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Warcry's Review: Starscream vs Vector Prime Two-Pack

Starscream vs. Vector Prime was a Toys'R'Us-exclusive two-pack released as part of the Cybertron line in 2006. I tried to review it then, wrote part of a review and then promptly forgot about it for six years. Oops?

Time hasn't done the figures any favours in my eyes, but I still think this was an odd set. Vector Prime is unchanged from the Hasbro retail version, but the Voyager Starscream mold is exclusive to this set outside of Japan. Or rather, it was at the time -- later years saw it redecoed as Dirge in the 2008 Universe line, and it was used for the BotCon exclusive Shattered Glass Starscream as well. At the time, though, there was a small scandal over this toy -- in the Japanese version of the Cybertron toyline the Voyager-class toy was the main representation of Starscream. Hasbro omitted the toy from their initial lineup, though, trying to push sales to their absurdly huge Supreme-class version of the character instead. Even the Starscream in this pack is Starscream in name only, since his colour scheme is essentially Thrust's. A lot of fans wound up importing the Japanese version of the figure, and a lot of fans were upset that Hasbro didn't sell it because they didn't want to undermine sales on the bigger Starscream. But that background made for a weird combination -- a Vector Prime that's identical to the normal one paired with a Starscream that (at the time) was only available in this set almost sounds like a cash grab, especially to fans who had bought Vector Prime on his own a few months earlier.

Since the two toys are distinct figures that don't really interact, I'll review them separately and then sum up the set afterwards.
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VECTOR PRIME outmatches STARSCREAM in wits and strength, but the ancient AUTOBOT is pushed to the limits of even his incredible power by the demands of the search for the Planet Keys and the defense of CYBERTRON from its countless enemies. Forced to use his remarkable time travelling abilities to constantly hop between dimensions, he finds himself weakened during the frequent skirmishes with DECEPTICON forces. Nonetheless, he must persevere, for nothing less than the survival of the Universe is at stake!

I find it very hard to look at Vector Prime and not think of Star Wars. He transforms into a Sith Infiltrator and he's named after a Star Wars novel, factors that conspire to make me not take the character as seriously as Hasbro probably wants me to. At the time of the Cybertron cartoon Vector Prime was just an old Autobot leader with time powers, but in the years that have passed since then he's been built up as a demigod of sorts. As one of "The Thirteen", he's characterized as one of the first Transformers ever created. Fanclub comics and tangential publications like the old Ultimate Guide have talked about The Thirteen as if they matter, and Hasbro have latched onto the idea as well in a wrong-headed attempt to create a unified origin of all the Transformers universes that is somehow set in stone in spite of the fact that it's contradicted not only by stories that precede the concept but also by those that were conceived afterwards. The whole thing has soured me on characters like Vector Prime, unfortunately, and a lot of the enthusiasm I felt when I first bought the toy has been smothered by the silliness that the character has been subsumed by in the intervening years since he was actually active in any fiction. I liked him better when he was just a cool old guy who could stop time and turned into a ship from Star Wars, and becoming part of the Transformers' pantheon really does nothing for me. I try not to let that impact my opinion of the toy, though.

Alternate Mode: In his starship (or timeship, I suppose) mode Vector Prime is a fairly grand looking vessel, with a stately hull configuration and large solar wing arrays. If the shape and placement of the sizable viewport on his upper hull is any indication, he's actually a fairly large capital ship rather than a fighter like Starscream, his foe in this two-pack. VP is mostly white, with maroon and powder blue highlights as well as gilded tech details. There's also quite a lot of translucent blue plastic here, most of it found on his solar wings. The colour scheme gives him a very...well, pure look, for lack of a better word.

Vector Prime has a lot of paint apps. But at the same time, he doesn't (and probably never could) have enough. His body is covered with tech details, vents, gears, panel lines, weapons ports and assorted other little greebles that are just calling out to be highlighted, so many that if each of them got the paint they need you'd be doubling or maybe even tripling the number of paint applications the toy received. On top of that, there are so many that if they were all painted the toy would look very cluttered and busy. He was designed this way to add to the "old" look, but it's all just a little bit much.

Vector Prime has quite a few weapons at his disposal. A functional missile launcher is built into his nose, and four small cannons are molded into the underside of the fuselage just behind that. Farther back he has four more, larger cannons along with a pair of what looks like communications or sensor equipment. He's also comparable with Minicons, with (non-functional) hardpoints on either side of him toward the aft end and another about midships, set into a recessed platform designed to accommodate his partner Safeguard. It's a lot of guns for such an old, elegant-looking vessel.

Unfortunately, Vector Prime has a few very serious flaws in starship mode. The first, and worst, is the blue plastic used for his solar wing arrays. The material used is far too soft for the job it's being asked to perform. It bends much too easily, and worse than that it stays bent. In fact, mine were already mangled when they came out of the box, and I've never once been able to fold them out into the configuration that the instructions say they're supposed to adopt in vehicle mode. This is a common problem from what I've heard, and was avoided entirely in the Japanese version of the figure because they used a harder, more rigid plastic.

The second problem is less serious, but still annoying. Vector Prime's undercarriage, which folds out to form his robot mode legs, isn't held in place very well. a tiny, shallow peg is all that's there to hold each leg in place, but they simply aren't up to the task. As a result the legs pop loose from the fuselage and hang loose. The knee and hip joints are strong enough to keep them from falling away, but I've never been able to get them to sit flush with the toy no matter how much fiddling I've done.

The third problem, which follows on from the second, is that the legs themselves are very, very obviously legs. The rest of the alt-mode flows very smoothly together, and having two legs just hanging out underneath the starship's hull doesn't do the look of the vehicle mode any favours.

Although I like the idea, I'm not a big fan of the execution here. Vector Prime's vehicle mode looks nice from afar. But when you look closer at it you see that it's a collection of flaws, some large and some small but all avoidable.

Robot Mode: The "nice, but flawed" theme carries over to Vector Prime's robot mode too. The colour scheme from his vehicle mode carries over to here, but the maroon plays a more prominent role since his thighs, feet, forearms and head are that colour. The rest of him is white with gold paint and the occasional splash of silver or blue. Once you see his robot mode it's a lot easier to understand the odd distribution of paint in vehicle mode, because most of the bare sections are hidden now and the resulting robot is very impressive. Going strictly on robot mode looks, he's one of the nicest Transformers toys ever. His alt-mode kibble forms an aesthetically-pleasing cape, shoulder pads and bracers, which compliment his robot mode nicely while making him look like an ancient armoured knight. The sword that he carries and his head sculpt only further the knightly feel, and the colour scheme takes him into full-on paladin territory. With the exception of the Pretenders and toys descended from them (like Revenge of the Fallen Bludgeon) it's rare to see a Transformer toy this devoted to an aesthetic beyond "cool robot", and Vector Prime pulls it off wonderfully.

He's a Unicron Trilogy toy, though, and like most Unicron Trilogy toys articulation is his failing. He's better than most of his contemporaries, honestly, and if I'd reviewed the toy when it came out I probably would have raved about it. Vector Prime has a full range of motion in his legs, but his rigid cape prevents him from doing much with it. Kicking poses are about all he can pull off, and while the figure has pretty good balance it's not good enough for him to be able to stand on his own on one leg. His arms aren't obstructed, but the figure is hampered by the lack of a bicep swivel and wrist joints. In a lot of Transformers I wouldn't even notice the omission, but Vector Prime's primary weapon is a giant broadsword and he simply can't pull off the sort of badass slashing and stabbing poses that his weapon demands.

The sword is a really nice accessory, though. Most of the swords that come with Transformer toys are generic sci-fi or fantasy designs (which is fair enough, since they're alien robots) and the few realistic-looking blades that we get tend to be inspired by Asian weapons. Vector Prime's sword is more-or-less based on a medieval European blade, though, and that's a style I've always been partial to. It's cast in the same soft blue plastic as his wings, but I've never had a problem with the sword bending or deforming the way the wings did. That is probably helped by the fact that the sword stows neatly in the side of his jet fuselage when not in use, protecting it from accidentally being deformed while in storage. Vector Prime also has a Minicon hardpoint on each of his bracers, and while any Minicon can combine with him the ports are mainly intended for his partner Safeguard's gun mode. His missile launcher, sadly, becomes a part of his cape in robot mode and isn't any use.

Like many the larger Cybertron toys, Vector Prime came equipped with electronic sounds. Specifically, raising his right arm would cause him to make laser noises and inserting a Cyber Planet Key into his chest would make a different noise. Honestly, like most "light-and-sound" gimmicks built into Transformers toys I found the sounds so obnoxious that I took the batteries out within minutes of opening the package. That means that his Planet Key gimmick is essentially useless, but in my books that's a good thing -- Cybertron toys either had Key gimmicks that you could ignore entirely or ones that were so overbearing that they ruined the entire toy, and obviously I prefer the former to the latter. His Key is nice though, and unique as far as I know -- it has the emblems of all the planets from the Cybertron series instead of just one like most characters.

Minicon Partner: Safeguard is one of the neatest Minicons I've ever had the pleasure of owning. His robot mode features ten points of articulation, but unlike many of the Armada Minicons his joints are tight and the figure doesn't fall apart. His sculpt is very detailed, especially on his chest, and he shares Vector Prime's fetching colour scheme. Unlike some Minicons that feel like random throw-ins, Safeguard really feels like he belongs with his partner.

Safeguard's alternate mode is weird, though. He's meant to be a jet, but he's also supposed to transform into Vector Prime's gun. Rather than designing two different alt-modes, the designers figured it would be a good idea if he transformed into a jet with a giant cannon for a nosecone. While I don't mind that in theory, the specific design they used is so unaerodynamic that the resulting jet looks ridiculous. In spite of that, I still prefer this approach to the one taken by Power Core Combiners, where Minicons were given three alternate modes and usually none of them looked like anything. Compromises are to be expected on a figure this small, and I think Safeguard compromises the right areas to make the overall toy as good as can be.

The only real complaint I have is that Safeguard's cannon/nose section is painted white, instead of being molded in that colour. For whatever reason it's on the same sprue as Vector Prime's thighs and forearms, and the paint has either worn away on the transformation joint or wasn't there to start with so the maroon plastic is clearly visible. Likewise the paint they used doesn't match the plastic, and honestly I'm left wondering why they didn't just cast this part in white to begin with.

Summary: Nice, but flawed. That's Vector Prime in a nutshell. By the standards of his time Vector Prime was really a top-notch toy. Compared to modern offerings he's not so great, but he's still a solid figure. He's very unique and definitely worth a look...just not necessarily as part of this two-pack.
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Constantly plotting behind his leader's back, STARSCREAM is using the DECEPTICON forces left under his command on Earth to further his own ambitions. He desires the power granted by the Planet Key, believing it will finally give him the power to destroy MEGATRON and the AUTOBOTS. With a mighty array of weapons, including his fearsome Null-ray cannons, he is second to none in aerial combat and skill with an energon blade.

This guy was the main event at the time, no question about it. The Voyager-class Cybertron Starscream mold generated a lot of buzz in the fandom, mainly (like so many things) because fans wanted it and Hasbro wasn't selling it. This two-pack was the only domestic release of the figure in the Cybertron line proper and so a lot of fans bought it, then bitched about having to buy another Vector Prime identical to the one they bought six months earlier to get it. The colour scheme raised some eyebrows too, and no one was quite sure at the time why the Starscream toy got redecoed when the toy that Hasbro actually released in their markets kept it's normal deco. I can't answer that, but I can say that I was one of the people who were buzzing when the mold was first released. The reason for that is simple: Cybertron Starscream's body is clearly designed to resemble the War Within Starscream character model. At the time getting a new toy that resembled a G1 character even a little was a huge deal, and this toy attracted a lot of attention for that reason alone.

To be honest, this is a mold that really hasn't aged well. People loved it because it was a recognizably G1 Starscream figure, and since that's not a novelty anymore it's main selling point has evaporated. In spite of not liking the character at all I've somehow wound up with five modern Starscream figures, and this one is easily the worst of the bunch.

Alternate Mode: Starscream's alternate mode is a futuristic space fighter. The design is roughly based on Don Figuroa's War Within Starscream design, which was in turn roughly based on the "tetrajet" Cybertronian alternate mode that Starscream and the jets wore on the original cartoon before coming to Earth. Two steps removed from that initial inspiration, though, there's not much resemblance. Starscream is a vaguely triangular fighter, but that's about as much as he's got in common with the original cartoon design. That's to the benefit of the toy in my opinion, though, because out of the three designs this one is the nicest.

In a nice departure from his traditional colours, Starscream is mostly burgundy with black, silver, grey and gold highlights. His cockpit and rocket are cast in a purple plastic that just seems...off somehow. Not fragile or even particularly ugly, but every time I look at him I find myself giving those parts a confused glance. That might just be me, though. Overall the fighter looks very little like Starscream, and bears a much closer resemblance to fellow seeker Thrust.

The whole package is very nice, and unlike most modern "Cybertronian" alternate modes Starscream manages to both hide most of his robot-mode parts and still look like an actual, recognizable type of vehicle. The disguise isn't perfect, though. His head is plainly visible, though it blends into the overall design of the vehicle so well that it's easy to gloss over. More egregious are his hands, which just sort of hang down off of his engine cowlings. He hits the mark better than Vector Prime and his gigantic, obvious folded-up legs, though.

Starscream is fairly well-armed, but disappointingly so. I'm given to understand that on the Supreme-class Starscream, the grey cannons on either side of his cockpit are articulated. Not so with the Voyager-class mold, even though on a figure as large as this they clearly could have been. Behind the non-moving cannons are a pair of non-firing gold missiles. The only weapon that's actually got play value is Starscream's spring-loaded rocket launcher, but it's attached to the ship's belly and doesn't really add much since you generally can't even see it. Overall he's a bit underwhelming from an equipment perspective.

Although I like Starscream's ship mode a lot more than Vector Prime's, a few notable flaws keep me from liking it as much as I should.

Robot Mode: Starscream's robot mode brings no surprises. Like virtually all Starscreams he has a cockpit chest, pseudo-air intakes on either side of his head and the typical G1 face we've come to know and, er...love? This guy is bulkier than most Starscreams, though, which is fitting since as I understand it Cybertron (unlike most Transformers series) actually made Starscream out to be a serious threat. The colours carry over from vehicle mode pretty much unchanged, so Starscream is still mostly burgundy. His paint apps and parts made from other plastic colours are well-placed, though, breaking up what could have been a monotonous colour scheme. The purple cockpit canopy still feels notably out of place though, at least to me, and the whole package still looks far more like Thrust than the traditional Starscream.

But once you move beyond the aesthetics, Starscream honestly doesn't have much going for him. Like a lot of Cybertron figures, his robot mode is dominated by his Cyber Key gimmick. In his case, inserting a key into a slot on his back (which on my figure at least is too small and I really need to struggle to fit the key in) will deploy the swords that Starscream has stowed in each arm. On the face of it, it's a pretty good gimmick with impressive engineering -- the parts that trigger the swords needed to be threaded through his shoulder joints, after all -- but it's actually more trouble than it's worth. Because the trigger mechanisms run through his shoulders, Starscream's arm poseability is very limited. He can swing the arms around at the shoulders in a complete circle up or down, but the arms have very little side-to-side movement. The gimmick mechanism also takes up a lot of space inside the upper arm. That has a trickle-down effect both on Starscream's forearm transformation -- as the forearms can't collapse into the upper arms like would have been ideal -- but also on his articulation. His elbow joint winds up where his wrists should be, more or less, and he's got no wrist articulation or bicep swivels.

The poor arms contribute to the fact that Starscream is almost a statue from the waist up. His head is on a swivel, but since he's got towers on either side of it that's only vaguely useful. Throw in the useless arms and a transformation sequence that makes waist articulation impossible and you've got a toy that really can't do much. Ironically the toy's legs have great articulation, but with such a rigid upper body there's only so much you can do with it.

Like jet mode, Starscream's only accessory in robot mode is his missile launcher. He can hold it in either hand, though the previously-mentioned poor range of motion in his arms means that he's limited in the poses he can make with it.

Summary: Starscream has some serious issues, and his Cyber Key gimmick is at the root of most of them. This toy would be immeasurably better if it had been excised entirely, with separate triggers added for each of the swords on the wings themselves. That would have allowed for a better arm design and that's really all that's standing in the way of this toy being a great representation of Starscream. But as it stands, it's simply not good enough. The Energon, Classics and Universe Starscreams are all far better representations of the traditional Starscream design, and if you don't mind going off the beaten path there are better Starscreams to be found in the Animated, Movie and Prime aesthetics too.
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Wrap-up: I can't lie, this is a really odd two-pack. Other than as a transparent grab for fans' money, I really don't understand the rationale of packing a completely unchanged Vector Prime with a toy that was (at the time) unavailable anywhere else outside of Japan. It really makes it hard to justify tracking the set down, because Vector Prime is easy to find on his own and Starscream's mold is now a lot easier to get your hands on than it was when this set was released. It's not bad and there's nothing really wrong with it conceptually, but I just don't see the point.

Transformation Design: Both of the transformation schemes are pretty simple for Voyager-class toys. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but Vector Prime in particular could have used a bit more complexity. 6/10

Durability: Vector Prime's soft plastic wings really ruin what would otherwise be a perfect score. They deform easily and seriously hurt the look of the figure when they do. Starscream on the other hand is a giant brick. 6/10

Fun: Neither figure is really as fun as they should be, and their Cyber Key gimmicks are a part of the reason why. Vector Prime's electronics are merely pointless and easy to ignore, but Starscream's pop-out blades actively contribute to making him a worse toy than he otherwise would have been. 4/10

Aesthetics: Looks are the biggest plus this set has going for it. Vector Prime is glorious, and this version of Starscream is much, much nicer looking than the "official" Cybertron Starscream colours. Unfortunately, Vector Prime's wings can ruin the look of his vehicle mode very easily and it's not easy to tell right out of the box if they're screwed up or not. 8/10

Articulation: Both figures are lacking in this department, but Starscream especially so. 4/10

Price: I was expecting to give them a bad mark in this category because I seem to remember this set selling for a lot on the secondary market when it was fairly new. The prices these days aren't hugely more than you'd expect to spend buying two individual Voyagers from this era separately, though. Honestly it's not a bad deal, if you can find the set. 7/10

Overall: I really can't recommend buying this set. Vector Prime in all his various incarnations is very common, and most people who want one already have one. Including an unchanged mass-retail figure in the set means that it's only going to appeal to a very narrow demographic of fans who want both toys but haven't already got a single-packed Vector Prime. Vector Prime is a solid '7' on his own and well worth a look, but Starscream doesn't add much value to the set and I don't think it's worthwhile hunting down the two-pack for him. 5.5/10


 
 
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