We saw the test shots, we saw them displayed at conventions, we've anticipated and heard the death knell, then the song of resurrection...finally they are here. Mech iDeas Bluster and Trench. Almost. While the Techno Toon Titans line from Mech iDeas are aimed at filling all the gaps that the cancellation of Transformers Animated left, inaugural release TTT-01G is actually a repaint of the moulds for Animated Huffer and Pipes. The Transformers Animated colours are to be released later this year, but the Mario and Luigi repaints exclusive to TFCon in Canada and Auto Assembly in England are out. Here's my short pictorial review. If you need some historical context, background, rationale and design analysis, you can read my article on the test shots here.
The presentation is brilliant, and completely symbolic of the thought, taste, intelligence and basic cool that the designers/creators of this concept are known for. Animated Huffer and Pipes were clearly based on Nintendo's talismanic duo Mario and Luigi, so this repaint was a no-brainer almost. It's also quite brazen in that it's 'borrowing' heavily from not just one intellectual property, but two; Transformers and Super Mario Brothers. Everything about the package had to live up to that bold act, and the box resembling aged and worn Nintendo cartridge packaging just absolutely nails it. I love that it is not trying its damned best to be Transformers and fit in.
The robo brothers are suspended in a clear plastic tray, and come with an instruction sheet plus smokestack accessories for Trench (Pipes/Luigi) and the spanner/plunger set. The insert tray has retro faux-screenshots of the two characters in Super Mario-style levels. There is a lovely blurb on the side of the packaging too which I'll touch on towards the end.
Having had some serious time with the early test shots, and documented the issues they presented, it's really nice to have final production standard versions so soon afterwards to compare. The joints are much more sturdy, stability in robot mode is improved although Trench still stands much better in robot mode than Bluster (Huffer/Mario). That is a direct result of the compacting of Bluster's thighs/shins, and as I showed in the test shot review, you can reverse the look to make Mario taller than Luigi.
All those concerns about paint application are gone, the 'skin' colour is clearly grey as desired, the 'trousers' are even a different shade of blue for Bluster and Trench distinguishing the two clearly, and the shoulder ball joints are coloured like the 'shirts' to further reference the Mario and Luigi look, and even the Animated Huffer and Pipes look as laid out by Derrick J Wyatt. The cab section no longer pops off at the slightest provocation and there is no looseness in the arms, legs, head, cab, hands or heel spurs. Exactly what you would expect of a production standard release.
Small toys usually mean simple transformations, and these are no exception. But the main appeal of Animated was just how much they put into the smaller class toys like deluxes, legends and the Activators, and so they are very much in keeping with the line that has inspired them. The transformation process - while quite simple - is improved. The alignment of the vehicle treads, cabs and arms is significantly better than on the test shots, although I did have to fiddle with them for a while to make sure it all stayed clipped for the photographs. I don't like it when one tread is off the ground, but I can live with both front tread sections not being clipped to the cab. If I'm brutally honest, it should be possible to clip everything together without this much effort.
Mario and Luigi as Transformers. Maybe outsiders would have expected one to transform into a go-kart and the other into a plunger, but those who come to this from Transformers Animated know that these boys were always going to be restricted by Wyatt's vision for Huffer and Pipes, and the necessity for keeping those two true to the original forms of the two minibot characters. Cybertronian engineering trucks that suit the Animated look and are truly faithful to the original Animated design seen in the Almanacs mean that we must call these a success. Plus they are incredibly cute and scale well - as well as look great - next to Animated figures. Trench has the smokestacks that detach from the arms and attach to the cab, and Bluster has the removable bar on the back of the cab for storing the accessories.
In their own right, they are two extremely cool little transforming figures that homage two very special things in the hearts of a lot of collectors and fans of pop culture. To put my appreciation of TFCon/AA exclusive Bluster and Trench in perspective, when the NES was around I was gaming happily on my Commodore Amiga. When the SNES hit, I was a Sega Mega Drive boy (although I did eventually get a SNES for Mortal Kombat 2 and 3). For the N64/Wii era, I firmly sat in the Sony PlayStation camp, so I have zero history or attachment to Super Mario Brothers. The closest I got was Mario Kart on SNES and the Great Giana Sisters on the Amiga! Further to that, I only came around on the issue of 3rd Party toys being for me in August 2013, about a year ago, so for these to appeal to me, they've done a stellar job. Transformers Animated has a lot to answer for.
What I learned from the test shots, and have had confirmed by the production specimens, is that as good as these figures are as standalone curiosities, novelties or collectibles - and no matter how much the proper colours Bluster and Trench will faithfully recreate the Transformers Animated aesthetic and Huffer/Pipes design, what has impressed me the most is their compatibility with other Transformers, their playability and fun factor. Sure every Transformer can be fun, but these two plumbers can be posed not just as fearsome, heroic and dynamic robots, but as comic relief, as Mario and Luigi, as TF Animated cast members, as characters.
Ultimately, character is what will define the success of these figures, because that's the challenge the designers have set themselves. Transformers Animated was entirely about character, about being different and about every toy, cast member and feature being unique, a fresh perspective on long-held values and designs, and something hugely memorable, fun and true to the characters. Bluster and Trench accomplish this in spades, while having the excellent privilege of unmistakably being the Super Mario Bros as Transformers. Only my imagination and time constraints stopped me pulling out virtually every class/era/scale/type of Transformers toy I own for posing and photographing with them, that's how much fun they are.
Going back to the text on the side of the box, I won't type it all, but I will quote this excerpt: "It's best we thank those responsible, kudos to them for doing something no-one else would. In celebration, we cheer them! Now, if only we had more like these. Sounds like a plan!".
And with that, it's only left for me to say...
Or for those that get the joke...
All the bestMaz