Number of Pieces: 135 total (67 + 68)
Release Data: Released July 2013 at a retail price of US$34.99
Construct-Bots (intended to be pronounced Construct-a-Bots by reading the faction symbol in the branding) is the current effort by Hasbro to develop a building toy line around Transformers, presumably taking the place of Transformers Kre-O sets. These aim to build poseable action figures able to transform without being taken apart. Quite an ambition and an engineering challenge, and then when you throw on the requirement that all the parts be interchangeable between sets, it seems like it ought to be impossible. But here we are with finished sets in hand. So, how did they do?
The instruction booklet is laid out to have you build the frame and apply the armor coverings all in a single process. But I don't think that's any fun when the reality is that you have a kit that lets you construct the skeletal structure of a Transformer and then equip all the other things on afterward. Building the frame is pretty quick and easy, just needing to snap together a few hinges and set some ball joints. The needed parts would probably even be pretty intuitive to identify especially since most of them are sealed in one bag together, but be sure to take a look at the instructions anyway. There's a couple things that have specific orientations so that the transformation can work later on, and depending how far you get before you notice something is backward or upside down, it might be a small project to get it all apart and rebuild to correct it.
All Construct-Bots (so far) share the same underlying body frame, using the same 15 parts, within which there are only 5 different part types making up the skeleton. The torso frame is actually made of two pieces, but is packaged in an assembled state, so for the purposes of this writing it's being counted as one part. By using a common skeletal framework, every toy can be expected to meet a basic level of flexibility. Every connection uses either a ball and socket, or a clip joint with soft ridges to make a ratcheting hinge. The ball joint ends are coated in a more rubberized plastic as part of the injection molding process which will help prevent joint wear on those pieces and give extra friction to reinforce the joint strength. If you've ever built a Gundam model kit, it's the same idea as polycaps, except they're built in instead of having to be separately assembled.
The frame alone with no robot parts attached has 14 basic points of articulation, including a hinged neck, ball joints in the shoulders and hips, and hinges for the elbows, knees, wrists and ankles. When the first robot parts are added, you also get ball joint movement for the fists, feet, and head, bringing the total up to 19. Certainly a healthy number of joints, comparable to many normal Deluxe Transformers. But the number doesn't tell the whole story. The skeletons have no mechanism for basic swivel jointing. While that is possibly not vital in the legs, I find it to be a serious weakness in the arms. The waist has a swivel action using one of the ball jointed pieces in a specially designed socket which I think could have been duplicated in the upper arms and the thighs while calling for only four more copies of the basic ball joint piece, and of course a differently designed piece to be shared between upper arm and thigh.
With no armor to consider at this point, the range of movement is pretty high. The shoulder and hip sockets are cut out enough to be able to raise arms or legs straight out sideways, and while the leg parts are shaped to be more restrictive, the arms have a great freedom to bend in both the elbow and wrist hinges. The ball joint at the waist also opens up some unusual posing options once you get a feel for posing this body frame and maintaining its balance. If you do want to just mess with the skeleton first, the ankle ball stems can be clicked all the way forward to substitute for feet, and the frame isn't hard to keep balanced this way, giving you something of a free standing Transformer skeleton to have fun with. I have found there to be a definite novelty in that in the time I've spent with these toys.
Applying the armor parts over the skeleton to develop the body of the figure and give it its identity is a little more of a task than getting the frame together for it all to hang off of. Some connections were very tight and hard to get set in place initially, especially if two kinds of connections were intended to be made next to each other on the same part, like a clip and a peg. For attaching a head to the neck ball joint, I suggest clipping the neck joint to the body first, because the socket in the head is very tight and I wasn't ever able to get a head to seat unless I could use the body for added leverage against it. But with just a few minutes' work, you'll have (almost) all the armor elements attached and your Construct-Bot figure will be completed.
In aesthetics, you'll never mistake this for a regular Transformer. Besides that the visual style is pretty distinctive - somewhat like if you had a fusion of the separate stylizations Kre-O and Bot Shots demonstrated - the bodies are not especially "sealed". One of the main intentions with this line is that any part from any set should be able to be used on any other set for customization, it all has to follow a certain pattern. Characteristic of this is leaving space open around the joints to ensure the poseability of the skeleton is impacted as little as possible with the use of the armor, no matter whose it might be. So there's always going to be clearly visible bits of frame and maybe even some of the open space within the framework that you can see. In height, an assembled figure is about equal with an average Voyager, but the difference in mass tends to be very evident, as the Construct-Bot is composed of shell pieces over the torso to cover as much empty space as possible, while the limbs have cover pieces on one side of each limb to make the best front-side presentation.
Megatron's armor is kind of basic looking in some ways. A G1-type Megatron may not be expected to have a lot of distinguishing detail in the torso just because originally there really wasn't. That might be part of the case here, but some of the details that are present strike me as being made to let this same chest piece work for a potential future Galvatron as well as Megatron. Megatron's design is a blend of different sources, G1 and Transformers Prime most evidently. But the tank turret weapon can also be seen as calling back to other iterations of Megatron. The goal here is clearly to make a Megatron not tied to any specific type of appearance and just focus on the aspects of being Megatron, and I suppose that comes across well enough, but at the same time the parts tend to be generic enough that it probably wouldn't be hard to see them as a number of others if they weren't Megatron colored.
Optimus Prime has a more distinct visual identity in robot mode as you might expect to be the case, even as far as having smokestacks in the shoulders. Prime feels better realized in this application even though I still think the same notion of blending design elements is at work, The trick is just that there's way less variation in design styles with Optimus Prime across lines as there is with Megatron. But this makes it a good example of how the different designs of the armor can make the figures seem more distinct from each other than you'd probably originally think they could. That might be the biggest success in presenting two of these figures side by side in one package.
A common element between the two figures in this set is having a lot of vehicle mode parts hanging off the forearms, which starts to show the limitations involved in the way these toys have to not only share a basic body structure, but also a common transformation process between them. Of course being a construction toy you can remove those parts in robot mode if they bother you, but that starts to break one of the novel aspects, where your building toy is capable of transforming without needing any pieces added or removed between forms. This still is where I see the first real weakness in the execution, simply that there isn't anywhere to elegantly store away significant portions of the vehicle form, and it's a thing that works across most or all of the line.
The transformation for these figures all follows the same basic movements, resulting in the frame being contorted to a specific shape and letting the armor panels move as much as they can around that to take on a vehicle-ish shape. There may be a variance of steps depending how the particular armor parts are designed to work together, but in general the transformations are all basically the same.
Megatron's primary vehicle form as a tank-buggy thing, I've come to realize, probably stands as a little more passable because over the last several years we've been conditioned to accept more and more abstract shapes as being valid "vehicle" states for Megatron in a number of lines, and this is no exception. This is a tank because it has a mounted cannon on top, and that's about it. The turret can launch a pressure--ball missile, and swivels on its attachment peg.
Optimus fares rather more poorly in this. Since he has to form something of a more realistic vehicle than what's required of Megatron, the back plate had to be taken up with providing most of the truck shell. Sadly it reads as more dune buggy than semi truck. The concession of trying to make it like a longnose semi doesn't save it either since it lacks the tight, aerodynamic structure that you expect to see in that sort of vehicle. It feels odd that Megatron wins the vehicle competition by not even trying to be anything real. Optimus does get some points for using interlocking elements to create a sturdier structure in the front bumper and rear bed where Megatron lets things hang a bit more loose. That's that aspect of particular variation I mentioned, letting the transformation be just a bit unique based on the armor.
Now, you might notice I called Megatron's vehicle form "primary." There are extra pieces included so you can build the figures in different ways and ideally produce additional vehicle forms for them. This is purely an imagination exercise, since besides acknowledging them in the parts inventory in the back, the instructions offer no insight in to the use of these bonus pieces. Unfortunately as of this writing I have not been able to figure out a secondary vehicle form using Prime's extra parts, but I was able to work out one for Megatron that I find much more satisfying than the default. Partly I think because it takes the standard frame transformation and turns it upside down to give more difference in the final look, and it gets everything looking a little tighter. I'll include photos of that in the gallery, as well as the resulting robot mode variation.
Optimus is ready for full face-taking maneuvers with an axe, a short, wide sword similar to a cinquedea, a split-blade wide sword, and two long swords. Plus a missile launching cannon based on the standard Optimus rifle design, two small blasters, and a hand-held (non-firing) rocket launcher. Not to mention the smokestacks are clearly designed to be treated as guns too.
Megatron comes with a morning star, a rifle, a short barrel cannon that's clearly designed to combine with the rifle, two small guns, two non-firing missiles, and the tank turret can be handheld if you choose. Beyond this, the alternate vehicle parts include two jet engines, but it doesn't take much imagination to see they could also be used as large cannons.
Best of all, all the pegs are 5mm, so there's a lot of cross-compatibility with other Transformers as an added function of play value for these sets.
Construct-Bots are meant to be a construction toy that kids will build and take apart and recombine many times. My experience with the toys is a bit opposed though. See, while the figures come together especially sturdy, even surprisingly so, the flip side is that the disassembly is really difficult. The clips grab on tightly to the receiving bars and are not easy at all to pull free. With parts like Megatron's extended connection arms which have the clips at a right angle to the rod, if you clip that in a recessed place on some armor it's incredibly difficult to remove. And mine suffered severe stress on both such pieces in the attempt because the natural inclination to try to lever the piece out started to bend the plastic before it released the grip. And where I found other pieces difficult to attach to start with, they have similar hesitation in letting go afterward. What this comes down to is that there are certain parts that I don't want to try to remove once they're placed, and others I am reluctant to utilize in the first place. When your building toy comes together in such a way that taking it apart again is either difficult or unpleasant to attempt, it quickly stops being a good building toy. The demands of being a functional action figure at the end of a build certainly dictated how tightly the parts had to fit together. While that criteria was met, it resulted in going from Bionicle to more like a Gundam, where you build it once and attempting to disassemble it is likely to cause damage.
I think I figured out kind of early in the process that Construct-Bots might not be "for me." The design and engineering direction for this line is pretty novel as the first Transformers building system that offers you the ability to transform your constructions without the need to take them apart. But a novelty is only a novelty once. Having two of these right now, I don't feel any particular need to own more until or unless a new body structure type is developed to add something fundamentally different. But right now I think the degree that I like these is for all the wrong reasons: I have frequently found myself thinking that the weapons are a nice arsenal that I can distribute among figures I actually like. I look at what has been done in the design stage to make this concept work to any degree and I feel impressed, but I don't actually want to do anything the product is intended to do.
I expect kids will enjoy these toys and the chance to combine a lot of different parts to make some kind of BlitzMegajack or BumbleHide Prime. But even then I expect it will be a case like a lot of recent standard Transformers where kids are either going to have to seek adult help in taking some elements apart, or they'll just end up broken. There is perhaps promise to this line, but it needs to be refined further. If Construct-Bots persists long enough to merit a new skeleton design, I'm optimistic that everything can be tweaked just that little bit it needs to really carry out its goal.
I like the ideas that have been put in to developing these toys, but I don't think it's carrying out its stated goal yet. On that basis, I can't really recommend Construct-Bots. My advice to anyone who is curious what the line is all about, you probably don't need more than one set to understand the current line, so just seek out a character you like. I don't think there's much point in getting more than one. I'm giving it Could Have Been Better on the Figurereviews Non-Numeric Rating Scale. I'm enjoying the weapons more than anything I think, but I wouldn't suggest going and buying it just for that when the main push of the kit is falling short of the mark.
|Date||July 30th 2013|
|Score||(5 out of 10)|
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