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Refraktor Reconnaissance Team

Transformers Generations
by yo go re

The current theme for the Transformers Generations line is "Siege," the first part of the "War for Cybertron Trilogy." No, it has nothing to do with the existing War for Cybertron, it's just branding - the same way Combiner Wars, Titans Return, and Power of the Primes were collectively the "Prime Wars Trilogy." More than that, though, the meta theme seems to be "the same things we've made already, but greeblier." Chromia? Springer? Ultra Magnus? All of them have had modern toys released recently, so why should buyers care? There are a few new(ish) characters, at least.

Refraktor, the Decepticon reconnaissance robot, turns the fine art of observation into the cruel craft of destruction.

"Refraktor," as they're now known (apparently the trademark lapsed sometime in the last five years) is available at regular retail, but this is a special edition. Originally intended as a HasCon 2019 exclusive, this set was moved to Hasbro's website when that planned convention was cancelled.

The biggest difference between this exclusive and the mass release is the intention: the retail version is an "artillery hovercraft" altmode with an optional camera mode; the exclusive is a camera with an optional artillery hovercraft mode. There are other differences, obviously, but that one is deep at the core, something spiritual rather than physical. But let's talk about the physical stuff, too.

Like the G1 Reflector, this one is a nice fancy camera. Unlike some other TF cameras we could name, this one is a reasonable size. Heck, it's bigger than the camera that took the photos you're enjoying in this review! It has a telephoto lens and a tripod, both things that can be said to be true of the retail release, but also gets sereval new pieces exclusive to this set: a flash, a viewfinder, and a grip with control buttons on the top. While you can pretty much make this same camera if you buy three of the regular Refraktors, it ends up as just a rectangle with a tube sticking out of the front; these new bits really improve the design.

Also like the vintage Reflector, you begin to convert this one by splitting it into thirds, though this time that leaves you with three identical little cubes to work with, not three that are each their own thing. After removing any of the extra accessories, unfold the legs, rotate the waist and shins, move the arms around to the side and expose the hands, then raise the head. It's not complicated at all, especially since you'll be doing it three times over. The hardest part is getting the legs going, because the folded-up forearms fit inside the hollow legs, but the very square edges mean they don't want to slip past one another easily.

In the '80s cartoon, the only way to tell Reflector's three constituent bots apart was that one of them had a circle on his chest. To keep that alive today (despite being built from three identical toys), the circular bit is present, but as a separate piece rather than a molded element. It's called the "Bioscale Compression Rotor," and possibly controls their mass-shifting? Sounds like it. You want only one of them to have it? Simply remove it from the other two. Plug it into their back so you don't lose it, like I've done.

While the biggest difference between excluisve and mass market Refraktors is the intention of presentation as mentioned above, the easiest difference to notice is the paint. If you buy a Refraktor at your local store, it'll be gray and purple, matching the animation (and making that removable knob all the more vital for identifying the leader); this set, on the other hand, is meant to match the old toy, meaning each of the components is given unique paint apps. Thus Viewfinder, the middle one, is blue (too light a blue, honestly - it should be dark navy) with silver arms and thighs and some green on his chest panel; the left one, Spectro, has a red chest, a lot of black on the arms, and shins that are black with a red stripe at the ankles; and Spyglass, the last one remaining, has blue chest and arms, and gray legs with red panels on the feet. They're all visually distinct, even before you add on the extra bits.

The bonus pieces that made the camera mode more "camera-y" have to be removable, of course, but that just means you can reattach them to the robots as additional armor: Spectro wears "Shutter Armor" (the former grip) like a cape around his left shoulder, Spyglass mounts the flash like a launcher on his right, and Viewfinder's viewfinder splits in half to become tall pauldrons just like the original sported. Plus the camera's lens splits into three "telefocal shields" that can be plugged into their arms or held in their hands, and the camera's tripod becomes three guns: the Shutter Blaster, Lens Laser, and Optic Blaster, respectively (though those are just themed names - they're all the same mold, though the instruction booklet assigns them different stats for strength, accuracy and speed).

One downside to this figure's mold is that all three heads are identical. That's fine for the cartoon-based version, but the toy made them different. This head works well enough for Spectro and Spyglass, but Viewfinder was more distinct. Usually Hasbro loves planning alternate heads for their molds. The figure moves at the neck, shoulders, biceps, elbows, waist, hips, thighs, knees, and ankles.

As we said, the mass retail Refraktors treated the camera as an afterthought. The "real" altmode was an "artillery hovercraft," because this part of the story is taking place on ancient Cybertron, so none of them have Earth modes.

It's meant to look like a spaceship with a big gun in the front, and is vaguely reminiscent of the BotCon 2016 Reflectors, which were based on the "Combiner Wars" Shockwave mold. Still, it's not a great mode, and even when released by itself felt like more of an afterthought than something anyone wanted to make.

The packaging is stylish. Refraktor is sold in camera mode, so the box has to be very square accommodate both the width of the body and the depth of the lens. The sides of the box have paintings of robots, while the front looks like a camera itself. There's even a clear "lens" in the front that lets you see inside. Even the directions are designed more like an instruction booklet than anything else, complete with shooting tips... for propaganda, blackmail, and surveillance. They're still bad guys, after all.

In addition to the extra camera parts, this set also includes a translucent yellow Kremzeek, the little living ball of electricity (not that one) created by the Decepticons somehow. There's been a Kremzeek figure before, but this one has a more accurate posture and even gets a tail. It's not really clear why Hasbro chose to include Kremzeek here; it's not like Reflector had any interaction with the thing. Supposedly this is meant to be compatible with the "Siege" blast effects, but unless that means the footpeg holes, that's not a feature that made it to production.

When it was revealed that you'd need to get three separate Refraktors to take full advantage of the design, I was annoyed - especially since there are only two of him per case. I honestly thought one of Hasbro's SDCC exclusives might be a three-pack - hey, this set was announced there, so at least I was close? But with the extra camera pieces and the toy-inspired colors, this set turned out a lot better than expected.

-- 09/10/19


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