Cal's Review: Smokesniper
Sneak Attack Specialist
*From G2 Dreadwing’s tech card*
“When you least expect it, expect me!”
Streaks in from excessive altitudes while cloaked in stealth armor. Bombs Autobot strongholds without ever being detected. Separates into Smokescreen jet fighter and armored tank to enhance destructive capabilities. As robot - or plane - the giant Gatling gun blasts a multitude of missiles at enemy forces while jet fighter enters dogfights with wing-mounted launchers. Impossible to shoot down: you can’t hit what you can’t see!
This brings back a lot of memories. Smokesniper was released in 2004 as a repaint of G2 Smokescreen, who came packaged with Dreadwing. Since this set was known as Ace Evader
in Europe, I wasn’t sure what to call Smokesniper. Is Ace Evader the big jet and the little one just a drone? Do they share the same consciousness? Is the big jet called “Ace” and the little one called “Evader”? These were questions I used to ask myself as a kid, but there’s no confusion now because for the first time both jets are sold separately as part of the Robot Masters toyline. You might think that Smokesniper would be overshadowed by his big brother, but this wee jet has plenty of charm in him yet.
Smokesniper transforms into a jet that vaguely resembles the F-22 Raptor - even though the Raptor wasn’t designed until years later. He’s about 15cm long and 5cm high with his landing gear extended. It’s nice to see full landing gear on a Transformer this size, especially when you consider the more recent and slightly larger Classics Seekers only have those unconvincing ‘bicycle wheels’. The tail fins are adjustable and the transformation allows the exhausts to angle up and down slightly. Smokesniper comes with two spring-loaded missile launchers that peg into the sides of his legs. They’re quite big given his size and they really appear to beef up the jet. There are other design aspects that really impressed me as a kid (and still does), including a detailed cockpit, intakes behind the front wheel and twin grilles on top of the jet. There’s also a very conspicuous pin hole behind the cockpit, but unfortunately it’s too large to hold the new Radial Pod weapon that comes with this release. I hate leftover kibble. My biggest gripe, however, is that the wings on this jet are laughably small and look more like winglets than actual wings. Even taking into account Smokesniper’s futuristic design, it’s hard to imagine this thing getting two feet off the ground. The small wings are a necessity due to the fact that Smokesniper combines with Gigant Bomb to form the mighty Gigant Sniper. If the wings were any larger, Smokesniper would not be able to slide into place.
The jet features a lot of sculpted detail. There’s a variety of panel lines etched along the body and more on the launchers. Takara repainted Smokesniper in a deco that appears to be based off the Blue Angels squadron. He’s molded in a slightly lighter blue than his G2 release and features plenty of yellow stripes. The plastic parts that were originally cyan are now cast in blue-gray, and his cockpit is yellow instead of red. Not that it’s a bad deco, but I don’t like it nearly as much as Smokescreen. Blue and yellow is not a very aesthetic combination, and the yellow cockpit feels like Smokesniper is competing with the Seekers instead of complementing them. Because his missiles are now dark purple, they lack the contrast that highlights them as Smokesniper’s harbingers of death compared to the original red missiles. I suppose younger fans can find some appeal in the colours, but they lack the element of nostalgia for me.
In 1994, Smokescreen’s transformation was a marvel of toy engineering. It allowed for an extremely supple robot mode with articulation that was unmatched by any Transformer of the time. There’s a persistent rumour that his design was reused for Energon Starscream, and this figure has seen many other releases since. The way the twin grilles elegantly fold down behind his back and how the pelvis swings around to reveal the head remains one of the key moments in my fascination with Transformers toys. I should point that there is an assembly error in all versions of this toy where the forearms have been swapped, meaning the thumbs are facing outwards. It’s easy enough to change them around with a small screwdriver, but the Decepticon insignia on the tail fins no longer faces forward in robot mode. I think it’s better to just leave the forearms as they are, since the hands are barely visible anyway.
In robot mode, Smokesniper is about 12cm tall - a little shorter than a Deluxe - and is quite well proportioned. The overall look of the design remains true to the image popularized by the Seekers, with the cockpit chest and wings behind the shoulders. His robot mode is surprisingly well defined. I especially love that he has tough shoulder pads instead of just bare shoulders like most Transformers toys. As I mentioned before, Smokesniper’s articulation is the highlight of this figure. It took another decade until the release of Classics Mirage before I was wowed as much as this wee fellow’s flexibility. His shoulders and biceps can fully rotate on swivel joints and the forward placement of the elbow joint means that his forearms can fold up fully. He comes with ball-jointed hips that have a wide range of movement, double-jointed knees and long heel struts to help maintain his balance. His head can also rotate. Considering that larger figures like Skyquake and Thunderclash - two very brickish Transformers that I owned - were released not long before, this sort of articulation came as a revelation to me. It was great fun experimenting with what kind of poses I could achieve, but this is hampered somewhat by the heavy missile launchers weighing down his forearms. However this can be fixed by tightening the screws on his biceps, which strengthens the elbows. You may also consider applying a dash of varnish to the feet.
The Radial Pod weapon unique to this repaint is entirely redundant. It’s cast in translucent green plastic that looks totally at odds with Smokesniper’s palette. Not only that, but the fact that he already has two missile launchers means that there’s no way for him to hold it. Stock photography shows him with one of the launchers stored on his leg, but this looks utterly ridiculous and threatens to blow his shoulder clean off. A more practical use for the Radial Pod is to give it to Gigant Bomb, who doesn’t have any hand weapons at all. If anything, it’s a sign that these two figures should have been released as a set, because you really need to see them together to fully appreciate the effort that was put into designing them. As a stand-alone figure, Smokesniper is still a likable toy and remains a landmark from the G2 era, but the Blue Angels deco is not my favourite. Given the number of releases this mold has seen, you may find a more attractive alternative out there.
Marks out of ten for the following:
Transformation Design: 10/10
- Sublime. The transformation keeps kibble to a minimum and allows for a very lithe robot mode. Withstands the test of time.
- He’s small and light enough to avoid damage if dropped, but those missiles can go astray and the superfluous Radial Pod will undoubtedly get lost.
- Despite not having much of a character background, Smokesniper is a lot of fun to transform and highly poseable in robot mode. A pity the jet mode doesn’t appear airworthy.
- I love how the jet parts are distributed in robot mode, but the new deco lacks the appeal and menace of the original. Larger wings would have helped the character silhouette in both modes.
- Haven’t I said enough already?
- Can’t remember what I paid for him, but he’s a small figure and probably not worth much when sold separately. Chump change.
- I would have given the original an easy 10, but I can’t harbour the same love for Smokesniper with his brighter colours and ugly, ugly green gun. He’s still a fantastic mold and I think every fan should own at least one version. If this is within your sights, you might give it a shot.