Combiner Wars is the Transformers line I didn't know I wanted. In 2012 I found myself very excited at the notion of Fall of Cybertron Bruticus, and at the time thought the toys were an interesting exercise in the then-current form of Transformers engineering. But it didn't take long for me to lose the illusion and see, "these aren't very good toys." Combiners seemed beyond the reach of retail, official Transformers. So, what changed?
As individuals, the Deluxes (and this includes Drag Strip) do exactly as much as is needed to be complete vehicles and solid robot figures. The Aerialbots share a general model of articulation and have similar transformations which work to satisfy the basic needs of the toys. We're not going to pretend they're absolutely perfect; there's arms visible to varying degrees, and two jets are about twice as thick as jets really would be. But at the same moment neither one looks like a folded robot wearing an aircraft-shaped tarp. And Alpha Bravo does an outright fantastic job of achieving the vehicle mode while using almost the same set of movements in transformation. When acting as limbs, the only difference between being an arm or a leg is whether the individual's legs are extended or not. And the limb forms are a mid-point between robot and vehicle modes. Why does that matter? Because the toys don't have to have added transformation elements designed in. The Combaticons were designed like quad-changers, with each limb mode needing specific transformation steps that didn't necessarily overlap their "main" transformation between vehicle and robot. This is what I mean by economy of design. These toys squeeze every bit of possible use out of the basic required moving parts and aren't adding extra movements or moving parts to facilitate the added forms.
And for the talk of the Aerialbots not being perfect in forming their vehicles, Drag Strip who heralds the design style of wave two almost is perfect. The arms hide along the body completely, the vehicle doesn't have major proportional weirdness or other exposed aspects of its other forms. And it exists in this way with no substantial difference in complexity from the Aerialbots. The transformation process is very slightly tweaked, but the overall process stays the same.
The combined hand-and-foot piece is another piece of smart design that spares the individual toys by not forcing them to accommodate an integral hand or have to find a way to form a stable foot. The execution of this combined extremity is another situation of design economy for as few parts as are used to accomplish everything required. Going further and integrating weapon details so these can transform in to large weapons for the individual figures and have some use when not combined is another point in their favor and makes them feel more important than just extraneous combiner kibble.
Now, Silverbolt is still Silverbolt and is and probably always will be some degree of robot hanging under a plane. It's not ideal, and I think the 2009 Universe Ultra Silverbolt mold managed it better. But I can be a little forgiving of Silverbolt's vehicle mode for the consideration that it has to combine. Silverbolt also has a strong robot mode, giving it two really good modes and one that you can give a pass unless you're dead set on not liking the toy from the start. It's pretty easy to see Silverbolt was designed from torso mode outward, because the shape of Superion's chest is the clearest visual element, and it comprises a big chunk of the vehicle undercarriage. And in order to make the first Superion that didn't provoke feelings of pity and sympathy for the suffering that would be its existence, that's the way the design process needed to go. Importantly in all of this, FOC Onslaught was a barely mobile ball of pegs and ratchets so it could hold up all the other figures. Silverbolt is a poseable figure with a minimum imposition on its own robot mode from the things that make the combined form work.
Combiner Wars figures aren't going to suffer a novelty effect. They aren't a novelty, they're a revolution. They've picked up from their predecessors, figured out where to go to improve, and they've made the idea of combiners work and work well. The first wave of this line is great, and historically wave 1 ends up being the weakest. If Combiner Wars follows the pattern, we only have better waiting for us.
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