Over the holidays, I got to spend some time in my childhood home, which meant visiting with my childhood G1 collection. I figured it would be fun to dust off one of them and give it the review treatment, and it didn't take me long to settle on which figure.
I don't think there's been any toy in my life that I was as excited or as overjoyed to receive as Powermaster Optimus Prime. I was born in 1984, so I missed most of the iconic G1 toys. I was obsessed with the whole G1 crew thanks to the cartoons and comics, but my collection was full of characters like Hose Head and Grotusque -- nobodies in the fiction who my parents happened to find at the store. So when we found an actual Optimus Prime toy in the store for the then-seemingly-astronomical price of $19.99, I begged with all the gusto that my little heart could muster -- and was denied. According to my mother, this is actually the first toy I bought with "my own money", although that's a little disingenuous, because of course that money had to have been given to me by adults. (Although, I suppose ALL money everyone has was given to them by adults at some point. Except toy stores, who sometimes are given money by children who need Optimus Prime.)
These days Hasbro pumps out Optimus Prime figures a dozen times a year, but back then, a new Optimus Prime toy was a revolutionary event. This was the first time that the Transformers line ever released a new version of an old character. It had been four long years since the original Prime. In that time, Prime had taken on a grandeur in the popular imagination that the original diaclone mold was never intended to capture. PM Prime was the first toy actively designed understanding Prime's stature in the mythos.
To childhood me, the fact that this guy had some goofy transforming engine gimmick didn't matter at all. What I was interested in was how well he could represent the greatest Autobot of them all, my hero, Optimus Prime. And as a child, my verdict was: Amazingly well. My friends got sick of me crooning over how much I loved this toy. The fact that this also happened to be the design Prime sported for arguably the best stretch of the Marvel G1 comics was gravy I would appreciate later.
So how do I feel about it now, in the final days of 2017? Can I possibly be objective in this review? Of course I can't. If you came here for objectivity, well, I'll be back with a real review soon. But if you're in for some more shamelessly nostalgic word vomit, read on!
This truck mode is clearly meant to evoke the '84 toy's truck mode. You'll immediately notice that it features a similar blue and silver stripe along the trailer -- although it goes in the opposite direction, a detail that I recall annoying even kid-me. I guess I've always been a nitpicker. Like the original, the back can open to reveal a ramp, although the compartment within is a lot smaller than the original Prime's, and there's no Roller included.
Basically, this mode trades some of the original's effortless class for play value in other modes, and supplements the package with some big honking guns. The cab is pretty broken up, thanks to the red sections on its sides, the blue section on its top, and a bunch of visible hinges and panel lines. The hands of the mini-robot are visible on top of the cab, and the hands of the combined form are sticking brazenly in the air on the front of the trailer.
The grey double-barrel guns actually work really well here. They look cool and badass, and kinda sorta obscure the combined mode hands. The black guns on the roof are less successful, because if they were to shoot, they would just hit the dang combined mode hands.
Apart from the visible hands, the cab is pretty tidy, with chromed, stickered, and sculpted details all working to bring it to life. It looks good with or without Hi-Q plugged in; without it's a more realistic truck, but he's depicted with it in some of the comics.
Overall, this is a pretty serviceable truck mode. It's not as nice as the OG Prime's truck mode, but it's trying to serve a lot more masters on a more ambitious toy. It was certainly good enough for child-me.
G1 transformations are usually pretty simple, but even in that context, PM OP is an easy conversion. If you're looking for really clever transformation engineering... well, you probably shouldn't be looking at G1 toys in the first place.
One notable thing about this transformation is that it's the first use of the "false chest" cheat. The cab windshield pecs and truck grill abs are sculpted purely to match his character model, while the truck's actual front sits on his back. Apparently a lot of fans hate this shit -- I guess because they want to see the recognizable pieces of the vehicle mode actually move into their proper place in robot mode. But it's never really bothered me -- I actually remember kid-me thinking it was pretty clever.
Another thing I really have to mention is the "powermaster" gimmick. If you somehow missed G1, the idea was that some crucial piece of the toy's transformation wouldn't work unless you plugged in an engine piece/robot -- or, you know, just pressed that section in with your finger. This was, in my opinion, one of the weirder gimmicks in G1. What in the world is cool about being unable to transform your toy? I guess it's a better than your toy have an exceedingly lose-able accessory for a head, but still. Kid-me felt like this was a weird, but ultimately harmless choice (largely because of the finger cheat), and adult me feels pretty similarly.
Finally, it may annoy you that the head of the combined mode is an independent piece, which has nowhere to go in any of the toy's other modes, unless you count chucking it in the compartment at the back of the trailer in truck mode. This is also how the heads worked on the G1 combiners also, so by this point this had been well established as something TF's little fans would put up with.
Small Robot Mode
This was maybe my favorite mode on the toy as a kid.
Articulation is preeeeetty limited. Basically all it can do is flex its arms at the elbows and its legs at the hip and knee. But that's not exactly unusual for G1 toys. OG Prime's articulation is pretty similar; his arms also rotate at the shoulders, and the legs move independently, but neither bot is posable in any meaningful sense. They can stand there, and maybe they can sit down. You need 'em to do more, use your imagination.
While all of Prime's guns can peg into his hands in this mode, they're pretty clearly too big for him, and given his limited articulation, it's hard to make this look great.
But what he lacks in features, this bot mode more than makes up for by providing what at the time was the most dynamic depiction of prime available. Thanks to that fake chest, Prime features the kind of angled physique he typically sported in the cartoons and comics. I'm not sure they were striving for "animation accuracy" in precisely the same way a modern designer would, but I think they were basically trying to bring the cartoon character to life, and basically succeeded in doing so. Simply put, this is one of the best looking bot modes in G1.
Power Master Optimus Prime is part of a proud tradition of Transformers who sit down or do a split to turn into "bases" that certainly appear to be completely useless.
Designers seem to believe, to this day, that all a good Transformer needs in a base are ramps and guns. You never see a Transformers base with a command center, or a kitchen, or a rec room. Ramps. Guns. Center mass that is probably just the robot center mass. Voila! You're now a "city."
That said, in the genre of ramp-laden bases, this one is... fine. The small Optimus Robot doesn't scale super well with it -- he's so big that it really calls into question the notion that this is a base. But it works well with G1 minicars. Hi-Q can do a split to sit astride the shoulder gun, which looks pretty good and helps sell this as a base. (This pose would be nigh-impossible for any human, and so presumably any nebulan, but so would that transformation, so shrug emoji.)
It's tempting to call this mode an afterthought, but a fair bit of the toy's engineering is actually devoted to it. But it's probably not the reason anyone bought this toy, and as such, it's not a huge deal that it's pretty mediocre. And for all that I'm ragging on it, I remember using it a fair bit as a child, using that yawning chest cavity as the part of the base where the (small) Autobots could hang out and talk.
Obligatory Hi-Q Section
Honestly, I think Hi-Q is one of, if not the best Nebulan partner mini-figures ever. He's got just enough paint on him to feel like a legit character rather than a vaguely humanoid hunk of plastic, and he's actually a pretty significant player in both the comic book and in Masterforce, where I guess he's actually the real character, and this Optimus Prime-looking guy is actually just a glorified Gundam suit or something? Masterforce sounds so lame.
And now for the main event: Combined mode!
This is probably how most PM OPs will spend the majority of their days displayed, and the form everyone thinks of when they think of this design. And you know, for what it is, adjusting for era and so on -- it's pretty glorious.
If Transformers fandom in 1988 were like Transformers fandom today, people probably would have groused endlessly that the head here was off-model for Optimus Prime. I would be super curious to hear why the designers chose to go with those unorthodox ear pieces -- it's not like they forgot what Prime's animation-model head looked like, because the small robot head is a spitting image of it. But these days I actually think the head is a strong point, thanks to the design's starring role in the comics (or, if you prefer, Masterforce, or even those weird cartoon intros with the kid in the jean jacket. Man, those intros were great, weren't they? Didn't you want to be the kid in the jean jacket SO BAD? I would have straight murdered my hampster for that jean jacket alone.*)
*Just kidding, Teddy, I loved you, RIP.
The same is probably true for all of the other little ways this form differs from the original Optimus Prime model. After all, if you're interested in this toy 30 years later, it's probably because you're into this toy, and not because you're looking for something to fill the Optimus Prime-shaped hole in your little 5-year-old heart. But the 5-year-old version of me who was looking for just that was plenty happy to have an Optimus who loomed so large. Optimus was the best Autobot, so shouldn't he also be one of the biggest? That's just logic.
Probably the thing I've seen criticized on this toy the most is its lack of articulation in this mode -- all it can do is rotate its arms at the shoulders. But if you've played with any G1 figure before, this really shouldn't be a big surprise to you. Loads of G1 toys have exactly this much articulation, and none of them are truly articulated the way we think about it today. Elbow joints are relatively common, and you get the occasional necessary-for-transformation waist swivel, but that's about it.
A more salient complaint might be how oddly proportioned the arms are. There's no getting around it: They look pretty skinny relative to Prime's otherwise beefy frame. And honestly, I can't help feeling like there was a solution here that would have allowed for them to look better.
That aside, this large and in-charge robot mode looks pretty great.
Build, Quality, and Intangibles
Like most G1 toys, PM OP's plastic is extremely thick and durable. The smokestacks on my copy appear to have broken off somewhere along the line, but I'm gonna chalk that one up to the dangers of being a well-loved child's toy rather than anything wrong with the figure.
Probably the biggest areas of concern if you're buying a vintage PM Prime are the stickers, which are used prodigiously on this figure, and the chrome on the front of the cab, which has rubbed off a fair amount on mine. I'm not gonna lie, the stickers aren't great. The cab sticker, which I believe was pre-applied has held up great over the years, but some of the consumer-applied stickers have really gotten worn over time. When I look at all those dodgy stickers and worn chrome, I see scars born of playing with this toy obsessively during my childhood. But if you're buying a used copy, you probably just see, y'know, a kind of dingy toy. Stickers: not the best way to detail a toy.
If we're considering Powermaster Optimus Prime as his own character, or at least his own design, then until recently, this was the only real iteration of it. But in the past year or two, the floodgates have opened. Now we have the Titans Return version (and its Takara update, with the option for various Perfect Effect upgrades), Maketoys Thunder Manus, and Fans Hobby Power Builder all jostling for the position of definitive PM Prime / Ginrai.
And you know what? A lot of those toys look great. I'll probably wind up buying one. Certainly, they all have better articulation than the 1988 original. But not one of them is more accurate to PM Prime's depiction in Transformers media -- which was unusually faithful to the toy in almost all cases. So I could justify giving this Best Available... but instead I'll just call it The OG That Shall Not Be Fucked With.
If we're not considering Powermaster Prime a unique character... then, dude, there are like a million Optimus Prime toys, go buy MP-10 or something.
So let's see. We've got a somewhat broken up trailer with visible arms, a useless base mode, almost no articulation on either robot mode, some weird proportions in robot mode, a lose-able parts-forming combined mode head... yeah, overall, I'm gonna have to give this thing...
Pros: Is the greatest Transformer toy of all time.
Cons: Run in fear of the might of Optimus Prime.
What? I warned you this wasn't going to be objective.
Seriously, though, I believe that in the context of G1, this is an excellent toy that made a generation of children happy. It managed to be the Optimus Prime we needed, while also doing its own thing and moving the ball forward enough that 30 years later, toys are coming out to tribute it specifically. It's got play value coming out of its weirdly-shaped ears. Whether this is a good toy is open to interpretation. But there's no question it is a GREAT toy.