Monday 19 September 2016

REVIEW: Unique Toys Y-04 Allen

Springer fits into a relatively dwindling pool of somewhat periphery G1 characters who, up until now at least, have yet to be tackled by either the official TakaraTomy Masterpiece line or by an enterprising third party effort.

Of course, such third party attempts are often like buses. You wait forever for one, and then several come all at the same time. So it is with the green Autobot triple changer, amid cries of “the Springer wars have begun!” across the internet. First out of the gate is Unique Toys, who came from nowhere to surprise us with Allen. However, there's also a figure from 3P heavyweight FansToys on the horizon, as well as at least one new enterprise who've already shown off their own version.

Does Allen have what it takes to see off the competition? Is this figure the right one for your season 3 “Masterpiece” collection? And where exactly did UT come up with the name “Allen” anyway? Thanks to the lovely folks at let’s jump right in and I will attempt to answer all these questions and more.

Final note before we begin - this is a test shot, and a particularly worn one at that. This copy has clearly been put through its paces, but it goes without saying that the final retail version may vary, including things like tolerances etc.

This being a test shot, I wasn’t privy to the final packaging that will come with the figure, but I am guessing it will follow suit from their previous figures (Buzzing and Sworder) and feature a lovely splash of artwork on the front. Accessories-wise, things are kept to the bare necessities, with just a gun and a sword to speak of.

The sword is worth highlighting as it doubles as the helicopter mode’s rotor blades, and the transformation between the two is surprisingly fun. I expected to have to pull the sword apart into two pieces, but UT have included a clever “split & twist” mechanism allowing it to stay as one piece. It’s the little touches.

As I am sure we all know, Springer is a triple changer, and so features both a car and a helicopter mode. The ‘copter was arguably his more well-known form in both the 1986 movie and season 3 of the G1 cartoon, but we will start with the car mode. I can’t confirm but I suspect this is how Allen will be packaged, as it’s the most compact of the three modes overall. So, how is it? First thing you’ll notice is no doubt the size of it – this guy is big!

Preparing for this review, I’ve done a fair bit of discussing Allen both online and, ahem, in the pub, and it’s fair to say that most people are voting this as the weakest of the three modes. That’s a fair comment as we will see, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that this is a bad vehicle mode by itself. In fact, I’d say that it does a pretty good job at recreating Springer’s car mode, all things considered. It wasn’t his nicest form in the animation, either!

Springer's G1 animation model in car mode

In truth, I actually kinda like it. I always thought the 1986 (and 1987, since you asked) Autobots did a great job at being “futuristic” vehicles that looked like they might still exist without being too weird & wonderful, and so it is with Allen here. It’s altogether quite tidy and certainly well put-together, and I think looks pretty good for the most part at least.

Sure, it’s not as good as the ‘copter (more on that in a minute), but it is also relatively cartoon-accurate overall. I’d say probably the only major bits that are slightly different are the green fins at the rear (which really should be grey, as this would fit better in every mode), and arguably it would be better to have much bigger rear wheels if they could have been accommodated. Still, for the most part this is pretty spot on.

Lots of folks have commented that the cockpit is too small in this mode, but again this does seem to fit the animation model at least and it honestly looks fine in hand, in my opinion. It does also flip up and also can sort of hold some of the small human Masterpiece characters, if that's your sort of jam.

It's also possible to tab his weapons into the side, both gun & sword. The gun looks pretty good but I only discovered the sword storage at the very end as it really looks quite silly to be honest. Still, options.

I’d say the one thing that is a little disappointing, aesthetically, is the peg hole for the rotor blades being quite obvious on the top of the car. It would have been nice if this had been concealed in some clever fashion perhaps, but it’s not the end of the world.

The colours on this thing are really quite lovely. There’s multiple greens going on, with a mixture of darker, more earthy tones and brighter, vibrant shades. The grey & yellow also mix well, and I like the break of blue for the cockpit to add a bit of difference.

I’ll also comment on how sturdy and durable Allen is here. He’s nicely weighty for such a sizeable figure, though fortunately not loaded down. Existing fans of Unique Toys will know the quality of the plastic, and I can honestly say that I have no concerns there. It does feel quite unique (boom, boom!) though, with a particular feel to the touch that’s quite hard to describe. As I say, he’s really very solid, and everything tabs in well in car mode to help with this.

You’ll no doubt notice some of the paint chipping going on at the front of the test shot. Lots of people have been asking me about it on-line, as I’m not in the habit of editing stuff like this out of my photos. As mentioned, do bear in mind this is a test shot, and one that seems to have been through a fair amount of throwing around before making it along to me! I didn’t manage to make any new scratches or chips during my time with the figure, so I don’t believe this to be a problem and am sure that it won’t cause any issues come the final release.

So, how does Allen compare to some other Masterpiece-styled figures? Well, as already noted, he’s certainly on the large size, though I think he lines up pretty nicely. Seeing him alongside MP-9 Rodimus Prime & MP-22 Ultra Magnus is a particular treat, and certainly satisfies the season 3 fanboy in me!

With TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-22 Ultra Magnus & MP-9 Rodimus Prime

One mode down, two to go.

I’ve decided to comment on the transformation schemes in separate parts, if only because the conversion from car to ‘copter is surprisingly involved. I naively expected it to be a simple matter of flipping out a few bits here and there and adding the rotor blades, but as it turns out you actually need to partly un-transform the main body (as if taking the first steps towards robot mode), to then almost put it back together. Needless to say it’s a touch more complicated that I’d thought.

It’s mainly to do with two tabs that flip out of the sides purely for helicopter mode, so everything needs to be separated and moved out of the way to reveal them alone. Whilst it’s an easy enough scheme overall I will admit thinking it’s a bit of a shame that the process between the two vehicles isn’t simpler, but to be fair you can’t really argue with the results, as we will see in a moment.

Otherwise, the process of unfolding the helicopter tail is really quite clever, and UT deserve some props for making the result look as elegant as it does. All in all, not a difficult conversion and one that ends up with a pretty spiffing result!

There’s two things I want to say about this helicopter mode right off the bat. The first is that it’s bloody impressive. Just the sheer size of it and how magnificent it looks is really quite something. When I took Allen along to a UK Transfans pub meet up (yes, these happen), it’s fair to say that this was the mode that really got everyone interested. In fact, most people’s initial reaction to the ‘copter mode was sheer awe. I mean, just look at it!

The second thing I want to comment on is how much fun this thing is. Genuinely, the first time I transformed Allen into helicopter mode I instantly (and unconsciously) started making rotor blade noises with my mouth. Something about it just brings out the inner child in you, and with good reason! This mode is big, colourful, solid and, as I say, fun!

A lot of the aesthetics are carried over from the car mode, of course, and the colours, proportions and the general look are all much the same and equally pleasing. The tail is surprisingly elegant, as I say, and really the whole thing just looks wonderful. Great work by Unique Toys here.

Whilst not perfect, I'd say that he does manage to hit a lot of the cartoon accuracy buttons, too, so points on this front.

The sword acting as the rotor blades looks surprisingly good here. I was particularly unconvinced by this element of Sworder’s own ‘copter mode, so was pleasantly surprised with Allen. They’re convincing enough that you suspend disbelief of them being a sword split in two, put it that way!

Honestly, I don’t really have anything bad to say about Allen’s ‘copter mode! It’s so big and satisfying and fun that I just can’t help but love it. The size of it really makes it quite special, in my opinion – just look at it go!

And if you're not yet convinced, just look at it next to some other figures...

Two modes down, and looking good thus far.

Naturally the transformation from helicopter to robot is quite a bit more involved, although I’m pleased to say that this is still relatively intuitive, remaining the right side of challenging whilst still also being quite creative. Everything unfolds pretty much as you would suspect, though there are a couple of surprise touches.

Amongst them is what I suspect some fans may take issue with – a fake chest. Yes, whilst you might expect the helicopter front to simply fold down onto Allen’s chest, in fact it tucks away inside his robot mode body, only for a second, very similar piece to be revealed. It’s a clever manoeuvre and not one that bothers me in the least, personally speaking. However, as I say, I know that some feel quite strongly about this sort of supposed “fakery”.

The other bit that’s perhaps a bit of a surprise is the feet. It’s a remarkably clever series of steps to have everything twist and turn in just the right way to form Allen’s legs & feet, but once you know what you’re doing it’s all quite simple and bears repetition.

One thing that is a nice touch is the elbows. They feature a small tab that folds out, rotates, and then pops back in. To start with I couldn’t figure out what they were for as they seemed to serve no purpose other than possible aesthetic value. However, I later discovered that there’s actually a small peg on the inside of this piece that, if folded the right way in robot mode, prevents the elbow from collapsing in robot mode. Without it in proper place, the arms will sink slightly every time you return them to a straight position (something that I was originally going to grumble about in my review below…) but once you have these pieces in the right orientation and pegged in, the arms are solid. Sadly I missed this before taking a lot of my photos, but it was still a welcome find!

So, a fun but not too complex transformation unveils an immediately impressive robot mode… behold, Allen!

I’m not a betting man, but if I had to lay money on the first thing people will comment on about Allen’s robot mode, I reckon I could call it. Yes, he’s big. I mean, pretty huge, actually. Certainly bigger than one might have imaged the character of Springer to be, though perhaps not as entirely ma-hoo-sive as some pics have made him look. Is he too big? That’s another question we will attempt to answer shortly, but there is one thing for certain right away, and that’s how great he looks!

I have to confess I wasn’t entirely sold on this guy’s robot mode from pics. I thought he looked pretty cool, no doubt, but it wasn’t until I had him in hand that I was sold. Equally, he’s most definitely grown on me since my first impression. He’s just so satisfyingly chunky, sturdy and playable, and he looks pretty cool overall.

It’s a surprisingly clean robot mode for the most part. In fact, there’s nary a whiff of kibble to be had, as even a rear view testifies. I’d argue he’s also pretty cartoon accurate in this mode again as we will see, although quite to what degree you feel the same maybe depends on whether you like the aesthetic of this figure to begin with or not.

I guess this brings us to one of the more obvious points of contention, which has certainly been the focus of a lot of the online discussion about this figure – the feet. Yes, they’re big, and yes, they’re yellow. They’re big, yellow feet. It’s been enough to put a lot of people off purchasing this guy, to say the least. You just know something’s a bit of a stumbling block once people start breaking out the Photoshop fixes.

So, what’s the verdict on the feet then? Well, I won’t lie, they could look better. The yellow is a little jarring and does sort of change the look of the figure a bit. Having said that, I don’t think it’s as bad as photos maybe make out, and I have definitely found myself getting used to the look with more time. I would no doubt prefer them to be grey, especially as the yellow does accentuate what is already a very large pair of clompers, but it’s by no means the deal-breaker that perhaps some people think. I guess you have a choice – you can either accept it as is or move on. Or paint them, I suppose!

As for the rest of the proportions, there’s no doubt that he has quite chunky legs, although I actually don’t think this is a problem at all, and other than the feet I would actually say that this chap is relatively well-proportioned for the most part.

It helps that he’s nicely articulated, and capable of achieving some decent poses. From top to bottom: the head can rotate 360 degrees and decently look up & down; the shoulders have two points of articulation with a good range and the elbows can bend 90 degrees; there is a wrist swivel and each hand has separate articulated forefingers with two points, with the other fingers being on a single piece; a very-welcome waist swivel; hip range is decent although impeded in a forward bend due to the moulding of the waist piece, meaning 90 degrees is not achievable, sadly; knees can bend 90 degrees; finally, he has a extremely versatile ankle tilt. Add it all up and he’s definitely a bit of a poser, and certainly very stable! It's a shame about the forward leg movement, but he's still capable of some great stances.

He also looks pretty great when armed with his rifle and the rotor-sword, which both help to inspire absolutely dozens of terrific poses.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the other big bone that people have had to pick with this figure: the head, or more specifically the face sculpt. Lots of people have taken to online forums to offer their opinions on this, and it’s fair to see why. It’s not exactly a dead (Sp)ringer (BOOM!) for the character’s cartoon appearance, although I’d argue that it’s far from being a complete eyesore too. If anything, it’s just sort of a generic robot face. It doesn’t not suit the figure, and I definitely don’t hate it, but it could also be a lot better. If I had to sum it up in one word, I’d say it’s “fine”. I have also noted that a lot of folks love it as is, so quite how you feel about it is up to you.

One minor nitpick that I personally have is actually one that I know doesn’t bother many people, but it’s to do with the decal placement. A lot of 3Ps seem to like to put moulding on the figure to suggest to you where to place a faction symbol sticker or decal, where others just leave a flat space and let you get on with it. I have to say that I prefer the latter option vehemently, to the point of being mildly passionate about it! The fact is that the moulding option is often either an awkward shape (never quite fitting the decal just so), or requires you to choose a decal of exactly the right size to look good. When Allen arrived there was already a sticker placed in the intended spot on his chest, and because of the moulding, it looks a bit odd and wonky. It’s a minor thing, but give me a flat space any time! Rant over.

So overall I have to say that I think Allen looks pretty good. Yes, there are a couple of points which I would maybe prefer to see done a slightly different way, such as the feet or the face, but all put together this is a tidy, nice-looking robot mode, and no mistake. I guess the more important debate is whether the look of this guy fits your own specific definition of “Masterpiece” or not. It’s true that some of the aesthetic detail is relatively at odds with some official figures, being quite “cartoony”, rounded and vibrant. However, one could argue that this actually fits the season 3 dynamic quite well, and it’s difficult to say that Allen doesn’t at least bear a passing resemblance to Springer’s animation model (feet aside).

I think if I had to define Allen’s look, I would probably plagiarise one of the folks in the pub and describe it as “CHUG on steroids”. That maybe sounds unfair to the lofty ideals of many in the Masterpiece crowd, but it actually wasn’t at all intended as a bad thing. In fact, I believe it to have been meant as a solid compliment, reflecting how Allen actually looks big, chunky, colourful, robust and fun. And of course, none of this is to say that he doesn't look good when lined up next to some of his season 3 comrades!

With Unique Toys Buzzing

With X-Transbots Ollie

With KFC Crash Hog

With TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-9 Rodimus Prime

With TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-28 Hot Rod

With TakaraTomy Masterpiece MP-22 Ultra Magnus

But is he too big? That’s been another clear source of debate since pictures were first unveiled. There’s the crowd who thinks Springer should be massive because he’s a helicopter, or because it suits the character. Then there’s the crowd who don’t think of him that way and would rather he was more standing eye-to-eye with the likes of Blurr and even Hot Rod. Then someone inevitably gets the scale chart out, always with the intention of ending the debate even though this is literally never what happens. Ultimately, it’s up to you, really – you either like the size that he is or you don’t. For my money, he doesn’t come across as ridiculously oversized as he maybe first appeared in pictures, and actually I’ve grown quite accustomed to him being the stature he is. Two things have helped seal that for me, I think. One is how great the helicopter mode is and knowing that it would be somehow less impressive were he to be smaller (not normally I concession I make, admittedly), and the second is how well I think he lines up with the rest of the gang in group shots.

Season 3 group shot

So, what’s the verdict then? Well, as with his size and with so many other things in this hobby, I think it ultimately comes down to the eye (and the opinion) of the beholder. If you don’t like Allen’s look, or you’re simply too put off by things like the face or the feet, then I can’t in any way delude you into thinking that those things will magically change once you hold the figure in hand (though I will say that they did bother me less than I imagined they would). However, if you do like what you see, then there’s really a lot going on here to be pleased with, and Allen could very well be a spring(er) in your step (groan).

So, I did say that I would attempt to answer if Allen was a good figure and right (or not) for your collection, and I’ve at least tried to help with that. Ultimately it is up to whether you like the look of the figure or not, but if you do, then I can’t see you being too disappointed with what you receive. Not perfect, by any means, but certainly big, chunky and lots of fun.

Oh, I did also promise that I would attempt to answer where the name Allen comes from, didn’t I? Alas, dear reader, of that I have not a clue. If there's one thing for certain though, it's that the joke about naming him "Jerry" instead has been done to death. ;)

What's HOT?
The helicopter mode is actually quite amazing, and the robot mode is pretty good. He's also well-made & sturdy, and has tons of play value. He lines up surprisingly well next to most other figures, too.

What's NOT?
Big, yellow feet. Slightly dubious face sculpt. Size is too big for some. Is that everything? Well, no, there's other minor nitpicks, but if you can get past those first three then you'll likely enjoy him.


  1. Awesome job as per usual mate, and just in time as I was getting withdrawal symptoms from not having a new review from you!
    There is a lot to like here, but I think this is one of those figures you're going to need to get in hand to decide whether he is for you or not, so I'll be waiting on mine. I do think he'd pair off nicely battling Gewalt.
    The only other one I'm contemplating is FT's but who knows when that'll be here.

    1. Thanks, mate, appreciate the kind words. I agree that I think the in-hand experience will be the decider for most people. He certainly won me over for the most part, and I suspect will a lot of other people too!

  2. Nice review as ever Sixo :)
    Agree about his clomping plates of meat, though they do give him a certain ED-209 vibe...
    Also, real shame about the proportions of his face - not a bad sculpt but it looks like a tiny thing marooned on something much bigger... I'm getting hints of Deirdre Barlow, the chinless wonder :)

    Nice colours too

    1. Thanks very much, Sam! :)

      Haha, those are some interesting comparisons. Trying to think of another figure you could compare to both ED-209 & Deirdre Barlow...

  3. Fighting this kind of 3D toy is a test of people's patience. It takes time and effort, but it is good for the intelligence of the child.