REVIEW: HOT WHEELS BATTLE FORCE 5 SABER with VERT 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, although I will also readily admit I'm not quite as die-hard a Hot Wheels collector as some people out there. However, 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 cool 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.
Last year, Mattel made the unfortunate mistake of linking Hot Wheels to the live-action Speed Racer movie. We know how that fared.
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 SABER vehicle, with VERT WHEELER.
Okay, first of all, I like that lead character's name -- for obvious reasons. The last prominent animated character sharing MY LAST NAME that I can think of was the no-apparent-first-name "Wheeler" from "Captain Planet and the Planeteers", and in keeping with the overly PC take of that concept, Wheeler, representing America on the international team of Planeteers, was an insensitive, ignorant dork. That was bad enough as far as I was concerned just on a national standpoint.
The character entry on Vert Wheeler doesn't really much go into his personality, but I would hope that he's of a more dignified bent. The WikiPedia entry on him reads: He is the Leader of the Battle Force 5. After finding his way into a battlezone, Vert discovered and rescued the Sentient Sage from the Vandals; after they escaped back to Earth, he agreed to help Sage prevent the Vandals and the Sark from invading Earth. His vehicle is the Saber, a race car which can deploy powerful blade weapons.
The package describes Vert Wheeler as "Battle Force 5 leader and the best driver on the team; role model to the rest of the crew."
The adventures of these characters take place throughout a series of Battlezones. These were apparently created by the "Blue Sentients", of which Sage is one, and have names such as "Volcano Battlezone", "Canyon Battlezone", and my personal favorite, "Math Battlezone."
The package card for the toys makes further mention of the necessity to capture something called BattleKeys, which they need to keep from the robotic Sark and the animalistic Vandals, and "to save the world from evil". Sounds like an interesting show, really.
Some have described this concept as TRON meets MASK, and they're probably not far wrong. So, what have we got with the SABER?
Well, visually, it certainly lives up to its name. It looks like a cross between a race car and a jet, with definite combat capabilities, and if we define a saber as a knife-like object with long, sharp-looking edges, then this vehicle has certainly been named correctly.
In its basic mode, the Saber is slightly over ten inches in length. It is a deep red in color, and is a very angular, low to the ground race car type of vehicle. It has four large wheels, with real rubber tires, somewhat over 1-1/2" in diameter, with the rear wheels being over an inch wide. It has four small wings on its sides, probably not enough with which to actually fly (although I don't know for certain), but which doubtless would provide greater stability for what is no doubt an extremely fast vehicle.
The Saber has a built-in, spring loaded weapon, in the form of its front bumber. This can be launched like a large boomerang with the press of a small button on the elongated front of the vehicle.
Speaking of elongated, the Saber has a rather interesting transformation capability. Grasp the car by the wings, and pull the front of the vehicle forward gently. And get your fingers out fo the way. You won't get pinched, but you need to allow room for the front halves of the front of the car to spring open!
The end result is a vehicle that is now over 11" in length, and has what appear to be curved wings on the front. Some impressive printed and sculpted detail of the vehicles mechanical interior can be seen at this point. These are described by WikiPedia as "blade weapons". Additionally, a series of nasty-looking spikes have emerged from the rear wheels.
But we're not done yet! The Saber can actually ride upside down! Invert the vehicle and watch the weighted cockpit spin around, and the Saber can just keep right on going! The flip side of the Saber is even meaner-looking than the original side, and is largely black and silver with some futuristic sculpted detail in is design, neatly accentuated by the silver paint on the black.
Now we come to Vert Wheeler. The Hot Wheels Battle Force 5 line features relatively small action figures. Vert Wheeler stands about 2-3/4" in height, which seems to be something a benchmark, if not a consistency, for the human figures in this line. He has fairly trendily-styled blonde hair.
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. Vert Wheeler's uniform is a dark red, with brighter red 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 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 Vert 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, give it a good spin.
Additional thoughts? It's a tremendously 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. Whether that's an advantage or not, I don't know. 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.
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 around these days, frankly, 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. I'm very pleased to have the SABER, and am very impressed with its overall design, quality of manufacture, and numerous capabilities.
The HOT WHEELS BATTLE FORCE 5 vehicle called the SABER, and its driver, VERT WHEELER, definitely have my enthusiastic recommendation!