Friday, 24 February 2017

REVIEW: Maketoys MTRM-09 Downbeat

I’ve had a slew of new releases and test shots to review recently, and so it’s been a little while since I’ve had the chance to do one of my shorter snapshot looks at a figure that I’ve personally picked up for my collection. However, as soon as I had my hands on Maketoys Downbeat I knew I had to find the to say a few words about him! Without giving the game away, I’ve become really quite enamoured by this figure, and wanted to put down a few of the reasons why.

I suppose it’s worth starting us off by acknowledging how exciting it is to finally see someone release a Masterpiece-styled Jazz. For the longest time it felt like no-one was giving any love to a character that is so beloved and iconic. I’ve no doubt that many collectors who grew up in the ‘80s will cite Jazz as a highly memorable part of Transformers lore, and I’m certainly no exception. However, rumours about that TakaraTomy will struggle with licensing rights, and it’s only been very recently that third party attempts have come anywhere near fruition. Oh, and no, I haven’t forgotten about Generation Toy J4ZZ - I reviewed him here, remember? Sadly that test shot has long passed onto other reviewers, so there's no chance of a comparison here. In any case, as nice as that figure was, there’s no argument that he’s a very stylised interpretation, whereas I’m talking about a no-holds-barred unapologetically-G1 version, which is what a lot of fans will be after.

Step in Maketoys. In fact they’ve released this chap with a bit of a bang, as it’s been an amazingly quick journey from reveal to release. That’s not to say that they haven’t made a decent effort with this one though, and I believe this figure has the potential to be the definitive take on the character at least for now, or perhaps until TakaraTomy do eventually get round to taking a stab themselves. In fact part of me feels that perhaps the biggest missed opportunity here is simply the third party name; “Downbeat” is fine but I’m surprised none of the unofficial versions we’ve seen so far have taken the opportunity to name their figure “Scatman”. Tell me I’m wrong!

Joking aside, let’s get to the grit of what makes this chap work. Firstly, that vehicle mode – it’s lovely! In my mind, there’s a small but growing number of third party carbot attempts that truly can roll alongside their official Masterpiece comrades and not stand out at least in some way. I credit releases such as Badcube Sunsurge and Ocular Max Sphinx as being on that list, and now there’s no doubt for me that Downbeat is as well. From the second you take that lovely Porsche form out of the box he just feels like a TakaraTomy release in a lot of ways, with the slight added touch of things like rubber tyres.

With Masterpiece Wheeljack & Smokescreen

With Masterpiece Bluestreak & Prowl

With Masterpiece Optimus Prime

It’s sleek, sexy, sturdy and looks the absolute nuts. Lovely little details such as gold rims are a joy to behold, and the bold colour highlights pop beautifully against the sleek pure white of the main body. He looks fabulous from just about every angle!

With Badcube Sunsurge & Ocular Max Sphinx

With Masterpiece Ratchet & Prowl

Wait, what’s that? Every angle you say? Well, yes, Downbeat does sadly feature a rather unfortunate rear bumper, which has been widely talked about by fans prior to his release. In fact many of the comments I have read about this figure since his unveiling have squared in on this particular aspect, and it’s not an understatement to say that it’s putting some people off buying the figure at all. I would say that’s a shame, in my opinion, as it’s really not so bad in hand, and it’s the sort of thing that’s forgotten very shortly after your first in-hand experience in favour of all the many good traits on offer instead. Do I wish it was a little neater? Well perhaps, but it’s honestly not something I’m going to let bother me. Besides, there’s an argument that some of the official cars have slightly untidy bumpers too (like Sideswipe), and at least Maketoys were brave enough to show clear pictures of this section prior to release.

Other than that untidy bumper though, there’s not a lot to dislike in vehicle mode and I really do think he fits in admirably with his Autobot brethren, both official and non. Honestly, if we never receive that coveted official version, I do feel like Downbeat will do a nice job of at least filling that spot on many collectors’ shelves.

With Masterpiece Sideswipe & Badcube Sunsurge

With FansToys Willis & X-Transbots Arkose

With Masterpiece Red Alert + & Inferno

With Badcube Lorry & Grump

With X-Transbots Boost, Masterpiece Bumblebee & ACE Collectables Tumbler

With Masterpiece Ironhide & Cubex Huff

With Masterpiece Bluestreak & Tracks

The comparable nature of this release with the official line is perhaps also somewhat evident in the transformation. It’s fluid, fun, inventive and a little bit surprising – all traits that we would expect from a modern Masterpiece car. That’s not to say it’s without its challenges, and I will admit that on at least the first attempt I found the leg conversion to be nothing short of frustrating. I just couldn’t get everything to tab together properly, and the whole thing seemed very awkward and overworked. Fortunately, that’s proven to be nothing but user error on my part, and once you have the series of steps required worked out, it’s all quite marvellous. I have to make particular mention of how the bonnet splits apart and shrinks – it’s so clever.

Bonus points for being able to recreate the "lack of Cybertronium" scene from Desertion of the Dinobots!

I’m quite amazed with how well everything comes together in each mode now, and I have found that the transformation is fun enough to bear repeating. Good thing too, considering how lovely this thing is in each configuration. I do perhaps wish that the upper body of the robot mode tabbed in slightly tighter, as some adjustment does occasionally seem to be required to keep everything together and just so, but’s it’s not too bad.

Oh, and I don’t think you need me to tell you that the robot mode is an absolute marvel, do you? Well, it is. Seriously, just look at this guy.

I’ve enjoyed Maketoys previous attempts at carbots, including Gun Dog, Hellfire & Wrestle, but it’s fair to say that they very much had their own distinct aesthetic. Downbeat uncannily fits in with the official line in a way that makes him much harder to pick out as not being like the others, in my opinion. In fact, it might be about as close as any third party figure has come, at least in many ways. Either way, he looks great alongside other figures from all origins.

With Masterpiece Prowl, Optimus Prime & Badcube Speedbump

With ACE Collectables Tumbler, Masterpiece Bumblebee & Rodimus Prime

With KFC Transistor

Autobot Ark crew 3P line-up

Add to the above that he does a bang-up job at representing the intended character. Seriously, this is Jazz. The proportions and aesthetic are just spot on, and really give you a sense of the animation model come to life. Of course, toy or comic fans can also swing the doors out to the sides as “wings; it’s a simple & elegant manoeuvre, but it works well.

The gorgeous colours from the alt’ mode carry over well, though transformation reveals some lovely painted silver accents and that simply gorgeous chromed visor. It catches the light wonderfully and helps to make Downbeat feel alive. Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention the rest of that stunning head sculpt, which just feels spectacularly bang on to the character. I mean, I look at it and I can immediately hear that distinctive voice in my head. I really feel that Maketoys have achieved this beyond their previous levels of character-likenesses, and it’s truly appreciated for such an iconic member of the Autobot team. The regular face catches just enough of the cool, laid-back but respectable persona that we all know as Jazz, whilst the yelling face does a suitably great job at recalling various cartoon action scenes. The smirking face is fun too, though I have to be honest and say I find it a bit over-stylised for my liking.

Downbeat is also pleasingly articulated, and certainly capable of cranking out a decent pose or two. I do find the knees to be a bit of a pain at times, although perhaps it’s because I fear that they look a little odd at certain angles more than anything. Still, there’s more than enough going on here to have plenty of fun, and he certainly looks very expressive when properly posed.

Add to the above a plethora of accessories which serve to bring the fun factor. The regular Masterpiece releases have really upped their game in this department, so it’s always great when unofficial releases follow suit. Downbeat has a range of fun accessories that all hit the right nostalgia notes, whether it’s the shoulder launcher doing its best to give you that 1984 toy joy, or the two different kinds of speakers recalling different scenes from the cartoon. Then of course, there’s the infamous winch accessory, which is every bit as fun as it promises, even if it is an absolute pain in the proverbials to install in Downbeat’s hand. Perhaps my only other complaint on this front is the gun, which looks a little… cheap? Somehow it just feels a little underwhelming, and slightly belies an otherwise cracking set of accessories.

"Next, how about number one on the bottom forty!"

So, any other complaints? Not many, honestly. I’ve already mentioned that I wished that the upper body tabbed together a little more reliably than perhaps it does, but you learn to live with it. Otherwise, I suppose my only slight nitpick might be the unfortunate swirly plastic that is present in areas such as the feet, which is noticeable in hand though perhaps not as much as in photos, as is often the case. Still, it is a slight blemish on an otherwise polished and well-made figure.

I feel as though I’ve highlighted a couple of things about this release that maybe make him sound less impressive, but don’t let that fool you. Despite a couple of niggles Downbeat truly is an impressive figure overall, and just shy of a pretty perfect Masterpiece-styled interpretation of Jazz. I mentioned it before, but I really think this guy comes about as close as we have seen to aping the official line’s look and feel, meaning that he can truly slip in alongside your TakaraTomy figures and not feel at all out of place.

Overall, I cannot say enough nice things about Downbeat. Since he’s arrived he’s really captured my heart and mind, doing such a great job at bringing the underrepresented character to life. Maybe one day TakaraTomy or someone else will bring another version to the table than will topple Maketoys’ effort by comparison, but they would have to put in a truly magnificent effort. For now, this guy is my Masterpiece Jazz.

The complete Ark crew!

The complete Ark crew!

What's HOT?
Both modes are absolutely stellar and do a bang-up job at representing the character. The transformation is pleasingly involved, yet fun when you know what you're doing! This may be the closest anyone comes to a definitive Jazz before we see an official version.

What's NOT?
The vehicle mode does have some rear kibble, and the robot mode could tab together a little more securely. Also, the feet and gun both look like they're made out of comparatively cheap plastic. None of this is a deal-breaker though!

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  1. Thanks for an awesome review, I receive Downbeat this week and is absolutely a masterpiece Jazz!!! By the way great pics as usual!!! Regards from a Colombian Reader! Till all are one!

    1. Thanks, dude, appreciate that! And glad you're enjoying Downbeat as much as me. He's a great figure.

  2. And I considered passing on this because of GT J4zz. Glad I didnt that's for sure.
    Still boggles my mind that they got so much right and then used that awful swirly plastic, and that big old red patch for the faction symbol (autobot symbols are red guys, really?)
    Superb figure and a great read, thanks Sixo.

    1. Thank you very much, glad it was helpful! Yeah, I did enjoy GT J4ZZ, but this guy is definitely a better choice, IMHO.

  3. Those complete Ark Crew photos made my day. Terrific review Sixo. I've got to get Downbeat!

    1. Thank you! It was lots of fun to take them - bit like a dream come true. :D