Chris Loves Missing Link Optimus Prime

You ever get something so much better than you expected that you are legitimately astonished? The 40th anniversary of the Transformers franchise was always going to be well celebrated, but never in my wildest imagination would I have thought that what appears to be yet another re-release of the classic 1984 Optimus Prime would be so impressive. I assure you this thing makes good on the promise of being more than meets the eye. Click the pic and check it out!

If you want a relatively faithful reproduction of the original 1984 Optimus Prime, they’re not hard to find. Hell, if you want an actual 1984 Optimus, you can get one if you’re willing to shell out the dough. There are more out there than you might think. Even by modern standards this is still a great toy, and Hasbro knows that when they re-release a new version a lot of people are going to buy it, no matter how many they already own.

Despite my love of Transformers in general and Optimus Prime specifically, I am not one of those people who buy every version that hits the shelves. I am a fan, not a completionist. But when Missing Link Optimus Prime was announced, I jumped on the pre-sale. I knew just enough about it to know that there was the potential for it to be something extraordinary, and I didn’t want to miss out.

I opted for the full version (there was a cab/robot only option for about half the price), because I knew future me would be kicking myself if it was a great as I thought it would be and I was missing the trailer. And I am happy to report that I absolutely made the right call. You can’t always tell with Transformers. Sometimes the ones you think will be the best are just a cardboard box full of meh. But not Missing Link Optimus. This thing delivers.

At first glance this would seem to be just another repro of the classic ’80s Prime. With the exception of the missing ports in the headlights where his fists used to fit, Prime’s alt mode looks pretty much identical to his 1984 incarnation.

Okay, his 1985 incarnation. Rubsigns weren’t around in ’84. By the way, if you’re thinking that the windshield/air horn portion of his cab looks less well-defined than the rest of him, you’re not wrong. That’s because that part is covered with enamel. Because, just like he was back in the day, this Prime is partially constructed of die-cast metal. I told you this thing was awesome. You should listen to me. I know what I’m talking about.

Prime’s robot mode seems to be the same old ‘bot we’ve seen repackaged a hundred times. But eagle-eyed readers will spot some differences right away. The interior of Prime’s cab has been outfitted with an Autobot-Matrix-Of-Leadership-shaped cavity. And his hands have been given some degree of articulation. Pretty cool, but nothing groundbreaking. Or so it would seem. But let’s dispense with the foreplay and get down to what makes this thing shine.

BOOM! This Prime is a faithful recreation of the original toy in both scale and appearance, but given the advanced articulation of a fully poseable modern action figure. Where the original Optimus was limited to a few poses, most of which would render him too unbalanced to stand on his own, Missing Link Optimus Prime is, by contrast, positively gymnastic. This is the action figure we all imagined in our heads when we were playing with our Transformers in ’84. It’s the Prime I never knew I wanted. And it is AMAZING. But, you know what? I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the unboxing. Because this toy is fantastic on so many levels, not the least of which is the experience of opening it and seeing it for the first time.

The protective black box far above holds the Japanese Takara Tomy box within, and inside that is this wonderful insert. This sleek, sexy piece of extruded polystyrene foam is holding all of our accessories: Roller, a modified version of Prime’s original rifle, some parts trees, Prime’s energy axe, the Matrix, gas pump, gas hose, and dispenser nozzle. I wasn’t expecting to get nostalgic over Styrofoam, but I’ll be damned if this wasn’t exactly what it felt like to unbox a new Transformer back in the day. It even squeaks the same, and if you are a child of the ’80s you know exactly what I mean. It never occurred to me there would be Styrofoam, and I probably wouldn’t have missed it if it weren’t there. But I’m really glad it was. It felt like Christmas, way back when all the Christmas tree lights were as big as your thumb and too hot to touch.

Let’s start with the Matrix. The Autobot Matrix Of Leadership was invented for The Transformers: The Movie in 1986, so it wasn’t originally part of Optimus Prime’s design. The engineers at Takara Tomy did an excellent job at creating a scale Matrix as well a device to hold it in Prime’s chest without impacting his movement or transformation.

For those of you not privy to the history of Transformers, the first few years of Transformers was a mishmash of different Japanese toy lines licensed by Hasbro and rebranded under the Transformers name for American consumers. We had no idea at the time, of course, but the lion’s share of Transformers were originally part of the Japanese Diaclone toy line. Diaclone figures were not meant to be sentient robots, but rather mecha piloted by human operators. That’s why not only most vehicular Transformers but also Dinobots and Insecticons had pilot compartments. The Transformers storyline negated the need for human operators, so they were not sold with pilot figures here in the States. However, if you’re one of the many collectors who like to outfit their Transformers with little Diaclone drivers, Takara Tomy’s got your back. The Matrix receptacle is removable, allowing you to pop some Diaclone pilots into the original driver’s seats.

One of the pains of the original Transformers was the stickers. Yes, they added amazing splashes of color and interesting technological detail to our favorite robots in disguise, but they were often scuffed, scraped, or outright removed by the wear and tear of transforming the toys. Prime’s forearm stickers were particularly prone to scarring because of the way his forearms rotate into his body in his truck mode. Missing Link Optimus does not suffer from this flaw; these designs are not stickers, but are molded into the forearms and painted. This marvelous bit of sculpture can’t be so easily rubbed away.

Original Prime’s removable – and easily losable – fists are also a thing of the past. After a forty-year wait, Prime’s fists are now permanently attached and fold neatly into his cab in truck mode. This is one improvement that every kid with an Optimus Prime talked about back in the day. We all got pretty tired of misplacing his hands.

Oh, and those hands are now articulated. If you look carefully you can see that the palm and thumb form a partial 5mm port. While it’s not complete, it is enough to hold a standard Transformers 5mm post accessory, while letting Prime’s fingers swing free.

This may not look like a lot of articulation and it isn’t, because it doesn’t need to be. Simply opening up the fist with a hinge offers so many more options to pose and play with Prime. Instead of only being able to hold a 5mm post, now Prime can hold onto irregularly shaped objects, including the Matrix he came with. This simple little change opens up a world of possibilities. This was a really clever idea, and not something you normally see on Transformers this size. Nice work, designers.

Two fer lookin’!

The details on Prime’s knees and feet that were once labels are now likewise moulded and painted, making them vastly more durable and better looking.

Speaking of his feet, like most modern Transformers, Missing Link Optimus has feet that rotate, ensuring they remain flat on the ground no matter what pose you place him in. You may notice that his feet appear to be enameled, much like his upper cab assembly. That’s right: they’re die-cast metal. The ’80s are strong with this one.

I apologize for the blur in these photos, but it is difficult to get close-up focus on multiple glossy surfaces at varying depths. However, you can still see that the real genius of Missing Link Optimus is in the redesign of the hips. The original Optimus had relatively simple hinge joints at the hips, but to allow for the range of movement of modern action figures those had to go. This complex design is clever, but the real engineering breakthrough as I see it was the removal of the front wheels from the legs and placing them on free swinging plates. This allows Optimus a nearly human freedom of movement at the hips and is the key to this action figure’s posability. This is excellent three-dimensional problem solving. Very nice work, Takara Tomy. Well done.

This is Optimus Prime’s original ion blaster rifle from 1984ish. It also got a much needed redesign. There have been more versions of Optimus Prime than any other Transformer character. He is by far the most popular of the Transformers, and his uniquely shaped weapon is iconic among the Transformers fandom. It is also infamous: the original design was so flawed that Prime couldn’t hold it straight. As you can see the grip of Prime’s gun was designed to resemble an Earth rifle grip, and was impossible to fit in Optimus’s fist. A post in front of the trigger was added to fit Prime’s hand, but the bottom of the post was flush with the bottom of the grip, meaning that in order to make this awesome looking weapon fit in Prime’s fist he had to hold it with the stock either digging into his ribs or swinging wildly out past his elbow. It just looked plain stupid. Also the rifle came to an unfortunately thin wasp waist which tended to cause the weapon to snap in half.

Fortunately Takara Tomy has redesigned the ion blaster to be more robust while maintaining the overall aesthetic. The Earth-style rifle grip has been replaced with a second post, giving Prime, Roller, and the trailer/headquarters/repair bay a number of different options for mounting the weapon. While not as sleek as the original, the wasp waist has been beefed up considerably to reduce breakage.

In the cartoon, Prime’s axe was an energy weapon that could be generated when Prime retracted his hand into his forearm. This was a common practice among animated Transformers, and it replicated the way that many Transformers toys had removable fists that could be replaced with weapons.

Unfortunately Prime was not one of those toys and did not come with an axe. And now that Missing Link Optimus has hands that do not detach, another solution was required. So Missing Link Prime’s axe has a hinged cover, allowing the energy globe at its base to encase his hand entirely.

And now we’re ready to rock.

It was an unexpected and frankly overpoweringly warm rush of nostalgia to pull these parts trees from the Styrofoam. It’s not often that I can assign specific dates to my memories, but I can tell you the exact day when I last held these unbroken pieces in my hands: December 25, 1984. That’s the day I got my first Optimus Prime, and that’s the last time I held Roller’s wheels and the turret’s missiles together, intact on their respective sprues. This was an unexpected flood of memories, and I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t just sit rapt, smile on my face, my head swimming with newly recollected childhood wonder for quite a few minutes before I was able to do anything else.

Back in the day we would have just twisted those wheels until they popped free of the parts tree, and that’s fine. Kids are not particularly known for patience nor attention to detail. But I remember very clearly how twisting the parts left little spurs of plastic that stopped Roller’s wheels from rolling cleanly on hard surfaces. That was acceptable in the ’80s, but I’m an adult now and it’s time to step it up. It was time for some high quality flush cutters. And everything I read told me that the gold standard for flush cutters came from only one place: the Japanese precision tool company GodHand.

Made specifically for Gundam modelers, the GodHand SPN-120 is a flush cutting nipper designed for use with plastic 3mm or less in diameter. And user testimonials will back up those numbers; there are a lot of pics out there of people who have pushed their SPN-120s past their limit and snapped the metal blades. The sprue attachments to Roller’s wheels and the turret missiles is far less than 3mm, so I knew I was good to go. Nevertheless, this is an expensive tool; I took the first few cuts very slowly. And unlike the many other flush cutters I have used in the past, there was no mashed plastic, no spurs left on the wheels, and no white stress marks. The GodHand SPN-120 didn’t nip the plastic, it sliced it. Cleanly. Easily. And it cut so closely that I can run my fingers around Roller’s wheels and I can’t feel where they used to be attached to the sprue. The results are unbelievable. I would love to show you where the cuts were, but they are so fine that my camera cannot see them. I myself am only guessing where they are at this point. These things cut that cleanly. I have never used anything like them.

I know you didn’t come here for a tool review, but I have to sing glory unto GodHand. I can say this without hesitation: the GodHand SPN-120 is quite simply the finest tool I have ever owned. From the very first cut I knew I had made the right decision. It’s not perfect. At $55 it is more prone to breakage than I would have hoped. For that price I would have preferred to have something a little more robust. But the performance is like nothing I have ever experienced. Making a perfect, professional cut through the sprue was effortless. You can feel the quality when you use this tool. It really is amazing. Well worth the money. I give the GodHand SPN-120 a 9.5 out of 10.

There were three different colors of Rollers in the ’80s: dark blue, light blue, and silver. I had the dark blue growing up, and I loved it because it matched all of Prime’s dark blue parts. It just looked like it belonged. But the silver Rollers always intrigued me, and I was happy to see that was the color that Missing Link Optimus came with. I was also happy to note that all of the 5mm weapons ports in the trailer and on Optimus and Roller were the new hexagonal ports. These provide the same stable grip as the old school round ports and are 100% compatible with old school 5mm weapons, but are more forgiving when twisting or removing accessories and result in far fewer stressed and/or broken parts. This is an excellent and much needed upgrade. Not to mention that it just looks cool.

You may have noticed the strange cut-out on Roller’s upper rear panel. This is yet another cool new play feature.

The piece rotates, hiding the 5mm port and revealing what appears to be an emergency warning light. It doesn’t light up, but this kind of thing is what kitbashers and modders live for. I would not be surprised to find a third party LED conversion kit on sale before too long.

The rotation also offers the possibility to aim Optimus’s gun vertically, making Roller a much more useful robot, as well as a more enjoyable toy.

Pew! Pew!

Okay, on to what separates Optimus from the rest of the pack: his trailer. Optimus is one of just a small handful of toys that contains its own playset. The trailer/headquarters is not only a great piece of transformable equipment, but it is specifically designed to interact with Optimus in both his truck and robot modes. At first glance the trailer would appear to be identical to its 1980s incarnation, but like everything about Missing Link Optimus, it warrants a closer look. Two differences you may notice right away are that the trailer is harder to open than the original, and the plastic feels more robust. It’s an unusual change but it is reassuring to feel like you can play with this thing without worrying about breaking it.

I was really hoping the little gear mechanism that turns the turret’s radar dish would still be there. I don’t know why, but seeing it filled me with happiness. Being able to turn that little disc and watch the radar dish rotate felt like touching a memory. By the way, the turret’s cockpit still opens to hold a Diaclone pilot. And when it closes it sounds just like it did forty years ago. I am practically giddy at this point.

I couldn’t tell before I opened the trailer up, but the tab that used to release Roller’s spring-loaded launcher is no longer a trigger. It’s now moulded as part of the trailer floor.

Likewise the holes that used to hold Roller’s “exhaust pipes” are gone, and the launcher itself is moulded as part of the turret.

That’s because the turret is now a stand-alone module that can separate from the trailer bed.

The turret, like Roller and Optimus himself, is now an independent six-wheeled vehicle.

This “bloated” version of Prime’s rifle doesn’t quite fit into its intended position in the far corner of the trailer like it used to. Don’t get me wrong, the 5mm post and port are perfectly compatible. It’s just that this version of the weapon is taller than its predecessor, and it crowds the turret when the trailer is folded up. It’s a small thing, and I don’t think it places any stress on the turret nor the rifle. But it is tall enough to move the turret off center, and that bugs me. I don’t want those parts to touch each other. It feels sloppy. So I’m going to store the rifle on Roller. I think it’s the safer option, if not for the plastic then for my peace of mind.

Prime’s trailer turns into a repair bay where Optimus can get fixed up after combat. This is not a new feature, but I had no idea this was an intended way to play with him back in ’84. I’m only forty years behind. Better late than never.

Missing Link Optimus Prime is nearly perfect, but not quite. There are two flaws, both minor but worth mentioning. The first is that it comes with a sticker sheet. Yes, I know it’s meant to recreate the experience of opening a new Optimus back in the day. I get it. But one of the most incredible innovations in modern Transformers is that the graphic details no longer need to be applied by the consumer in the form of stickers. Those have been replaced with more precise, more durable, and all around superior tampographs, which are complex paint and ink designs which can be mechanically applied to irregularly shaped surfaces. Machines can tampograph details far more precisely and reliably than any human could apply labels. Some of these stickers are recreations of the details that have been moulded and painted into Missing Link Optimus Prime, and are obviously not intended to be used. They are included, I assume, because this is a reprinting of the original 1984/1985 sticker sheet. Others, though, are details of computer monitors that need to be applied to the interior of Prime’s trailer. And that irritates me. With as much as this toy cost, I should not have to rely on my own eyesight and inexpert label application skills to decorate it.

The second flaw is far less irksome, but still confusing. Other modern versions of Optimus have incorporated special receptacles so that his axe can be attached to the interior of his trailer like his ion blaster. Missing Link Optimus has no such storage solution, nor is there a place to keep his missiles. Unfortunately, just like when I was a kid, these are left to rattle around inside his trailer and hopefully not get lost. This isn’t a deal breaker or really even a serious complaint, but it sure would have been nice to have had some way to secure these things in truck mode.

As I’m sure you’ve surmised by now, Missing Link Optimus Prime is an all around win for me. This is such an unexpected and impressive Transformer that it seems inexplicable that it even exists. It’s fantastic. Yeah, it’s expensive. But as soon as I started playing with it, I knew that every penny of what I’d spent was represented in the redesign and construction of this robot. It would be difficult for me to find more than a few small ways to improve on this figure. Missing Link Optimus Prime gets a 9 out of 10 from me. Takara Tomy really knocked this one out of the park.

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