Monday, 7 August 2017

REVIEW: Unique Toys M-01 Archimonde & M-02 Ghaz'ranka



INTRODUCTION
Masterpiece combiners. There're two words that are a hugely exciting prospect for a large majority of collectors, and yet remain one of the few untapped areas of the first few years of G1 Transformers. Sure, we’ve had plenty of third party combiner teams, but precious few that have adequately scratched the itch for those of us looking for an accurate representation of the original cartoon designs. Seemingly though, that's about to end, with several companies now throwing their hat in the ring to bring us their take on various versions of several teams. And as with most things 3P, it's all about to happen at once, with two versions of both the Combaticons and the Stunticons already revealed and on the way. I'm sure there will be more to follow.

Thus far, your Combaticon choices are from both Unique Toys and the newly-formed outfit Zeta Toys, which evidently is some sort of rival offshoot from Toyworld. For my money though, Unique Toys' designs are, at least aesthetically, a lot closer to what I'm after for my own Masterpiece-styled collection. Whilst the Zeta designs look very cool in their own right, there's no doubt in my mind that UT's more closely ape the cartoon model look that I'm after. But are the figures themselves any good?

Thanks to the lovely folks over at TFs-Express.com we have the opportunity to find out!

Final note before I begin – this is a test shot, so there may well be some variance with the final product, including things like colours, accessories etc. as well as tolerances.

PACKAGING & ACCESSORIES
These being test shots, I don't have the final packaging or instructions in hand. I do have what I believe to be a complete set of accessories for both, however, and whilst there's not loads to speak of, there is everything you will need.


Archimonde (Brawl) comes with two sizeable blasters which can either be held as guns in robot mode or mounted on the back of his tank mode for a spot of cartoon accuracy.


Perhaps slightly more interesting is the weaponry that comes with Ghaz'ranka (Swindle). Not only do you get his signature arm cannon but also a second missile weapon, both of which can be pegged onto a mount for vehicle mode. In robot mode this mount can then be pegged onto the rear of the missile weapon to make a larger handheld blaster, or you can combine both of these with the arm cannon to make a rather impressive sniper-type rifle. It's pretty ace, and nicely designed. He also comes with a spare tyre, which can actually just be left in place, even during transformation, or can be removed if you wish.


VEHICLE MODE
OK, let’s kick things off with having a good look at these chaps in their alternate modes, where I’m pleased to report that it’s all pretty good news! For someone like myself who’s been hankering after a decent cartoon-inspired representation of the Combaticons for some time, it’s a bit of a dream to finally see these characters realised like this. Check them out!



Seeing these two lined up, and considering the prospect of the remaining three members of the team following suit, I can’t help but feel slightly rewarded for my patience. I’ve often looked at previous interpretations of these characters with envious eyes, but always held back through feeling that they didn’t quite hit the mark. Whilst they may not be 100% spot on to the cartoon, I’d say that Unique Toys have come close enough to satisfy my interest. They both look absolutely fantastic, in my opinion.



So, let’s look at each in a bit more detail, starting with Archimonde. He looks pretty great in tank mode, and certainly quite imposing! It’s all pretty clean and tidy too, with no particularly obvious kibble to speak of. He also feels very solid and well-tabbed together.





Whilst I know some folks might be disappointed that he doesn’t feature the likes of rubber treads, there are small wheels on the bottom of this mode that all roll really well, so no concerns from me. There’s also some fun to be hand with the moving turret, as you might expect.



He looks even more intimidating with his blasters tabbed into the back of the turret section, which also provides a spot of increased screen-accuracy. Overall I would say that he does do a good job at representing his cartoon appearance, even though I cannot personally profess to any knowledge of models of tanks, or anything like that. As a casual observer, it’s clearly not a spot on match and there’s no doubt some details that vary quite a bit, but something about it at least evokes a sense of the intended character at least. I’ve no idea where I am going to place that Decepticon symbol, however!

Brawl's animation model


I do think that a better choice of green could have been used though, both because the more muted colour on Archimonde is a little way away from how Brawl is typically presented in animation but also because it feels a little dull unto itself. Still, there are some lovely paint apps to brighten him up a bit, including some welcome red touches and those rather lovely orange lights at the front.



Comparing Archimonde to some other figures, I think he holds his own nicely in this mode. He’s on the smaller side of some of the other Masterpiece-styled tanks that we’ve seen, but is still large enough to have a bit of presence next to the likes of a Masterpiece carbot. I’ve no doubt that some are going to say that he should be much larger as a tank, and this opinion is only going to be made stronger when lining him up next to Ghaz’ranka. Don’t forget though, the relative scale of these things is always determined by robot mode, and there was no way that a Combaticon team was ever going to be done differently! The internal logic around the size of each member of this group compared to one another has never held up, so on balance I feel like Unique Toys have placed the scale about as well as could be achieved here, taking both figures into account.

With Badcube Wardog

With KFC Ditka


With Masterpiece Smokescreen


Looking at Ghaz’ranka on his own, it’s a surprisingly similar story to Archimonde, really. It’s a cracking attempt at a Swindle jeep mode, and pretty much looks the business from just about every angle. It’s a clean and tidy form, and once again feels very solid and well-tabbed-together in hand.




Of course, the real fun begins once you’ve pegged in his weapons, making him immediately feel very reminiscent of the character. I love how the guns can be swivelled around and positioned in different ways, all of which serve to make him feel like a real threat.



They definitely also bring that element of screen accuracy that previous attempts at this character have lacked, I feel. This guy immediately feels like Swindle in keep mode. It’s great stuff.

Swindle's animation model


As with Archimonde, I think the colour choices are a little too muted here though, and I’m really missing the more vibrant and distinct mustard shade seen on Swindle’s animation model. Still, that’s made up for slightly by the wicked purple bonnet and some other nice touches, but one can’t help but feel that both these guys could use just a bit more punch in their colour schemes.



Ghaz’ranka once again lines up nicely compared to other figures, with an interesting comparison being FansToys Willis. He’s a little bit bigger overall when you stand them side-by-side, but from a casual glance you could be fooled into thinking that both companies had intended them to sit well together! Like Willis, Ghaz’ranka does feel somewhat oversized in comparison to the likes of Masterpiece carbots, although again that’s all to ensure that his robot mode will be to the “correct” scale.

With FansToys Willis

With Badcube Sunsurge



Overall, I really think Unique Toys have done a cracking job with these modes. They’re fun, playable, solid and look the absolute business.

TRANSFORMATION
So, nicely made figures so far, but do these guys have the “third party curse” of horribly fiddly transformations to immediately turn you off? Fortunately, I’m happy to report that’s not the case here, as both figures are simple and easy to transform, and dare I say even quite intuitive for the most part! Phew!




Of the two, I find Archimonde to be the most fun to transform by quite a margin. It’s an incredibly satisfying conversion scheme, and features some neat little twists such as the hidden panels in the legs to make sure that there are no gaps in robot mode, and the way in which the front of the tank folds away. Everything tabs together or folds away so neatly and cleanly that it’s all a bit of a dream really, making this a process that I’m more than happy to go over multiple times. Perhaps the only bit that I’ve found at all a challenge is collapsing the tank turret, as you need to ensure that everything else is in its correct place. Overall though, he’s a lot of fun!



Ghaz’ranka is similarly clever and almost as fun to transform, though does include a couple of more challenging steps along the way. Mostly that’s down to how the bonnet section unfolds and converts into the chest; whilst it’s by no means difficult, it’s certainly a touch more fiddly that Archimonde at least. Still, nothing here should present you with a challenge, though collectors who’re turned off by fake parts may turn up their noses at the faux-bumper that makes its way onto the waist section! I think it’s a pretty clever solution myself, and leaves Ghaz’ranka looking pretty fine in robot form.




Overall, I found both of these figures to be a lot of fun to transform back and forth, which is good when you consider how enjoyable both modes are!



ROBOT MODE
As fun as vehicle modes can be, the main event for most collectors will always be the robot mode. Fortunately here Unique Toys have followed through from a promising start and crafted two 'bots who not only recall their on-screen representations rather well, but are also tons of fun to boot. Observe!



You're in little doubt as to which characters these guys are intended to be. I was always a big fan of the Combaticons, even as a lad, having recalled them fondly from cartoon episodes such as The Revenge of Bruticus, and it's certainly a thrill to see them realised in such accurate form. The concept of owning a Masterpiece-styled Brawl is just too much fun.



So, let's start by looking at Archimonde individually. First thing to notice is that he's a supremely handsome 'bot, all nicely proportioned and burly-looking. He also presents with a good, clean robot form, with little extraneous kibble on offer. There's a whiff of combiner connector on his rear end, but otherwise he's good to go.





The good looks are further compounded by that pleasing headsculpt, with its rather lovely red mouthpiece and translucent visor. I'm not normally a big fan of light-piping to be honest, but here I must admit it works extremely well and adds a lot of character.





Speaking of character, there's no getting around a comparison with Brawl's animation model of course. You'll no doubt note that it's a similar story to the tank mode: by no means a dead ringer, although at least reminiscent of the character in spite of many of the details varying. Oh, and yet again the colour scheme could be dialled up a bit. He's definitely a bit of a departure overall, but still it's good enough for me in many respects, and is certainly the closest we've come to seeing this character accurately portrayed. It's also more than enough for me to immediately hear the phrase "Let's annihilate them!" in my head!

Brawl's animation model


Fortunately, Archimonde's good looks carry through to great poseability and playability. He's sturdy and stable as anything, with supremely tight joints and lovely ratchets, but also more than capable of cranking out any number of decent poses. It's a pleasing experience in hand, no mistake. Of course those guns bring a bit of extra play value (especially if your name is Maz...), not to mention help make him look quite the boss. Of the two, he's definitely my favourite.





That's not to say that I'm not also quite taken with Ghaz'ranka - he's still very lovely! Unique Toys have done a wonderful job of recreating the character of Swindle here, and whilst there are a couple of compromises it's no doubt a superb robot form from all views.





Again, the headsculpt is a winner, to my eye. I've read a couple of different opinions about it online, but I think it ably evokes the character's mischievous nature, especially that slight smirk. The light-piped eyes work similarly well here, and I have to comment that the translucent purple looks lovely.





As with vehicle mode, Ghaz'ranka steers closer towards his animation appearance and turns out to be really quite faithful overall. The main area of deviation is the orientation of the windscreen on his chest, which will also present a challenge with an accurate placement of a Decepticon emblem in both modes, but frankly I think it's a great job done overall.

Swindle's animation model


Probably the biggest bugbear here is the bumper waist piece, which sits rather awkwardly against the hips and has a habit of impeding leg articulation if not carefully considered. It is possible to move it up and out of the way slightly, which mostly solves the problem, but it does feel a little inelegant overall. Still, it's all good otherwise, and it certainly doesn't stop this guy from being fun to play around with, especially with the various weapon options on offer.





So, individually these guys are great. Both are worthy recreations of the characters in question, and could easily deserve a worthy slot as standalone 'bots. They line up well with other Masterpiece-styled figures and I think work nicely size-wise. They're taller than a Masterpiece carbot, but smaller than a seeker, which I guess is probably the sweet spot.


With Masterpiece Starscream

With Masterpiece Megatron

With FansToys Sovereign

With FansToys Willis & Masterpiece Sideswipe

With Masterpiece Inferno & Maketoys Downbeat

With Unite Warriors Bonecrusher & Scavenger

Of course the real prize will be in seeing them lined up with their Combaticon colleagues once they're eventually released, not to mention the combined Bruticus mode. At the moment, it's all shaping up quite nicely from the looks of the prototype pics, but I'll leave my thoughts on the "leg modes" for another day!

Ragnaros' other team members

Ragnaros in all his (future) glory!

For now, it's just a thrill to see these two characters ably represented in my Decepticon ranks. For too long the combiner teams have been absent from the growing ranks on my shelves, but now Unique Toys are rather ably leading the way in that regard.


CONCLUSION
So, two figures in and this particular team is off to a roaring success! Not only are these my favourite Unique Toys’ effort so far, but they’re great representations of the characters. Here's hoping the rest of the team shapes up as well, but even then we have a decent interpretation of Brawl and Swindle, so that's a big plus.

And if all goes well? Well, then I have big hopes for the future. Combaticons, Stunticons, Aerialbots, Protectobots, Technobots, Terrorcons, Predacons... it's going to be a fun ride.

What's HOT?
Lots! Both figures are pretty great in both modes, and the transformations in between are fun and pleasingly intuitive. They're decent representations of the characters, and do a decent job at recalling the animation models, proudly standing as the cartoon-accurate Combaticon team to beat.

What's NOT?
The colour schemes are a bit... dull. They could happily be dialled up a bit to make them more vibrant. The waist section on Ghaz'ranka is a bit of a pain, too. And... that's about it!


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2 comments:

  1. An excellent read as usual thanks Sixo.
    I'm on the Zeta train for now as they are really only going to be displayed in combined mode and zeta wins for me.
    I am highly tempted to get these for a bot mode display tho.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, mate. Yeah the Zeta ones looks great too, no doubt. Just something about these versions rings a bell for me, personally. Nice to have options though.

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