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REVIEW: TRANSFORMERS GENERATIONS FALL OF CYBERTRON SOUNDWAVE with LASERBEAK
By Thomas Wheeler

As greatly as I enjoyed the Classics/Generations line of Transformers, which finally brought the original Generation One Transformers into the modern era of Transformers toys, with figures that, when transformed into their robot modes, finally had the level of articulation that these iconic characters have always deserved, I realized that there were some characters from the concept that would make the transition better than others.

Some weren't difficult at all. Optimus Prime, as a truck, made the transition fairly readily. So did most of the vehicle-based Transformers on both sides of the conflict -- Bumblebee, Starscream, Tracks, Wheeljack, Skywarp, Thundercracker -- no real problems. Even a few of the more fanciful entries like Cyclonus made the jump with no real problem.

It was when it came to some of the Transformers that had something other than a fairly straightforward vehicle as their "alt mode" that the occasional problem arose. Take Megatron, for example. His original alt mode was a very realistic-looking pistol. That's not going to fly too well in today's toy market, taking certain sensitivities into consideration. So Megatron needed to be modified. Unfortunately, the poor guy ended up with an alt mode that looked like a cross between a Nerf Blaster and a Super Soaker. One cannot help but wonder if he needed to be modified quite that much.

And then we come to the odd case of SOUNDWAVE. Certainly a popular and very prominent Decepticon, Soundwave never really made it into the Classics/Generations collection, not because his alt mode was anything regarded as somehow inappropriate, but simply because his alt mode was -- well, outmoded.

Soundwave's original, Generation One alt mode was a cassette tape player. And in this day of CD's, iPod's, MP3's, and who knows what else -- most of which themselves will probably be outmoded at some point, a cassette tape player just isn't going to be all that well received, let alone Soundwave's various sidekicks or cohorts or whatever you want to call them, characters such as Rumble, Frenzy, and Ravage, who transformed into -- you guessed it -- tape cassettes.

However, a new opportunity for Soundwave recently arose. A new Transformers video game, titled FALL OF CYBERTRON, has come on the scene, and there's a fairly significant assortment of new Transformers toys, marketed under the Generations banner, based on the likenesses of the characters from this game.

Listing these toys under the "Generations" banner is perhaps a bit of a stretch, and yet, I'm not entirely sure. On the one hand, these are the Generation One characters. On the other hand, the degree to which they resemble their Generation One incarnations -- tends to vary. That's largely due to the fact that "Fall of Cybertron" takes place before -- just before -- the Transformers make their way to Earth, where established history has them given alt modes that are more in keeping with Earth forms of vehicles and machinery.

So, in a sense, these are the "pre-Earth" Transformers -- still the Generation One characters, just not quite what one expects in some instances. Nevertheless, it has presented the means to bring Soundwave, as well as his cronies, into the modern Transformers line, and he's still certainly recognizable, so I'm not really complaining.

This review will take a look at SOUNDWAVE, as well as one of his best-known comrades, LASERBEAK. First, let's consider the established Generation One history of the character:

Soundwave is one of the most recognizable characters from the original Transformers line. He had an alternate mode - a microcassette recorder - and possessed a distinctive monotone, computerized voice.

Soundwave is able to detect and jam transmissions across the entire energy spectrum, a talent that makes him suited to his position as Decepticon Communications Officer. Additionally, he has a photographic memory thanks to the vast data storage capacity of the magnetic disks in his chest compartment, and he is armed with a shoulder-mounted radio wave sensor and hand-held concussion blaster.

Soundwave is physically strong compared to most Transformers. His alternative form - which involves an apparent loss of mass - is that of an Earth-based cassette deck. Within the tape compartment, which becomes his chest in robot mode, he stores a variety of Decepticon spies, all of which take the alternative form of a microcassette. These spy characters include Ravage, Laserbeak, Buzzsaw, Ratbat, Rumble, Frenzy, Slugfest, and Overkill, all of whom are under Soundwave's command in the original television series. Squawktalk, and Beastbox were additional cassette characters under Soundwave's control in the US toyline, but never appeared in animation.

Soundwave's cassettes are quick to serve and defend Soundwave in a crisis, and generally relate to him as servants or even pets. However, when his cassette Ratbat became leader of the Decepticons in the Marvel comics series, Soundwave fully shifted his trademark loyalty from Megatron to him. In the Dreamwave comics, Ratbat led the Ultracons faction, while Soundwave remained with the Decepticons led by Shockwave, although within that continuity these events occurred before Ratbat took up a cassette form. In the IDW comics, on pre-war Cybertron, Soundwave functioned as personal assistant to Ratbat, who was a Senator at the time, however Soundwave's true loyalty lay with Megatron. When the time came for him and Starscream to massacre the Senate, he enslaved Ratbat by bestowing the smaller, weaker cassette body upon him.

In the original Transformers cartoon — his most prominent role in Transformers fiction — Soundwave was Megatron's right-hand robot, frequently sent on important reconnaissance missions with his cassettes, and often playing a key role in many schemes against the Autobots.

On Cybertron, he used his ability to transform into a roadside fixture to spy on the Autobot city of Iacon, learning of the Autobots' plan to search for energy on other worlds. Joining in Megatron's attack on the Autobots' craft (known as the Ark in the Marvel comics series at the time), Soundwave fell to the same fate as the rest of the ship's occupants when the craft crashed on prehistoric Earth, entombing everyone within in stasis. Immediately after the Transformers awakened on Earth in 1984, Soundwave played an essential role in the generation of energon cubes and the formation of plans for a new space cruiser to return the Decepticons to Cybertron.

Later, he used his mind-reading talents to acquire an antimatter formula for the Decepticons from the brain of Chip Chase. He and his cassette minions were often on spying missions against the Autobots.

One of Soundwave's most notable misadventures came in 1985, when, operating a plan conceived by Starscream, he brainwashed humans with ultrasonic vibrations, leading to a confrontation with his Autobot Communications Officer counterpart, Blaster, and to a lasting rivalry between the two.

Soundwave rarely displayed much emotion, infrequently exhibiting any traits that could be considered to be in line with his tech spec. However, he showed distress when one of his cassettes were hurt in battle, and he always came across as extremely loyal to Megatron, even going so far as to recover his body after being left for dead at the Battle of Autobot City in 2005 in the original animated movie. But while Soundwave was loyal, he was far from outspoken, and kept silent when Megatron's body was subsequently ejected into space, and although he did suggest himself as a replacement leader, remarking "Soundwave: superior. Constructicons: inferior.", Soundwave again loyally served Megatron when he was recreated as Galvatron.

In the year 2006, although operating in a less prominent capacity for much of the time, Soundwave played a prominent role in Galvatron's attempt to learn the secret of a sonic weapon on the planet Eurythma, where sound and music were the way of life, leaving Soundwave entranced by the planet's perfect melodies. Recording each piece of the harmony that formed the devastating sonic effect, Soundwave was defeated when the Eurythmans countered the harmony with white noise, and was again pulled into a confrontation with Blaster, who erased his recordings.

Soundwave was performed by Frank Welker, whose voice was heavily modulated by a vocoder to achieve Soundwave's distinctive, metallic monotone.

So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive, and sufficiently reminiscent of his original counterpart. If I were to describe Soundwave in as basic terms as possible, he is best known for having a rather square, boxy upper body -- the better to accommodate his cassette-based cohorts, with a hatch that opens on the front, that also has the Decepticon emblem on it, and is mostly dark blue in color, with metallic gray on his limbs, as well as dark blue, with a certain amount of silver and gold trim. His head is dark blue, with red eyes, and he is one of those Transformers that has a shield across his lower face, so there is no apparent visible mouth.

That's a reasonable, basic description of the original Soundwave, and it also holds true for his Generations "Fall of Cybertron" edition. Granted, the new Soundwave is a lot more complex and ornate in design, but the basics are still there.

Soundwave stands about 7-1/4" to the top of his head -- pretty good sized for a Transformer of this type. His full height, including rather high shoulders, is more like 7-1/2". His head is a very reasonable match for the original, mostly dark blue and rather angular in color, with a red goggles-like slit for eyes, and a silver shield across his lower face. The upper back of his head is molded in transparent red plastic, which carries through to the eyes, so that when a light source hits his head from behind, it appears as though his eyes are glowing. This is a feature that has appeared on a number of Transformers, although it's been a while since I've seen it, and it works to varying degrees of effectiveness. Soundwave's is one of the more effective.

Soundwave has a thick, boxy upper torso, with a silver hatch on the front with a translucent purple window that also has the Decepticon emblem on it. This hatch not only opens to reveal the interior of the robot, but it has a hinged, claw-like feature of its own.

To the right side of Soundwave's head , on his upper body, is a metallic gray and gold cannon, another feature carried over from the original version. Soundwave's arms and legs are far more ornate and angular than the original, but the basic principles are still there. His upper arms are dark blue, with a certain amount of silver trim, while his lower arms are metallic gray, with dark blue hands. His upper legs are metallic gray, while his lower legs are dark blue, with ridged gold trim on the front, another detail brought over, in a slightly modified fashion, from the original Soundwave.

Of course, one of my favorite aspects of the Classics/Generations Transformers is the articulation level in their robot forms. Oddly enough, the original Soundwave was one of the better articulated of the Transformers, but this new version is obviously even moreso. Soundwave is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles.

So, if he doesn't transform into a tape deck, what does "Fall of Cybertron" Soundwave transform into? Specifically, he transforms into a Cybertronian Communications Truck. It makes sense, but think about one thing for a moment. Considering the fact that "Fall of Cybertron" technically takes place before the Transformers made their way to Earth, and were then given Earth-based forms by the Ark's computer system, Soundwave went from being able to transform into a communications truck to -- a tape deck. That had to be a surprise. Some sense of humor that Tele-Tran 1 has...

Let's consider Soundwave's actual transformation. Based on the directions, Soundwave's transformation is listed as "Intermediate". Well, we'll see. The purely graphic instructions are based on computer models of the toy itself, so let's find out how much eyestrain I give myself trying to figure this out.

Start by removing the weapon on his shoulder, and then stretch Soundwave's arms outward, and fold his hands up into his wrists. Then pull his back hatch all the way out, and fold his arms backwards.

Now, fold the claws and hatch on his chest upward so they're posed at an angle, and open the flaps on his upper arms. Then fold the arms down and bring them into the sides of the robot. They should snap into place. Then fold the flaps in over Soundwave's head, and swing the front wheels forward. Next, swing the lower arms around 180 degrees at the elbow joint so that they help to form the sides of the vehicle.

Right now I want to advise you that the diagram for Instruction #11 on the sheet is rather deceptive. Given the positioning of a directional arrow on it, it almost looks as though you are supposed to remove a part. You are not.

Rather, you are supposed to slide the back panel back on its hinge, fold it downward, and then bring this section upwards on the second hinge, and fold it down and in so that it effectively creates part of the roof of the vehicle.

Then, swing the rear wheels, which are on the sides of the legs, around 180 degrees, fold the entire lower torso and legs backward, bring the wheels up by way of the knees, fold the feet in and slide the roof hatch back, essentially locking everything into place. For what is certainly a series of very major steps, this portion was surprisingly easy.

The shoulder cannon can now be mounted to the top of the vehicle, and the transformation is complete.

In vehicle mode, Soundwave is about 5-1/2" long, 3-1/4" wide, and somewhat over 3" in height. Given those measurements, he makes for a rather boxy vehicle. However, we need to keep in mind that this is a Cybertronian vehicle, and, apart from having a marginally truck-like body atop four wheels, doesn't really resemble any Earth-based vehicle. If I saw anything like this tooling down the freeway -- well, it'd be an attention-getter, that's for sure.

In vehicle mode, Soundwave is still mostly dark blue. His gold trim is now on the rear of the vehicle, with gray on the sides, and some red trim as well. The one-time transparent purple chest hatch is now the windshield of the truck mode, and even the wheels are transparent purple. Nice, interesting, futuristic touch, I have to say.

Soundwave's truck design is very complex and very angular. It's difficult to compare it to much of anything since it really doesn't have much of a resemblance to any Earth-based vehicle I've ever seen, except I think it would be safe to say that it looks extremely rugged, and likely rather dangerous, as well. Two jutting protrusions on the front of the vehicle look ready to knock aside anything that gets in its way.

At the very least, it doesn't look a thing like a tape deck. It rolls very nicely on most surfaces on the four wheels.

Now, let's consider Soundwave's colleague, LASERBEAK. A little bit of background on him, to start:

Laserbeak, along with Ravage, Rumble, Frenzy, Buzzsaw, and Ratbat, works in tandem with Soundwave. Laserbeak is exceptionally loyal to Soundwave and thus Megatron. Laserbeak's name is derived from his back mounted lasers, which are powered by ruby crystals. While these powerful weapons are a great strength, they can also be a weakness since they are dependent on a supply of the rare crystals. Laserbeak is very cowardly and will only fight from afar, or in situations in which he has the overwhelming advantage.

In the comics, Laserbeak was one of the original ten Decepticons that fell to Earth in the Ark. Being reactivated and given the Earthen mode of a condor, Laserbeak would participate in many of the early battles against the Autobots—until a disastrous raid by Megatron led to Buzzsaw, Starscream, Skywarp, Thundercracker, Rumble and Frenzy, getting deactivated by Omega Supreme.

Laserbeak and Megatron managed to escape, but Laserbeak would play a lesser role, serving Shockwave and then Ratbat before participating in the battles against Scorponok's Decepticons and then against the Autobots using their united force.

In the animated series, Prior to the Transformers' arrival on Earth, Laserbeak worked with Soundwave on Cybertron. His alternate mode was still a cassette, but his robot mode was an alien type of bird with rounded wings, looking like some form of hovercraft with his optics resembling an opaque cockpit canopy. It was Laserbeak who discovered the Autobot plan to launch the Ark.

After the reactivation of both sides on Earth, Laserbeak was given the Earth mode of a condor, quickly coming into combat with Hound. He served as the Decepticons' chief spy, infiltrating the Ark on numerous occasions, spying on their human allies and even knocking out Optimus Prime so that Megatron could make a copy of him. He has also proven to be successful against Optimus Prime on numerous other occasions.

Laserbeak was used countless times as a reconnaissance platform, uncovering key plans of the Autobots throughout the war. He was also used to pursue and attack individuals attempting to escape. He once made use of a self-guided cannon to attack one Autobot while simultaneously pursuing another personally. He has also captured several humans during his stay on Earth.

So, how's the toy? Well, it's obviously not a cassette this time around. Instead, Laserbeak takes the form of what is called a "Data Disc". This is a thick, circular disc about 1-1/2" in diameter, mostly red in color, about 1/2" thick, with very ornate, complex circuit lines imprinted on the top, with a Decepticon emblem in the center.

How does one transform this disc into the robotic bird? Simple -- put him on a flat surface, and press the center gently. There's a spring-activated button on his underside that instantly transforms Laserbeak into his avian mode. Admittedly, he doesn't have much in the way of independent articulation, but it's a very cool effect.

In bird mode, Laserbeak is red and black, with silver trim, and measures about 3-1/4" in length, with a 4-1/2" wingspan. He, and other Data Discs, can be stored within Soundwave in either Soundwave's robot or truck modes.

Some of Soundwave's other cohorts can be purchased separately, in two-packs, just as they were offered in cassette form back in the 1980's. The pair include Frenzy and Ratbat, and Rumble and Ravage. No sign of Laserbeak's counterpart, Buzzsaw, but I'd like to think he might turn up at some point here. The two-packs also include individual storage cases for the "discs". I do expect to bring these in to my collection at some point, so look for reviews of them.

Laserbeak doesn't have any character profile or power rankings on the package -- poor guy -- but Soundwave does. These read as follows:

Soundwave has spent centuries making himself indispensable to the Decepticon cause. His body is packed with electronic communications gear. He is capable of teasing even the faintest transmission out of the microwave background, cracking the toughest quantum code, and jamming the most powerful signal. Together with his minions, he is one of the most effective weapons in the Decepticon arsenal.

Minions -- there's another good word I should've used along the way...

Soundwave's power rankings give him a "10" in Intelligence, no great surprise, a "9" in Skill, also not a surprise, "8" in Strength and Rank, "6" in Fireblast and Speed, "5" in Endurance, and "4" in Courage. Not too surprising. Someone like this is most effective behind the lines.

So, what's my final word? I'm impressed. We can't ever expect to see a "tape deck" Soundwave in the Classics/Generations line, but this Soundwave, in his robot mode, is a more than agreeable replacement. And the "data discs" are a cool idea, and I'm pleased that Laserbeak was included with this set.

If you're a longtime Transformers fan, whether you're inclined to play the "Fall of Cybertron" game or not, this is one extremely cool, and acceptably familiar-looking, incarnation of one of the best-known Decepticons of all time. Here is your chance to bring Soundwave into the modern Transformers world, and I can assure you that you will be glad you did.

The TRANSFORMERS GENERATIONS "FALL OF CYBERTRON" figures of SOUNDWAVE and LASERBEAK most definitely have my highest recommendation!