Toy Review - Transformers: Power of the Primes Dinobots (with bonus Black Mamba Upscaled Version)
When I first learned that we’d be getting new Dinobots in the Power of the Prime line, I was excited…especially upon seeing that they were going to be rooted in their G1 appearances and that it was going to be the full roster. Sure, we’ve gotten Dinobots in the past here and there, but it was never the full set…and when it was, back with the Michael Bay inspired set to coincide with the fourth movie, they were…well…I hate to use this word, but they were Bay-formers, overly complicated transformations usually resulting in at least one of the modes being less than satisfying…and neither mode ended up being worth the hassle.
Upon learning that they’d combine…well…I was definitely in the ‘wait-and-see’ camp. Sure, there’d been attempts before, whether in not-so-official fiction or by way of third party creators…and most of these efforts didn’t particularly sell me. But at the same time…I could see it. After all, the Dinobots were usually relegated as the Autobots’ response to Devastator, G1’s first combiner. Or…with no real Autobot response to the Predacons and their gestalt, Predaking, well…there was another instance where a Dino combiner could fit the bill. So I was certainly open to it…especially knowing that a Power of the Primes Predaking was ALSO in the works. [We’ll get to him. – Ed.]
But it’s that line of thinking that set me up for disappointment: Volcanicus as an answer to Predaking. The problem being that the Dinos were going to be 4 deluxe class bots and a voyager, while Predaking was going to be his own separate set, like Devastator before him, and as such definitely be bigger.
Enter third party company Black Mamba, who opted to do what we were all thinking: Why not just upscale the Dinobots to 4 voyager class bots and a leader?
And that’s what we have before us today: Hasbro’s Dinobots and Black Mamba’s upscaled, “Power Rangers colors” Dinos. How do they stack up as individual bots, dinos and in their combined form? Let’s take a look.
Swoop was one of the Dinobots to hit with the wave 1 deluxes and…well…look, in some ways, I’ve always loved Swoop from back in G1. It had nothing to do with his cartoon appearances though…to be honest, I always hated how the ‘toon had his chest blue while the toy was red. You see where I’m going with this. Honestly, I just thought he was a cool toy and, when I found out that he was actually kind of rare…and I’d had two when I was growing up (because I broke the first one) well, that made him a little more special to me. Anyway, when he was unveiled, Hasbro showed off both a red version and a blue version and said that both would be available…and I was happy. The multitudes of G1 cartoon fans could get the blue-chested Swoop that they always wanted and I could get my G1 toy-accurate version. Besides, with the Dinos now being combiners, the unified red, gray and gold color scheme should work well. But by the time of release…nope, only blue.
Aesthetic gripes aside, Swoop’s a pretty decent update of the original…in fact even the transformation is pretty similar. That being said, a better fit between the robot mode head and the pterodactyl head really seems to be the only flaw. Mines not bad, but when you compare it to the upscaled Black Mamba version…they seemed to get it just a little more right. As we’ve come to expect, Swoop’s got all the major points of articulation that we’ve come to expect for these older-skewing Generations figures. He comes with a sword and the new combiner hand design introduced for PotP which is supposed to double as…ahem…’armor’. Ugh. More on this in a second. What’s noticeably absent are his wing missiles which could double as guns. And that’s going to be a theme as we go through these Dinobots…back in G1, they each came with a sword and a gun or guns. Here, gun or sword, pick one…and Swoop opted for the sword.
So…the new hands. Look, I never understood the hate most fans felt toward the hand/gun/feet introduced back in Combiner Wars. Sure, they were…inelegant…to be polite, but combiner kibble was never going to have a satisfactory solution, especially in the mass-market. But for what they were, I kinda dug them. Sure, the ‘gun’ part never really worked without standing out horribly but they were decent enough hands and decent enough feet. These things though…ugh. The ‘armor’ gimmick with the need to seat a Prime Master or Titan Master just doesn’t really work in my eyes…looking more like a papoose (as has been pointed out by many other websites) or those baby harnesses annoying people wear. As a hand for the combiner, it really doesn’t offer much in the way of improvement and as part of the foot…well, that’s just it, they only become part of the foot. And we’ll discuss my distaste for the feet when we get to Grimlock.
Since we’re talking about combined mode, Swoop can serve as an arm or a leg, looking good in each mode. As you can tell from the pictures, I always use him as an arm…just seems to work better in my head that way.
All in all, Swoop is perfectly fine. He’s…well…Swoop. I’d have preferred the G1 toy coloring, but fortunately that version is coming. So, yeah, good stuff…moving on.
Swoop verdict: Happy Cat
That’s the only time I’m going to refer to him by that name, he’s Slag. Yeah, I know what that means in British slang, but you know what, that’s why dictionaries have more than one meaning listed. Besides, Slag was my first Dinobot back in the day…so I’ve got some sentimental attachment. And thankfully, Hasbro didn’t disappoint. He transforms about as you’d expect him to…with a nice little trick for the tail. Oh, I forgot to mention this with Swoop, but these updates keep with the old G1 Dinobot design of transparent plastic showing off some of the golden inner workings…this time with said inner workings molded into the clear plastic then painted gold on the inside creating a similar effect. Here, as with G1, it’s most prevalent in Slag’s head and tail and his horns are still the familiar red plastic. Like Swoop, he’s only given one weapon, this time his gun. I have to admit that my only beef with him is the lack of his ‘dino-wings’. You see, on the G1 figure, the sides of the triceratops would open up to form robot mode wings. This also had the benefit of allowing for a greater clearance for the legs when transforming Slag between his two modes. These wings were also a feature that the entire group shared…and all the other updates DO indeed share…but Slag got left out. Ah well. Articulation is all there…mostly. There is some slight turn to the head, but that’s the only joint that’s restricted and, given the G1 toy, it’s to be expected.
lso like Swoop, he comes with a hand/papoose, but unlike Swoop, I tend to use him as a leg.
Slag…er…fine, Slug is also another fine update to the original, ticking all of the boxes that he needed to in my eyes.
Slug (Slag) verdict: Happy Cat
As we get into wave 2…well…let’s be honest, Sludge and his wave-mate Snarl were a serious pain in the ass to find. So even finding him is a win. As for the figure himself, his lower half shares a transformation scheme with Slag, but the upper half has his dino-wings and, well, transforms once again pretty similarly to his G1 figure. I feel like I should be writing more here, but to be honest, these guys aren’t that complicated. He comes with the same gun that came with Slag as well as the same hand/papoose. Given their similarities, I also tend to use Sludge as a leg. Before moving on, I do have to say that Sludge here does make one wonder why Slag didn’t have his ‘dino wings’…as they look decent here. Oh well…
Sludge verdict: Happy Cat
Snarl was easier to find than Sludge…but only slightly. I’ve seen Snarl out in the wild three times…Sludge only once (and I got both Snarl and Sludge online). Annoying difficulty to find aside, Snarl represents everything that his great and frustrating about these new Dinobots. The robot mode is everything you could want from an update: a transformation similar to the original, all the modern articulation and he handles the combining gimmick well. Unfortunately, the dino mode…well, okay, to be fair, it’s not like the G1 versions were bastions of poseability…but Snarl really shows that these guys were designed to be displayed in their dino modes…not PLAYED with in their dino modes. Sure, sure, I get it, almost anyone looking at this review, myself included, doesn’t really PLAY so much with these guys. I guess what I mean to say is that what McFarlane Toys has done for “action” figures…it seems like Hasbro followed their lead when it came to the dino modes…and that’s not a compliment. Snarl’s dino mode can stand in ONE AND ONLY ONE way…and that’s it. Can’t say I’m a fan of that. Still, like all the others, Snarl in both modes checks all the boxes he needed to…so much of what I’ve pointed out here end up being just minor quibbles. Oh, nearly forgot…Snarl comes with a sword made of transparent plastic that is a dead ringer for his G1 sword (except for the transparent part) and the usual hand/papoose.
Snarl verdict: Happy Cat
The big G. Now, in all fairness…this isn’t our first update of Grimlock. In fact, if ANY Dinobot is ever going to get an update, it’s gonna be Grimmy here. We’ve seen him get updates for Energon (the less said about that one the better…although I kinda like him), Classics, Animated, Titanium, Masterpiece, Fall of Cybertron, Robots in Disguise 2015 and the Bay-former. [He’s also in Cyberverse, but that was just coming up when this Grimster was released. – Ed.] So how does this newest one stack up? Not bad…but in all fairness he’s the Dinobot that suffers the most from having to combine with the others. This isn’t noticeable in robot mode…oh no…robot mode is a pretty fine upgrade hitting all of the nostalgia beats perfectly. Instead, this Grimlock fails where most Grimlocks fail…in the T-Rex mode. With the dino legs, Grimlock goes back to how they were done for G1 in sort of an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ attitude…and it would’ve worked too if it weren’t for those meddling combiner ports. This doesn’t prohibit any posing into his more upright G1 Tyrannosaur…but if you’re hoping to get him into something a bit more scientifically accurate…well, those ports are gonna get in your way. So is the tail…which, sadly, is just his legs smooshed together with the tip sticking haphazardly out of the combiner ports. It still seems strange to me that this is where every Grimlock mold or update falls apart especially since G1 did it so well and the Masterpiece version said ‘well, that works, run with it!’. I have to admit though that the transformation scheme between the two modes kind of makes up for the shortcomings of the dino mode. It’s got just enough G1 flavor all the while bringing a couple of new twists and turns. It’s fun…and that’s important. [Movie and Studio Series TFs…I’m looking at you… - Ed.] Lastly, we have to talk about what Grimlock comes with…and more importantly…what he does not. He comes with the feet for Volcanicus and the Dinobot Enigma of Combination. That’s it. No sword. No gun. No shield. Nothing that could be combined to form a weapon for Volcanicus. Nope. And that, my friends, sucks. Yes, you can put the feet on his forearms for…claws? I guess? Meh. In the words of Mr. Horse, “Well sir…I don’t like it!” Obviously, he turns into the torso of the Dinobots’ combined mode…but before we get to that…Grimlock on his own is mostly fine…but there’s just enough wrong with him to make you think that maybe one more pass on the design board or one more bit of feedback on the mold or…I dunno…he just feels like he’s not quite finished yet. And yeah, that’s gonna come into play as we talk about…
Grimlock verdict: Happy Cat
As I said in the beginning, I’ve always had mixed feelings about the Dinobots combining. I’ve always been comfortable in my stance of “they don’t HAVE to combine”, but having a giant Dino-superbot would kick ass if done right. And while one would hope that Hasbro would’ve been able to pull that off…well…Volcanicus just doesn’t do it. It’s not that he’s bad…not at all…the way the separate dinos become limbs looks pretty decent. Sure, the feet are a weak link…but that’s a standard combiner quibble. No, where Volcanicus fails, and I alluded to this with Grimlock, is the torso. The head mold is cool and I love the nod to the old Marvel comics with the crown…and as you go down into the upper torso, again, this gives the illusion of a mighty warrior…who has a panty waist. And then there’s the hips and upper legs…which are just kinda…there. They’re Grimlock’s legs twisted to the side…the same mechanic used for Menasor and Optimus Maximus…and this configuration JUST. DOESN’T. WORK. It didn’t for the earlier combiners and it still doesn’t here. I was forgiving when it came to those earlier combiners because it was early in Combiner Wars and you’re bound to run into something that doesn’t work…not for lack of trying. But to repeat that mistake here? Post Combiner Wars and post Titans Return? That shows either a lack of caring or sheer laziness. Neither of which are excusable. Lastly, to go back to what I opened this paragraph with…with combiners being in the limelight, either of the groups I figure the Dinobots would have rivalries with, the Constructicons or the Predacons, received Titan Class combiners...meaning each component was a voyager-sized robot that combined into an 18-inch super-robot. Volcanicus, which if you think about it, should be that massive gets the standard 4 deluxes and a voyager. While I understand the limitations of the market with regards to big-box items…especially now that Toys R Us is gone…I seriously cannot think of anyone, adult or child, that would turn down a big box of big dinosaur toys…that just happen to turn into robots. I mean, come on…especially given the resurgence of Jurassic Park movies these days? Or the inclusion of the Dinobots in the last two Michael Bay films? Feels like there was money to be had there and Hasbro just said ‘no thanks’.
It’s a shame, I wanted Volcanicus to work…but he just feels like he was slapped together…only half thought out. And for the triumphant return of all five original Dinobots, well, it all feels more than a little anticlimactic.
Volcanicus verdict: Angry Cat
But then…there were rumbles of a third-party, upscaled version. Would this be enough to save this design???
Black Mamba “Power Rangers” Set
In a word…no.
You see, part of what I was hoping for with this set was something that other Third Party companies do to pretty darn good effect: take the original Hasbro mold, upscale it, then tweak with the engineering just a bit to make a few improvements. Wei Jiang is well known for doing this. Black Mamba? Not so much.
That’s not to say that this is a bad set…on the contrary, all things being equal, I’d probably buy these guys again if they were released in the original Dinobot color scheme. While the colors they do currently come in can range from neat to garish; Grimlock is mostly red, Slag is blue, Snarl is green, Swoop is yellow and Sludge is…ugh…orange, it almost gives them a Generation 2 feel and ends up fitting in with the Combiner Wars box-sets Hasbro released that featured combiners in their G2 color schemes. Also a plus is the fact that each Dinobot comes with a gun (based on Sludge’s) and a sword. Yes, there’s even one of each for Grimlock. The set comes with two hand/papooses and the two foot pieces which is actually a little unfortunate since the extra pair of hand/papooses can be used as heels for the back of the feet…giving Volcanicus extra stability (that he needs!). This spare set can also be used to be plugged into the sides of the combined form to help fill out the silhouette…but it really doesn’t work as well as the designers may or may not have intended.
Each figure is nicely upscaled, turning each deluxe dino into a voyager class and Grimlock into pretty close to leader class. And, another typical ‘improvement’ Third Parties tend to do is to incorporate some die cast metal into the molds…so not surprisingly it’s here too. Now, I put improvement in quotes because when it comes to the individual figures, yeah, it is indeed an improvement giving the bots a little bit more heft to them. The problem arises in combined mode. As I mentioned before, Black Mamba didn’t do any additional engineering to these figures…including anything to strengthen the joints to be able to handle the increased weight of each limb. Now, some of this might be easily fixable, but I really haven’t gotten a chance to crack this guy open to see which joints can be tightened and what would be the best method to do so. Now, if you want your Volcanicus to just stand there on display, you’ll be fine…but if you want to try and pose him? Yeah, that’s not gonna work. Lastly, I was a little bummed to see that even though the individual figures are upscaled nicely, this doesn’t have a whole lot of impact on the combined form. Sure, it’s taller than the Has/Tak version…but he’s still dwarfed by Predaking. Now sure, I know, it’s mostly due to the differences in engineering, Predaking being designed to be that big while Volcanicus was designed to be…ahem…lacking. And not to keep picking at it, but this is where Black Mamba could’ve stepped in with some added engineering to boost that height some. And if that added engineering would’ve solved the whole hips/upper leg issue from the initial design? Oh so much the better.
Black Mamba "Power Rangers" verdict: Plain Cat
To wrap up, I know it sounds like I’ve done a lot of nit-picking with these guys…but ultimately it boils down to: new Dinobots…GET THEM! [If you can find them. – Ed.] They’re pretty solid updates of the original team on their own and will scratch that nostalgia itch perfectly. Anything else about these guys is just extra…you don’t have to acknowledge it exists if you don’t want to. That being said, if you’re going into this looking forward to what a Dinobot combiner might look like…you’re gonna want to dial back on your expectations a bit. Interestingly enough, the Black Mamba oversized Dinos might be easier to get your hands on at this point, but they come not only with the limitations of the Has/Tak molds they were based off of but some additional issues as well. As individual toys, they’re just as solid, maybe even a little more so, than their official counterparts but a lot of the problems with the combined mode are exacerbated by the height increase as well as the addition of die cast parts. Also, if you’re looking for someone to go toe to toe with your Predaking…neither of these guys are the bot you’re looking for.