When Hasbro released Combiner Wars last year, I went on and on about how it was the ultimate realization of Transformers designers, brought up on Generation 1 toys and cartoons, making products that not only were fun, but that also expressed what we thought the toys looked like when we remembered them.
Obviously, I hadn’t seen anything from Titans Return.
Titans Return is the 2016-2017 toy line for Hasbro’s Transformers toys. As with each new line, there is a gimmick. Last year, it was having each wave of Deluxe and Voyager class toys be part of a team of (awesome) combining robots. This year, Hasbro is bringing back Headmasters.
For those that need a refresher, Headmasters were originally released by Hasbro in 1987 and consisted of new and old characters whose heads transformed into smaller bots. In the comics, the charge was led by Fortress Maximus, who thought it was some kind of peace offering (Max was always good with the grand gestures, less on the thinking things through – having an extra set of brains in his head was definitely a good thing).
The cool thing about Headmasters, was that, even in 1987, it was a throwback of sorts. The original Transformers toys were part of a transforming vehicle line from Japan called Diaclone. There, they weren’t sentient robots, but mechs who had tiny drivers. Headmasters revisited that concept, but turned the volume up to 11. ’87 was the height of design for Hasbro’s Transformers team. Some of the coolest new figures and character updates came out of the Headmasters wave – three years in to Transformers and they couldn’t just rely on the newness of the transforming gimmick, they had to design characters that kids wanted to grab off the shelves.
The biggest of those was Fortress Maximus. A city bot that, at two feet tall, dwarfed Metroplex (the previous city Transformer who came out when Combiners were introduced). He was also a double Headmaster – his head transformed into a “normal” sized bot who was, in turn, a Headmaster himself.
Titans Return Fortress Maximus is everything the 1987 toy was and more. Based on the Generations Metroplex toy, he retains that toy’s ridiculous amount of articulation, but is heavily retooled to make everything more, for lack of a better word, retro. Where Metroplex was a giant, yet sleek bot, Fort Max is unapologetically chunky. The colors are primary and bright, and his various modes, while still pretty much being variations of him lying down, are weighty and solid. Looking at him, there’s zero doubt who he’s supposed to be. From the knee guns, to the horned helmet, he’s very obviously an updated Fortress Maximus. He’s even got a sticker sheet to complete his deco (go slow and steady with these; they’re nicely printed, but not nearly as forgiving as Reprolabels).
What I couldn’t wait to try out was the double-Headmaster gimmick (now called Titan Masters). As soon as I unboxed Max and got him together (he’s too big to ship with all his bits attached, so some assembly is required), I ripped off his head (maybe while re-enacting the comic scene from above, my G.I. Joes will never tell). In the original toy, Fortress Maximus’ smallest head was the Transformers’ human ally, Spike Witwicky, with his head just being something Spike drove around when he didn’t feel like being a city. When Fort Max was released in Japan, Takara wasn’t having any unnamed bots, so it named the large Headmaster Cerebros. That convention is maintained in Titans Return, with Cerebros’ head turning into a new bot, Titans Master Emissary (even though its look is still based on the original Spike Headmaster toy). The first thing I noticed is that the molded detail on the Titan Master is better than you would expect it to be: they even painted small details like the eyes (this isn’t consistent across the line, though). What’s great about Titans Return is that nearly every toy has an attachment point or cockpit of some sort for the Titan Masters to interact with. It’s a nice way to make sure you don’t lose track of these teeny bots.
The thing you’ll notice when interacting with Fortress Maximus is that he’s hefty. At over two feet tall, the bot has some weight to him. Enough so that, if you don’t pose him just right, he’ll likely collapse backwards at the knees as gravity takes over. Transforming him is a relatively simple affair. It’s clear that size and playability were the design focuses, not toy complexity. After taking off his head and arranging Max’s limbs, you’ll end up with a mobile battle fortress or an Autobot city. This might irk some Transformers collectors who relish a challenge when it comes to alternate modes; but the rest won’t care because they’ll be having too much fun grabbing smaller bots and having them interact with Fortress Maximus. He’s even got electronics! When you transform Cerebros, you get the classic G1 transforming sound, then when you attach him in battle base or head mode, you’ll get additional sounds and phrases. It’s a nice addition to an already fun toy.
Speaking of smaller bots, I had the luck to also pick up the Titans Return Leader class toys Blaster and Powermaster Optimus Prime and one of the small Titan Master toys, Clobber (who’s really just Grimlock’s head driving around in a teeny dino mech). I focused in on these, partially because they’re freaking awesome toys but also because the Leader class toys have base modes that connect to Fort Max.
Blaster and PM Prime (who would be a better choice for that other PM, but I digress) are deeply evocative of their Generation 1 counterparts. The chunkiness in design displayed in Fortress Maximus carries over here, but in a pleasing way. Prime is a heavily retooled Combiner Wars Ultra Magnus (who was one of my favorite toys from that line) and retains roughly the same transformation scheme; but with the addition of a Titan Master, Apex (not Hi-Q, his G1 Powermaster, which saddens the Transformers historian in my head). The new panels and armor all come together to make a panel truck rather than a car carrier in an impressive way. Blaster is brand new and transforms into a wonderfully anachronistic boombox. He’s got room in his chest for the tablet bots that will be showing up later in the wave (as well as Buzzsaw, pictured below, who snuck into Combiner Wars). His Titan Master, Twincast, is a teeny version of himself and benefits from some extra paint apps (and is also named after his reincarnated self from the Japanese Headmasters cartoons – nice). Clobber is a chunky little dino baby and makes me giggle uncontrollably whenever I stomp him around with his teeny little Titan Master arms sticking out of the dino mech. In head mode, he’s a spot-on Grimlock
They each sport a base mode of varying success. Blaster’s works nicely, with a control room and landing pads of various sorts. It also connects perfectly with Fortress Maximus. Powermaster Optimus Prime… I see what they were going for; but this mode reminds me more of a spatchcocked chicken than anything else. Adding insult to injury in this mode, the only way to attach him to Fortress Maximus is to turn him around so that all the base bits are pointing in the wrong direction and you can see the semi cab. It’s not the best. But his gun emplacements are great spots for your Titan Masters to hang out.
Hasbro has something special with Titans Return. It’s a rare line that not only leans on the nostalgia hard to give adult collectors what they’ve been looking for; but it’s fun for, y’know, actual kids. It’s hard to quantify the amount of fun me and my kids had using the Titan Masters to interact with the larger bots. I was asked, multiple times, where we could get more Titan Masters, and when, and how many there would be, and why weren’t they all in our house right now? Suffice to say, when Titans Return hits the toy aisles this fall, Hasbro is going to have a major success on its hands. You can pre-order Fortress Maximus at Amazon now. The full line, with the Deluxe and Legends-sized toys, will be released at retail nationwide in August. Keep an eye on those toy aisle resets!