Monday, 20 November 2017

REVIEW: KFC E.A.V.I. METAL Phase 11: A Stratotanker



INTRODUCTION
Masterpiece-styled triple changers remain a bit of a tricky prospect. Aside from there being about eighteen different attempts at a decent Springer (possibly an exaggeration, but hey) there's an argument to say that we're still on the hunt for the "definitive" version, and when you move onto the other characters it starts to look even more bleak. To their credit, Unique Toys / DX9 have previously led the charge, with attempts at Blitzwing, Sandstorm, Astrotrain and yes, Octane all behind them. However, none of those figures were particularly cartoon-accurate or reminiscent of the characters as they appeared in their respective animation models, and so don't quite scratch the itch for me, personally speaking. Then KFC unveiled their own attempt at Blitzwing, with Ditka, but you may recall that turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. I actually reviewed two versions of the Ditka test shot, but sadly found that the second version (which was much closer to the retail release) took several backwards steps and overall felt like a missed opportunity, to put it kindly.

Shame, really, as KFC have been doing plenty of good stuff of late. Someone can always cite examples of where they've dropped the ball on individual figures in the past, but to their credit I have had great experiences with the likes of Transistor, Doubledeck, Simba, Crash Hog, Dumpyard, Opticlones, and, more recently, Kingorilla & Kingzilla. Whilst none of those figures are perfect, they're all solid attempts in their own right, and have plenty of positive things that you can say about them, in my opinion. So, Ditka was honestly a bit of a disappointment, not only because it shows that the company still have issues when it comes to consistency and quality, but also a couple of odd design choices in that case.

So we turn our attention now to Stratotanker, the next attempt from the company at a triple changer, and the second attempt by any company at a Masterpiece-styled Octane. Have they picked up their triple-change game since Ditka, or is this another unfortunate misstep? Thanks to the lovely folks over at tfs-express.com we can find out...

Final note before we get on with it - this is a test shot, and so there may be some differences with the final retail product, including tolerances and the like. I believe this example is quite representative of the retail version though, as the figure is due for release within the next week.

PACKAGING & ACCESSORIES
Whilst not loaded with accessories, Stratotanker does feature a couple of bits to keep you interested. First up is the most obvious inclusion - his gun. It's big and purple and looks kinda cool. I especially like that he can just about hold it double-handed (with a bit of fiddling). It also features a light-up gimmick, operating with the touch of a button, and can be stored away underneath the tanker mode (although it does then prevent the cab from turning which is a shame).



Next up is a shield that is fairly reminiscent of a similar accessory that came with the G1 toy, although where that version was functionally incorporated into the transformation, this is just a static piece. It can be mounted on the robot mode's arms with a peg, or stored on the back of the tanker mode (though it looks a little odd, in my honest opinion). Overall I'm pleased that they included it, but I have to say it does look a little bare. It's literally just a piece of solid grey plastic, without any paint applications or anything of interest, so feels a little dull, perhaps.



There is also an alternate face for the robot mode included here, which is always a nice touch. I also give a bonus point that it can be swapped out without the need for a screwdriver, which is something I like to see! The face is connected by two shallow pegs, so although it's a little fiddly to pop off, it shouldn't be too hard to install. The spare face itself is a bit ghastly though, sadly... and I don't just mean because of what it's meant to represent! Yes, this is supposed to recall the moment in the G1 cartoon episode Starscream's Ghost when the title character reveals himself in his non-corporeal form to Octane, who partially transforms with a look of shock on his face. The only thing is that the face looks pretty bad, in my opinion (we'll talk about the default face a little later), but also it's impossible to recreate this scene properly without removing Stratotanker's head completely and falsely placing it on top of the tanker mode... which is not ideal. It ends up feeling a little half-assed compared to how you imagine that an official Masterpiece would nail the idea. Still, it's a bit of fun I guess.


You'll also find a flight stand for Stratotanker's plane mode here. It's the same version that has been included with all recent KFC and X-Transbots releases since XTB Andras, and it works well enough by connecting to a peg on the underside of the figure. It does wobble a bit but it remains stable enough.



Finally, there is a small screwdriver included here, which is now sort of standard for KFC and X-Transbots releases. I haven't had any need to use it so far, but it's there nonetheless. I have quite the collection of these now!


TANKER MODE
OK, let's kick off with looking at what I think is the best of the three modes on offer here - the tanker. It's a fairly unique proposition in terms of Transformers alt' modes, and I have to say straight off the bat that KFC have done a decent attempt here. I think it looks pretty good!




Yep, pretty nice, all things considered, and especially when you remember that this is a triple changer. The proportions of the whole thing feel decent, and it looks suitably convincing as a tanker truck with only a bare whiff of kibble from other modes here or there. The wings on the sides of the tanker are surprisingly tidy, despite popping out of place occasionally without much effort. Even the rear end has been considered, with some painted lights helping to sell the effect somewhat, and no doubt some collectors will be pleased to find the presence of rubber tyres. It all feels suitably sturdy too, and rolls fairly well on a flat surface. Overall, I'd say this is a solid effort.




I will say that the whole thing looks a little bit bare though. The translucent purple windscreen is nice enough (even if not at all cartoon-accurate), and generally I do like some of the colour choices on offer, but it just feels a little... unfinished. It kinda looks like an unpainted test shot, as opposed to the final version, and would have definitely benefitted from a few more paint applications to add a bit visual excitement. Even looking at the animation model, you can kinda see where they had some potential to take inspiration and add some more interest. No doubt a Decepticon logo will help quite a bit, but still.

Octane's animation model


Where this mode does shine is with the playability factor. Not only does the cab section turn nicely, feeling suitably independent from the tanker and not just there as a static piece like on the G1 toy, but it actually detaches completely! If you've handled Masterpiece Ultra Magnus then you may find this quite similar, and equally as fun. In this case, there's a small release button behind the cab section that unlocks the connector.




It's a good system as when it's connected the whole mode feels very stable and you're able to pick it up from just the tanker section itself, but then it's easy to disconnect the two as well - great work. There's even two fold down legs for the tanker section to stand by itself. I find it strangely exciting to have the cab section able to operate independently, and no doubt it elevates this mode quite a bit in my eyes.




Size-wise, I have no doubt that anyone who likes their vehicle modes to scale neatly will have at least a minor panic attack with this one, as you only have to take one look to see that it's dramatically smaller than a real-world tanker would be versus some other Masterpiece-scaled figures, and especially compared to the likes of Masterpiece Bumblebee! Having said that, if you're the kind of person who's turned off by such things, then I can't see you ever being in the market for a G1-accurate triple changer, really, as it's always going to be a problem! All things considered, I think he looks decent enough in comparison, despite being undersized.

With Badcube Sunsurge, Masterpiece G2 Bumblebee and Badcube Lorry


So, one mode down, and overall it's shaping up pretty well so far! Can we count on the same from the jet mode? Er...

PLANE MODE
So, before we take a look at the transformation between the two, let's talk about that jet mode, shall we? I think one thing long-term collectors will know about triple changers is that all too often you can see that one of the two vehicle modes tends to be better than the other, but I don't know that this has ever been so distinctly evident as now... whereas the tanker mode is generally quite strong, the plane mode is... bad.




Woof. Ok, where to begin on this one? Well, I will say that I did at least discover a last-minute saving-grace-of-sorts with this mode, as initially I hadn't spotted two tabs on the fin section which help to cover up some of the gaps a little bit... that means that I will stop short of calling this mode a hot mess, and instead say that it's a bit pants. To be fair, the front section is at least a decent-enough stab at something vaguely plane-related, and even makes a nice attempt to convince with some translucent purple windows and what have you. Then you see that rear section and no amount of suspension-of-disbelief will convince you to look at this thing with admiration. The whole thing feels like a complete compromise to allow the tanker mode cab to separate, and you get the distinct impression that the plane mode as a whole was a total afterthought, tacked on more out of obligation than any genuine interest. The tanker mode has totally stolen the show here, and left this form with nothing much good to say about itself.




Again, look at it from the front and you could almost accept it, especially if you squint a little... but anything from a side or back view is going to disappoint, I'm afraid. Unfortunately I didn't find that it all tabbed together particularly that well, either. The landing gear is sufficient to hold the whole thing up and does roll fine, but the rear fin sections coming apart a little too easily, the wings threaten to pop off the rather-too-obvious robot mode arms at a mere glance, and whole rear section sags to the point of almost grazing the floor.

Octane's animation model


I guess to be fair it's a passable enough stab at the character's animation model at least, but nothing here feels in any way worth writing home about. There's no magnificence about it, no elegance or clever surprises to be had. It's just the figure contorted into a rough approximation of what the plane mode should look like, and it feels very disappointing as a result. Perhaps the whole thing might seem a bit more impressive on the flight stand?




Sadly there's just too much kibble on the underneath of the plane for this to be a justifiable posing option, in my opinion. Perhaps having a figure that is able to pull off these two alt' modes convincingly is just to big of an ask, and I guess at least in this case we ended up with one good mode instead of two poorer ones... that's probably where I will leave this one.

TRANSFORMATION
Rather than talk about enough part of the two transformation schemes separately, I thought I'd just do a quick write up on the whole thing in one go here. Triple changers can often be quite complicated things, and so it's at least reasonable to expect that there might be some tricky elements along the way. However, you might hope that the process is still fun in some fashion, or at least not totally mind-numbing. Stratotanker maybe manages to sidestep that last adjective, in that the overall transformation is not that difficult in principle, but unfortunately it does contain a number of annoying elements that make it not far off. The job of getting various panels perfectly lined up and pegged in is not a fun prospect, by any means, and at times I must admit to feeling a fair deal of frustration, particularly on first attempt. I will keep in mind that I was attempting to do this without instructions, but I don't believe that knowing what I was supposed to be doing ahead of time would have helped with some of the sore fingers and broken nails I encountered along the way. There are also at least one or two moments when the whole thing starts to look a bit like an explosion of plastic robot parts that somehow need to be reassembled back together - it's not what I would describe as enjoyable in any way.

The other problem is that I have a few question marks about how well this transformation will stand the test of time. There are a couple of bits that I suspect are likely to be stressed or break through repeated use, not least of these the smokestacks on the cab, the finer sections on the robot mode hands, some of the smaller panels with the wheels on them, and some of the joints. To be fair, I may end up being wrong on some of those examples, but I did have at least one major problem already...


Ouch! This is the back section of the plane, formed out of the tanker mode truck section. When trying to combine the rear wing sections together, one of the screws gave up the ghost and just popped straight out, causing the whole section to fall off. Now, I have tried popping the screw back in, and it will go, but the plastic is already worn inside so there's no friction there. I can only conclude that this is the wrong type of screw to be used in this case (I'm by no means an expert), but it's pretty concerning.

It's a real shame, as you could argue that it's a really impressive thing to design and create a figure like this that manages to contort between three modes as it does, but sadly it's not a process than I wish to be repeating in the near future.

ROBOT MODE
This mode was actually my first impression of the figure as it's how the test shot was packaged when it arrived for me to review. You may not have garnered from the review so far, but I was actually quite excited for this figure and so was very keen to see how it would turn out. After all, it's the first Masterpiece-styled Octane that I have handled, and I liked what I had seen of prototype pictures and such thus far. However, I have to admit that my first impression when taking Stratotanker out of the box was a sense of mild disappointment... something about his appearance is just a little... off. This is based on a couple of elements which I will cover in more detail in just a second, but I was struck by how lacklustre I found him to be in hand. I thought maybe it was just me until I took him along to a pub meet-up a day later, and saw the same reaction in all of my friends when they first observed him. It's also no word of a lie to say that he was completely overshadowed by the various other toys on the "enable table" that night, with few people opting to actually pick him up and have more than a cursory glance.




So that sounds pretty damning, and maybe it is, but in fairness it’s hard to find much that’s overtly great here. Now don’t get me wrong, that’s not to say that the whole thing is awful either. If anything it’s a mix of questionable design choices and slightly unfortunate elements that all combine to leave the overall result feeing a bit underwhelming. Not dreadful, just... disappointing. I found I was having to make myself pick him up to have a play with, for example, versus other figures that arrived at the same time that immediately commanded more attention.




So, look, it’s a decent enough approximation of how Octane is supposed to appear in the cartoon, isn’t it? All of the basic elements are there or thereabouts and there’s no doubt this is the most animation-accurate attempt we’ve seen so far. It’s not spot on though, and I think a bit part of that is that it all feels a bit generic somehow. It’s a bit paint-by-numbers without capturing any real essence of personality at all.

Octane's animation model


Probably the best example of this is the face. It’s the very definition of generic robot face. It doesn’t particularly recall the intended character or give any real sense of how he was represented at all, but it ticks a box I guess. When I shared the first pics of this figure on social media, a lot of the comments I received almost immediately were related to the face. Stratotanker is not a looker, needless to say.




Sadly there are other elements that come across as equally unfortunate elsewhere, with perhaps my biggest gripe being the ankles and feet. This is not how toy robot ankles should be designed, I don’t think. They’re connected by one lone pin at the rear of the ankle, leaving the whole foot feeling like some sort of odd flipper that is almost entirely separated from the leg. This pin itself is connected to a long and thin piece of plastic that runs along the back of the leg. It’s just asking for damage at some stage, and even though I haven’t had any problems so far I will say that the ankles could do with being a bit tighter as it is. Trying to balance this guy is a bit of a headache at times, but getting him to stand flat-footed can be nigh on impossible. It’s a problem I have noted in a couple of other photos of the toy elsewhere, and a really frustrating element.




I’m also not keen on the hands. Look, I know a lot of people like super-articulated hands but I just find this design to be so fiddly and fragile. I’ve already lost one of his thumbs and had to go hunting for it under the table, and I think you can already start to see the beginnings of a stress mark on another part. I also had a bit of bother getting his gun tabbed into the slot inside his palm, and initially had to use a knife to help wedge it in. I will say that having got it now, it’s very secure and hasn’t presented a problem since.




I could go on, to be honest. The proportions feel a bit off in places, the inside of the legs look a bit untidy (perhaps forgivable on a triple changer) and again the lack of paint apps or finesse carries over to make the whole thing seem a bit unfinished somehow. I’d also add that it may have been welcome to have some method to collapse the overly large wings a little somehow, even if it is kind of true to the character. You can rock them back to stow at his sides but it’s not really a solution that looks great.


So, not the best, but does he at least improve on Ditka somehow? Sadly not, in my opinion, as despite all that figure’s faults at least it gave a good sense of feeing like the character somehow. Stratotanker just feels rather bland in my opinion. He does kinda fill a spot in a Masterpiece display if all you’re looking for is that Octane spot ticked off.

With FansToys Sovereign

With KFC Ditka (original test shot)

With Masterpiece MP-3G Starscream

With X-Transbots Eligos

In all fairness, I have to state again that I don’t hate this robot mode, and if you’re in the market for a fair approximation of the character and you like the look of this from photos, then maybe you will be a bit more inspired about it than I have been. After all, how good does a Masterpiece-styled Octane need to be, exactly? Well OK, maybe it could be a bit better than this at least.


CONCLUSION
Oof. I’ll be upfront and say I did at least debate between awarding this guy a 1 or a 2 score overall. There was a point when I was feeling more generous and thinking to round it up to a 2 on the basis of the nice tanker mode and the playability factor that brings, but then I considered that even that form feels a little unpolished with the lack of paint applications and such. It's a good example of how the whole thing just feels a bit half-baked. You can also genuinely see that they started with the tanker and worked from there. The cab gimmick is great, but everything else has to work around it. It's like they kept that idea in mind despite whatever other compromises it threw up along the way.

The final nail for me though was when the back section broke during transformation, and whilst it's not the absolute worst quality control issue I have ever seen on a third party figure, it's really disappointing from an outfit that have more recently put out some decent stuff. They can do better. I said it before but if this guy had felt on a par with the likes of Kingorilla & Kingzilla (or any of the other examples), I would have been happy. Sadly, he doesn't, so it's honestly hard for me to recommend in that regard.

What's HOT?
There are some positives here - the tanker mode is good despite a bit of a lack of finish, and I absolutely love the separating cab gimmick despite the challenges it threw up elsewhere.

What's NOT?
The jet mode is poor, the robot mode is average and the transformation is not much fun. The face is pretty bad and overall the whole thing lacks polish. Oh, and a bit broke off.


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5 comments:

  1. Yup, UTs provider isnt going anywhere for now, the search for a real MP octane goes on.
    Thanks for an honest review Sixo

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    1. No problem, dude, and thanks for the comment!

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  2. Great review. Beautiful photography. Awful Transformer.

    Keith phoned this one in.

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    Replies
    1. Hey dude, thanks for the comment! Sorry for the slow reply... appreciate the kind words but sadly agree, this wasn't a great release. Shame!

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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