To fill a Masterpiece-shaped chasm in the collections of the clamouring requires commitment to an ideal. One that has been evolving for over a decade, one that is now a distillation, a physical mirror to the sacred animation. Features, frills and faces find themselves crammed into the same space as a historic racer with an impossibly stylistic alternate physique. Wearing a name that is diametrically opposed to his portrayed demeanour, meet Downbeat. The creators with that most literal of descriptors as a company name have indeed made toy. They have RE:Mastered it. But have they perfected it? Have they lived up (or down) to the ideal?
You can hear multiple elements singing in harmony from the nostalgia hymn sheet as this most beautiful Agent of intellectual property theft evokes automotive emotion with its timeless and signature curves. Even the uninitiated will be able to simultaneously identify and mispronounce the vehicle brand. Despite the lack of uninhibited, supermodel-clad, alcoholic branding and traditional pay-to-display marketing plankton on this fine chassis, we are left in no doubt as to who, or why, this is.
Simplistic? Nay, accurate, they’ll say. Accurate to what? Certainly not 1976 and the legend Jacky’s Group 5 titanic turbo and that famous day in Mugello. And certainly not Takara’s No.14 from 1983, but accurate to the sacred moving pictures of our youth, surely? Not especially. This vehicular manifestation of the sound of New Orleans is an amalgam of influences from relevant history, from the real to the rubsign, from the incorrectly-chronicled cookie to the cartoon. Wherever the truth lies on a spectrum of the deliberate to the clueless, a premature-yet-anticipation-building Toyhax climax will allow you to plaster this delight in brands should you so desire.
Once upon a time, the definition of transforming vehicle nirvana was epitomised by a comprehensive first generation plastic and die-cast car park. That dream has undergone as similar an evolution as the Masterpiece concept itself, now nestling comfortably somewhere between the official and the unofficial at this holy scale. Except alternate modes are denied the compassion of scale, aren’t they? In a world where a monstrous Stratos dwarfs an amoebic Beetle, Downbeat emerges from his pretty plastic and cardboard prison dressed to tyre squeal. And he fits like Ace’s glove.
When you must rely on your eyes for the entire sensory saga of a toy’s success, you can be misled. Touch, emotion and gravity must also lay compliments at the feet of Downbeat before one can truly claim appreciation. A poorly hidden falsehood beneath a wheel arch is rendered paltry by an inexplicable undercarriage beneath his posterior, who was seemingly left chairless when the music stopped. You will stand astonished at how neither of those perceived shattering of dreams manage to manifest into anything more than a “hmmm” on the day you commence ownership.
To overcome those constant reminders of questionable cosmetic decisions is no small feat, and those that make toys doth revel in the glow of their achievement, both visual and mechanical, for Downbeat’s triumph barely begins where the lights go green on the grid.
Barely a seam catches the eye across his body as he rests on his rubber contact patches, but the explosion of ingenious panels and joints is real when the robot does arise. The bonnet folds in upon itself, allowing the collapse that forms the chest and the revelation of the true heroic colours underneath. Out swing arms that had previously been impossibly manoeuvered underneath by hook and crook, or rather, sliding bars, opening panels and an angle of approach that must be nailed with sweat-laden precision.
As doors become wings, as a torso’s rise is negotiated similarly to its ancient ancestor’s and as front wheels dive and hide beneath the hood, the form of a well known friend begins to take shape. This combination of moves, however well executed, will not halt the departure of the top of the chest from its red base. A rare, lasting source of frustration.
Shins will lift, legs will split, wheel arches, wheels and wings will fold all the way down, around and thoroughly out the way, for you will see that clearance is key in the unlocking of elegance. A delicious automorph, engaged and relished only when inner thigh flaps are un-tabbed and all obstacles removed to leave a memorable and clear path – a Masterpiece moment, a modern day sacrament. The instructions mock your lack of intuition, and oh how raucously we moaned about falling windows and disobedient tabs, when all along the failing was ours. Practice perfects, and with it brings due appreciation of engineering excellence. Sophisticated, magnificent and elegant are all words fit to describe this transformation.
And then he is born. Cue a relentless stream of flashbacks, of moments of history and heroism, of crystallised cool and charisma. A crunch of the abdominals, a face that stopped a million hearts, a range of movement that defines the essence of the modern masterpiece, while unerringly remaining true to the ideal. That unbreakable decree that demands a mandatory aesthetic. A grappling hook that elevates the desirable to the absolutely essential, and rams home nostalgia in the most welcome yet unsubtle and aggressive manner. He is glorious.
We have all been waiting collective eternities for this. Yes, there is a blank red hole of brazenly stolen idealism on his chest, but consider the expressive face that bellows “catch” and the ridiculous ease with which it can be attached, casting critical light on the efforts of others in this area. Sure, his third visage is that of contorted comic agony and the various sound projectors he brings to the party are but momentary distractions, but that’s the name of the Masterpiece game, and my goodness does he play it with style.
Why are his feet, shins and guns such a horrifying shade of careless swirl? My enthusiasm shall not be dampened, for his thighs sparkle with the sheen of painted metal. But why is there not more range in his neck? This rampant search for flaws shall be defeated by my adoration of his merciless weapon grip. But why must I tolerate his lack of kneeling ability? Because you will gorge on his proficiency to enact The Run, to pose as a toy-accurate totem all wings splayed and missile primed, to immediately hide them away and depict the robo-Scatman.
The price is high but the time is right, the flaws are immediate but shallow in significance. The appeal and pedigree are unquestionable, and that slight required effort to unlock his majesty is consistent with his sophistication and depth.
Seamless in stature, visuals and fit amongst his adopted brethren, Downbeat is what we wanted. For those who demand the purest re-creation of motorsport antiquity, there may be other answers to come, but don’t look to Japan for that gift. I do not hesitate to believe that the masters can fashion something akin to the promised land, similar to the way in which Quakewave, Backdraft, Hellfire and company were comprehensively shaded, but Downbeat has risen to the occasion and touched hearts. That precious commodity that rarely appears on this scene, soul, he has in spades. If this can be bettered, the world deserves to see it.
All the best