Thursday, 26 February 2009

I Love Transformers: Armada Toys

I'm starting with a controversial title, and I'll continue it here. Armada has been one of the most unfairly maligned Transformer lines in recent years. It came after the Robots In Disguise line, that was low on gimmicks but big on realism and posability. Armada meanwhile was the opposite and was low on realism and posability but high on the fun factor. And fans hated it.

Yet kids loved it. Huh, toys being made for kids, go figure.

Of course, I'm an adult (or I like to think so) and yet these guys line my shelves. I personally think Armada was one of the most solid Transformer lines to date, really exciting, vibrant and fun. And so I'm going to pick out some of my favourites and hopefully pressure you into thinking the same!

Hot Shot
I'll admit it. Hot Shot is probably the worst of the Armada line easily. He is very flat, his arms are truly atrocious and can only flap up and down weakly, and he is forever staring  upwards with a pained, agonizing look on his face. But he also has his Axelzooker, flip out chainsaw feet, his Minicon and the Japanese version has a light-up fist. It's not all bad. Its not great, but the poor guy gets bashed way too much. I would rather a failed experiment than something satisfactory but which no effort whatsoever has been put into.
Minicons were one of the big draws of Armada, and one of the earliest was Perceptor. Made up of three little guys, High Wire, Grindor and Sureshock who combined into Perceptor, he was a delight to behold.

The little robots each turn into their own vehicles. Grindor is the clear winner, mostly because the others look a bit natty but at least they tried to do something cool and unique. Sureshock even splits down the /middle/ when he transforms! And of course these three inch-high robots all combine into a bigger robot, Perceptor. Each mode looks good, there's no cutting corners, and it really hasn't been done better before or since. Simple and elegant!

Here's one character that I feel has been unfairly maligned - Sideswipe. Now, the original Sideswipe was a sleek, sexy sports car. It isn't Armada Sideswipe's fault that he is a clunky car with a gimpy robot mode. Sure he has no knees and huge arms and legs as fat as he is tall. He's amazing!
His car mode is cool, holds together really well and even has transparent windows! If you press his Autobot insignia, the bonnet explodes forwards to transform him into a dragster. If you press a button on his back, a panel flips round revealing his Minicon, probably one of the coolest gimmicks I've seen.

In robot mode, the bonnet halves on his fists can explode out like a super-punch. If you use the Minicon port on his back his right arm will punch up and down. He has a hidden gun and knife that fits together like a bayonet. His  Minicon also becomes a jetpack. What more do you want!?

He's not pretty, but he's not ugly. I think he's got his own charm and he's packed with playability. He can sit on your desk and you can fiddle with him forever. Ask not what Sideswipe can do, but what he can't do!
Demolishor is a fantastic figure and actually looks cool to boot. He's a tank with a pirate eye patch who is covered in guns. He can even hold his Minicon in his fingers.

In tank mode, his Minicon can fire his missiles, and can attach to the front to make an even bigger tank. He has a little chair on his back that folds out to let the Minicon sit on it to drive him about. Its brilliant!

Optimus Prime
Prime is a bit of a letdown to be honest. His mouth plate moves, but all the money was sunk into his gimmick. When you transform him to robot mode, his trailer automatically transforms to a (rather poor) base. When you transform him to giant robot mode, the trailer transforms and rises into a pair of legs for him. This would all be well and good if it actually worked, but usually it just made horrid clicking noises before collapsing. But he tried dammit, he really tried!

Prime, lovingly nicknamed Superpants Prime, can also combine with Jetfire to give him a more poseable set of pants, and also Overload to give him a huge pair of guns. And what was a bit clunky is now satisfyingly huge and clunky.

Yes, Armada introduced Unicron as a toy for the first time ever. They could have been lazy and just made him straight robot-to-planet, after all, he's Unicron, people would buy him regardless. But instead he also has light up eyes, a light up fist, individually articulated fingers, his bony wings, missiles, leg-compartments, a tummy prison, and a gigantic missile.

Actually the gigantic missile is the one downside to Unicron. The entire batch that the UK got were on a hair-trigger, so the moment you tapped him wrong, this missile would slowly unfold from his chest and shoot you square in the eye.

And that is why I wear glasses today. True story.

Boo hoo hoo, Megatron has no knees. Fine. But what he does have is a ton of playability. In tank mode he has a firing cannon and flip-up missiles. He's got lights and sounds. He has /capture claws/. He has ramps galore, flip-out spring-loaded panels, and leg prisons! One even has a strange spring-loaded claw-like thing.

In robot mode he has a hidden slide-out knife, and he can swivel his tank turret around to his front, and then crank a handle to make it spin round and round. He can even combine with another Decepticon, Tidal Wave, to create armour for him!

It may sound like I'm just listing gimmicks, but look at them all! There's thousands of things that he can do, and the fact he can't bend his knees more than makes up for the sheer awesomeness that is Megatron. I think time has been kind to this guy - at the time people wanted more ultra-poseable figures, what they got was something that was just a lot of /fun/.

I think that's why Armada came under a lot of fire to begin with. At the end of the day, Transformers is first and foremost a line for kids, and Armada was just jam-packed with fun and inventiveness. After a while, the novelty of a robot who turns into a vehicle wears off and just becomes a bit boring. Armada injected a lot of the excitement and fun into the figures and packed them solidly with value.

So yes, I'll nail my colours to the flagpole and say that I honestly think Armada was one of the best Transformers line. It did what it wanted to do - not be ultra-realistic but instead solid and filled with fun, and at the end of the day these are first and foremost toys for children. We're just here for the ride.

And the Minicons.


  1. The crowning glory of the Armada line was Unicron. despite its flaws
    I got one with the hair trigger. It fires if you happen to breath on it and the chest won't close without the missile (at least until you go inside with a screw diver and a piece of card) but it was worth it.

    Your right Armada, and by extension the whole Unicron trilogy, was for kiddies. Even the cartoon was firmly aimed at kids. It's a sad fact that most of us should be far too old for his stuff!

  2. That Unicron was a (very sad) dream come true. By far the most ludicrously self-indulgent thing I've bought in the last few years, in the face of very heavy competition.

  3. Well /all/ Transformers is aimed at kids.

    Apart from the Masterpiece Megatron I have winging its way in the post to me...

    Do you have the instructions for fixing Unicron? I never got around to it, and can't remember where I saw them.

  4. I didn't use instructions, just to a screw driver to the back opened 'im up and shoved a bit of cardboard in there to sure things up.
    Makes firing a little difficult, but let's face it we bought the guy to lord over the shelf!

    Lucky swine getting Masterpiece Megatron. I'm still saving up for the new masterpiece Grimlock

    Those are toys squarely aimed at us lot. While on the other hand we have the next candidate for worst idea for kids... ever...

  5. I must own Sideswipe!

    I can never find one cheap though!

  6. I've been thinking about trying to obtain Starscream once my financial situation is stable enough to make a venture to eBay sustainable. Armada looks like a fun line, especially when you talk about it (everyone else, i.e. the Australian fandom here, is all WAAAAH IT SUCKS).

  7. Blackout plugs into the front of Demolishor's tank mode not to make a bigger tank, but so that he can be launched. You fail at describing Demolishor's awesomeness.

    I can't believe you left Tidal Wave off the list. Tidal Wave is huge (especially for the price tag), surprisingly poseable for an Armada figure, and all-around awesome. You're all gung-ho about Demolishor's chair? Tidal Wave has FOUR. He splits int three vehicles, but doesn't have to come apart to go from his combined vehicle mode to robot mode. And the way Ramjet hides inside one of the ships and deploys is pretty clever.

    And am I the only one who thought Sideways and his combining rider were pretty neat?