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Warcry's Review: Universe Striker

Dinosaurs have changed a lot since I was a kid. Or rather our understanding of them has. Because of that, the original Dinobots in particular haven't aged well. First, Sludge was embarrassed when he found out that he was supposed to call his beast mode 'apatosaurus', not 'brontosaurus' and Grimlock got called on the carpet for having terrible posture. More recently Slag learned that he was actually just a juvenile torosaurus. And of course, Swoop was never a dinosaur to start with. And then there's Snarl, who was probably the least-wrong of the group but still very inaccurate. Modern science tells us that a stegosaur's plates ran down the back in alternating rows, with the tail spikes sticking out to the side -- a much less eye-catching arrangement than Snarl's symetrical rows of plates and tail spikes standing straight up. Modern Transformers representations of dinosaurs have tended to pay attention to new discoveries only when it suits them, which is why (for example) Classics Grimlock was a modern tyrannosaurus but Masterpiece Grimlock kept the original's inaccurate posture. Beast Wars toys tended to be realistic in design if not necessarily colouration, though.

And that's where Transformers: Universe Striker comes in. As a redeco of the Japanese Beast Wars character Saberback, Striker transforms into a modern, scientifically-accurate stegosaurus. I'll try not to hold that against him, though.

Alternate Mode: In spite of his aesthetically-inferior-but-correct anatomy, Striker looks pretty good. Unlike Triceradon, his partner in crime in the Universe line, Striker's paint scheme doesn't look like the original Dinobots at all. He's dark green all over, bit with jagged black, red and silver patterns painted on his back on either side of his spinal plates. The pattern continues onto his head, though it loses most of it's detail there because as a stegosaurus Striker has a tiny head. The spinal plates are dark brown (with some silver paint on three of the smaller pairs) and his quartet of tail spikes are painted gold. His flanks, rear legs and the underside of his tail are painted a greenish-yellow. The lovely scheme is broken up a bit by his forelegs, unfortunately -- his shoulders are tan and his upper legs are minty green, colours that are used more in robot mode but are otherwise absent as a beast.

Looks are all he's got going for him as a beast, though. Bulky quadrupeds are never going to make for hyper-articulated toys, but Striker is particularly bad even by those standards. His head is completely static owing to his transformation scheme. More unforgivably, so is his tail -- the one play feature it'd really make sense for a stegosaurus to have. His rear legs are restricted to some awkward-looking hip motion, which means that the grand total of Striker's playability in beast mode is the ability to wave at things with his front feet.

Like fellow Japanese creation Triceradon, Striker has a "play dead" mode. It basically consists of lying forward and opening his tail so that it looks like he's got a giant flower growing out of his butt. As you might imagine, the less said about this the better. If memory serves it wasn't even mentioned in the toy's instructions, for obvious reasons of good taste. Since it's not an "official" feature of this version of the toy I won't spend much time on it, other than to say that Hasbro probably made the right call.

The toy has good looks going for it, but precious little else. So all in all, Striker is pretty mediocre in beast mode compared to other toys from his era.

Robot Mode: Striker's robot mode isn't what I expected. I was looking forward to something laughable like Triceradon, but Striker is actually pretty good. I don't think I'm supposed to be disappointed when a toy isn't bad, but to be honest I was just a little bit.

Although he was dominated by dark green in beast mode, in robot mode Striker is equal parts dark green, mint green and tan. Various details are painted red, black, white, silver and two shades of blue, giving him a lot of eye-catching detail. His face is particularly nice, since it has a neutral expression instead of the Ninja Turtles grimace that so many Beast Wars figures were cursed with. His feet, on the other hand, are kind of strange. His dinosaur feet are standing on top of a larger set of mechanical ones, which enhance his height and balance but make him look like he's walking around on skis or something all the time.

Mercifully, Striker has far less kibble than his fellow Japanese dinosaurs. In his case it's reduced to a small flap hanging off of each hip, a ponytail hanging off the back of his head and a pair of prominent "kibble wings" behind his shoulders. The hip adornment is small enough not to cause a problem and the wings don't bother me either, since they are independently articulated and don't usually get in the way. The ponytail, meanwhile, is just great. It's made up of his beast mode spine, which means he's got a bunch of stegosaurus plates attached to it -- and anyone who'll braid dinosaur parts into their hair deserves some respect. Trying to sneak up on him from behind...probably not a good idea. All three sections of kibble serve to give Striker a unique silhouette without looking silly or restricting articulation, which makes them all a net positive in my books. I only wish the other Japanese dinos were this well thought out.

Overall, the figure has a very strong, stereotypical Aboriginal vibe to it. Between the ponytail, the cattle skull necklace and the feather headdress the resemblance is very striking, and obviously deliberate. Considering Takara's cavalier attitude toward political correctness it's no surprise that Saberback was characterized as some sort of evil shaman in the cartoon. What is a bit of a surprise is that Hasbro highlighted the headdress and necklace so clearly on the toy instead of de-emphasizing them with different paint apps. I do like the look and think it works well for Striker, though, so I'm glad they did.

Moving on from looks, it's time to see just what Striker can do as a toy. I'm happy to say that he's no slouch in the articulation department. Striker has all the joints you'd expect: ball-jointed shoulders and hips, bicep swivels, hinged elbows and knees, a rotating head and even the waist swivel that so many Transformer toys don't accommodate. He's also got independent articulation points for all his kibble, allowing you to shift it around into whatever position you think looks best -- you can even fold his wings out of the way behind his back, though doing that does restrict his neck movement some. He doesn't have any useful ankle articulation, sadly, which would the figure really could have used. Even with his big ski-feet Striker has some balance issues and he tends to fall over quite a bit, especially if he's toting his large weapon.

And the weapon itself is rather lacking. Striker pretty much brandishes his tail as a giant club, which would probably be more threatening if it didn't look so awkward. Pulling back on the lever that sits on top of the gun cracks it open and turns it into some sort of three-pronged claw with a gun inside, but like many modern MechTech weapons jamming the mechanism is the only way to keep it open for display purposes. It makes for a very poor accessory in my books, especially when you consider that this is the reason why his tail isn't articulated in beast mode.

All in all, I think Striker's a pretty neat robot. He's got balance issues and a bad weapon, but the good outweighs the bad.

Transformation Design: Like a lot of Japanese Beast Wars designs, Striker is a shellformer with lots of kibble. But he integrates it into his design nicely, and I think his transformation works pretty well. 6/10

Durability: Striker looks pretty tough, with one exception: each of the plates on his back are a separate piece that clips onto his "ponytail". These pieces could easily break or get lost, and I've seen several "junker" Strikers for sale in exactly that condition. 6/10

Fun: Striker doesn't really have any cool features going for him that other toys don't do better. He's not boring, but pretty average. 6/10

Aesthetics: Striker's ethnic costume gives him a very unique look among other Beast Wars toys, and whether or not it's politically correct I think it looks good. His beast mode works nicely too, even though it's based on the less-majestic accurate stegosaurus design. Out of the three Hasbro releases I think Universe Striker is the nicest, though the Japanese original Saberback is quite nice as well. 8/10

Articulation: Striker has very good articulation in robot mode, but he's hampered by some balance issues. In beast mode, though, he's a brick. 6/10

Price: Universe toys are cheap, although Universe Striker is perhaps a bit more rare than his Beast Machines self. I paid $6 for mine, which is a great deal, and he can easily be had for under $20. 10/10

Overall: I was expecting a silly mess, but Striker is actually pretty good. He stands out quite a bit from other Beast-era toys, and he's definitely worth a look if you can find one for a decent price. 7/10
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