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by yo go re

It's "later" now.

Wait, back up, that probably needs some context.

Remember a while back when we posted a review of the "Titans Return" Astrotrain? It closed with the promise that we would tell you how disappointing the toy was "later." Well, it's later now:

"Titans Return" Astrotrain was so disappointing that after playing with it, I immediately set about finding a third-party version of the character.

There are actually three different third-party Astrotrains (which, considering he's a triple changer, brings us up to three kinds of three) [it's a magic number! --ed.], so the first step was deciding which one to get. ToyWorld's "Devilstar" managed to beat out DX9's "Chigurh" and Machine Boy's "Transportation Captain"; we'll get into the whys and wherefores elsewhere.

Devilstar is packaged (inside a sturdy styrofoam tray inside a thick cardboard box) in train mode, so we'll begin there. Right off the bat, this is better than either of Hasbro's recent attempts, because the train is an old-fashioned steam locomotive, not a bullet train or whatever the hell mess the new one turns into. The original Astrotrain was a JNR Class D51 locomotive, which was built throughout the '30s and '40s. This toy isn't an exact scale replica of a D51, but it has enough design cues to make it feel "correct" - the square flarings around the front, the short smokestack, the "bump" on the top of the boiler... the major shapes are all there.

The train mode is 8½" long, 2½" tall and about 2¼" wide, and the large size allows for plenty of details. There are valves, tubes, pipes, rivets... all the things that make a machine a machine molded all over the surface. Panel lines make it look like it was assembled from individual pieces of steel welded together. There's a small cow-catcher in the front, translucent red lights, and all 12 wheels turn - the largest three on each side being connected by a drive bar. The small wheels actually come down slightly lower than their larger counterparts, which really only becomes an issue (or noticeable at all) when you put the train on the included tracks.

Yes, Devilstar comes with two pieces of railway. Packaged in a separate box with a tamper-evident seal. Really? Were they expecting such huge demand for a two-piece, 9½" long metal rail? I mean, it's a nice piece, and the halves can attach to each other in several different ways, but if it weren't here, nobody would ever have noticed.

So, that was the train. And the instructions would now have us move on to the "astro" part of the equation, but this is where we see one of the flaws inherent in the system: just because you can design a cool toy doesn't mean you know anything about presentational clarity. The only way to know what the instructions are trying to tell you to do is to already know what the instructions are trying to tell you to do, which is sort of a Catch-22. So here are the steps they give us, along with the bits they're leaving out.

We start out well enough. Press in a few panels on the sides; fold up the cow catcher; raise the front of the engine and rotate it, but don't put it back down yet, because we'll actually need it open later.

Disconnect the drive bar from the rear wheel and begin unfolding the side panels. Ah, but you can't unfold those panels until after you fold the wheel away, which they don't show until the next step. So wheels first, wings second. And you'll have to flex the wings around the front wheels anyway, because the tabs that hold them in place don't move out of the way. Also, don't think you can put the front wheels away yet, because you can't.

Open a pair of panels on the belly, fold out a small bar, and then go find some tweezers or something so you can actually get the tail fin out of the chest cavity. Protip: it's easier to push it from behind, so reach in past the robot's throat (see, that's the first reason we left the engine open instead of closing it a few steps ago) and poke it out that way. It then looks like the instructions are telling you to put the small bar back down, but no, don't do that yet. Because the tail fin needs to be farther back than the instructions show, and we can't do that until the engine is actually in place. We're not there yet.

Raise the wings and lift two panels from the sides of the vehicle. This will allow you to rotate the two halves of the toy - or at least it will once you also open two hinged grey panels on one side and two hinged purple panels on the other. The instructions don't mention that. Before you attempt to turn it, there's a major step that isn't explained at all, and if you don't do it, the shuttle mode will never come together properly.

What you need to do is hinge the entire "tail fin" section of the toy forward. Since we're under no illusions that this will eventually be a robot, call it "the robot's entire chest." Once you've done that, you'll see that the wings are mounted on pieces that are capable of rotating - the idea is that the bits with the train detailing will hide away, while the bits with smooth rocket detailing will be revealed. You need to turn these pieces for the other modes to work. With that done, put the robot's chest back in place (which will then allow you to close the engines, finally, which will then allow you to put the tail fin in place, which will then allow you to put down that small bar, which will then allow you to close the belly panels and will allow you to close those front wheels that have been sticking out this whole time).

With the wings properly rotated, there's now enough clearance to turn the front half around without breaking anything. In other words, to complete Step 15 of the instructions, we had to leave a bunch of stuff hanging from Step 7 onward. Yeesh! Things do get better from here, though.

Split the legs, lift the roof of the train (making sure to pull out the landing gear now, or you'll never be able to do the next bits), open a panel on the front and unfold the nosecone, turn the lower legs 180ª (below the knee, not above it), put the legs back together to form the front of the shuttle, then unfold the wing tops (which won't plug into place if you didn't do that rotating step the instructions never mention) and finally close all those random panels that are hanging open. We're done! Seven paragraphs to explain what we normally manage in one. Back to the review.

click to embiggen

The shuttle mode is nice. It's slightly larger than the train - an extra inch or so long, thanks to the nosecone, and of course the wings and tail add to the width and height - but the sculptural detailing is much more restrained, giving us lots of large, smooth areas that make this look like a modern machine, not one from a museum. And you have to give them credit for being creative: on the original Astrotrain, the front ends and back ends of both vehicle modes were the same; on this one, they're reversed.

Other than the short nosecone, the shape is pretty good. We've got the long, straight body, the rounded engines poking out the top, the "compound delta" wings, all the stuff you recognize from real shuttles, back when the givernment spent its money on science and endeavor rather than getting involved in people's private lives. Sure, you could complain that the trailing edges of the wings should be angled, or that the tail fin should stick back more, or that the front end should be lower than the back, but this is a space shuttle, not the space shuttle, so a few discrepencies are to be allowed.

One problem, though? The train's wheels end up as kibble under the wings. That's nothing new, but these wheels have those drive bars, remember? The designers should have given them somewhere to plug in, so that they didn't end up sticking out from beneath the wings at weird angles. It wouldn't have been hard, just a hole the existing peg would fit into.

Since we already struggled through the (poorly diagrammed) process of turning the locomotive into the shuttle, turning the shuttle into a robot is comparitively easy! Retract the landing gear, open the panels on the top, sides, and bottom of the shuttle, split the legs, and rotate the knee sections (yes, just the knees - not the entire lower leg, because most of it is already pointing the right direction). Turn the large wheels to face the back, then push the knees back to meet them. Unfold the feet and the translucent red flaps that are next to them for no clear reason. Lift the bar from his stomach, fold the tip over and tuck it into his chest, then slide the tailfin down. Lift the engine so you can fold the torso forward, spread the arms so you can lift the head into position, then tuck the engine down so you can raise the chest again. Move the side panels to the back so he actually has a waist, spread the tail fin, and unfold the hands from inside the arms.

click to embiggen

When ToyWorld first announced their plan to make a Not-Astrotrain, it was given the name "Devilstar," but when it was finally released, it had been renamed "Evila Star." However, this toy is still definitely Devilstar. How is such a thing possible? It's the paint.

Evila Star was sort of a cross between the Hasbro and Takara G1 toy colorschemes - the train was all black, but the shuttle still had a significant amount of purple on it. For the 2015 TFcon Toronto, ToyWorld redecoed their figure to match the way Astrotrain looked in the cartoon (which was itself based on the original prototype of the toy), and dubbed that one Devilstar. So that's why the one in this review is dark grey and purple. Would I have liked the other colorscheme better? Sure! But this one was on sale when I wanted it. And heck, it's limited to only 350 pieces, so that's kind of neat, right?

The robot's proportions are perhaps a bit too lanky - yes, the old toy may have looked like that, but he was always drawn fairly thick and chunky. The choice to give him a narrow, sloping waist in particular may have made sense from a design standpoint, but it has the unintentional side effect of making him look weaker. Narrow body, long limbs... he's not a speedster, guys! Just as on the original toy, opening his chest wings almost completely hides his shoulders, but at least this time he has enough articulation to work around that.

Devilstar stands 8⅜" tall, and moves at the head, shoulders, biceps, elbows, wrists, waist, hips, thighs, knees and ankles. He's armed with two copies of the same rifle, patterned after the Ionic Displacer the first toy carried. Those can be attached in train or shuttle mode, as well. While the joints themselves hold their positions well, the wings on his back are just held up by friction, but they weigh enough to overcome it - so unless you find a way to prop them up, they tend to slide down to his waist.

The head is surprisingly organic. Sure, it's silver, but it just looks like a silver human face inside a metal helmet, like the Silver Surfer needed some extra armor. The chin is pointy and square, but he has full, luscious lips. The head is sculpted with two eyes, as the cartoon and comic showed it, but the set includes a visor you can put on if you want to match the old toy. He does look good with it on, and you don't even have to take it off to convert him back.

(There are also two small purple plugs, presumably meant to cover screw-holes somewhere?)

We'll never get a true Masterpiece Astrotrain, because there's no way it could ever be in scale with anything, so going third-party is really our only option. ToyWorld's effort is the best of the three choices available, with a great train and a great shuttle making up for a so-so robot. Still, we can't help but think what Hasbro could have done with this same basic premise, if only they weren't obsessed with the worst train designs imaginable.

-- 01/31/17

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