Friday, December 25, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Chevy Aveo Swerve

For Christmas morning, it seems appropriate to feature a Transformer that is, in every way, a gift.  Sometime in 2007, rumors started to surface of a new-mold Transformer through the usual (unofficial) channels.  It appeared to be a part of the then-already-defunct Universe line, which led to a strong belief that it would be an exclusive of some kind or another, rather than a mainstream retail release.  However, as this toy did feature an all-new mold, this was already unusual (if not utterly unique) for an exclusive toy.  Even more unusual was that this toy turned into a clearly-marked Chevy Aveo, which meant that the toy was actually licensed through Chevrolet, even though the toy clearly wasn't an Alternator (which were the only licensed-vehicle Transformers of that time).  The story only got stranger....

The rumors said that the toy was to be available only in China, and only through Chevy dealers.  Indeed, the rumors first suggested that you actually had to buy a Chevy Aveo, which sounded even at the time rather implausible.  The rumors eventually shifted to getting the toy if you test drove an Aveo, which was a bit more reasonable.  None of these rumors have ever been verified.  All that is known for sure is that this toy apparently was created at Chevrolet's request and expense.  As such, neither Hasbro nor TakaraTomy could use it themselves.  The only way you could get this toy was through Chevrolet directly.

The first verified means of distribution for the toy which was now known to be named "Swerve" came through a Chevrolet website in 2008.  Supposedly, these were specimens that remained after Chevy distributed the toys through a European (as opposed to Chinese) test-drive promotion, but again, this part has never been verified.  The toys were only available through the website for about a day or two, and being still clearly directed at the European market, any American that wanted to purchase one not only had to pay the higher-than-retail asking price and shipping, but an extra international fee on top of it, making this toy quite expensive.  The toy's supposed scarcity led to high resale prices when it would inevitably show up on eBay shortly afterward.

Then, in the summer of 2009, Chevrolet announced that Swerve toys (apparently not yet depleted through previous channels) would be given away for free, but only to those who attended a promotional event at one of several shopping centers in Canada (some sources say only in the Toronto area!) if you filled out a survey.  The TFWiki says that each site only had 20 Swerves to distribute per day, and only one per customer, but I have to question that part, since I got mine through a person on one of the message boards I visit regularly, and it's clear enough that he himself got more than 20 of the toys to distribute to fellow fans.  In fact, he sent them to us for free, even refusing offers to pay him back for shipping costs!  Truly, this figure was a gift, and to that fan, I say "Thanks!"

Friday, December 18, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Perceptor

Recent Generation One reissues of the Insecticons and Perceptor have brought these characters back to the forefront of consciousness for the Christmas season.  My brother heard that I was considering getting the reissues and, in an act of mercy, offered to send me the one he had in storage back at our family home in Kentucky, which he says was mine, anyway.  That saved me $35 plus tax, so I was more than happy to pay the shipping on a package I was sending on his request at about that same time.

As I mentioned back when reviewing Spy Shot 6, non-vehicular Transformers have become something of a rarity in recent years (although the recent movie toylines have indeed done a fair bit to bring the concept back, including a new microscope-mode Transformer in 2009), but back in the first couple of years of the Transformers franchise, they were actually fairly common.  The mold for Perceptor, like that of so many Transformers released in 1984-1985, was actually created for a previously-unrelated toy line in Japan (in this case, Micro Change), and repurposed as a Transformer a year or so later.  Perceptor actually boasts a real magnifying lens in the eyepiece, capable of viewing objects at 14 times their normal size.  Not enough to win any science fair awards, perhaps, but a nice level of attention to detail that the toy designers might not have bothered with if they didn't want to.  When I recently re-claimed this specimen a few months ago, I had a look.  Yes, the lens still works.  The image is even fairly clear, if the object is held at just the right place away from the lens (the tray isn't quite that "right" location, I'm sad to say, although it's pretty close).  I haven't actually heard a confirmed report as to whether or not the Perceptor reissue currently at Toys R Us retains this feature, although it's certainly possible (quite bluntly, I don't trust the copy-writers who wrote "Not a working microscope" on the reissue's packaging to necessarily know what they're talking about. That could easily just be a knee-jerk kind of thing to write down).

The robot mode is one of those "amazingly well-articulated for 1985" toys, although that should perhaps be said with the usual disclaimer that such an achievement is entirely due to the fact that all those joints have to move in just that way to transform the toy into a microscope in the first place (well, I guess the elbows didn't have to be there to turn the toy into a microscope...).  Perceptor comes with both a rifle and a missile launcher (with the standard compliment of more missiles than can possibly be stored in the launcher at a single time.  Perceptor comes with three, and the launcher holds but one).  I'm told that the missile launcher does represent a change between this vintage Perceptor and the reissue.  Although all American Perceptors (including this one) had the launching feature neutered to comply with American safety standards, the current reissue seems to have achieved this in a way that makes the launcher unable to properly hold onto the missile at all!  If you want to display a reissue Perceptor with a loaded missile launcher in one hand, you'll have to have it done in a firing pose, lest gravity ruin the effect.

Perceptor, while not technically a triple-changer, does have a third mode, where basically the designers discovered that if you simply rearranged the limbs just a bit off of the microscope configuration, you get something that looks kinda-sorta like a tank, and so they added "treads" onto the sides of the legs and extra extensions to pull out of the feet to justify this "third mode's" existence.  The official instructions tell you to remove the knobs from the microscope to achieve this (as is seen in this picture), but I honestly almost never do so.  There's really very little incentive to take the knobs off, since they don't get in the way of the transformation at all, they don't really do anything that detracts from the "tank" effect any more than the rest of the microscope parts do, and I really just don't care to take off potentially easy-to-lose parts when I don't have to.  (For the especially eagle-eyed among you: yes, that Autobot symbol on the lens barrel is a sign that I took this picture later than the others, after I decided that I had a Reprolabel handy that fit just fine)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: San Diego Comic-Con 2008 Nemesis Prime

There's a running gag among Transformers fans that convention exclusive toys are heavily biased toward being black redecos.  This has been true of quite a few BotCon exclusives (especially since 2005), but it seems to be especially true of San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) exclusives.  Back in 2005, the very first SDCC exclusive Transformer, Skywarp, certainly fit this bill.  In 2006, SDCC joined the Nemesis Prime bandwagon with Alternators Nemesis Prime.  In 2007, SDCC gave us a black repaint of the Titanium Rodimus Prime figure and tried to pass it off as Menasor.  Then in 2008, they went doubly dark, giving us a Titanium Skywarp and yet another Nemesis Prime, redecoed from the Classics Optimus Prime figure (Oddly enough, this past year's SDCC seems to have broken the pattern, with a new reissue of G1 Soundwave being the main Transformers exclusive).

The bio given to this version of Nemesis Prime describes a rather different origin than, say, Robots in Disguise Scourge, but both involve a Transformer given an Optimus Prime-like form without having Prime's ideals.  Nemesis Prime here is said to be a creation of Straxus, a character that appeared in the Marvel Comics series, who proved to be one of the more memorable comics-only characters.  Don't ask me how Nemesis Prime's creation fits into that continuity, though.  It's probably possible, but would take some shoehorning....

Having already talked about Classics Optimus Prime, there's not a lot of point in going over the different combinations Nemesis Prime's weapons can take, since everything's the same about this figure except for the coloring.  This is the kind of figure that won't appeal to everyone, but which I've always had a soft spot for, enjoying (and creating) "evil clone" characters even before Transformers got into the act officially with Scourge/Nemesis Prime types.  And although it's a bit more expensive than the average retail-released Transformer, as a SDCC exclusive, it was created in considerably higher numbers than BotCon exclusives, making it a bit easier to locate if you do want it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Destructicon Scourge

When the Robots in Disguise line introduced the character of Scourge, they started something of a trend.  Prior to the creation of that character, the only mold created for Optimus Prime that was ever redecoed to be used for another character was for the original Ultra Magnus, and even that only reused the cab portion (a part which, indeed, was never used in any of the fiction until years later... after the advent of Robots in Disguise).  Once Scourge was created, making "evil Primes" became something of a cottage industry within the Transformers franchise.

This version of Scourge was the third created for this character.  The first, of course, was the repaint of Laser Optimus Prime featured in the link in the first paragraph.  The second was the spychanger version mentioned at the end of the article on Brave Maximus.  This Scourge was created toward the end of the Robots in Disguise line.  After the line had mostly died down, really.  It was one of two toys released as exclusives to Kay-Bee toy stores under the "Destructicon" heading.  Even since the days of Generation One, I've always thought "Destructicon" was a name that should be used for a Decepticon sub-team.  It just rolls nicely off the tongue.  So I was glad to see it used here.  Like the original Scourge, Destructicon Scourge is a redeco of an Optimus Prime figure, in this case, Generation Two "Hero" Optimus Prime.

One of the nifty play features of this mold is the bellows in back, which can be removed from the truck and placed on the table for deployment.  Just pound down on the bellows while one of the missiles is in place on the launcher, and you can send the missile flying into the air.  Don't expect to knock down larger Transformers toys with this feature, but it's still pretty fun.

Perhaps ironically, although Scourge started the "evil Prime" trend, none of the "evil Primes" that have been created in years since (and there have been several) have been called "Scourge" (at least, not in the US).  Rather, the name "Nemesis Prime" has become more common.  I'll feature one of these next week.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Knight Rider GPS

Last Christmas, I got a GPS with the voice of KITT from the 1980's version of Knight Rider — a perfect example of product placement if ever there was one.  I've found it to be one of the more useful presents I've ever been given, allowing me to explore a greater amount of Southern California (and, let's be honest, there's quite a lot of it to be explored) than I would probably have otherwise done.  Need to scout out all of the Targets in the area to find that elusive exclusive?  KITT will tell you how to find the nearest one.

I can't really speak to how well KITT compares to other GPS devices, since this is really the first one with which I have any experience.  Most of my own use has been with the "search nearby" feature, where I can type in the name of the business I want to locate ("Toys R Us," for example), and KITT will then figure out where the nearest ones are, and I can then choose the one I want directions to.  I've used the "address" feature a few times, especially for longer trips, but I've had to curtail my long-distance travel quite a bit this past year just to keep expenses down.  Also noteworthy is a setting for "food" that will list all the restaurants nearby.  Perfect for when one needs a little help deciding what to eat!

I have one minor gripe with the system.  Although I've found the directions to be generally accurate, KITT often seems unable to determine what side of the street the destination is really supposed to be on.  When I use it to get home from a place I've never been before, for example, I find that KITT always tells me that the apartment building is on the right, even though it's actually on the left as often as not.  This is a minor irritant, at worst, but I do wish the programmers would have cleared that kind of thing up.  Still, having a car (device) that talks to me is pretty cool.  Now if I can only get it to drive itself!

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