Is it better than MakeToys Visualizers? No matter what else gets covered in this review of FansToys FT-11 Spotter – their stab at a Masterpiece version of a well known transforming evil 3-guy camera – that first question is one I have been asked non-stop since teasing my first image of the review last week, and one that a number of purchases depend on for people. Not necessarily my answer to that question, but generally. Many collectors may have held off buying the MakeToys Visualizers because they needed to see how Spotter turned out. This is not surprising as FansToys have tended to be the go-to 3rd party company for Masterpiece style figures, and the Visualizers were not hands-down winners for everyone on release. Let’s see if we can answer that burning question, as well as everything else we need to know about FT-11.
Being a pre-release test shot which is very nearly production ready, some allowances will have to be made for the Spotter specimen in my possession. One would hope that between now and release, things will only improve instead of deteriorate, as has been the case for one or two notable high profile 3rd party figures. FansToys Spotter aims to be cartoon-accurate, MP-scaled and definitive. Spotter is made up of three almost-identical robots that combine to form the alt mode, a camera, precisely like its original inspiration. It comes with a separate flash cube and connector, lens, individual daggers and handguns for all 3 figures, two leg-mounted sheaths for the daggers, a mini non-transformable version of the camera mode to be held by other figures of MP scale – although this is said to be available only with the first run of Spotter. The lens splits into three parts and combined with the two outer flash cube parts, they become elaborate hand-held weapons for the Spotter bots. More on these later.
My first impression of Spotter was astonishment at the weight of the figure. It doesn’t matter how recently I have handled a FansToys product, every new one that comes along stuns me with its heft. The colour is very different to the Visualizers as well, FT having gone for as cartoon accurate a colour scheme as possible and not as many of the toy-accurate features that MakeToys incorporated. While both FansToys and MakeToys opted for a removable flash cube, Maketoys left it as a standalone piece with concealed weaponry like the toy. FansToys went a bit further and have it come apart to reveal two daggers in sheaths, and two halves of an elaborate hand weapon that requires minor transformation and combination with parts that come off the lens. Speaking of that signature feature, Spotter has a translucent green lens like the Visualizers. While MakeToys managed to find a genius solution integrating most of the lens into the robot bodies, FT’s lens, while not integrated, conjures its own magic by transforming into a gun with a blast shield and giant green laser sight – albeit by way of an initially very fiddly transformation.
There are no faux camera LCD displays or any compatibility with a real life photographic tripod on Spotter as there are on the Visualizers, and the attachment of the flash cube is not as strong or secure as it is with the MakeToys offering. What both toys manage to nail is a very compact, substantial and cool feeling camera mode that just begs to be held and played with. Sadly, Spotter does not have a clickable button or any sort of functional viewfinder. These are adult collectibles, and we primarily buy these to display in robot mode, but I think Transformers fans and collectors inherently appreciate (and crave) some degree of real life functionality, gadgetry and play value in their figures. This is especially true for a toy where the original inspiration dictated a 1:1 scale everyday object as an alternate mode. The Visualizers had the clickable button and at least a clear viewfinder to look into (even if there was nothing to see), and it’s missed on Spotter. But Spotter gets the toon accurate points in alternate mode in regards to its shape and still has an extremely neat and uniform look in this mode. The colours are not perfect though, the raised section above the lens at the top of the camera was blue in the cartoon pilot but it’s grey on Spotter (however this is accurate to the episode “Roll For It”), the lens is green where neither original toy nor toon appearance had a green lens and the front of the camera either side of the lens is a pastel purple here but grey on the toon. There’s no red stripe across the front of Spotter’s camera mode either – in fact mini-Spotter is more screen accurate than the full size Spotter. It has grown on me within a few days to the point where if this was my Masterpiece camera robot, I’d have no qualms about the aesthetic and feel of this mode beyond the lack of a perfectly secure flash cube attachment and interactive value.
In terms of size relative to other notable figures that Spotter is intended to be compatible with for display, the alternate camera mode is understandably huge and not really practical to hold. But, just as with the MakeToys Visualizers, FansToys have included a tiny non-transforming version of the camera mode for precisely that purpose. Mini-Spotter even has a removable flash cube! You can see in the images above that the mini-Spotter is perfect for all the memorable cartoon moments we are all obligated to recreate. The full camera mode on Spotter, while large, does fulfil the original inspiration’s brief of being a 1:1 scaled camera, but the pastel colours and specific styling mean it resembles the on-screen 1:1 camera more than a genuine one you’d find in a store in the eighties. I think the Visualizers look more the part of a real life camera, although that may not be a quality that appeals to Transformers MP collectors.
Beyond assessments of accuracy and scale, there’s another thing to consider here, is this mode actually any fun? I’ll be honest and say the Visualizers are more fun in camera mode, simply by dint of having a modicum of functionality. I took the Visualizers to the pub for a TF meet one day and even a random couch-surfer noticed them and she thought it was cool enough to pick up and pretend-snap some photos. My daughter (no relation to aforementioned couch surfer) also had more fun with the Visualizers, but in truth your mileage will vary in terms of what you want from this mode. It looks plenty good enough, feels plenty good enough and fulfils a majority of the criteria. There just aren’t any bells and whistles. Mini-Spotter is plenty of fun, though, and has a lot more detail to it than the smaller Visualizers mini-camera.
And to robot mode, where the greatest scrutiny will take place. Beginning with the transformation required to get from camera mode to the three robots that make up Spotter, I must confess I was initially and generally frustrated at what was necessary to go between the modes. There were obstructions, tight clearances and a few bewildering moments where I couldn’t tell if I was coming or going. This is not unlike the Visualizers actually, where I experienced similar frustrations on the first few attempts with instructions. At least I had instructions there, with Spotter I was using the force. It’s been about 4 days now that I have had Spotter in hand, and I can fully appreciate the transformation for what it is, a process that requires certain steps to be carried out in a precise order – and when that order is followed, the transformation is fluid, enjoyable and in places it actually sparkles.
Where the Visualizers seemed to have a lot of rounded edges, Spotter is sharp corners and edges, very squared off everywhere. There is not as much panel action with Spotter but there’s a great deal of tabbing – however it is not a complete pain to lock the tabs in and I don’t feel as though I am flexing parts to achieve clearance. I must stress how important it is to get the sequence correct when dealing with the backpack, crotch plate, thigh rotation at the hip, arms and waist. Every one of these can obstruct the other, but in the correct order it’s fluid and hugely satisfying, the whole thing finishing with a simply glorious double fold-up of the backpack and a reassuring snap into place. There are arm and leg extensions and you must be really careful to fold up the legs and the joints just above the knee as far as they will go in order to be able to snap all parts together when returning to camera mode. When rotating the hands back into the wrist, if you don’t get the orientation right, they’ll be jammed and you may have to get the screwdriver out. Rotate them in knuckles first, not palm-side first. I also love how with the side-bots, the heel spurs become a cover for the robot face so aforementioned mugs are completely concealed in camera mode.
So what is the correct order for going from camera to robot mode? Well there are videos around that will walk you through it, but my preferred method for the side bots (and pretty applicable to middle bot too) is to start by un-clipping the base halves from front and rear of camera, folding them back on each other and connecting them as intended, making one solid piece that will eventually be the backpack. Then, I un-clip the side panels from what becomes the robot waist, freeing up more parts. Next, I separate the folded up legs from behind the shoulders a little for clearance followed by the un-pegging of the arms and pulling them outwards and out of the way. The legs can now be unfolded halfway down from the back, the front and side waist flaps can be raised and then the legs go out to the side, pointing straight out sideways. Camera base/backpack can now be folded up behind the robot head and out of the way, crotch plate un-clipped, folded up behind the robot’s butt and rotated ninety degrees to create complete clearance for one leg to be folded/rotated down into final position. Now I swing the crotch plate (still behind the butt) the other way to create clearance for the other leg. Once both legs are down, the side and front waist flaps can be folded down again, the crotch plate can be rotated fully and clipped onto the butt. The midriff halves can now be rotated down from just under where the robot head was hiding on Spotter’s back and can fill out the previously weedy waist silhouette. Almost finished, push the robot head up and face it forwards, completing the sequence with the marvellous double fold-up of the backpack which snaps into place around the arms. Extend legs as required (you can see above there are three settings to choose from), flip out the feet and hands, extend arms, sort the heel spurs…and now comes the completely infuriating bit.
Sure, Spotter bots look very neat from the back (apart from the mass of screws on the arms), but there are some issues hidden there. Firstly that flap on his calf that was initially clipped onto the robot waist does not have a proper final resting place in robot mode. It just sort of rests with minimal friction on a raised semi-cylindrical section on the back of the legs. If you shake the bot, they will rattle around. I wonder if the crotch plate will become more loose with time, too. Don’t get me wrong, the transformation for MakeToys’ Visualizers had some truly frustrating things going on with trying to squeeze bits together, threading panels through tight spaces and hoping they tab onto what they’re meant to, rotating sections with very little clearance etc.
The main offender with Spotter, for me, are the grey robot backpacks on the side guys. On first glance it seems like they just fold into place, but they have an intricate piece held on by a clip that requires a tight rotation that almost always results in it coming off. Then you have to jam something behind the moving clip in order to reattach. I just mis-transform that section now, because getting it to rotate twice with virtually no clearance and a guaranteed pop-off just isn’t worth it – it’s not as if once you’ve done it correctly it actually firmly clips onto anything, even then they just sit/hang there behind the robot. With a few days’ worth of experience, that remains the only frustrating thing about the transformation, the rest is actually enjoyable if the above order is followed.
It’s a little trickier to go back to camera mode – I still get things wrong – but there’s a similar order for putting everything back into place and everything clips firmly into position. Satisfying. All except for the connecting grey parts that make the top of the camera. For some reason when all is said and done and connected, they don’t sit flush at the top which may inflame your OCD. When going back to camera mode, remember to not just fold up the legs, but also the exposed white thigh sections so that they are parallel to the back. This makes it much easier to connect the camera base at the end.
What I would like you to take away from that laborious description of the transformation is that when done right, it can be a pleasure. A lengthy pleasure, but pleasing all the same. There is some quality engineering in there, some of the most ingenious stuff I’ve seen FansToys do since the Quakewave backpack and rear dino leg storage on Scoria. It comes close to being overshadowed by that ridiculous fiddly business with the grey parts on the robot backs, but there’s enough goodness before those steps to win me over. Actually, considering the fact that the middle bot doesn’t have that silly bit with the grey backpack, I guess you could consider his transformation perfect – especially as you raise his head and neck by pushing the circular aperture on his chest upwards. I also quite like the fact that I had to work to love it, and that there’s a sequence to be learned. This sudden burst of ingenuity and creativity by FansToys is not restricted to the bots themselves, but also the array of weaponry Spotter comes with.
The flash cube separates into two outer parts that connect to the outer lens part (lens is a 3-piece affair) to make big blasters. These have a handle to close Spotter’s fingers around and a very handy tab that connects to the top of his wrist for secure fitting. The 2 remaining central parts of the flash cube become two sets of dagger and sheath, the latter clipping onto the outer Spotter thigh. The daggers can be held in the palms via a recognisable tab mechanism, although it’s a bit of a squeeze. Then, then my friends, comes the wonderful central lens weapon. This beauty transforms from a central lens piece into a hand weapon containing a blast shield and a giant green screen. From an initially super-fiddly, tight-confine, sweat and expletive-inducing finger maze that promises to snap and crumble on you, repeated use reveals a correct order for transformation, one that helps you appreciate the ingenuity in its design. This too has a handle but also peg holes to help secure to Spotter’s arm. There are also 3 identical hand guns that are a real tight squeeze to get into Spotter’s hands, I did think I was going to warp plastic or snap the fingers but it never happened and I certainly didn’t go easy on Spotter. These guns can also clip to the back of the shoulders, but this seems more like an accidental compatibility than intended feature. Finally, there is a redundant section left over that acts as the attachment between flash cube and camera. Within this hides the third dagger.
So those are the accessories, and even with the mass of grey plastic looking as though this is an unpainted prototype, and the somewhat un-weapon like appearance of the combined guns, they are – eventually – excellent. Posability on the Spotterbots is very very good. No outward ankle tilt but plenty of stability, tightness absolutely everywhere (except the flappy flaps on the back of the calves), those amazing extendable legs with your choice of where the knee bends! There’s the main knee bend if you extend the legs fully and then the one in the middle of the thigh if you want short-legged Spotter.
I got a quality kneel out of Spotter at full leg extension and virtually everything else is there. What did bother me was how the various waist flaps did sort of spoil the overall look occasionally as they could conceivably all be lifted simultaneously for extreme poses. The robots are of course highly show accurate in this mode, maybe just a jot more than the Visualizers because of the use of more grey than cream coloured arms and no white patch on the feet. They also feel better proportioned in the lower leg area.
Definitely one of FansToys’ better non-mouthplate head sculpts. I have absolutely zero affection or interest in the weird grins or smiles that Spotter comes with, I’ll be displaying all three of the bots with bland idle grunt face. Up close I think the mouth is a tad too wide but otherwise that sculpt is very strong. From a distance where the finer details become a little less visible, I feel as though I am staring right at the animation model for the original character, and I don’t think I ever got that with the Visualizers.
FansToys FT-11 Spotter is a success, a visual and engineering success in many areas. There are minor inaccuracies with the screen version but I think FT have gotten closer to it than any so far. There are frustrating steps in the transformation but most of them disappear with experience and it becomes one of the strongest conversions that FT have engineered into their products so far – in one direction certainly. The accessories beg attention and are (forgive me) much more than meets the eye. Play value is high with FT tapping successfully into the need for toys of this range to actually be fun as well. Quality is solid throughout, I have had no issues on this test shot and I did give it some abuse to get what I wanted from it. All that proved was that I wasn’t doing it right, and Spotter accepted that with patience allowing me to faff about incorrectly without causing any lasting damage, until finally the secrets were revealed. Like many FT products, joints could do with being a little less tight in places. You know when you’ve gone a few rounds with a FansToys figure!
However, the MakeToys Visualizers were fun and satisfying too, of exceptional quality and had plenty of play value. There were genius steps there too, the full integration of the camera lens into the separate bots was jaw-dropping. The Visualizers were also able to pull off my favourite poses more naturally. I’ve never had such difficulty saying clearly which figure deserves your money, because in all honesty, whichever of these figures looks more like the evil 3-bot camera guy you want on your shelf (something I cannot decide for anyone), use that to make your decision as either way you will get quality, fun, ingenuity and good looks. While I may personally choose FansToys Spotter for my display because of the close cartoon aesthetic, it’s clear that neither is a perfect execution of the concept, clear of its immediate rival. Both FT and MT releases have glowing positives and niggling drawbacks. A bloody excellent problem to have, really. And speaking of bloody excellent…
You can order your FT-11 FansToys Spotter from TFSource here.
All the best