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By Thomas Wheeler

I will readily state that my favorite toys among the Transformers in recent years have been what is currently known as the Classics and later the Generations line. I've always preferred the "Generation One" universe to all other incarnations of Transformers (with Beast Wars being a close second), but the one down side to this is that most of the original toys simply weren't that well articulated in their humanoid robotic forms.

To a degree, this was understandable. The main feature of the Transformers was not their action figure appearance, but that they could be transformed from some other form -- a car, a plane, a tape player, whatever -- to a humanoid robot. The degree to which that humanoid robot could move once the transformation was completed was decidedly a secondary consideration, and design and engineering capabilities being what they were at the time, there just wasn't much that could be done.

Still, it was a bit of a disappointment to see these amazing characters walking, running, flying, whatever, in the animated series, in the comic book, and even on the package illustrations, and all the toy could really do was stand there and move its arms.

This disappointment, in my opinion, was compounded by succeeding generations of Transformers, starting with Beast Wars but continuing with many other concepts to this present day, that were fully articulated in their robotic forms. This was, I am sure, a result of design and manufacturing improvements, aided by computer design assistance, and as cool as many of these robots were -- they still weren't the originals.

Finally, a line called Transformers Classics emerged, and here were new, but still entirely recognizable, incarnations of the best-known, Generation One Transformers, who were finally given the articulation levels in their robotic forms that these legendary characters deserved.

Transformers Classics eventually became Transformers Generations, and then -- the line sort of got deprioritized in favor of three movie-based lines and a couple of animated series. I can understand the need to emphasize the Transformers currently being presented in the other forms of media. But there was still a lot of potential in a Generation One-based Classics/Generations line. Still, it seemed as though it just wasn't going to happen.

There has been an interesting development, however. It seems that the Generations line has continued -- just not in the United States. Transformers got their start in Japan, and have proven just as popular throughout the Asian market as they have in the United States and elsewhere. And in one of these markets, the Generations line, with characters distinctly from Generation One, including recognizable packaging, Hasbro logo and all, has continued.

And Toys "R" Us has decided to bring quite a few of them to the United States! This review will take a look at none other than HOT SPOT, one of the main members of the Combiners group known as the Protectobots. In fact, his official name on the package is "Protectobot Hot Spot". He's also one of the largest figures among these special import figures.

Let's consider some of the history of the Protectobots, as well as the character of Hot Spot, and then have a look at his newest toy incarnation.

The Protectobots are a series of Autobot rescue vehicles that can combine to form the massive robot Defensor. Their members, along with Hot Spot, include Blades, a helicopter; Streetwise, a police car; Groove, a motorcycle; and First Aid, an ambulance

In the animated series, unlike the Aerialbots, Combaticons, or Stunticons, the Protectobots were the only combiner team from the pre-movie episodes that were not given an origin story. They first appeared in the episode "The Revenge of Bruticus," although they were not heavily featured and do not merge into Defensor until the episode "B.O.T", where they battled the Combaticons, with Defensor defeating the Combaticons' combined form of Bruticus. When Bruticus reappeared (having been rebuilt by Swindle after he sold his comrades' parts), Defensor engaged him again and was on the verge of losing when nearby humans used the robot B.O.T to force them to disengage.

Interestingly, they were the only group of Autobots to have a base away from the Ark, they resided in a converted building in a nearby city. Throughout the second and third season, the Protectobots were utilized mainly for assisting human civilians during battles or crises caused by the war between the Autobots and Decepticons. However, they often were engaged in battle as well both on Cybertron and Earth, including a trip to Unicron's severed head to investigate its reactivation by the ghost of Starscream.

The Protectobot who made the biggest impact on the series was without a doubt their medic, First Aid. It was apparent that he took over the duties as chief medical officer for the Autobots after the death of Ratchet during the movie. This led to another prominent appearance for the Protectobots in the third season episode "The Ultimate Weapon", where First Aid's failure to stop Swindle from stealing Metroplex's transformation cog led to his resignation from the Autobots, leading the other four Protectobots to soldier on, even battling Menasor at one point as Defensor with only one arm. Eventually, after the Autobots stole back Metroplex's cog, Hot Spot convinced First Aid to return, as he was the only one who understood how to install it. He did so, allowing Metroplex to defeat Trypticon. After this the Protectobots were reunited as a team.

Rodimus Prime ordered the team, as Defensor, to be the rear guard as he led a team to retrieve the body of Optimus Prime, in the two part third season finale "The Return of Optimus Prime." Unfortunately, a trap had been sent, and Ultra Magnus and the Aerialbots were quickly infected by the Hate Plague. The Aerialbots, as Superion, engaged Defensor, and rather than waste energy in a futile battle with their comrades, the Protectobots withdrew, but with Superion in pursuit.

Defensor attempted to evacuate a bridge in a nearby human city, desperately trying to keep some distance from Superion. They were unsuccessful, however, as Superion was successful at not only infecting Defensor but causing him to split, at which time the mad Protectobots quickly began to fight each other. They were cured along with everyone else when the resurrected Optimus Prime unleashed the power of the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, ending the plague once and for all.

The Protectobots were last seen supporting Ultra Magnus in a last-ditch effort to stop Galvatron in the fourth season. They failed and were gunned down. It is assumed that they were restored along with Ultra Magnus when the Golden Age of Cybertron was ushered in.

In the comics, the Protectobots also appeared in the accompanying Transformers comic by Marvel, although they had a lesser role. They originally appeared in the UK Marvel Transformers comics in a very odd way - as part of a dream sequence. In previous stories, Optimus Prime had transferred part of the Matrix to Buster Witwicky. During a mission, Soundwave detected this and used one of Bombshell's cerebro-shells to tap into his mind. Buster's vision showed the future of the Transformer race - the combiners. The Protectobots and Aerialbots battled the Stunticons and Combaticons in their various combined modes with Shockwave and Prime looking on. This set the wheels in motion for more combiner teams on both sides.

The Protectobots made their first true appearance in issue 24 of the US Transformers comic, when they and Prime confronted Megatron and the Combaticons at a power plant. The two sides reached an agreement thanks to the human Ethan Zachary, where they would battle it out in the confines of a computer game. Prime and the Protectobots won due to their compassion towards the game's inhabitants, but Prime deemed that he had lost, as he had sacrificed some of them to stop a cheating Megatron, and self destructed. Shortly after, Hot Spot was considered important enough to be one of the Autobots who named Prime's successor.

When Blaster and Goldbug went rogue from the new Autobot regime under Grimlock, the Protectobots were dispatched to bring them in. However, when they reached the used car dealership where they had last been sighted, they encountered the Combaticons. The two teams battled, with the Combaticons only withdrawing after the arrival of Circuit Breaker and RAAT, who captured Goldbug and the Throttlebots. The two teams battled again in pursuit of Blaster, this time as Defensor and Bruticus, with the Decepticon combiner emerging victorious, although Blaster managed to take out the Combaticons.

The Protectobots appeared less after this, as more new characters were introduced. Although they were not seen to be killed by the Underbase powered Starscream, they did not appear again after issue 50. They did, however, reappear in the Transformers: Generation 2 comic. Hot Spot was part of a team sent to Earth to combat a newly rebuilt Megatron before the events Generation 2, who appeared in a special team-up in the pages of G.I. Joe. He and Slingshot were the only survivors. Later he self-destructed in order to avoid being captured by Cobra forces. Blades was a member of one of Grimlock's raiding parties, while Groove appeared assisting the Aerialbots in a team exercise against Hot Rod and the Dinobots. It is unclear if they survived the final battle against Jhiaxus' forces and the Swarm.

As for Hot Spot, he is the leader of the team, as well as the torso of Defensor, and as such the central part of the massive combined robot. He is described as an energetic, active robot, whose personal motto is "Rust never sleeps and neither do I."

So, how's the toy? Extremely impressive. Hot Spot's vehicle mode is that of a bright, light blue fire engine. Now, for most of us, that would seem an unlikely color for a fire engine. I expect that most of us are used to fire engines either being red, or bright neon green, about the same color as the average tennis ball. But bright blue?

However, keep in mind that Transformers are originally a Japanese product. Hot Spot's original toy is precisely described as a Mitusbishi Furo fire engine. Now, for all I know, in Japan, fire engines are blue. I admit I really don't know for certain. I'm sure somebody reading this review will probably let me know...

In the original Transformers line, Hot Spot was an entirely unique toy. Now, these Asian imports are all recolors, but they're not implausible recolors. And Hot Spot, not surprisingly, is a recoloration of another fire engine in the line known as Inferno.

In the original Transformers line, Inferno was an individual fire engine, red in color, and not part of any special group. However, he did have something of a structural counterpart, in that most of his molds were also used to make a character known as Grapple, who was a bright yellow-orange construction vehicle with an extendable crane-like hook on the back. It wasn't terribly difficult for the crane device to be swapped out for more appropriate fire-fighting equipment for Inferno.

In the modern line, both Inferno and Grapple (re-spelled as "Grappel" for some odd reason) have been turned out as Classics/Generations-style toys, and pretty decent-sized ones, for that matter. And now, Hot Spot joins them.

Hot Spot did not come packaged on a card. He was in a box, and he's a fair bit larger than the average Classics/Generations robot. He stands about seven inches in height, and is a fairly bulky fellow. He was packaged in his robot mode, not his vehicle mode, as is customary for most of the carded Transformers.

Hot Spot has a unique headsculpt, appropriate to the character, and entirely different from either Inferno or Grapple. The cab of the fire engine is obviously his torso, complete with siren lights on the shoulders, and the windshield -- with sculpted, painted-on wipers, no less, forms part of his chest, as does the truck's grill and headlights.

Along with his height, Hot Spot is a bulky individual. His arms and legs are massive and powerful-looking. He has a weapon attached to his lower right arm, that includes a spring-loaded missile launcher. This fires a transparent blue missile that's designed to look like some sort of water burst or something.

In robot mode, Hot Spot is mostly bright blue. His head is black with a silver faceplate and red eyes. He has no visible facial features. Much like Optimus Prime himself, his lower face seems to be covered by a silver shield. His grill and headlight area are silver, and other portions of him, including his hands, upper arms, upper legs, and part of his feet, are black.

There are some areas of surprisingly intricate painted trim on the figure. The headlight array has several colors in it. There is silver trim on top of his feet, and there are lines of little red bars on his upper arms, both sculpted and painted with great precision. Also visible, even in robot mold, are highly detailed flames on the side of his torso.

Of course, in robot mode, Hot Spot is extremely well articulated. This is one of the things that I especially appreciate about these Generations Transformers. Hot Spot is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles -- although the ankle swivel is somewhat part of the transformation.

Let's discuss what it takes to get Hot Spot into his fire engine form. Hot Spot is rated as "Intermediate" for transformation.

First, open the double-hinged panel on Hot Spot's back, and tuck his head into it. This will leave you with a headless-looking robot, so let's continue the transformation before this starts to creep me out.

Next, raise the L-shaped panels on Hot Spot's arms upward, and fold out the black panels. Here we finally get to see where Hot Spot has been hiding his Autobot emblems. Inferno has one on one side of his front, and Grappel, part of the "Reveal the Shield" line, has one of those thermal-active stickers on his left upper arm.

Then, extend the arms outward, and rotate them so that, on the right arm, the missile launcher is facing upward, and so that in both cases, the fold-out panels are facing forward. Then fold out the panels.

Now, fold the arms back, and fold out the remaining panels on the L-shaped panels. Bring all of this together to form the top and sides of the main cab of the fire engine (and some of the sides towards the back. This is not an especially easy procedure.

Then, snap up the front bumper, fold up the fronts of the feet, rotate the legs around individually 180 degrees, so that the feet are pointed back and the wheels are down, and bring the entire lower torso, including the previously concealed front wheels, down and fold them into the rear of the vehicle, snapping all panels into place.

Finally, rotate the front wheels around, and turn the missile launcher around, and Hot Spot is now fully in vehicle mode!

So, how is Hot Spot as a fire engine? Very cool, although he almost seems to lose a fair amount of his size during the conversion. He's still significantly larger than most Classics/Generations Transformers in their vehicle mode, but he somehow looks a little -- short. Maybe that's because his original toy, much like an actual fire engine, was a fairly long vehicle. For that matter, so were Inferno and Grappel.

In fire engine mode, Hot Spot is just short of 6-1/2" in length, with a fairly prominent front bumper. Nearly three of those inches consists of Hot Spot's cab, which is a little disproportionate for the average real-life fire engine.

Hot Spot is significantly bright blue in vehicle mode, with black windows, and some black and silver trim on his sides. Most notable is the flame-like trim on his sides, accompanied by the Autobot emblems. The flame emblems are a definite carry-over from the original Hot Spot.

And, I have to say, that Hot Spot rolls along very nicely on his wheels in vehicle mode, frankly above average for a Transformer in my opinion.

In vehicle mode, the painted trim that is not visible in his robot mode is just as neatly painted as the rest of his trim. Really superb, very precise.

Hot Spot's character profile on his package reads as follows: Protectobot Hot Spot strives to be the best leader he can be. He refuses to ask those under his command to do anything he would not do himself. No matter the situation, he will always be found at the head of his soldiers, his voice calling loudly above the battle, and his cannons blazing.

His various power rankings are as follows: He gets a "9" in Strength, Endurance, and Courage; "7" in Intelligence, Rank, and Fireblast, "6" in Skill, and "4" in Speed.

I should mention that there's no indication that any of the other Protectobots are being brought into this line, and since Hot Spot here is technically a recoloration of a previous release, I doubt it would work well to try to get Defensor out of this, anyway.

So, what's my final word? I'm truly pleased to see the Generation One-based Transformers Generations return, even as Toys "R" Us imported exclusives. I hope it's the start of a trend, or maybe even a full return of these original Transformers in these new modern forms. There's still plenty of characters that can -- and should -- be done. In the meantime, I'm pleased we have these. Hot Spot is an excellent third character to get out of the very impressive design that was previously used for Grapple and Inferno. I'm very glad to have him, and I sincerely believe that any longtime Transformers fan will feel the same.

The TRANSFORMERS GENERATIONS figure of PROTECTOBOT HOT SPOT, part of the import series offered by Toys "R" Us, definitely has my highest recommendation!