2014 In Review: Best Toys (Age of Extinction)

In 2014, the Dinobots went to the movies, and we were all asked to believe that Mark Wahlberg was an inventor. From Texas. The Age of Extinction toyline brought a new look and a new approach to Transformers movie toys, and ExVee and RAC have looked at what worked, what didn't and what was completely unexpected. Keep reading to see our picks for the best - and worst - of 2014!

It's been a very interesting time in the development of the Transformers brand as a new design team has come into their own and made their mark on Transformers as the first of the products they contributed to reached retail shelves. Combined with a movie line year, 2014 has proven to be nothing if not unique. The greatest surprise with Age of Extinction's toyline must be in its brevity. As of this writing in January of 2015, all of the known general retail Generations Series toys have been released, and it is a far smaller line than any movie toyline before it. This is by no means a bad direction, and shows a very positive capacity to learn from the past. It may be considered unfortunate that some toyline potential may have been left untapped as a result, but when weighed against an extra year of languishing movie product and waves of anticipated toys that never materialize, we're happy with the choices made.

For our picks of the best (and worst) of 2014, we've divided our lists to cover Age of Extinction and Generations separately, because it turned out that we had a great deal to say about both lines this year. Takara and Hasbro product have been considered where appropriate, but mostly we're leaning towards Hasbro product as it's the more accessible and familiar for us and most of our readership.

Best Figure - Leader: Advanced Series AD31 Armor Knight Optimus Prime

The toy of a dozen names. (We had to find a photo of the packaging to remind ourselves of which one was correct.) A thorough recolor and remolding of the Age of Extinction Generations Series Leader mold, Armor Knight Optimus Prime is the most accurate version of the character you can buy that still transforms. In deciding what toy from Age of Extinction's Leader Class should take the prize, it was an admittedly small field, but this toy with its great attention to screen-accurate detail easily won the day. You can read our review of the original, less pretty form of the mold here.

Best Figure - Voyager: Hound

No, seriously, you're sure this isn't Bulkhead? Age of Extinction didn't have a wealth of figures in any size class, but Voyagers had a more open field to work with. This pricepoint had a number of different paths, with dinosaurs, new vehicles and older mold reuses, but ultimately we felt that Hound brought the best overall showing, with a solid core construction, easy and enjoyable transformation, and engaging accessory loadout and design. It's regrettable that a more vibrant coloration was not generally available in the United States, but it's a small shortfall. You can check out our review of Hound here.

Best Figure - Deluxe: Scorn

"Dinobots" was the marketing push for this movie, and the toyline wisely injected visual interest with bright colors and good deco choices in general. Scorn was easily the highlight of my year in movie Deluxes, giving the best balance of the needs of the dinosaur and robot modes. As well as reaching to a range of dinosaur rarely visited by Transformers, it's a new addition to a largely static lineup of established Dinobot character names. He's no Slapper, but Scorn is just as good of a name.

Best Figure - Legends: Stinger. Any Stinger.

We'll give this to the Legends versions of the Stinger character based pretty much on it being the only way to obtain a representation of that individual. (Which, given his limited role in the film, is probably a strong word.) While the TakaraTomy Advanced Series would eventually make a recolor of the second Bumblebee mold, as of this writing no such figure is planned for Hasbro's markets. Be it a recolor of Prime Knock-Out, or Sideways from Revenge of The Fallen, these were your merchandise options for the character. Except the One-Step Changer, the character's only existence as a new-mold toy.

Best Articulation - Leader Grimlock

2014 wasn't a particularly daring year for articulation on the Age of Extinction or Generations side of things, but Leader Grimlock offers some joints that most other figures this year didn't. Double-jointed wrists make posing with the tail-mace more interesting, and the elaborate ankles - which are admittedly required for transformation - combine with a slimmer frame to give you more range than pretty much any other AoE figure.

It's such a shame about the chrome.

Best Paint And Deco - Optimus Prime Rusty Ver.

This was a tossup with the extensive redeco given to Armor Knight Optimus, but in this case the Evasion Mode Voyager mold fit a more distinct need for deco accuracy. While the standard releases of this toy went for a normal coloration, the movie never showed that form in anything but extreme disrepair. No toy has quite captured that look correctly, but of those available for general purchase this makes the best go of it. And they even did a second run of it a little later, so you might not even have to pay triple digits to get one at this point!

Best Recolor - AD-17 Darkside Soundwave

There were several figures from the prior movie toylines that fell in to the opening waves of TakaraTomy's Advanced Series, but while they all had some degree of premium deco, Darkside Soundwave was undeniably the prettiest. Black recolors may be a bit of a trope anymore, but when it's done right, the combination of black, silver (or at least silverish grey) and a strong color such as the clear, reddish orange for the windows and visor make for a very striking finish. It also served as a second chance to get a canceled deco out in some capacity, albeit in a Japanese-only release of a mold that already had been Japanese exclusive. But you can't win them all.

Best New Use of an Old Toy - Helicopter Drift

In the movie, Drift was quietly played as a triplechanger, a fact that only had any meaningful impact on one specific part of one scene in the film. The triplechanger nature was never directly reflected in toy form, but through the magic of previous toyline reuses, a version of Drift as a helicopter became possible. The choice of Dark of The Moon's Skyhammer was a good one, as it brought new life, and a rather pretty new deco to an already excellent figure. With new accessories on top of it, the only drawback was the Drift head added to the toy.

Best New Trend - Reduced Transformation Complexity

This may be the cause of some dispute, but we feel pretty strongly that a reduced complexity - and thus reduced frustration - is nothing but positive for Transformers in general. Case in point: compare the Revenge of the Fallen Leader and Voyager molds for Optimus Prime to this year's Generations Leader mold. While it may be less screen accurate and less a marvel of engineering, it can be transformed by a single person without help from frame-by-frame viewings of YouTube reviews, or running into a dead end on the instructions sheet where even the designers forgot that a part is supposed to move. And Transformers toys were marvels of engineering for a time, with beautifully intricate designs that seemed to create miracles of change between forms. If you were skilled in theoretical physics. For most children - and their parents - this would be a sometimes insurmountable obstacle, one that Hasbro's Transformers teams resolved to change to maintain accessibility by the core, target demographic: children.

Worst Figure - Lockdown

Age of Extinction kept a general level of quality along its run within the Generations Series, and there were not many toys that skewed beyond a certain range. So making this call was a difficult task, and eventually we settled on Deluxe Lockdown for a simple reason: It's a terrible representation of the character. Apart from any notions of whether the toy itself is a good or bad design, it simply doesn't reach the same goal of evoking the character as any other figure of an on-screen Transformer managed to do. The best suggestion I've heard in regards to Lockdown is to remold it with a full visor face and call it a Vehicon, because it would be fine in that capacity. As the sole Generations representation of a major movie character, it falls completely short.

Worst New Trend - Chrome

The Transformers design team underwent a transition within the last two years, with many new members stepping up and getting an opportunity to bring back aspects of Transformers that have been underrepresented in the modern line. Thanks to the timetable of creating Transformers, the first results of this were only felt this year. And it's provided us with some interesting and refreshing approaches to Transformers.

And it's also provided us with chrome.

Vac-metal parts aren't new overall, and they're not inherently bad. But there's an art to using chrome on a toy, and much of the chrome used this year was applied with a blind - or maybe just blinding - lack of discretion. Chrome for chrome's sake was most prevalent at the Leader pricepoint, with Optimus Prime's Transmetal 2 Blackarachnia sports bra and Grimlock's everything. Chrome really soured me on what was otherwise by far the better figure of the two Leaders, if not the two Grimlocks. A game attempt was made to tint certain sectors of the chrome to have some kind of relation to the deco on the rest of the figure, but overall there are vast areas of silver that have no purpose. The only figure that looked more like a Big Lots knockoff from ten years ago was the Silver Knight Optimus Prime included with the recolor of Fall of Cybertron Grimlock. (Who, we should add, has the only justified and attractive use of chrome for arguably the entire year.)

You can read our review of Leader-class Chrome- I mean Grimlock -by clicking here.

Best Attempt At Consumer Confusion - New Packaging Design

The 2014 packaging refresh gave the line a bold, unified look to help it stand out from the other toys on the shelves. Unfortunately, determining how to help Transformers toys stand out from each other didn't really figure into that. Busy retail employees were no more likely to take the time to distinguish between the separate sublines than parents were, and as such Generations figures were - and are - routinely on the same pegs as Power Battlers, and Voyagers shared shelf space with Titan Heroes and Flip & Change/Smash & Change figures. The end result is a homogenized sea of red and white confusion that was vexing to even the most savvy of collectors. Combiner Wars is beginning to improve on this, with a Generations logo added to the updated packaging style. But it may well be a long time until the Age of Extinction stock is cleared out and the Transformers section of your local store stops being a mess.

Most Baffled It Really Happened - TRU-exclusive Evolutions Grimlock 2-Pack

The Now half of this pack is a lightly-recolored Voyager Grimlock, but that's not really the focus here. There are admittedly a limited number of Grimlock molds that could've been chosen for Then. The Classics Deluxe mold is a solid toy based more on Pretender Grimlock. The Voyager Fall of Cybertron mold isn't a great dinosaur, but makes a solid and imposing robot mode Grimlock. But the one they chose is none of that. They chose Energon Grimlock, the toy that managed to take everything about a toy design from 1984 and make it worse. Soft-detailed, ugly, and an improved hip-joint shy of having Diaclone-level articulation, about the only thing that Energon Grimlock had going for it ten years ago was that it combined with a matching Swoop - a Swoop that was not included in the Strafe Evolutions 2-Pack in favor of an unrelated Mini-Con. Which, admittedly, was wise, as Swoop was even worse. But his omission makes Energon Grimlock both bad and pointless.

Thrillingest Thirty - #29, Grimlock and Silver Knight Optimus Prime

This is mainly for Grimlock, who as we mentioned above is the best use of chrome in the entire Transformers line this year and brought some much-needed extra color and contrast to the Fall of Cybertron Grimlock mold. It's interesting that this recolor found its way in to a movie set, as everything about it is as Classics or G1 as possible, from the cool grey plastic color, to the paint details inspired by the original toy's stickers. It's a redeco that feels more like an aborted Generations product than anything that should have had movie branding. Honorable mention to Silver Knight Optimus, who has by far the most hilarious use of chrome out of the entire 2014 product line. The highs and lows of chrome application, all in one package! You can read our review of the unchromed original release of this Grimlock here.

Most What!? of 2014 - Ancient Beasts Unearthed!

In a wholly unexpected move that harks back to the original Transformers Universe, Hasbro got creative with the mold choices for some of their Walmart-exclusive 2-packs. Reaching back as far as 1996, we got Energon's Cruellock as Grimlock, Beast Wars Neo's Guiledart as Slug (complete with alternate Corpse Mode transformation), and even Beast Wars Basic figure Terrorsaur as a 50% decapitated Strafe. It's been a while since weve seen such creative reuse of long-disused molds, and it's something we didn't even realize we missed until it was happening again. And we didnt even know these molds were still available!

Most Dead Subline of 2014 - Construct-Bots

At Charticon 2013, Aaron Archer told us that there was something of an unwritten rule, or at least expectation in making a new toyline: Your first wave, you're figuring things out, and it may not be your best toys, second wave you're getting better and the product is shaping up. Wave three is perfect. And cancelled. Construct-Bots managed to get beyond wave three, just barely - but the Age of Extinction Construct-Bots were a misguided attempt to make the line's hardware more distinct from the standard Transformers (and also from Lego's Bionicle and Hero Factory), which resulted in much less cross-compatibility of parts and a more heavy reliance on the C-clips, which were the least resilient and least pleasant aspect of the earlier waves.

But all of this is academic in awarding Construct-Bots the title of Most Dead Subline of 2014. The Age of Extinction line was on clearance within weeks of its launch. (Joining the first series toys before it.) Construct-Bots has been the eternally-clearanced toyline, from very shortly after its debut. It's a sad outcome for what once had a lot of promise ahead of it. For what the Transformers team hoped would be a positive new direction within the brand, it was unable to achieve any meaningful recognition, and now only stands as a sad footnote.

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