Mikko Hirvonen driving his Subaru Impreza WRC ...

Mikko Hirvonen driving his Subaru Impreza WRC during the shakedown of the 2004 Cyprus Rally. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back during my review of Alternity Bumblebee I mentioned the Binaltech/Alternators line. This toyline was intended for collectors to the point that they resemble model toy cars from their size to real working doors and molded interiors. However, the line wasn’t as popular as Takara and Hasbro wanted, plus there were licensing issues, including two different branches of Honda disagreeing about whether or not they wanted their representative carrying weapons (Honda US didn’t like it, Honda Japan didn’t mind). Ultimately the line failed. Japan’s Binaltech had a storyline that continued into Alternity but Alternators had no such story. Alternity probably wasn’t launched in the US and elsewhere after the hassles of Alternators.

One interesting choice is the character chosen for the first toy, Smokescreen. While he had his fans, appearing in later early G1 as the third repaint of Prowl and Bluestreak, he doesn’t carry the impact of those other two. That doesn’t make him a good or bad toy so let’s look at this thing.

Smokescreen is a big sellout!

Alternators Smokescreen is meant to represent a 2003 Subaru Impreza WRC rally car, right down to the sponsorship stickers. The original Smokescreen was also a rally race car although he was a red and blue two-tone Datsun 280ZX Turbo, which means he changed manufacturers as well as paint jobs. While the Binaltech versions mixed die-cast with plastic this is all plastic except for the axle (more on that shortly), screws, and pins, and I have no complaints there. Translucent plastic is used for the windshields, windows (the driver and passenger windows have no glass however) , headlights, and taillights. The attention to detail is impressive, and that’s from someone who knows little about cars or rallying.

“I said get my good side, not my underside!”

There is some molding at the bottom but the interesting thing here is the bar connecting the front tires. Using magnets this car has a working axle. The steering wheel does nothing (a necessity for transformation but I couldn’t tell you if actual model cars have a working wheel…I know the engine doesn’t work) but you can turn them manually. It probably isn’t necessary but I don’t collect or display these kinds of cars unless they turn into robots so I’m not the guy to ask.

Prowl gave him the once-over.

Like the models that inspired the line, Smokescreen has working doors. All of them. the front and back doors open and so do the hood and the trunk. Additionally the front seats are molded like the actual car, and while the back seat doesn’t exist (both for transforming and I would assume lightening the load so he can race faster) the legs fold up into something resembling a seat at quick glance. There isn’t much room in the trunk but you probably won’t put anything there anyway.

I thought you’d be able to see this in the previous image just in case here’s a closer look.

While I would have liked for them to sneak the Autobot symbol in the stickers somehow (not a blatantly obvious symbol per usual mind you) it instead ends up on the Turbo intercooler (that’s what the Transformers wiki calls it). This piece also turns into Smokescreen’s gun and pegs into his robot arms and ends up hiding them, which is a nice bit of integration. The head is a bit more obvious but still hidden enough that only the nitpickers will complain. It’s what they do best. I save my nitpicking for stories. 🙂

I just noticed there are even vents and a passenger-side airbag.

And finally the seats are the only thing molded to resemble the car. Smokescreen also has a tilting steering wheel (whether this is for transformation or the vehicle display I couldn’t tell you), a stick shift, and even the radio and dashboard. That really is an attention to detail. But enough about the vehicle. Let’s see what he looks like in robot mode.

I know the classic designs wouldn’t have worked in the live-action movies but this would have been a better compromise than ILM’s “car parts at random on scrap metal” look.

Yes, I harp on Michael Bay and ILM’s live-action movie designs a lot but I’m serious on this. Look how well the vehicle parts blend into the robot parts, which by this point Hasbro and Takara were getting really good at. Except for maybe the chest it’s a vast improvement. This looks like a rally car turned into a robot. As far as getting it that way, I’m relearning the transformation after all this time and while it takes longer than your typical Transformer toy it’s easy to grasp and fun to do. I don’t care for “puzzle” transformation and outside of a few panels slipping to go back to the vehicle I have no problem with this once I can figure out how to get the head, axle, and arms to cooperate. And the result is really nice. He looks like a powerful robot, the head crest of the G1 counterpart is there, and you can easily forget (out of necessity) that he’s the wrong color for Smokescreen since they wanted the right color for the car in question. I also like how the seats and floorboards fold up into his torso.

I decided to combine the pose and weapon pictures.This is pretty picture-heavy to being with.

Alternator Smokescreen boasts some darn good articulation. His hand can open and close but the fingers don’t move separately. He’s have better arm articulation if those axle plates didn’t get in the way, but otherwise they work well. No bicep swivel but he does have good elbows and wrists. While there are limits to his hips and his knees fight the rear windshield you can still get a good range of poses out of the legs. The feet are nice and flat and even without using the rear tires as heel spurs (fun fact: when he’s standing straight you can push him on those wheels with little trouble, so also be careful) they hold him up in certain positions. Right now as I write this review I have him up on his right big toe and it’s just as stable as his left foot.

His rifle is more interesting for how it tucks away in vehicle mode but it works for him. A good adaptation of his old Electro-Disruptor Rifle.

Decision: Stays

The first figure out of the gate and he’s a good example of how nice these toys could be. Not all of them held up as well, mind you, and I ended up getting only two more before I lost interest. We’ll see those two in the next two weeks as I complete my look through this box to see what if any of the Alternators I’m willing to part with. (Yes, I keep Masterpiece Optimus in this box because he’s a similar size.)