Tools of the Imagination

Tools of the Imagination — Grimlock (Gen-1)

Transformers toyline, by Hasbro, released 1984

Him No Bozo, Him King

Given the uproar that’s been kicked off by the release of the first official trailer for Transformers 4, much of which is centered around the dinosaur-like figure that appears at the later-half of the trailer, it seems like now might be a good time to study up on our resident dino-leader, the King of the Dinobots, the incomparable Grimlock!


Quick question: what’s more awesome than robots that turn into cars and planes? If you said robots that turn into dinosaurs, you’d be right. Such was the thinking when it came to the first sub-class of Transformers, the Dinobots. With a wide variety of origins ranging throughout the different variations of the story, everybody seems to have their own spin on the Dinobots. But one thing that is never questioned is who is in charge: Grimlock.

Grimlock, who transforms into a Tyrannosaurus Rex, is always the leader of the Dinobots and is often jockeying for leadership of the Autobots themselves, typically leading to friction and even out-right confrontation with Optimus Prime. While he is the brains (sometimes a dubious claim) of the Dinobot operation, he’s often the most physically powerful as well.

Oh, did I mention he breathes fire? Because he’s an alien robotic T-rex. Why wouldn’t he?
Appearance – 3 out of 5
This is a pretty average toy. The character looks pleasantly similar to the character from the cartoon and is nicely proportioned. Screws and joints can be seen but they’re not garish and tend to be worked into the overall look and feel of the toy. There are some nice textures but nothing that truly stands out.

Construction – 2 out of 5
Once again, we have to confront an unpleasant truth about the Gen-1 Transformers toys which is that they were not the perfect toys overall. This toy is considerably top-heavy in robot mode and you find you have to extend his arms fully forward just to keep him from falling over. This lack of balance, coupled with some weak joints (principally the knees and the flaps of his dinosaur-mode torso), makes this toy a little unlikely to survive years and years of play.

Movement – 2 out of 5
Grimlock is deceptively disappointing when it comes to movement. At first, it appears like this toy has some pretty decent mobility. But upon inspection, most of the mobility is more due to the transformation process than to simulate movement in robot mode. The hips and knees move only in line with their transformation process, the arms have no elbows, and there are no hip or neck rotators.

Fortunately, in Dinosaur mode, things improve. The tail doesn’t move and the head has a range of motion of maybe 15 degrees, but the legs (the arms in robot mode) sprout knee joints (that go both ways for some reason) that can simulate some varieties of walking and running. This is keeping with the Gen-1 nature of more accurately representing the transformed mode rather than the robot mode.

Extras – 2 out of 5
Grimlock comes with two weapons: a gun and a sword. The weapons aren’t terribly well-made or uniquely designed which, when you consider that there’s nowhere for them to go when he’s in dinosaur mode, makes them feel sort of slapped onto the toy. The gun is pretty standard for Transformers (and most toys) of the era, but the sword is really kind of poor and is little more than a shard of plastic. Add these passingly adequate weapons to his lack of elbow or wrist joints and one almost asks ‘why bother’.

Packaging – 4 out of 5
Transformers packaging was the yardstick back in the day and many toy makers can (or at least should) still learn a lot from them. The ID card with a personal quote, character description, and stats was frickin’ brilliant. The beautiful artwork was just that; art. And the proof-of-purchase points that could (in theory) be redeemed to buy Reflector just added to the near-mythical nature of the packaging.

Overall – 3 out of 5
Like my Devastator review, I’m sure this will cause some controversy. Lord knows, I feel a little ashamed. But this toy, when viewed objectively, has its faults. Mostly in the form of its mobility, there’s a lot left wanting. My single biggest complaint might actually be a little surprising but it’s the lack of size. The Dinobots are supposed to be huge, even compared to the other giant robots they are surrounded by. And they turn into dinosaurs, with their leader being the king of the giants, the Tyrannosaur Rex. Grimlock doesn’t convey that sense of size here. True, most of the Transformers toys were originally fairly uniform in height, but I figure this should have been the first toy to break with that. Optimus Prime might be the beloved child of the Transformers franchise, but this is Grimlock we’re talking about here. This is the King. And the king should’ve been bigger, dammit.

Tools of the Imagination

Tools of the Imagination — Cy Kill

Cy Kill
Challenge of the Go-Bots toyline, by Bandai, released 1985

The Black Sheep of the Mecha Family

It’s a pretty simple equation that if one thing is popular, a lot of it should be even more popular.  After all, look at all the games in the wake of Pokemon, vampire books in the wake of Anne Rice and now Stephanie Meyer.  The list goes on and on and on.  Such was the case in the 80s with Transformers and the cheap knock-off, Go-Bots.

There’s not a lot that can be said about the Go-Bots, except that they were such a blatant rip-off of Transformers, its little wonder that they didn’t last.  Moreover, they weren’t even that good of a rip-off.  MASK was kind of a rip-off of GI Joe, but a good one.  Inhumanoids was a rip-off of…well, I don’t know.  HP Lovecraft and Centurians maybe?  But Go-Bots was the gas station boxed wine to Transformers’ Crystal.  There just wasn’t much a competition.

A few characteristics of the story do still standout, however, one of which was their bad guys’ leader Cy Kill.  I’m pretty sure there were others, but like Leader-One (the leader of the good Go-Bots), he’s about all anybody remembers.  So, seeing as how I reviewed Starscream last week and that was the third Transformers review, I figured it was time to give these guys a shout-out.
Appearance – 3 out of 5
Cy Kill looks very much like he did in the cartoon, with the exception of the menacing scowl (here replaced with a vacant generic robotic look). Otherwise, the proportions are very well preserved and the character looks like he did in the show.

Construction – 4 out of 5
Somewhat similar to other die-cast mecha toys, this one is part metal and part plastic. However, unlike some of the Transformers, the joints and limbs are plastic whereas the main body is metal. This makes the toy feel a little better balanced and sturdier. There’s a pretty admirable amount of texture included in both the plastic and metal parts and some details (such as the machinery-looking details inside the main headlight) that really stand out.

Movement – 2 out of 5
The die-cast trunk pretty much seals the fate of any joints on the body (there’re no waist or neck joints, so you can forget about turning Cy Kill’s head). There are simple joints for the shoulders, hips, and knees, but with the exception of the shoulders, these provide only enough mobility to allow for the transformation process. This translates into a bare-minimum amount of motion for an action figure.

Extras – 1 out of 5
Zip, zero, nilch, nada. This toy comes with no weapons, add-ons, side-cars riders, nothing.

Packaging – 4 out of 5
The packaging is impressive. True to 1980s aesthetic, you have airbrushed robotic figures engaged in explosive combat. Cy Kill is depicted as a larger-than-life daunting figure, since every package showcased the figure itself distinctively. The images on the box are gorgeous and the box itself comes with an opening flap that reveals the figure itself. The back of the package is devoid of character information or any distinctive elements, but the front artwork more than makes up for that.
Overall – 3 out of 5
This is a very sturdy toy that does represent the character that inspired it, but unfortunately that’s all it has going for it. The lack of meaningful mobility and utter absence of any kind of extras really keeps this as median figure. The toy has little personality (and certainly nothing that would indicate the character from the show) and it isn’t even clear (his name aside) if he’s a good guy or a bad guy. Even the impressive artwork of the packaging couldn’t save this toy that was part of a toy line that will forever be remembered (and rightfully so) as the ugly cousin of the Transformers.

Tools of the Imagination

Tools of the Imagination — Starscream (Animated)

Transformers Animated toyline, by Hasbro, released 2008

All the old sins in all the new ways

With the financial success of the live-action Transformers movies, Hasbro sought to reboot their animated presence with a new show that not only re-imagined the Transformers and their world, but to place it far outside the shadow of Gen-1. While Gen-1 was being honored with the Classics line, a new animated series would go live on Cartoon Network.

Transformers Animated would deviate heavily from previous incarnations of the franchise, depicting a small team of military washouts trying to protect the AllSpark while stranded in Detroit. While it was determined to be a new show, it did still take cues from numerous past iterations: the show was replete with subtle (and some not-so-subtle) references to the Gen-1 continuity, while also incorporating elements from Beast Wars and the Unicron Trilogy.

Starscream, being re-imagined along with the rest of the franchise, took his place near the top of the villain pecking order. Early on, he is established to be THE main villain before Megatron’s presence is finally felt and he returns throughout the series, showing every bit the guile, manipulative intelligence, and outright vicious might, he was stated to have in Gen-1 (but showed less and less of as the series went on).

Transformers Animated had a decidedly more cartoon-y feel to it, eschewing the increasing anime look of the Unicron Trilogy, and embracing a more American animation aesthetic. Starscream was thus redrawn with a highly stylized look and feel that visually captured his own nefarious nature.
Appearance – 4 out of 5
The toy very nicely captures the look of Starscream from the show, down to the claw-like fingers and the rakish smile. The proportions of the limbs are especially worth noting because of how stylized they are in the series and how those proportions were successfully transferred to the figure itself. The one shortcoming of its look is in jet mode, where the bulk of the ship doesn’t jive with the sleek slenderness found in Starscream’s jet mode in the show, though this is a reasonable concession for the human form’s otherwise spot-on appearance.

Construction – 3 out of 5
Hasbro has a reputation for really rugged toys, but this line had to make some compromises. The plastic used to make the toys feels a little thin at times and joints are noticeably lacking in strength. This toy doesn’t quite have the heft to it you might expect and, holding it at certain angles, can make it seem almost flimsy. Make no mistake, it’s perfectly adequate – good even, when compared to other toys – but falls a little short of Hasbro’s otherwise usually high standards.

Movement – 4 out of 5
In humanoid mode, the toy moves nicely, with a lot of great action poses possible. In truth, the figure is more poseable than many action figures. The transformation sequence is especially smooth, in many ways feeling almost automated. Pull the nose of the ship forward and the arms and legs swing back almost on their own, making the figure transform in almost a single move.

Extras – 1 out of 5
The figure comes with two missiles that it fires out of its arm cannons, but otherwise includes no other additional weapons or trinkets. As stated previously, this is appropriate for the character but still is a let-down.

Packaging – 4 out of 5
The Animated line’s packaging was quite good, though a little pastel. Not anything wrong with pastels in and of themselves, but they can make for indistinct packaging art. The boxes were otherwise very sturdy and distinctively shaped, and included character information and story notes, all of which added to the experience of purchasing the toy.

Overall – 4 out of 5
This toy was right on the cusp. Giving it a four feels overly generous, but giving it a three feels unfair. It’s firmly right between an adequate toy and a good toy, but it definitely isn’t great. The look and transformation process is definitely to be praised, but the construction quality is lacking (again, at least compared to Hasbro’s standards) and the lack of additional attachments or weapons is more noticeable than usual here.

Tools of the Imagination

Tools of the Imagination — Starscream (Classics)

Transformers Classics toyline, by Hasbro, released 2006

Hasbro Knocks It Out Of The Park

In the mid-2000s, Hasbro returned to their roots with the Generation One toyline. However, they reimagined them by using modern toy construction techniques, modern modeling, and modern sensibilities and fusing them with classic characters and designs from the original series. The result was the Transformers Classics toyline, what might be argued to be one of the Hasbro’s most popular lines, marrying fan-favorite elements with approachable new sensibilities.


At this point, there isn’t much to say about Starscream that hasn’t already been said. He’s a perfect villain, capable of decimating foes and friends alike. Treachery is more than merely his calling card but a way of life. He’s so villainous that he isn’t even trusted by the other bad guys. Now THAT is a villain.

The Classics toyline was a very ambitious and well-meaning way for Hasbro to please it’s long-time fans but also invite in new fans that had either come to the franchise thanks to the live-action films (love ’em or hate ’em, they were successful) or hadn’t really even been into the franchise. It was a winner all-around; the Gen-1 fans would like the classic takes on the characters while those less rooted in the past could enjoy vibrant and colorful characters that were excellently made.

Appearance – 5 out of 5
These toys look beautiful. They are nicely reminiscent of their Gen-1 origins which is critical, but they also transform very much like the characters from that show. For Starscream (and like his Seeker brethren), his wings flip, his arms fold in, his legs combine, and his nose extends from within his chest. Just like in the show, so to does this toy deliver.

Construction – 5 out of 5
Hasbro is known for rugged toys and this one delivers. From the missiles to the wings and everything in between, the plastic is tough and durable, but also with the necessary give. The joints are solid and study, but can also pop back into place should the unthinkable happen. This is a rugged toy that can go anywhere and endure just about anything.

Movement – 4 out of 5
While this toy does a few small issues with movement, they pale in comparison to the dynamic poses that eleven joints allow this toy to take. There is a slight issue with the balance being a little awkward, with the center of gravity in robot mode being very high (almost in the shoulders), leading to a slight tendency to tip over, but the movement and flexibility more than make up for it.

Extras – 2 out of 5
The toy comes with detachable wing/arm missiles, as well as instructions for the transformation process, but that’s it. There’s no stand and no platform. While appropriate for the character and the toyline, it is unambitious for an otherwise excellent toy.

Packaging – 5 out of 5
In a word: perfect. The packaging is vividly colored, study and yet not too hard to open, and it gives a wealth of information on the character and the world he inhabits. It is replete with artwork of both robot and jet mode and is engaging to the touch. Almost everything a child (or fan) could ever want in a toy’s packaging is found perfectly executed right here.

Overall – 4 out of 5

The Classics toyline really is one of the finest toylines Hasbro has ever done, and anyone has ever done. From the construction to the colors to the packaging, everything is just perfect. There is little more you could reasonably ask from a toyline that these don’t deliver and this toy especially is a shining example of that.

Tools of the Imagination

Tools of the Imagination — Starscream (War Within)

Transformers War Within Titanium Heroes toyline, by Hasbro, released 2007

The Original Backstabber In His Original Form

In the beginning, Hasbro made their Transformers toys using die-cast steel.  And it was good.  Then, they moved to the cheaper and more manageable plastic.  And it was…meh.  And then, on a glorious day, they released a Transformers line based around using the beloved die-cast construction.  And it was good.  Very, very good.
For the four of you who aren’t familiar with the background of the Transformers (and I am referring to the animated series, not the live-action movies; the live-action movies are generally regarded as, at best, really ambitious fan fiction, with all the preferences and prejudices that go along with that designation), the Autobots and Decepticons were damaged in their crash landing onto Earth and were given the forms of earth vehicles (jets, cars, trucks, etc).  But in the first episode of the animated series, ‘More Than Meets The Eye’, we got a glimpse of a few of the Cybertronian forms that they original held, forms there were quite appropriately alien.

Probably none of these forms has been more popular than the ‘flying pyramids’ (formally called ‘Tetrajets’) that would become the Decepticon jets (formally called ‘Seekers’).  And there is probably no Decepticon, jet or otherwise, more notorious than Starscream.  The eternal opportunist, Starscream’s propensity to run his mouth is rivaled only by either his cowardice or his ability to back up his smack-talking (his abilities varied WIDELY from episode to episode in the animated series).  However, given that he openly and frequently told his superior (Megatron) about he was going to usurp power from him – and still lived to tell about it – it’s considered canon that he could backup his smack more often than not.

Starscream has been a perennial favorite, arguably as popular as any other character with the exception of Optimus Prime, and has been a prominent figure in just about every incarnation of the series.  So when the fans had a chance to get a die-cast toy of him in his original Cybertronian form, well, that was just too good to pass up.
Appearance – 2 out of 5
This a visually compelling piece, no doubt about it, but it’s not entirely sure what it’s supposed to be.  Both the robot form and the vehicle form look very little like figure from the show or even like other incarnations of the character.  Really, all we have to go on in knowing this is Starscream is the color scheme.  Likewise, the vehicle mode is especially problematic because, not only does it not look like the flying pyramids from the show, aside from a vague triangular shape in general, it doesn’t even look all that much like a pyramid of any kind.

On top of that, I have one personal complaint and that is the toy’s face.  While the head is nicely detailed and well-sculpted…it just doesn’t look like Starscream.  It looks…I don’t know, like Starscream’s inbred twin brother or something.

Construction – 5 out of 5
The toy is very well put together and, since it’s die-cast, it’s pretty much the very definition of tough.  Seriously, you could sharpen this toy into a knife if you wanted, and if you continued to call it Starscream, it would be the awesomest knife ever.  In all honesty, this toy is practically the yardstick of durability and ruggedness.  It does have a critical flaw, however, which is discussed below.

Movement – 3 out of 5
Scoring the movement category is a little tricky because while the toy is overall quite mobile (elbow and shoulder joints, rotating wrists, hip, knee, leg, and toe joints; hell, even the head turns), the joints don’t really feel too sturdy.  This is because while the toy is constructed of mostly die-cast, some parts (namely the joints) are necessarily made of plastic.  The problem with this is that the plastic is not nearly as strong as the metal and its there that we learn an ugly little truth about mecha in real life.  In order for the joints to support the weight of the limbs, they have to be remarkably strong (read: rigid).  This means that in order to move the joint, a great deal of strength has to be used (read: force).  And that amount of force means that you constantly feel like you could snap a limb off at any time.

Extras – 1 out of 5
The toy comes with a small stand that is identical to every other toy in the series, save for the nameplate that’s unique to each figure. Other than that, there’s nothing.  No clip-on weapons, no handheld weapons (since the hands are closed fists, that probably goes without saying), nothing.

Packaging – 4 out of 5
The packaging for this entire toy line was very well done.  It emphasized the die-cast element and gave us a quick bio for the character.  Franchise and narrative history was lacking, meaning that this toy was clearly meant for collectors and long-time fans, but that does little to detract from the packaging.  Each package as distinctive and it was quite obvious even without seeing the figure inside to tell whom it was that resided within.


Overall – 3 out of 5
This is a really nice toy that is very sturdy, tactilely very satisfying, and is overall just a beautiful product.  Sadly, it only passingly looks like Starscream or a Tetrajet.  The joint strength is also a real problem.  Still, this is a nice toy for fans but they’re about the only ones who will have an interest in it.