Height: 17.5cm (robot mode)
Articulation: 24 total points - Ball joint neck; 6 points each arm: Triple jointed shoulder, upper arm swivel, double jointed elbow; Swivel waist; 5 points each leg: Universal hip, thigh swivel, hinge knee, tilt ankle.
Colors: Molded flat back, clear orange-red; Painted copper, gold, light grey, black.
Accessories: "Trailer" battle station, cannon, backpack, lance, sword, shield, evil Matrix, rifle, weapon storage clips x2, extra hands, railroad track sections x2.
While it pains me to begin a sentence this way, I think for anyone around my age and older, steam locomotives really have sparked our imaginations ever since childhood. Tempted as I am to go on at some length about the way children's entertainment has rapidly changed since I was a kid, I don't have the time or space here for it. But it was easy to be exposed to TV, movies and other formats of period stories showing people taking trains led by these huge, black engines, billowing smoke. Transformers met this once before of course in the original Astrotrain toy, but it's not something that has been quick for a revisit in toy form. And that's a real shame. Thankfully, someone else did something about it.
Mastermind Creations developed a transforming locomotive figure in the image of Hearts of Steel Optimus Prime. But somehow, a red and blue engine just doesn't hit that right note for me. And especially with widespread reports of a pile of quality control issues rolled in behind it. No, it took a little while until the second instance of the Knight Morpher figure came out. Dressed in black and accented in copper, this was the one that looked like the steam engines running around in my head.
Knight Morpher Annihilator was the first iteration to have the problems from Commander be addressed through material, process, and minor design changes in order to reflect the quality the designers intended from the beginning. The toy's own fiction paints this as something in the style of Nemesis Prime; a shadow of all the darkness and negative aspects Commander cast out of himself, but come to life as a dark reflection of the hero leader. That's all well and good, but I have the Nemesis Prime that really suits my tastes. But it didn't take me long to figure out what this was much more suited to portray. Looking like a rolling cast-iron stove, with the vague appearance of the image of a Prime, for me this was always The Fallen. Before Revenge of The Fallen, the only noteworthy trait associated with the name was being that guy who's always on fire, and is styled like a kettle stove. How much more perfect could this really BE?
Annihilator represents just the engine part of a locomotive, without the typical coal car attached. But from the size of the boiler versus the cabin, it may be all done as an integrated body structure. Annihilator is majorly black. Aside from the gold and copper accenting, everything is solid, flat black. Which is perfect. The plastic has a slight texture, which when combined with the plastic sheen give a very realistic impression of cast iron. It's a rare case where unpainted plastic provides exactly the right finish to support the illusion of the material it's representing. The painted highlights are minimal, but to the benefit of the toy by only bringing out just enough molded detail to show you that there's complexity in the structure. Large pipes down the sides of the cabin are brought out as the biggest paint applications in copper and gold, while doors, window frames, and ladder rungs all consist of much more simple paint work. Even the wheels have an incredibly narrow ring around the edges painted in.
Annihilator has a total of 16 wheels, 14 of which are free spinning. Sadly for reasons surely to do with controlling the complexity of the design, the piston drive system most typically associated with steam locomotives is not present on Annihilator. It's a little bit disappointing, but it feels like a minor gripe when weighed against how well overall the vehicle mode has been executed. There isn't really anything to do with this mode, since it's a good, solid unit as a train engine. I will point out that the smokestack looks a little bit weird, but there's a practical reason for that to be the case. The toy is pretty big in this mode, too. Some Voyagers may match it in overall length, but certainly not mass. There's just really not a lot to say about this since it's almost all I could ask for out of a Non-Name-Brand Transforming Robot Toy's steam engine mode. It hits all my important buttons and really grabs hold of my model train nostalgia.
The transformation makes me a little bit nervous, because some parts are quite stiff and tight to move - including ones known to break on the original edition of Knight Morpher Commander. However, Annihilator did kick off the improved build, and the breakage issues were some of the first defects to go. Cracking the toy open in to a robot is not very complex, but the reverse isn't so true, and it can be a little bit challenging to manage just the right sequence of lining parts up so it clicks together properly. And it might just be me, but I especially find it difficult to remember exactly how to arrange the arms when returning to vehicle mode.
The influences of Optimus Prime on the design are very evident now even without the signature colors to denote identity. The shapes and designs on the forearms and legs are especially indicative, with the familiar shin vents and the double-bar and triangle details present. The big, boxy chest and wide shoulders also give some hint, but that's a much more generic trait of a super robot hero. The thing that I enjoy though is how the head, while being the same physical design as Commander now takes a more sinister appearance just thanks to having bright red eyes and a black helmet and faceplate. The small vent slits in the faceplate also resemble detailing on G1 The Fallen's face, which helps tie that identity together for me more. And of course instead of the standard antennae on the helmet, this Prime head has little smokestacks. A fun addition, and in keeping with the "Knight" element is a flip-down visor piece like a knight's helmet. Even better is the eye slits are cut all the way through, AND the figure's lightpiping is strong enough that the eyes are able to visibly glow through the visor. It's so good that it'll even work using indirect light! Besides that, and elements carried over from the vehicle mode (like the rivet bumps just about everywhere on the toy), Annihilator gains some neat touches, like the details on the facing surfaces of the legs which show molded elements meant to imply the presence of gears and flywheels making up the internal mechanical structure of the legs. The level of physical detail overall is very impressive, even down to things like the presence of rivets which I doubt I'd give any thought to if they had never been there to start with, and it really helps bring this to life in both modes.
Annihilator has a good range of articulation overall, but as noted with the transformation, some of these joints are really tight. Particularly any joints on a ratchet tend to be so stiff that they're actively difficult to move. In the case of the elbows it's not too bad, since there's an unratcheted hinge just below that makes a functional elbow for most purposes. The knees though are tougher, and especially are tougher that the forward-back movement of the hips. So you're likely to move them before the knee bends or straightens. The positive side is that those non-ratcheting joints are still tight, but not nigh-immovably so. You have little or no worry about a limb sagging under the weight of a weapon ...or itself... but it's still smooth and easy to position. The hips are probably the weakest load-bearing joints on the figure, but that does not in any way compromise the figure's ability to stand or pose reasonably.
Actually, what hurts the leg articulation is the skirt plates. They're made of the cowcatcher, and ball jointed straight up in to the waist overhang. They have only a limited range of movement to stay clear of the legs, limiting effective posing to a degree. And irritatingly, one panel fits much more loosely than the other - loose enough to bounce around as you move the figure, even. There are ways to correct for that, but they involve removing the affected part, and the ball joint stems are thin enough I'm hesitant about applying that kind of pressure against them. You shouldn't take that to mean the quality of the plastic is in question though. Over the majority I have no concerns about the ability of this plastic to hold up to normal kinds of stresses. The plastic has a great feel to it, and except for one specific case my example hasn't shown any sign of material fatigue or damage from intended uses. Since going back and treating Annihilator as a do-over, the build quality of the figure has come out first-rate. The little areas with thin plastic stems like the skirt and the hip wheels are things I'd be wary of on any toy, truthfully.
Just like in vehicle mode, Annihilator is very light on paint in robot mode, and the few paint applications unique to the robot are used in exactly the same kind of sparing style to only highlight some details. But where an Optimus Prime style character calls for areas of plenty of color, the flat back with just the minimum of metallic trimming works so well for a Nemesis Prime or even The Fallen if you choose to view the toy that way. More paint simply for the sake of paint would only spoil the great dark, imposing presence the figure has in this version.
But, the robot is (literally) only half the story on this toy! For the rest, let's move to the next section.
I can't remember if there was a proper name given to this, but it's the evil version of the Matrix analogue that Commander comes with. ...for the super-sentai conversant in the audience, it looks a bit like the Go-on Wings logo, doesn't it? This first of Annihilator's accessories hides inside the torso, being revealed once you open the front chest panel. It sits wedged down in a slot in the clear red plastic. I have a problem with that. Most obviously is that this is a painted object, and repeatedly taking it in and out will have to wear on that paint coating. The other problem is that the slot it fits in has developed stress lines on my copy. Probably not a great sign. The figure lacks any ability to hand-hold this piece anyway, so might as well just leave it where it sits.
Though not a trailer in the normal Prime sense, the rear half of the vehicle separates from the part that makes the robot, and turns in to a small base unit as well as housing just about all of the toy's extra parts.
The forward panel can be removed as you open the sides, and then folding down the rear wall gives you the weapon platform configuration, armed with a really big cannon. The inner walls are covered with panel and basic techy details, all of which are unique to these surfaces rather than just being the backside of the molded detail on the outer surfaces. Likewise, the details are not even identical between sides. Each panel is detailed differently, and it all remains consistent with the style of the vehicle. It's basic riveted panels, some vent slits, pipes, etc. It's a very interesting kind of attention to detail, making sure all the visual elements are correct to the period, even inside the alien robot's battle station unit. The cannon can slide along a track in the floor, I guess in case you don't like it at the very back. Plus it can rotate freely and elevate nearly 90 degrees, so it can cover pretty much anywhere needed. There may also be a sword sticking out of its base. You might want to do something about that. If you take the cannon barrel off, you're left with something consistent with a mortar launcher. It also has holes on the top side, where you can attach the rifle. The holes are a bit bigger than 5mm though, so none of the weapons will be a good fit in there.
Under the back end of the trailer there's a double-ended hitch. You can rotate it to have either connection facing out. But so far, the only thing you could link this to is ...another Knight Morpher Commander or Annihilator. ...back to back... Well, maybe they'll make another toy down the road that turns in to a train car or something.
The front panel removed a little earlier unfolds and makes Annihilator's shield. It's a pretty sizeable slab of plastic, actually. It pegs on to either of the toy's forearms, and can only really fit one way around the big shoulders. The design is very simple, just gold trim around the edges, and a cross shape raised from the surface of the shield. Simple, but it works very well.
This was one of the new accessories introduced with Annihilator. It's a basic broadsword blade, flared at the end, and made to look evil by being mostly painted black and having a bat-wing style guard at the hilt. The plastic is pretty rigid, so don't worry about warping. There's a clip part included that you're supposed to attach to the toy's back to stow the sword, but the clip is rigid plastic and the blade is rigid plastic, and it all has to snap in from a side rather than sliding in smoothly. Basically I can see no good coming of this and so I don't even use it. But helpfully the clip has a place to store under the trailer/battle station so it won't get lost even when you're ignoring it!
This is part of a set of equipment formed from the cannon barrel. The lance is in two (technically three) parts, incorporated through the barrel. The length of the lance is hidden in the lower half of the barrel, and has to be pushed out the bottom. From there you remove the cap from its end and kind of fling the rest of the lance out (on Commander the tip stuck out past the end so it could be pulled, but it was shortened for all subsequent versions) and then take off the end of the cannon barrel to become the handle. I gotta tell you, I'm pretty scared of this thing. The lance comes to a ridiculously small point, and the plastic is just rigid enough that I can see the tip snapping off. Plus it feels like a poking hazard if you'd ever fall towards it eye-first. The other problem is that the cap meant to protect the tip in storage doesn't really have a place to go when not being used. The post end is smaller than 5mm, so it can't fit in any of the base's storage ports. The best answer I've seen is to put it on one of the holes on top of the cannon base and just try not to tip the base unit over. Better still is to just leave the cap on and not extend the lance. It's a good length anyway and this makes me less paranoid about it. Good on Mastermind for keeping up the knight theme by having a lance to use for sure. Just some of the specifics make me nervous. Can't argue that the toy looks really awesome armed with that and the shield, though!
Like the sword, there's a clip piece for the lance to attach it to the back of the figure. This one is just a ring to slide the lance down in to, so there's no worry about whether something's going to give way in the process of storing the weapon. And in storage like that is DEFINITELY a good time to retract and cap the lance.
So, what to do with the rest of the cannon when you have the lance parts out of it? Well, turn them into a rocket pack, of course! Sadly, that is the best the idea will ever sound. The cylinders have slots on them cut to exactly match the shape of flanges on the toy's back. A little too exactly. The cylinders have to fit in a very specific way, and it seems next to impossible to actually get both of them so fit simultaneously. You can get close, though. In theory, two peg holes on a flap on the toy's back should line up with two little pegs on the backpack and close securely on to them. But that seems only to be in theory. The panel will rest on top of the parts anyway, just not locked in at all. It looks ...okay... when finally put together. You get the sense that they're big rockets thanks to nozzles at the bottom, but otherwise it might just as well be 55-gallon drums strapped to the back. They're smooth and featureless, and it has a hard time clicking visually. And for the difficulty in doing it, the payoff doesn't feel like it's there. Plus it blocks access to equipment storage on the back.
Okay, so I said the smokestack looked weird, right? That's because it serves as the rifle in robot mode. The things that make it slightly awkward as a smokestack lead to it being a pretty neat gun accessory. There's a spot right behind the barrel that is detailed in such a way that I can't see it being intended as anything but a revolver-style cylinder. ...so, the toy is carrying a giant revolver with a smokestack for a barrel. I can definitely live with that. And the way it converts between modes lets it break at the cylinder the way some revolvers did for reloading. Again, I have to think that was intentional. There's an actual gun barrel that flips out from the end of the smokestack. I admit it took me a while to catch that. If you leave that alone, the weapon does not look out of place at all acting like a Blunderbuss. Either option works just fine for me!
Having covered all the gear and weapon options, now we reach utility. Annihilator comes with replacement hands. Nothing amazing, though - just a pair at an angle so as to better work with the lance. Of course it's useful for the sword as well, if you like pointing swords at things. This is another major revision between the first edition of Commander and all subsequent iterations: originally there was a pressure-tab system for the wrist connection. So to go in or out you had to bend plastic tabs. This led to easily damage of the wrists. Annihilator introduced straight peg wrists, which swap much more cleanly and leave out the potential of damage.
My only caution is that you may need to (carefully) use one of the weapons for leverage in swapping hands. The storage ports under the battle station take a tight hold on those wrist pegs, and it'll require carefully working them to get them to release. Taking the hands off the arms is less difficult, but the accessory leverage will still help since there's just no good way to grab the hands that are installed.
Railroad tracks, that is, not fabulous Corvettes. Another new piece original to Annihilator, you get two lengths of railway that are just a little bit longer put together than the length of the train. The engine's wheels are supposed to fit grooves in the tracks, but that's easier said than done, usually. I suppose it's a nice extra, if you want to display your toy on its proper road surface, but that's about all.
Annihilator was important because it showed that Mastermind Creations was dedicated to producing quality figures. All of the fixes and improvements given to this toy after the relatively poor showing of Commander speak to that better than anything else. As of this writing, both Commander and Annihilator have been reissued, with Commander benefitting from Annihilator's revisions, as well as picking up the few new parts Annihilator came with. With the current versions you can't go wrong either way, whether your desire is for an Optimus colored engine, or one that is a little more realistically representative of a typical steam locomotive.
The care put in to all aspects of design on the toy just to keep the details visually consistent with the era of the vehicle form really impresses me, to say nothing of the range of extras that come with the toy. MMC developed a really great product here, and it's definitely something you should consider adding to your collection if you have any interest at all in checking out a third party's offerings in the realm of full figures. Knight Morpher Annihilator scores Very Good on the Figurereviews.com Non-Numeric Rating Scale. My only regrets with this are that I waited as long as I did to finally grab one of these. Well, that, and how the upcoming Cyclops based on Shockwave's Hearts of Steel ironclad battleship design is pretty firmly beyond my price range. Knowing now the quality Mastermind goes for, I'll just bet the figure is going to be worth the asking price.
|Date||April 24th 2012|
|Score||(8 out of 10)|
|Link||Gallery of MMC Knight Morpher Annihilator|
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