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Warcry's Review: Power Core Combiner Smolder

Name: Smolder
Minicon Partner: Chopster

No one holds a grudge like Smolder. Thanks to his combination with Chopster, he's got the power to see each of his enemies through.

Smolder is a first in a couple areas. In twenty-six years of Transformers he's the first Decepticon fire truck to get released. That's not entirely surprising, since Hasbro seemed to avoid 'evil' emergency vehicles before Barricade showed up in the 2007 movie. He's also the first toy to use the name "Smolder". That might not sound like much, but in the last few years it was rare enough to find a Transformer with a new name at all, let alone one with a new name that sounds good. That trend is getting reversed now though, with guys like Firetrap, Crankstart, Windburn, Buckshot and Smolder showing up in the next few months. Whoever is responsible for coming up with names at Hasbro has obviously been reading their thesaurus.

Smolder's fetching colour scheme made him the only member of the Power Core Combiner line that I was really looking forward to. I was planning to prioritize him over some of the other toys from other lines that I wanted to track down, but that turned out to not be necessary -- he popped up before any of them.

Robot Mode:

Smolder comes packed in robot mode along with his Minicon partner Chopster. He is mostly red with black forearms, thighs, shoulders and detailing on his legs. He also has some white highlights including the markings on his chest and the Decepticon badges on his shoulders. His face is painted gold and his eyes are red.

Unfortunately, he also has four gestalt connector pegs cast in sky blue that really stand out against the rest of his colour scheme. It appears that the combiner pegs on all of the Power Core Combiners are done in the same colour, which probably sounded good on the drawing board but turns out to be a terrible idea in practice. I mean, bright blue clashes with a red and black deco? Wow, what a surprise!

All sarcasm aside, after spending a few minutes fiddling around with him Smolder really doesn't impress. His legs are kibbly, with combiner ports, his vehicle's front bumper and a light bar all hanging off in different places. They don't really get in the way, but there's not much you can do with them to keep them from being unsightly. Smolder's shoulders are also problematic. There's really no way to position them so that they look good without sacrificing all of his shoulder articulation. His official robot mode has his shoulders pushed up so that the black bars that connect them to his torso are exposed. Doing that means that his elbows are connected directly to his shoulder joints, with no upper arms to speak of, and also gives him a very impressive set of shoulder towers that Ultra Magnus himself would envy. Pushing the shoulders down as far as they'll go gives him more human proportions but then his shoulders can't move at all, severely limiting his poseability.

With his shoulders in the 'default' position, Smolder is actually very poseable. His triple-jointed shoulders and double-jointed elbows mean that you can do almost anything with his arms that his shoulder towers don't get in the way of. He's got large (but unobtrusive) feet that make him very easy to balance, and his legs are double-jointed at the hips and single-jointed at the knees and ankles. Put him together with Chopster's axe mode and you can get quite a few dynamic poses out of him.

Like all of the Power Core Combiners, Smolder can turn into a torso that can combine with the drones from a PCC five-pack. Without the drones this isn't especially useful. If you wanted you could have him walk around using the combined-mode head all the time, but it's far too big for his body and looks incredibly silly.

Smolder's robot mode leaves a lot to be desired, but there are enough positives here that he's not entirely worthless. He actually reminds me of an Energon Omnicon, both in the way he transforms and because of the transparent-orange axe he wields.

Alternate Mode:

Smolder's alternate mode is a fire department 'brush truck', a type of vehicle used to fight fires in places where a full-sized pumper truck can't get to. I'd never heard of such a thing before, but a quick Google image search tells me that Smolder's a pretty good representation of the real thing. He's mostly red in this mode, with a white stripe running down each side, white FIRE lettering and a white, flaming Decepticon symbol. He also has a few black highlights, including his bumper, his front fenders, his wheels and the grilles on his rear storage compartment. It's quite a fetching colour scheme, all things considered.

Smolder features a lot of sculpted detail in vehicle mode. He has a highly-detailed front bumper and headlights, sculpted mirrors and doors, two fuel tanks behind the cab and a lot of detail on his squared-off rear section.

Unfortunately, the news isn't all positive. If you look at him from behind, his head, chest and fists are clearly visible, as are two of his sky-blue gestalt connectors. And if you look at him from straight ahead, it's pretty obvious that something's wrong with his proportions. The cab of the truck is very long and very wide, but not very tall at all. Either a hypothetical driver would have to crouch down really tight, or the truck is wide enough to seat four people across comfortably (which would make it too wide to drive on a standard 12-foot wide lane). It's only really noticeable if you put him beside another truck-mode scout, but parked alongside fellow Power Core Combiner Huffer you can't help but notice that that something isn't quite right.


OK, I'll get this out of the way first. Chopster? Really? You give the big guy a great new name like Smolder, and this is the best you can come up with for the Minicon?

Nitpicking aside, I'm afraid that Chopster really isn't all that good. His robot mode is very awkward, with a weird camera for a face, big guns instead of arms and axe blades for feet (not a soccer fan, I guess?). The fact that most of him (except for his dark grey arms and thighs) is cast in an ugly transparent orange doesn't help matters much, because a lot of his molded details are very hard to see. A dab of grey on his face and some bright orange on his arms are all he's got in the way of paint apps.

Chopster's got ball-jointed hips and shoulders and swivel-jointed knees, which gives him a fair amount of poseability for a Minicon. His axe blade feet also lower his centre of mass quite a bit, meaning that he stands up pretty well.

Like all of the PCC Minicons, Chopster has three alternate modes. Unlike Huffer's partner Caliburst, though, Chopster's modes actually look like three distinctly different things. When Smolder is in robot mode, Chopster transforms into the axe that gives him his name. Turning into a melee weapon when you've got twin machine guns bolted onto your shoulders is a questionable decision at best, and it's times like this when you realize exactly why the Decepticons always lose. Also, it doesn't so much look like an axe as it does some legs and machine guns folded up into something that vaguely resembles an axe.

Chopster can also transform into armour that can combine with Smolder. The basic idea of using your Minicon partner and only weapon as body armour is questionable at best, but in Chopster's case it actually makes sense. His machine gun arms can both swing freely in this mode, as can the main barrel of his weapon mode. And although it looks incredibly stupid it does give Smolder three independently-targetable weapons, something that's a lot more valuable than an axe when you're fighting a war.

Chopster's final mode is a three-barrelled cannon. This mode alone would make him a wicked-cool Targetmaster and make me look the other way whenever I noticed one of his many, many flaws, except for one thing. Chopster isn't a Nebulan, he's a Minicon. And in Hasbro's enlightened opinion, Minicons absolutely have to Powerlink onto a larger Transformer. That means he doesn't have a handle, and that means that (a) Smolder can only use him when he's in vehicle mode (where he's got a usable Powerlinx port), and (b) virtually none of the toys released in the last five years can use him either. I know they did this with the Armada Minicons that turned into weapons and so I expected it, but it pains me to see a toy that could have been cool ruined because "things have to be this way".

Paint him a reasonable colour and stick a handle on the guy and I'd love him to pieces. But as it is...blah.

Transformation Design: Simplicity seems to be the order of the day for the Power Core Combiners, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Smolder is very intuitive, and Chopster is...well, a Minicon. 6/10

Durability: Smolder's kibblicious legs could be a problem, as could Chopster's transparent plastic ball joints. The overall impression given is of a very durable toy, though. 8/10

Fun: Smolder's shoulders make him more frustrating than anything. Chopster was this close to rescuing his partner in the fun department, but I guess it just wasn't meant to be. 4/10

Aesthetics: Smolder is deformed, and Chopster is a creamsicle. If Smolder's colours weren't so gorgeous, they'd get a zero. 3/10

Articulation: The duo don't fare too badly in the articulation department. 8/10

Price: Power Core Combiner two-packs are pretty pricey when you consider what you're getting. You'd have to be looking at a very good toy to justify the cost in my mind, and these two just don't. 3/10

Overall: Smolder and Chopster aren't without their good points, and they're certainly not irredeemable like Universe OctaneTankor or ROTF Dirt Boss. But there's no way I can recommend them, either. 4/10
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