Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Legends of Cheap-O-Tron

- Ben Watson

It is the year 2005. Transformers Cybertron graces toy shelves and television screens and I could be paying it a lot more attention. Thundercracker and Vector Prime are ok, but aren’t doing it for me anywhere near as much as Energon’s previous picks. I’m a bit burned out on TFs; do we really need another new Optimus Prime? But one day coming home from school, I find my dad has got me shrunken versions of Hot Shot and Optimus. I could suddenly take a different tack with my Transformers habit as I was introduced to the Legends Class. 

The Beginning

Far from the first small scale figures to grace Transformers, they were however the first made to emulate the much larger, more expensive main characters of the line. 12-year-old collects-too-many-things-under-£5 me is instantly hooked. My eyes open. Instead of chucking three quid at [Trading Card Brand of Choice This Week] I could chuck it at Transformers? The things I’d really want to spend money on but can’t bring myself to like enough to part with long-saved multiple fivers? Providence. Pure blessings from the collectables gods. A mission (still ongoing) starts. I could actually “collect” some TFs and collect them I did. (But if you know of anyone with a MISB Series 4 black legs Optimus, could you hook a brother up?)

Being there for the genesis of what is now a Transformers assortment staple has allowed me to take a good long look down the years that make up the history of this often-overlooked price-point. I love Legends… Or Legions, whatever you want to call them now. The point is – pocket money TFs are wonderful; when they slid under the threshold of what you might call pocket money. Back at the start with “Series 1” of the “Legends of Cybertron”, I got my hands on a quartet of main characters which in their fully realised forms would have cost me around £140 for the princely sum of £12. I never wanted big Megatron or Starscream anyway, but with the gates to a promised land of a “complete” small-scale TF collection opened before me, how could I say no to their diminutive counterparts? I could sample larger designs I wasn’t sure about or quickly get my hands on representations of characters I knew I wanted. All without costing me much in terms of cash or space. Some even replicated their Planet Key gimmicks and had more than four points of articulation, but most importantly they were unique new toys that gave you a flavour of something that was inaccessible. And lo, on through the four “series” (more simply “waves”) Cybertron had to offer I snapped up almost each release in timely fashion and mostly from the same shop. Looking back, that feels like quite a feat for someone not constantly plugged in to internet news about releases and sightings. Not that that wouldn’t have helped with getting hold of the last few…

After failing to uphold my vow of completing a collection of the Cybertron Legends by the time they disapparated from shelves, a fallow period followed as Classics repackaged Cybertron releases and only offered new repaints of these to Toys ‘R’ Us, a store that remains an hour’s pilgrimage away. Some years later I managed to get hold of a Leo Prime from the line but as it stood at the time I wouldn’t get my hands on more little guys until 2007’s Movie line. Much negative emotion exists around the live-action films ranging from indifference to outright bile but to have been 14 and been in the position to see the build up towards the first of m’Bay’s efforts was simply intoxicating. As soon as toys hit Woolworth’s I had to have something to take home and so I once again took up the torch of Legends mania with the help of Barricade and yes, managed to get every single-packed £3 bugger there was and some twin packs besides.

Pictured: Needless Excess

While the day I finally saw the film remains the most excited collection of hours in my life, the Legends toys didn’t operate on this higher vibration. If I was going to look back and place a not-so-shiny ribbon on the worst Legends assortment of the lot, it would certainly be awarded to 2007’s Series 7 to 9. I mean, have you seen Jazz? And I ended up with two of that thing… To be fair, the challenge of translating the already untranslatable movie designs to toys let alone ones this simple was clearly difficult for Hasbro, so while you can scoff at Starscream, I think it’s possible to cut them some slack. This was after all, the first Movie Legends rodeo. We’ll be seeing a fair few better ones.

Hound, Jazz and G2 Megatron, Best of the Bunch?

Following the movie’s success, 2008’s Universe was a bit of a blowout. New product was pushed out there quick and repaints from older lines lay abundant in both regular and exclusive releases. Abandoning the previous “Series” identifier which I quite liked for some reason, the first wave of Universe Legends was made of three Cybertron repaints, the first widely available pocket G1 characters of the class. But then Onslaught was an all grey SWAT truck so… 2 out of 3 ain’t bad I guess? Whatever qualms anyone had about the integrity of the first wave as a solid foundation for the line were blown out of the water with the arrival of wave 2. All new sculpts, two ’84 Autobot Cars and a G2 muscleman? Nothing’s come close since and this point may well exist as the eternal zenith of the Legends Class. But man, the waves after didn’t exactly drop things down far. 

Offering some ensmallened Animated bots but best of all, a slick new selection of G1 Minibots, the price-point came into its own. Simultaneously giving good pocket content but also bots that were fine to fill out those appropriately tiny gaps in your Classics shelf. Just a shame that the final wave Universe had to offer remains the only one I’ve never seen hide nor hair of and I know full well why…

Testicles Not Included

Midway through 2009 anything really cool that was left for Universe to tease you with was suddenly bulldozed out of sight by the resurgence of the Bay Merch Machine generating unjust hype for Revenge of The Fallen. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but back then I firmly believed the film would be rightfully immense and when it came to the Legends figures – inexplicably rolling out with two waves at once – I ate them up. Clearly lessons were learned after 2007’s efforts and the ROTF Legends remain some of the best out there. Bumblebee was a genuine surprise, providing the exact kind of simple fun the size class was made for. I… might have bought a few of his repaints… 

But not only in-movie characters were featured, as was delightfully true of the wider ROTF line, new characters and original designs colourfully fleshed out the ranks. Tankor is probably the figurehead of toy-only Legends and he even got a story in the UK comic, beating up bots who were in reality 3 times his size! But wait, there’s more! Mild gimmickry beyond Cybertron’s smattering of fold-out weapons entered the fray thanks to combination. You could stick Jetfire on Optimus’ back in a totally undocumented and mostly awkward move! And then Devastator reared his ugly head not very far off the floor in the form of a 7-pack boxset to deliver what was possibly the best experience of the class up to that point. It was almost like you could have a self-contained play pattern at this small scale…

Much in the way the first movie was followed, 2010’s understatedly untitled Transformers (not all of them had Hunt For The Decepticons stickers on) was rife with repaints and this time I did not partake in most. I wish I had. By the time the second-year refresh of Reveal The Shield had delivered sublime G1 stylings, I had amassed a grand total of 3 2010 Legends. Two brand new non-combining Constructicons which prove highlights to this day and an incongruous Sandstorm from Universe’s Beachcomber. It’s my belief that 2010/11 offered the pinnacle of anything Transformers among its small plethora of separate lines and the RTS Legends only go further to reinforce this state of mind. Only a single wave but a solid set of diverse G1 names. A fitting high to end the Legends Class on as here is where we part company with the price-point as we’ve come to know it and usher in the Legion…

Dark of The Moon shook up the pocket bot scene in a big way. Finally offering a more diverse play pattern based on the smaller scale, the £3 (at this point £5) bots of old we’re joined by a downgrading of the Scout class and various playsets, a move which I always felt should have been acted upon earlier. How good would a Universe Ark with bonus Skywarp have been? Thus, Cyberverse was born. Essentially a subline of its own within the Transformers framework, it would outlast DOTM and become the benchmark for the cheapest TF line-ups for the next three years. Not only a greater diversity was brought to the fore with DOTM though, as this was another chance to get the movie designs done right at this scale. Third time’s the charm rings true here. Long standing characters like Bumblebee and Starscream were given properly accurate renditions while the likes of Optimus and Ironhide made gains to better scale and pose with their rightfully smaller brethren.

If Legions were like Deluxes then the new Commander Class was the Voyager equivalent and it worked well; it wasn’t a substitute for the now dead Scout Class but it worked well. Also, while seeing the conceptual appeal of playsets, I didn’t invest in any. Most were only to be found at that faraway Shangri-La of Toys ‘R’ Us unless you wanted a heavily reduced Ark. I didn’t. I did however come to be the repentant owner of a version of Optimus’ trailer. Essentially a mess of panels on hinges that could approximate a base or some kind of Power Loader, it wasn’t anything to write home about and certainly wasn’t substantial enough to provide a sense of setting for the smaller figures.

Once the world seemed to suddenly grow very tired with DOTM, Prime toys finally and to absolutely no fanfare or prior warning arrived on shelves. Bearing the Cyberverse mantle once more this assortment of Legions and Commanders seemed to make some improvements. Highlights such as the almost insanely posable Cliffjumper and totally kibble-free Megatron made a lot more people sit up and take notice of what the smaller scale had to offer. As a plus, each figure also had at least one 3mm port to allow their small weapons to be used. Did I forget to mention that was true for DOTM too? While this added playability, I always felt the lack of accessories lent a kind of purity to the previous Legends and this was sullied. The figures were already small enough, now kids had to keep track of guns for them too? Initially Legion weapons were mostly the same mold, limited to strawberry or blackcurrant jelly flavour depending on allegiance but later waves brought some zing with more citrus flavours. Cyberverse was possibly at its height here though was set to continue for one more push as Prime gained a sequel in Beast Hunters.

Mostly the same line as its predecessor, BH offered some superficial enhancements. Solid metallic weapons were included, Commanders even had firing missiles and more closely resembled the ghost of the Scout Class. The odd but sometimes visually striking feature of Prime’s Commanders having translucent torsos to work with light gimmicks on playsets was dropped to allow for (somehow) better looking figures. Beast Hunters’ general theme of grand retooling of the previous year’s figures carried over here too, improving many of the more lacklustre toys with the addition of missile launchers or Mad Max spikitude. Lovely. 

While releases like the only Shockwave to grace UK shores or his out-of-left-field retool, Bludgeon rode the high points of the line, the very top spot was left for one more (seemingly the last) foray into small scale combining. Abominus was an excellent – if slightly stunted – homage heavy piece assembled sporadically over the course of three waves. Woe betide you if you skipped on wave 1’s Twinstrike. Not because it was Abominus’ left arm but because it was a genuinely great little figure, as each of the five Predacons and their arguably more intriguing repaints were. Good then, for the line to end in an incandescence of interest as what followed was merely a charred husk of what had come before.

Assorted Oddities

The second half of 2014 essentially saw the smaller scale die. Cyberverse was no more and for the longest time the only Legion releases available were reworked RTS figures and some dreadful Age of Extinction Dinobots born of BH Predacons. I only got one AOE Legends figure, a Prime Knock Out repaint in Stinger. Pretty underwhelming, but not as much as the line in total. No tiny Drifts or Crosshairs were to be had, the only movie-esque Optimus was an ill-fitting ROTF repaint, and Strafe didn’t even have two heads. Say what you like about The Encheapening that AOE brought about across the length and breadth of TF merchandise, at least you could get One Step Changers of all the characters as they appeared on screen. Age of Extinction indeed.

In this dark time for dreams of Legends collections, I lost most of my attachment to the price-point. Nothing was on offer to entice me back in to the fold, not really even 2015’s RID releases. Yes, the Legion Class at least was back properly. 3mm hands and ports were retained but all weaponry was dropped. It’s nice to have back-compatibility but I felt that a lot of the draw for the size class was lost to me. Not only were a lot of the figures seemingly smaller than average (possibly due to the illusory effects of minimalist packaging) but they now cost more than twice the price of ten years previously. £7 was simply too much for me to throw at figures barely pushing 2 inches. Perhaps with the accounting of inflation, that’s about right, but as long as I hold dear the memory of those halcyon days of Cybertron’s Legends, it will always leave a bad taste in my mouth. That said, I have tried to reignite my love for the class once so dear to my pockets, but even interesting repaints like Ultra Magnus or Ratchet have so far left me cold. Is this the end of my love affair with the smaller scale?

Probably not as it turns out. After getting my hands on a couple of Generations themed Legions from the venerable RTS molds, I’d like to hold out a bit of hope for the Legion. Ultra Magnus and Cliffjumper, despite being versions of figures I already own twice over (thanks to rare previous Generations offerings) are without doubt what the doctor ordered. If we could see a return to cheapy lil’ G1 themed guys, I think I’d be set. Just don’t skip the Ark and Skywarp eh? At time of writing that’s honestly all a pipe dream. With figures for The Last Knight set to rush in from The Bay in a few months, we are set to receive a revamped Legion Class which I will look to in mild anticipation. At least until I see how bloody expensive they are in Tesco’s for myself. Maybe until then I can console my empty pockets and delve into the huge wealth of figures still untouched in these twelve years since the legend began. I’m just going to have to put up with a lot of repaints aren’t I? Ah well, it comes with the territory.

Follow Ben on Twitter @Waspshot23

No comments:

Post a Comment