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Transformers Toy Review Archive (older series, 1984 to date)
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Blackjack's Review: Soundwave

Name: Soundwave
Allegiance: Decepticon
Size Class: Transformers Prime -Robots in Disguise Deluxe Class
Accessories: Laserbeak

Soundwave's design has always been problematic to translate into modern media. While Starscreams and Optimuses can simply take whatever new jet or truck that look similar to their G1 persona, Soundwave's alternate mode has always proven... problematic.

See, G1 Soundwave turns into a microcassette player, a tape deck, if you will. It's doubtful that any kids now even knew what a cassette is, let alone be interested in a transforming cassette player. While Megatron's gun mode could simply be changed into jets and tanks without much fan backlash, Soundwave's shtick was that he was able to eject his little troops out of his tape cavity which ended up on his chest. The problem is how to keep the minion gimmick whilst still retaining the 'communications' angle of the tape deck.

So Soundwave had sat on the backburner, probably the only major first-season character not to get a new toy until 2006 (Machine Wars is a repaint and the bat/crocodile Beast Wars Mutants don't really count), during the Cybertron toyline. And even then it was basically the G1 design with wings that folded into an awkward-looking 'stealth jet', with Laserbeak reimagined as a bomb. Animated did their own spin with Soundwave, turning him into a bulky robot with a Scion van alternate mode, and the minions are... just there. Flying around him. And he's a music van, sort of.

Revenge of the Fallen did the simple and creative solution of making Soundwave a cybertronian satellite that never adopted an Earthen alternate mode, and by being a satellite it can retain the whole Decepticon communications officer/hacker angle. And he totally shot Ravage down from space. Dark of the Moon finally had Soundwave adapt the Earthen mode of a Mercedes Benz SLS AMG, with Laserbeak again simply reporting to him instead of popping out of him. The War of Cybertron retro-designed G1 Soundwave as essentially the same, but transforming into a squarish truck. Box. Thing. And the cassettes turn into data disks (not included in the actual toy). It's a rather uncreative and rather boring design that didn't translate well to toy form, in my opinion.

Transformers Prime reimagined Starscream into a lean, skeletal-yet-aerodynamic figure that screams 'sneaky weasel'. Soundwave was even more radical. Like Starscream, he was skinny... his arms were flat, two-dimensional affairs ending in claws, he was all angles and silvery surface, and... he had no face. Just a blank expression. And he doesn't speak, just repeats everything he overhears other people say.

I wasn't sure if I'd like this iffy design of Soundwave at first, but when he actually moved on screen, oh man! And the very angular, origami-esque design transformed into a MQ Reaper Drone Jet, those awesome-looking jets seen in the first two live-action movies as a fast-response spy. I immensely fell in love with the design, and even more so with the character... despite the fact that he never says anything! He's a loyal Megatron supporter, he manipulates things for the good of Megatron, and when he does do battle, he lays the smackdown on other characters with ease. He is awesome.

Of course, the Reaper jet is a very sleek, sleek affair, while the robot is full of details and spikes. And to make matters even more complicated, Soundwave's bra... er, chest armour, turns into a new Laserbeak.

It seemed rather madness to replicate this into a toy. I mean, obviously the paper arms turn into the wings, but what about the rest of him? And he's going to come out as part of the 'Robots in Disguise' subline, which is slightly smaller than the First Edition toys, which means less plastic. I'll be damned if they could make him even transform into a likeness of both modes, let alone make him a good toy.

Looks like I'll be damned, because Prime Soundwave is the bomb.

Alternate Mode
Soundwave, as mentioned before, transforms into a MQ-3 Reaper Drone Jet. It's basically a long cylinder with a bulbous front and tailwings, and two very long, flat wings extending from the center of the cylinder. And Soundwave seamlessly replicates the Reaper's distinctive silhouette. Bulbous 'cockpit', a long body, long thin wings, up to the two jutting tailwings and a little cone at the rear of the jet... it's a great representative of a Reaper jet. Of course, there are quite a bit of join lines visible, but those are mainly in the center of the jet, and are easily passed off as mechanical details. The rear of the jet is quite heavy in moulded sculpting, because the heavy molded details -- all the spiky wings and everything, they double as detailing for Soundwave's back. The distinctive flat wings are near-seamless, with only one join line.

There are, of course, a few visible robot mode ques... Soundwave's front feet is cast in black, and while they do try their best to blend in with the underbelly's curves, they still stick out. The thigh ball joints are visible as well, although they are surrounded by the wings and the relatively busy center of the jet, so they aren't very distinctive.

It's a relatively detailed and yet streamlined jet. It's not quite as perfect as some toys I could name, but more importantly it is lacking in any undercarriage kibble or limbs stuffed around its sides. The rather busy look of the non-wing parts help to disguise any remaining robot mode details. Even Laserbeak's wings that are visible jut out and masquerade as lower tail wings!

Soundwave is mainly a rather fetching shade of metallic blue, with black being the secondary colour, colouring parts of his main wings, the two large rear wings, and random assorted parts in his main body. Two small pink stripes are painted on Soundwave's wings, and on several parts of his front end. It's a rather muted shade of pink, thankfully, not the type which catches your attention forcibly, and it's in very small amounts. It helps to break apart the two-toned colour of metallic blue and black. While pink may not be my first colour of choice, it functions pretty well, and it's not too distracting. The actual Soundwave CG model has a dark purple in place of pink, which would look better... but probably someone in Hasbro thought pink would look more attractive to ADD kids. Thankfully, it's not very distracting.

Where the jet meets in the middle, be extra careful. Parts of my Soundwave had already eroded there due to the multiple pegs and whatnot coming into contact. It's a minor problem, but I thought I should mention it.

The Reaper is a spy drone, which fits well with the whole 'spy and communicator' angle for Soundwave. It's also silent, as well as alien-looking, added bonuses which increase the suitability of the alternate mode for Soundwave. It's also very distinctive compared to Starscream's F16 Falcon alternate mode, a great show of how different their characteristics are. And by being a jet, it allows Soundwave to dump the anachronistic alternate mode that is the tape deck, without resorting to turning into ground vehicles.

What about minions, you say? Well, Laserbeak can detach from Soundwave's underbelly, and can fly around. The instruction tells you that you can peg Laserbeak onto the hole on Soundwave's top, although it looks pretty silly. More on Laserbeak later.

It's a very beautiful alternate mode, especially compared to Starscream, who doesn't hide his robot kibble.

Robot Mode
The transformation is not at all fiddly. It's rather simple, and feels very organic. Pretty obviously, the long flat wings unfold to reveal joints and hands and turns into the long origami arms for Soundwave. A simple swing and they move up to form the shoulders and join with the rear to form the chest. The front of the jet unfold to form the legs. Finally, open the rear of the jet, and, like the rest of RID's Deluxe class toys, the head is revealed dramatically. With a spring, activated when the hatch is opened fully -- no chance of the spring going off randomly or screwing up articulation! Put the engine or whatever that vehicle mode bulb is into the cavity, and you have Soundwave's robot mode.

The legs, mind you, are a bit bulkier and kibblier then what I'd have liked, but the mass is shifted backwards so from the front Soundwave has a perfect, skinny origami silhouette. The long, flat arms, skinny backwards-jointed legs, rather broad chest, two tiny wings sticking up from his back... and the face.

Soundwave is faceless. You know how the Decepticon insignia was originally a stylized version of the original Soundwave's face, because it's more expressionless than the other Transformers? Yeah, the same thing happens here, but they removed Soundwave's eyes and mouthplate, making him even more emotionless. Soundwave's distinctive head crest is still present, albeit spikier than before, but the rest of his face is a black screen, which replays whatever he's showing others. He looks so delightfully emotionless and menacing at the same time. Combined with the weird arms, spikes extending from his back and chest, the shoulders and elbows that jut upwards, and his inhuman legs, Soundwave displays an aura of someone you could easily underestimate, but could royally screw you over. Or maybe that's the character talking, I don't know.

Soundwave's primarily still metallic blue and black, but the aforementioned purple appear in small amounts on Soundwave's chest and in the inner side of his arms. His head crest is silver. There are more pink which appear on his lower legs and waist, but again they're minor applications and not very distracting.

Being a RID toy, he's relatively shorter than my FE Starscream, but is about as tall as Knock Out, Wheeljack and his fellow RID buddies. Just as well, because Soundwave is shorter than Starscream.

Origami Soundwave can assume almost any pose you want him to. His head is ball-jointed, he's got a double-jointed shoulder, a double-jointed elbow, the lower arm is hinged in the center, he's got a waist joint, thigh joints, the knees are double-hinged and the ankles are jointed. He may look top-heavy, but the kibble deposited on his foot helps him with balance, and the arms are light enough not to unbalance him. Soundwave is awesome. He is show-accurate, he looks good, he transforms well, he's balanced and articulated... but there is more! Yes, it's our favourite killer spy bird, reimagined alongside his master.

Laserbeak
Not named in the show itself until Season Two, Laserbeak had nonetheless appeared since the opening five-parter of the show, being deployed as Soundwave's battle drone of sorts. Unlike past appearances (except maybe Cybertron and Animated) apparently Laserbeak isn't a living Transformer but merely a drone. I'm a big Laserbeak fan and I'm a bit disappointed, but the great Soundwave is a bit of a consolation.

Instead of a cassette door that flips open -- which would ruin the whole 'spikes and plates' origami deal, Laserbeak instead transforms into Soundwave's chest plates and spikes, in a concept originating from the Japanese-exclusive Victory series, in the hilariously-named Decepticon combiner team 'Breastforce', whose members all have chest armour that would transform into little animal robots and then into guns. Yes, ridiculous name, ha ha ha.

But anyway, Soundwave's bra, er, chest armour, unfolds and detaches into a similarly origami-looking bat-bird thing. Laserbeak is less avian this time around, and looks much, much more like a drone. He has two large wings and two smaller one under it, a tail and what's supposed to be a beak-like face which is lost because the toy has a peg which kind of obscures the molded downward-pointing beak. Like Soundwave, Laserbeak is mainly metallic blue with black accents. He can flap his large wings with two hinges, and can peg onto Soundwave's hands or anywhere with a 5mm peg.

Soundwave does look a wee bit naked without Laserbeak, but not so much that he looks weird.

He isn't the perfect Laserbeak toy, but considering they could've just set Soundwave out with a non-transforming chest and an obligatory weapon and called it a day... but no, they gave us a fully interactive Laserbeak. It's a great, bold finish to a toy that's awesome in all aspects.

Marks out of ten for the following:

Transformation Design: 10/10 Superb. It's something that I could've sworn would never work on a toy, let alone a deluxe-class one. And the fact that both modes are reasonably screen-accurate, and there are no compromises in either mode... credit where credit's due, the designers nailed this one.

Durability: 7/10 When transforming him into jet mode, watch out where the lower leg pieces peg to the upper leg ones, the pegs rub into each other and it has been pretty eroded by friction there when I tried to force them to attach. I also have some slight stress marks straight off the bat one of his arms, but my second Soundwave didn't have this, so it may just be mine.

Articulation: 9/10 Part of the legs may be a bit stiff due to the chicken-leg thing. But he makes up for it by being extremely stable, and being able to pull off loads of poses without falling down, despite looking back heavy.

Aesthetics: 9/10 He looks just like the show design, and the show design looks awesome.

Fun: 10/10 Soundwave's loads of fun to transform, he's got a great character and a great accessory.

Price/Value: 9/10 Oh, he's worth your bang, certainly. Considering that I met certain difficulty due to local retailers importing Soundwave's wave in rather small numbers -- and to boot whenever I find Wheeljack, who shipped with him, Soundwave is invariably gone -- so the hunt for him makes him feel sweeter.

Overall: 10/10 One of the best toys of the Prime line... I'd go as far to say that he is one of the must-have toys of this year. Soundwave takes a rather impossible design and worked it into a Deluxe class toy which not only has the same range of articulation and playability with its contemporaries, it also looks a great deal like his show models, and comes with Laserbeak to boot. Definitely recommended.
 
 
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