Rob's Pile of Transformers: Manic Ramblings

Manic Ramblings and Delirious Ranting
re: Optimal Optimus
8/17/98

 Two years ago, on a happy summer Saturday morning, I purchased Laser
Optimus Prime and opened him while sitting in my car.  This evening, I
picked up Optimal Optimus ($29.96 at Walmart on Delaware Avenue,
Philadelphia) and again opened him while sitting in the very same car.  A
comparison between the two toys is instructive. 

 LOP -- the robot part, at least -- is big, but very simple to transform. 
And yet he's tremendously satisfying.  Aside from being a brilliant
reincarnation of the original Optimus Prime, he looks terrific in both
modes -- posable, well-proportioned, nicely colored, and realistic and
believable as a vehicle.  OpOp, on the other hand, is also big and
posable... but there the comparison ends.  His colors are gaudy, and
though he is very complex, his vehicle modes are thoroughly unsatisfying. 
I don't mind futuristic vehicles; in fact I like them, and when they're
done right like Scourge or Cyclonus I flat-out *love* them.  But these are
done *wrong*.  They barely feel or look like vehicles at all, futuristic
or otherwise.  All *four* of the modes feel like an afterthought.  The
lesson for HasKen is that, although complex transformations are nice, they
aren't everything.  Simple ones can be terrific also, if they're done
*well*.

 I wrote the above after I was done messing with OpOp.  Here's what I
wrote while I was doing so: 

 OpOp's box is BIG, about the size of an Ultra box with a Mega box on top
of it.  It took me a bit by surprise.  Looking at the front of the box,
one sees the following sequence of words:  Transmetals Transformers Beast
Wars Electronic Heroic Maximal Optimal Optimus.  Sheesh.  No wonder they
left "Primal" off this time!  This is easily the nicest package we've
gotten in BW, even featuring a green tech drawing of the robot mode on the
back, along with a very big picture of the robot mode.  We FINALLY get
some decent pictures of each of the toy's modes.  This has been an
annoying oversite for all of BW -- tiny, almost invisible, or non-existant
pictures on the box of how the toy looks in its other forms.  I hope that
OpOp marks the end of this trend. 

 Stuff inside the box is rather nifty, as well.  There's a little customer
reply postcard entitled "How do you like it?" that I intend to fill out
once I'm done fiddling with him... can't hurt, even though there's very
little space for comments.  We get a new HasKen catalogue, and it's worth
noting that BW gets a total of THREE pages, one for the Fuzors and
combiners, and a two-page spread of the first wave of Transmetals.  I
thumbed briefly through the rest of the booklet as well... man, kids today
get all the good Star Wars stuff! 

 OpOp's most glaring fault -- and I do mean glaring -- is the
DayGlo/pre-schoolish/safety orange that appears all over him.  This, I
think, is what made both me and Hooks shout "UGLY!!" when we saw him.  It
looks bad enough on its own, but juxtaposed with the neutral grey and the
cool blue and maroon chrome, it is simply awful.  Replace the orange with
any of those other three colors and the toy's looks would improve
dramatically.  I stand by my earlier assertion that three major colors is
the upper limit for a TF toy to not look like a mess. 

 On the cool side there's the little raised Maximal symbols on his maroon
parts, very reminiscent of the near-invisible symbols seen on the show. 
His fists are posable, articulated at the knuckles and the base of the
thumb... which is the only excuse I can think of for making 'em so damn
big.  Like Chicken Man, he's here to crush crime with a single blow from
his enormous fist.  Sheesh.  Thankfully, they've kept the "animal hair" to
a minimum on this one, just a little bit on the insides of his forearms
and upper thighs.  No comments from the WWFF gallery, please. :]

 I'm figuring him out as I go here.  Dammit, I just blew away some of that
armor; the same thing happened earlier in the car.  The trigger is easily
activated.  But it's rather clever how the pieces hold together; each
armor section has three pieces, two on the sides whose pegs fit into a
spring-loaded holder on the third piece, on top; snap that top piece into
the toy body and it all locks together. 

 I am seriously considering resorting to the instructions.  Not that I
don't think I can figure him out... it's just that I have no clue how the
vehicle modes are supposed to look.  This is his major weakness, the thing
that people have been decrying since pix of him first appeared on the web
-- he doesn't really *look* like anything in any of his modes.  Oh, sure,
he is vaguely shaped like a gorilla, like a car, like a jet -- but each
mode has extraneous stuff all over it, and there's no sense of
streamlining or of parts coming together and fitting just right.  Compare
Transmetal Cheetor, where the cat mode is smooth and streamlined, a single
body.  All those parts come open for his robot mode, but if the joints
were hidden he'd look just like a metal cat.  OpOp's other modes, by
comparison, simply look like a welded-together conglomeration of robot
parts. 

 Oh man.  I'm done with the car mode.  Tell me that's not it.  Tell me I
missed something, that something somewhere folds up, or otherwise acts to
make him not look like a robot laying down with his arms above his head. 
Because if not, then it looks much, much WORSE than the pictures on the
box.  Oh, wait... bend the legs 90 at the waist and knees... now he looks
like a robot who's *kneeling* with his arms above his head.  Big
improvement.  The only really tricky part was figuring out how the arms
(which merge in front of him) go together.  Also, if there's a way to make
the fists ball up in this mode and still have the arms stay in place, I
haven't found it.  On the plus side, the dual-barrelled gun mounted on top
looks really cool, and can traverse and raise/lower (except when the jet
tailfins get in the way.)  The series of hinges holding it on is the most
complex part of the toy, and seemingly the most fragile -- I'm worried I'm
going to snap it in two trying to bend it some direction it wasn't meant
to go.

 Overall he looks like a mecha, not any sort of intentional alt mode. 
Oops, there's his robot head... I found it while trying to locate the
battery compartment.  It does indeed look like a mix of his past
incarnations... yet it somehow fails to capture the feel of any of them. 
His face, upon reflection, reminds me a good bit of G1 Protectobot leader
Hotspot... just cover up the mouth and it'd be near perfect. 

 One last thought on this mode... I agree with the assertion (was it DVD
or Doug?) that the legs were originally intended to fold up somehow.
There's just too much hollow space in the lower legs for it to be
otherwise.

 On to the jet mode.  Flip up the wheel panels, put the arms in a Superman
flying pose, pull the cockpit forwards... and that's about it.  His
gorilla head is hanging out from underneath; I wonder if there's a way to
conceal it?  Again, extremely unconvincing mode -- he looks like a flying
ape-robot with wings.  I think I know where the batteries go -- on either
side of his robot head -- but I can't for the life of me figure out how to
open the compartment, even with the aid of a little handle-thing that says
"open". 

 Okay, robot mode... now *this* is turning out to be tough.  Somehow
you've got to get his ape chest, front wheels, and ape head out of the
way, to make room for the cockpit on his chest.  I can only find room for
two of the three items; on top of that I can't figure out how to get the
cockpit low enough to form his chest.  Ahh, simple answer: rotate 180 at
the waist.  All that ape stuff disapears to his back.  Dammit!  There went
his armor again.  Ah, well, that's an excuse to try re-positioning it atop
his shoulders.  That three-joint system comes into play again; this time
it's the two side pieces that attach to the main body, and hold the top
piece between them.  Even more elegant than I thought!  Appearance-wise...
eh.  It really doesn't look much better up there than it did on his
wrists. 

 Okay, done.  AFAIK.  The robot mode has a certain strange appeal to me,
in spite of its blockiness.  OpOp has a pair of cannons sticking out of
his chest, a la Fortress Maximus.  His shoulders are *extremely*
low-slung, being mounted about half-way between his head and his waist.
They also project out horizontally about an inch before his actual arms
start.  And they're so long his knuckles are close to dragging the ground. 
Ah, well, he's a robot; I guess he doesn't have to be 100%
anthropomorphic.  The shoulder mounts, BTW, are at the center of these
round blue chrome pieces that rotate to various positions in each mode; 
they look like they should become wheels or fanjets or something but they
always stay put at his side.  A hinge joint allows them to swing out 90
degrees from his body, which I assume I used in one of the transformations
back there, but I don't remember just where or how or why.  Getting these
two blue pieces in the correct position is one of the trickiest parts of
each mode, since they really look about the same no matter what position
they're in.

 I still have not figured out how to open the battery compartment.

 Time to resort to the instructions.  "Loosen screw"?  LOOSEN SCREW??? 
Jeez, what a cop-out!  And here I was expecting some elegant slide-out
thing or hinge or something... ah well.  OW!!  Even with the screw out
that battery cover requires a bit of extra force; it kinda bit my finger. 
Okay, the batteries are in... there's gotta be a button or something... 
ah, it's the firing mechanism for the guns, located at the back of the
whole big gun mechanism.  Pull it back and all the lights come on -- green
robot eyes, yellow center gun, red missile launchers.  Not as impressive
as I'd hoped, since all the lights are concentrated in one little area of
him.  BTW the gun piece splits in half, but like the blue round things I
haven't figure out what good this does. 

 Hmm, in this mode he also looks like a cool mecha.  Just flip the robot
head out of sight and you've got a walking artillery emplacement.  Too bad
those guns don't have a "pom pom" gimmick like Seacon leader Snaptrap
does.  You can increase the mecha look even more by flipping the cockpit
out till it's horizontal and bending his legs a bit.

 Okay, time to *read* the instructions.  Ahhh, the launcher splits to
allow him to use it in ape mode... hmm, the hand gun stores on the
launcher -- nice touch.  I love that off-center weapon look, like we saw
in the G2 comic... I guess that really was all there was to his car and
jet modes...  clever, his hand gun mounts on a peg on his wrist, as well
as his hand holding the handle.  Still, it looks small and insubstantial
alongside OpOp's tremendous bulk. 

 Hee hee.  Expect in Season 3 some dramatic close-ups of OpOp's face,
looking up at him between the barrels of his chest guns. 

 MAJOR frustration factor as I try to get him back to car mode.  It's very
hard to tell which position those blue shoulders are supposed to go in;
the fists keep getting in the way of the front wheels; the wrist pegs
aren't strong enough to hold the arms in place; the armor keeps popping
off; on top of all this there's really no way to know exactly how much one
is supposed to bend his legs for this mode, and it seems like when you go
to adjust one thing, something else gets knocked out of position.  Should
his arms be positioned parallel to the ground or with a slight forward
slope?  Even looking at the box, it's hard to tell.  In this as in all his
modes, he has a fair number of post-and-holes, but they're not enough to
hold such a big toy together.  Car mode falls apart as soon as you pick it
up.

 Overall: very iffy for the price tag.  OpOp delivers in the category of
engineering complexity, but falls short in aesthetics -- for the money
we're paying I'd expect a LOT of design work, and from that I'd expect
better vehicle modes.  And that is my biggest complaint about the whole
thing -- he doesn't really look all that great in any of his modes.  I
really wanted to like this toy, despite my initial doubts.  And I do to a
certain extent... but not nearly as much as I should for $30. 
--
Robert Powers of the Ever-Changing .sig
repowers@shell.faradic.net
http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Corridor/6754 [Architecture & misc.]
http://members.tripod.com/~repowers [Transformers]
Resisted the temptation to rip off DVD's trademark gimmick, and title this
"Optimal Ramblings" or some such

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