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By Thomas Wheeler

I've been a Hot Wheels fan for just about as long as there have been Hot Wheels. I have a fairly vast collection of the cars, and I have enjoyed and supported the line for many decades. That having been said, there have been some concepts within Hot Wheels that just haven't quite worked as well as hoped, and it's generally been when Mattel has tried to work some story concept into a special line of Hot Wheels cars.

Several years ago, there were the AcceleRacers. These were impressive cars, and there was apparently some animation somewhere to back them up, but that and a few track sets was about it. The cars were a popular enough collectible, but the overall concept just didn't go much of anywhere, and ended after about a year.

It's probably fair to say that Mattel has tended to have a little trouble working story themes or specific concepts into their otherwise juggernaut powerhouse toy line known as Hot Wheels. Well, they're trying it again. And honestly, this time, I hope it works, because I think they've got a pretty cool concept on their hands.

It's called BATTLE FORCE 5. It currently airs on the Cartoon Network, although unfortunately I haven't caught an episode of it yet.

Fortunately, there was a short entry on Battle Force 5 to be found on Wikipedia. It reads:

Hot Wheels Battle Force 5 is an American/Canadian 3D CGI animated television series created by Mattel, Nelvana and Nerd Corps Entertainment. A two-episode preview aired on the Cartoon Network in the United States on August 24th, 2009. The series made its official debut on August 29th.

In the series, Vert Wheeler and Sage assemble a team of racers to compete against the robotic Sark and the animalistic Vandals in the Battlezones to determine the fate of the Earth.

Interestingly, there was a recent revision to this entry, which I had checked before, which made an oblique reference to the AcceleRacers concept, claiming that "It's been years since the events of AcceleRacers". Whether there's any real direct tie-in, I'm honestly not sure. From what I know of AcceleRacers, Mattel COULD make a conceptual connection, but it'd be a stretch.

There are three basic aspects to the Battle Force 5 toy line. There are Hot Wheels-sized cars and track sets. There are some mid-sized vehicles. And there is the line of somewhat larger vehicles, that include small action figures. This is the aspect that I am choosing to pick up, for obvious reasons. Most of the vehicles in the line are within a particular size and price range, but there are two larger ones. I'll be reviewing one of those larger ones in this review, the BUSTER TANK, with driver, SHERMAN CORTEZ.

The Battle Force 5 concept has been described by some as "MASK meets TRON", and with the Buster Tank, you see a whole lot of Tron, really. This vehicle looks like what you'd get if you took a tank and a racing vehicle and ran them through a Tron-based merging and redesign program.

The vehicle, about 10-1/2" in length, counting the sawblades up front, is largely blue in color, and extremely angular. I don't think there's a curved line on this thing except for the wheels, the sawblades, and the machine gune. The maun body of the vehicle itself is all straight lines, very few of them at right angles to each other. The Buster Tank is a geometrist's dream -- it's all polygons. Very interestingly placed, very menacing-looking polygons.

Picture, if you will, a vehicle that already looks like a heavy-duty, futuristic, six-wheeled race car. Now put a huge, equally futuristic turret on it. Now you've got the Buster Tank.

Just beneath the turret are six extended -- well, to be honest, I wasn't sure what they were. And maybe I've been playing with G.I. Joe and Star Wars a little too long, because I sort of assumed they were laser cannons or some such. They were too narrow to consider them being conventional tank barrels, even from a futuristic standpoint. According to the description on the package, these are circular, spinning "flails". Okay, so they're not supposed to shoot anything.

These flails turn automatically as the vehicle is rolled along a surface, so clearly they're tied in to the large rear wheels. They have a generous amount of "give", as well, I think due to the feature whereby you're supposed to be able to bring all six of the flails back as a group, tuck them under the turret, and lower the turret. This is a fair bit trickier than it actually sounds, but it does work if you're patient about it.

The two front sawblades, which also spin, can be removed on their main housing, but there's no place really to stash them on the vehicle when they're not in use. They can't be turned around and snapped back under the vehicle without getting in the way of the four front tires.

The remaining bit of weaponry at least looks like a couple of large machine gun barrels, which pop out of the sides if the vehicles, and can be snapped back into place. They're spring-loaded, but have to be activated by hand. Nothing on the Buster Tank actually launches anything. Not a big deal, it's still a cool vehicle.

I found the two large rear tires of the Buster Tank particularly interesting. They're partially made from a rubbery plastic, that fancier die-cast vehicles will sometimes use on their tired to give them a more "authentic" feel. But it's interesting to note that only the center treaded sections of the tired are like this. The remaining portions of the tires are solid plastic. As tight and precise a fit as it is, it must've been an interesting procedure on the assembly line.

Now, let's consider the figure. His name is Sherman Cortez, and if the group illustration of the characters on the back of the box is any indication, he's a pretty big fellow. That's certainly borne out in the figure. Although these figures are of a relatively small scale, there's certainly height variance where it's called for. If we take the Vert Wheeler figure as a basic "standard" for the line, he stands 2-3/4" in height. Sherman Cortez is a full three inches, which in that scale, is huge!

Sherman Cortez has a powerful, muscular build -- looks like a football player wearing a TRON costume.

The Battle Force 5 figures wear uniforms that I would personally describe as "TRON meets Power Rangers". They're futuristic in design, and tend to be of a single primary color, with assorted related-color design elements. Sherman Cortez's uniform is a dark blue, with a lighter blue chestplate and shoulder detail. Obviously the character is more detailed in the animated series than the action figure is, but the action figure is still pretty cool.

The eyes, eyebrows, and hair have been neatly painted, and the sculpted detailing on the uniform is surprisingly extensive and very neatly done, with great precision. Don't miss the "5" emblem on the chestplate.

The figure is not extensively articulated, but then all Sherman really needs to do is sit in the cockpit of the Saber. The figure is poseable at the head, arms, and legs. Raise the canopy of the cockpit, strap him in, and you're ready to roll.

The back of the package describes Sherman Cortez as "Twin brother to Spinner Cortez. Strong, shy, and a mechanical genius."

TWIN brother? If I'm looking at the package illustration correctly, and I'm pretty sure I am, then Sherman got all the bulk, and Spinner, a scrawny, hyperactive-looking sort, got the bad hair!

Wikipedia has a bit more to say about these two: A pair of brothers who serve as the team's brains and brawn. Spinner is the oldest and is an expert computer hacker, while Sherman is both strong and intelligent. Spinner has a fear of germs, while his brother Sherman eats pizza off the floor.

WikiPedia says that they both operate the Buster Tank, and yet there is no figure of Spinner Cortez included. I thought I'd seen him with another vehicle in the line, but I may be mistaken. I'll have to check into that.

Additional thoughts before my final word? Battle Force 5 might not have a terribly long run, despite the animated series. It's a very difficult thing for a new toy line to establish itself these days. Additionally, Battle Force 5 isn't quite an action figure line. It's a vehicle line. I would suspect that Hot Wheels collectors might go for the Hot Wheels sized cars, but take a pass on the larger toys. And those interested in the action figure-sized vehicle, and the figures therein, might not know that it's even around, since most stores are stocking it in the aisle with the Hot Wheels cars and other small die-cast vehicles. That could be a problem.

However, I have to say that I'm impressed. Mattel has come up with a very decent concept here, and an impressive toy line. I also have to say it's a bit of a kick to have some action figures around here that have the Hot Wheels logo stamped into the bottoms of their feet. THAT'S pretty unusual.

Anyway, the vehicles have cool designs, the characters are interesting and seem decently thought out -- better than a lot of the animation that I see these days, honestly, and on the whole, Battle Force 5 seems to be a fun, adventurous concept with some cool vehicles and some cool characters. I recommend giving it a decent chance.

And toywise, it's certainly impressive. This Buster Tank is well made, has a very cool, distinctive design, and some interesting capabilities. Sherman Cortex is very well made, well detailed, and well designed for a figure in his size range.

The HOT WHEELS BATTLE FORCE 5 vehicle called the BUSTER TANK, and its driver, SHERMAN CORTEZ, definitely have my enthusiastic recommendation!