Officially, Combiner Wars took whatever us 'orrible lot call 'Classics' these days and gave it a good kick up the arse, dropping the Special Teams of old into the mix as well as enjoyable takes on IDW favourites, not forgetting to tear the original mean green killing machine from the clutches of Third Parties to, ahem.. devastating effect.
Masterpiece saw its star in further ascent as A Listers such as Ultra Magnus, Thundercracker and Bumblebee rubbed shoulders with the likes of (hardly a B Lister) Tracks, Clampdown and Road Rage while the shadow of Japanese G1 loomed over all in the form of the victorious Star Saber.
And Third Party? Man, where do you start? Third Party went off like a Disneyland fireworks display, showering Classics, Legends and Masterpiece collectors alike with hugely expensive shimmering shiny bangs, often of the same character (Hello Snarl!) with plenty of de rigueur Mickey Mousing along the way.
Spare a moment for the almost (MMC Spartan), the maybe (Maketoys Rear End) and the nearly there (Masterpiece Star Saber) as cherry picking just five figures from a year brimming with such goodness was no easy task. So let's have it.
And please, debate away.
#5 Maketoys Cupola
I was initially utterly cold to Maketoys' Re:Master line. Didn't want to see them jump on the ever growing bandwagon of 3P Masterpiece imitators at the expense of why I loved them in the first place. Cos y'know, typical fan waaaaargh. That was until I got hold of Cupola and his streets ahead of the pack flava.
Heft, quality, sharp as a knife looks? Yeah this boy's packing all the good stuff.
Don't get me wrong, Cupola isn't a perfect figure for everybody. There's an inventive but divisive (Yay! Maketoys staple!) transformation at the figure's core and some frustratingly hindered articulation around the waist, but overall this is a hella classy take on Chromedome's retro futuristic look, and definitely the kind of unlicensed figure that can sit in the collection not as a placeholder but as the standard. A brilliant, strutting example of a company changing step and not missing a beat.
#4 DX9 Carry
Well for a start this all in one (no separate trailer here), Studio Ox inspired, Scratchgate pioneering, former turbo revving young punk actually came packaged in (a rarity these days) vehicle mode, giving the wonderful mass shifting transformation some actual justice first time round. Carry explodes from a modestly sized (think Voyager) Space Winnebago into a beautiful Masterpiece scaled, albeit not entirely styled robot via some nifty legwork and all the panels ever, delighting, confusing and annoying all in his wake. 'But where do I put him?', they scream. Top work, DX9.
Treading that thin line between brilliant and maddening, Carry then takes all this good stuff and drops an absolutely rubbish (it's too big to properly hold!) Targetmaster companion literally onto his windscreen which, along with some rough housing on the assembly line, created some unsightly vehicle mode blemishes for a good few folk. H'WHY, DX9?!
Make no mistake though, this is a barnstormer of a Transformer, marrying inventive engineering with stunning good looks and moves, creating a fresh and daring take on Rodimus Prime.
#3 MP-22 Ultra Magnus
'I've never seen anything this beautiful in the entire galaxy. Alright, give me the bomb.'
Ultra Magnus, Fight or Flee
|That is what we're in this game for|
It's all very '86 and '87 this list, isn't it? And Ultra Magnus almost jumped on it for one sole reason. It's a good reason though: That first impression upon unboxing him.
'I could kill a man with this', thought the not so young Mr Manfish when removing him from the plastic clamshell. Cold, cold metal weapon made into knockout robot man. Seriously, that initial oooomph was joyous. And it continues with the bruising look and size of the dude. Magnus is huge, an intimidating addition to any shelf and a blinding display piece.
There's a lot to buzzkill that rush though. I can't pretend that this is the most dynamic Masterpiece out there. I can't pretend that the top of the truck doesn't just hang off his ass. And I am damn sick of wanting to move his shoulders up one click higher.
But nor can I say that any of that actually matters a jot to me. Some toys are all about presence, and this toy defines it. Then you have that wonderful, wonderful transformation which simply invites repeat visits, an intricately detailed Matrix chamber, two truly horrific representations of Daniel and Spike and the fact that staring me down as I type this is the most gloriously realised interpretation of Transformers: The Movie Ultra Magnus I could ever possibly hope for.
Even though he was a bit rubbish in it and Marvel UK Magnus was like, miles better.
#2 Combiner Wars Devastator
I couldn't not have this on the list, the sheer amount of fun this set has given me has been one of the best experiences I have had as a collector all year. Look at these guys!
Not to mention how this this beast of a release does such an effortless job of straddling some not inconsiderable Transformers real estate.
|Happy New Year! Screw you Mixmaster!|
At its heart this is nothing more than a great big set of dumb fun kids toys.
On its chest it wears size and on point retro cartoon stylings with pride (those headsculpts are incredible), inviting serious collectors to take a second look at it as viable Masterpiece material.
And on double fists are HasTak's middle fingers raised at the glut of unlicensed Devastators out there.
There's some very nifty engineering masquerading beneath a veil of simplicity in Combiner Wars Devastator too. Like everything on this breakdown, there are also legitimate flaws to gripe about - lack of elbow articulation on the individuals, Mixmaster full stop.. - but what captured me is that in hand, Devastator is about that aforementioned heart first and foremost. Some real love went into bringing this to general release. Love for the character(s), love for the toys. And it's a fantastic set of toys. I defy anyone not to be giddy as all hell when combining the big bugger for the first time. It's an event that'll stay with you.
#1 Iron Factory Ex-04 City Commander
Yes I'm having two Ultra Magnii(?) in this list. Fight me. Deal with it.
And we're going from one of the biggest to one of the smallest, with this Legends scaled figure, based heavily (and brilliantly) on Robby Musso's IDW Spotlight design from all the way back in 2007(!). And mark my words son, this one is a giant killer.
Put simply, this is plastic crack. Rarely has Iron Factory's crowning achievement been far from these addicted fingers. He's the essence of the fiddle former distilled to its purest form, a toy that dares you to put it down knowing you'll be back minutes later to
The transformation is pleasingly simple but effective, though with some tight tolerances at first, and I do bemoan the lack of functioning rear wheels, especially at the price point. But somehow these qualms fade into nothing when set against the intricate comic accurate sculpt, the surprisingly comprehensive articulation and the raft of modular weaponry the figure has to hand. I can comfortably say that this is the best Ultra Magnus figure I have ever owned.
And he's packed with gear. This little figure feels like its own Special Edition, the play value of the included guns being immense, something well worth mentioning as it is a staple play pattern of the majority of IF toys.
Iron Factory have made a bold statement of intent this year, almost single handedly cornering the Legends Class market, a scale I had no interest in before 2015, with a steady stream of high quality releases. City Commander however, trumps not just their own material but proves you don't need size to stand head and shoulders above everything else. 2016 might just belong to them.