Fifteen months ago, Hasbro’s Transformers Titans Return line debuted in stores and at the regular online retail outlets. The Headmasters, Targetmasters and Powermasters had returned to mainline Transformers. Seemingly a modern day love letter to all the best aspects of 1986 to 1988, the line appealed to me greatly as I was knee deep in collecting toys from that exact vintage era at the time. After unrealistic expectations and initial disappointment gave way to understanding of the play pattern and true soul of the line, I was in all the way. I went completist on both the Hasbro Titans Return and TakaraTomy Transformers Legends versions, and all the exclusives in between. So now that TR is seemingly finished – although I still expect a few surprise releases or exclusives – what are my feelings on the line as a whole?
With every subsequent wave of Titans Return, I found myself more determined to find every single toy and variant, including TakaraTomy Legends equivalents. By the time wave 3 was in stores, I was fully up to speed with even SDCC exclusives, enabling me to create elaborate base mode dioramas like the ones you see above. Initially I had planned to skip the Titan class Fortress Maximus, but that very quickly changed to me having three of the buggers. Missing out on a possible Titan Master to populate a base just wasn’t in the script at all, and I went to any length necessary to secure what I was missing. I bought in to the play pattern of weapon, vehicle and head swapping, and the aforementioned base modes. I even created base modes for Deluxe class figures where none should have existed! I was having a great deal of fun. Every time I felt overwhelmed with the expense, with the sheer quantity of toys and indirectly proportional space issue, the subsequent wave of Titans Return toys would utterly blow me away.
Wave 1 actually took me the longest to complete – even after wave 2 had hit – as there were figures I was sure I’d not need, sticking only to recognised Headmaster and Targetmaster equivalents for display alongside Generation 1 toys. I am so glad I came out of that mindset, because leader class Blaster and Powermaster Optimus Prime have brought me so much joy. I prefer the PMOP package as a whole to the TakaraTomy Super Ginrai, and that was not something I was expecting at all. Blaster, I feel, has the best base mode of all the non-Titan Class TR toys and I wouldn’t feel strange nominating him as my favourite Leader class figure of the line.
Wave 2 (and to some degree, the SDCC/Walmart exclusive half step between) gave me the opportunity to fulfil my early-TR ambition in its entirety; a complete set of Autobot and Decepticon Headmasters as introduced by the 1987 range and The Rebirth cartoon. I embraced the weirdness that TR put out every so often with wave 2 as well, buying Voyager Alpha Trion and finding that – true to the rest of the line – I adored it. Every single toy’s transformation and freshness from the last, despite the lack of Headmaster tradition, made me happy. Alpha Trion, Sentinel Prime and even the much maligned voyager Galvatron (albeit the pretty TakaraTomy Legends version first). Rumble caused me some grief to find as I had moved to Iceland by that stage, he may in fact still be the one that gave me the most trouble of all the mass release TR toys. After my issues with Rumble, I fell into the efficient but expensive habit of ordering the entire wave in one go – on import – from my favourite comic book and collector’s shop.
The Titan class are fantastic fun and have featured very heavily in my recent photography as Cybertronian backdrops or amazing bases. The Titan Masters at the other end of the size chart have exhibited ingenuity at a microscopic scale, while still being serviceable troop-builders, triplechangers and makeshift Targetmasters. The Leader class have done big-hitters like Overlord, Sky Shadow (Black Shadow) and Sixshot some immense justice; the headsculpts across this line are off the charts in terms of likeness, quality and beauty. The Voyager class have all been legitimate triplechangers and aced some very high profile Transformers characters like Optimus Prime, Megatron, Blitzwing, Astrotrain, Octane etc, giving some of those toys unfamiliar modes – and while they have been inherently compromised – they have, to a figure, been superb fun to play with.
The Legends class toys have shone in their own right, giving a widely disliked character like Wheelie a toy that he can spend the ages gloating over. If yours wasn’t floppy, it was a marvel. And what can I say about the opportunity to troop-build Sharkticons at such an affordable price? Gnaw is fantastic. With all of that in its pocket, Titans Return has set the Transformers world alight with the quality of its Deluxe class figures, despite a shaky start with Skullcruncher and Hardhead where my collecting was concerned. None have surpassed the wondrous and majestic wizardry of wave 3 Triggerhappy. Words fail me, I worship this figure. This was also the point where Monsterbots returned to the Transformers mainline fold with Twinferno (Doublecross). A landmark day for me.
Wave 4, I believe, was the best group of toys that Titans Return released at one time, overall. Every single size class had stunners. Topspin and Kup at Deluxe class push Triggerhappy extremely close, not just for Deluxe of the line, but best toy of the whole line. They are scintillating in every way, especially transformation. Quake had arguably the best headsculpt of the entire Titans Return range, I mean seriously I nearly fell off my chair when I saw how gorgeous it was. It was the embodiment, the essence of Generation 1 Transformers, in a face. Giving Quake a serious run for his wave 4 pretty face money is Sky Shadow, a complete surprise to me. His waist and legs turn into a tank for crying out loud, it’s distilled magnificence. Deluxe class Krok gave us mental colours and the introduction of Actionmasters into the TR legacy.
Perceptor and Brawn harked back to the TFTM and pre-movie era, and seeing Brawn re-released at Legends class in addition to the wave 2 Titan Master offered hope of full range of deluxe sized Monsterbots. A hope that was eventually dashed. As good as TM Repugnus was, he was still not quite enough. Broadside is a toy that was panned for his weak jet mode, but since he was carrying microscopic Aerialbots on his wings, I just saw it as some form of airborne aircraft carrier and I accepted its third mode happily. He’s a brilliant Voyager. The prize here, though, goes to the best Titan Master of them all; Shuffler. SHUFFLER. A Japanese exclusive Headmaster warrior, reborn in a mainline Hasbro Transformers line, and faithfully at that! Three awesome modes and manic troop-building from me created a herd of elephants, a platoon of tanks and an arsenal of tommy guns! It also helps that the Headmaster figure itself has a terrific headsculpt as an attachment, and his own tiny robot headsculpt is that of an elephant. There’s not a single level he does not win on, except maybe distribution in stores.
Towards the end of Titans Return, we started to get some hard-to-capture exclusives. These include the Chaos On Velocitron and Siege Of Cybertron exclusive box sets, which were costing an arm and a leg were you not lucky enough to have your national TRU stock them. Out of these sets which were predominantly repaints/remoulds came gems such as Quickswitch (Sixshot re-do), MTMTE-lovers’ first stab at a Nautica figure (from Blurr), Tidal Wave (from Broadside), Metalhawk (from Triggerhappy), Magnus Prime (Super Ginrai, basically), a couple of diecast Titan Masters and – infuriatingly – one Autobot and Decepticon Clone apiece. Pretty much every toy in these two sets impressed me, headsculpts really setting the collections on fire here. Massively expensive for me, but worth every penny. The Decepticon Wingspan and Autobot Cloudraker cross-faction, Clone 2-pack came out of nowhere and surprised me, but at least was more accessible than stuff like the aforementioned box sets and the bizarre-yet-magical Primitive Skateboarding black and gold Powermaster Optimus Prime from SDCC 2017. With a hoverboard. And skate ramp.
Wave 5 brought some normality back to proceedings in terms of a full wave of size classes after the box sets, but finding the toys outside of initial import offerings has proven difficult. Long-time wants such as Octone (Octane) and Blitzwing finally claimed the moulds that should have been theirs from the start, with Octone actually being my pick for best executed Voyager of the whole line. Rarely have I seen a toy wade in and sweep aside every other version of the sculpt, claiming it as his own, as it always was. Titan Master Ramhorn is every bit as wonderful as his mould-mate Shuffler, and his larger Headmaster headsculpt is the most Transformers Victory thing I have seen since 1989. Deluxe class Misfire shared Triggerhappy’s mould base and looked great, but lost all the magic of Triggerhappy’s transformation, whereas Twin Twist mimicked Topspin more closely, and as a result is every bit the roaring success. Surprise of the wave for me was Windblade, a really fun and cool looking Deluxe class figure with spinning VTOL engines! This was the wave to complete sub-sets like the Jumpstarters and Decepticon triplechangers, towered over by not just the much-anticipated Leader class Overlord and his Titan Master breast cupboards, but the Titan class Trypticon!
Trypticon is probably a better toy than Fortress Maximus, and I have certainly gotten a huge amount of enjoyment from him, but the rumble of QC issues from the fandom dampened my enthusiasm. I picked mine up late in the day, so I knew of the fixes already, and I had to perform most of them. I collected batch numbers from anyone who was willing to share them, compiling a list of good Trypticon batches and ones with issues. There was so much overlap in the list that you’d be hard pressed to point at any batch and say “That’s a good one” or “Avoid that one”. Once I’d compressed the springs in my Trypticon’s hips for 20 mins each and heated the chest door in hot water, re-shaping it to fit the chest cavity, my Tryp was perfect. Now he’s an utter joy. Just like with Fort Max and Cerebros, people can often forget that there’s a brilliant Deluxe class Headmaster figure there too; Full Tilt.
Wave 5 also gave us Generations Cosmos again with slightly different paint and a peg underneath like Combiner Wars Scrounge as well as the all new Legends class Seaspray. While TakaraTomy were unveiling actual Targetmaster Nebulons as part of their next wave, Hasbro seemed to be wrapping up Titans Return in favour of the upcoming Power Of The Primes. What happened to the other 2 rumoured box sets? Where’s Arcee? WHERE’S DIRGE? OK, nobody wanted Dirge, but the once-rumoured Voyager class Headmaster Horrorcons were nowhere to be seen. Were we really not going to get Autobot Targetmasters or the last Monsterbot? Were we not going to get bodies for Nightbeat and the like? This line had swallowed my money, space and time something fierce, but I was sad to see it wind down in favour of the next big thing from Hasbro.
It seemed like Titans Return was on the way out, but boy did Hasbro let it go with a bang. The gorgeous Headmaster Arcee with Titan Master Leinad (Daniel spelled backwards) and diecast Titan Master Ultra Magnus were to be early access Hascon 2017 exclusives, later offered through the Hasbro Toy Shop, then limited retail. It may have been the umpteenth use of the Blurr mould, but like Brainstorm and Nautica, Arcee was fantastic. Really special in the flesh, and finally a Headmaster Arcee! The true cherry on top, though, was Deluxe class Slugslinger – the only new figure in wave 6. My beloved Slugslinger, it had to be you rounding out the best Hasbro mainline Transformers toy line since…G1?
Yes. For me, since G1.
He didn’t disappoint either, once I finally got my mitts on him off Amazon, having missed the UK retailers’ pre orders due to my isolated location. Gorgeous Slugslinger, with his G1 sticker detail faithfully re-created. All he needs is chrome on his chest rings and a toy-accurate head, but despite missing Triggerhappy’s transformation magic – just like Misfire – he is simply blazing in hand.
I am reminded of this line from my first Titans Return article, where I reconsidered my decision to skip these toys quite early: “I suspect in the long run I’ll come to appreciate holding onto my wave 1 Titans in the context of a much wider collection of releases”. That’s not because wave 1 TR has become scarce or expensive, quite the opposite, they are still being discounted and re-packed into current waves. It’s because it won me over very early despite my weak first impressions, and I bought into it – figuratively and literally – to my enormous collecting benefit and joy over the last 15 months. Seeing all of these figures from Hasbro under the Titans Return banner lined up together in the picture at the head of this article, I am struck by how much quality and depth there is in this concept, and that’s just the individual toys, not the deeper play pattern. The packaging artwork and the collector’s cards throughout added to the experience significantly. I will mourn the passing of one of Hasbro’s greatest Transformers successes, but I hold out hope of further exclusive one-offs down the line. Maybe a repaint or two as part of PotP…and there’s always the TakaraTomy Legends versions which are starting to offer us things Hasbro didn’t, such as dedicated Targetmasters, Godbomber and more.
Whatever happens, I will forever be grateful to Hasbro and Titans Return – as well as 1987 – for giving us this:
All the best