"Transformers Energon" Tow-Line Toy Review


"Energon" Logo

General Information:
Release Year: July 2004
Retailer: General Release (Toys 'R' Us, Kay Bee, Wal-Mart etc.)
Price: $9.99 (Depending on Retailer)
Accessories: Energon Weapon

One of the great things about the current success of Transformers is that it allows the creators a bit of flexibility to design toys that may not normally have been produced or even conceived of. One benefit of this has clearly been the huge number design homages in the line. But another benefit is the creation of somewhat unconventional characters. Tow-Line is one Energon toy that manages to accomplish both of these things in one toy.

Vehicle Mode:
Tow-Line is a news van in vehicle mode. That's right, not a plain van, not some ammo spewing armored van - a news van. The van itself looks like a futuristic take on modern day vans. The entire vehicle design slopes from the back down to the front. The front is angled with a bumper that also has smooth, yet angled parts sloping downward towards the center. The van has some neat detailing. The front has a grill that leads to some neat headlights in a sort of "L" shaped pattern. On the sides, you'll find line details indicating panels of the vehicle's structure. Though unfortunately not colored in, there are cut lines for small windows. On the left side door is the Autobot Spark Crystal. Both doors have small side view mirrors on them, a nice little touch.

Perhaps the most significant details molded into the sides are ladders that lead up to the roof of the van. These are often found on news vans to allow a technician to get to the roof, and thus the transmission equipment.

And of course, no self respecting news van Transformer would be caught without such equipment! On the top of the van is Tow-Line's weapon/equipment. This piece has two radar/satellite dishes on it, one round, one rectangular. This also doubles as his weapon in other modes, so its various pegs can attach to any standard Armada/Energon figure's fist holes. Also on this piece is a Powerlinx peg that you can connect other Energon weapons or Mini-Cons to. The radar dishes are neat. You can turn them from side to side, even have the rear one point up a bit if you wanted. Quite a different imaginary play setting than your typical Transformer vehicle.

When we get to talking about the color scheme of this toy, we begin to enter homage territory. While at first, one automatically thinks "Ironhide/Ratchet" when a van is mentioned as a homage, this mode actually shows otherwise (though their homages come in the robot mode). The front of the vehicle is mostly white, with the windows being translucent red plastic. The front bumper is blue, which extends out to the sides of the vehicle all the way to the back. The top is light blue with gold details. The sides are where we find a deco homage. The sides are molded in blue plastic. Painted on the side in a line that then angles up is a red line with a silver outline. This is a direct visual reference to the classic G1 Transformer Skids, who himself was a blue vehicle with similar styling.

In terms of play value, you can do more than just have Tow-Line report stories. Should he need to defend himself, you can add on Energon weapons to the rig on top as well as attaching them to the holes on either side of the van towards the rear. This addition to the play pattern is critical for setting Energon toys apart from other lines (and indeed, some other Transformers) and it's good to see that has not been abandoned here.

Transformation to Robot Mode:

  1. Detach the satellite dishes/weapon piece.
  2. Swing the sides of the van out.
  3. Detach the top half of the vehicle from the bottom half. They are linked via a Powerlink point at the front.
  4. Flip the bottom half of the vehicle over and you'll see treads. Swing these forward, then swing the front wheels down, and flip down the back panel of the van.
  5. Taking the top half of the vehicle, flip the side doors up.
  6. Swing the robot arms forward.
  7. Swing the top section back and down, then forward to line up with the front windows.
  8. Straighten out the light blue pieces and flip up the ends to form the robot legs.
  9. Flip up the light blue piece on the white section to reveal the robot head, then push it up, then forward to lock it into place.
  10. Take the Energon weapon and flip the round dish to the side, then pull on the rectangular one to reveal the gun barrel. This piece can be attached to the robot fist as a weapon or to the vehicle formed by the bottom of the vehicle.

Robot Mode:
The robot mode is what I call "Homage Part Two" for this toy. While the styling of the toy was a homage to Skids, its overall transform design and robot mode/transport design is very much a modern day take on the Ironhide toy design. The Ironhide toy design (also used for Ratchet) was a van whose back detached from the front, allowing you to form a robot and an accompanying transport vehicle. Because this classic design was so different than the design used in the television show for Ratchet and Ironhide, many fans often wanted a van Transformer that would conform to the animated design. In some ways, this is what Tow-Line provides. The robot portion of the toy has the front windshield as the robot chest, the legs are fairly plain in design, but have the rectangular feet and large (but angled) knees seen in the animated program. In effect, the designers took the animated design of Ironhide and Ratchet and streamlined it, giving it new details and more angled parts.

One design detail which really differs from the old Ironhide/Ratchet design is the head. Here, it seems the designers continued using Skids as a starting point and made a head with details reminiscent of him instead of Ironhide and Ratchet. The central crest has an inset section, leading to a helmet that goes to the sides in an upturned fashion while small shapes can be found on the sides of the head. Though not an exact match to Skids, there is a definite influence.

Tow-Line has eleven points of articulation in this mode. The important thing here is that most of this articulation can be found in important spots. For instance, in the arms he has three points each, and thankfully his head can turn despite being on a base.

The new colors introduced into the mix are green and beige, which look kind of odd against the white, red and blues on the rest of the toy. I think black and silvers might have worked better here, but overall, it's not a horribly ugly color scheme, just a strange one.

The transport formed form the bottom half of the vehicle mode is a homage in design to a similar vehicle included with the original Ironhide. This time around, it's much bigger with more detail sculpted into the toy itself. Take a look and you'll find all sorts of tech detail on this vehicle from tubes, to wiring to three guns on either side. Attach Tow-Line's weapon on for more firepower! Not enough, on either side of the transport are two holes for attaching Energon weapons. The central portion of the transport has three holes itself, so if you don't want to use Tow-Line's weapon, you can attach different weapons of your own. The vehicle roles on the two wheels and smaller wheels on the treads. And yes, if you want to emulate the G1 Ironhide toy, you can have Tow-Line stand on this transport or do more, which brings us to the next part of this review: Powerlinking!

Transformation to Upper Body Mode:

  1. Starting with Tow-Line in robot mode, straighten out the robot feet.
  2. Flip the toy over and you'll see small gun barrels in the feet, flip those out.
  3. Swing the lower half of the body up so the Powerlink point is exposed.
  4. Bend the leg pieces forward so the small gun barrels face forward.
  5. Attach this to another Energon Autobot who can form the lower half of a Powerlinked Transformer or attach it to the Powerlink point on the transport.

Powerlinx Tow-Line:
Since Tow-Line does not have a "lower body" mode, any time he Powerlinks with another Autobot, it will pretty much be known as "Powerlinx Tow-Line". I really found it interesting that they gave the robot the ability to Powerlink with the transport piece. It is a rather alien looking configuration, but keeping in mind that Transformers are aliens, this is a very cool mode. If anything, it looks like a way for him to move faster on the ground for rapid attacks, which is quite different than what you would expect from a news van!

As the top of other robots, Tow-Line is nice. He's not too chunky since a good portion of his body mass is split up between the robot and transport, and he has good poseability in the upper body area, allowing for a very clean looking Powerlink with virtually any Autobot. I'm also a big fan of the "legs used as guns" thing that began with Inferno, so I'm glad to see it repeated here.

Final Thoughts:
Tow-Line is one of the Energon toys I anticipated for a long time. I love the unconventional nature and design of the toy. Its dual homage is also quite interesting and impressive all at once. Overall, a fantastic toy. Highly recommended.

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