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Transformers Toy Review Archive (older series, 1984 to date)
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Blackjack's review: Encore 17, Big Mission Cassette #2

Encore 17: the Cassettes

To be honest, I never cared much about this set. Until I saw it, anyway. Ratbat is what caught my attention, and is undoubtedly the star of this set. Slugfest and Ramhorn are interesting as well, and Steeljaw I could care no less about. So I was nosing around the toy aisle, when I caught sight of a shelf of Japanese toys, namely Alternity Megatron, Encore Combaticons and Encore Cassettes. The Combaticons look past their prime (mold degradation and all) while I can't justify buying another Megatron. I was about to walk away when my little brother picked this thing up.

In retrospect, I'd rather have only Ratbat and Slugfest.

Name: Ratbat
Allegiance: Decepticon
Function: Fuel Auditor; Decepticon Leader
Accessories: Free-electron lasers (2)

"The road is my dinner plate."

Ratbat is the unquestioned star of the set. He's the only one among the four to receive any kind of in-depth characterization. Not in Sunbow's animated series, of course. In the animated series, Ratbat first appeared in 1986's movie, among the cassettes that Soundwave unleashed to attack Blaster. He would later appear throughout season three, replacing Laserbeak as the Decepticon's resident scout/spy. After all, new toy and all that. His characterization was limited to squeeking and being your basic attack bat.

In the Marvel comics, Ratbat had a much, much more detailed characterization. Instead of a mere animal, Ratbat was a very talkative Decepticon, and one of the major characters in the story, managing (under Bob Budiasky's stories) to suceed Shockwave as Decepticon leader. Notorious for being fuel-efficient, Ratbat is officially the best Decepticon leader ever. Under his command, the Decepticons nearly slaughtered every Autobot, rescued their comrades, stranded the Autobots on the moon and manages not to have any casualties at the same time. In fact, if Blaster and Grimlock hadn't intervered, the Autobots would've died.

Of course, his other schemes (Club Con and the Car Wash of Doom) ain't actually shining. Still, Ratbat led the Decepticons until Scorponok's crew from Nebulos arrived and managed to be an enjoyable character. After a short Civil War, the two entered a joint leadership to fight the Autobots, and later against Starscream in the Underbase Saga. Ratbat escaped Starscream massacring the transformers, only to be shot from the back by Scorponok.

Ratbat has appeared in other reincarnations of Generation One. In Dreamwave comics, he appeared in Furman's second War Within arc as a full-sized transformer that transforms into a batplane-like thing. Leading the Decepticon splinter-faction of the Ultracons, Ratbat was portrayed as an intelligent and cunning Decepticon like his Marvel incarnation. However, later, much later, in the War and Peace series, Ratbat is reduced by into his cartoon beast self. It was retconned that Shockwave placed Ratbat in a smaller form out of job security. IDW's Megatron Origin portrayed Ratbat as a Senator who unwittingly sparked the War, before being placed in a cassette body by Soundwave. But then, Origin seems to be retconned out. When we see Ratbat next, it was in Devastation and he transforms into a CD player, a modern form of his microcassette mode. He can speak. AHM for some reason, uses Ratbat's original form and doesn't give him any dialogue. The authors say the retro-design is to make new readers more familiar with the transformers mythos. Because Ratbat's really easy to mix up with other purple robot bats in comics. No, really. Not because Soundwave wants another minion or somesuch.

Aaaanyway, Ratbat's toy first appeared in 1986, as a bat that transforms into a microcassette. He can fit into the chest cavity of Soundwave (or Blaster). For a long time until very recently, Ratbat disappeared from toys. 2008's Universe Classics 2.0 repainted Cybertron Sideways to represent Ratbat's Cybertronian mode. Transformers: Animated, being so caring to us transfans, included its own version of Ratbat, who transforms from bat to Keytar. Prime used him to beat the crap out of Soundwave. Ouch.

BEAST MODE

So, anyway, Ratbat's an adorable thing. He is a purple bat, and has quite a range of articulation. The head is on a hinge joint that only allows him to look down, with the ears on hinge joints as well. As anyone who had owned Ratbat before, his ears are extremely infamous for snapping off very, very easily. Ratbat's wings unfold from his microcassette form, causing him to look much larger than, say, Laserbeak. The wings have two separate winged joints, and the two legs are able to fold in and out, as well as point down. Those claw-things on the wings can move. Overall, a nice set of articulation for a G1 toy. Compared to Laserbeak, at least.

Ratbat's eyes are golden instead of the traditional Decepticon red. His face has a few fangs molded in, but not painted. Unlike his more famous Marvel incarnation, Ratbat's ears point away from the head. In Marvel comics, they point up like a crown. There is a rubsign in the center of his black-blue chest, which reveal the Decepticon insignia when rubbed, in case you mix up Ratbat with some other bloodsucking bat in the Autobot troops.

Like most other G1 toys, Ratbat comes with additional weapons, in this case two large free-electron missiles/launchers which peg nicely into the cassette holes on his back. While the original Ratbat (packaged with Frenzy) had two weapon variations, silver and golden, this toy came with golden weapons to match his fictional appearances more accurately. The weapons point forwards, in the same direction that Ratbat's face is facing, but there are what looks like afterburners on the back of his weapons, probably there to help Ratbat fly.

Ratbat's wings are not as 'pointy' as his character model/fictional appearances (bar the toy-accurate Dreamwave comics), and the wings are on a right-angle, instead of the sharper curves that he has in other fictional appearances. Also, there are these molded pistons and whatnot in his bat wings, giving Ratbat a more... alien feel. His feet have a small groove, that might be there to represent claws.

Now unlike, the wafer-thin Cassettes (like Ravage or Steeljaw) the humanoid Cassettes, Laserbeak, Buzzsaw and Ratbat really look like their cartoon/comic incarnations, and Ratbat manages to look realistically like a real bat instead of a wafer-thin figure that only looks like an animal from the side. Ratbat displays nicely, perched on the back of a big Zoids toy in my room, possibly complaining about the inefficiency of batteries in those toys.

Also, unlike some of the more... oddly coloured transformers in G1 (Skyquake, Quickswitch, the Seacons, the Firecons, Skullcruncher and the Pretenders come to mind), Ratbat's colour scheme looks great on him, even 23 years later. As cool as the Universe version is, the original Ratbat has that ironic bat feel to it. Overall, the best transformer in the set.

CASSETTE MODE

Ratbat transforms into a cassette, with grooves molded into it. There is two seams where the wings and body meet, but what else can you expect? There are molded spokes on the rims of the holes, and the paint is simply amazing. A lighter shade of purple upon a silver finish, bordered with black and having fake spools, with words 'METAL POSITION', 'A' and 'MC 60' enhancing the disguise.

Overall, Ratbat makes a pretty convincing microcassette, unlike the likes of Ravage or Overkill, who blatantly look like a folded animal.

Oh, and he fits inside Soundwave's or Blaster's chests. In case I forgot.

Marks out of ten for the following:

Durability 6/10 The ears can snap off. The wing seem to be able to get damaged easily. Oh, did I mention that the ears can snap off? As with all other Encore toys, watch for chrome wear on the weapons. Also, the ears can snap off.
Transformation 4/10 Easy enough, but the ears can snap off mid-transformation if you give him to a five-year-old.
Fun 10/10 Hey, he's Ratbat, Decepticon leader! And he looks decidedly awesome on display. He looks right at home alongside Classics/Encore toys. Also, if you have Soundwave, it's a bonus.
Overall 10/10 I'll be writing Price and Overall sections for the entire set as a whole, but Ratbat would easily get a 10 among my collection. Compared to other cassettes (Slugfest, Ravage, Steeljaw and Ramhorn), he's more sturdy and looks better. Compared to Laserbeak, he has more posability. Among the cassettes Laserbeak's still my unquestioned fave, though.

********************************

Name: Slugfest
Allegiance: Decepticon
Function: Messenger
Accessories: Solar powered vibro-cannons (2)

"Expect betrayal and your friends won't disappoint you."

Next up on the set is Slugfest. He's a Cassette, he's a Decepticon, he's a dinosaur. Instant favourite of mine.

Slugfest first appeared in the episode 'Call of the Primitives', where he appeared for all of four seconds, jumping out of Soundwave's chest alongside his partner Overkill, before disappearing for the rest of the episode. He never appeared in any other fiction, other than MTMTE profiles, and probably small cameos, I'm not really sure.

Slugfest, in contrast to Ratbat's calculated streak, is a complete and utter dimwit. His profile describes him as someone who follows orders, but it paranoid, watching for anyone who's talking about him behind his back. Of course, this had more than once caused the destruction of any message recorded in him when he thought the played message was talking about him. As well as the destruction of small towns as well, but who cares?

The name Slugfest, as awesome as it is, had not been reused again, probably due to trademark reasons.

BEAST MODE

Slugfest is a stegosaurus. Mainly green, with lavender-ish fins and legs. Like most beast-mode Cassettecons, Slugfest is wafer-thin, and has cassette markings on one side of his body. However, this is not noticeable because of the large and wide 'solar-powered vibro cannons' attached on his side. These cannons are as long as Slugfest's main body, and are chromed silver. Actually, I am really fond of Slugfest's weapons. What looks like solar panels align the upper part of the weapon, and the barrel looks like one of those funky alien/mad scientist death-rays. Well, what did you expect a vibro cannon to look like?

From the left side, he looks silly with the cassette decals, but from the right side he looks decently like a stegosaur. His stubby (and clawed) feet help him to balance properly, and he has yet to topple over, unlike his other animal-mode compatriots.

Slugfest's eyes are red, he has molded fangs and there's a tiny horn on the tip of his angry snout. Stegosaurs are supposed to be herbivores, and last I recall, they don't have horns. So I'll assume Slugfest's just misinformed. There is a rubsign on his side, just under the plates on his back.

Ah, yes, plates. These are spring-loaded, and if the bio is to be believed, are like teeth on a chainsaw. No idea how they could be used against an enemy, though. The tail is fat and stubby, like the head, and has two tiny blunt spikes on it.

Overall, Slugfest manages to look delightfully cute.

CASSETTE MODE

Slugfest's alternate mode is more obvious than Ratbat. Firstly, because anyone with eyes can see the legs and face tucked in, pretending not to be there. Still, detailings are still there on Slugfest. Orange and silver decorate the cassette, with the same words as those on Ratbat's (A, MC60 and Metal position). Not a good disguise, but then he's not likely to hide anyway. Like all other cassettes, he can fit in Soundwave or Blaster.

Compared to Ratbat or Ramhorn, his cassette mode is below-average.

Marks out of ten for the following:

Durability 9/10 What can I say? He's a brick with stubby legs. The worst that can happen to it are broken paint or missing accessories. Also, chrome.
Transformation 2/10 A no-brainer, although transforming into cassette is a bit fiddly due to the sail being on springs.
Fun 7/10 Surprisingly, I've taken a liking to Slugfest's colour scheme and character after buying his toy. Regardless, he's another minion for my Soundwave to boss around. "Slugfest, sit!"
Overall 8/10 Surprisingly, Slugfest is a well-designed toy with an awesome name, a cool profile and is an actually good toy. Now if only he wasn't such a wafer-thin figure...

****************************

Name: Ramhorn
Allegiance: Autobot
Function: Warrior
Accessories: Missile Launcher pod (2)

"Flee before me or else you'll fall before me."

Ramhorn is the first Autobot in the pack, and he's a rhinoceros. He was released in 1986, and was portrayed as a loyal, territorial Autobot. He had a bad temper. Ramhorn was first introduced to us in the 1986 Movie, appearing alongside Eject, Rewind and Steeljaw among Blaster's new minions allies, defending the communications room from the Decepticon cassettes. He had more major roles later on throughout season 3, usually called upon by Blaster to beat bad guys up. He totally owned a Dark Guardian in one episode. I think he spoke a couple of lines too, but my memory's not as good as it used to be. Ramhorn appeared in the UK-exclusive Space Pirates arc, but had a minimal role, fighting the Quintessons under Arcee's command while Hot Rod reactivated Metroplex. I don't think he appeared anymore in the Marvel series.

Ramhorn did appear in Dreamwave's third War Within series, which unfortunately went unconcluded. He had a one-panel cameo in War and Peace (and looked as thin as his toy, by the way) and appeared in MTMTE profile books as well. IDW haven't found a use for Ramhorn yet, but he had appeared on the cover for Spotlight Blaster in cassette mode (the artist was too lazy to give him a Cybertronian redesign, perhaps?). G1 Ramhorn's toy was packaged with Eject.

Unlike Ratbat and Slugfest, the name Ramhorn had been reused once in transformer-dom. In Beast Wars, Ram Horn (with a space) was a member of the Predacons' Tripredacus Council, who transformed into a rhinoceros beetle (see? He has a consistent alt mode. Always a rhino) and could combine with Sea Clamp and Cicadacon into the gestalt Tripredacus.

BEAST MODE

Ramhorn is an impressive Cassettebot. His sculpting makes him a pretty realistic (if tall) rhinoceros. Scratch that, a rhinoceros with two massive badass weaponry latched on to his sides. Ramhorn's main colour is brownish-orange, with golden eyes. His giant missile racks are chromed golden, and the joints on his legs are chromed silver. He has a rubsign pasted on his left shoulder, which of course reveal an Autobot insignia.

Ramhorn's two large horns on his snout, his tail and his ears really make him look adorably threatening, like Slugfest. It certainly won't be hard imagining him barreling through a wave of Decepticon cassettes. Ramhorn has a rather impressive set of articulation. His neck and tail are on fold-out hinge joints due to transformation. Each leg has three joints, on the knee, ankle and hip. That makes Ramhorn the most posable among the group.

His overall look is a bulky, powerful barreling machine, and with his large body it's not hard to imagine him trotting around the Autobase, ready to ram any intruder first without asking. He looks powerful enough to ram whole tanks over. And with G1 Brawl, it's possible. I mean, he totally ransacked a Dark Guardian (essentially a black Omega Supreme) with one blow. One blow.

Ramhorn's weapons deserve a mention here. They are golden, although silver chrome would've suited the paint scheme better, methinks. Ramhorn carries sqaure-ish missile racks, each seemingly carrying three warheads and having some sort of targetting device on top. Ramhorn's missile racks look powerful and threatening, unlike his set-mate, Steeljaw, who looks seriously outgunned standing next to Ramhorn. I mean, Steeljaw has these flimsy things, while Ramhorn looks for all the world that he could charge through a battalion of enemies... truly Ramhorn was made for crashing through enemies in the battlefield.

Like most G1 toys, Ramhorn's sculpt has non-painted details of fake panels, rivets and pistons. Ramhorn's paint job is not in any way garish, yet he does not look plain either. Also, he has big guns, a factor that many recent Autobots (save movie Ironhide) neglect. A nice toy and a good troop builder to anyone's Autobot forces.

CASSETTE MODE

Remove his weapons, flip his head and tail into concealment, and fold his legs into position. Bam, you have a cassette. Like Ratbat, Ramhorn really looks like a cassette. There are some telltale piston details that reveal he's more than meets the eye, but unlike Slugfest, nothing too revealing.

Unlike his Decepticon case-mates, Ramhorn doesn't have 'Metal Position' tampographed, only 'A' and 'MC60'. He still has the painted fake spools, as well as molded grooves.

Ramhorn's main paint is silver, white and vermillion borders. Helps his chromes feet to blend in. Overall, a better cassette mode than most other cassettes I could mention, and this includes universal favourites like Laserbeak and Ravage.

Marks out of ten for the following:

Durability 8/10 Nothing that could break off, although Ramhorn's tail seems fragile. Ramhorn's legs and weapons are chromed, so watch those.
Transformation 1/10 A most simple flip-out transformation.
Fun 5/10 He's alright, I guess, but I don't have a Blaster. If I had, he would've gotten a 7 or 8.
Overall 7/10 Ramhorn's a decent toy, fairly posable with a rather realistic sculpt. The cassette mode is excellent and weapons are amazing. He is, surprisingly, an interesting toy, and looks good on display next to my Autobots. At the very least, he looks like a rhino with heavy duty weapons slapped onto him, which is what he's supposed to be. He's one of the better cassette molds, even if he's not iconic. Yet.

****************************

Name: Steeljaw
Allegiance: Autobot
Function: Tracker
Accessories: Solar-powered pellet guns (2)

"What the eyes don't see, the nose knows."

Last but not the least, we have Steeljaw, the lion. Basically, he should be Ravage's nemesis. Ravage's a cat. So's Steeljaw. Ravage excels in disappearing, Steeljaw's a tracker. Sadly, the two never came to blows other than during TFTM, I think.

Like Ramhorn, Steeljaw was first introduced in the Movie when Blaster called on his cassettes to battle the Decepticon cassettes. Steeljaw would later appear throughout season 3, although it's usually alongside Blaster, Ramhorn or the other cassettes. In the Marvel comics, Steeljaw appeared in UK's Space Pirates arc alongside Ramhorn. He had a rather major role in G2 comics, though, and he was part of a team sent to stop a rebuilt Megatron. Megatron killed Steeljaw with one shot. But then, everyone who faced the new Megatron died, so Steeljaw wasn't that bad.

Steeljaw appeared in Dreamwave's unresolved War Within 3 and had a one panel cameo in their second miniseries. Like Ramhorn, Steeljaw's yet to appear in IDW comics, though a full shot of his Cybertronian lion mode had appeared in the cover of Spotlight Blaster.

In Transformers: Animated, there's a Steeljaw who appeared in a cameo.

BEAST MODE

Steeljaw is the one that fails to shine in this set. Sorry lion-fans, but I'm just not impressed with Steeljaw. Comparing him with his fellow Autobot Ramhorn, or with his Decepticon counterpart Ravage, or with any other Cassettes I've seen, Steeljaw must rank really low. First of all, his paint job isn't that flattering. He's coloured pale orange, very pale lemon-y yellow, and has silver chrome in between his legs. It's a very... neon paint job. Not as bad as the likes of Skyquake and Quickswitch, but he fails to deliver. I mean, Ramhorn is practically almost a single colour and he looks great. The likes of the gestalts, or G1 Spinister, or G1 Scorponok, or Slugfest, has neon paint that should make them look like candygram, but they manage to look great. Steeljaw doesn't. It looks bland, and pretty ugly.

This is worsened by the lack of detail to emphasize his beast mode. From a distance, anyone could tell that Ramhorn's a rhino. Buzzsaw and Laserbeak are birds. Slugfest's a stegosaur. Ravage's a jaguar or a puma. Ratbat's a bat. Okay, so Ravage might look like a dog, but still, you get the idea. Steeljaw... I can't even tell he's supposed to be a lion until I read his MTMTE profile. For all I know, you could call him a tiger or a winged creature and I'd believe it.

I mean, he has the basic feline face but his body design fails to deliver. He has a stern face, a 'Lion King' nose (Steeljaw came out way before Simba did, though) and his ears. Beyond that, his legs and tail look like any other four-legged animal, and his mane, represented by molded grooves, isn't really eye-catching, especially not with the two wing/guns obstructing it. As with the other cassettes, molded machinery details can be found around Steeljaw's body.

Steeljaw's profile never stated what weapons he uses, instead emphasizing on his smelling skills. After a quick search, I found (was it on a Universe profile or an instruction sheet? Can't remember...) that Steeljaw's weapons are solar-powered pellet blasters. Or something. Whatever they are, they look more like undersized wings with gun barrels attached to it.

Steeljaw's neck and head has articulation but it's very basic. The legs are posable like Ramhorn's or Ravage's, but the upper leg parts (the pale yellow ones) are... awkwardly sculpted and make posing... odd. The legs don't move as fluidly as Ravage and Ramhorn. And the tail's posable. That's about it. His mouth can't open and close. Very, very ironic for someone named Steeljaw. By the way, the jaw's plastic. Not chrome.

Of course, there's a silver Autobot rubsign on his left side, although in my opinion, it would've worked better if it were on his back, on top of his hind legs. Still...

Overall, a mediocre lion mode. I actually like Steeljaw's character if not his paint job, so...

CASSETTE MODE

Steeljaw's cassette mode is a virtual mess. Ratbat and Ramhorn look brilliant in cassette mode, and the likes of Eject/Rewind, Frenzy/Rumble, Laserbeak/Buzzsaw and Ravage has passable microcassette modes. Even Slugfest and Overkill has a considerably plain colour scheme, although those two don't make really good disguises.

Steeljaw's orange and yellow form is painted with a weird sunshine pattern, with orange, tangerine, vermillion and black going all over each other. Worse, the spools are painted red, unlike his case-mates' more realistic brown. There's 'MC60', 'A' and 'Metal Position' on his form. No A, though. However, Steeljaw's haphazard parts break up the paintjob too much, causing in a very... garish cassette mode.

When Steeljaw is viewed from his cassette side, he looks really silly indeed.

Marks out of ten for the following:

Durability 7/10 As with Ramhorn, Steeljaw's legs and weapons are chromed. Also, his tail seems fragile as well.
Transformation 3/10 An extra step compared to Ramhorn, which is pulling the body to make him longer. Still, a kid could do it.
Fun 7/10 Come on, he's a winged lion! He's Ravage's antithesis! And he also happens to not look like a real lion...
Overall 5.5/10 A mixed bag. Not the worst toy I've seen per se, but compared to Ratbat, Slugfest and Ramhorn, Steeljaw's my least favourite in this set. The other tree did a decent job of looking like what they're supposed to be, and they had weapons that looked effective. Their paint job helps, too. Steeljaw's the worst of the group.

*****************************

OVERALL: 8/10 for collectors, 3/10 for most people. Let's face it. These guys may feel nostalgic, but they are strictly only for collectors. Mainstreamers won't love these guys... they look outdated! The only one who I can recommend for the price we have to shell out for this set is Ratbat, and even then he's very fragile. The toys themselves are not bad per se, but it's more of the problem of price, really. In retrospect I'd rather have the money. But still, I really enjoy playing with these four, and it's cheaper than shelling out cash to buy the original G1 versions. I'm perfectly happy with what they are, and I'm waiting for more reissues. I want Overkill and the Cassette combiners!
 
 
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