Because I have zero tact, when I first saw the Combiner Wars prototypes I turned to Hasbro and said "Sooooo... Generation 2 Menasor?" Don't get me wrong - I like Superion, I dig Defensor, and Bruticus ain't bad. But the Stunticons were a legit holy grail - a special few got Breakdown as a BotCon exclusive. Fewer still had loose or packaged samples of Wildrider, Dead End, or Dragstrip. And ain't nobody seen a complete prototype for Motormaster. This 2016 set is a fanwank of the first order - hardcore fans probably could never afford the 1990s prototypes, and other fans know the legend but would rather have other things. Like a house. This set affords you a similar set that's larger, cheaper, and packaged in a nice box with a G1 Menasor poster and a G2 Menasor trading card. It makes no sense to me, but it's pretty decent. Individual figures would probably set you back around $90, so $100 or so for this shared exclusive boxed set is on the happy side of decent and a 75% cheaper than it would have been as a BotCon exclusive set. And let's be honest - you'd want it if it were a BotCon set.
And how do you review a boxed set of 6 toys? Awkwardly. The short version is that they're not slavish recreations of the 1994 prototypes, but close enough that I don't think most people will mind that Dragstrip's face isn't red or that the patterns on his doors are missing.
Starting small is Blackjack, who has no proper transforming analog. This time around he's purple with blue accents and a gorgeous silver face mask on his head. The red eyes pop nicely, and a bright blue G2 Decepticon symbol on his right shoulder looks wonderful. An even bigger one appears on his hood, giving this figure a pretty wonderful look. I mean, it's everything you could want in a fake G2 update short of chrome or the word "DECEPTICON" written on his person somewhere. Sadly, this feature was left out across the board. Hasbro was going for ca. 1994 Ugly, but didn't want to go all the way.
The most exciting tidbit is that in combiner mode, this little guy can cling to Motormaster's chest better than Rodimus could to Battle Core Optimus Prime or regular Blackjack could to Menasor. It's a tight fit - if you flop him around, he stays put. I'm impressed. I have heard the Battle Core Optimus Primes were much sturdier, but I didn't find that with mine. This figure would have made a fantastic "drone" or "trooper" like in the Devastation game were it sold separately, sadly it's only in this set so army-building isn't a possibility. I like it enough to say that if I were still army building as a matter of sport, I'd pick up more of him.
The biggest figure in the set is Motormaster, and he absolutely evokes the spirit of the rarely-seen original. As far as I know a fully-stickered G2 1994 sample has rarely - if not never - been seen, so I would say the blue and purple meet expectations with the red spot color looking cool, but not necessarily authentic. (Or, for that matter, inauthentic.) A black G2 tampo on his chest looks wonderful with a silver outline, which is sort of out of line with how those symbols looked in the day but I'd be lying if I said it didn't make me smile. What may be the smallest G2 Decepticon sigil ever appears on the left arm, just above the elbow - it's on the truck grille in vehicle mode. His rifle and sword combine to make a giant, silver sword and that's how the original toy's weapon looked. However, the original toy had a non-combining rifle too, an that was a different color. Ah well. Still - it's impressive, and pretty. Much like the individually packaged G1-deco toy, the wheels are unpainted. I do not expect this will bother anyone too much, because it's not like you have a G2 Motormaster sitting on your shelf to compare this to unless you're like one guy.
The most common of the original figures is Breakdown. BotCon had an exclusive of him nearly 20 years ago, and a new version of him was made for their show in 2010 - but that one couldn't combine. Breakdown [FOTD #45] was pretty nice otherwise with a gorgeously bright head and a killer visor. This one eschews the visor in favor of individual eyes, just like the one released last year. If anything, this one is a little less garish than the previous versions as they dropped the weird blood drops on the roof of the car and toned down the pink in the purple body bits. His sword, however, has a stunning candylike paint job on the grips and body, plus a silver metallic blade to boot. They did a nice job here.
The car has the classic G2 hood wrap design, but the loss of the bloody roof is a downer for me and a boon to the sticker reproduction community. I have little doubt many of you would shell out ten bones to get that on here, even if it's never going to be seen when you display Breakdown as a combined robot or a single robot. His baby blue plastic gun/foot/hand looks nice and fits easily in his hand, giving me little doubt that a number of fans will cherry-pick this figure on eBay if/when anyone breaks them up. There are a few - very few - collectors with all versions of G2 Breakdown and I doubt they're going to let the completist streak end here.
A QC note - the robot silver chest panel is painted on both sides, plus it tabs in to the body which is also painted silver. This results in what may be one of the tightest fits I've ever encountered on a Transformers toy - I had to pry it apart with a screwdriver. Since both the tabs and holes are visible depending on the mode, it wouldn't be wise to shave off the paint to ensure a smoother fit, either. At least it looks cool.
The first figure I plucked out of the box was Brake-Neck, and update of last year's shared online exclusive G1 deco Brake-Neck [FOTD #1218]. This figure pays tribute to the G2 Wildrider you never got, and does a decent job giving you something new and arguably different. Unlike Breakdown, this figure actually has a wild pattern on its roof, but it's pretty small and you won't see much of it in his robot mode. Now given a purple face rather than a red one, the brightly-colored robot has a swell chest pattern with G2 Decepticon symbol. More interesting, though, are a few details on the car mode like a fading stripe tampo on the doors and beautiful painted windows. Also painted is his pipe weapon, molded in a color I can't see because the lovely people at Hasbro decided to give it a metallic candy blue paint job. It's pretty gorgeous up close, and the same weapon (and hand/foot/gun) are included with the next figure in the set.
Dead End is doomed to be confused for an Autobot at first glance. The previous Dead End [FOTD #1,364] was molded in a wonderful dark brownish red, while this one is a chipper, cheerful red with a bright blue that is pretty stunning and more interesting than the aqua color on the original toy prototype's box art. Add in the yellow face plate - a decent match, to be sure - and you've got a pretty fantastic figure. Not only does he have the G2 Decepticon emblem on his chest, but the car mode has two very small ones as part of a comet-like stripe on each door. Much like Breakdown, Dead End sadly dropped the goofy neon name sticker on the roof of the car - so all you have is a fairly tasteful vehicle with bright silver windows and a wonderful red and black hood. It's the perfect G2 update that, for better or worse, drops the eye-burning spices of the original. I still like it, but I'm a firm believer that there's no such thing as a toy that's too ugly.
A QC note - the plug for combiner mode is stiff. Like, really stiff. I thought it was going to break my fingernails off when trying to pry it out of the robot mode's neck. Hopefully I just got lucky.
Rounding out the team is Dragstrip, the only figure in this set that's less garish than the first Combiner Wars release of Dragstrip [FOTD #1,171] from 2015. While the others ramped up the brightness, Dragstrip largely went black. A silver G2 logo on his chest is quite muted, with the blue and yellow coming off as fairly agreeable and sensible. A hint of checkers appear on his spoiler feet, but the sides of the car are merely painted blue - the cool patterns of the prototype were left off. It looks different enough from the original prototype by virtue of the new head design, but I think it's probably good enough that you won't hate it.
Aside from the aforementioned QC quibbles, it fits together well in Menasor mode as a giant, colorful death robot. He holds the sword nicely, Blackjack fits fairly securely to the chest, and unlike the G1 Menasor all the hands and feet are the same color. Last year's Breakdown had a hand/foot piece that was a different shade of purple than the rest. If you have the regular version, rest assured that this one is slightly better - all of the joints feel a little tighter, and everything fits together just a little more nicely. Granted, you may stumble on challenges with the individual robot modes as I'm fairly sure nobody took into account the effect paint has on a form fit. Paint is, of course, the enemy when it comes to this kind of toys. At a hair under 12-inches high, this is a worthwhile toy just to leave combined on your shelf. It will also make your retinas burn.
...but wait, there's more!
In what I consider to be a dubious move to appeal to collectors, Hasbro saw it worthwhile to fit a small brown cardboard envelope in the box. In it, you'll find a thick cardboard card with G2 Menasor art. You'll find a thick-ish small poster featuring G1 deco Menasor art that I don't believe I saw elsewhere. You'll also find a dual-sided instruction sheet that shrinks down the transformation directions to postage stamp size. I appreciate their packing it all in a thick envelope for protection, but let's be honest - the card is a waste of resources and I don't expect many (any) of you to actually hang up the poster due to its small size.
I'm doing my best to keep this short, but I'd say that it was worthwhile. The toys were packaged in vehicle mode with a whole mess of air and wasted space inside, and the box itself is quite nice. For the retail price, I can't name a single good reason why you shouldn't buy it if you like the idea of this toy - it's fun, and it's a complete set in a box. Depending on how many Hasbro churned out I suspect it will either be really common or obnoxiously rare down the road, but I can't ascertain which just yet. The "holy grail" status of this set's original 1994 inspiration made this one of the most exciting releases of the year so far, but I'd hesitate to name it the toy of the year or anything like that. After all, it's March and the Titans Return line will no doubt provide as much if not more excitement to those of us who fidget with our toys and mix-and-match the heads come the fall. While you wait, though, this is a fun toy and the kind of thing that's so ugly I just can't say no. I just hope Hasbro does Defensor too!
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