Article: Ben's top Ten Figures of 2015
As the clock ticks down to the end of 2015, it's time for that annual tradition (well, since 2013 anyhow) of naming my top ten favorite figures of the year! I have to say that the past year has made the selection process very difficult. A lot of standout figures were released this year and no doubt someone will be dismayed that I have left their favorite figure off this list. It is important to note that there were a few general guidelines when I made this list:
- The sculpt needed to have come out in 2015, meaning reissues, retools and redecos of figures from previous years are not included in the Top Ten
- I have excluded construction sets (KREO and Construct-Bots) from the Top Ten because they're in a category all their own and the play pattern is quite different
- This list represents official product only, no third party figures
As with my toy reviews, these represent my opinion only. No doubt your personal Top Ten will be different than mine on many fronts and that's totally cool. I just wanted to share the "Top Ten" that made me happy this year, but there's no "right or wrong" here, just appreciation for our favorite Robots in Disguise. Mind you, deciding on just ten favorite toys was tough and I found myself splitting hairs quite a bit. If I've reviewed the toy named, I'll link to the review in the header. Okay, enough lip flapping on my part, here we go!
G.I. Joe and Transformers have long been sibling brands in many ways. While their origins are totally different, there was a time in the 80's and early 90's when the two lines were intertwined. I don't just mean the occasional crossover in comic books or cartoons, even the publisher of their comic books was the same and the same studio (and actors) worked on both cartoons. It is only natural that this history continue to be recognized, especially in an era where the rich history of the Transformers brand is being mined for new releases. One such release is Viper. He (it?) isn't part of a massive G.I. Joe/Transformers crossover campaign, he was just released as a retool and redeco of Powerglide to supplement the Decepticon forces. No one made a big deal out of his obvious G.I. Joe design homages but there they are for fans of both series to enjoy. I really appreciate how this figure acknowledges the history of Transformers and its sibling toy line from the 80's.
9. Bumblebee Supreme Mode (Transformers Adventure)
At the end of "Robots in Disguise" season one, Bumblebee, Strongarm and Sideswipe all gain upgrades to their armor and weaponry. Since this storyline heralded the return of "Megatronus" into the fiction, Toys R Us launched an exclusive line of figures called "Clash of the Transformers". One of the figures released for this store exclusive line was Bumblebee, who was a redeco of the Warrior Class figure painted up to sort of resemble the "upgraded" Bumblebee form the TV show. However, some paint here and there wasn't good enough for Takara Tomy. Nope. They decided to go all out and retool the Warrior Class Bumblebee fairly heavily, giving him (among other things) a new head, forearms and an additional "Decepticon Hunter" staff weapon. Add to that several translucent parts simulating his new found power and this Bumblebee winds up being far superior to its "Clash of the Transformers" counterpart. I really appreciate how much attention to detail that was put into this figure including the new parts. This is a shining example of how a retool/redeco should be done.
8. Optimus Prime Supreme Mode (Transformers Adventure)
"Robots in Disguise" focused on Team Bumblebee, but Optimus Prime made several key appearances. While there have been several "Robots in Disguise" Optimus Prime figures, only the Warrior Class figure represented a non-simplified version of the character. All the figures that were roughly in scale with the Warrior Class figures were either non-transformable or simplified versions such as the 3 Step Optimus Prime figure. Enter Takara Tomy with their version of Optimus Prime, a (roughly) Leader Class figure with a more traditional transformation, nice detailing/deco and a boat load of weaponry! Later this figure would be heavily retooled as "Optimus Prime Supreme Mode" making it even better. Did I mention it also has lights and sounds? Because it totally does. This figure stands as a testament to the type of figure many fans wanted to see more of from the "Robots in Disguise" cartoon.
7. Road Rage (Masterpiece)
In 2002 a wave of characters were added into the Generation One continuity since "Machine Wars" in 1997. These were largely e-Hobby exclusive figures based on G1 toys with "Diaclone" inspired decos. One of the first of these Autobots was Road Rage, a redeco of G1 Tracks based on the pre-Transformers version of the figure. Indeed, the "red Tracks" had appeared in G1 in the form of a character in one of the large packaging illustrations that used to be printed on the back of boxes. Rather than fading into obscurity, this character has been reborn as a Masterpiece figure in 2015! This is notable for a few reasons. First, Road Rage is the first (but hopefully not last) female Transformer in the Masterpiece toy line. Second by all accounts the Tracks sculpt has been warmly received by fans so it's a great toy. Third, the designers weren't content to just slap on a new head and call it a day. Instead, this figure features a new head, hands, hips, thighs and biceps. That's quite a bit of retooling! On a historical note, it is very cool to see the roots of the Transformers toy line recognized in Masterpiece form.
6. Ultra Magnus (Legends)
One of the centerpiece releases for 2015 was Leader Class Ultra Magnus. Based on the IDW Publishing interpretation of this character, the figure featured a "Minimus Ambus" mini-figure that fit inside its torso and I consider it one of the most fun pieces to come out in 2015. It even paid homage to "Animated" and "Prime" by having the ability to combine the weapons into a hammer weapon! That said, Takara Tomy decided to improve on the figure by giving it a very different deco than the "Generations" version. The "Legends" version of this figure features colors that more closely resemble G1 animated Ultra Magnus. Even Minimus Ambus was given a new deco to represent Alpha Trion instead! This is brings this version of the figure closer to the Ultra Magnus I grew up with and the deco is outstanding. More than one fan has remarked to me "It makes my "Generations" Magnus look like it has an unfinished deco."!
5. Exhaust (Masterpiece)
One of the most highly sought after collectibles among "Generation One" fans is "Marlboor Wheeljack", a Diaclone era variant of the Wheeljack sculpt featuring a new head and a deco based on the Marlboro cigarette brand packaging (but deliberately misspelling "Marlboro" as "Marlboor"). This character would later be called "Exhaust" and appeared in background shots of comic books. He would have remained just a "background guy" until Takara Tomy announced that it would be releasing Masterpiece Wheeljack as Exhaust! Of course, this isn't the era of G1 any longer and since that time it has become illegal for anything aimed at kids (such as a toy) to bear any markings of cigarettes. When it was announced that a Masterpiece Exhaust was being released, he did not include the "Marlboor" detail however his deco was heavily based on Marlboro's trademark packaging. This led to the product release having been delayed so the deco could be adjusted by Takara Tomy. While Exhaust did eventually get released, it was much more limited than other Masterpiece figures due to this issue. That makes Exhaust not only cool because of his "Diaclone"-era connection, but he makes the list for being a Transformer that refused to not get released despite a whole bunch of legal hurdles.
4. Nightbird (Legends)
"Generation One" had its fair share of memorable episodes, and "Enter the Nightbird" was one of them. The episode featured a human built female ninja robot that went on a rapage until the Autobots stopped it (no, really). Years later as part of the "Legends" toy line, Takara Tomy would take the "Generations" Arcee sculpt and retool it, add on new colors and a pair of sai weapons as Nightbird Shadow (a reference to the Japanese title of the episode she appeared in "The Shadow of Nightbird"). This release was completely out of left field, but it also shows that "Transformers" as a toy line has some deep history being mined for figures nowadays. It's also cool to see an official version of this figure as fans have done customs over the years. Kudos should also be given for not only retooling the head of this figure, but the chest as well to make her look more like her cartoon appearance . This is one of those pieces I think any G1 fan should have in their collection.
3. Devastator (Unite Warriors)
Titan Class Devastator belongs on this list for sure, but he doesn't quite make number one. Don't get me wrong, I love this set. The G1 Constructicons are faithfully sculpted and in most cases echo their G1 counterparts well with added articulation. However, the "Combiner Wars" release of this figure definitely had some gaps that kept it from realizing its full potential. Enter the "Unite Warriors" version of the figure. With their eye on the collector market, Takara Tomy made several changes to this set of figures to elevate the set to greatness. Elbows on Hook, Mixmaster, Long Haul, and Scrapper? No problem! Better knees on Bonecrusher and Scavenger? You got it! Individual weapons for all the Constructicons? Why, here you go! And finally - can't decide which Devastator head you prefer (visor or eyes)? No worries friends, the head can do both! All this and a cartoon accurate deco make for an incredible release of this set of figures.
2. Star Saber (Masterpiece)
First I must confess that I do not own Masterpiece Star Saber yet, but going by what friends have told me and his official photos I think he deserves to be one of the higher items on this list. Moving out of the 1984-85 comfort zone that Masterpiece has been stuck in for years, Star Saber represents a whole new era for the Masterpiece line to explore. This was largely thanks to fans who voted for this particular figure. When this figure was first announced, I was worried that much of what made the figure special in G1 (such as its "Brainmster" gimmick) would be sacrificed to make a straight up "vehicle to robot" transformation. Instead, Takara Tomy decided to dive fully into remaking the original figure with Masterpiece standards! This meant he was made up of his component parts and included his Brainmaster figure! Even better? He includes two swords, one for each of his robot forms and a shield that doubles as a base. This guy isn't cheap, but he would definitely be a highlight on any toy shelf.
1. Defensor (Unite Warriors)
2015 was the year of "Combiners" between "Combiner Wars" and "Unite Warriors" so it was inevitable that a Combiner would wind up being #1 on this list. So why choose Defensor from Unite Warriors as number one? Because in a year full of Combiners, I think "Unite Warriors" Defensor is the set that most fulfills the promise of "Combiner Wars" and "Unite Warriors". Let's call out the obvious reason this set rocks: Groove. While fans outside Japan were given a Legends Class Groove figure, Takara Tomy decided to go for broke and instead produce a whole new Deluxe Class Groove figure just for this boxed set! Sure this makes little sense in terms of scale, but from the perspective of replicating the original Protectobot team as much as possible, this Deluxe Groove does the trick. In terms of the overall set, I would also argue that Defensor is the most stable of the "Combiner Wars"/"Unite Warriors" giants. Menasor and Superion are great, no doubt, but there's something about Defensor's stability in combined form and the aesthetics that make for a fun and impressive figure. If you were to only get one Combiner from the "Combiner Wars"/"Unite Warriors" era, I would recommend this "Unite Warriors" boxed set.solid figure.
Ah Blackjack, you almost made it in place of Viper but that pesky G.I. Joe crossover thing just edged you out. Still, this modern day Legends Class Battlecharger homage is pure love. The sculpt has been cited as being perfect for Throttlebot redecos and it even made a pretty cool Legends Class Rodimus figure. Sure it's not the best at being chest armor (really, it just falls off if you look at it funny) but as a vehicle to robot Transformer its solid and well done. Extra kudos for the Micromaster reference!
Grimlock (Transformers Adventure)
Aimed at a younger audience, the "Robots in Disguise" segment has been a mixed bag. I enjoy it for the most part, but many of the figures were simplified to One and Three Step Changers, making the Warrior Class the closest thing fans had to the "Generations" style figures they had grown accustomed to. This left some itches unscratched such as having a large scale Grimlock figure that wasn't a 3 Step Changer (or highly overpriced Stomp & Chomp redeco). Enter Takara Tomy and their creative spirit! Taking the Voyager Class "Generations" Grimlock sculpt the designers did some serious retooling (including the head, back and shoulders) to bring a "Generations"-style Grimlock figure into their "Transformers Adventure" toy line. Being a Voyager Class figure he scales nicely with the Deluxe-sized "Warrior Class" figures. By my own rules being a retool/redeco of a figure from previous years disqualifies him from the Top Ten, but if any figure deserves an honorable mention, it's this one.
Leader Class Megatron was on my original version of this list but he wound up getting edges out by the likes of Star Saber. Still this is one fun figure. Transforming from a robot to a tank, the sculpt manages to retain many of the elements from the original G1 Megatron design. His transformation is also intuitive and easy to do (the same cannot be said for all larger "Transformers" figures. Even better? He has 5mm ports and pegs to accommodate weapons and/or Mini-Cons. One of the biggest selling points is also his size. Megatron deserves an imposing Leader Class figure, but it's been quite some time since we've had a version of the Decepticon leader in "Generations" near this size. Even better? We got an "Armada" Megatron out of it!
Thanks for checking out this edition of the Top Ten "Transformers" action figures! You know the best part about writing this list for me? Wondering what will be on it next year!