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Transformers: Alternators
by yo go re

When car companies get represented in the Transformers Alternators line, it's usually the high-end model that gets the love, but that makes sense. A sporty new coupe is a better show piece than the type of car you'd probably see in real life: a car that's probably at least six years old, has a rusty tailpipe, squeaky brakes and a slow leak in one of the tires. But at last, Hasbro is at least brushing against the real world, if only a little bit.

Skids has a tendency to bump into things, which, at speeds of 60 mph, can be a very unhealthy habit. It's not that he's reckless... he's just a bit of a daydreamer. His analyzer circuitry is frequently pondering some arcane data about Earthen life forms rather than the Decepticons' latest attack. Usually he can rouse himself out of his daze before it's too late, as evidenced by the screech of suddenly applied brakes. Given his former career on Cybertron as an anthropologist and researcher, he considers his new home, Earth, to be one vast laboratory of limitless opportunity. In fact, it would be perfect if it weren't for the war's interference. Often, his findings are of invaluable assistance to his fellow Autobots. Skids has an enormous memory storage capacity. He can record visual information virtually instantaneously, and has been known to scan an entire college library's collection in two hours. Skids isn't a fast car. His daydreaming often puts him in very dangerous situations. Often he can be trapped into letting his guard down when distracted by something that piques his scientific curiosity.

When he was first released in 1985, Skids was a boxy little utility car. Painted blue with a red stripe, Skids was, like most of the early Transformers, based on a real car; this one was the Honda City Turbo, a supermini designed for navigating crowded urban streets. No wimpy economy ride, the City Turbo went on to inspire the Civic, Prelude and even the S2000, and the newest evolution of the vehicle, the Honda Jazz, is due for a North American rollout in April 2006 (hey, wonder if that's why we got a toy named Meister?). But that Skids was from the '80s, when copyright laws were different - these days, in order to re-create specific cars with uncanny detail, Hasbo had to actually license the designs from the manufacturers.

To turn Skids into an Alternator, Hasbro stuck with the goofy-looking k-car theme by turning him into a Scion xB. Unlike a lot of the Alternators, which are high-end sports cars you'd probably never see in real life, the xB is something most of us might end up parking next to at the mall. It's a recognizable car, thanks mainly to its ungodly square body, and Hasbro did a great job of capturing its distinctive look. He doesn't have a red stripe any more but, in keeping with the Scion's status as a favorite of customizers, has a huge flaming Scion logo running back from both side of the hood, and the Scion name on the windshield. And check out those twist seven-spoke alloy wheels.

The fine detailing continues inside the car. Scions have crazy offset instrument panels that live in the middle of the dash rather than behind the steering wheel, and this toy does too. Following Prowl's lead, Skids has an interior paint app, and those two silver stripes really help the radio stand out. The steering wheel is adjustable, all four doors (as well as the hood and hatchback) open and, just like in a real Scion, there's a surprising amount of leg room - a many of the Alternators get a bit blocked up under the dash, but Skids is comparatively open. At this point, we've got an excellent 1/24th scale model of the xB, but since this is a Transformer, there's more to come.

Skids' transformation is only vaguely related to the G1 version. At the end of things, the robot looks the same, but there are little differences. His arms are under the hood rather than inside the doors, and his feet are behind the rear seats, not under them. The head used to come up through the hood, but now it drops back through the dashboard. If it's any consolation, his hips are still right in the middle of the undercarriage. In robot form, Skids stands 7" tall, and is pretty solidly built - the rear doors provide a bit of kibble, but the roof of the car is so far removed from where it should be that you'll barely notice.

The point of all that, including the slightly problematic arms, is that Skids looks just like he used to, but is actually articulated. Ignoring joints just used for the transformation, he moves at the ankles, knees, thighs, hips, neck, shoulders, biceps, elbows, wrists and fingers. Skids' gun folds out of the Scion's engine, but it's small, doesn't look at all like the old weapons and barely fits in the robot's hand. Hasbro needs to get back to making these guns look good, like the first few Alternators' did.

Skids was never one of the more popular or memorable Transformers, so the fact that he got updated for this great line of toys is kind of surprising. However, they did a really great job, from choosing a perfect car for the vehicle mode to designing an excellent robot to fold out of it. The Scion is sort of a natural choice, since their early commercials played up the customizability by showing the car transforming from one hot street mod to another. In short: cool car, cool robot, cool update, cool toy. Go find one, and impress your friends with your totally pimped ride.

-- 02/21/06

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