Halfway through 2016 and it’s looking like that old chestnut ”best year for Transformers and 3rd Party toys” is once again being bandied about. Rightfully so, I can’t quite believe the quality of product we have enjoyed thus far, and that’s just up to June with Titans Return about to hit worldwide. I have had more difficulty maintaining a provisional top 5 purchases list for the year than ever before. So much so that I may go for an end of year top 10 purchases instead, or a separate list for official and unofficial figures. Do keep in mind that my end of year lists are only ever made up of figures I have been fortunate enough to receive samples of or purchase myself. If I don’t collect a particular line, then don’t expect to see it appear on my list(s) as I’ve not had the opportunity to give it a fair whack. Combiner Wars, Generations, the many 3rd party Constructicons – all fall under that category unfortunately. So, if you can suspend your outrage that this article will focus purely on my own purchases (and therefore preferences), here’s what I think has shone the brightest so far in 2016.
How could I not start with official Masterpiece product? The much-feared MP-27 Ironhide ended up being a stellar release with a gobsmackingly good transformation, a lot of accessories and a fantastic overall quality. It’s without a doubt the best Ironhide we have ever received, and I don’t feel as though we will ever need another. Some believe Ratchet wears the mould better, but issues with paint flaking have soured me a little to him. Even on looks, I’m still in the Ironhide camp. MP-28 Hot Rodimus and MP-29 Laserwave continued the new mould train for Masterpiece, again boasting enjoyable transformations. Both have come in for criticism, though, either for their height and colouring or the overall aesthetic and proportions. My biggest issue with Hot Rodimus is the almost immediate paint and chrome wear that leaves a horrible visual stain on what should have been a pick-up-daily figure. In a bizarre twist, I ended up with the MP-9 Rodimus Convoy mould this year and prefer it to MP-28 by several orders of magnitude. That’s a figure I do pick up and play with daily, going very much against the general consensus.
Laserwave, well I just adore it. It has relegated my Quakewave to the drawer and out of sight. Now, Masterpiece MP-11NR Ramjet was a massively exciting figure for me because there was just no possibility of them ever going to the lengths I would need for him. Yet they did. He’s gorgeous, everything I wanted visually, but again paint wear and assembly issues have made for a nervous £130 spent. The prize for most wonderful Masterpiece toy homage, though, must go to MP-25L Loudpedal. This Tokyo Toy Show exclusive that pays tribute to the exceedingly rare Finnish Diaclone Black Tracks has nailed virtually everything, right down to Diaclone-style stickers, correct paint apps and bare metal-style paint on the shins. The details look as though they had my Diaclone articles right in front of them when designing the thing – purple windows aside – and I adore it. Is he my favourite MP of the year so far, though? Wait another 6 months and we’ll know for sure.
Speaking of the next six months, we have Masterpiece Beast Wars figures to look forward to, we have MP-11NT Thrust, MP-31 Delta Magnus, MP-33 Inferno and whatever else gets squeezed out before the end of the year. In recent times, the end of the year has been a busy release period for Masterpiece. Delta Magnus is of course a repaint of my pick for 2015’s best purchase (MP-22 Ultra Magnus), but I’m pretty sure one of the new moulds will shine brighter than a repaint this year.
Moving onto unofficial product, MakeToys have really impressed me with their Masterpiece-scale Re:Master line in 2016. Gundog from last year was amazing, but their Headmaster-styled Cupola was the second best purchase of 2015 for me so I had very high hopes. Starting with Wrestle and Hellfire, they immediately grabbed me with what is a simple, enjoyable and highly repeatable transformation. The quality of the build is fantastic and the polish on the product is second to none. This is all tempered in the case of both by a ridiculous single-piece crotch flap that has broken on many specimens, but once you figure out how to avoid damage, it’s a brilliant figure. Chunky, but brilliant. Next up was the second Headmaster homage, Ironwill. It took me 5 months to add this to my collection but goodness me was it worth it. Superb quality, gorgeous looks and proportions (don’t worry, those knees and elbows are nowhere near as much of an issue in hand) and once again MakeToys demonstrate their increasing mastery of the enjoyable transformation. Containing another irritating flaw, though, Ironwill’s humanoid faceplate will shed its left cheek at the first sign of trouble, and he inexplicably came without the tabs on the Headmaster to secure the arms in head mode as featured on the test shots.
MakeToys added a cherry on top of the first half of 2016 with the gargantuan Citybot Pandinus. While not exactly part of the MTRM line, it is still a decently scaled Headmaster, even if the scorpion and city aren’t well scaled with the other MTRM figures. Very enjoyable toy, so enormous, striking and unforgettable. I described it in my review as nothing short of an event, but one needs to get on board with the highly stylised approach here. Well done MakeToys, definitely a couple of top 5 entries for me already in 2016. Looking ahead, the massively exciting Targetmaster homage Contact Shot should come out in 2016, and that is my most highly anticipated 3rd Party figure of the year. There’s every chance Contact Shot, should it live up to the renders, proto imagery and MTRM releases thus far, will take a serious tilt at #1.
Next, FansToys. These guys have held the mantle of best Masterpiece-style figures with a significant portion of the community for a few years now. As other companies start getting closer in terms of quality, accuracy and beauty, FT are left in a position where any product flaw or issue gets scrutinised even more intensely. Of their 2016 releases so far, insects Mercenary and Forager are utterly beautiful to look at, but both have issues that I struggled with in hand, including breaking parts on Forager and frustrating transformation steps on Mercenary. Armed with in-hand experience and hindsight, those issues have faded in time somewhat and I enjoy seeing these bots in my collection greatly, definitely the best insects on the market. Not all that keen to go back and transform them in a hurry, though. Spotter, their camera bot, was sublime at test shot stage but I experienced a number of issues with the build, tolerances and quality at final production. That backpack transformation is a nightmare still, but you cannot argue with how well they continue to nail the looks of their figures.
Reminding us all of their amazing ability to pull something phenomenal out of the bag, we got the fourth Iron Dibot in 2016, the mesmerising brontosaurus Stomp. A fantastic mould which shows how much progress FT have made with transformation, tolerances and face sculpts. I just can’t fault this release, it’s a refinement of their Iron Dibot efforts thus far and a serious contender for figure of the year. What a breathtaking return to top form for FansToys. Looking forward, we have the questionable Willis to come from FT, and while I agree that they did a wonderful job on the looks and MP aesthetic, there were some areas I just couldn’t get on board with. Hopefully the last dinosaur, Grinder, will help FT end 2016 towards the top.
Moving on, what have Mastermind Creations/Ocular Max managed in 2016? Quite a lot actually, across different styles too. We’ve had Reformatted beauties like Commotus and the fantastic Anarchus that nailed comic book villain accuracy, high playability and quality build in a way that only MMC can. We’ve had the long overdue Seraphicus Prominon that succeeded in looking superb, but maybe suffering a little in terms of value for money and being a bit short. I wish the armour stayed on better as well. Of the Reformatted releases so far in 2016, it’s definitely Anarchus that shines most brightly.
Under their Ocular Max guise, we’ve had a new and improved version of last year’s #3 best purchase Sphinx and its red repaint Liger (with Diaclone toy-based head sculpt and colours), as well as their interpretation of the heroic fire engine Backdraft, a superb achievement of a figure in itself, but with a few creases to iron out. The surprise of the lot for me, though, was RMX-01 Jaguar, the Masterpiece scaled cassette kitty. What a beautiful, enjoyable, impressive and ingenious figure. So what if he doesn’t fit in Soundwave’s chest? He’s more likely to fit in your cassette player! All of these figures have demonstrated MMC/OCX’s expertise in creating fun, posable, attractive figures of a very high standard and the ability to wow. They are all figures that I will repeatedly return to in order to fiddle with and transform, and not everything mentioned so far is worthy of such repeat attention. Just over the horizon, MMC have the eagerly anticipated evil bastard Carnifex, and if that ends up as good as it looks then they are going to score a massively impressive 2016, free of duds. You’d expect nothing less from these guys, really.
Best of the rest? Well BadCube released the much-required yellow Lamborghini Countach Masterpiece-a-like Sunsurge and its Diaclone predecessor Blaze right at the end of 2015 and partway through 2016 respectively. I reckon this has been a pretty divisive figure by dint of its lower body proportions and intricate transformation. It’s a conversion I’ve now mastered and enjoy, and I’ve been a huge advocate of its looks, playability and posability. The fact that Sunsurge isn’t currently threatening my top 5 owes more to the depth of amazing releases we have had in 2016 than any major failing on BadCube’s part, especially as the quality has been very good on this piece. A big surprise has been the Wei Jiang M-01 Commander. I just cannot accept that this is categorised as a bootleg, because the quality, design decisions and finish of the product make it feel more like a 3rd Party retool of the excellent Age Of Extinction Evasion Mode Optimus Prime, but oversized and a wonderful amalgamation of G1 and Bay Movie aesthetics. This is the kind of figure that makes collectors crumble in hand, people who don’t collect Bayformers will want this. It is simply unbelievable in its stature, quality and – again – finish. Many accessories, a separate must-buy oversized compatible MP-10 trailer and superb paint job make M-01 Commander a star of 2016. Are Wei Jiang ushering in the era of the quality oversized KO with Commander, MPP-10 and Reximus Prime? We shall see.
DX9 have dropped a wonderful bomb in the middle of things with Gewalt, their triplechanging tank and jet. This massive toy epitomises the DX9 ethos of getting very close to MP aesthetics with a dash of stylisation and a gigantic portion of fun. Transformation is brilliant, looks are brilliant (at least most agree they are in robot mode) and quality is top drawer. If it wasn’t for the arrival of TakaraTomy’s Diaclone Dia-Battles V2, I might still be bringing Gewalt to work with me every day. I’ve mentioned him, so I’ll get straight to it. Dia-Battles is utterly magnificent. It isn’t Transformers, but it is part of TF heritage and it is a 2016 purchase that has knocked me sideways. You know how every toy that receives enormous amounts of praise and hype on release inevitably suffers a few bad reviews? Not Dia-Battles. A universally adored release that combines endless playability and engagement together with ingenuity and stunning looks. It’s also extremely well put together and presented. Value for money compared to the size of the robot has caused some to hesitate, along with zero emotional attachment and non-TF nature, but one cannot deny the impact this figure has made on many unsuspecting collectors. Once in hand, all of those concerns evaporate, leaving a pure gem of a release. The start of something wonderful.
There are enough excellent releases so far in the first half of 2016 to fill any other year, and that’s just Masterpiece, MP-a-likes and the odd standalone winner of a figure. I have not had the pleasure of handling Combiner Wars figures, Unite Warriors figures, BotCon/RORC/TFN/TFCon show exclusives, MakeToys Rear End, KFC Opticlones or Junkions, Boost, Arkose, Andras or any of the 2016 Robots In Disguise/TAV range. The combination of those yet-to-be-bought figures together with the upcoming schedule of official and unofficial releases mean that 2016’s will be the hardest fought top 5 list in recent memory. Beat that, 3rd and 4th quarter 2016.
All the best