Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Iron Factory Asura Knights (IF EX 06-10)

I received IF EX 16 Pink Assassin a few weeks ago. This set, numbered EX 06-10 and first unveiled to the public during a demonstration of rubbing two sticks together in order to create fire, was released shortly afterwards. So yeah, it's been a bit of a wait for this one to drop. In fact, the collective name this set of Legends scaled robotic warriors go by is actually Latin for 'Most Delayed 3P Product Since Igear Ratchet and Ironhide'. True story*

*Or possibly utter bollocks. Asura actually meaning 'a member of a class of divine beings in the Vedic period, which in Indian mythology tend to be evil and in Zoroastrianism are benevolent'. The more you know, eh? The more you know.

Moving onto possibly more important things, this rather pricey box set sees Iron Factory chucking their keys into the overcrowded, questionably sticky Dinobot bowl. The difference here though? Well there's size, obviously. But these guys, they ain't no robot dinosaurs.

Wisely playing a different set of rules to every other game in town, Iron Factory have offered up Cybertronian takes on these classic characters based on artwork first seen way back in Dreamwave's War Within: The Dark Ages series.

Created by Don Figueroa back in 2004, the designs were given a gratuitous cameo by Nick Roche in the 2009 IDW series Maximum Dinobots and now, ladies and gentlemen, using these designs as inspiration, Iron Factory have given life to these beast machines in miniature plastic form.

Worth the wait though?

We'll start with looking at Gladius, some sort of swamp buggyish thing with less than subtle hints to large golden plating. If Snarl secretly hated his stegosaurus mode, he must have been openly disgusted with this sub Robot Wars effort. You can have some fun with what become his back plates via attaching them in various ways and it's the only vehicle in the set that actually rolls, but you can't escape that initial impression of Gladius being crafted together from sheet metal and circular saws in some fella's shed in Stoke.

Nifty transformation though, with some dedicated hand hiding (nice to see at this scale, rare to see in this set) and enough twists and turns to feel worthwhile.

Robot mode is more like it, but Gladius suffers from the curious design choice by Figueroa to have Snarl's golden plates run right through the centre of his body. This is a visual you're going to get on with or not, and I don't think I do. Still, there's lots to appreciate here and while I feel he could've benefited from more of that darker grey his cohorts wear so well, his crisply applied painted details do a fair job with colour break up.

Articulation is pretty basic for an IF figure. While you can unhook the waist to enable a rotation, he still lacks any kind of ankle or wrist movement. That's not to say Gladius can't pull off some decent poses (indeed, his shoulder movement is fantastic), but he lacks that edge you see from single pack figures like Soul Reaper, and is a criticism not just reserved for him as you will see.

Next up is Trident, his triple pronged tank mode having a decent stab at some triceratopean (..clearly a real word, just like desolisating) foreshadowing. The cockpit lends a real Zoids vibe to the tank which is a lovely touch, and as is standard with Iron Factory, there are several 5mm peg holes with which to store his weaponry or add your own. Those points aside though, there's nothing particularly amazing going on here.

Transformation is a bit of a different story as the legs contort and fold in a manner hitherto unseen in a smaller scale toy. This I like, and the way the whole thing comes together reveals a perfectly realised Cybertronian Slag.

Robot mode is exemplary, one of the best in the set. The sculpt truly captures Slag's personality, his colours pop and that face scowls. Imbued with character, this one, and he shines for it. Marry that to some great articulation including butterfly joint shoulders and swiveling wrists (I'll let 'em off on the foot front for acing everything else) and there isn't much more you could want at this, or indeed any, size. Oh, a red head I hear you cry? Crow on a forum.

In addition to his standard rifle and sword, Trident also packs two extra guns. They can store within his treads in alt mode or (as pictured) attach to them. In robot mode they latch onto his forearms. I imagine them as flamethrowers. They look ace.

Probably best to bring the boss in at this point. Grimlock's is easily one of the more familiar designs from the War Within days thanks to star turns in each series of books, numerous customs, a Titanium toy release and a forthcoming Masterpiece scaled effort from SparkToys. Now I'm not sure if any of that stops his tank mode being utter guff, but he sure is popular.

Bit harsh, that? Gramking is a powerful looking beast in alt mode but I've never caught the feel of what's to come from it. Certainly not in the way the preceding toys manage that trick. That being said there's a nice industrial vibe to his tank form, especially with those obscenely oversized smokestacks, and he could definitely kill you loads just by running you repeatedly down, so I guess it serves its purpose. Visible hands feel a bit lazy as Gladius hides his and this could've been easily worked into the design. Ho-hum.

Transformation utilises extendable legs, locks and torso hinges and stays on the right side of simple though flirts with frustration when dealing with clearance for the arms and back wings. It's there, but you will struggle with it the first few times, especially when lining up those wings going back to alt mode.

Solid. Really very good indeed. Unmistakably Grimlock, built like a brick shithouse and initially let down by the face of a pig. Sorry, what? Listen, that headsculpt is so almost there, and I swear I can even make out sculpted teeth running along the sides of his mouthplate but from certain angles there ain't half something porcine going on. It's purely subjective and I've pretty much got over it but man alive did that not throw off my initial impressions of the figure.

Almost universally excellent articulation and the gold and silver finish used here is utterly stunning. A definite mention must go to the two tones of red within his sword. A damn nice touch on a weapon so small.

Crossbow now, and while Swoop's Pteranadon form is hugely visible within the lines and colour placement of this Cybertronian jet, there's more than enough going on under the surface to warrant discussion.

Because if Trident amped up the transformation game then this guy takes it the next level, bringing new standards of conversion to the Legends table. Making Swoop into a jet prior to his Dinobot days might have been predictable, but the engineering executed here is anything but, resulting in a fresh take on a familiar form. Really good work.

Like his vehicle mode, Crossbow's robot form probably deviates the least from classic G1 and that's no bad thing. The choice to roll with the blue chest brings a welcome splash of something else entirely to the red, gold and silver uniformity of the team and the detailing is easily some of the sharpest in the set, no doubt down to the prolific use of that wonderful silver plastic and its ability to bring out the best in a sculpt.

Not much bad to say about Crossbow at all aside from wanting wrist swivels and full foot tilt. See, there's that criticism again which comes from comparing him to a similar sized release from Iron Factory and those little touches of class not being present. I don't want to be an ankle wanker but I've been spoilt rotten by these guys and what they pack into their figures, so can't help but feel that in some ways the Asura Knights don't measure up. Can't argue with missile launchers pulling double duty as nasty stabbers though.

Last, and certainly by no means least, is Siegehammer. A huge four treaded tank packing an enormous pivoting cannon that, if you squint, might just double for the neck of a robotic sauropod. A lumbering behemoth, that's what this mode is and it's a job well done.

Really simple to transform, but not in a bad way, this Sludge analogue plays with extendable legs to add height but there isn't really anything else that stands out. And that's fine, because it's in almost every other way that Siegehammer does.

For a start he's brimming with character, the decision to give him Roche's oversized jaw from the comics lending a lovable, slightly daft nature to a monstrous sculpt. Yes he could cave your skull in with a fingertip, but he'd probably really rather be your friend, coming across less as the heavy hitter of the squad and more like the robotic equivalent of Ludo. Of course, with a sword and axe to hand, his melee weapons beg to differ.

And then there's the small matter of that cannon on his back - a veritable portable armory - distilling the best of IF's weapons interactivity into a core part of the figure's play pattern and taking Siegehammer from an excellent figure to a defining one. You can create a sniper rifle or hand cannon from it, chuck in a warhammer as well or simply have him wield the entire thing like some sort of intergalactic deathray. Yes humans, can you feel the groove?

It's hard to look at the Asura Knights without comparing them to what came after their inception. Iron Factory have been upping their game with almost every release throughout the time these guys were left on the back burner. And with that you end up nitpicking, it's true. But when you release figures way past their scheduled due date, certain design choices do stand out alongside an Evil Lord, a Soul Reaper or even a Blizzard. And some of the alt modes really are a bit 'Bleh', a combination of the source material not being fantastic and the execution being somewhat lacking.

But in spite of the wait slightly tarnishing their edge, this is a great set of top notch quality figures. I applaud Iron Factory's decision to go for War Within inspired alt modes, for bringing something unique to what is fast approaching Dinobot fatigue syndrome and for releasing them in a box set which definitely adds a sprinkling of 'event' to proceedings.

But above all else, I applaud them for Siegehammer.

The Asura Knights come highly recommended.

(And I didn't say *spits* Dynobots once)

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1 comment:

  1. Bluergh. I love Iron Factory, but these designs just leave me cold. I'll be getting DX9's Dinobots. The ones that actually transform into dinosaurs.