Is anything more integral to the concept of Transformers than their alternate, non-robot mode? Certainly it’s an absolute cornerstone of the concept and success throughout the history of the brand. Alternate modes have varied from everyday objects to vehicles, aircraft, spacecraft, beasts, planets, creatures of fantasy and more. While a majority of the collections I have seen tend to have Transformers toys displayed as robots, the character of each figure being as much a part of the appeal as the toy for some, ‘alt’ modes can be the deciding factor when it comes to purchase and favourites. This week we take some contributions on what favourite alt modes people have.
You’ll notice a fair amount of Generation 1 figures in the list, and I think that is an obvious indicator of the collectors I requested contributions from, but also it shows that the original impact made by the first Transformers toys that people owned remains powerful today. First up is Neuta with a choice that would undoubtedly find significant support in the fandom.
“My favourite alt mode on a Transformer is DINOSAUR. Because how do you hide a giant, mobile, living engine of destruction? Simple: disguise it as an extinct giant, mobile, living engine of destruction. That way if any humans see one nobody will believe they saw anything at all. Or were drinking paint thinner while watching Jurassic Park. Delusion or delirium, dinosaurs drag doubt and disbelief wherever they stomp, chew, mash and destroy. The perfect camouflage for a rampaging Cybertronian! (Also, dinosaurs are cool.)”
The following choice is as close to my own heart as any other, not surprisingly for reasons of nostalgia and, again, original impact. Here’s Neurie with his choice.
“Favourite alt mode of all time. How does one quantify the answer: is it the fun of the mode, pleasing aesthetics, play functions, realism, era? So many ways one could judge it. For me I’d probably have to go with the G1 Seeker F15 jet, specifically Skywarp. The look was just so realistic and held up to play with some great features. The deep glossy black just made the purple accents pop so much more than the colouring on Starscream, although Thundercracker comes close to the visual smorgasbord of delight. It was also my joint first Transformer with Inferno for my birthday so my choice may have a little bit of a rose tint to it. It felt like the luxury premium toy that it was back then as Transformers were not cheap, people that moan about prices today don’t know how many work hours it would take for the average person to be able to afford an Autobot car or jet. The design has held up so well it’s been regurgitated again and again and again soo many times. There was also a sort of kickass coolness to the flow that captures what the capabilities of the real jet were; making it look deadly and effortless at the same time. The kind of thing that just sparks an imagination.”
Dinosaurs, jets, cars…I’m sure the list is not too surprising thus far. Certainly I can count all of the above as some of my own favourite alt modes. Here’s Sid Beckett to explain why G1 Jazz and its contemporaries rise to the top of his list.
“Real world vehicle alt modes have always been my favourite draw. Jazz didn’t become a white sports car, he was a Porsche. Sideswipe was a goddamn Countach! Thirty years ago that was the coolest thing in the world to me and seemingly not much has changed in my brain since. It’s why I’ll always keep Binaltech despite them being increasingly harder to work into a display. I think it’s harder for designers to work to a limited brief of real world alt mode than just making it up as they go and extending a hood or trunk or stretching a wheel base for the sake of pleasing robot proportions, and those limitations can really increase ingenuity and push engineering. We’re seeing a lot of that in the Masterpiece line 35 years on from the original designs and they can still create a challenge.”
It’s not all Generation 1, but it is no coincidence that Kit Tang’s choice of a Binaltech figure is from another period of Transformers history where collectors have strong memories and nostalgic feelings. The BT/MP era was a big jumping on/returning point for many a collector.
“For me if the alt mode is realistic it blows me away, so you can imagine my delight when Binaltech Smokescreen landed on my doorstep way back in 2003. With its die cast heft and metallic paint it convincingly looks like a realistic 1:24 model Subaru Impreza. But then Takara went and made all the doors, boot and bonnet open with car interiors? And it still transforms? Witchcraft surely. The alt mode weapon stowage is just icing on an already fantastic cake. I don’t think anything has topped that BT-01/BT-07 for an alt mode… but MP-3 Starscream came pretty close.”
Animal-formers were bound to be favourites as well, and that’s not an immediate nod to the ‘Beast era’ either, since Generation 1 had already proved that Transformers with animal alt modes could be hugely popular. I personally loved my Decepticon Headmasters and Horrorcons, and here’s Tuxedo Mike to tell you about his selection; the perfect animal/everyday item fusion.
“It’s got to be the microcassettes for me. Several TFs with the same alt mode, nearly all of which had their own distinct transformation, made them stand out as particularly interesting. If I had to pick favourites, as a kid I loved the animal formers the best, with a special shout out to Ramhorn, who ended up feeling impressively stocky for a toy that had a nearly two-dimensional alternate mode, and also Raindance/Grandslam for managing to be combiners on top of everything else. The recent reissue of the Japanese dinocassettes with movie Bumblebees has really made me happy, as it means that there’s a whole new audience gaining appreciation for these ambitious little 80s toys. As an added plus, they were one of the ‘roleplay’ scale TFs that was sized close enough to the real thing for a kid, AND interacted with the larger Soundwave and Blaster, who were lovely toys in their own right.”
Excellent alt modes are not confined to the days where die cast metal and copious amounts of paint were used; modern Transformers can still rock a vehicle or beats mode like the greats. Jenevieve Frank has a lot of favourite G1 alt modes, but her choice for best alt mode is a Generations figure.
“It’s hard to pick a FAVOURITE alt-mode. As a brand, Transformers has always put alt-mode first (for the most part) since before the beginning. There are so many iconic alt modes to choose from (G1 Hot Rod, Cyclonus and Misfire all LEAP to mind). But in almost every case with both the licensed and fictitious alt molds, the robot mode has always suffered. Heck, that was pretty much the name of the game with the G1 Diaclone molds, right? So for me, a favorite alt mode would need to be both a) an original Takara/Hasbro design and b) executed in such a way that the robot mode doesn’t suffer. If I HAD to choose one, I would say Generations Sandstorm. I’m not even partial to the character (from any continuity) but both alt modes just sing on that mold and the robot mode isn’t one bit compromised for it. It’s perfect, in my opinion.”
Everyday objects as alt modes for Transformers have often fascinated children and collectors alike, and the 1:1 scale Micro Change Series toys that became G1 figures are the original exponents of this in the official TF line. Here’s Chance Newman to explain why Soundwave gets his vote.
“When I was in first grade, a schoolmate brought his Hasbro G1 Soundwave on the bus. Just one month prior I had haughtily shown off a cassette recorder appropriated from my family’s TI-99/4A home computer system and thought he was one upping me with an actual microcassette device. Seeing the final transformation amped my initial envy up tenfold. When the shoulder cannon and blaster came out of the battery compartment and Laserbeak emerged from the tape cradle, I lost my 6-year-old mind.
“It’s all there: believable replication featuring all the molded and stickered Microman flourishes, weapon storage which was in fact weapon transformation, interaction with other bots’ alt-modes, and a functioning eject button. Even the modern versions don’t mess with that aspect of the toy. Bot articulation sure, but not the tape deck. Soundwave alt-mode: superior.
“SuperBonus: The first cartoon appearance of Soundwave demonstrates the unarguably funniest alt-mode – LampWave.”
Many kind thanks to Neuta, Neurie, Sid Beckett, Kit Tang, Tuxedo Mike, Jenevieve Frank and Chance Newman for excellent contributions this week.
All the best