Call me biased. You wouldn’t be the first. I do fully believe however, that with the Combiner Wars line and now Titans Return, we’re actually in a Neo Classics Renaissance.
Let me explain: Older fans grew up with G1, and so when the Unicron Trilogy ended and the Classics Toys started showing up (and for this editor, classics means all CHUG), we saw a callback to the G1 toys with mainstay characters getting remade in their original(ish) designs. A semi-cab for Prime, a Gun (albeit Nerf-like) for Megatron, ect. But that left a lot of stuff out.
See for some of us “Gee-Wun”ers, we didn’t hit our stride until post-movie ’86. So sure the first two seasons of the cartoon were running on TV, but the toys showing up in stores became Hasbro’s original design work, and not the repurposed Diaclone toys. There were a lot of unique concepts coming out, headmasters, target masters, micro-masters, PRETENDERS! Even Action masters! There were so many fun and unique characters hitting the shelves!
I can say, without any hesitation, that it’s crystal clear the current design team at Hasbro grew up with the same enjoyment of this aspect of the G1 toy line because they’re bending over backwards to give us characters we haven’t seen since the late 80s! While these toys fall under the umbrella of the Titans Return theme, a reimagining of the Head Masters from the 80s, the design team is doing wonders to bring us characters, even if there isn’t a lot of room in the budget for them. For example, Titan Master ApeFace!!
While I think everyone would have loved a full sized toy of ApeFace, the fact that they worked him into the toy line as a Titan Master, with a G1-accurate face for his head mode AND a vehicle that forms both his gorilla AND jet modes is just incredible.
The Titans Return theme is the second in a “trilogy” of themes, which started with Combiners Wars and will conclude with the Power of the Primes theme. It’s an ingenious way to link the figures over a 6 year period so that they’re connected via an overlaying story arc much like comic books work. It allows us to get characters like Getaway here, who while traditionally was a power-master in the 80s, but is reimagined into a Titan Master. We’re also getting homages to characters like the Dinobots in certain stand alone Titan Master toys like Ptero, being wielded by Getaway. With a head mode that looks like Swoops’ cartoon head, and a vehicle that forms his Pterodactyl, even Ptero’s tiny robot mode looks strikingly similar to the G1 toy of Swoop!
The later years also saw several Cassettes for Soundwave and Blaster show up, and one of my ALL TIME favorites was Overkill, a White and Blue “T-rex” tape that I literally carried with me everywhere I went (I still have my original toy!). Once again we’re seeing the Titan Masters utilize a smaller price-point for the individual head masters, which allows us an Overkill in Titan Master form! With an identical color scheme and now the ability to assist Soundwave in a different way!
And speaking of ol’ Mr. Uncharismatic, we’re also seeing both Soundwave AND Blaster back in their actual Tape Deck forms, and their Cassette helpers return as well in “mostly” cassette form:
While Soundwave and Blaster future the same mold but retooled from one to the other, it’s a big, leader class mold that really makes the two characters stand out and look imposing and impressive. The cassettes feature a “triple-changer” design so they all form a cassette, robot and vehicle mode. While the execution of this isn’t always perfect, the important note here is that Hasbro isn’t shying away from “Object-formers” anymore. And let’s be honest, some of the best Transformers are those that DON’T form a vehicle. *cough Perceptor cough*.
Obviously the main draw to the line is the inclusion of Fortress Maximus, a colossal toy that originally held the title as “the biggest Transformer ever” back in the 80s. He’s brought back in a near identical form, though using the underlying Metroplex/Titan body mold with substantial retooling done. Fort Max allows for a play-gimmick for all sizes of the toy line from the Titan Masters to Leader Class figures that attach in base form to Fort Max’s city mode. This also beckons the nostalgia of the Micro-master toy line, at least for me!
Basically, what we’re seeing here is the same concept as the Classics line, brining toys from the 80’s to the present day, but with a much broader scope of the character roster from the G1 days. That’s not to say we didn’t get two different Optimus Primes, but we got Power Master Prime, AND Laser Prime, two fan favorites!
It’s worth pointing out that this is Takara’s Power Master Prime pictured here. Takara, for the most part, is sticking with just calling the line Head Masters, and, because they have ZERO tooling costs for the toys themselves, they put that extra budget into new head sculpts for the head masters, usually spot on with the cartoon, or here, for Power Master Prime, they redesigned the feet to allow the God Bomber toy coming out late this spring to combine into the full God Ginrai toy! (more on this in a later post…)
We’re also getting a spattering of some classic characters, Bumblebee returns in his more G1-accurate state of being a legends sized hatchback. We’ve gotten a new (and far more fun) Hot Rod design, that has a Cartoon Movie accurate car mode I’ve totally fallen in love with. The Target masters are returning as well, with Triggerhappy (pictured below) leading the way with one of the most fun, original and outstanding transformations we’ve seen in a long time!
OH yeah, and we get a Gnaw… A FRIGGIN GNAW! We haven’t seen an actual Sharticon toy since 1987!!
And then there’s Topspin….
Topspin, along with his twin brother Twintwist were the forerunners of the “one step changers” of todays’ RID Line (Yes, despite the angry cries of “lazy Hasbro!!” One Step Changers have existed since the 80s folks). They were the “jump starters”, you would basically pull back on the toy and a wind-up gear would send them forward. Well, Topspin returns in a glorious blaze of unique tooling as well as teal and gold/silver highlights! Again, I know I’m biased but having owned the Mech Ideas 3p toys that were homages to these characters, I can honestly say that Topspin is a superior design and far more fun. I could go on for hours about this toy, but we have more to cover! (Also, Twintwist will also return down the line with some moderate retooling!)
As fond as I am of Topspin, the announcement and arrival of DoubleCross (now Twinferno) blew my mind. See, back when I was just a kid, I have a memory of seeing DoubleCross at Toys R Us and wanting him so badly. But unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. While I eventually bought the G1 toy at a Botcon, the new Titans Return version has me as giddy as I was when I was young. His two-headed dragon alt-mode is spectacular and his robot mode features everything I loved as a kid, PLUS A HEAD MASTER!! (I love/loved that his hands are formed out of the jaws of the dragon heads)
OH and that orange and yellow guy…yeah that’s just a direct homage to Lionne, one of twelve INCREDIBLY RARE AND HARD TO FIND individual Head Masters that Takara released near the end of the G1 Headmaster line. See to me this is incredible. It means that someone on the design team if not all of them are familiar enough with the franchise to know about these guys and know that people would LOVE a new version to add to their collection. (WE ALSO GOT A SHUFFLER!)
Alternatively, as I mentioned before, Takara has been taking a slightly different road. They’re staying true to their Head Master concept, where the heads are the actual character and the body is a Transtector for the character to use. While they’re still releasing the same figures, the paint schemes are usually more intricate (due to a larger paint budget, again because of no tooling costs) and usually Head Masters cartoon accurate. Here we see Astrotrain with the Henkei version of his deluxe toy.
While in the case of Power Master Prime being substantially retooled, for the most part the toys are identical in design. Deluxe figures come with a weapon/vehicle that the stand alone Titan Masters in the US include, Legends figures come with a head master with a intricate paint scheme (Hasbro Nightbeat and Takara’s Nightbeat are night and day differences). Takara also seems to be slowly turning them out and not using every single character Hasbro is (i.e, it will be unlikely that we see Takara produce Laser Prime or Megatron, though they are, as is tradition, making Scourge out of the Laser Prime mold).
Meanwhile, as Mark Webber who was the spokesperson for Hasbro’s Transformer line stated in 2015, Hasbro intended to complete “sets” of characters whenever possible. Because of this, we ended up with a fantastic Kickback to go along with his amazing team mates. We’ll see Topspin, Frenzy, and hopefully any other sets of characters to complete certain ‘teams’.
Lastly, the leader class figures have been simply incredible. From Power Master Prime, Soundwave, Blaster, and most importantly, fan favorite SixShot! The leaders are designed to work with Fortress Maximum and Trypticon when he’s released. Oh yeah, we’re getting Trypticon. I’ll let that sink in.
So, to my original point, we’re seeing characters we haven’t seen in 30 years return in a full force. It’s Classics (CHUG) all over again but with more unique, Beast/Object formers that we desperately needed to refresh things after Combiner Wars became a little bogged down by repaints (and yes, I’ll admit that, even though I LOVED Combiner Wars).
I sort of want this line to continue forever, but it can’t, by nature of a limited (albeit huge) roster of characters. Also, I’m so excited to see what Power of the Primes will include. Hasbro has kept things very close to the chest on anything that far out, and in the meantime we have some AWESOME stuff still in the works announced at Toy Fair, including more box sets like Chaos on Velocitron (I’ll do a separate post on that) and of course Overlord, who may be the most desired toy since LSOTW!