Review by Optimal III
What is a masterpiece? That can be a very open-ended question, but when it comes to Transformers, we have the actual Masterpiece series to point to. Trouble is, since the third-party scene erupted, that distinction has become a bit blurrier. Some say just about everything 3P is a Masterpiece. Others say most of these products are more like Classics (or CHUGS or CHURGALS, whatever you want to call them), the neo-G1 figures Hasbro & Takara have been making since 2006. And usually 3P-groups aren't so bold as to publicly state what their figures are meant to be compared to. But that's been changing recently.
I think the ball started rolling with FansToys, since all their releases are so big and full of die-cast. Next came Unique Toys with their DX9 Toys subsidiary, not to be confused with X-Transbots who also have their hat in the ring. Cubex came along shortly after and has since rebranded as BadCube. MakeToys began their RE:Master series not so long ago too. But here we are talking about Mastermind Creations, one of the oldest and most prolific 3P-groups still standing today. I must say I'm inclined to call at least some of their work MP-class, but they've recently stepped up and defined that meaning for us. Their third & newest line is Ocular Max, the Perfection Series, and this is a second-run variant of the line's first release, Sphinx.
The box is made of a firm but thin cardboard and feels good in your hands. The layout & graphic design is sort of an inverted (blue instead of red) mix of classic G1 and Diaclone, with the window being a cutout just big enough to see the toy inside. "PERFECTION SERIES" is written not only in the Transformers-style font with the colors, but also in shape. At a quick glance, it almost looks like the Japanese version of the logo. And "OX" printed down on the bottom right, while the first and last letters of "Ocular Max", is a nod to the source material MMC has chosen to make this line. These figures are based on the design work of Studio Ox, an art studio that produced a lot of Transformers material for Takara during the heyday of G1.
Upon further research, it seems this version's box is also a different shape from the original (PS-01) which was more like the MP cars.
The top of the box has pictures of the toy in both modes & "DiECAST" printed in silver foil, which is not just a nod to the past but an actual statement. These figures have diecast metal. The sides are different pieces of character art showing off robot mode.
The back pays even more homage with the step-through transform shots, a bio that lists function, and a techspec graph that can't be easily deciphered without the infrared decoder. They even went back to using "firepower" instead of "fireblast". Maybe it's just me, but fireblast sounds stupid and dorky. Yes, Hasbro & Takara changed to the latter because someone trademarked "firepower", so I guess it's the best they could do, but still. On the bio, it's interesting because they give a reason for Sphinx's alt mode. It fits the character Mirage as he's typically been depicted. He is reserved and mild-mannered to a point, but there's some flash & strut inside of him.
Additional contents include the infrared decoder, techspec card, and manual. It's typical till you look at the back cover, which has credits for everyone involved. These are also printed on one of the inner box flaps along with various web links and a QR code. U.NEM is one of the best photo outlets out there for Transformers, official & 3P. And PAIK4LIFE is one great resource for those toys you can't quite figure out because of bad instructions.
So, Sphinx was originally released in late 2015 and to a very positive reception. MMC completely sold out, but demand is still strong, so they opted to create a new variant rather than push out more of the exact same figure. The original version was a darker blue to match Mirage. PS-01A here is brighter, which matches the actual F1 race car Mirage is based on, the Ligier JS11. And almost everything else looks on point in that regard. There's even a faux (hologram?) driver who can be plugged into the cockpit.
One thing that isn't accurate is the spelling of lots of words, which is probably intentional to emulate the classic toy. "Elf" is Ell, "Gitanes" is Citanes, and "Goodyear" is Goooyear. This is what the car looks like pre-labels.
Post-labels, Sphinx has mainly picked up more decals and Autobot symbols, some chrome, and a more detailed nose.
The front wheels have a bit of suspension that's probably more an afterthought to transformation, but they have it and turn in unison a bit to the left or right. All the tires are rubber and can be easily pulled off the wheels.
There's plenty of detail in the red trim, panels and hatches, vents, and side mirrors. The design lets you see just enough of the interior that it feels like there's a lot of mechanical stuff happening underneath, which is what an F1 car looks like without any of the body panels.
Sphinx really does have diecast content, but it's hard to show off because it's mostly internal as parts of his inner skeleton. One part that is visible is the engine. Both parts on both sides are solid chunks of metal.
One of the biggest things visually that sets Sphinx apart from DX9's Invisible (the first 3P Mirage) in alt mode is the inclusion of a driver figurine. It really sinks into the cockpit for that low F1 profile, and looks like it's holding the steering wheel.
Chrome is sparse, but what is present is very shiny.
I didn't get a pic, but the tabs you see are what you plug into the spoiler on either side to mount his weapons in alt mode.
Compared to an MP car, Sphinx look just right, like he's part of the team and fits in. Next to Invisible, he looks like a different take on the character. In this instance, I think MMC went more for replicating the real thing while DX9 was more going after the look of the Joustra art.
Overall, Sphinx's alt mode is very solid. It takes a little work to adjust the front wheels so that everything looks level and even, but that's less a flaw and more one of my neurotic pet peeves.
On the other hand, robot mode has no fiddly bits. At around 6.5-inches, Sphinx is a full-bodied machine with some heft. It's the same as alt-mode, but you notice it more when he's vertical. I was worried he might have the same problem as Sphinx with standing up straight, but he thankfully doesn't. This is before labels.
Post-labels, he mainly picks up color on his arms and legs.
His transformation isn't overly complex, just involved enough that it's satisfying. It's similar to the classic toy, but has more moving parts to achieve the stylized look. The sides of the car are a shell, with the rear half pulling into the sides of the legs on a metal arm and the front half folding over and pegging into the back of the legs. And the front wheels tuck into a flush position against the chest plate, which fills the chest cavity.
Sphinx has all the articulation you could need, not excessive but ideal. So any pose you can think of is probable. His toes tilt and move up and down. He has hinged knees and ball-jointed hips with front & side skirts. His waist swivels. He has universal shoulders, swivel biceps, hinged elbows, and swivel wrists. His hands are like MP-01/04. All fingers are connected to a hand at the top knuckle, but the index is separate, and the thumb can rotate all around. His head is the only jip. It's on a nested ball and can rotate and tilt freely, but only if the missile launcher isn't equipped. This could have been easily avoided, but MMC was either trying to maintain the look or figured nobody would ever want him to not have the launcher mounted.
In robot mode, it's a bit easier to see Sphinx's metal bits. Here we see the pieces that connect the toe to the foot and the heel, which is what the rear wheel is attached to. Besides having significant weight, he's also able to stand straight up easily because of the uneven layout. I'd like to call this "smart diecast", something Bandai could learn from for their DX Chogokin line.
This is also a good example of the brighter blue bringing out the robotic details.
Up top, there's more in the hinges connecting the front wheels, the nose to the body, and inside the body.
The arms are equal parts nifty and head-scratcher. The flaps are stable without being stuck, so you can rotate them however you want. But the plates on top of the forearms don't snap in the way you'd expect, at least based on how they look. Pull the hands too far forward and you get unsightly gap. It's the one part I don't like, but maybe they couldn't find a better way that wouldn't wear things out quickly and work with transformation.
For weapons, Sphinx has the Mirage de-facto loadout. He has a shoulder-mounted missile launcher with a removable missile. The connector does swivel, but it's too small to be useful.
And he has a hand weapon, a very detailed take on Mirage's rocket-dart hunting rifle. Like most of the newer MPs, he has grooves inside his hands for tightly tabbing it into his grip. What we don't have here that did come with the first version of Sphinx is a parachute, inspired by the one Mirage used at the end of "More than Meets the Eye pt. III", the G1 animated series premier & pilot. It'd be nice to have, but it's not important enough to me to hunt down.
He also comes with two alternate head pieces. The front half has a grinning face, and the back half has no racing logo for more of a clean look. I haven't bothered swapping anything, but I appreciate that it's as simple as prying the head in half. No screwdriver required. The first version came with six, but again, I'm good with what I got.
Compared to MP Bluestreak, Sphinx still looks the part in robot mode. Next to Invisible, he's a little beefier and less lanky, which better shows the difference between Ox and Joustra. I'm still very much a fan of Invisible, but the only things he definitely has over Sphinx are that his missile launcher can be tilted a lot and can be mounted on either shoulder.
QC-wise, I don't think there's anything endemically wrong with Sphinx. Mine has a smidge of paint slop on his sternum flap that's been covered up by stickers. More noticeable is the filler on his left side. I couldn't figure out why it didn't like to snap in like the one on the right till I took a long hard look and saw this. Not sure if he came like this out of the box, but the plastic ring has broken, causing the filler to float higher than it's supposed to be. It still locks into to place though. Even if it breaks, it's not a critical part, but hopefully it'll stay the way it is.
Sphinx is as sweet & cool as the character he represents, the Autobot Mirage. He looks & feels like a Masterpiece not only in that he blends in with the official MP figures, but also in that MMC truly crafted one in him. If this is what we can expect from Ocular Max, it's going to be one great toy after another. My only concern is if they'll stick with the line, because each release has some form of competition. Time will tell, and hopefully the word will be good.
Sphinx runs for a good $100+ right now and he's totally worth it, but you have some options. If you want him in a darker blue, want the parachute, or want the extra heads, you can try to hunt down the first version, PS-01. Good luck, though. Like ToyWorld's Orion, this is a toy almost no one seems willing to give up. A stealth version (PS-01S, limited to 500) was an exclusive at TFcon in Toronto. And there's also Liger, who debuted at a con in Texas. He's based on the red Diaclone Ligier JS11, has a different face, and runs for $90+ (will try to review soon). Whatever choice you make, if you choose to buy one, you will be glad you did.
|Posted 14 October, 2016 - 12:13 by Optimal III|