Zob reviews Universe Depthcharge!!

2004-05-04 11:49:36 PST

Color schemes are one of the most important things in a Transformers toy, as far as I'm concerned. An absolutely fantastic color scheme can go a long way towards saving an otherwise uninteresting toy (and yes, I'm just enough of a G1 fanboy to admit that to me, "fantastic" in this context means "painted to look just like Trailbreaker/Jetfire/Red Alert"). By the same token, a really horrible color scheme can do a great disservice to a well-engineered and beautifully-designed mold. This has happened to *lots* of Transformers toys, of late, and they all seem to be originating from the Transformers: Universe line.

I've got mixed feelings about the original Depth Charge toy. On the one hand, he's pretty much a slave to his disk-shooting gimmick (I've always maintained that his robot mode isn't much more than a disk launcher with arms and legs), and the kibble attached to his back juts out so far that he needs to use his tail as a support strut just to stand up. Despite his design issues, though, I've always thought he was an *attractive* toy, with lots of beautiful shiny gold chrome (or silver, depending on which version you got) and some great colors that really compliment one another. I don't like playing with the Depth Charge toy, but I've always *loved* seeing him on my display shelf.

TFU Depthcharge is a different story. In theory, any one of his three main colors would look great on this toy. His body is a rich, dark teal on the same order as the secondary color used for G2 Jolt and Sizzle. His upper arms, upper legs, and parts of his wings are this nice, orangey copper Razorbeast color, a great choice for a robot toy. The light cream color used for his lower arms and head and shark drone is the same shade used for the original Cybershark, and seems like a natural choice for an aquatic beastie. It's the actual application of these colors, all together at *once,* that makes the toy look so bad. He's jumping all over the spectrum and clashing with himself in eleven different ways. The elimination of even *one* of these colors would be a tremendous help, but as it happens, he remains this bizzarely-disconcerting conglomeration of colors.

His chrome silver/gold parts have been replaced with a really shiny black. I don't *think* they're vac-metalized this time, but the high-gloss paint used produces very nearly the same effect. Not surprisingly, nobody bothered to remold the insignias on his wings (they're unpainted, but they're still there), so he's got both Autobot and Maximal symbols in evidence. (The indent for his energon chip is still there, too. In this context, "energon chip" refers to the heat-sensitive symbol used on most of the second- and third-year Beast Wars toys, not the silly star-shaped thing you stick on the Energon toys.) Perhaps the most bothersome paint application, or lack thereof, is the fact that his eyes are unpainted. They're the same off-white color as the rest of his helmet. Makes him look like a zombie.

Surprisingly, Hasbro made a *lot* of mold changes to this toy. You'd think a comparatively recent toy like this one (the mold's only six years old) would be up to most of the current safety regulations, but apparently not. For starters, the laser things that form his kneecaps in robot mode are made of a *much* more flexible vinyl plastic. They're so soft and squishy that you can twist 'em around a full three-hundred sixty degrees and they spring right back into shape. You will never, ever have to worry about these things snapping off. (And I just want to reiterate that *this* is what they should have made reissue Prime's smokestacks out of.) They redid the arm connector hinges so that the arms pop off when you transform him instead of, y'know, actually swinging around and locking into place. (Now you, too, can re-enact that classic scene from "Nemesis" in which Depth Charge is blown to bits!)

They also changed the shark drone launcher a bit. Apparently, somebody decided that the toy's tail was dangerous or something, so they turned it into a detachable piece with a little peg at the end. (This actually took a bit of oing, from an engineering perspective, since they had to pretty much redesign both parts of the launcher to accommodate this new feature.) I'm pretty dissatisfied with the change, though, since it affects the way I use the launcher. The launch triggers are on either side of the shark drone, so I used to brace my thumb on the tail while I pressed the trigger with my finger. If I do that now, though, the tail just pops right off in my hands. The tracks for the missiles seem to have been changed as well, since you can rotate the missiles inside the launchers freely now. The only problem here is that if you don't line the missiles up correctly, the triggers won't lock them in place. That's what the tracks were originally designed to do. Somebody really mucked things up here.

Depthcharge's launching disks also got a big change. They're much thicker now, with a large, protective donut around the edges, apparently intended partly as a safety measure and partly to prevent you from bending/breaking the disks. He only comes with five disks now, instead of seven, since that's all he can hold. They also got rid of the notches inside the disks that corresponded to the tracks inside his launcher mechanism, designed to help hold the disks in place. (I don't mind losing this feature, since all it really did was make the disks harder to load.) They also added a small bar to the plunger to make it the same width as the new disks. Unfortunately, this means you can't use BW Depth Charge's disks in the TFU Depthcharge toy, and vice versa.

I'll also just say that I'm really *glad* I already owned a previous incarnation of the toy and more or less remembered how to transform it. I was surprised to see some cursory English directions thrown in (you *know* a toy must be complicated if they actually violate their apparent rule about actually *including* instructions in the instructions booklet), but I'd have been at a complete loss if I'd tried to figure out this toy based on these directions alone. (I dread the day they release a TFU Rampage repaint.) The instructions make no mention of the transportation mode, incidentally. (Granted, it can just barely be considered a transformation in its own right, but still.)

I really must ask, in all seriousness, why so many of the recent toys have somehow been saddled with such bad color schemes. It's a subjective thing, I admit, but speaking from my own perspective, the toys never used to clash so badly with themselves until pretty recently, and as I observed above, it seems to be restricted largely within the TFU line. Is Hasbro actually doing play-testing with these toys and discovering that kids *like* these horrible color schemes? Is somebody at Hasbro Direct harboring a deep, dark secret that he's color-blind? Is Takara just totally misunderstanding what colors Hasbro *wants* the toys to be, and by the time Hasbro discovers what's gone wrong, it's too late to rescind the order?

And then there's the name thing. Apparently the two-word "Depth Charge" is currently being used for a brand of fishing bait (sporting goods merchandise falls under the same trademark category as toys). I'm actually a little surprised that Hasbro's managed to get away with using the one-word "Depthcharge" as a replacement, since the lack of a space between the two words doesn't change the meaning. (One supposes it's technically a newly-coined word, in the same way that there are such things as sound waves, but the word "soundwave" isn't in the dictionary.) Anyway, it's good to know there's an actual reason for the name change, since I'd honestly been under the impression somebody at Hasbro had simply forgotten how to spell the name.

I hate to say this, but I'm actually beginning to eagerly await the next batch of TFU toys. Which toys will they select for the dubious honor of being rendered in the most horrendous color schemes imaginable? What sorts of mold changes will they initiate to make the toys fall apart when you stare at them cross-eyed? It fascinates me, in a morbid, train-wreck kind of way. (I think a Magnaboss repaint could be interesting. Make the lion bright green, the eagle yellow with purple wings, and the elephant can be maroon with blue tusks. Their names will be Snarl, Silverbolt, and Cindersaur and they'll combine into Optimus Tribal. What's sad is how closely on the money I'm probably going to be about this.)