So, a big part of my general Geekery remains Transformer collecting. However, it was a hobby that had largely fallen by the wayside over the last decade aside from displaying the figures I already had. The arrival of the movies led to a style in the toys I ended up not really caring for.
If nothing else it saved a fair bit of cash.
That all started to change with the introduction of the Generations line ahead of the 30th anniversary. New toys being released that directly homage the original line of G1 Transformers. Over the years the Generations line started to grow, and I have to wonder if this was partly a reaction to the growing trend of third party companies producing their own versions of popular characters and targeting the adult collector market. Certainly some of the third party toys look very impressive. And some have reacted by targeting the IDW comics versions of characters, giving us their takes on fan favourites like Tarn. I picked up the occasional figure, but it was still just something I picked up from time to time.
At some point however, Hasbro obviously realised there was more money to be made in the nostalgia-fuelled adult collector market. Following the Generations releases, the next line to really capitalise on this was Combiner Wars. A full sub-line providing new versions of the classic Combiner toys. A larger voyager class toy that can also form a torso, and four deluxe class toys that form limbs, each one a Transformer in their own right. As an update of the old “Scramble City” teams I think it was fair to say it was a big success, nicely walking the line between appealing to old school fans, while still very much being a toy kids could play with (unlike some other lines of collectable action figures). They kept catching my eye but at the time I’d still lost the collecting bug. To be honest I’m still kicking myself for not getting a Superion, although I have since picked up the boxsets for G2 Menasor and Computron, both of which are excellent. And the line was certainly a massive hit with fans, providing great new versions of classic toys, with many striving to complete their combiner teams (admittedly, another plus of the later box sets).
Clearly keen to build on this success Hasbro quickly announced a new line to follow on from Combiner Wars. This time called Titans Return and inspired by the Head Masters gimmick from 1986 or thereabouts. The accidental appearance of a banner (then under the name “Titan Wars”) ruined the surprise a bit.
A lot of my major G1 memories come in from the point of the 1985 movie and the subsequent toys and comics. As a result the later “master” gimmicks and characters are pretty close to my heart. Combine new versions of the classic Headmasters (most of which I’d eyed on eBay from time to time), with additions such as Powermaster Optimus Prime (probably my all time favourite Optimus, despite its limitations) and Blaster (who I’d never owned), then there was a lot of fun to be had.
The line itself quickly branched out to characters that weren’t originally Headmasters, with characters like Hot Rod making an appearance. The various Decepticon Target Masters have also seen a revamp, with Triggerhappy a fan favourite of the line, thanks to looking great in both modes, but also having a really interesting and fun transformation.
The line has also given us some other new things to discuss. “Pre-tooling” has now become a thing. Re-tools are common in toy land, where an existing toy gets a new colour scheme and some of their details remoulded to form a new character. In this case, triple changers of Optimus and Megatron were released, and both their modes and triple changing gimmick clearly marked them out as pre-cursors of original G1 triple changers Octane and Blitzwing (Astrotrain having previously been released – although even he was preceded by a “Sentinel Prime” use of the mould). I guess in this case, they were using the toys who were the bigger “names” to boost sales and justify creating the new triple changers (although this is certainly arguable with Sentinel Prime / Astrotrain – unless Sentinel Prime is close enough to Optimus, or still enjoying some post-Dark of the Moon popularity).
There was also a minor controversy over readily available Legends figures, including Brawn, Roadburn and Seaspray, from China via eBay. These frequently showed mould differences to their shop-bought counterparts, and fairly often might be missing pieces. Its still anyone’s guess as to their origin, as in many ways they were far too good to be considered knock offs. Not to mention they were from the current line, and included apparently legit packaging and instructions. Some sort of factory cast offs perhaps? Who knows, but it provided an interesting discussion point in the community.
Of course, the headline piece of the line was a new Fortress Maximus. Heavily re-tooled from the previous 30th anniversary Metroplex this is a figure that called to me. As one of the biggest Transformers ever, and leader of the Autobot Headmasters, Fort Max has always been a fan favourite. Occasionally available via reissues of the original mould via new colour schemes to reuse the character in Japan, there was disappointment when a planned western re-release was scrapped due to the toy failing modern safety standards.
The idea that Hasbro might do a whole new Fortress Maximus, cashing in on his mystique as the largest G1 toy (and only recently surpassed by the 30th anniversary Metroplex), and including his old double Headmaster gimmick seemed too good to be true. Needless to say there was some excitement when he was finally unveiled.
I previous skipped the Metroplex. While it looked really good, I didn’t really have that much attachment to it. Reports of some issues due to his size didn’t help, and to be honest it’s still rather his G1 toy I’d like to pick up one day. That said, the Fortress Maximus use of the mould just looks nicer to me. The remould giving him a bit more bulk and improving the look of the toy. Various versions were soon spotted, with an SDCC exclusive version becoming widely available featuring a slightly altered colour scheme and the Master Sword missing from the general retail version.
For myself, I eventually cracked and bought the Japanese version when I found it at a decent price in a sale (no doubt thanks to the wide availability of the SDCC version, allowing people to get a version with the sword without paying the initially steeper price for the Japanese version). The included three piece Master Sword, grey borders on the legs and red paint apps on the hips evoking the cannons of the original toy really drew me to it. As well as the Japanese voice chip. Being honest I also preferred the Japanese “Fortress” version of the Headmaster to the western “Cerebros” (both being very different characters when you compare Japanese Headmasters to their US cousins). While there’s a debate to have over which is superior, the original or the Titans Return version, there’s no denying that Fortress Maximus is an impressive chunk of plastic. The height of the Titan class clearly marking him out compared to the other available toys, and while the original probably has the better city mode, there’s still a lot of value in this new version, especially when combined with the Titan Masters (the new name for the Head Masters) themselves.
Of course, there’s also been countless other great toys. The previously mentioned Megatron triple changer actually makes for a great G1 Megatron. Hardhead was one of the G1 Headmasters I always wanted, and his Titans Return update is great. Fortress Maximus has now been joined by another Titan-class toy in the form of Trypticon, something I hadn’t originally been fussed about, but the more I see him, the more the giant Transforming Dinosaur really grabs me. It helps that leaks point to the next Titan Class toy likely to be a new version of Predaking. Something much of the fanbase will be excited over, but he’s never been a combiner that’s called to me. That said, I will be interested to see how he turns out, given what Combiner Wars produced, but at the larger size class.
There’s also the true superstars of the line, in the form of the Titan Masters themselves. Its a real shame the standalone Titan Masters haven’t had better distribution in the UK (at time of writing, only the first two waves ever made an appearance). They’re great little toys and provide a great load of options for fidgeting with. The Titan Masters themselves are able to sit in the cockpits of the larger toys, ride the vehicle they come with, transform into alternate heads for the larger toys or combine with their vehicles for another mode. The vehicle also turns into a weapon the larger toys can hold. The ability to mix and match is a great part of the line, and its a real shame Hasbro UK hasn’t been able to release the later toys, as there’s a great play pattern here that they really could’ve pushed more. The ability to take a single deluxe class (Hardhead), but then combine him with other Titan Masters (personally I find Brawn and Clobber work well) to give you other characters is a great option, and from a display point of view (that being mostly what I get them for), its great for freshening up the look of things without using up even more desk/shelf space.
I won’t deny I’ve spent a fair amount on Titans Return. I’ve by no means been the completest I was in the past, but even then so much of what was released appealed. It’ll be interesting to see what the next line brings. From what’s been revealed so far, there’s already an interesting mix of “must buy” and “probably skip”. That new Rodimus Prime will easily be a pre-order for me, although I’m not sure if I quite like the little Prime Masters (or whatever they’re called), as much as the Titan Masters. Its quite cool that they’re digging into the mythology of the different Primes though, and its a fun way to integrate the old Pretender toys into a more modern line.
There’s no denying that Hasbro are hitting a lot of the right buttons for the collector market at the moment. The third party vendors are still doing their thing, offering some more complex variations, or upgrade kits for the Hasbro toys, but I’m really enjoying the fact there’s a mass market option that appeals to me again.