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by yo go re

Transformers are all about disguises, but there are times when looking like a car or plane isn't enough: sometimes they need to pass for human. That's where the Pretenders come in.

Aggressive, witty and charming, but only when hiding in his outer shell! Wary of everyone and everything, especially Decepticons. Uses his outer shell to disguise his dull personality as well as himself. Reluctant to leave his outer shell so he can transform into an interplanetary star cruiser, armed with particle beam cannon. Within shell, armed with lightning whip and thunderbolt laser pistol.

Pretenders are Transformers who have special external armor shells that completely hide the fact that they're robots. The Autobots' shells all look like humans wearing thick suits of armor, so they're not completely bereft of technology, but still, Iron Man looks more like a robot than these guys do. As far as disguises go, you're not going to be looking at these guys first when someone says "pick the robot out of the crowd."

Cloudburst's disguise is a white guy in red and gray space armor. Due to the need to hide a robot inside, he's really rather chunky - heck, between the red torso and the rounded blue helmet, he kind of looks like a robotic Eric Cartman. The suit has a lot of simple technical details, particularly on the back: if this were a real spacesuit, that's where all the life-support equipment would be. The helmet is matched by a big blue belt, and together the two of them conspire to keep the shell from falling into two parts.

If you remove the helmet, you'll get a better view of the human face - what little is exposed, anyway. Everything below the bridge of the nose is hidden away. He's got brown hair and eyes, and the skintone is more yellow than pink; he looks like he's coming off the flu or something, but it's not like every vehicle disguise they pick is completely flawless. Think of yellow skin as Pretender kibble.

The figure stands about 6½" tall, and has swivel joints for the shoulders. Both fists are molded to hold weapons: a blue "lightning whip" and a red "thunderbolt laser pistol" (which apparently becomes a "particle beam cannon" when attached to the vehicle.

Remove the helmet and belt, and you can split the shell in half from front to back, revealing the tiny robot crammed within. He basically just dangles there with his arms tucked behind him - thus the blockiness of the shell.

Cloudburst has very typical proportions for a Pretender, but as a standalone robot, he looks quite odd: the torso and arms are fairly bulky, but he's got super skinny legs, and they're set wide. You know how dumb hipsters look in skinny jeans? It's like that, but with robot parts. The overall design is decidedly square - it's all straight lines and angles, with almost no curves anywhere.

His head is very large on the body, as well. While most of the bot is red, his face is blue - an unusual color combination, to be sure. They usually go for pale colors on the face, with Tracks being a notable exception. Articulation is light by any standard, with swivels at the neck, shoulders and hips, and hinges at the knees and ankles.

Converting Cloudburst to vehicle mode is exactly as simple as it looks: you turn the head backwards, fold the legs up over the torso, and pull the wings out to the side. Oh, and flip out the suggestively-placed nose cone. That's all there is to it. The design of the star cruiser isn't terrible, but it's not very impressive, either.

The robot's gun can plug under the nose of the cruiser, which is what it takes to turn the gun from a thunderbolt laser to a particle beam cannon. There are two small "wings" on the gun, so it doesn't look out of place when it's attached, and it keeps the cruiser from looking so shrimpy, so overall things could be a lot worse.

"Could be a lot worse" is a good way to sum up Cloudburst as a whole. The vehicle mode is okay, the robot is mediocre, and the shell is as good as you can expect a Pretender to be. This definitely isn't one you need to run out and buy to re-create your childhood. It would be incredibly interesting to see Hasbro take another shot at Pretenders today, just to see if they could make them something interesting this time.

-- 02/22/11

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