It's really only apparent in hindsight, but the Transformers Energon line seemed to be very much about homaging G1 figures whenever possible. Armada didn't have any (other than the obvious), and Cybertron was more about The War Within, of all things, but if you were a G1 fan, Energon was right up your alley. Still, there was at least one case
where the homage didn't become apparent until a repaint came out.
In 2003, a character named Overload appeared. He was bright red, didn't really look like anything, and had no individual personality on the show. Basically, he was an extra trailer for Optimus Prime to haul around. In 2004, the mold was re-released in new colors, and rechristened Ultra Magnus.
The vehicle mode is... some kind of aircraft trailer. The kind of huge sledge they load large planes on and drag them around. It's actually designed to cart Armada Jetfire, but since I don't have that, it remains empty. It's a huge brick of a toy, 9" long, 3½" wide and 4¼" tall. It can either hook onto Optimus Prime's trailer, or be pulled around by the included tractor, Knock Out.
Knock Out is 3" x 1⅜" x 1¾", and features six rolling wheels. He's mostly white with some black, to suggest the traditional all-white cab of Ultra Magnus. It connects to the big blue trailer via a balljointed Powerlinx peg, and honestly looks comically small beneath there. Seriously, with all the weapons sculpted on the back, it looks like the little cab should just be crushed into a pancake beneath the weight.
If you decide to link the trailer to Prime and you find you don't need Knock Out as a vehicle, he can sort of be turned into another gun. It's just a question of folding out two gray gun barrels and pointing them toward whatever you want to die. It's not a big change, it's just a change.
Knock Out also gets a simple robot mode. The arms and legs swing out of the back of the truck, and his head folds up from the top. It's definitely an easy conversion, one that you can pretty much master even without ever looking at the instructions. In this form, he stands nearly 3¼" tall, and has only very minimal aticulation: shoulders and thighs. The design makes it seem as though his feet are on backwards, but no, that's apparently intentional. Don't worry about it too much, though, because he'll hardly ever be seen in this form.
See, Energon Ultra Magnus is a full-fledged Headmaster: Knock Out is binary bonded with Ultra Magnus, so the big guy has no head if Knock Out isn't around. He's like an empty suit of armor. As far as Knock Out goes, this is just the vehicle mode with a large robot head sticking out of the top, and it slides into UM's chest, so let's get converting!
Changing the back half of this thing into Ultra Magnus is harder than it seems, since there's more twisting than you'd expect, and the distinct lack of a head makes figuring out which way is up a dicey proposition. After a few tries, however, you'll know it well.
Redoing this mold in white and blue really makes the Ultra Magnus connection clear. Sure, G1 Ultra Magnus had a lot of red, but blue and white were his most identified colors. The strongest parallel between G1 and Energon are the shoulder towers - other than that it's all a question of paint, though that paint really does a wonderful job. In this mode, he's 8¼" at his tallest point.
The design is very boxy, and the articulation
isn't much to write home about. He moves at the shoulders, elbows, hips and thighs - all swivel joints - and has hinged ankles. Really, that's it. Don't expect any dynamic poses out of this one, because you're just not going to get them. There are two play features in this mode: panels on his shoulders flip up to reveal missiles, and when you push the head into place, the old "transforming sound" plays. Simple stuff, but it works.
It's unusual that Ultra Mangus is something other than a repaint of Optimus Prime - the same thing has now happened in Animated, but the idea started here. [apparently someone is forgetting Robots in Disguise, where it actually started? --ed.] This was
the first only the second time he was ever his own character, even if it's as a repaint of someone else and as a glorified suit of armor for Prime. And yeah, for that part, you're gonna need the instructions.
If you have the big fancy electronic Armada Prime (not the poor man's version, which I got), Ultra Magnus can attach to
him as armor... weapons... arms... something. Basically he splits into pieces, plugs into Prime and wraps around. Actually, you can do it with Prime's trailer, too, to make a bigger weapons platform. In this mode, his feet flip around to become missile launchers. And, as usual, the missiles are easy to lose, so if you're buying one loose, beware of that.
The reason we specifically warn about buying a loose version is that most people will never be able to afford one that's still boxed. See, Ultra Magnus was a last-minute repaint that was originally supposed to come out at the end of the Armada line, but they ran out of time, so he joined the very beginning of the Energon toys (along with two other Armada re-uses). He was so rushed, in fact, that Hasbro didn't even have time to create proper packaging: the back of the box still shows Overload. Mags was also supposed to come with one set of Mini-Con repaints, but ended up coming with a different set. As you can tell, a slap-dash effort,
all around, because there just wasn't enough time.
Ultra Magnus was released in the initial shipments of Energon product, which was very quickly replaced with the second series. That, coupled with the fact that only about 10,000 of him were made - a mind-bogglingly low number for a mass release - meant that he was gone in a flash. So we have a nice homage to a popular character, produced in smaller numbers than some exclusives, all packaged in what seems to be an "error" box, and you have one of those rare figures that actually continues to accrue value, rather than leveling out and dropping off. It's a shame he's so expensive, because the colors really do make him a nicer find than the original Overload.