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Blackjack's Review: Prime Hardshell

Name: Hardshell
Allegiance: Decepticon
Size Class: Commander Class
Accessories: Missile Launcher, Missile

So Transformers Prime decided to introduce a new incarnation of everyone’s favourite bug-themed Decepticon, the Insecticons. It’s a big deal in the original Generation One cartoon (though not the comics) that they are this massive swarm of gluttonous, self-replicating army that’s only nominally allied with the Decepticons, led by Shrapnel, Bombshell and Kickback. The only other time they’ve been portrayed as an army is in Transformers: Energon, where ‘Insecticon’ is one of the four models of near-identical clone army things. Of course, there have been individual Insecticons showing up in other media as minor, individual menaces, like Insecticon (and a whole slew of other insectoid Predacons) in Beast Wars and the singular Insecticon in the Revenge of the Fallen movie.

Come Transformers Prime, and we get the Insecticons as an army again, although unlike G1 there’s only a single model now, and they’re portrayed as simply powerful (if savage) warriors. They’re introduced early on in Season Two, where a single Insecticon showed up on Cybertron, and then as part of an army Airachnid attempted to use for her coup, before the swarm got absorbed into the Decepticon army after Airachnid’s fall. Like all self-respecting mook in any action series, a single Insecticon was portrayed as an extremely dangerous threat, even going toe-to-toe with Megatron. As the series went on the Insecticons are basically only a little more powerful than the Vehicon troops.

And then there’s this chap Hardshell, who appeared as a recurring villain for around three or four episodes. Hardshell is the new trademark-dodging name for classic G1 Insecticon Bombshell, so I suppose it’s kind of a homage to the original Rhinoceros Beetle Insecticon. Hardshell is a savage fellow covered with scars to differentiate him from generic Insecticons, and is apparently some sort of Wrecker killer. Despite not lasting much, he did prove himself a very entertaining villain and an effective one as well, putting Bulkhead out of commission for nearly half a season, and leading up to a Wrecker-style vengeance from Wheeljack and Miko which took him out gloriously.

Being a G1 Insecticon fan, I’m a big fan of the Prime Insecticon designs as well. They have this thing where they scream and ululate like some kind of mad savage race, charging and screaming and tearing things apart like a bunch of wild animals. And they turn from crazy alien robot Hercules Beetles with mouths into giant hulking brutes of monsters. I love them. And I keep waiting for when there would be a toy. Ideally, the toy would be Voyager Class, considering the bugs are quite as large as Megatron, but since they’re cannon fodder, I thought I would’ve settled with Deluxe Classes.

Of course, the line came and went and there’s no word for a new Insecticon mold, even though we got random new molds for Rumble, Ironhide, and even an all new Voyager Class mold for a total nobody called Thundertron. When they should’ve made Insecticon. Or had Breakdown or Dreadwing out first. Been typing this speech a couple times now through Prime reviews, so let me cut it short this time.

Anyway, Beast Hunters came and they released a Commander (Basic/Scout for fans accustomed to older naming conventions) Class version of the Insecticon design… robot mode didn’t look quite promising, although the pictures excited me enough that I buy it. Well, at least he’s cheap, yeah?

Beast Mode:
Hardshell transforms to a metallic alien insect based on the Hercules Beetle, the largest of the rhinoceros beetles. And they are alien insects, since the Insecticons already had insect modes even on Cybertron. In addition to a slew of metal spikes, Hardshell’s got two lower horns on either side of his jaw instead of a single lower horn in the center in addition to the giant upper horn. Also, he’s got a mouth with sharp jaw with teeth and everything. And four eyes. And unlike normal beetles, Hardshell lacks the protective, outer wings that are like a hard shell (hee, a pun!) over the inner wings. Although the bugs themselves move so damn quickly it’s difficult to compare details, but there are a couple of things that I am very certain the toy got wrong.

The most egregious is the colour. While the Insecticons are predominantly dark green in robot mode, they have purple detailing that will become the dominant colour in their insect modes. At the very least, the abdomens of the Insecticons are supposed to be almost entirely metallic purple, whereas the rest of the bug is mostly metallic green and metallic gray. Not so in the toy. The toy bug is almost 100% dark green, with several shades of gray as the secondary colour. Hardshell’s face is silver, the four front legs and some parts of abdomen are dark grey, whereas his wings and part of his rear legs are a shade of light gray that stick out like a sore thumb. There are two horns that point upwards on top of his head, which are accurately coloured yellow. They kind of curve inwards like devil’s horns instead of straight up and backwards, but at this scale it’s ignorable.

Hardshell’s most noticeable feature is, of course, the big-ass affair of the horn that pokes out of his forehead and outwards. It’s a long, awesome-looking horn. That ginormous horn’s able to transform into a ginormous cannon in the show, but obviously with the limitations of a Commander Class toy that’s not going to happen here. Pretty damn awesome horn, and a pretty damn awesome attempt at replicating it. His insect face (and I tell you, it sure does look creepy to see a bug with a monstrous fanged face like this) is done well, but the rest of his head is rather poorly molded. Looking at screencaps, there should be two smaller purple horns on either side of the large central horn, and instead of pointing upwards like Pumbaa’s teeth, the pair of lower horns are supposed to point downwards.

The insect legs are unarticulated and splay out instead of tucked under the torso like the show model (and actual insects) but since Hardshell won’t be able to stand in robot mode in that case, well…. The rear legs, by virtue of transforming into the robot hands, have two ball joints and a hinge joint. And indeed the show model has larger rear legs. The abdomen kind of irks me. It’s a big rectangular chunk that’s just there, instead of more rounded like a beetle’s actual abdomen.

Other than looking rather passable for the show’s insect CGI model, how does Hardshell fare as a toy? His useful articulation extends only to his wings, rear legs and insane opening-and-closing jaw, and that’s about it. The wings’ moulding will make them point permanently backwards anyway, so it’s basically a choice between ‘wings held against the abdomen’ or ‘wings sticking out’.

All in all, though, I quite like his bug mode despite the numerous discrepancies. However, the fact that it’s essentially a big brick gets to me, since 2009’s RTS Insecticon manages to have all six legs articulated, and they’re in the same size class. Hardshell simply looks too blocky for a show model that manages to feel like an actual insect.

Robot Mode:
Hardshell’s robot mode has a silhouette that doesn’t look much like Hardshell. See, the first time I saw the Insecticon model, I thought ‘wow, those are wicked-looking gigantic arms!’ See, the show model for Insecticon had these giant, monstrous lower arms with wicked sharp claws and shoulder spikes. The lower legs are thick and muscular looking as well. And they’re kind of hunched over as well. Whereas the show model is a powerful, muscular-looking design, the toy is a mess. It’s blocky, and has got extremely spindly hands and legs. It’s rather jarring. The reason for this, though, is that Hardshell’s gigantic head, which is a big mass in and of itself, hangs off Hardshell’s robot back, alongside his wings, and since the toy doesn’t have movie magic, well, that doesn’t leave much volume or mass to form the limbs. Not at this scale, at least. And while it’s a justifiable excuse, that doesn’t get rid of the fact that he’s a shit representation of Hardshell’s show model.

Hardshell’s got the headsculpt accurate, with teeth and mandibles and everything. And the yellow shoulder spikes are accurate, as is the large upper chest, but otherwise, not much else is the same. Hardshell’s still predominantly dark green, but there is a lot, lot of yellow slapped onto his abdomen, chest and crotch, whereas the show design only has them on the shoulders and as small detailing here and there. As before, there’s no purple other than the Decepticon insignia on the right side of the chest. Hardshell’s arms are a near-white shade of light grey that’s not present in the original Hardshell design which is distracting and ugly.

Hardshell’s articulation is standard, with only shoulders, elbows, thighs, feet and double-joints in the knees. The hands are very spindly and short, and thus can’t articulate much, though. The legs can’t move that much without causing Hardshell to topple over because of the sheer heaviness of the bug-head on his back.

He comes with a pressure-launched missile launcher instead of the standard spring-launched missile, which looks kind of cool, show-inaccurate as it is. It can plug onto Hardshell’s wrist or be held in his teeny hands. Look at those fingers, man, it is criminal how short they turned out in the toy. It’s like someone clipped three-thirds of his fingers.

Being a toy of Hardshell and not ‘Insecticon’, you’d think he would have the characteristic scars that mar Hardshell’s body. No, he’s completely pristine, so this is meant to be a toy of a generic Insecticon, probably to incite army-builders to buying more than him. I doubt any prospective army-builders would want him at all, though. Unlike the glorious Vehicon toys, Hardshell only vaguely looks like the Insecticons he’s supposed to represent, and he’s a terrible toy to boot.

Marks out of ten for the following:
Transformation Design: 2/10 Personally I can’t see how they could go about making Hardshell transform properly like the show model, at least not in this scale. But they totally dropped the ball on this toy, causing both robot and insect mode to be unarticulated bricks in different ways.

Durability: 6/10 I think hope Hardshell lives up to the moniker of ‘hard shell’. Lame puns aside, though, he feels rather durable and I don’t think there are many pieces that will break irreversibly.

Aesthetics: 2/10 Hardshell’s show-inaccurate, with the purple inexplicably replaced with a very eye-searing and clashing light gray. And that’s not going into how boxy the bug mode is, and how spindly the robot mode looks. I absolutely loathe the robot mode’s hands, for one. His robot mode looks very much generic.

Articulation: 2/10 Terrible as well, for reasons already covered in the review – the hands are too short and pitiful to be any useful, and his legs can’t do much movement without toppling him over.

Fun: 3/10 Hardshell’s fun to muck around, but after the euphoria of having an actual new Insecticon toy had faded away, all the problems become very apparent and annoying.

Price/Value: 3/10 Haven’t bought anyone in the Commander class for a long time, but I remembered how great they used to be.

Overall: 2/10 Yeah, it’s a terrible toy. I tried very much to like it. I really did. But really, other than if he isn’t an Insecticon, I wouldn’t have kept this toy. It’s terrible in all counts, and it’s really pretty bad compared to, oh, the aforementioned RTS Insecticon… which should give you an idea how terrible he is.
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