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REVIEW: BEN 10 ULTIMATE ALIEN AMPFIBIAN
By Thomas Wheeler

One of the cooler animated concepts to come along in recent years, in my opinion, has been BEN 10. The adventures of a boy who finds an alien device that allows him to transform into a fairly wide range of assorted alien heroes. Of course, this gets him swept up in plenty of super-cosmic-type adventures.

There have been three distinct animated series based on the concept and characters, the most recent of which is BEN 10 ULTIMATE ALIEN. Bandai has been responsible for the toy line, and has really done an excellent job with it. The core of the action figure line is a 4" series known as "Alien Collection". I say 4", and not 4" scale, because the figures are all pretty much 4" in height, more or less, regardless of how big or small they are in the animated series. And believe me, there's enough disparity between one alien hero and another so that doing an action figure line that was actually to scale would have been practically impossible. While a "same size" line is a tad unusual, it was the most effective way to get most of the characters rendered in plastic.

Let's consider for a moment the backstory of the latest Ben 10 series.

The plot follows on from the Ben 10: Alien Force, set a few weeks after the events of Ben 10: Alien Force, the original Omnitrix being destroyed, Ben, now being 16 years old, must now master the Ultimatrix.

Taking place a few weeks after where Ben 10: Alien Force leaves off, Ben 10: Ultimate Alien follows the now sixteen-year-old Ben. The Omnitrix has been destroyed and Ben must learn to master the secrets of the new Ultimatrix, a gauntlet-like version of the old Omnitrix that not only gives him access to all of his original powers and abilities, but also allows him to evolve his alien forms into even stronger and even more powerful versions (called "ultimate forms") like: Ultimate Swampfire, Ultimate Spidermonkey, Ultimate Big Chill, Ultimate Humungousaur, Ultimate Cannonbolt, Ultimate Echo Echo, Ultimate Wildmutt and more. Later Ben will get seven more aliens for his Ultimatrix.

In the premiere episode, "Fame", a young ten-year-old fan named Jimmy Jones deduces Ben's secret identity and reveals it to the world. Ben becomes an overnight celebrity, hailed by kids as a hero but distrusted by most adults as a possible threat. With Gwen, Kevin, Julie and Grandpa Max still at his side, Ben continues to battle alien threats to the galaxy including finding five aliens that were attacked by a villain named Aggregor. Their names were Bivalvan, Galapegus, P'andor, Andreas and Ra'ad. After Aggregor captured and fused with all five aliens, he began searching for the Map of Infinity to go to the Forge of Creation and absorb the powers of celestial-sapiens.

The series has had two seasons, and it was announced recently that there would be a new film. Ben 10: Alien Dimensions, where Ben has to choose to be with Gwen, Kevin, and Grandpa Max or go solo, which it wouldn't surprise me might lead into a new series.

One of the things that has impressed me about Ben 10 is its durability. It's not BASED on any previously existing concept, and yet it has certainly found a place in modern-day pop culture. It's also infinitely more intelligent and better animated than most of the sloppy animated "entertainment" these days.

Now, I haven't really been in the habit of picking up the "Ultimate" forms of any existing characters since, with the exception of Ultimate EchoEcho, I didn't really consider any of them to be drastic improvements over the originals, whom I already owned. However, a number of new alien heroes have made their way into the line, and these I have certainly welcomed.

One of these, by the name of AMPFIBIAN, has proven to be extremely elusive? How elusive? I mentioned my difficulty in obtaining this figure to a friend of mine overseas, in England, and he mentioned in return that he was quite sure he had seen it at a toy store near him. Might he, I asked politely, be willing to send one my way? And so he did, with my sincere thanks.

The character of Ampfibian is described as follows: Ampfibian is an Amperi, a blue jellyfish-like alien with four tentacle arms, from the planet Amperia, scanned into the Ultimatrix from Ra'ad. He has the ability to fire electrical bursts from his tentacles, drain electricity, turn intangible, read the electronic pulses that make up thought patterns, stretch all of his tentacles, and absorb and redirect energy beams. Ampfibian can also travel through air, water, and electronic currents by turning his body into electricity.

Ampfibian, in the episode "Fused", had a voice that sounds just like Ben's but it has the effect of being phase-shifted. In other episodes, however, it sounds like Ra'ad's.

So, how's the figure? Very interesting. I've always maintained that the Ben 10 action figure line can't be an especially easy one for Bandai, because the designs of the alien heroes are all over the map, and a few of them aren't even especially humanoid. Most are, but there's few common points between them. This line isn't like Masters of the Universe or DC Universe Classics, or even to a lesser degree G.I. Joe, where parts can be swapped between characters or molds readily reused from one to another. That just doesn't happen here.

Ampfibian being described as a "jellyfish" like being is fairly accurate. If I were to provide a more extensive description, I'd call him a reasonably humanoid take on a jellyfish with a bit of octopus thrown in for good measure.

Ampfibian starts off with three layered sections that comprise his head and upper body. This is the most jellyfish-like aspect of his appearance. These sections are a very pale blue with outlines of white, and white lines running through them. The top section, arguably the head, has two large, green eyes -- typical for a Ben 10 alien hero -- outlined in black. The symbol of the Ultimatrix, also typical for a Ben 10 alien hero, appears in the center front of the second layered section, pretty much the closest thing Ampfibian has to a chest.

Emerging from the lower section are two arms, which are the least human-looking part of the character, and pretty much where my octopus comparison comes in. Looking more like a cross between tentacles and flippers, each arm splits in two below the elbow, and extends into a pair of almost spoon-shaped tentacle-flippers, that are mostly white with some blue trim.

Also emerging from the lower section of the body is a white extension that looks something like an insectoid thorax, but not as prominent. Attached to this section is a pair of legs, which comprise the most humanoid portion of Ampfibian. Very humanoid in appearance, the legs have distinct knees and feet. The lower legs have fins out to the sides, and the upper legs have slightly smaller fins. There are distinct feet on the figure, at the base of the legs. While this might not seem like an especially unusual feature, you should see what passes for feet on some of the other alien heroes on this line. This looks positively normal in comparison. As with the arms, Ampfibian's legs are mostly white, with a fair amount of light blue trim.

How's the articulation? This is something that tends to be really up in the air with these figures. You never quite know what you're going to get. Sometimes a figure will have articulated knees and elbows. Sometimes a figure doesn't even have knees and elbows to articulate, but may make up for it with whatever he does have that can be moved. And sometimes, based on the photos of the prototype figures that have appeared on the packages over the years, articulation might be trimmed down between the initial design and what actually gets to the stores. This has led me to believe that, as much as anything, the articulation on the average Ben 10 Alien Collection figure is dependent on two factors -- what the character's design is and how that can be articulated in plastic -- and what it will cost to do so.

Fortunately. Ampfibian comes across pretty well, really. His head turns, and is flexible enough so that it has a good degree of rotation. His arms are poseable, and move forward, backward, and outward, although they don't have that great a range of motion as they are hindered somewhat by the shroud-like jellyfish upper body. But they don't do too badly. Ampfibian is also poseable at the legs, and the knees! This isn't always the case with these figures.

Ampfibian comes with a small accessory, a disc that's designed to work with the kid-sized Ultimatrix toy. It activates sounds on the toy, and also features a spring-activated pop-up transparent bust of the character.

So, what's my final word? I'm impressed. Ampfibian has one of the cooler designs for a Ben 10 alien hero that I've ever seen. Granted a comparison is not always easy. Never mind the old "apples and oranges" concept -- when you start looking at all of the various alien hero figures this line has produced, it's the comparative equivalent of an entire farmer's market. But I know what designs I like, and Ampfibian is definitely one that I like. The design is cool, it's unusual, the color scheme is entirely appropriate for it, the figure is well designed and well articulated within his design, and he's certainly an impressive and distinctive addition to the Ben 10 Alien Collection.

Now, I'll admit, he probably won't be that easy to find. It was only recently that I finally saw him in the United States, on the new white cards that seem to be an all-encompassing Ben 10 line. And even then, as a new character, he's bound to have immediate appeal to Ben 10 collectors. However, if you're any sort of Ben 10 fan, and are maintaining the 4" Alien Collection figures to any degree, I definitely consider him worth it. I'm glad to have him, and I am certain you will be as well.