Monday, December 30, 2019

Transformers A.R.T.S.: Mega Drive Megatron

Nearly 5 years ago two of my favorite hobbies collided...Transformers and video games...specifically the Sega Mega Drive (or Genesis in the west). Takara Tomy created a new line of Transformers entitled A.R.T.S. and the first (and only) releases were Megatron and a Sony Playstation themed Optimus Prime.

Even to this day I'm not sure how or why this collaboration happened, but I'm glad it did as it's one of the more interesting versions of Megatron in my collection.

Megatron comes packaged in a beautiful box with some nice artwork. The background has a nice space image with a transitioning G1 style grid in the center. "16-BIT" is very prominent in the center of box, which is an obvious reference to the original Sega Mega Drive video game console.

The back of the box has some nice images of Megatron in both his video game console form as well as his robot form. It also shows off some of the features of the toy such as the reset button on the console, the included controller and even a small Sonic the Hedgehog video game cartridge.

The front of the box is actually a flap that opens up to reveal Megatron in is robot mode. Inside the box flap you can see the classic Japanese Mega Drive logo that Sega once used, above the Mega Drive console. Leave it to Takara Tomy to have a beautiful overall presentation to this release.

Megatron is packaged in a form fitting plastic tray. His "fusion cannon", Sonic cartridge and Mega Drive controller are also packaged beside Megatron. No twisty ties or plastic bands are to be had! I did have fight a little to get him out of his "plastic prison" however.

Megatron's fusion cannon is actually the side of the Mega Drive console. Front the front its not as obvious, but from the year you can see the console's reset button and headphone volume slider switch.

While some liberties were taken with the overall look of Megatron's robot mode, there is no mistake who this is meant to be. Just look at that head sculpt! I don't personally care how the 16-BIT logo looks on the lower portion of Megatron's chest, but overall I do like the look of the robot.

Surprisingly he features all your normal points of articulation in his arms, hips and legs. At first I had a hard time getting him to stand, but I later noticed I didn't have his heel pieces extended.

Where this toy shines in my opinion is in console mode. The detail they were able to cram into this thing is amazing. Granted this came out before the current Sega Mega Drive / Genesis mini video game console, this was the smallest version of the iconic hardware I have seen. All of the features are here...from the raised ring around the cartridge slot, to the blue power button and the headphone volume slider.

Obviously this is a non-working video came console, but I love how it also came with a tiny Sonic the Hedgehog cartridge and a controller that actually plugs into the console! By the way, the cartridge doesn't do anything. It doesn't transform, but it does have a nice re-creation of the original Japanese Mega Drive Sonic label. It can he inserted into Megatron's chest in robot mode...but why would you want to do that?

The included controller is modeled after the original 3 button controller. The d-pad does move as well as the face buttons can be depressed ever so slightly. As you can see from the line down the center of the controller, this does split into halves and can be stored on the back of Megatron in robot mode. I didn't care for this as it made it look like Megatron had wings and just looked silly to me. My other gripe about the controller is the cord is too short. It's a minor complaint as it serves its point and looks great when plugged into the console.

Since the release of both Megatron and Optimus, Takara Tomy has released several other Transformers outside of the current series. We've had transforming pens, cell phones and now I believe a watch is coming out next. I know these type of releases aren't for everyone, but in this case this was a marriage made in heaven for me. Today on the secondary market this version of Megatron may set you back $100-$150. It's a fun piece, but definitely for die hard collectors only.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Alter Nation: Sabotage

Alter Nation is a new series of action figures based on an original IP from Panda Mony Toys. In today's world of licensed action figures this is a breath of fresh air. The line debuted at 2019 SDCC and since I first learned about the series I was intrigued as what I saw re-ignited some nostalgic memories of toys I played with in my childhood.

Off the coast of California, at a secluded Naval base on San Nicolas Island, the GK Delta Special Forces team was created in a top secret government experiment. It's object: to create the perfect soldier by blending human and animal genetic abilities...

Follow the adventures of GK Delta as they uncover the top-secret generation Kymera conspiracy while questioning their duty to a human society that fears them with Alter Nation toys!

The initial line up is comprised of 6 figures, 5 heroes and 1 villain. The figures come in two different size and price points, varying from around 5 inches / $21.99 MSRP and 6 inches / $24.99 MSRP. You can order the figures directly from Panda Mony Toys or from other etailers such as BBTS.

The first Alter Nation figure that I've been able to get my hands on is the villain from phase 1, Sabotage. 

I was surprised at how large the shipping box was when it arrived on my doorstep a few days ago...then once I opened the box I could see why the shipping box used was so large.

The packaging on these figures are freaking awesome! The box is a hexagon shape (for the geometry challenged, that's a 6 sided box!) and is so colorful. If these were on retail shelves at Target or Walmart they would easily stand out because of the shape and bright colors used. The large window allows you to see the figure and all of it's accessories packaged inside.

The front left panel includes a blurb that a small graphic novel is included inside the box. We'll look at in more depth in a bit. The right left panel displays the other characters offered in Phase 1 along with two figures coming in Phase 2.

The two panels on the right side of the box features a large, colorful art of the character (Sabotage) along with 3 small yellow hexagons that list the features of the toy, such as "Sonic Punch Cyber Arm", "Cybernetic Overdrive Lights & Sound" and "Collectible Sabotage Mini Comic".

The bottom of the box features the Panda Mony logo (which is pretty awesome in my opinion), along with their contact info and a barcode. It also lists the battery info for the included batteries.

The closest packaged action figure I had near by when I took the photos was this Thundercats Classics Mumm-Ra. The two packages are nearly the same height and width, but because of the hexagon shape the Alter Nation box is much deeper.

I know some people don't care about toy packaging, but I do and I felt this awesome packaging deserved a little attention. Sure it may drive up the cost of the figure by a few dollars, but I'm telling you this packaging is a work of art and you can tell a lot of hard work and thought went into it.

There is a lot of stuff crammed in the box and once freed from the plastic insert this is what you have. Sabotage comes with two large guns (a mini gun and a rifle), a combat knife, mini comic, instruction and sticker sheets.

The included mini comic was so much nicer than I imagined it would be. The paper quality is very nice and the book contains multiple pages, held together by a stapled spine. The story is written by Curtis Anderson with some beautiful artwork by Magnus Arts Agency. While I'm not familiar with either of these creators, I am impressed with what I read and viewed.

I should also mention that Panda Mony Toys has entered an agreement with Dark Horse Comics to produce a comic book mini series for the brand. You can read more about that here.

As I was looking at the comic the other day I thought it looked strangely the same size as a traditional trading card. Being a trading card enthusiast that I am, I grabbed a Ultra Pro flat rigid sleeve and the comic fit inside perfectly. I was even able to slide the comic into a penny sleeve...though a portion of the comic stuck out the top of the sleeve.

I've not seen any other reviewer point this out and whether or not its of any interest to others, this again was a little touch that I found to be very pleasing.

The included instructions are folded into quarters. The front side shows off the figures' action features while the back side hows you were the included stickers should be applied. I'm not sure if I'm going to apply the stickers, but they do add some nice detail...especially to his cybernetic arm.

Enough with the packaging and inserts, let's get to the figure itself...Sabotage! This figure is big and hefty and very satisfying. He measures about 6 1/2 inches tall. The teal and purple colors used on the figure are a great match. The yellow that is used on the back of the cybernetic arm as well as on the grenades that are molded on his belt really pops and looks great as well.

On his back you'll notice a battery compartment in the center, along with a button just above. This button actives his electric lights and sound.

The only exposed portion of Sabotage is the lower portion of his right arm. His skin appears to be burned and has a greenish-blue hue. The paint apps used on this exposed flesh is awesome looking, with a gradient fade. His hand is molded in a way to allow him to wield his weapons with a decent grip.

His cybernetic arm is much larger with a robotic hand. Attached to his forearm is a long yellow apparatus that is attached to the top center of his back. 

This arm features a pull back action feature that when pulled back will spring forward with a punching motion. Because of this gimmick, his left arm does rest in an extended form unless you tuck the arm behind a part of his leg or utility belt.

With all of the electronics built inside the figure, the articulation is limited, however there are still multiple points of articulation to appease the hardcore action figure enthusiasts and collectors. The right arm can rotate a full 360 degrees with a hinge joint in the elbow. The wrist has the same type of joint as the shoulder, allowing it to bend back and forth and rotate 360 degrees. His left arm is a little more limited due to the attached apparatus, however you can still bend the arm out to his side. A hinge joint is used for the elbow and the hand is like the other.

There isn't any articulation in the head, no ab crunch or waist swivel due again to the electronics inside. His legs are attached with ball joints to a T shape piece in the waist. This allows a good range of movement in the legs, however due to the sculpting of the armor you're not able to pull off a sitting pose. The feet are on hinges that allow them to be moved up and down, but sadly there aren't any ankle pivot joints. 

Perhaps it was just my specimen, but I felt like the legs started to get a little floppy the more and more I tried to pose him. I haven't tried to remove the leg, but I would imagine if you could then one could apply some nail polish or even floor polish to help tighten up the joints where the legs attach to the waist.

One of the two guns included with Sabotage is this large, gray mini gun. It took me a little bit of effort to get this gun in his hands, but I love the look once I got him to hold it. I'm not sure if you could pose him in a way where he was aiming this gun however.

His other included gun is smaller and fits better in his right hand. The gun has a great sculpt and is two tone with yellow accents. On the top appears to be some sort of canister with a skull molded to the sides.

For those hand to hand combat situations Sabotage can also wield his combat knife. Be careful with this knife as the top point isn't all that blunt. This weapons has great sculpt as the one edge of the blade is serrated.

 Comparison with average Marvel Legends figure

Comparison with a Marvel Legends Build-A-Figure

Overall I'm very pleased with what Panda Mony Toys has done here. First of all to create an entirely new IP and then create a line of action figures and toys is something that just isn't done (much) anymore. Then they create some great looking characters and pump out some great toys. 

Sabotage isn't completely without it's flaws -  I mentioned I thought the legs got a little floppy the more I moved them, the figure is a little top heavy due to his cybernetic arm action feature and the electronics inside and his cybernetic hand doesn't want to wield weapons all that easily. However I strongly believe the positives of this figure far outweigh these negatives.

I am intrigued to see where this line of toys goes in the coming new year. I'm already excited about the winged villain, Alpha, that appears to be released in the 2nd phase. I hope people give this line a try because there seems to be a lot of good things going for it. Go ahead and drop by their store as all of the 1st phase of figures are available for purchase.

Friday, December 6, 2019

KRE-O GI Joe: Cobra Terror Drome

The GI Joe line of KRE-O figures may have started slow, but it didn't take long for some great sets to be released, such as the Cobra Terror Drome. Sadly this was released pretty much as the line was simultaneous ending. Retailing for $99.99 and exclusive to Toys 'R Us stores in the US, this set, while awesome, didn't get the proper release it deserved.

Coming in at 855 pieces, I believe this was the single largest GI Joe KRE-O set released. Not only did the set come with the Terror Drome, but also with a GI Joe Skyhawk vehicle and even Serpentor's chariot. Also included where 6 Kreon figures: Mainframe, Gung-Ho, General Hawk, Serpentor, Xamot and a generic Cobra Trooper.

Noticeably missing from this massive set however is the awesome Cobra Firebat. Instead, this integral Terror Drome vehicle was included in another set aptly titled "Firebat Attack" with the GI Joe Wolverine. I can understand Hasbro wanting to try and capitalize off of these toys as much as possible, but not including the Firebat w/ the Terror Drome is like have a KRE-O Joe HQ and not including the MOBAT tank.

The included Joe Kreons are excellent figures and their likeness to the original ARAH figures/animation models are spot on. My only gripe is that some of the guns included are just too big (see Mainframe), however Hasbro did get it right with a grenade launcher for Gung-Ho and a pistol for General Hawk.

On the Cobra front the set includes Serpentor, half of the Crimson Twins, Xamot and finally a nameless Cobra Trooper. The ridiculously large guns show up again with two of the three Cobra characters unfortunately. Serpentor comes with a cloth cobra hood and cape.

Serpentor's trusty air chariot is included as well. While small, they did a good job at re-creating and capturing the look and feel of the ARAH toy. The instructions shows you being able to "dock" the chariot inside the launch bay of the Terror Drome, but come on...who are we kidding?

Several other Joe KRE-O playsets released before the Terror Drome had smaller vehicles included, like the Cobra FANG or "Trouble Bubble" so it was nice to see the Joe's Skyhawk included in this set. This is one awesome little vehicle, even if the back proportions may be a little off. Somehow they were able to integrate all of the key features of this aircraft into this little toy, from the VTOL engines to the side wing panels, to the rockets on the landing skids to the gun mounted underneath the nose. Even the figure fits perfecting inside the opening cockpit for added play value.

Once assembled, I was blown away by how awesome the building block version of the Terror Drome was. It looks the part. It has several different play features that are modeled after the vintage ARAH playset. Better yet, it was just as much fun to build as it was to set up different display scenarios.

On the backside of the Terror Drome is this long rectangular red brick. While it looks a little obtrusive sticking out the back of the playset, it does serve a purpose. When you press it in it slowly starts to raise the dock inside the center of the Terror Drome. If you have the Firebat on the dock it will slowly push open the blue dome panels in the center of the top floor...just like the vintage playset.

I absolutely love this feature and it works pretty well. It was one of the highlights of the original ARAH Terror Drome and its faithly recreated here.

All around the top level are these little computer screens. Each screen has a different view of around the Terror Drome. It's the little touches like this that really brings it together.

The construction of the set is pretty ingenious as the top of the Terror Drome can be lifted off in one piece. The long flat gray pieces, along with the beveled red pieces allow the top half to gently sit on the base. This allows you easy access to the elevator shaft from the top, or any of the aforementioned sections around the base.

Folding down the side panels of the Terror Drome reveals all sorts of fun and interactive spots, starting off with a cool throne for Serpentor.

To the left of Serpentor's throne is a prison. This can be locked with the little key you see in the door Because this is such a small piece I decided to leave it in the door so I wouldn't lose it. On each side of the prison are two gun batteries that can accomodate one figure.

To the right of Serpentor's throne is this cool screen with a translucent Cobra Commander decal. Had I had a Tele-Viper I would have sat him at this chair.

To the right of the Cobra Commander screen you can see the inner workings of the elevator that lifts the Firebat.

The construction of the set is pretty ingenious as the top of the Terror Drome can be lifted off in one piece. The long flat gray pieces, along with the beveled red pieces allow the top half to gently sit on the base. This allows you easy access to the elevator shaft from the top, or any of the aforementioned sections around the base.

This was a fun build and well done. The knock on early KRE-O sets were they left like a cheap LEGO knock off. This set and many of the other later GI Joe sets I've built have been excellent. As of this post I've disassembled this set because I simply had nowhere to display it. I'm on the fence of whether or I should hold on to it or sell it because I don't have many other Joe KRE-Os anymore. Nonetheless, this is a fantastic set and I can't recommend it enough.