We’re back for the second part of our look at the latest version of Unique Toys Challenger, a familiar third party toy from some years prior, now given a new battle-damaged flavour. As we’ve already seen in truck mode, it’s not the most obvious of differences from what we had before, but, boy, it looks good!
The truck form is pretty swish, all told, especially with that grimy, weathered finish. Now it’s time to turn our attention towards the robot mode, which involves a process of transformation that’s surprisingly fun, considering the difference between the two modes! Unique Toys essentially set the 3PMP Bayformer template in that regard, as evidenced by the result here.
That’s an exceptionally handsome and clean robot form and bears little to no resemblance to the corresponding truck mode. We had already seen the company’s solution for essentially turning robots inside out (with many panels having vehicle bits on one side and robot bits on the other), but Challenger is where it came into its own. The fact I can merrily sit and complete this process without reference material of any kind (the instructions for this new battle damage release remain sealed in the bag!) tells you everything you need to know; that I also enjoyed it is icing on the cake.
So, we’re already waist-deep with this figure, and it’s good news thus far, eh? Nice truck: check. Decent transformation: check. Yet it could all still go Pete Tong at this stage if the robot mode proves to be a bit of a duffer. Fortunately, that’s not the case.
Let’s start with the most obvious point: what a beauty this thing is overall. The Age of Extinction design for Optimus Prime is one that frequently draws divided opinions amongst the fandom, but if you’re in the pro camp (as I happen to be), then you’re unlikely to be disappointed with how Unique Toys has interpreted it here. It’s not without its quirks, as we’ll see, but by and large, it’s a reasonably stunning representation of how the character is portrayed on screen.
Yet again, that presentation is dialled up to the nth degree with the presence of the new gritty finish, with excellently applied weathering in all the right areas and a lush worn look to the silver sections, giving them a more metallic appearance than before. I mentioned in part 1 how it made Challenger feel more premium, and I stand by that assertion here, as the new paint scheme is nothing shy of breathtaking, even up close. It’s particularly pleasing how non-uniformly it’s applied, allowing it to feel as natural as possible.
It immediately sets this version of the toy apart from the 2018 original (seen on the left here), although as I type that, I’m well aware that the differences are perhaps more distinct in hand than they appear in photos!
The new finish makes Challenger look less ‘toyetic’ somehow, with the previous release’s darker grey plastic being much more apparent. The new take’s brighter blue and sharper red also cannot help but draw the eye.
If anything, it’s the silver that makes the most significant difference apart from the weathered look itself, as it now catches the light so beautifully and gives Challenger a fantastic presence. Yes, it’s a subtle do-over. No, it doesn’t necessarily mean you *need* to get the new one if you’re already happy with the original. However, yes, it was entirely worth the re-release, in my opinion.
Besides, if nothing else, it’s allowed me to go back and appreciate this design from the ground up, which is actually something I’ve been extraordinarily grateful for! I say that as I feel the strengths of this figure (of which there are many) may have been underestimated by me on first pass, as I now find myself sitting here rather more in awe of it than before!
I’m sure it helps that this copy feels distinctly more solid than the previous one. The joints have been tightened up significantly, everything feels distinctly more robust and he just generally hangs together better. It leaves posing the toy as a real joy, instead of a bit of a frustrating experience.
That’s especially noteworthy in the feet, with the ankles now being as strong as they need to be to allow for some decent poses. It’s not like the old version was ever loose and floppy, to be fair, but still, it’s a noticeable and appreciated improvement.
Still, this guy does enough right even without a bit of tightening up and a flashy new paint job, especially as there’s an ease and grace to it that allows you to have fun with the figure without worrying about bits popping off and all kinds. Perhaps I’ve become a bit more jaded due to how frustrating some of the 3PMP toys released since 2018 have proven to be, but honestly, this lad feels like a breath of fresh air by comparison!
Just to have a Masterpiece-styled Bayformer of this kind without it feeling fragile is something, as Challenger proves to be one of the least challenging examples in recent memory, rather bizarrely! Clip his shield on his arm, peg the sword in his hand, and you’re away!
Both weapons look marvellous, too, having been given a similar makeover to the main robot himself. The shield, in particular, has some gorgeous paint and looks spectacular when catching the light.
I equally adore how easy it is to combine them, using a simple but clever pop-out clip for the sword inside the shield, and attach them to Challenger’s back. It may not sound like a big deal, but it expertly recreates the look from the film in an elegant fashion.
In fact, I had great fun putting this figure through its paces and finding new ways to pose it up for the camera, especially as it’s actually quite hard to not make it look at least a little dynamic. It’s funny, as I recall feeling that some elements of the robot mode were a bit awkward with my first go with this guy, but now I’m all too enamoured with him.
It’s true; the bottom half is still a touch weird in how it all moves, especially as the knees sit at the very front of the lower legs and look a little strange as a result. There’s also a very bizarre solution for the abdomen area in how it meets the waist, leaving a lot of it to look unfortunate should you get the posing wrong here.
Yet honestly, none of it bothered me anywhere near as much as I recall it did before, and even stuff like the protruding skirt sections at the front of his waist seemed not to be a hindrance here. I genuinely had a great time messing around with him.
And did I mention how good looking he is? I did? ‘Cos he is, you know. I mean, just have a look!
Challenger swings heavily into the beefed-up, almost overdone proportions of the CGI model from the film, yet somehow, truthfully, it works. Even silly stuff like the absurd pecs, against all logic, works.
Then there’s the face sculpt which, let’s be fair, crushes it. Again, it’s not a design that everyone loves, and I can understand why, but you can’t deny that Unique Toys have handled it with aplomb here. They’ve captured every panel and line of what we see on the screen and expertly rendered it here. The bright aquamarine eyes and weathering add a touch of extra something to it all.
I’m also a major fan of the face flip gimmick, whereby you can give Challenger either a battle mask or a more traditional appearance by simply lifting up the top part of the head and spinning it around. Very effective and excellently done, and both look fab, in my opinion.
Really then, it all leaves me wondering why I didn’t feel quite this level of enthusiasm for this design on its first outing. I always liked it, yet it’s a bit beyond that this time around. Perhaps it’s by way of comparison with the other 3PMP AOE Optimus Prime on the market now that some of Challenger’s main strengths can be better explained.
After all, Toyworld Orion Knight is a beautiful, beautiful toy to look at. Truly breathtaking. Yet to handle it, you immediately become aware of its problems. Panels unclip, bits pop out of place, and the whole thing suddenly loses that sense of solidity you would hope for from a release of this kind. And that’s to say nothing of the process of actually transforming it!
By comparison, Challenger covers all the bases with confidence. Sure it’s good-looking, but it handles with a sense of polish and style that the Toyworld effort can’t claim. If I’m honest, the competition probably does edge it in terms of appearance (it is really striking… but more on that another day!), but looks will only get you so far. If you’re someone who likes to actually pick up and pose your toys, I suspect Unique Toys’ effort will give you a better experience overall.
And yes, it does have its quirks, as I mentioned, but it’s yet further evidence the company in question knows what it’s doing when it comes to this kind of fare. They have such a strong track record now that I have every faith in them to (hopefully!) continue smashing this stuff out of the park. If they produced an army of Bayformer ‘bots all as good as Challenger, I’d love to be there to see it.
I think what really shines through is they haven’t forgotten that these designs are supposed to be enjoyed by their very nature. Whereas other companies sometimes tend to produce figures that look gorgeous on a shelf but prove about as enjoyable as a swift kick in the crotch once you try and transform them, Unique Toys clearly understand the assignment.
I said as much in my recent review of their Nero figure. Still, it says everything that their toys are so enjoyable to convert between modes that I actually look forward to sitting down and taking the time to fully appreciate the experience. That you can get designs looking this accurate to the screen but in a way that doesn’t have you begging for mercy once you handle them is a testament to the brilliance on offer here, and consistently so.
It leaves me hopeful for stuff like their upcoming Dark of the Moon Megatron release and whatever comes after that on their slate. They’ve already nailed what I would consider some of the more challenging robots from the films, so I cannot wait to see what they come up with next!
For today though, there’s little doubt that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my reappraisal of Challenger. Where once I was only half-heartedly impressed, now I am a full convert, especially with that beautiful weathered paint job in place.
I’m sure some will view this repaint a little cynically, but honestly, there’s no need – it has every right to exist considering how well it’s been done, quickly ducking any thoughts I may have had that this is a mere cash grab release of any kind. It’s a fantastic figure, so why not have it look its best?
If only every 3PMP Bayformer ‘bot could be this good. How’s that for a challenge?
WHAT’S HOT? Really nice truck mode, easy and fun transformation, and great looking robot mode. The new weathered look sells it all to its best, too.
WHAT’S NOT? There are a couple of quirks to how the robot handles, mostly in the knees and waist area, but I’ve learned to live with it.