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Transformers Toy Review Archive (older series, 1984 to date)
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Warcry's review: War Within Springer VS Ratbat

Crashed to the ground and tangled in a mess of thick, steel cables, Springer struggles to reach his weapon before the Decepticons find him. Unfortunately for him, though, Ratbat saw just where he crashed. Suddenly, the ground shakes violently, freeing Springer and knocking Ratbat to the ground. When they both regain their feet, the odds are suddenly even. The two robots have a tense standoff, even as a larger battle rages around them.

Like most of the recent Transformers lines, the new Universe series features box sets of previously mass-released molds redecoed and re-released as new characters. Unlike the older lines, which usually packed random figures together for no rhyme or reason, some of the new Universe sets recreate memorable moments in Transformers comics, in toy form. This set includes Ratbat (a redeco of Cybertron Sideways) and Springer (a redeco of Cybertron Evac), referencing their showdown in the second and third issues of the War Within: Dark Ages comic. The American version of this set actually includes issue 2 of that series along with the toys, but the Canadian version, alas, does not. Since I already own the comic, I don't particularly mind.

I'll be reviewing each toy separately, then I'll close things up with a short review of them as a set.

Name: Ratbat
Function: High Auditor
Subgroup: Ultracon
Motto: "The road is my dinner plate."

In the cartoon Ratbat was little more than a pink replacement for Laserbeak, a spy who never spoke and obeyed Soundwave implicitly. In the '80s Marvel comics, though, Ratbat was of the most important Decepticons in the series, rising above his ignoble cassette alternate mode to become the Decepticons' fuel auditor, and eventually taking command of the entire Earth-based Decepticon force. Recent comics by Dreamwave and IDW have contradicted themselves, using the cartoon or comic versions of Ratbat interchangeably depending on who happens to be writing the series at the time. Both series have at times given Ratbat a humanoid body when he appears in a leadership role, and Ratbat's design in the War Within comics was the inspiration for this toy.

Ratbat is redeco of the Cybertron Sideways toy, a figure that I thought would make a perfect War Within Ratbat from the moment I saw it. I never dared to hope that they would actually make one, though. A nobody in the cartoon and a major player at the nadir of the Marvel series, Ratbat isn't even remotely as popular as he should be. This is the first time I can remember him being graced with a new toy, but it was definitely worth the wait.

Robot Mode: Ratbat comes packed in robot mode, after a fashion. He's mistransformed with his hips split apart, which makes him look a bit odd. Once he's put together properly, though, he bears a very strong resemblance to Ratbat's War Within design. Ratbat is mainly a dark shade of maroon, with black, dark grey and gold highlights. He has a distinctly alien head with no real face as such, instead having a big, central optic sensor made of translucent gold plastic taking up the space where a face would usually be. He's also got horns which simulate a bat's ears nicely while also giving him a demonic look. His chest, made up of the cockpit of his vehicle mode, manages to look more like a face than his actual face does, with distinctive 'eyes' and 'fangs'. His arms are a tad on the skinny side but are well-articulated, and his left arm has an imposing-looking cannon mounted on it. His legs are a lot bulkier, especially if you store his swords there instead of using them as weapons, and his feet are, alas, comically oversized.

He's got a fair amount of kibble on his back, legs and left arm, but Ratbat is well-articulated and highly poseable. His large feet make him very stable and give him a low centre of balance, so he can hold almost any pose you can think of on his own. His hips are a bit looser than I'd like, though, so occasionally he'll topple over. He's easily as poseable as any of the new-mold Universe figures, though.

Despite his tech spec rating of 2 for firepower -- both he and Springer use the specs from their original toys even though Ratbat's are ludicrously non descriptive of his new body -- Ratbat's very well-armed. He carries two swords (which become his wings in jet mode), which can be wielded as separate weapons or as a single-handed double blade like RiD Megatron's swords. I think they look better with one being wielded in each hand, but the stock photos on the package disagree with me.

In addition, Ratbat has a large 'internal displacement cannon' mounted on his left arm. It's actually a fairly nondescript and harmless-looking chunk of his jet mode...until you insert a Cyber Key into the socket at the back of the cannon. Doing that will cause four translucent gold blades to fan out, making the cannon look like some sort of futuristic energy crossbow. Activating his key feature also causes his Decepticon symbol to be replaced with an Ultracon sigil, the faction that Ratbat led during the Dark Ages whose logo was based on his own face.

Alternate Mode: Ratbat's transformation can be a bit tricky, and getting all of his parts to where they need to be is a challenge, but when you get them there it's well worth the trouble. An absolutely gorgeous futuristic attack jet, Ratbat doesn't bear much resemblance to past versions of the character in this mode. He doesn't need to, though, because he stands out so well on his own. Black is the dominant colour here, with the maroon restricted to the wings and cockpit, a few gold highlights on the fuselage and the dark grey almost entirely hidden. Vaguely delta-shaped with forward-swept, aggressive-looking wings, Ratbat continues to look very alien.

Ratbat's Cyber Key gimmick can be used in vehicle mode as well, but only by pulling the internal displacement cannon away from the rest of the jet so that the orange blades have room to move. The end result actually makes him look less threatening, so I wouldn't bother with it. Aside from that, Ratbat lacks the firing missiles and flip-out landing gear that are the staple of modern Transformer aircraft. In fact, he really doesn't do much in jet mode other than sitting there and looking awesome. That's a bit of a disappointment, but at the same time I'm glad they didn't cram in extra action features that would have ruined the sleek simplicity of Ratbat's jet mode.

As mentioned above, Ratbat's cockpit has a more-than-passing resemblance to a face. The look is more pronounced here, and actually reminds me a little bit of a Cylon Raider. The jet mode isn't quite as anthropomorphic as the Vehicons or Ratbat's War Within alternate mode, but it stands out quite a bit from your average seeker or other Decepticon jet.

Transformation: 9/10 Quite tricky and not helped at all by the instructions.

Durability: 6/10 The plastic quality isn't as good as it should be. Nothing looks like it's going to explode if you breathe hard on it, but stress marks are already starting to show up on mine. Be careful with him.

Fun: 10/10 Ratbat is awesome no matter what toy you base him on, but this is a genuinely great figure.

Overall: 9/10 If not for the low quality plastic, Ratbat would be a flawless gem of a Transformer. As it is, he's still a classic in every sense of the word. Probably my favourite figure from the Universe line so far.


Name: Springer
Function: Aerial Defense
Sub-Group: Wreckers
Motto: "Strength is more than physical."

Springer is everything Ratbat isn't. A prominent character in the 1986 Transformers movie, he went on to become a major character in the cartoon and especially the UK Marvel comics. In spite of that he didn't show up in the American comics until 1994, when he showed up in the Generation 2 comics and had a grand total of three lines. He's one of the most popular characters in the original Transformers mythos, but until recently he hadn't shown up in any of the later series. Hasbro must be trying to make up for that now, because this is the second Springer toy they've made in the last two years. Unfortunately, both of them have been redecos of previous toys and neither one really captures the essence of the character.

This version of Springer is a redeco of the voyager-class version of Cybertron Evac. Between the voyager and legends-class versions of Evac this is the fourth time he's been redone as a G1 character -- first as Whirl, then two different versions of Blades, and now Springer. Alas, none of those characters look anything like each other and none of them look anything like Evac, either.

Robot Mode: As a voyager-class toy, Springer is taller and bulkier than Ratbat. In spite of that, packaged together it's obvious that Springer is the simpler of the two. He makes use of all the colours in the original Springer's palate, but he's mostly green and dark grey. Yellow, which was prominent in the original toy's deco, has been reduced to a few highlights on his shoulders, feet and helicopter kibble. More yellow would have gone a long way to making him look more like Springer, and leaving it out is a mistake that was made on the previous convention-exclusive Springer as well.

Above the knees, Springer is fairly well-proportioned. Below them he's a mess, with huge shins, giant feet and cockpit halves randomly hanging off of his ankles. The lower legs are all smooth lines and gentle curves, which doesn't fit at all with his blockier upper body. Springer's arms are pretty bad too, with huge chunks of helicopter kibble hanging off of each one. His right arm features a working winch and his left sports a spinning rotor blade, which would be neat features but quickly graduate to annoying because there's no way to take them off. If they'd been removable accessories they would have been neat, but as they are they get in the way of far too many poses.

Springer actually doesn't come with any separate hand-held weapons, which is a damn shame. He was a gun-toting commando in the comics and frequently used his sword in the cartoon, and without either of his iconic weapons he seems a little bit naked. He has a pair of rocket launchers that can be activated by inserting a Cyber Key into the slot on his back, but because of the way he's built they're only a danger to enemies standing directly above him.

Springer is fairly well articulated, with very tight ratchet joints almost everywhere. In fact, some of the joints are so tight that it feels like you're going to break his limbs off before you get them to move. That doesn't encourage a lot of play, but between the kibble and his huge legs he really can't be put into many interesting poses anyway. Very, very disappointing.

Alternate Mode: Transforming Springer is a daunting task, but not because the transformation scheme itself is that difficult. It's disappointingly easy to figure out, actually. But because his transformation joints are even tighter than his robot mode joints, you literally run the risk of snapping him in half with every move. I've attacked some of the biggest trouble spots with sandpaper, but there's no way he should have been able to get through quality control in this condition.

Once you've actually got him in helicopter mode, it's easy to see why the designers made the sacrifices they did in robot mode. They wanted to make helicopter mode as cool as possible, and they did a good job of it. Springer is almost entirely green with a few yellow highlights and grey detailing on his tail, underbelly, rotors and weapons. The colour scheme definitely recalls the old Springer, but the helicopter itself is clearly designed as a rescue model, not a combat one.

All of Springer's play features were obviously designed with helicopter mode in mind. His rotors can be spun by using the lever just underneath them (based on the shape of his rotors, they actually spin in the wrong direction), a fairly common feature on modern helicopter Transformers. He also has a working winch attached to the right side of his cockpit. It isn't strong enough to actually lift a smaller Transformer and the cable it uses is way too short, but it's still a dozen different kinds of awesome. It's a shame it's not balanced off by a weapons pod on the other side of the helicopter, because on its own it would overbalance him so badly that he would be constantly flying in a circle.

Springer also has a pair of rocket launchers which usual point ineffectually toward his tail. Inserting a Cyber Key into the slot under his rotors will make them swing forward, giving him at least a little bit of firepower. Like every other moving part on the toy, it takes way too much force to get the missiles to fire. These launchers are the only weapons he has to speak of, which is a major disappointment.

Transformation: 4/10 Disappointingly simple for a large toy.

Durability: 3/10 I shouldn't have to be afraid of breaking a toy every time I touch it.

Fun: 7.5/10 A lot of really neat features in helicopter mode, but as a robot he just...stands there.

Overall: 5/10 Springer isn't bad, even with the quality control issues, but he's really, really mediocre. Now stop bloody redecoing Evac as every G1 helicopter ever, dammit!


As a set...

Cyber Planet Keys were the unifying gimmick of the Cybertron line and (whether you like them or not) they make sense in the context of that story. For toys that are supposed to represent original-series characters, however...not so much. Considering how many Cybertron figures have been redecoed for the Universe and 2007 Movie lines, I'm really starting to think that it would have been nice if Hasbro had taken the time to remold these figures with simple buttons or switches that could have been used to trigger the toys' special features without relying on keys at all.

Quality control is a serious issue with these two. Springer's insanely tight joints are just flat-out unacceptable, and Ratbat's plastic is a bit sub-par. Problems like that are getting more and more common in new Transformers, but it's still by no means acceptable.

Fun: 9/10 One great toy and one mediocre one, but they're bundled together and tied into a very good comic story. Good show.

Price: 10/10 They cost less than buying a voyager and a deluxe at retail, which is a good bargain in my books.

Overall: 7.5/10 A pretty solid set, all things considered.

 
 
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