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Blackjack's Review: Prime Beast Hunters Smokescreen

Name: Smokescreen
Allegiance: Autobot
Size Class: Deluxe Class
Accessories: ‘Electronet Launcher’ missile launcher, Missile with Net, ‘Shadow Quill Armor’

Prime Smokescreen is a toy I put off reviewing for nearly a year. You see, Smokescreen appeared in the show around the second half of season two, and due to the ridiculously spotty distribution and timing for the Prime line, if memory serves right by that time we haven’t even finished getting all members of the main cast yet, let alone characters introduced in season two like Smokescreen or Dreadwing or the Insecticon. And while we did have news that characters like Dreadwing are coming in as a new mould and things like that, there was absolutely no news of a new Smokescreen toy even as season three rolled up and Hasbro announced a switch to ‘Beast Hunters’. Beast Hunters worried people a lot, since in addition to the dragons included in the line, all vehicles announced were remoulded with random extreme spikes and crazy ass weapons… was frankly worried that in season three everyone would grow spikes for no reason. Thankfully that didn’t happen… Optimus Prime did get reformatted into a brand-new body, and both Bumblebee and Smokescreen did get new decoes, but no one grew spikes. And neither did the legion of new dragons showed up in the show. In retrospect Beast Hunters is kind of a failure as a tie-in toyline

But still, the worry was on if we would get a Spiky Smokescreen toy, or even if we will get a Smokescreen at all. This was compounded by Takara suddenly repainting Knock Out in white and releasing him as Smokescreen… and while the effort was decent, Knock Out doesn’t look like Smokescreen at all. Of course, Knock Out’s toy doesn’t really look that much like Knock Out either, so it looks like a bad Smokescreen toy compared to Knock Out in white, but it’s still ridiculously expensive, has bad stickers that peel off and comes with a random assemble-it-yourself Arms Micron that takes up space. Of course, Takara fanboys picked Knockscreen out and praised the almighty Takara for granting them another character Hasbro did not saw fit to release.

Of course, the joke’s on them for importing a sub-par toy that doesn’t even look like the character he’s supposed to represent. Hasbro eventually released Smokescreen and Shockwave (who fell onto the same category as Smokescreen as a season two character yet to have a toy) completely free of spikes, but with optional rubbery bits you can attach so they don’t feel left out from the spiky Beast Hunters club. It’s a misguided effort, but, hey, I got my new-mold Smokescreen toy eventually.

Smokescreen’s name originates from a Generation One Autobot, a second-season Autobot who is a repaint from the Prowl and Bluestreak moulds, remoulded as a rally car with a new bumper and a really funky red-and-blue paintjob which looks really, really great. It’s apparently based on a real rally car or something, too. And ever since then, Smokescreen has been one of the names Hasbro slaps on just about anything. In Generation Two Smokescreen gets slapped onto a random jet that combines with Dreadwing. In Armada Smokescreen gest slapped on an angry brutish crane dude, who has nothing to do with smoke or screens or smokescreens. Itís not until Cybertron that they realized Smokescreen is a car, and they nearly named the character that’s eventually known as Crosswise as ‘Smokescreen’ – even the dub called him Smokescreen for a few early episodes before it was changed to fit the toy. Crosswise was eventually repainted in G1 Smokescreen colours as Smokescreen, though. And in the first Movie line, the Fast Action Battler toy for Jazz was repainted as Smokescreen. The same thing happened in ROTF, where Deluxe Jazz got repainted in a kinda-G1-Smokescreen based paintjob as Smokescreen, and there was a random pack-in repaint of Rodimus as Smokescreen as well.

And then there is Prime Smokescreen. While he takes a lot of cues from the G1 design – the ‘38’, being a race car, having a similar chevron head, hood-chest and door wings, having red and blue in the race car, he’s relatively distinct from the G1 character. Or, rather, the G1 ‘character’ isn’t much of a character at all. Here, Smokescreen fills in the ‘annoying young kid’ role, although instead of being a punk like Hot Shot and Animated Bumblebee and practically every other ‘young kid’ in Transformers lore, Smokescreen is an annoying fanboy who tries his best to please all the others but doesn’t really screw up. He also has come into possession of the Phase Shifter, a gimmick which allows him to ‘ghost’ through solid materials, and that makes him pretty effective in battles. Thankfully while he talks up a good fight he’s relatively humble, and he zigzags the line between being charming, annoying and being a Mary Sue. As the show’s focus goes away from him and to everything else, Smokescreen mellowed out somewhat, and there was a teasing moment where Optimus wants to give him the Matrix in season three’s debut (spoiler: there was no Smokimus Prime). But no. Smokescreen eventually dissolved into the background in later season three episodes.

Smokescreen does get a change in colour scheme later on, and to the surprise of G1 fans, he doesn’t get his beautiful mainly-red-and-blue G1 deco, but rather a mainly blue deco with yellow racing stripes, which is far simpler to replicate in toy form compared to his first deco, but it’s only acknowledged in the form of a Legion class toy. He’s easily my least favourite Autobot amongst the Prime cast, but I don’t exactly hate him per se and I don’t mind owning a toy of him, so I own him now.

Alternate Mode:
Smokescreen transforms into what car geeks identify as a McLaren MP4-12C. I am blind on these things, though googling up a picture of that, Smokescreen does bear more than superficial resemblance. Smokescreen does add in a spoiler and has different side air intake things, though, but I don’t particularly care so we’ll go with that. He’s a pretty good looking toy car, and looks relatively sleek as well without overdoing it like some other cars do. Smokescreen’s a mainly white sports car, with yellow headlihts, black wheels, a blue stripe across his hood, two blue stripes across his roof, a bunch of other blue and red stripes across his doors and sides and a ‘38’ evocative of G1 Smokescreen’s own ‘38’ tampographed onto the stripes on his doors. The sides of his otherwise-bare spoiler is red, and there are pegholes in it. His windows are clear blue and you can spy his robot hands (and the red details on them) through it. There is a massive, ugly hole on top of the roof where you can peg in a gun. It’s a relatively low-key car, and doesn’t really look all that particularly special amongst all the other eighty-seven other Deluxe Autobot cars through the years.

However, taking the fact that this is supposed to be a representation of the on-screen model of Smokescreen, he does look really plain and really white. And after pulling up a picture of Smokescreen’s alternate mode, well, they skimped on a lot of paint. In addition to using a rather off shade of blue, they left Smokescreen’s entire back unpainted. The spoiler and the… the area between the roof and the spoiler (my car anatomy sucks) are supposed to be painted, blue and gray/black respectively. I can almost forgive the spokes on the wheels being unpainted, or the headlights being cast fully in yellow clear plastic instead of being clear white with an orange bulb on top, and I suppose the checkerboard effect on the red/blue lines around the 38 is difficult to do, but add them all up together and Smokescreen just becomes plainer and plainer. And that’s not to mention the completely bare rear or front bumpers. The details are all moulded in, so like Prime Ratchet it’s simply the painting team dropping the ball pretty badly.

He does look relatively fine from the sides or from a sideways angle, but from the top he just looks really bare. It is indeed really difficult to replicate Smokescreen’s CGI model’s paint deco, the reason does not excuse the result looking really, really bare. It’s painted, it’s got all the right colours, but like the DOTM Wreckers the lack of essential embellishment makes it look just short of okay.

Also, after having Smokescreen displayed in robot mode for years and never transforming, let me tell you that it’s kind of a nightmare getting his whole shoulder/arms assembly in place, as well as getting the wings to fit on top of that. It’s not as bad as, oh, ROTF Mixmaster or Universe Hot Shot, but it’s still terribly frustrating to do. He’s one of those toys that’s just difficult to squeeze into a car mode perfectly.

He comes with two accessories, the first being a gun that fires a missile with a tiny rubber net/web thing attached to it. Which I suppose is to ‘capture’ dragons and such. It looks ineffective and frankly doesn’t look to have much thought given to it. The gun pegs on top of the roof and like all guns that peg on top of a sports car’s roof looks completely stupid. The second accessory is the ‘Shadow Quill Armor’ which is kind of a… thing. It’s a thing that slips around the front of the car and kind of snugly wraps around the front bumper and the front halves of the doors… it’s kind of weird-looking and does look like some sort of crazy armor that allows Smokescreen to stab cars in front of him that block his way. The Shadow Quill Armor have little clamps that allow Smokescreen to hold additional missiles… not that he has any, nor can the big net missile fit there without having the net flop around and push Smokescreen off the floor. Otherwise it fits quite well, though, and from that standpoint I suppose it works well as an accessory.

Also, the soft rubbery plastic is really soft and ugly, and while they are cast in blue, it’s a different blue from the blue used on Smokescreen. It’s a dirtier shade of blue. With the Beast Hunters stuff covering a huge chunk of the car mode, I can see why they didn’t really bother to put much effort in colouring him right. Doesn’t mean I like it, but at least they’ve got a reason. The Beast Hunters stuff is kind of stupid, really.

Robot Mode:
Like Knock Out before him, Smokescreen’s on-screen transformation is kind of near-impossible to replicate in a Deluxe class toy, with a lot of CGI shuffling involved. Of course, while Hasbro/Takara managed to nail down Starscream, Soundwave, Breakdown and Bulkhead’s impossible transformations, that doesn’t mean they will work for every single character, and Smokescreen is one of those where they don’t really try to work out perfectly. It still manages to bear a relatively good resemblance to the show model, though certainly fairly lacking in a lot of aspects. For one, he is so white. The toy removes a lot of paint applications in robot mode, and while I realize not every single paint application can be placed on him he simply looks too bare. A lot of the grey stuff on his chest (like those massive spikes under the headlight kibble), the shoulders, the crotch area and the arm are left blank, or otherwise randomly replaced with red and blue stripes. His shoulders also look very weird due to transforming from the car’s actual bumper and not having the luxury of breaking into even smaller pieces to become smaller like the CGI does, and ends up looking odd. And that’s not to mention the massive chunks of kibble hanging off Smokescreen’s lower arms as well as his lower legs. His chest is formed out of fake kibble (which I don’t mind) but it is flat and Smokescreen looks flattened and simply looks too... well, flat is the only word I can find to describe his chest. They really could've added some hinges or whatnot to the fake kibble to make it pop out a little.

Add to the fact that they for some reason bothered to paint the chevron on his head… but painted it blue instead of red… and the end result is a Smokescreen-looking mess that doesn’t quite look like Smokescreen.

I can nitpick even further, like going on to say that his lower arms should be larger and bulkier, and his door-wings should be segmented with the front wheels distinctively be part of the door-wings (watch the show, and that kind of is something unique to Smokescreen) or the fact that he’s lacking his signature Phase Shifter on his wrist…

Still, let’s throw show accuracy out of the window for a moment, shall we? It bothers me a lot, of course, but let’s be objective for a moment. Smokescreen’s transformation into robot mode is relatively complex, but that’s nothing new for a modern deluxe class toy, sadly. The arms and shoulders in particular are annoying to set right, and I’m not even sure how to get the wheels to stay rigid inside Smokescreen’s chest (sadly instead of his wings) without messing up the position of his wings or without getting pulled out every time I articulate the shoulders. As mentioned, it involves a fake hood-chest while the rest of the hood and roof folds in an undignified way under Smokescreen’s lower arms. I don’t mind the fake hood chest… Knock Out has demonstrated how sometimes transforming with the actual hood leads to a wacky-looking robot mode, but Smokescreen does this with a lot less grace than is appropriate. All the kibble end up bunched up under his arm and all the ugly grooves and hinges there are exposed for all to see. And his legs are randomly coloured red and blue, but they're not in sufficient quantities to look loud and awesome, but not too little so as to be inconspicuous yet adds to the aesthetic. They end up being just messy splotches. And they're not even in the actual show model! If they took all these random inaccurate paint applications and used it to, oh, properly paint Smokescreen's head or the checkerboards, leaving a far tidier robot...

He’s mainly white, with a blue stripe across the center of his chest, yellow decals on the fake headlights, red and blue stripes on his lower arm, red on the spikes of his knee, blue stripes around his lower legs, blue on the central chevron on his head (which should be unpainted) and on the borders of his face (which also should be unpainted – it’s the horn like things beside the central chevron that should be red). His feet are cast in black plastic and stand out pretty badly, especially since the borders are left white due to forming part of the sleek racecar exterior. Parts of his ‘inner’ body with the joints and everything around his chest is gray, but not quite enough gray and at the wrong places to simulate Smokescreen’s on-screen portrayal. The inner sides of Smokescreen’s legs are also unbearably messy with a lot of random grooves and exposed hinges that adds to how messy he ends up looking.

Articulation wise he’s your standard Deluxe fare. Head turns, wings can angle around a bit, double-jointed shoulder (which likes to dislodge the wheel out from where it’s attached precariously), elbows (hindered by the chunks of kibble), a waist joint, hip joints, knees and ankles. His silly oversized clown feet (made necessary due to being formed out of the bit of the car between the roof and the spoiler) gives him relatively good balance, although the massive size of the feet as well as the arm kibbles does diminish his articulation range somewhat.

His head is light-piped with clear orange plastic. I am nitpicking here but, again, Smokescreen’s eyes are light blue and there is no reason why they slapped clear orange plastic when they had clear blue plastic just fine for every other Autobot.

The Takara version’s slightly better, with the checkerboard numbers and removing of excess red and blue in robot mode, and painting the head properly, but it still ends up not looking quite there (also, Takara toys are kind of expensive). While Takara usually gets paintjobs perfect, even with Smokescreen they don't get him perfectly. There's not even a blue-and-yellow version of him floating around as a Walmart exclusive or whatever, which I think would work slightly better with this messy mould. The Prowl repaint/retool is a fair bit neater than his, with a nicer paintjob that highlights all the messy greebles and transform them into detailing and does away with random stripes on the legs, but this review's about Smokescreen and not Prowl.

Overall, while not completely terrible, Smokescreen’s robot mode is relatively disappointing and it’s not exactly show accurate.

The Beast Hunters stuff… well, he can hold the Electronet Launcher thing, even though in the show Smokescreen never uses a hand-held gun – his hand can transform into a gun. You can slide off the rubber net from the back of the missile if you want to. The Shadow Quill Armor (because I cannot really describe what the hell that thing is) is obviously made and tailored for Smokescreen’s car mode, and while it works flush there here it simply adds to Smokescreen’s already relatively messy robot mode and just hangs on like some sort of chunky , uncomfortable suspenders. There are kind of little tabs and whatnot on his sides and the back of his head, but I think attaching the Shadow Quill Armor properly will kind of warp the soft rubber plastic used. Plus attaching it is kind of guaranteed to mess up Smokescreen’s shoulders in the process… and have I mentioned that his shoulders are kind of a nightmare to set up? It’s difficult to get the thing attached right, and in the end it just stands out like the terrible accessory that it is and you wonder why you bother even acknowledging the rubbery bits in the first place.

Marks out of ten for the following:
Transformation Design: 3/10 Yeah, they could really have done a lot, lot better. I know that following the ‘proper’ transformation from the show will get you a robot that’s half hood-chest, but there certainly should be a way to get the transformation done without having him be half kibble and other assorted bits. It’s not the worst transformation I’ve ever seen, but the general fiddliness and the underwhelming end result as a robot is not impressive at all.

Durability: 3/10 His roof’s white paint has a tendency to smudge, especially when you plug in the gun. All the rubbery bits of his Beast Hunters armour can warp or tear if you try to peg them in too harshly, but no one gives much of a damn about the rubbery crap. I think he feels relatively more fragile than most other toys from the Prime line – a lot of his parts are thin, especially the kibble underneath his arm, the robot kibble on his lower legs and his wings. His transformation involves pushing all these small parts into place, which doesn’t make it feel any more secure either.

Aesthetics: 3/10 It’s not horrid. There is still an attempt at replicating the show’s design, and at least they put an effort at trying to make the robot mode be show accurate. Making it kibble encrusted and having wide shoulders doesn’t make it look good, and painting him with all the right colours in the wrong places doesn’t really help things much. Kitbashers will end up having to repaint him all over again. But I am someone who doesn’t have the time, patience or skill to properly paint each and every little nook and cranny neatly, let alone try and replicate the complicated checkerboard pattern. If the mould is painted more accurately it might’ve been passable, but there are just too many things wrong with him. And then there’s the matter of the horrible Beast Hunters armour. He's also mainly white which doesn't really look nice in the flesh. Maybe he'll look better in his blue/yellow deco? Sadly we'll never know.

Articulation: 5/10 He has the joints, but the kibble and massive clown feet hinders them from being too effective.

Fun: 5/10 He’s about as fun as your average Deluxe Autobot sports car. I’m not sure, I find him irritating because he’s not show accurate, as well as because he looks so close to being right but is wrong in a lot of little places, and he’s too fiddly to transform quickly.

Price/Value: 6/10 He’s decent for a Deluxe Autobot car, and I bought him on clearance. On full price, though, he’s too flawed to consider seriously.

Overall: 3/10 Yeah, this is one of those toys I didn’t really mind before I take him apart and start listing all the things wrong with him. He’s severely under-detailed despite the moulding like Ratchet, and like Knock Out he’s got a sub-par mould caused by the designers trying (and failing) to be ingenuous with an alternate transformation. He's messily painted, too. He’s got too much kibble and ugly exposed greebles in robot mode to look pleasing, and there are aforementioned problems with half-assed paintjobs, inhibited articulation, smudging paint, random and ugly accessories, fiddly shoulders that like to pop off and a bunch of other smaller things. It all ends up to be a rather frustrating toy, and in a toyline that’s half made up of Deluxe-sized sports cars, Smokescreen just falls short upon comparison to everything else. It’s not a bad toy, just a ridiculously messy one... I don't even have the energy to hate him. He doesn't have massive problems or simply look ugly or is a bad brick, he's just so full of little problems that, coupled with his show inaccuracy, makes him a disappointment to look at. If you’re not a character completist, I suggest you skip this toy. It’s not so bad that you should avoid it like Airachnid, but it’s one that will disappoint you.
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