Armada Toy Reviews: Optimus Prime

in 2002, Action Figure Review, Armada, Autobot, Generation One

Armada

General Information:
Price Point: Super Base
Retailer: General (K-Mart, Toys R Us, Wal-Mart etc.)
Release Date: August 2002
Transformation Difficulty Level: 4 (Expert)
Accessories: Sparkplug Mini-Con figure, Missile

Vehicle Mode:

Base Mode:

Robot Mode:

Super Optimus Prime mode:

Special thanks to Rob Yee for lending me his Prime for this review.

Optimus Prime's Armada incarnation brings the character to his roots as a tractor trailer truck. This time however, he is a futuristic, heavy duty monster tractor trailer truck. The primary gimmick of this toy revolves around the ability of the trailer to auto-transform. However, rather than simply having the auto-transform be activated by a button or switch on the trailer itself, the designers decided to have the cab send an IR signal to the trailer as it itself transforms! This is a first for the Transformers toy line, and the results are rather interesting to say the least.

This review will first review the Mini-Con included with Optimus, Sparkplug, and then Optimus Prime himself. Because there are over twenty images for this toy, the images are on a separate page.

Sparkplug Review

Vehicle Mode:
Sparkplug's vehicle mode is a lambourghini type sports car. He is primarily yellow with purple painted windows. The yellow is bright enough that it obscures a lot of the details molded into the vehicle. From front to back there are some nice grooves and designs etched into the sculpt. A bit of extra color or even black outlining would have really helped bring out these details more,
but they are not entirely invisible.

Transformation to Robot Mode:

  1. Swing out the rear sides of the car.
  2. Push the remaining piece in the back down which will flip up the middle portion of the car.
  3. Flip the car over and you will see Sparkplug's head. Flip it down.
  4. Fold down the mid section (Sparkplug's head will pass through the hole).
  5. Rotate the arms downward.
  6. Flip the front halves of the car up to form the feet.

Robot Mode:
Sparkplug looks a lot like the Generation One Bumblebee character in robot mode. Hasbro has insisted this is not deliberate,
and that is quite possible, but the resemblance is still remarkable. The similarities are:

  • Sparkplug is mostly yellow, which was Bumblebee's primary color.
  • The front halves of the car become the feet.
  • The passenger section of the vehicle mode becomes the main body, much like Bumblebee.
  • The robot head crest and facial structure are very similar to Bumblebee's as well, especially the line going down from the
    eye area to the sides. On the sides of the head are two horn-like protrusions, a lot like the original Bumblebee.

Again, details are hard to see thanks to the bright yellow color. On the backs of Sparkplug's feet are thrusters, perhaps allowing the Mini-Con to fly. A Mini-Con symbol is molded into his chest.

Overall, Sparkplug is a very cool little Mini-Con. He is full of detail, it would just be nice if it were easier to see.

Optimus Prime Review

Vehicle Mode:
Although Armada purports to be in a "new" universe all its own, this Optimus Prime has elements of the original Generation One Optimus Prime design (and as we will see later, designs of other Primes as well). At its most basic, we have a red cab pulling a grey and blue trailer. The trailer has an angled blue design starting from the middle and angling upwards to the back. A large Autobot symbol is right on top of this section. Seem familiar? Look no further
than the original Optimus Prime's vehicle mode for the inspiration. Unlike the original Optimus however, the angled design and the Autobot symbol shapes are actually molded and painted parts on the trailer. On the cab, rather than the silver lines which used to wrap around the cab on the original Optimus Prime, we have curved, sharp silver details on the sides of the hood. These influences are very much welcome, and shows the designers are aiming towards the future while keeping an eye on the past.

Although there are definite influences from the original Optimus Prime, the designers worked to move a lot of elements up several notches. Instead of the fairly boxy, straight forward design of the original, this Prime has much more meched out detail. The wide body of the cab along with the monster truck type wheels reinforces the "tough" feel of the toy. Prime's tires have the words "Monster Prime Convoy" molded into them. Some have speculated this will be Optimus Prime's name in Japan when Armada is released there. This name is also an indicator of the look the designers were going for. Not only is Optimus Prime a truck, but he's a monster truck, and that is a very interesting direction to go in for a hero character. How often does one associate the word "monster" with the leader of the Autobots? Adding to the feel of this being an almost monolithic truck, the trailer has false treads at the rear (in reality there are wheels underneath).

The trailer has some great features on it. There are four Powerlinx points on the top of the trailer. The two rectangular blue pieces can each hold a Mini-Con inside (or two if you cram them in). Also, you can mount Optimus' rifle onto any Powerlinx point. At the front of the trailer is a weapon pod which Optimus used in the television show quite effectively.

If you flip the trailer over, you will see a small on/off switch towards the bottom. This controls whether you wish to have the auto-transform feature activated or not. In order to transform the toy, you need to use the auto-transform feature. Trying to force the parts to transform is not recommended.

An interesting note: At the back of the trailer, if you look on the underside there is a hole that appears to be a hitch connection point. One wonders if Hasbro has more in store for Optimus Prime than just being able to combine with Jetfire!

Optimus Prime's vehicle mode looks powerful and rugged. It offers enough homages to past Primes that one can see the designers are trying to appeal to fans both old and new.

Transformation to Robot Mode (and base mode):
Separate the cab from the trailer. It is recommended that you have the trailer's auto-transform switch set to "On" if you wish to transform the trailer as well. Either set it on a large table or the floor since the trailer unfolds to a rather large size. Now, onto the cab:

  1. Pull the rear of the cab back, extending the parts that will become Prime's legs.
  2. Fold the gold fists back to reveal the robot feet.
  3. Fold the front grille forward and then down to form the robot chest.
  4. Swing down each half of the cab's front section. The crucial step which activates the base transform is moving the right arm, which pushes the appropriate button.
  5. Push the lower arm pieces back to reveal the robot fists.

The trailer will automatically unfold. You may need to disconnect the side pieces which are held to the central piece by pegs. Once the trailer finishes transforming, it will make a noise that sounds like something mechanical crashing to the ground.

Robot Mode:
Using the staple Optimus colors, the top section of this toy is mostly red. The chest strays from traditional Prime design by not having windows on it. Rather, the front grille of the truck forms the chest, so it is grey with some gold detailing. The lower arms and lower legs are mostly blue, with gold and silver tossed in for detailing. The upper legs are silver.

The rough and tough, meched out design scheme continues with Optimus Prime's robot mode. Between his wide shoulders and thick arms, Optimus looks like he was designed to do some damage! The robot head is unmistakably an "Optimus Prime" style head. However, instead of having antannae that go straight up, this time he has wing like protrusions on either side sweeping back, with the antannae following that angle. In some ways, his head is reminscent of Depth Charge from Beast Wars.

The one detail that has thrilled fans since this toy was first shown at Toy Fair 2002 is the inclusion of a Matrix inside Optimus' chest. Clearly fashioned after the Matrix seen in the Transformers movie, this Matrix is not removable, but it is still awesome to see a Matrix in an American Prime/Convoy toy.

Despite earlier fears, Optimus Prime is poseable in this form - just not as poseable as some fans would like. Optimus has eleven points of articulation. These include his arms at the shoulders, elbows, knees and head. His legs were designed with articulation, but the pieces which become Super Optimus Prime's shoulder parts prevent the articulation from being used to its maximum potential. The upper legs can move forward, but not back since the panels restrict them. What would have been nice to see are panels that could fold back, allowing the legs a large range of movement. Although the toy can achive some poses and is cool overall, this one tid bit is a bit frustrating.

One feature which offers a pleasant surprise is Optimus Prime's head. By pushing the grey button on the top of his head, his mouthplate moves as if he were talking! This feature harks back to one of the nicer aspects of the Beast Machines toy line, which aimed to give the toys as much personality as possible through a gimmick. This one small feature adds a lot of character to the toy, and Hasbro deserves mucho kudos for even thinking of it.

On both of Optimus' lower arms are translucent guns (which double as his smokestacks in vehicle mode). These can be removed and then combined together to form a gun. This also ranks as another nice touch that did not have to be included, but adds play value to the toy. Note: this gun can also be held by Super Optimus Prime, and if held in his hand with the LED, the lighting effect is quite nice.

Base Mode:
The trailer unfolds into a Mini-Con base. One of my favorite parts of Generation One were the Micromaster bases which were environments that the micro sized Transformers could inhabit and use in battle. Optimus Prime's trailer base revives this play pattern by offering spaces for Mini-Cons to work and battle in.

Starting from the back, each of Super Optimus Prime's legs becomes a battle platform. The left leg has a missile launcher which can lift up and rotate completely around. The missile is fired by pushing the grey button. Unfortunately, the same was not done for the right leg, most likely in a cost cutting measure. This is highly disappointing as it subtracts one point of play for the base, and prevents more than one Mini-Con from being able to stand on that section.

The center of the base has a small translucent screen which can flip up. Press the round button next to it and you hear a sound of metal crashing. Press the "T" shaped button to hear laser sounds. On the ramp in front of the middle area, you can attach a Mini-Con to the gold Powerlinx point and push the vehicle back to hear another laser sound.

The left side of the base has two primary features. Flip up the blue panel at the end and you can fit a Mini-Con inside. Attach a Mini-Con to the Powerlinx point near the gold cannon, and the cannon flips up.

On the right side, there is also a blue panel you can flip up to insert a vehicle. However, this side differs in that you can slide the grey tab to "launch" the vehicle into action. There is a Powerlinx point on this side as well, ut it does not activate
any features so far as I can tell.

The central tower is a tri-level emplacement. The very bottom has enough room for two Mini-Cons, one at the Powerlinx point and the other at the ramp in the front (which looks like a ramp intended for aerial vehicles). The second level is full of mechanical detail and can fit two or more Mini-Cons. You can also connect Optimus' rifle onto this level by connecting the two translucent pegs on the weapon to the two holes on the platform. The third level has a small radar dish that can spin around. The red piece is a platform for a Mini-Con to stand on. Push the grey button behind it, and the platform extends outwards. The hole on the corner of this platform can fit Optimus Prime's rifle.

The base mode is very nicely detailed, with tons of mechanical details. Having the multi-level portion in the front is a great idea, it gives the base a much more grand feel to it. I do wish that the base had more features that were activated by Powerlinx points, and that the other Super Optimus Prime leg had a missile launcher on it. However, despite these concerns, there's no denying that the auto transformation gimmick is mesmerizing to watch and fun.

Transformation to Super Optimus Prime:
This set of instructions assumes that you are starting with Optimus Prime in his vehicle form and the trailer in its base form. However, the trailer will transform to the Super Optimus Prime portion regardless of whether it is in trailer or base form. Once the trailer/base has formed the legs of the super robot, make sure to tighten it up by attaching the pegs on the legs to the sides of the trailer.

  1. Swing the front grille down as if you were transforming the cab into robot mode but leave it open so the Super Optimus Prime head can flip up.
  2. Swing the lower robot arms down.
  3. Swing each half of the back of the cab to the sides. This will initiate the trailer's transform.
  4. Extend each arm of Super Optimus Prime out, rotate the shoulder pieces so the gold details face forward and then swing the arms down.
  5. Rotate the lower arms so they face forward.
  6. Swing the translucent screen on the leg section up.
  7. Attach the torso section to the leg section using the tabs which get inserted into the headlights.
  8. The Super Optimus Prime head should flip up at this point. If not, you can activate it by pushing the right side
    tab on the torso section.
  9. Place the rifle in either hand and Super Optimus Prime is transformed!

Super Optimus Prime:
Super Optimus Prime combines all the elements of the toy into one large robot, roughly twelve inches tall. Optimus Prime has five basic colors: Red and blue are the primary colors, with grey easily being the third. Gold and silver are used to fill in details. This combination is both effective and visually powerful. Even with this new, highly stylized form, it is hard not to be able to tell who this character is meant to be by the colors.

Like the cab's robot mode, Super Prime's design is meant to evoke a powerful looking character. His shoulders are wide and his arms large. His legs each have so much mechanical detail that they give off the impression of a powerful war machine. A bit of sleekness is provided by the cab forming most of the upper body. Some have mentioned that the leg design is reminscent of the early 90's Convoy toy Star Convoy, which also had blue lower legs with yellow buttons at the kneecaps. Here of course the knees are gold and don't serve any purpose other than decoration, but it is an interesting parallel.

Optimus' head is a very unique design, and seems to be a highly stylized step beyond RID Optimus Prime's Battle Mode head. Everything, including the mouthplate is very angular. Although not immediately noticable, close up examination shows that the "horns" on the sides of his head are actually pipes. It takes a bit of imagination, but if you can picture smoke coming out those pipes, it makes Prime look even more like a machine smoldering with power. Interestingly enough, Prime also has two small "horns" protruding from the area above his eyes. This may lend credence to those who believe he will be called "Monster Prime Convoy"
in Japan.

In this form, Optimus only has five points of articulation. Much articulation is sacrificed for the trailer's transformation and the light up gimmick in Optimus' right arm. The shoulders can move back, but not forward. This is due to the wiring used for the led light in Prime's right fist. The wiring used for this is very thin, thinner than the wiring used on Laser Optimus Prime (whom some people have compared this gimmick to). You can use a model knife and strip away the plastic on the shoulder piece that prevents the arm from moving, but in doing so you risk snapping the wires, something which I have already received a report of.

The lower arms can only raise so far, which makes it look like Optimus can only fire at enemies shorter than himself (or at the feet of an equal sized enemy). This lack of poseability is nowhere near as disappointing as it would have been if there were not so many gimmicks involved. It's obvious Hasbro was going for more of a gimmick laden toy than one filled with poseability, and with that intent in mind, this one drawback is understandable.

Optimus' rifle can be mounted onto his back via the hole across from the small radar dish. Also, the gap between the upper torso and the back can be used for all sorts of play. Hot Shot fits in there, Demolishor makes a deadly back pack inside the gap and you can even fit RID Ultra Magnus' armor on him! Sure it just sits there, but it looks neat.

As mentioned before, Optimus' right hand has an led inside of it. The led is activated by pushing the button on Optimus' shoulder. When you place his weapons in that fist, they light up rather well. The Star Saber (made up of the Air Defense team) fits into his fist as well, but the lighting effect meant to light up the entire sword only goes up about 30-40% of the way. This is not entirely unexpected, but it
is a shame.

Two of the features from the base mode work here as well. The missile launcher on his left knee can be deployed here, and if you attach a Mini-Con to the Powerlinx point on his left leg, the dual turret pops out.

Three more Powerlinx points can be found on Prime. One on either shoulder and the other on his right leg. It is a bit disappointing that there are not more however. With Megatron designed to be loaded up with over six Mini-Cons in robot mode, one would hope that the Autobot leader could achive something similar.

How much you will like this Optimus Prime depends heavily on what you are looking for or expecting in this toy. Obviously the auto-transformation is its biggest gimmick. The Mini-Con gimmick and light are both secondary features. In my opinion, this toy is fun and looks cool. It offers a powerful looking Optimus in all three modes, and the fact that the cab can interact with the upcoming Jetfire toy is a definite plus. Also, add to these facts that there are hints that there is yet another toy that will interact with this toy and this is a toy that is not only fun, but filled with potential.