If ever there’s a certainty in the world of Transformers toy collecting, it’s that as soon as any new official toy is unveiled, people on the Internet will immediately speculate about what some enterprising third party outfit might concoct for it in terms of unofficial upgrades.
Such kits have been a staple of the 3P scene since the beginning; in fact, that’s how the whole thing initially started. Considering the focus nowadays is on entire figures meant to stand alongside your official collection, it’s almost reassuring to still see them gaining traction, with several companies continuing to make it the bread and butter of their output.
Step forward DNA Design, which has become so synonymous with such offerings that they’re pretty much the first company I think of whenever a new reveal looks like it might have missed a trick or two. I’ve already enjoyed their solutions for releases such as MPM-6 Ironhide (which made an incredibly awkward robot mode that much more stable), and I’m currently sitting here anticipating their follow-up for MPM-12 Optimus Prime, too.
Yet I think they’ve really caught my attention on the kits provided for a number of Generations efforts, most notably Titan class toys such as Predaking, Fortress Maximus and Scorponok (with some much-needed tweaks for The Ark on the way as well!). They seem to identify all the annoying quibbles fans might have with the figures as they are and work out some rather ingenious additional or swap-out parts, often with a quite seamless result.
I’ve admittedly been less enamoured with their more original work, although, in fairness, the only example I’ve experienced was Susanoo, their attempt at a transformable Bludgeon. Whilst the toy looked fantastic (and then some), it was sadly beyond wretched to handle, with parts popping off if you so much as looked at it a bit funny. Transforming it was all but out of the question.
In a roundabout way, this brings us to the release designed to work with Studio Series ’86 Grimlock, in that it is both an upgrade kit *and* an original figure of sorts. I’ve been intrigued to see the result of it for some time, especially as I felt Big Grim himself could benefit from one or two tweaks to begin with.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s an overall strong design, with a striking robot mode for one thing. However, there are a few elements I felt let the side down a smidge, at least some of which are ably addressed by DNA Design in this case.
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, he’s now equipped with a sword! Considering what an iconic piece of Grimlock’s armament this is, it’s a wonder it was never included before, but at last, here we are. Some may be a little sad that it isn’t red to match the character’s original 1985 toy design, but given that SS86 Grimlock is broadly trying to be accurate to the animated Transformers movie, it’s understandable that DNA Design followed suit here.
The sword is of relatively decent size, and whilst I perhaps wouldn’t have complained had it been a bit bigger, it does look suitably imposing when wielded in Grimlock’s hand. It’s a snug fit, but once in place, I’d say it completes the look of the monosyllabic Dinobot leader with aplomb, ably making up for the absence felt on the official release.
The sword can be stored on the side of the dino’ mode when not in use, although its placement is more than a little peculiar, in my opinion! What is a shame is that there’s already a hole on Grimlock’s robot mode back, which would have been perfect for storage if the peg was just slightly longer, but alas, it wasn’t to be.
Another significant addition to the robot mode is a pair of panels to cover the obvious hollow gaps in Grimlock’s forearms, where his hands fold away during transformation. To attach these, you will need to remove the existing screws underneath the hand on either wrist and replace them with a newly-provided alternate to hold the cover piece in place. Weirdly, the new screws are a different colour to the stock variety, which seems a little jarring, but it’s not the end of the world.
The covers work reasonably well from a visual perspective, with the colour and moulded detail closely matching the toy and making them hard to distinguish as add-on parts. However, they are a bit bulky and do protrude somewhat, whilst the piece on the right arm has a tough time staying pegged in correctly on my copy, needing occasional readjustment. Still, job done for those that loathe hollow sections on their toys.
Finally, as far as the robot mode is concerned, four pieces plug into the gaps on the bottom of the feet, filling in the space and giving Grimlock a much-more filled-out set of soles. It’s a slightly bizarre inclusion, given that you only notice this part of the toy if you hold up the legs in some manner, but they still look good once in place. My only slight grumble here is that one of the four pieces has a habit of popping out occasionally, but it’s an easy job to reapply it.
Overall, the robot upgrades are mostly quite simple, and they all make Grimlock feel distinctly more complete than before. Again, it’s the sword that capably leads the day here, making such an absence on the main release all the more apparent!
The kit has a bigger visual impact on the dino’ mode, however. That’s no surprise either, especially given that I always felt the robot mode was by far the strongest element of SS86 Grimlock’s design, so it’s fascinating to see how DNA Design have tackled this one.
Firstly, they’ve provided an alternate neck, now cast in translucent yellow plastic in place of the stock solid gold. The inspiration for this is, of course, to recreate the mechanical detailing seen on the classic G1 Grimlock toy (and subsequent efforts such as MP-8), but what’s intriguing here is that the moulded piece required is already present and hidden out of sight inside the SS86 toy.
It’s so weird that SS86 Grimlock features a moulded piece inside the opaque gold neck that entirely recreates the look of the G1 toy… but you can’t see it at all! The upgrade kit from DNA Design changes that (as seen in pic 2). pic.twitter.com/RJylNFxnON
— Sixo (@SixoTF) July 7, 2022
Evidently, the original design for SS86 Grimlock was to have similarly see-through parts, as glimpsed in some early promotional photos, but this was changed quite late into production to better capture the look of the animated movie and match the rest of the Dinobots being planned. Still, it’s intriguing to think this piece remains inside the entirely opaque neck of the toy and that this upgrade kit gives us our first proper glimpse of it.
I will say the colour choice is a little odd, though… it’s a lot less gold than the vintage figure and the rest of the colour choices found elsewhere on the SS86 toy, leaving it almost disturbingly yellow as a consequence. I’d rather not draw any particular comparisons so I’ll leave it to your imagination, but suffice it to say, I’m not sure it’s quite the pleasing visual result it could have been…
There’s more happening with the head, though, with additional pieces now fitted for the roof and bottom of the mouth to help fill out the detail quite a bit. The top piece screws in at the same time as the neck and has the added benefit of providing a few front teeth for the dino’ mode (again, something that was bizarrely absent from the toy as it was!), whilst the bottom section just clips neatly into place. Simple but very effective, as are the two welcome screw covers for the right side of the face!
Next, a pair of new dino’ arms replace the stock equivalents by plugging into place at the elbows. The updated versions equip Grimlock with three poseable fingers, adding more expressiveness to the mix. It’s a neat idea and allows for more posing options, but somehow the limbs look a little too long and even somewhat ungainly to my eye. They also tend to slide slightly out of place at the joint, which is a little unfortunate.
Anyway, that’s the upgrade portion of this kit covered, so we can now turn our attention to the more elaborate offering – a brand new Wheelie! Yes, the stock version of this character included with SS86 Grimlock was little more than an accessory, given how he was moulded into a rather unfortunate seating position (although that has led to some creative third party solutions all by itself!). DNA Design has taken the opportunity and run with it here, throwing the official effort in the bin and starting from scratch.
I’ve seen some fans more than a little perplexed by this choice, although even my son was significantly underwhelmed by the SS86 version (he took one look at it and handed it to me to play with, declaring that he would have a go with Grimlock instead!). For the new figure, they’ve followed a similar aesthetic but made it fully poseable and transformable too!
He’s a fairly tidy little thing, especially considering the size, though perhaps with more kibble than some might be willing to live with. The additional wheels are the most prominent element in that regard, especially as they leave you wondering if the tradeoff was worth it once you actually get around to transforming the thing.
Yep, where the robot mode might be considered a decent stab at replicating Wheelie in a Studio Series style, the alternate form leaves much to be desired. It’s by far and away the most unfortunate attempt at this car design I’ve seen on any toy thus far, looking awkward and unfinished from every conceivable angle.
The worst part is undoubtedly the bonnet section, with a large gaping hole so noticeable that I had to triple-check that I hadn’t missed a step in the conversion. Honestly, I can’t imagine ever really bothering with this form, to the point it surely would have been preferable to forgo it entirely and concentrate more on the robot mode.
As it is, what might have potentially been quite a smart inclusion ends up somewhat compromised overall, especially as there are elements of the robot mode that don’t quite hit the mark as well. For one thing, the sculpt is sadly not as pleasing as the original SS86 equivalent, with the face looking rather odd up close. There are two alternate heads included here, and they’re easy to swap out, but the expressions provided aren’t exactly going to win you over, either.
The inherent gimmick behind the official version was to sit atop Grimlock’s dino’ mode back, and even this singular feature is something that the DNA attempt manages to not quite pull off. He looks good enough and will hold when balanced in place, but there’s no way to actually peg him securely, which seems like an oversight.
Still, the new Wheelie does shine in terms of poseability, boasting enough articulation in a tiny package to put the stock figure to shame. This might be enough to salvage this effort in some people’s minds, but on the whole, I think it’s an underwhelming effort. Perhaps the most revealing thing I can say about it is that it feels more akin to one of those early third party efforts, as opposed to a polished attempt released in 2022.
Overall then, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. There’s definitely good stuff going on here (the sword is the most welcome inclusion, and the additional mouth panels and screw covers are all fantastic). However, there are also a few bits that show potential but needed perfecting (such as the neck piece) and at least one or two elements that just fall flat (such as Wheelie’s unfortunate car mode).
I will say that it still feels like an upgrade on the stock SS86 Grimlock release when you consider it all together, but it’s perhaps not DNA Design’s tastiest effort, either.
WHAT’S HOT? The sword is a welcome inclusion, and bits such as the mouth pieces and screw covers are excellent.
WHAT’S NOT? Some of the pieces don’t fit entirely perfectly and the new Wheelie figure is very underwhelming.