Monday, September 30, 2013

G.I. Joe 30th Anniversary: Steel Brigade

If a Cobra Viper is the next step up from a rank & file trooper, then I imagine the Steel Brigade is a step up from a Joe green shirt trooper.  I don't know if that is in the official G.I. Joe cannon or not, but that's how I always envisioned it at least.

For army builders, I'm sure this new Steel Brigade was a welcomed sight.  I only remember the "character" as a mail away figure during the original A Real American Hero line as a pseudo-customize able toy.  I originally passed on buying this new 30th Anniversary version, but then I saw how much in demand he was online and how everyone said the figure was hard to find.  It's a cool figure, but I'm more of a Cobra kind of guy.

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Like with most of the post-Rise of Cobra figures, Steel Brigade comes loaded with accessories.  Rifles, missile launcher, tripod, back packs and a removable helmet = win.

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On the original ARAH Steel Brigade toy, the figure was a frankenstein of existing parts with the exception of the head sculpt.  The figure did feature a new exclusive head, but the helmet was not removable.

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Now you have a removable helmet with a non-descript head sculpt underneath...but with the olive green paint all I see here is Beachhead.  Don't get me wrong, this is a great figure and something much needed in the Joe ranks, but I find the figure a little boring and underwhelming.  I know that sounds crazy, but again...I'm more of a Cobra fan.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Why I collect

Last week I received an e-mail from Maz who contributes to the awesome articles found at TFsource's blog.  The toicp he chose was meant to be on a brighter note after his last two topics were about sacrifice and selling off collections.  The morning I received his e-mail request for help w/ the topic I just happened to have a little insomnia, so I jumped out of bed and hit the reply button.  The published article was very well written (of course), but a lot of different collectors contributed to the piece and the comments were all mixed around.  So I thought why not post my original response in the form of a blog post?

I'd like this to be somewhat conversational, so if you read this and something comes to your mind I'd like to hear it.  Post a comment and tell me and everyone else why you collect.  Even if you aren't a hardcore Transformer collector, I'd like to hear why and what you collect.  Have fun with it!

While it's inevitable at some point in our lives that we will/must part with our collections (or part of them), this is a hobby that we all love or else that decision to let things go at times wouldn't be so painful. I'm asked all the time why I collect.  My wife, family, friends and even the local new station that did an interview January 2012.  My response is usually the same.  As an adult, married w/ kids, there are certain responsibilities thrust upon me that without some sort of escape, it can really weigh you down.  For me that escape is Transformers.  It reminds me of a simpler time in my life when I didn't have all this responsibilities.  I could just be a kid...kinda like the old Toys R Us song "where a kid can be a kid". 

A part of Transformers taking me back to my childhood are all the fond memories I have of my late father.  Growing up, every summer after school let out my dad would take my brother or myself by ourselves on a trip he called "Father Son trip".  On that trip we could pick (within reason) where we wanted to go or travel to for an extended weekend and just hang out together.  Or course being a kid the place I would choose usually resulted in a trip to Toys R Us, Lionel Toy Warehouse or KB Toys along the way.  This is how I obtained several of my vintage G1 toys, sadly only a few I still own from my childhood. 

Today as an adult, I can grab G1 Bonecrusher off my shelf and the vivid memories of time spent w/ my father come rushing back.  It's a nice little way of remembering and honoring my father.  He was a fan of all model Corvettes, so in turn I sought out to get as many Transformer Corvettes as possible.  Granted a lot of what is in my collection today isn't tied to memories of my childhood or my father, but now I get to make new memories as a husband and father.  Touring the Hasbro facilities in Providence, RI in 2007 w/ my wife as a part of Botcon, helping create and run Charticon 2013 w/ my friends and of course buying that first Transformer Rescue Bots toy for my daughter's birthday last year.

A big part of why I started my own toy blog, a few years ago was to have another way to enjoy my Transformers and other toys.  I often sell toys I no longer desire to keep in order to buy something else that I want.  This makes the wife happy (since the bank account isn't touched) and it helps me from getting overwhelmed.  At any time I can go back to my own account and read and view the pictures of items no longer in my collection.  It's just another way of enjoying what I'm so blessed to have.

At some point I may stop collecting.  I don't see that in my near future, but whenever that day comes I will still be able to take a step back and take it all in and have some wonderful memories.

Friday, September 27, 2013

GI Joe 30th Anniversary: Cobra Trooper

With the 25th Anniversary of G.I. Joe, Hasbro gave collectors a very nice Cobra figure to army build - a new Cobra Trooper.  You see in the ranks of Cobra, you start off as a blue shirt grunt.  Then as you prove your mettle to the top ranks, the next rung on the ladder is that of a Viper.  While the Vipers look cool, it makes more sense that an army be built upon the backs of the grunts.  It makes sense that a lot of collectors I imagine gravitated to building their Cobra army with the various Cobra Troopers and Officers so I doubt there was any complaining when Hasbro released yet another Trooper under the 30th Anniversary banner.  Originally released under the Pursuit of Cobra banner, the figure was repackaged for the first wave of the 30th Anniversary series.

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This Trooper retains the classic look with the Cobra blue and black.  I've never been into army building myself, but I didn't hesitate picking up this figure...when I could find it hanging on retail store pegs.

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The faceless grunts seem to have a little more personality with the ability to remove their helmets.  If I were into doing dioramas this would be cool as you could have your Troopers chilling in the R&R hall inside the Technodrome.

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I don't think of the blue shirts being that heavily armed, but the 30th anniversary figure comes loaded.  So much that I even misplaced a few of his weapons!  In addition to his rifle, RPG launcher and two suppressors, he also came w/ two pistols, a knife and a smaller brown & black rifle.

Hasbro really churned out some great figures during the Pursuit of Cobra / 30th Anniversary time frame.  It's a shame that there hasn't been any really good Joe figures available at retail for the last few years.  I wonder if we'll have to wait until the 35th Anniversary before we get anything non-movie related?

Monday, September 23, 2013

KO Korner: G1 Transformers Browning M-1910

This visit to the KO Korner is one that I'm most definitely excited about.  One of the trends in the Generation One collecting community one must face are knock-offs.  Thankfully there are many good resources and guides online to help you decipher the real vintage piece versus a KO.Most of the G1 KOs these days are tried to be passed off as the real deal.  From the toy itself to it's G1 identical packaging.  Up until recently the packaging used was the American Hasbro cards/boxes, but the upcoming G1 Scorponok will be using the Japanese packaging.  So frustrating!  Well today's topic thankfully falls into a slightly different category.  I've still yet to figure out who is behind this new release of Browning, but I'm so grateful the party responsible opted to use new, custom packaging for the toy so as not to confuse collectors.  Or at least MIB collectors.
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There is no denying this "new" Browning is trying to passed off as the original.  That is one of the reasons alone I decided to grab this release once I found out about it.  The box used is just an ordinary brown cardboard box w/ some awesome looking brown ink line art.  I'm not 100%, but this appears to be original art too as this image wasn't used on the Japanese Masterforce release no was it used for it's pre-Transformers Microchange release.

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The back of the box looks odd with the big blank area.  It almost looks like the area on a box where you'd apply the shipping label!  I'm wondering if there wasn't something else that was supposed to go here, and was left off late in the design process.

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More line are found on each end of the box.

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Top of the box

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The tech specs are found on the bottom of the box.  It says "Dio & Tech Specs" and I'm assuming that means Bio.  However there isn't a bio anywhere to be found on the box or even inside.  Hmmm.

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I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the box to see a form fitting styrofoam "coffin" inside!  When was the last time you opened a new toy that had a styrofoam insert inside?  If you look carefully you can see faux screws in each corner of the styrofoam block.  Nice!

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Browning comes packaged in robot mode and is all snug in the bottom half of the styrofoam block.  Both the original Microchange and Masterforce versions had him packaged in gun mode, but with today's safety laws and the general society we live in, I'm not at all surprised to see him in packaged in robot mode.  Browning comes with two fists, two guns and 5 yellow pellets.  Both originals came with two sets of fists.

This is my first experience with this mold so I really didn't know what to expect.  For instance, I didn't know the chrome would be so shiny!  I knew it had die-cast metal pieces, but where were they located.  Was Browning built similar to Megatron?  Also because of my inexperience with this mold I can't properly point out any differences, if there are any, between this and the vintage piece.  I was a little disappointed to see the round "scratch" on his chest when I first pulled him out.  Thankfully his chest sticker covers most of this up, but that was the only flaw I could find on the whole toy.

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Sadly the same apparent quality that went into the packaging and the toy itself isn't present in the instruction booklet.  The instructions aren't bad, after all it's folded like the old G1 instructions and the step by step transformation instructions are easy to follow.  It's just that the booklet feels and looks cheap.  Oh well, I guess you can't have your cake and eat it to.

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Mine came with two sets of stickers.  Since this release came in "Microchange red" and "Masterforce blue", two different sets of stickers were required.  I used the silver sheet on the right as those matched the Transformers release.  The stickers were cut pretty good, only one did I have a probable with.  The stickers are really thin, and don't want to peel off very easily.  Thankfully though once applied they smooth out nicely and look really good.

Sticker #3 is the lower chest sticker.  Some have suggested you trim off a tiny bit across the top to help with the application, but I found if you put the sticker on something thin and flat, you can get the upper part of the sticker up underneath the chest piece so the whole sticker applies nicely.

Of course Browning was a Destron (Decepticon) in Masterforce so the alternate #1 Cybertron (Autobot) sticker was probably thrown in for fun.

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Once all the stickers were applied Browning looks so much nicer.  He's got a great look in robot form and most importantly, he doesn't suffer from "trigger crotch" like G1 Megatron!  His thighs and feet are made of heavy die-cast metal.  This gives the figure some needed heft and also some good stability in robot mode.  Browning easily stands on his own so no fears of him tipping over.

Articulation, as you can expect, is G1.  He's not quite a brick, but don't expect many dynamic poses here.  His shoulders are locking/ratcheting joints.  What I mean by that is the arm has to be pulled away from the body to be rotated.  It'll then turn one notch before "locking" back into place.  The robot head is on a spring so no turning of the head.  The hips do swing out due to transformation, similar to Megatron so you can move his legs for a better standing pose.

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Each fist is removable as part of the transformation.  His left fist has a regular shaped peg that keeps the fist snug, while the right fist's peg is shaped like the end of one of his bullets.  The yellow tab once depressed will fire the fist.

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He comes with two large chromed rifles.  The rifles feel like they have a little heft to them as well, i.e. they don't feel cheap at all.  Of course he can wield them in either hand, but he can also have them mounted on his shoulders.  There is a small round peg hole on the top of his shoulders on each side.  The guns are supposed to be attached there, but they don't quite fit.  I could get one in with a little effort, but the other side just didn't want to cooperate.  So I guess that's 2 flaws I've found now.

Now that we've looked at the robot mode in detail, let's take a look at his alternate mode.

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Browning's alt mode is that of a Browning M1910 pistol.  It's rather small and compact when compared to G1 Megatron.  I apologize for the lack of comparison pictures of he and Megs, but I hate transforming Megatron!  Browning is so small it didn't want to fit very well into my adult hands.  It looks as if it would fit better into a woman or child's hands.  Perhaps this is why Browning was given to Cancer as a gift in the Masterforce anime.

Also of note the toy doesn't match his Masterforce anime colors, but neither did many of the toys from the Japanese series'.
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I really, really like this toy.  Some of my buddies in my local TF collecting circle have given me crap for bringing a KO into my vintage G1 collection.  Let's face it though, I'm a collector on a tight budget and the real Browning can easily cost several hundred...when you can find one.  For me this release was right up my alley.  Now that isn't to say I don't want the vintage version some day.  If anything I want him more than I ever have.  

If you like what you see and would like to grab one without having the hassles of eBay, then head on over to Aces' Toy Store and grab him today.  For $45 you really can't go wrong.

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

GI Joe: A Real American Hero - COBRA Customs (Part 4)

It's been several months since I pasted the 3rd part of my custom GI Joe Cobra project I had worked on. Funny story actually regarding this piece. The problem of having so many toys crammed into one room is that it's very easy to misplace items. Lately I've been trying to clean up some of the clutter and utilize eBay again to move some unwanted items so I can focus once again on my first toy love, Transformers. This is the last custom Cobra piece I made, and it's one of my favorites.

In the past I took both GI Joe and Cobra vehicles and painted them the classic cobra blue and black for the Cobra rank and file. In part 1 I took the Joe's A.P.C. and "Cobra-ized" it. Part 2 I took a cheap CORPS! helicopter I found at Walmart and re-purposed it into a new Cobra F.A.N.G. In part 3 I took the Cobra M.A.G.G.O.T. and gave it an overhaul.

After doing 3 vehicles, I thought I'd try my hand at a play set. Originally I wanted to use the G.I. Joe L.A.W. from 1986. It was simple enough and I thought it would be an easy task. Then I looked back at the 3 previous projects and I thought I should step it up a little and go for something different. That's when I stumbled across the Joe's Check Point Alpha. At the time I didn't realize finding an inexpensive, yet complete Check Point Alpha could be troublesome as I got a good deal on one shortly after selecting the toy to be the base of my next project.

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This would prove to be easier to customize than I thought so there went any challenge I had set for myself! In the end however this would prove to be my favorite piece, just edging out the Cobra A.P.C. I sold the 2 of the 3 customs a while ago, but this one somehow ended up on the window ledge behind the light blocking curtains. I'm not sure how long it sat there before I found it the other night! It still looks just as good as when I painted it though. I thought about trying to keep it somewhere, but I've just about sold every loose GI Joe figure I had so what's the point? I had a blast making it and just as much fun sharing it with others.

I don't know if I'll ever customize anything else for Cobra, but the 4 projects I tackled over the course of a few weeks was a blast.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

M.U.S.C.L.E.: #149 Screw Kid

I'm kinda surprised I don't have more M.U.S.C.L.E. figures in my toy collection.  After all they are highly collectible, I'm a fan of wrestling and I fondly remember buying these figures when I was a kid.

Wait a minute.  You don't know what M.U.S.C.L.E. is?  Of course it's an acronym for Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere.  Like my first love, Transformers, M.U.S.C.L.E. is the American version of a popular Japanese creation - Kinnikuman.  I'm not the most well versed in the history of these toys so I'll just let you read the history courtesy of Wikipedia for yourself.

Several weeks ago when I scored that awesome Rock Lords plan-o-gram sheet I shared, the seller had a slew of M.U.S.C.L.E. figures - most starting at $1 each.  I thought and pondered adding a few, then I took the plunge and selected 15 or so.  However the shipping calculator was a little screwy so I kept removing figure by figure from my cart until I got to a shipped total for everything I was comfortable with.  

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#149 Screw Kid
This is one of the figures that I grabbed because I can remember having him when I was a kid.  I always thought the drill hands and the screw head were cool, but I forgot all about the little drill knee caps!  Fun stuff.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Transformers 3rd Party: SXS - Continuously Variable R-01

Let's face it.  There are a TON of 3rd party companies in the market now making add-on sets for Transformers and completely original figures now.  Trying to keep up with all of them can make the most organized person's head spin.

Last year when newcomer Toy World entered the market with their version of Megatron, Hegemon, I and many other collectors were blown away.  The quality of the toy blew my expectations away.  I'm happy to report that I had the same impression with SXS' newest release, Continuously Variable.

Setting aside the very odd name, I wasn't sure what to expect with this release.  After all I had never heard of SXS despite of their previous add on sets, and the announcement / pre-orders went up online after iGear's version of the character Gears.  All that aside once I saw some colored pictures of the near final product I was intrigued.  Thanks to a recent contact on Facebook I was able to grab this new version of Gears for a little less than the typical Transformer online re-sellers.

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Since the official name takes me longer to type than the character's name the toy is based on, I'll just refer to the toy as Gears from here on out.  The packaging is a little plain from what I expected.  Toy World used a window box for their version of the Throttlebots so I expected more I guess.  The original art used does a good job capturing the look of the G1 character.  The front and top of the box are identical as you can tell.

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Spin the box around and you've got a better look at the toy inside.  Of note SXS made sure to show off the light piping in the robot's head and just how articulated the figure is.

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The image on the bottom of the box completely caught me off guard.  The next released planned appears to be none other than Blurr.  Not sure why part of the silhouette has the white area, but I can't wait to see how R-02 looks in finished form.

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Gears surprisingly is housed in a form fitting clam shell like tray inside the box.  I like this.  1) it protects the toy very well and 2) it helps give and keep the box's firm shape.  This also makes it very easy to return the toy back to it's packaging to transport or sell later on down the road.

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Just about every 3rd party company these days includes a trading card style tech spec...and I love this.  The card's front features the same new original art from the box, while the card's back features shots of the toy along with the individual power rankings.

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I am very happy with the overall look of Gears in vehicle mode.  Granted this version of Gears doesn't look just like his G1 toy, but that's OK since his G1 toy is basically a "super deformed" pick up truck.  As you can see Gears is no longer all squished up, but he still retails the same blue and red color scheme and the same red cargo in the bed of the truck.  Black windows and a silver grill finish off the G1 look.

The plastic used is very good.  Not too soft, but not too hard.  The knobby wheels roll really well on a hard, smooth surface.  All of the panels fit nice and tight and makes the toy feel really solid.

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One aspect of Transformers I really can appreciate is when the designers find a way to hide and conceal all of the robot bits.  SXS has done a great job here looking at the underside of Gears.  Even one of the two included guns can be stored underneath.  Win!

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I forgot to take a picture of the simple instruction sheet, but it's very well laid out with easy to follow instructions to help you through the transformation process.  Gears unfolds slowly with tight joints and makes a great looking robot.  Look closely and you can see the blue paint has a slight metallic look to it.  It's not overly noticeable unless you hold it up to light (or a camera flash).

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The designers did a bang up job at capturing the likeness of the Gears character.  All that is missing are some recorded lines from the G1 cartoon of Gears whining and complaining!

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Gears' head sits on a ball joint that is flush with the body, but the joint allows the head to be rotated a full 360 degrees.  I turned the head all the way around so you could see the entire back of the head is cast in translucent blue plastic that aids in the light piping for the eyes.

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Don't judge Gear's articulation based on my lack of imagination of dynamic poses.  If you can think up the pose, I'm sure you'll be able to pull it off!  Most of the joints used in the figure are ball joints.  Right out of the package all of the joints were really tight.  I can't express how impressed I am here.

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I know the burning question many will have is "How does he scale with other Transformers?".  Personally I think he is too big to go alongside your Classics / Generations Autobots.  Granted the Classics Bumblebee by Hasbro is about the same size, the iGear Mini Warriors fit the bill better.  I think Gears looks really great alongside the new Masterpiece figures as you can see above.  He's smaller than Sideswipe and Red Alert, but not tiny.  He should blend in well wherever you decide to fit him into your collection.  I haven't seen many pictures from other collectors yet so I'm not sure how everyone is displaying this new version of Gears.

In closing I have to say I'm very impressed with this release.  He's not the cheapest 3rd party Transformer (expect to pay around $70-$75), but for a figure that has seemed to fly underneath everyone's radar he's very, very good.  Toy World's subsequent releases have been stellar so I really hope that SXS follows suit with their next release.  Unless you just love the iGear Mini Warriors, I say grab this toy...he's that good.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Transformers Arms Micron: Thundercracker (exclusive)

If you haven't figured out by now, every time Hasbro or Takara Tomy release a new Starscream toy it's inevitable that we'll get a repaint out it. Sometimes it seems they like to make us collectors frustrated as they'll release Skywarp and Thundercracker to different markets. Being a fan of Thundercracker more than the seekers in general, this can be really frustrating. Over the last few years I've been lucky as it seems Hasbro has released the various Thundercrackers here Stateside, while Skywarp was exclusive to the land of the Rising Sun. Not the case for the Prime First Edition mold used for Starscream.

Skywarp was released as part of the main Arms Micron series in Japan, but Thundercracker was the limited exclusive this time around. Only available at a few shops (Yodobashi Camera & Yamada Electronics), Thundercracker underwent some slight mold changes and was given his own Micron, a silver chromed version of Balo. You may remember that Balo originally came packaged with Skywarp. The box used for Thundercracker is very similar to the rest of the Arms Micron series for this size toy. The red stripe down the side of the box however was done in red foil and looks really sharp in person. I've always been a fan of Takara Tomy's packaging and this one doesn't disappoint.

As with other Arms Micron releases, the back of the box has an action shot of the figure and his Micron along with a "table of contents". If you are wondering, yes, Thundercracker comes with stickers you must apply if you want him to resemble his G1 style look.

I took the liberty of applying most of Thundercracker's stickers before I taking pictures for the post. Most of the stickers are rather easy to apply and look great...especially the red chrome wing stickers. The blue plastic used has a slight metallic look and is quite beautiful in hand.

The toy itself is basically the same as the First Edition Starscream, but does feature some new tooling underneath the wings. Gone are Screamer's missiles and replaced with some sort of pods...or are they bombs? Whatever you want to call them, they have Micron ports to hold Balo or any other Micron figure.

It took me a while to warm up to this mold, but now it's one of my favorite Prime toys. Overall Thundercracker has a great looking robot mode, however I wish the jet's gold canopy was better hidden. I'm guessing that is why Starscream's canopy was painted black.

While I like the look of the bombs in jet mode, I kinda miss having the missiles attached to the forearms like Starscream has. True, you can attach some Microns to the arms, but it just doesn't have the same effect.

I don't think of Thundercracker being the same sly and conniving robot that Starscream is, so the smirk on the face just doesn't fit the toy. It would've been nice to have received a new head, but it's not a huge issue I suppose.

I'm not sure what animal Balo is supposed to be. Is he a one eyed buffalo or is it a bull? Whatever the case Balo now sports Lucky Draw-esque silver chrome. He does feature a few small purple stickers to help break up all the shiny. As far as his alternate mode, the instructions show him either as a shield or perhaps a type shuriken. Ironically enough the instructions don't ever show Balo transformed into a drill as Skywarp's instructions show. Odd.

This was a no brainer for me. I will buy just about any Thundercracker toy. I even bought the Dark of the Moon toy *shudders*. I don't normally buy non show characters, but I had to make an exception for Thundercracker and I'm glad I did. Fun mold, beautiful blue color and a shiny Micron make for a great release. If you missed out, he shouldn't be too hard to find or too expensive. In fact, my good friends at Captured Prey have in stock as of today, 09/13/13 for only $45.00!