Warcry's Review: Grimstone
Power Core Combiners
Grimstone has always dreamed of power and the privilege it brings. Despite his hunger for power, however, he has always considered the needs of others before himself. He believes it is the responsibility of the powerful to protect those less fortunate - a belief he intends to aggressively enforce now that he has his own Power Core team.
The Power Core Combiner line has gotten a lukewarm reception at best. Between high prices, poorly-designed torso robots and limb robots that don't have individual robot modes, the line was a disaster waiting to happen with the adult fanbase. Of course, it's probably not aimed at us -- with Generations and Reveal the Shield flooding the shelves with reborn G1 characters and a lot of very complicated toys in the Movie lines, it only makes sense to have a line of simple, fun toys for the younger demographic. As much as I love a lot of the Transformers we've gotten in the past few years, ever since Animated ended Transformers have been aimed a bit above the usual target audience. The Generations line is aimed squarely at the collector market and the Revenge of the Fallen line (and the follow-up Hunt for the Decepticons promotion) was infamous for being highly detailed and incredibly complicated, which left little other than the Fast Action Battlers and Activators for the younger crowd. Power Core Combiners seems like an attempt to reach that demographic again, so it's only natural that adults don't find it as captivating as some of the other stuff.
Two of the Power Core Combiners sets attracted a lot of attention from the fandom, though. The first one attracted attention because the commander was named Spastic, a less-than-polite word in the United Kingdom that ended up causing a bit of a fit in some corners of the internet. The other one attracted attention for a much more positive reason: it was a team of combining Dinobots, something that certain sections of the fandom have been clamouring for ever since their six year old imaginations dreamed the idea up back in the 80s.
Now, that last sentence probably made my disdain for combiners pretty clear. That disdain has kept me from buying any of the PCC five-packs so far, because I've really got no interest in silly-looking combined robots with otherwise-useless, non-transforming limbs. There are few things that could override that disdain...but my abiding love of Dinobots is one of them so I've been keeping a close eye out for Grimstone and his Dinobots ever since they were first announced in the summer.
Despite being arguably the most popular Generation 1 subgroup of all, the Dinobots have gotten surprisingly little attention since the Generation 2 toyline ended. Grimlock has gotten most of the spotlight, getting G1-style toys released under the Beast Wars, Energon, Alternators, Titanium, Classics and Masterpiece lines -- and probably others that I'm forgetting. But the other Dinobots have virtually disappeared, and Energon Swoop has been the only figure released to date that successfully calls back to the original. When the Universe line was running in 2008, fans were hoping to see one or two more Dinobots released...only for that to become impossible when the team was adapted for the Animated series. Similar hopes for Generations Dinobots were scuttled when this Power Core Combiner team was announced, which for me meant two things: I was definitely going to buy Grimstone and his boys to fulfill my Dinobot cravings, and if they aren't any good I'm going to be really annoyed.
Grimstone gets one thing very right: he looks like a Dinobot. He's got big arms and legs like tree trunks, both mostly grey with some black detailing. His chest is red with a golden dinosaur head on it, and he's got a black head complete with a silver face. He's blocky and has a lot in common with Classics Grimlock, style-wise. Grimstone would fit in perfectly with the other Dinobots, if not for one thing: he's tiny. Since he's a Scout-class figure, even your average Autobot car like Red Alert or Bluestreak is going to loom over him.
Grimstone doesn't really stack up all that well in the play value department compared to modern Scouts. He's got the articulation I've come to expect (ball and swivel joints at the shoulders and elbows, universal joints at the knees and hips, and a ball-jointed head) but he can't really make much use of it. His beast-mode frill and forelegs are attached to his shoulders, making it virtually impossible for his upper body to do much of anything other than bending his elbows and shrugging. A few years ago I wouldn't have necessarily been bothered, but the recent non-PCC Scouts have been so high-quality that this really feels like a regression.
What impressed me the most, though, was how counter-intuitive his transformation was. Because Styracosaurus is so similar to Triceratops, I expected him to transform in much the same way as Slag. He's not even close, though. In fact, with his beast-mode head on his chest, his hind legs becoming his robot mode legs and his robot mode arms folding out from his dino-mode torso he's practically the anti-Slag. His unique transformation and robot mode look make him a Dinobot in his own right in my books, and not just a stand-in until we get some more 'proper' Dinobots. He's small and fairly simple, but he's a decent toy and an acceptable Dinobot.
Just like his robot mode, Grimstone's beast mode is recognizably a Dinobot. As I mentioned before, he's a Styracosaurus. His gold head and silver frill make him look like Slag's little cousin. The rest of his body is grey, other than a few black joints and his red underbelly. Unfortunately, one thing really jumps out in dino mode that shouldn't
: his four blue Power Core Combiner pegs are plainly visible and clash violently with the rest of his colour scheme. I don't think there's been a single PCC that I've reviewed without railing against them, so instead of going into a in-depth rant I'll just say this: colour-match the PCC pegs with one of the colours already present in his colour scheme and Grimstone would be a lot better.
Because he's a heavily-built quadruped, poseability is something that other
beast modes have. His legs can move at shoulders and knees, but that's about it. Disappointingly, he doesn't have much in the way of tail or neck articulation either and his mouth doesn't even open. He makes for a good-looking Styracosaurus, but not much of a toy.
Aside from the visible combiner pegs, he's got one other visible flaw: his robot head doesn't really go anywhere, so it's clearly visible handing right under his alt-mode head. A pair of tiny guns hanging from his frill serve no other real purpose than to hide the head from view when you look at him from the side.
An inactive Minicon hardpoint is attached to the end of Grimstone's tail, an awkward spot for it to say the least. It's even less useful in robot mode, where it ends up in the middle of his back. It's there so that the inevitable redeco can be paired with a Minicon in a two-pack, of course, so it's probably best to just ignore it.
All in all, Grimstone's dinosaur mode is pretty bland. Aside from looking like a Dinobot it really isn't good for much.
Most Power Core Combiner teams' drones come in a mishmash of different colour schemes, which sometimes work in combined mode but much more often don't, at all. Grimstone got lucky though -- or maybe Grimlock wouldn't let him join the team otherwise -- because all of his drones have Dinobot colours too. Grimstone's four drones all have dinosaur modes, and like Grimstone they are dinosaurs that haven't been represented in the mainstream Dinobot team before -- an Ankylosaurus, a Dimetrodon (hilariously misidentified on the package as the not-even-vaguely-similar Spinosaurus), a Pachycephalosaurus and a Parasaurolophus. None of them transform into anything other than gestalt limbs, which is a damn shame because we're not likely to ever get Dinobot toys with these alt-modes ever again.
Resembling nothing so much as an extremely badass turtle, Ankylosaurus is one of my favourite dinosaurs. With an armoured shell, a mace for a tail and bony head, it's instantly recognizable to anyone who's spent a bit of time learning about dinosaurs. This drone is the best-looking out of the bunch, by far. Its' shell is painted gold, and the rest of its' body is grey except for silver paint on its' tail mace and helmet and a splash of red visible on its' buttocks. Two big black gun barrels protrude from his shoulders, and he has a dead Minicon hardpoint square in the middle of his back. His head can flip up and his tail can wiggle up or down, but he lacks any real articulation. The same can be said for all of the drones really, which is a damn shame if you ask me.
The Dimetrodon isn't really a dinosaur -- it lived before the dinosaurs and is actually an ancestor of modern mammals -- but it's an easily-recognizable extinct species that usually gets lumped in with them anyway. The smallest of the drones, he's also the least-impressive. The 'sail' on his back is gold and orange, his throat and tail are red and the rest of him is grey or silver. The Dimetrodon's legs are molded right into his body and his only articulation is an opening mouth and a tail that moves up and down. A non-functional Minicon hardpoint is molded right into the tip of his tail, not an especially useful place for one. However, the Dimetrodon isn't much bigger than a Minicon itself, so it's not likely you'll want to pair him up with one anyway. Notably, the Dimetrodon is the only one of these new Dinobots who doesn't have a pair of weapons attached in beast mode.
The Pachycephalosaurus drone is easily the weakest of the bunch. Almost entirely silver and grey, he's got unsightly flashes of red on his lower back and chest as well as gold paint on his hips and feet. Silver guns are attached to his shoulders, and the bony crown atop his head is silver as well with a tiny black Autobot symbol painted on the forward edge. His only articulation is at the shoulders, and his arms are molded into a single piece so that if you move one, the other moves with it. The drone also features a huge, unsightly gap in his neck running from the base of his skull to his torso. It's a necessity of his transformation into limb mode, but it makes the Pachycephalosaurus the only drone who doesn't even look good. A dead Minicon port can be found at the base of his tail.
The Parasaurolophus is really a Parasaurolophus in name only. His body shape is closer to 'kangaroo' then 'hadrosaur', with the bipedal posture and huge muscular chest standing out as odd compared to what the real dinosaur looked like. It's easy to understand why they did that though, because in spite of its' inaccuracy this drone one of the nicest of the bunch. His torso, head and hips are grey, with a silver tail and feet, red arms and an orange crest. Huge black and gold guns are attached to him like a backpack. His arms are on ball-joints, but that's the extent of his articulation. He's got Minicon ports behind each shoulder, but neither of them do anything.
Overall, the drones are a bit of a letdown. Even with no robot modes, I was expecting them to have poseable, playable beast modes. They don't. If this is the level of effort they mean to put into the drones then doing animals was a big mistake. Cars, you can get away with having four wheels and nothing else. But dinosaurs need to be more than just statues, or you're doing something wrong.
There's been Dinobot combiners before, but this is the first time anyone's got it even close to right. A poorly-made comic that shipped with some of the UK-market DVDs featured an ugly, ill-conceived combination of the original Dinobots called 'the Beast', which we won't speak any more of. Ever. At around the same time new figures based on G1 Grimlock and Swoop were released in the Energon line. Because the main gimmick of the Energon line was 'robots combining', Grimlock and Swoop combined...and looked more than anything like they'd had a terrible stapler accident. Compared to those two Grimstone is certainly a more traditional combiner. He's build on the 'Scramble City' body plan, with each drone becoming a limb for the Scout-sized main body. The end result is about as tall as a Voyager, but doesn't have the same mass. Compared to the Energon combiners or other recent efforts, Grimstone really isn't all that threatening.
He looks pretty good, though. Because the main robot and the drones share the same colour scheme, when they're combined they look like they belong
that way, where most combiners don't look like anything but five separate robots glued together. I honestly don't remember a combined mode meshing this well since the Constructicons, Predacons and Seacons in the original line -- and unlike those guys, Grimstone's colours won't cause blindness if you look directly at him.
As far as articulation goes, Grimstone is much better than those old toys but not quite up to the standards I was expecting. He has universal-jointed shoulders, hips and knees as well as a ball-jointed head, but nothing else. He lacks elbows entirely and doesn't have any wrists or ankles either. He also lacks anything you could reasonably call hands; he's got a Dimetrodon face where one would be and a mess of Parasaurolophus legs on the other arm. If he was made up of five actual Transformers I would find that acceptable, but since the drones literally do nothing but
turn into limbs I expected a higher standard from them. Despite that he's still got more play value than your average combiner, and packed into a much smaller package.
Drones from any of the other Power Core Combiner teams can be swapped in to combine with Grimstone and the Dinobot drones can combine with any other commander. But the drones also lack the versatility of traditional combiner limbs. Generally the limbs can become either arms or legs with a minimum of fuss, but the Dinobots don't have that option. Each drone is either an arm or a leg, and trying to swap one for the other would be simply futile.
But in spite of my blanket dislike of all things combiner, I have to say that Grimstone is pretty neat. He's not without his flaws -- a lot of them, honestly -- but he's also not without his positives.
Fairly simple when you get right down to it. Grimstone himself is pretty straightforward even by Scout standards. The drones are disappointing though, because I honestly expected better limbs out of something that doesn't have a robot mode. 4/10
Most modern Transformers are well-built, and Grimstone is no exception. As someone who grew up with combiners who were held together by flimsy, frequently-broken pegs that usually doubled as the limb robots' heads, I especially appreciate the robust new connector joints. 9/10
I think you need to be either a fan of Dinobots and a fan of combiners in general to really get the most out of Grimstone. I'm in the first camp but not the second one, and so while I like him I don't think he's ever going to be one of my go-to figures when I feel like fiddling with robots. 6.5/10
All of the different components and modes scream "Dinobot", and the combined mode has more cohesion than any combiner I've ever owned. That's not to say that nothing could be improved, but he looks good and he fits in nicely with the Dinobot team. 7.5/10
This is probably where Grimstone falls short the most. The drones don't have any articulation to speak of, the core robot is average at best and the gestalt can't compare to other robots who are similar in size. 3/10
The Power Core Combiner five-packs are a few bucks cheaper than a Voyager, but when you think about what you're getting...well, it's pretty hard to justify it. Do I want a Scout and four non-transforming drones, or do I want a full-sized Voyager like Lugnut or Grapple? It's an easy choice in my books. 2/10
Grimstone is fairly average when you get down to it. You're really not missing anything if you skip him, but he makes a suitable distraction if you're into Dinobots or Combiners. 5/10