"Generations" Titans Return Skullsmasher Toy Review


General Information:
Release Date: July 2016
Price Point: $16.99 (depending on retailer)
Retailer: General (Toys R Us, Target, Wal-Mart etc.)
Accessories: Grax Titan Master figure, Blaster, Tail/Shield/Weapon

Official images and text below in italics are from Bigbadtoystore.com:
Skullsmasher is an apex predator on the battlefield and will ravenously eat as many Autobots as he can during battle, making him a terrifying opponent. Titan Master Grax is a ruthless businessman and industrialist who is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure he is number one.

Very early on in the life of the Transformers line the toy line began to move away from the sole gimmick of transformation. Once figures like Combiners were introduced it became clear Transformers could be more than just a robot that changed from one form to another. In 1987 Hasbro and Takara took a bold step into a new play pattern by introducing Headmasters. Headmasters were Transformers whose heads detached and became smaller figures that could then pilot or ride the Transformers in beast and vehicle forms (or in a couple cases, their battle station or city forms!). Now almost thirty years after they were originally introduced the Headmaster gimmick has returned in a new form: Titan Masters!

Titan Masters focuses on the return of small robots to Cybertron that can unlock incredible power, and it is up to the Transformers to merge with them and harness those abilities and strengths. In some ways the story resembles "Armada" which had a similar conceit for the Mini-Cons. In true "Generations" fashion, Titans Return gives us characters from the Headmasters era in new forms that pay homage to the originals.

In Generation One, Skullcruncher was a new Decepticon introduced in the Headmaster era. He was paired with the Nebulan known as Grax who transformed into his head. Like many of the new Decepticons introduced in that era Skullcruncher transformed into a beast instead of a vehicle. In his case he could change into robotic crocodile. For this new incarnation, Skullcruncher is now known as Skullsmasher (most likely due to trademark reasons). Grax however has survived the decades with his name intact.

The Titans Return packaging uses the design of the last few years and updates it. The figure is packaged in robot mode with its weapons to the side. An insert shows you the alt mode along with the names of the Titan Master and character along with the "Titans Return" logo. The side of the insert gives you a look at the character's artwork. Most of the backing card is plastered with a close up of the character's package art. While entire bodies were drawn for this line, the packaging zooms in to the chest and head to focus on the Titan Master gimmick, with the head hovering a bit over the body as if it is about to connect. The side has the now familiar "Generations" logo with an Autobot symbol on it and the vertical "Transformers" logo under it.

The back of the packaging shows off the stock photography of the figure in both forms but more importantly, it shows off a diagram explaining the way the Titan Master play system works. The heads of the Titan Masters can be swapped from figure to figure, and the diagram helps illustrate this across size classes. These also act as cosells. In Skullsmasher's case Terri-Bull, Scourge, Galvatron and Blaster are the cosells.

Titans Return figures come with a collector card, similar to last year's "Combiner Wars" series. However these cards are shaped differently, with corners cut out on two sides. The front features the character's artwork, giving you a better look at the full body. The back features something fans have wanted since last year: tech specs! These are not traditional specs with a full motto and so on, but instead there are four qualities reflected here (via icons). The four icons are: A robot flexing arms (strength), a character running (speed), a brain (intelligence) and a missile (firepower). These are laid out on the X axis of a bar chart with lines going across from a scale of one through twenty. Traditional tech specs only go from one to ten, but these tech specs take into account the Titan Master being combined with the Transformer. This extends the line into the zone past the number ten. I'm really glad these were added in as I think it was a missed opportunity not to do so last year. I also appreciate the bright and colorful icons and lines used on the back of the cards.

Skullsmasher includes two accessories: a blaster and a tail/shield/weapon. The blaster is based on the design of G1 Skullcruncher's weapon. It features a rectangular section in the back, a raised section on top and a relatively short barrel in the front. This piece is cast in light grey plastic and has a 5mm peg at the base.

The other accessory is much more more versatile. This piece is actually Skullsmasher's beast mode tail. It is a long piece with ridges on top and segmented panels running along the side. There are several ways you can use this accessory:

  • There is a grey peg that swings out on top, allowing Skullsmasher to hold it as a shield.
  • You can store the blaster in the tail, then have Skullsmasher hold a peg at the end so now the weapon looks like a giant cannon instead of a small handheld blaster.
  • If you flip the tail piece over, you'll see a seat sculpted into it. You can seat a Titan Master there as a gunner.

Head Mode:
Grax forms the head of Skullsmasher but can be connected to any other Titan Master figure or vehicle in the "Titans Return" line. The design of the head borrows several elements from the original G1 Skullcruncher figure. The middle of the forehead section has a "V" shaped design on the top. The sides have raised, vertical panels leading to angled sections that stick out a bit on either side of the mouth. There are large visor eyes sculpted onto the figure along with a nose, mouth and very pronounced chin piece.

This figure is cast in black plastic. Like his G1 counterpart, Grax has gold paint on Skullsmasher's face. However, unlike his G1 counterpart, the visor like eyes are not left black. Instead the area right above the nose has been painted gold, effectively breaking up the visor eyes into two distinct eyes. Now, this doesn't look bad per se, but it does have the (perhaps unintended) effect of making Skullsmasher's face look like he is constantly astonished by something. Given that the character is not meant to be too bright, perhaps this is appropriate.

When connecting Titan Master figures to the larger robot bodies, there seems to be variations on whether you should have the Titan Master's head facing the same direction as the face of the Transformer. In Grax's case, the best way to go is to have Grax's face looking the opposite direction than Skullsmasher's. This seems to provide the most secure fit on Skullsmasher's body and detaching the head has not been an issue for me.

Transformation to Robot Mode:
In general the Titan Master transformation is fairly simple. Hold on to the back of the head and just unfold it, revealing the robot form.

Robot Mode:
Grax's robot mode takes several design cues from the G1 Grax figure. These include:

  • The head has a large helmet section with a rounded off section on top and a large, flat panel curving down the middle to the front.
  • The chest has a distinct design with horizontal vent lines on the side and an angled section sticking out in the middle.
  • The "belt buckle" area has a raised detail with two angled horizontal lines on each side. This is similar to G1 Grax where the same designs were not angled but went straight across horizontally.
  • The lower legs have two distinct lines near the knees. This is reminiscent of a similar design on G1 Grax that looked like the top of a pair of boots.

I really love how many of these tiny details were worked into this figure. It's much smaller than the original yet is still full of detailing. There are even some details on this figure not found on G1 Grax including some lines on the thighs and shoulder details. This is also one of the figures that is very true to the G1 Headmaster, making it even more appealing in my book.

Grax mostly shows off black plastic in this form. His face has gold paint on it (just like G1 Grax) and his torso, waist and thighs all have metallic green paint on them. On G1 Grax the green was a much brighter shade of green and it was just a flat shade with no metallic flake. I really like the look of this one much more.

Grax has the standard five points of articulation for a Titan Master figure including the head, arms, hips and knees (though keep in mind the legs are fused together). The bottom of his feet have ports in them that allow him to connect to pegs found on various Titan Master vehicles and figures.


Robot Mode:
Normally I kick off a robot mode review with a look at the aesthetics of a figure, but this review warrants a different type of start. Of the four figures in the first wave of "Titans Return" Deluxe Class toys Skullcruncher is perhaps the one with the worst quality control. There have been widespread reports of the hip and thigh joints being floppy and loose. In the case of my figure this is definitely true. The hip joints in particular were so loose out of the package the figure wouldn't stand. I mean seriously, I put him on a table and he flopped over like he was just blasted by Fortress Maximus' weapons. I tried re-positioning the legs several times and failed. He just couldn't stand at all.

The only way I managed to get Skullsmasher to stand and pose was applying layers of clear nail polish onto his hip ball joints. Even then it's not tight, just "okay". Worse, the swivel joint right below the hip (connecting the hip to the thigh) is also loose, so I had to apply more nail polish there so the legs didn't turn outward and cause another fall. For the record, it took about five applications before the joint tightened up.

What's kind of amazing is that Skullsmasher's arms are really nice and tight. So are his elbow joints so it's not like the figure is floppy all around. It just seems somewhere around the time they were supposed to do quality checks on the legs the Q/C guys just decided to go out to lunch instead...and then forgot to do it.

All that said, I acknowledge that there is a very good possibility that this is just "early wave" issues. In the past there have been cases where initial samples of figures have an issue that is corrected in later waves. My advice is simple: wait. Without these issues this is actually a very cool figure and it deserved better Q/C on its first release. I suspect in a later production run these issues will be corrected. It is also possible the Takara Tomy version (yet to be released) will not have these issues.

All that said, let's look at some of the positives of the figure shall we? There's quite a bit, and a lot of it comes from the very detailed sculpt. From top to bottom this figure is based on his Generation One counterpart. I've already gone over the head above, but here are some other details that pay wonderful homage to the original version:

  • The chest has a panel sculpted into the center along with raised details in the middle based off a sticker on the G1 figure. This sculpted panel is a callback to a panel that actually opened on G1 Skullcruncher to reveal character stats when the head was attached.
  • The shoulders are angled at the top and have a tube shaped section in the middle.
  • Each forearm has the claws of the front beast mode feet attached to them.
  • The waist area has a rectangular, open gap that calls back to a similar detail on G1 Skullcruncher's waist area.
  • The thighs have raised lines in the middle, similar to lines found on G1 Skullcruncher's thighs.
  • Each lower leg has several raised plates along the middle, a carry over from the beast mode.

I'm really happy with the amount of detail on this figure. He has most of the key details from the G1 figure with some additional ones to boot. Many of the details are sharper, bigger or more well defined than his G1 counterpart. I loved the look of the sculpt when I saw it at last year's pre-NYCC event and I really like it now.

Skullsmasher is cast in metallic green, metallic pink and light grey plastic. The green is a beautifully dark shade and the metallic color works wonderfully. The metallic pink looks just as great and the grey helps balance it out. These colors are all based on the ones from G1 Skullcruncher, but the shades are different and the metallics make all the difference.

Light grey paint is used on the center chest panel, mirroring the color of the G1 figure's chest panel. The raised designs in the middle are painted silver with red overlapping it. And...that's really it. All that said the only details you can consider "missing" are some sticker details on the feet and lower legs. These do appear in the beast mode so they're not entirely absent, they just don't take center stage in this mode. Given that, I like the look of this figure in robot mode. In both sculpt and colors it calls back to Skullcruncher very well.

Skullsmasher has twenty points of articulation in this mode. This includes five in each arm and four in each leg. He can hold his accessories in either hand or you can attach them to the 5mm ports on the shoulders. You can also store an accessory on the back of the figure where there is another 5mm port.

Transformation to Beast Mode:

  1. Detach Grax and convert him into robot mode.
  2. Detach the weapon(s) and attach the blaster to the end of the tail.
  3. Swing each robot hand into the forearms.
  4. Swing the shoulders up at a slight angle. There are small tabs on the shoulders that fit into the corresponding grooves that flank the slot for the head.
  5. Swing the beast mode head on the back up and over. Attach the tabs on the back of the beast mode head to the corresponding slots on the shoulders.
  6. Swing the claws on the front beast mode legs up.
  7. Push the feet up.
  8. Push the lower robot legs together.
  9. Swing the lower robot legs up and down.
  10. Attach the tail to the peg on the back of the beast mode. This helps keep the lower legs together in this form.

Beast Mode:
In Generation One Skullcruncher's beast mode was a robotic crocodile. It loked very much like a machine built to look like a crocodile that Grax could pilot. It had a lot of hard angles and even the claws on the feet were blunted, set at angles instead of having any sharp shapes. In this new incarnation, Skullsmasher is also a crocodile but his features are much more organic looking. He does have many angles such as the ridges on his back and tail and the claws. However he has many curved and rounded shapes, particularly on the head and the front half of his body. Some of his most organic looking details are found on the head, where he has several teeth and even a rounded tongue inside the mouth. I love this semi-organic look but I also appreciate how several mechanical details make up his body as well.

In this form the metallic green makes up most of the front half of the beast mode with most of the rear half made up of the metallic pink plastic. The teeth and tongue in the mouth are made up of a soft grey plastic for safety reasons. Oddly, a flexible green plastic was used for the cover of his cockpit located behind the head. I'm not sure why this choice was made. It actually makes the cover harder to open because if you don't do it just right, you accidentally push the cover into the cockpit. Then you need a thin knife or something to get it back out.

Light grey paint is used on the rear legs. Red paint is used on the beast mode eyes. The top ridge of his head has gunmetal grey on it, calling back to the translucent grey plastic on G1 Skullcruncher's head. On top of that section is a tampograph of a Decepticon symbol. I mentioned a detail from the lower body that was missing in robot mode. Here you can see it clearly on the sides, towards the middle. This design is a silver strip with black hazard lines and a Decepticon symbol on it. In the front are angled purple lines. These tampographs are a really nice interpretation of stickers found on G1 Skullcruncher and they look great.

This mode has thirteen points of articulation. This includes four on each front leg and the ability of the jaw to open and close. Even better the head sits on a ball joint so it can look up, down, side to side and even tilt! Grax can be seated inside the aforementioned cockpit. You can also have him stand on pegs located on the front legs. Thanks to the way the tail attaches it can also swing side to side a bit. Overall this is a lot of articulation for a beast mode.

Final Thoughts:
This is a heartbreaking rating to give because I love a lot about this figure. The sculpt, the colors, the tampographs - it's all fantastic. However the legs being so loose that he couldn't even stand right out of the package? That's just unacceptable. It would be one thing if the legs were just a bit loose but extreme floppiness is just bad. Normally I'd be happy to dismiss this as a one off, but I've seen many people online complain about the same issue so it can't be so easily waved away. That said, I hope that another production run will be done where the legs are tightened up. If so I would be happy to revise my rating at that time.

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