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REVIEW:
TRANSFORMERS CLASSICS ASTROTRAIN, CLIFFJUMPER, & RAMJET
By Thomas Wheeler


This review will take a look at three of the releases from the Transformers Classics line, and with that in mind, let's start with one who himself has three distinct modes.

With Transformers Generation One established as a distinct hit when it came on the scene in 1984, Hasbro realized that they had a hit on their hands, and that new product would have to be prepared. But how could the second year of Transformers distinguish itself from the first. It was fine and well to continue to produce robots that transformers into vehicles and weapons and whatever, but could something a little more impressive be added to the mix?

The answer was "yes". And the answer was "Triple-Changers". These would be Transformers that were not just robots that could turn into a vehicle-- they could turn into TWO vehicles!

And the first two out of the gate were both Decepticons. One of them was named Blitzwing. He could transform from a robot into a plane or a tank. The other one -- was ASTROTRAIN.

Astrotrain could transform into either a train or a space shuttle. Both seemed like odd choices just on their own, never mind the combination of the two. Although Astrotrain, in train mode, was clearaly capable of using convention railroad tracks, he didn't seem to require them for (please excuse the pun) locomotion. Likewise, a real-life space shuttle tends to be rather useless in atmosphere. It's essentially a big glider. And at the time, few of the Transformers' adventures were space-based. Astrotrain, however, was clearly far more maneuverable in an atmosphere than a conventional space shuttle.

Astrotrain's greatest use, clearly, was as transportation for other Decepticons. Much like Soundwave, Megatron, and some others, Astrotrain was one of those Transformers for whom size was not a factor. Just as Soundwave and Megatron could manage to shrink themselves down to human- scaled versions of a tape player or a gun, so Astrotrain could somehow enlarge himself to a size sufficient to transport a fair number of Decepticons, in either train or space shuttle mode.

Although most of Megatron's soldiers were generally portrayed as little more than thugs and bullies, with certain notable exceptions such as Starscream, Soundwave, and Shockwave, it tended to come across on more than a few occasions in the animated series that Blitzwing and Astrotrain were a little smarter than the average Decepticon. They were still capable of being bullies, and no one would have likely considered them pleasant company, but they were in their own way a little more power-hungry than most, and a fair bit more capable, and inclined, to think through a situation rather than just charge ahead. One might assume that since they were Triple-Changers, and therefore had two non- robot modes to keep track of, that this additional complexity of form resulted in a necessarily higher level of intelligence.

Astrotrain's most notable moment, perhaps, came during the animated Transformers movie, when he acted as the evac shuttle for the battle- weary Decepticons following their assault on Autoboy City on Earth. After requesting that some "excess weight" be jettisoned to increase the odds of making it back to Cybertron, whereupon Starscream and the other reasonably healthy Decepticons tossed everyone they regarded as beyond repair (including, not coincidentally, Megatron) out into space, there was some rather -- active disagreement as to who would then lead the Decepticons with Megatron having departed. Astrotrain flew the rest of the way back to Cybertron with the Decepticon equivalent of the WWE Royal Rumble taking place in his cargo bay. Frankly I'm surprised he didn't toss the whole lot of them out.

It's interesting that Astrotrain made it into the recent Transformers Classics line, since in all honesty, there are more prominent characters both among the Autobots and the Decepticons, and I suspect that Hasbro and Takara had to make some additional effort on Astrotrain's part in order for him to be a Triple-Changer, which indeed he is. This is not a complaint. I'm pleased that he made it into this unfortunately rather short-lived series.

Astrotrain comes packaged in space shuttle mode. In this form, Astrotrain is a space shuttle about six inches in length. He's a reasonable likeness of a space shuttle, but there are a few variances. The protruding side panels towards the rear and distinctly larger than one would expect for a space shuttle, and the tail is a little too small. On the other hand, this is not an Alternator. We're not trying for NASA-level accuracy here. Astrotrain makes a very decent space shuttle as such.

The order of transformation on the instruction sheet has Astrotrain transforming from shuttle to train. The transformation is not overly difficult, and this is one case where the instruction sheet actually works very well. Sometimes the instructions are almost more hindrance than help. It's simply not easy to take a three-dimensional object as complex as a Transformer and explain how to transform him with two- dimensional diagrams. One thing I miss about Generation One -- the instructions EXPLAINED how to transform the toys as well as offered diagrams!

In train mode, Astrotrain makes for a very long train. He most closely resembles a Japanese bullet train (is this any great surprise), with an area in the back where his weapon can be mounted if so desired. It's a cool and futuristic design, even if the train design itself isn't especially traditional. But this isn't a complaint. I'm more than prepared to cut Hasbro and Takara some slack here. Astrotrain still looks more than enough like a train, even if he isn't one I'd expect to see on any tracks around here anytime soon.

Finally, of course, is the transformation into robot mode. This, too, is not overly difficult, although it's a little tricky to get the arm guards to move away from the arms enough, and stay moved away, to expose the lower arm and allow the elbow articulation to move. But it's not impossible.

And, for that matter, the toy should be applauded for even having elbow articulation. As I've said before, in my opinion, the one great disappointment of Generation One was the lack of articulation in any given Transformer's humanoid robot mode. For the most part, they just sort of stood around. This situation has long since been remedied, but it's especially pleasing to see the higher level of articulation now commonplace in Transformers toys applied to a line that is specifically designed as a tribute to the Generation One characters.

Astrotrain, as such, is poseable at the head, arms, elbows, legs, and knees, with a good range of motion at all points. Not bad for a toy that also has to be able to assume two different vehicular forms. In robot mode, Astrotrain stands about 5-1/2" in height, which is about average for the Transformers Classics in his price range --perhaps a little taller, which is not inappropriate. He's one of the carded Classics, which comprise the majority of the series.

Astrotrain comes with a blaster rifle, which can be used in any of his mode's. He is mostly white, with significant purple trim, and some black, red, and a bit of gold. He has a silver face, and overall, this Astrotrain is a superb tribute to the original, and an improvement in some respects.

The character profile on the back of the package reads as follows: "The enemy's weakness is his uncertainty." Astrotrain thrives on panic and fear. Though he is mainly used as a transport vehicle for moving warriors and supplies, he only truly feels at home pounding Autobot warriors into scrap metal. His ioinic displacer rifle can scramble Autobot sensors, causing confusion in the enemy ranks, and his huge bulk casts a terrifying shadow across a battlefield. Those Autobots who survive a fight with Astrotrain often need only hear the echoing boom of his engines in the distance to once again quake in fear.

Astrotrain is a very worthy and impressive part of the Transformers Classics line. He's also proven to be a very popular and hard-to-find one. He was among the earlier releases, and tended to disappear fairly quickly. With the movie toys on the shelves, and the remaining Classics toys dwindling, finding Astrotrain through standard retail means probably won't be wasy, assuming it's even possible at this point. However, as popular as Transformers are among collectors, there are no doubt plenty of "secondary market" means for acquiring Astrotrain, and I promise that he will be an enjoyable part of any Transformers collection, especially among those that have been finding the Classics to be a truly superb line of Transformers.

ASTROTRAIN definitely has my highest and most enthusuastic recommendation! Now, let's consider one tough little Autobot who became part of the Classics line -- CLIFFJUMPER!

Before I get in to reviewing Cliffjumper specifically, let me make a general statement. What's one of the things that's really annoyed me about toys over the past several years? The fact that the average action figure is strapped into its package with so many plastic-coated wire twist-ties in such a way that one would think it was physically impossible to do it -- because it's almost physically impossible to UNdo it -- to the point where one wonders if the toy factories have seen the movie "Small Soldiers" too many times and are legitimately worried that the toys are going to come to life in the middle of the night, break out of their packages, and wreck the place. I don't care if you're talking Transformers, G.I. Joe 8", Marvel Legends, Star Wars, R.E.V.s, or whatever -- it's ridiculous.

The Transformers Classics have been a breath of fresh air in this regard. I have yet to encounter one that didn't have just two twist-ties and maybe a couple of transparent rubber bands, easily accessed, snipped, and removed. That -- I can deal with.

Okay, now that I've got that off my chest, let's turn our attention to Cliffjumper. In Generation One, Cliffjumper was one of a group of "mini- cars", that also included Bumblebee, Brawn, Gears, and a number of others. Bumblebee was certainly the best known of these, but Cliffjumper, a small red car, was almost as well known.

Unlike the rather effusive Bumblebee, Cliffjumper had a more sarcastic streak in him. Highly devoted to the Autobot caused, he loved a good fight, and had little tolerance for those that weren't as dedicated as he was.

Now in the Classics line, Cliffjumper is basically just a straight repaint of the Classics Bumblebee. This really isn't all that bad, nor is it unheard of. A number of the original Generation One mini-cars were recolored into different characters over the years.

The car design is -- a little vague. Don't misunderstand me. It's a cool car design. It's just rather obviously not of any one specific car. Bumblebee, of course, was portrayed as a Volkswagen in Generation One, and the toy was very close in design to this. But officially, Volkswagen doesn't want anything to do with a licensed product that might have any sort of violent content. This includes Transformers. While I think this is an attitude that they need to get over, the fact remains that this is their policy. So designing a Transformer that looks too much like a Volkswagen woild be asking for trouble.

However, since Cliffjumper wasn't a Volkswagen, by steering clear of that likeness, it allowed Hasbro to recolor the Classics Bumblebee as Cliffjumper. If anything, the car design looks like a hybrid -- not that sort of hybrid -- between a Volkswagen and a Mini Cooper, but far enough removed from either one so as to avoid any legal problems. His vehicle mode is listed as a "Cruiser" on the back of the package card, and honestly, maybe there's just a little PT in him as well.

Whereas Bumblebee was, of course, yellow, with some silver-white trim on him done as stripes and straight-edged areas, Cliffjumper is, appropriately, red, with metallic silver trim on him done as jagged flame-like shapes. It's a nice difference. If the base colors weren't enough to distinguish the two, the trim pattern is a further degree of separation.

Transforming Cliffjumper is not especially difficult, although it's worth mentioning that it is a little trickier than the original Cliffjumper, who like most of the mini-cars could be turned from robot to car in about three easy steps. The Classics Cliffjumper isn't quite that easy, but neither is he overly difficult.

It's interesting to stand Cliffjumper next to Bumblebee and notice the differences. Although the identical shape of the heads is a little disconcerting, some effort was made regarding the placement of certain basic colors, such as the red or the yellow, as well as core colors like silver and black, to be different enough between the two robots to make them a little more individualistic. Cliffjumper manages to look like something a little more than just a red Bumblebee as such.

Examples: Bumblebee's headlights are clear. Cliffjumper's are metallic blue. Cliffjumper's upper arms are silver. Bumblebee's are black. Bumblebee's upper leg guards are silver. Cliffjumper's are red. And so forth. This, to me, is evidence of a little extra effort on the part of Hasbro and Takara to make sure that Cliffjumper was as distinctive from Bumblebee as the reuse of the molds allowed, and the effort is appreciated.

Although Cliffjumper doesn't come with a weapon per se, he does have the same unusual accessory as Bumblebee. This is in the form of a small wheeled trailer that comes with Cliffjumper, that appears to have a small jet-ski on it. This item can be transformed into a winged backpack, which allows Cliffjumper to fly and glide. Honestly, the thing doesn't stay put all that well. It's designed to just sort of be inserted into the back area of the robot, between the head and the portion of the car that sticks up behind the head.

Heightwise, Cliffjumper comes in at about 4-1/2" to the top of his head. The section of the car that rises up from his back adds to his height, but the end result is he still looks shorter than most of the other Transformers in this price-and-size range, which is really rather appropriate. No one wants a Cliffjumper or a Bumblebee that's the same height as Starscream or Skywarp. That just doesn't make a lot of sense, conceptwise.

And, as I have said with all of the Classics, I especially appreciate how well these toys are articulated in their robot modes. Cliffjumper has a superb range of motion as a robot, something his Generation One counterpart and his friends tended to distinctly lack.

Cliffjumper's character profile on the package reads as follows: "Let's bend some tailpipes!" Don't be fooled by his small size: Cliffjumper is as tough as they come. Always spoiling for a fight, just hearing the word Decepticon is enough to get him riled up. He carries a unique gas- pistol that fires a cloud of nano-robots capable of making Decepticon armor as brittle as glass, but he'd always always rather just toss his weapons aside and start swinging. More than one Decepticon warrior has ended up with a busted grill from underestimating Cliffjumper. He may not be very strong, but no one is more determined.

Any great surprise that among the rankings on his "Technical Data", Cliffjumper gets a "10" in the "Courage" section? And I guess somewhere along the way, he did indeed toss his weapons aside somewhere, because he doesn't come with a pistol, gas-firing or otherwise.

However, this is still a very cool toy. Those who have put off adding Cliffjumper to their Classics collection because they think he's just a Bumblebee repaint should definitely reconsider. He's just different-looking enough so that he's reasonably unique, and certainly the character has enough history in the Transformers to justify being added to the collection of any longtime Transformers fan.

As it stands at the time of writing, the Classics line is winding down to make room for the toys based on the live-action movie, but Cliffjumper is still fairly readily available. And certainly he has my most enthusiastic recommendation! This is one cool Transformer that any Transformers fan will enjoy! Now, let's consider another Decepticon, the third of the "Seekers" to be released -- RAMJET!

There is a division within the Decepticons. Their name, though not used all that often, is the Seekers. This is a group of airborne Decepticons, among Megatron's top personnel, who carry out his orders. Once on Earth, these Decepticons took the form of fighter jet planes, all somewhat similar to one another, but each with a distinct identity.

Toywise, it was a good way for Hasbro and Takara to get the most use out of a set of molds with limited reworking.

The first three in the group, released in the first year of Generation One, are the best known, and include Thundercracker, Skywarp, and, of course, Starscream. Of these three, certainly the scheming Starscream is the best known of the entire group. Although Thundercracker and Skywarp received a due amount of time on the animated series, their personalities were more or less that of hired thugs and little more.

The second group of Seekers came along in the second year of Transformers. Although they had the same basic form as their predecessors, there were some differences. Their heads retained a rather pointed shape, more in keeping with the front of a fighter jet, and their wings were of different configurations. This latter part in particular was no great challenge toywise, since the wings were detachable pieces anyway.

For the most part, this second group of airborne Decepticons were pretty much the same sort of cheap thugs as Skywarp and Thundercracker, but they did certainly add to the Decepticons' airborne capabilities. Their names were Dirge, Thrust, and Ramjet.

And on the heels of Starscream and the Target-exclusive Skywarp, Ramjet has been added to the Transformers Classics line.

In the same sense as the original aircraft, Ramjet uses the same basic body molds as the other two aircraft. However, it's obviously a completely different set of molds than Generation One. And just as before, Ramjet's wings are slightly different than Starscream's or Skywarp's.

In airplane mode, Ramjet is about 6 inches in length. The overall detail work on the plane is extremely impressive. Colorwise, Ramjet is a mostly ivory-colored airplane, with a lot of dark grey elements to his body, and a certain amount of brick red and dark gold trim. It's an interesting color scheme. No real primary or even immediate secondary colors to him. It's all these slightly "off" colors, and somehow, it makes him look more menacing as a result.

Transforming Ramjet is not especially difficult, especially if you've already done Starscream and Skywarp, but the transformation process does reveal just how different Ramjet actually is, which is rather amazing given that the basic body is indeed the same as the other two planes.

Unlike Starscream and Skywarp, whose wings end up flaring out from behind their arms, with only their tail fins attached to their lower legs, the bulk of Ramjet's wings end up attached to his lower legs. Of course, he has the more pointed head compared to Starscream and Skywarp, and it's interesting to note that, since this comprises the front of the plane in his vehicle mode, Ramjet lacks the tipped back front section of the plane that is evident on the back of other two. In some ways, this makes him seem like a somewhat more efficient design, although it's worth noting that this section is distinctly shorter than on the other two. But nobody needs that much of a Conehead of a Decepticon. I'm not complaining, certainly.

In robot mode, all of Ramjet's brick red trim is on his back. This gives him an appearance when facing you of being predominantly ivory white with a lot of dark grey trim, and a bit of gold. This near-colorless appearance somehow makes him look that much more menacing.

Ramjet also comes with two spring-loaded missile launchers, and two surprisingly large and rather ornate missiles that they can fire. These missile launchers can attach to Ramjet's wings, or he can use them as handheld weapons.

In robot mode, Ramjet stands about 5-1/2" in height, but about half of that is the point on his head. Of course, his articulation is excellent. This is one area especially where these Classics have gone far beyond their original Generation One counterparts. I'll admit, it was the lack of articulation in robot mode that sort of kept me from collecting a lot of the original Transformers. They were cool characters, and I loved the cartoon, but the toys just didn't move much. These move, and they move very well.

Ramjet's character profile reads as follows: "There ain't nothin' around harder than my head." The Decepticons are known for fielding their craziest warriors in the skies, but Ramjet really outclasses them all. He's a born flier who loves nothing more than crashing. Sure, he's got a whole rack of concussion missiles and argon lasers strong enough to vaporize a Dinobot, but he'd rather skip all that nonsense and just smash head first into his targets - and anything else that gets in his way. He's just as likely to smash his allies out of the way as he is to destroy any Autobots in his path, but watching him plow through a battlefield is so much fun, Megatron keeps him around anyway.

Ramjet was one of the later releases, he's not impossible to find
-- for the time being. I have little doubt that the Classics Transformers will soon be out of the stores entirely, including Ramjet. However, there are plenty of "secondary market" sources for Transformers.

And as for the other Seekers -- Thundercracker, Dirge, and Thrust? Well, thanks to the Official Transformers Collectors' Club Convention, BotCon, we can look forward to them, as well. I just wonder if someday we might see the seventh Seeker -- Sunstorm!

In the meantime, we have the existing ones to enjoy, and that certainly includes RAMJET, who definitely has my highest recommendation, as do ASTROTRAIN and CLIFFJUMPER!