Friday, December 19, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Energon Downshift

'Tis the Friday before Christmas, so what should I do
To whip up a fitting Transformer review?

OK, enough with the rhyming. Seriously, coming up with an appropriate Transformer to do for the "Christmas" entry was hard. Like most Transformers fans, I've gotten more than a few Transformers as Christmas gifts. How would I choose one over another? And despite a few UK Transformers comics that had Christmas themes, I couldn't really think of any toys that were inherently more "Christmasy" than others. Ultimately, I chose Energon Downshift primarily because he has predominately red and green highlights to his color scheme.

Having not featured too many toys from the Energon line, I should mention some of the features that made this line unique. If you look closely at Downshift's rear hubcap, you'll see a purple Energon star. This didn't come with Downshift. Energon stars came only with the small "Basic" figures in the line (that is, the roughly $7 price-point), but could be used on pretty much all other Energon figures. The idea was that these were supposed to supply the characters with a power-up (Incidentally, that particular Energon star didn't actually come with an "Energon" figure, per se. It came with BotCon Laserbeak, which I used in this comic way back when, and which I sold shortly afterward. But I actually got two purple Energon stars with Laserbeak for some reason, so I kept one...).

Long-time fans immediately notice upon looking at Downshift (and that color scheme) that it looks a lot like Generation One Wheeljack. When one looks at Downshift's head, this homage is clearly shown to be intentional. Oddly enough, this doesn't appear to be a case where Hasbro didn't have the rights to use the name "Wheeljack," as there had been a "Wheeljack" in the Armada line just the previous year, and a clearly G1-inspired Spychanger Wheeljack was released the same year as Downshift. The rumor is that Hasbro felt that the name "Wheeljack" sounded "evil," and so they used it on the Autobot-turned-Decepticon in the Armada line. Since Energon was supposed to be a sequel to Armada, they presumably thought they should consider this toy to represent a different character (although Armada Wheeljack did seem to have come back to the Autobot side at the end of Armada). Unfortunately, they chose a name that had already been established to belong to yet another character in Armada. Confusion abounds!

In addition to those Energon stars, nearly all figures in the Energon line came with weapons made out of clear plastic (intended to imply that they were created out of pure Energon). Often these weapons could "combine" into some "super" weapon. In the case of Downshift, this was accomplished through the assistance of a connector piece: the spoiler from Downshift's vehicle mode.

But, first and foremost, the Energon line was characterized by the fact that most of the Deluxe or "Mega"-sized Autobots could combine with just about any other Autobot within its size class to make a larger robot, with one toy becoming the top half and the other toy being the lower half. This is actually a fairly old idea, having first been used with the Japanese-exclusive Landcross way back in 1989. I've already shown how Downshift could form the lower part of one of these combined robots when I reviewed the club exclusive Nightbeat a few weeks back. I could just as easily have shown those same two toys in the opposite arrangement here, but decided to show how Downshift can form the top of one of these combinations by showing how he combines with Energon Tow-Line who, although that toy is unlike any other Energon Deluxe figure, is in fact the toy Downshift's instructions show him combining with. This monstrosity was hard to get a good picture of, so here's a shot of the same configuration from another angle.

Part of the reason I don't have all that many Energon toys, despite their relatively recent availability, is that I really just don't care for that many of the toys. A lot of fans seem to feel the same. It is argued that running the combination gimmick through practically the entire line made each of the individual robot designs suffer as a result. I'd say that this was a brave experiment that perhaps didn't work out as well as hoped. Combiners are actually a fun gimmick. They just shouldn't dominate the line quite so much.

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