Has any singular sequence from modern Transformers fiction yielded as much attention as the opening moments of 2018’s Bumblebee movie?
Despite running just a little under four minutes, the Cybertron-set scene famously introduces all manner of fan-favourite franchise characters in a remarkably G1 faithful manner, much to the delight of everyone who had been hoping for such a thing since the first live-action film in 2007. Since then, there have been countless toy and merchandise tie-ins, including unofficial attempts such as what we have here.
Yet Mechanical Alliance isn’t just looking to mine the Bumblebee appreciation for all its worth; they’re very explicitly aping the aesthetic set by some official efforts, most notably the licensed threezero release of Soundwave. To say that such intent is quite transparent would be an understatement, as even a cursory glance of Sound Warrior’s design and, more specifically, that weathered finish will leave you in little doubt of the game plan here.
However, the third party outfit has two key aces up its sleeve. Firstly, it’s cheaper, coming in roughly $30 under the threezero figure’s original retail price (assuming you can still find it for such). Secondly (and perhaps crucially, for some), it can transform.
Yep, the film sequence itself may have featured most of the characters exclusively in robot form (with zero indication of what they would even transform into), but it’s worth acknowledging that some collectors would expect, nay demand, that any toy attempts should have an alternate mode. Transformers toys must always be able to transform, after all.
Except they don’t always, do they? Transform, I mean. Ever since the days of Action Masters back in 1990, there have been plenty of non-convertible releases over the years, with threezero’s current line-up ably showing just how delightful such figures can be despite the lack of an alternate mode. Prescribing that a Transformers toy (even an unofficial one) *must* have the feature would be to purposefully deny oneself the many excellent releases that don’t conform to such a statement.
That said, I get the personal preference in that direction, and clearly, there’s enough weight behind it for Hasbro to have designed alternate forms for all the Bumblebee cast for their Studio Series line-up. That version of Soundwave has been awarded a sort-of spaceship form that itself caused a spot of meme-worthy hilarity when it was first unveiled online. Except here’s the thing: Mechanical Alliance’s attempt isn’t even nearly as successful as that. In fact, it’s precisely what happens when you try to appeal to collectors who simply must know that the toy in front of them *can* transform, no matter the cost.
Now look, in theory, there are some good ideas here. Soundwave being a tank isn’t a new concept, for starters, and the solution of pop-out treads works well in theory. Yet one look at this will surely tell you that it’s the definition of “robot folded up into a box to vaguely resemble a vehicle mode”, and not particularly convincingly, either!
I say that because, honestly, you cannot help but notice those arms on the front or the all-too-obvious legs just hanging off the back there, with seemingly no attempt to even blend them into the design in any meaningful way. Early Transformers fiction often showed non-descript background robots turning into vague blobs resembling “Cybertronian” vehicles, and this fits such an aesthetic almost entirely. To be honest, I don’t even believe it identifies as a tank at first glance.
The only real nod that way is those treads, of course, but even they’re far too small to really be all that noticeable. They also have a habit of not sitting completely flush on a flat surface, so they’re a bit of a token at best. Beyond that, it’s left to the cannon on top to do the heavy lifting, as otherwise, I’m not sure anyone would legitimately know what this was trying to be.
To its credit, there is some interactivity here, as you can clip the toy’s rifle weapon onto the side and then add an included blast effect piece to the end. Unfortunately, the attachment is feeble even by itself, meaning the rifle doesn’t sit all that stably, so it’s certainly not up to the job of supporting the second accessory. Sadly, this is the first real indication of this set being an all-out quality control fail.
Ultimately this mode is a distraction if anything. I can’t imagine many collectors actively sitting down to transform Sound Warrior all that often, given the payoff is so weak, which brings me back to my question: why bother? If the result of having to know that a Transformers toy *can* transform is going to be something that you’d never realistically be enthused about in the first place, was it really worth all the effort of creating a mode from scratch, as in this case?
Anyway, perhaps the one saving grace of the whole experience is that the transformation itself is actually very easy, although given the folded-up-robot nature of the alternate form, that shouldn’t really come as a surprise! There are a couple of mildly satisfying moments along the way, and, to be completely fair, everything does fold, clip in and tab with the sense of purpose and accuracy that I typically look for from my transforming robots.
As for the result, well, let’s start with the positives. Firstly, the robot mode looks generally pretty great, particularly at first glance, although the weathered finish is undoubtedly doing a lot of heavy lifting. By and large, it’s a very clean sculpt and does a good job at resembling the Soundwave we briefly see on screen. So far, so good.
There’s also a lot of excellent mechanical-looking detail in the joints and on areas such as the hands, again all finished with an attractive wash that picks out the intricacies really well. I’ve written many times about how I love this kind of finish on threezero’s products, and whilst I can’t say this is as well done as those (despite clearly attempting to replicate such a look as best as possible), it’s undoubtedly pretty good-looking all the same.
Paint applications are also very well-applied, with areas such as the chest looking suitably sharp, and there’s a rich, pleasing colour palette employed throughout. I will say that adding a pair of painted dots behind the chest plate was a weird move as now it genuinely appears like he has a pair of protruding nipples, but hey, it’s a look!
The head sculpt is very good too, with some excellent panelling and details, along with a light-up feature for the visor that, when it works, looks fantastic. It’s also a straightforward process of popping the panel off the back to replace the batties, with no need for screws, so that’s appreciated. Oh, and bonus points for the batteries being pre-installed, even if they did wear out very quickly!
Unfortunately, that’s about it, as pretty much every other part of handling this robot mode can be described succinctly as a total hot mess. For starters, it’s one of the least stable toys I’ve fiddled with in a good long while, with such lacking joints that it’s practically impossible to even stand it up without incident, let alone pull off a pose of any kind.
Almost every joint is loose in one way or another, with perhaps the only exceptions being the neck and the shoulder-mounted cannon. The ankles continuously giving way is one thing, but couple it with the frustrating lack of solidity in the knees and hips and you really have no chance of being able to stand Sound Warrior in anything much beyond a classic stoic pose without fear of him crashing over.
The arms are no better, with shoulder and elbow joints being about as much use as a sunroof on a submarine. The wrists follow suit, although at least the poseable hands are a bit of fun. All in all, a very precarious point was about the best I was able to get out of him and believe me, this was after some considerable effort on my part.
Also annoying is the way the chest splits apart from the waist without warning, meaning that you’re constantly plugging it back into place as though you were still going through the transformation. That’s to say nothing of the various panels and flaps on areas such as the thighs, which require a similar amount of adjustment and correction during handling. All told, even attempting to pose Sound Warrior is about as much fun as a lengthy tax return.
The weird thing is that even if the joints were up to snuff, many of them are bizarrely limited in range. The elbows can move all of twenty degrees or so and nothing more, whilst the knees are almost immediately impeded by kibble at the rear, meaning you can’t get anything even approaching a full bend. It’s one thing for this toy to be floppy but quite another for it to somehow be floppy *and* unposeable. What a combo!
Oh, but wait, I’m not done because there’s one other gripe that I think truly demonstrates the level of frustration awaiting you here: he can’t hold his own gun. I mean, ok, he *can*, as evidenced by the photo above. However, this took at least a half dozen attempts, each involving me being as steady as possible whilst gingerly wrapping the fingers around the handle and praying to some unseen deity that it would stay in place just long enough to take the picture. Even once you get it just so, the gun leans forward at the handle and threatens to fall out of his palm rather abruptly. The one saving grace is that it’s all a bit academic: his arm isn’t actually strong enough to hold the gun up anyway. You may as well just forget about that blast effects piece.
There is another feature to discuss though, that being the opening chest compartment, wherein you can place a mini folded-up Ravage figure. It works well enough, although the way the chest door flops down like a broken toilet seat says everything about the level of finesse applied here overall.
Ravage himself is a decent-looking thing, and is easily assembled into his familiar form with a few twists and turns. Again, the finish here is very good, and the design has its merits, although I’m a little disappointed he isn’t more articulated, truth be told. This was a critique I also levied at the threezero equivalent, mainly the lack of ankle tilt, so it’s strange to see Mechanical Alliance emulate that aspect so closely when they could have opted to improve on it with ease.
Ultimately, it’s in comparison with that figure the truth behind Mechanical Alliance’s whole release becomes obvious. Whilst not an exact replica by any means, this release is clearly intended to be a close match in many ways (and again, especially in terms of the weathered finish), presumably enough to provide a transformable alternative. Sadly the design and aesthetics employed end up not being enough competition for the officially-licensed toy, looking somewhat less spectacular as a result. I’m sure in Ravage’s case, it will be ‘close enough’ for some, but still, the head sculpt is no match, for one thing.
It’s a similar story when you look at Sound Warrior versus threezero’s equivalent, as even the positives of the Mechanical Alliance figure can’t quite measure up by way of comparison. Yeah, the finish is nice, but it’s no match for the real thing, and just about every other aspect of the visual presentation pales once you look at them side-by-side. Even the proportions start to look a bit unfavourable, somehow.
Which I suppose brings me back to the crux of my problem with this toy. If you’re going to do an imitation figure of this kind, at least make it *better*, no? Or if you’re going to go out of your way to include a previously-unseen transformation just to say that it can do such a thing, then don’t sacrifice elements of the robot mode in the process. All we’ve ended up with is a toy which doesn’t present as well, has floppy yet fairly pointless joints, and transforms into an alternate form with about as much grace as a hungover hippo. It’s not a victory just to say that this thing can change modes.
And I suppose that’s why I’m always a bit bemused when people critique threezero’s releases for their non-transformable status. Given everything they do right in terms of fit, finish, quality, presentation and outstanding levels of articulation and poseability, it really doesn’t feel like a compromise to not have an alternate form when this is the kind of competition we’re talking about. Yes, it was $30 cheaper, but you get what you pay for, I suppose.
Anyway, I should be fair and mention that there have been more successful third party attempts to bring the Bumblebee Decepticons to life in transformable threezero-style, so it certainly can be done. It’s just a shame that Sound Warrior here is not showing off the potential of such an idea, in any way.
If nothing else, this experience has affirmed for me what a marvellous product the threezero DLX release is. If you are still in doubt, I would wholeheartedly recommend you track one down. Which is all to say: Soundwave superior, Sound Warrior inferior.
WHAT’S HOT? It looks nice. Literally that.
WHAT’S NOT? Just *gestures wildly* everything else.