of course, and I’m quite impressed that Badcube saw fit to re-do this piece here. In fact there are many little touches that help to make him feel quite different from Grump overall, and it really helps to sell them as different characters. Everything including the shins, the hips, the thighs – it’s all been redone, and it’s appreciated.

As for how well Slick does at representing Swerve as we know him from the G1 cartoon, it’s only difficult to say because of how limited his appearances were! Though IDW comic readers will be very familiar with the character these days, thirty years ago he received virtually no love whatsoever, and only made one solitary appearance in the animation. This was in the season 3 episode Five Faces of Darkness (part 5), when he is seen lined up with a small brigade of other Autobots trying to protect the Autobot base from an attack by Trypticon. Swerve has no lines of dialogue and is only clearly seen in one frame briefly, with his most notable achievement being stepped on & crushed by the big Decepticon dinosaur! Still, Badcube have rather hilariously seen fit to homage this episode with the alternate head included here. Neat touch.

Swerve's solitary G1 cartoon appearance

The head itself just pops on and off a ball joint easily enough, and certainly does a good job at bringing the animation to life! It also helps that Slick looks absolutely brilliant when lined up against some of his comrades. Whilst the character may not be the most prominent in the original fiction, he becomes more essential in terms of completing a line-up, and I for one am grateful to finally have my season 3 minibot brigade in full attendance!

He does look good next to other figures as well though, and it's fun to imagine him in a season 3 line-up outside of his lone animation adventure!

With Masterpiece Rodimus Prime

With Masterpiece Ultra Magnus

With Badcube Wardog & Backland

With X-Transbots Hatch

So, overall I have to say that I am a big fan of these modes. There’s no doubt that Grump is the superior robot in several regards, being generally tidier and a touch more poseable, but Slick is also a nice achievement and a decent homage for such a background character.

Badcube have acquired a reputation for somewhat complex transformations over their tenure, and whilst I personally enjoy converting their figures I do know some who find them a bit tricky. Well, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about here, as both Grump & Slick can be easily manipulated between modes in a matter of minutes.

True, they’re maybe a touch more intricate than Masterpiece Bumblebee, but only by a tiny margin. There’s certainly nothing here that should prove too challenging for the regular Masterpiece collector, let’s put it that way! I did initially have a little difficulty with getting everything tabbed in just so, but with a little practice it’s not hard to spot some small touches that really help with this.

Overall, everything comes together very nicely, and you’re left with some very smart looking truck modes.

Masterpiece versions of the G1 minibots were always going to be a tricky issue. Masterpiece Bumblebee caused all kinds of debate for his non-chibi Volkswagen Beetle mode, and the arguments for and against a similar treatment of a potential Masterpiece Cliffjumper still rage on. The premise of the line has seemingly always been to give the real-world alt’-mode-treatment to every character, though there are examples that work against this also. For me, I think it works best to judge each character on their own merit, as clearly it’s tricky to apply a definitive logic to a line as diverse as this. By that token, I think Badcube have played a strong hand with their choice of aesthetic for Grump & Slick’s truck modes.

By that I mean that I think these guys do a neat job at being suitably “real world” whilst still evoking a sense of the characters as they appeared in the animation. Admittedly, it’s not an exact match, but I’m never in any doubt about who this is supposed to be, so to me it works well!

Gears' animation model

It also helps that these truck modes are cute as a button. They’re really small, but nicely detailed and quite tidy for the most part.

In fact, they do a good enough job at hiding the kibbly bits that I’d say it’s only the rear view that gives even a sniff of this being a robot in disguise.

So, they’re compact, tidy and look pretty good overall. They’re also surprisingly fun to play with, perhaps on account of their size, and there are some neat little touches like being able to store the gun on the rear axle. I will say that my copy of Grump has one wheel that seems to stick ever so slightly, but it’s not a massive problem and otherwise they roll pretty well.

I’d doubt that anyone was expecting things like rubber tyres on such small figures, but there is enough going on here to at least make these two feel slightly special, including some attractive moulded details and some well-applied paint touches.

Overall though, it’s likely to be the test of how well these two sit alongside other Masterpiece-styled figures that will sell them in. I do think that the vibrant colours make them stand out ever so slightly from the likes of the MP carbots, and I have no doubt that they’re sufficiently small to make fans who like their vehicles to all scale with one another a little frustrated, but to me these are things to expect from a release like this. They do their job well in sticking relatively close to the animation, and in that regard I think they look great next to other figures, both Badcube and non.

With Masterpiece Optimus Prime

With Badcube Brawny & Speedbump

With Badcube Backland & Wardog

With Masterpiece Ratchet & Prowl

With Masterpiece Bumblebee

All the Badcube Autobots

Slick certainly does a great job at lining up next to the rest of that minibot brigade charging off to meet Trypticon!

However, it’s Grump that I think really takes the cake, especially as his presence finally allows for a complete set of the Autobot Ark crew as they transform to vehicle mode and head out on a mission… say it with me - “ROLL OUT!”

Another Badcube double act, another great set of figures. I was very much looking forward to these two, and they haven’t disappointed overall.

Grump does an absolutely brilliant job at evoking the character of Gears, and I suspect it may be some time before anyone else makes another figure that comes so close. It’s also a real thrill to see him lined up with his fellow season 1 Autobots.

Slick is not quite as polished overall, but still a good figure in my opinion. I’d probably have awarded him a 3 rating by himself, but as part of the overall ensemble there’s no doubt for me that Badcube have done it again.

What's HOT?
Good looking ‘bot modes, nice & easy transformations and fun little vehicle modes. Grump especially has some brilliant accessories & other touches that are wonderful homages to the G1 cartoon. Oh, and Grump’s face sculpt is spot on!

What's NOT?
Slick suffers with some poseability a little, most notably the lack of head articulation. Some fans may also be turned off by his hollow legs at the back, though it doesn’t bother me personally.

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  1. I don't mind a BC transformation, but I just find these frustrating. For something so straightforward the tabbing issues are inexcusable for me, they just aren't fun. Gears does look great tho.

    1. Sorry to hear! Someone else mentioned to me that they had problems like this, but I didn't struggle as much, must admit. Maybe just lucky?