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Roboto

Masters of the Universe Classics
by Poe Ghostal

I have to confess something: I don't think I was really into He-Man for all that long as a kid. Maybe two years. Practically forever to a young kid, but not really that long in terms of the life of the MOTU brand in the '80s. I had most of the original eight-back figures, plus quite a few vehicles - Battle Cat, the Battle Ram, and the Talon Fighter - and Castle Grayskull. But beyond those, the only post-1984 figures I remember owning are Hordak, Leech, and King Hiss - and I think I got all three of those more because they seemed like cool figures than because I was into the property. By 1985 I was knee-deep in Transformers, a fad that would continue until the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles era. So, long story short, I never owned nor have any fond memories of Roboto.

Originally built by Man-At-Arms as a chess opponent for Man-E-Faces, the robot companion was nicknamed Roboto and later given a heart-shaped emotion program which altered his speech patterns. Under the influence of this new programming, Roboto came to understand the desire for freedom and upgraded himself for battle so that he could join the Masters of the Universe in their fight against evil. Roboto serves as chief strategist for the Masters and uses his unstoppable robot strength in heroic combat.

Even the 2002 Roboto, while cool, wasn't one of my favorites. I prefer the sword-and-sorcery aspect of He-Man to the science fiction stuff, and Roboto is very sf. He also has the misfortune of looking a lot like a toy - in fact, I've often likened him to a corn popper. And his rotating gears, while a great feat of toy engineering and a fun gimmick, would probably have disappointed young Poe, who even at the age of 6 or 7 knew robots should have circuitry, not gears. So I wasn't really excited about MOTUC Roboto. And the reverse-shoulders thing just made me even less excited; I contemplated not even opening my figure (for about 0.68 seconds - for a toy collector, that is nearly an eternity). Let's see out how he fared when he arrived.

Let's get the sculpt out of the way before we talk about the action feature. Roboto's legs and pelvis are re-use, from Trap Jaw and Optikk. The torso, arms, and head are all brand-new on Roboto. We don't often fault the Four Horsemen on their sculpting, and we're not going to do it now. As usual, they've done a great job of updating the vintage figure, streamlining it and adding a few new details here and there. Some fans say that Roboto's torso is a bit too small, and you can kind of see what they're getting at, but is that just an optical illusion caused by the see-through plastic?

Then there's the action feature. It's true that not I'm an action feature kind of guy, and the fact that the feature eliminated the abdomen articulation point should, in theory, annoy me. But it doesn't. The ab crunch can be skipped in certain cases, and Roboto is one where it's fine. His action feature is iconic and, after Battle Armor He-Man, Mattel may have realized that some of the action features are so important to fans' memories that they're worth implementing.

As for the action feature itself: it works great. It doesn't cause the mouth to open and close as it did on the vintage figure, but that's because of the head having a balljoint - and had they gotten rid of that point of articulation, we would have been annoyed. So they played that one right.

Roboto is molded in blue, red, purple, and clear plastic. The strong, bright color choices for the limbs are good. The blue "circuitry" on the arms has some slight shiny dry brushing to bring out the details, and for the most part, it looks good. While there have been reports of heavy slop, my Roboto doesn't have any more than any other MOTUC figure, with one exception: the "wash" on the legs.

I'm not sure if it's a wash, or just someone tried to trace along the details of the legs with a black paintbrush, but the effect is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the black tracing of the details on the legs was something that really appealed to me about the figure, and made the overall look more interesting. On the other hand, it was so amateurishly executed that it largely ruins the effect.

Finally, there's the clear plastic torso. While from an aesthetic standpoint I think it looks good, it seems Mattel failed to do adequate quality control tests on the clear plastic, as a number of Robotos have been arriving with small cracks in the plastic (clear plastic being notoriously brittle). Mine doesn't have any, fortunately, but I'm still going to make sure he doesn't fall off the shelf.

Roboto comes with his vintage arm attachments - an axe, a blaster, and a claw - as well as a new item, a regular right hand. The right hand is a fantastic addition, allowing you to arm him with some of the more Roboto-appropriate weaponry (I recommend the electronic Power Sword from Man-At-Arms).

The arm attachments are made from a very soft plastic; I'm not sure why, given that Trap Jaw was able to use a much harder material. The soft plastic used for Roboto's weapons is responsible for the serious warping you see on the gun in particular. It's disappointing, and while a few minutes with a hair dryer, then a dip in cold water, will fix it right up, collectors shouldn't have to spend time fixing our action figures as soon as they arrive.

Roboto seems to have suffered from a host of QC issues. First there are the infamous reversed shoulders; it's worth noting that the shoulders themselves were incorrectly marked "L" and "R", meaning the problem was a tooling issue, not the fault of the factory workers, who simply followed what had been stamped on the shoulders themselves.

As mentioned, there have been reports of really bad paint apps, bobbleheads, bent weapons and cracked plastic torsos. As you can see, the paint apps on mine are decent, if not great. I haven't found any cracks on his torso, and his neck joint is fairly tight. I do have the bent-weapons problem, however. Roboto also suffers from one of my worst pet peeves on these figures: his right foot is slightly bent at the bottom center, meaning that the middle of the bottom of the foot curves upward and won't sit flush against the ground. I hate this issue, as the heat-and-fix method doesn't really work on a piece as large and thick as the foot, and it just looks bad. Roboto's isn't so bent that it can't be ignored, but whenever I happen to notice it, it bugs me. Mattel: stop this from happening. It's always worth noting that QC on a $30 figure of this relative level of simplicity is, well, not "unacceptable" - since we've accepted it, time and again - but very, very annoying.

One thing we can't really convey in a standard review is the fact that, while a figure may have some significant problems, you sometimes come to really like it anyway. Roboto is one of those figures. The bright colors, the swappable limbs, the articulated jaw, even the action feature come together to make him a charming addition to MOTUC. Now that the figure is in-hand, the shoulders actually don't bother me at all, and I doubt I'll even buy a "corrected" one when he's reissued, but he does have problems. He's a well-executed feature, and had the shoulders been correct, the weapons been better made, and the paint been sharper, he would have been close to a ToY-worthy figure. As it is, he's just average.

By my count, Roboto is the 37th toy in the Masters of the Universe Classics line (counting Adam and Orko as two separate figures, counting Mo-Larr but not the lost-tooth Skeletor, and not counting the TRU 2-packs as separate figures, since they're repaints). As a bonafide member of the vintage MOTU line - not Princess of Power, not New Adventures, not Mo2K - Roboto was a guaranteed sellout. Frankly, it's impressive he took as long as he did to sell out (three hours), though the reverse-shoulders error may be partly to blame for that.

-- 11/29/10


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