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Toy review

Well I suppose it's time for another quick toy round-up. For those that know me personally, you'll know that I haven't had much money to spend on silly things lately, so this small selection pretty much covers any new stuff I've been able to get.

The standard of toys keep on getting better and better though, especially with the revival of the Transformers, Star Wars and the upcoming Masters Of The Universe. See, 80s toys were the best!

So this round-up is possibly a little Transformers heavy, but when you haven't got much money to spend, you at least want to make it count don't you; and with the quality of McFarlane toys slowly going downhill (McFarlane's Monsters; Ice-Hockey players?) Transformers are the only realistic option.

Transformers Latex Models
These little babies have popped up from Japan. They're basically hard latex (or soft plastic) models of the Transformers as they appear in robot form in the cartoon. This one is about 3 ½ inches high. I'd love to tell you who it is, but even though I love the Transformers, I never really followed the cartoon or the comics that closely - well, not at all in the case of the comics.

The only real annoying part is that they're meant to be treated as a sort of trading game - like cards or stickers. So you pick up a box that's plastered with Japanese and pictures of the different Transformers in that series, but you don't know which one is inside. It's a nice idea, but unless you have about 20 friends all collecting these things you're likely to end up with many a doubler - or even a few quadruplers too. And at £5.99 each it's a pretty expensive hobby, and one that I can't see surpassing Panini football stickers somehow.

"I'd love to buy another box, but I just have the feeling I'd get this guy again."

All the limbs are detachable for some reason - maybe so you can play Transformer Frankenstein? Who knows, but my one also came packaged with a strange clear plastic robot leg. Maybe each box has a different part and they go to make up some bonus robot. I'd love to buy another box and see who I get and if there's another clear plastic bit in there, but I just have the feeling I'd get this guy again.

PlaySkool Star Wars
The people at PlaySkool who came up with these should be winning some sort of award for the greatest spin on a toy franchise ever. These Star Wars toys are intended for pre-schoolers, but never would a toy have been wasted more by having some dribbly toddler gnawing on a Storm-Troopers head.

It's difficult to say just what's so great about these chunky little versions of characters from each of the 4 Star Wars movies (probably expect Episode 2 version soon). They're just so cute, but amazingly the Storm-Trooper Scout still manages to portray a certain evil about him.

The 'Fast Through The Forest' set here is from Return Of The Jedi, and features Luke, a Storm-Trooper Scout, Wicket and 2 Speeder Bikes. This is one of the 2 lower-priced sets, the other being the 'Empire Strikes Back' set featuring TaunTaun, Han, Luke and the Hoth Wampa.

The two more expensive sets are taken from 'Star Wars' (featuring Luke, Darth, R2-D2 and a stubby X-Wing) and 'The Phantom Menace' (with Anakin, Obi-Wan, Battle-Droid, Darth Maul and a Naboo Starfighter).

"They're just so cute, but amazingly the Storm-Trooper Scout still manages to portray a certain evil about him."

But if the mere fact that these sets even exist isn't cool enough, there is an even cooler bonus. The Jedi figures in each pack have 'Magnetic Force Action'. What they've done is stick a magnet into the palm of the Jedi's hand, and an opposing magnet in the chest of the Imperial figure - pushing the bad-guy over when his palm is placed near his chest. It's not the strongest of pushes, so don't go expecting the kind of 'Force Push' seen in Phantom Menace - they just kind of topple really, but it still all adds to the already peaked cuteness factor.

Transformers: Robots In Disguise
Well they've been out in Japan for about 2 years, the US for about a year or so, and we're only just getting them over here. That's right - Transformers are back. Well, sort of. This supposed new line of Transformers is apparently a re-hash of some of the old Beast Wars Transformers, not that I'm complaining.

Unfortunately, these Transformers haven't really taken off as much as the originals, more than likely due to kids mostly playing video games these days, and also the lack of a decent cartoon to back them up. There is a cartoon airing on Fox to go with the new line, but it's yet to hit these shores, and also, after seeing the first episode, I can't see it becoming the cult retro classic the original series now is - or providing enough encouragement to buy the toys.

"After 5 minutes of trying it resulted in me shouting "What the hell is going on here?" and throwing the uncompleted monstrosity across the room onto my sofa."

Anyway, I've tried to get a few of these new ones, more than anything to make up for the lack of original ones I had as a kid. Now I've got about 6 so far, but for this I'll just focus on the 3 'brothers', the Autobot cars.

Now I didn't go out and buy these all at once, initially I was very selective about which one to get because, well…they look pretty crap, and also, as you will find out, it really is a no-win situation. They all have their pluses and minuses. So I got the one which at least looked a little bit like one of the originals - X-Brawn.

Now X-Brawn looks pretty rugged in robot form, and there's nothing wrong with that. But the major problem is that he turns into a Space Wagon - and I can't see kids pleading their parents to get them something that reminds them of going away on ghastly family camping holidays.

Why didn't they make him a Humvee or something? Or if there was no way around the MPV theme at least make him a Mitsubishi Shogun. I don't know what car he is specifically, but it's not very exciting. Apart from the shiny chrome…hmmm, shiny.

Now I was quite happy just to stick with X-Brawn for the time being, but then I noticed that Woolworth's were selling them pretty cheap and it only seemed fair to at least get the other two. After all I'd probably only end up regretting not getting them in another 10 years time, and having to fork out £30 for each, when I could get them now for £7.99.

So the next one I bought was Prowl, just because he is the coolest out of the lot in car mode really - a white, clean, crisp Lamborghini with some Japanese writing on the side.

Pity the same can't be said for his robot mode, which isn't too bad I suppose, but there are certainly no excuses for the catastrophe that is his left arm. God knows what's going on, but the poor bastard won't be able to pick anything up with the rear of the car stuck to his forearm and covering his fist.

Still, this disadvantage probably allows him to use the disabled car parking spaces at Sainsbury's, so every cloud does have a silver lining after all.

The last and - as I was buying these in order of personal preference - inevitably worst of the bunch is 'Sideburn', which is dreadful name to call a robot. Sure, it may carry all the hallmarks of being a cool name, but what it comes down to is that it's a piece of facial hair; it's slightly on par with calling the guy 'Moustache' or 'Eyebrow', but not quite as obvious. So he looks pretty shit - well the car looks good enough, but the robot is just awful. Unfortunately you won't be seeing a photo of the robot form in this feature, and for this I have my reasons.

Transforming these little beauties has never been too much of a challenge. In the old days it was all very simple, pull an arm here - turn a leg there. These new Transformers are little more difficult to Transform, but they are still do-able; the instructions although 99% purely graphical are fairly easy to understand and your robot should be up and ready for action in about, oooh…10 mins?

But transforming Sideburn is the most annoying and frustrating thing I've ever tried to do, and I was made to take piano lessons for 7 years. There are about 10 or so instruction panels just for one of his arms, and about 7 more for the other. Telling you to twist it this way and turn in that way - well after about 5 minutes of trying it resulted in me shouting "What the hell is going on here? This doesn't make any sense at all!" and throwing the uncompleted monstrosity across the room onto my sofa.

Not being one to quit I eventually managed to Transform him, but this was hours later after I'd been out for the evening and come home again a little calmer, and it was based mostly on my own guesswork as to where things needed to go. But the result really wasn't worth all that hassle. Anyway, I decided to change him back to the car, being that it looks a hell of a lot better than the piss-poor excuse for a robot, but I encountered similar problems. No throwing this time, but plenty of shouting and frustration. So now he's a car, and a car he's staying.

Buffy Top Trumps
Most people around my age tend to have very fond memories of Top Trumps. Personally I never had any, but it was a simple game and everyone seemed to have a friend with a really cool pack. One of my best friends around the age of 5 - well I say best friend, but it was more than likely the case of 'the kid I spoke to who had the coolest stuff' - had quite a few packs, and I can't remember any of them apart from his Horror deck, which were the coolest thing ever for a 5 year old kid.

"Top of the pack includes Buffy (obviously), Faith and Angel; with the turkeys of the pack including Xander and Cordelia."

Since then it's been a constant pursuit for a really good pack of Top Trumps, and at one point in time any pack of Top Trumps. Things seemed to pick up about 6 years or so ago, and Top Trumps started to emerge in WH Smiths and such places, but only Trucks, Sports Cars and Motorbikes - which attempts to spark my interests were on par with Tom Hanks' initial attempts to light a fire in Cast Away.

But now Winning Moves are trying to resurrect the card game and they seem to be getting the right idea. And although the classic Horror and Marvel Comic Heroes haven't been re-issued, the Buffy set comes close.

There's not much to be said about them really, as it's just Top Trumps after all, but what I can say is that they seem to be taken from around seasons 3 and 4, with stats of Combat Daytime, Combat Night-Time, Fright Factor, Killer Rating and Intelligence. Top of the pack includes Buffy (obviously), Faith and Angel; with the turkeys of the pack including Xander and Cordelia.

david twomey

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