My Beef With Scramble City (And How I Got Over It)

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Above: Sideswipe and Dead End – which is the sexier bot?

I introduced newcomers to the Scramble City concept in and earlier post, where I recollect myself describing them pretty favorably. But honestly speaking, even as a child, I found the smaller toys of the sub-line (the ones forming the limbs) rather dull and unconvincing in many ways. When having toys like Optimus Prime, Blue Streak and Inferno, a toy like, say, Dead End, just seemed so simple and cheapened down in comparison.

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Still not convinced?

While the former toys had transparent car windows, rubber tires and a fair amount of die cast (metal) in them, not to mention being nicely proportioned with exquisite face sculpts, Dead End was smaller and, save for some screws and pins, made entirely out of plastic and the car windows were only painted onto the car body. Perhaps foremost, with the peculiar exception of the Protectobot Streetwise, the heads of all smaller “limb-bots” doubled as the connector peg for the combined mode, which resulted in many of them having, small, square, quite generic heads looking very much alike, with tiny faces etched unto them.

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Inferno and Hot Spot – which is the sexier fire truck bot?

Even the bigger team leaders left things to be desired. While none of Optimus Prime, Blue Streak and Inferno had much leg articulation, they had very articulated arms with elbow joints which somewhat made up for this. The Protectobot team leader Hot Spot on the other hand, had arms that had shoulder articulation, but basically were two blocks hanging on the sides of his body. Further, he had hip joints, but they only provided for moving his legs sideways, for accommodating a (much needed) split leg position when combining him with his minions into Defensor.

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Above, left: The Constructicons, carrying their combiner kibble. Right: The Combaticons – tons of loose pieces

And then there was the combiner kibble. Each Gestalt (combined robot) required an extra head, at least one chest plate, fists and feet, all of which were loose pieces not really having anywhere to go until they were needed for combination. In contrast, while the Constructions needed additional pieces for combining into Devastator, they were at least able to become integrated into their team member´s vehicle modes. Personally, as a child, I eventually traded all of my Scramble City limb bots with friends having Constructicons they had inherited from their older brothers. Even when not being able to collect all members, and none of the connecting kibble parts, I felt the Constructicons were the superior toys as individual pieces. Still do, however…

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Dead End: Still not that sexy, but a bot of many functions

Since re-entering Transformers collecting, I have come to realize that what the Scramble City bots lack in esthetics, they have got in versatility. Every scramble city bot is virtually a quadruple-changer; every smaller member of a team has a robot mode, an alt-mode (vehicle or beast mode) arm mode AND leg mode. In a similar manner, all team leaders have a robot mode, alt mode, torso mode, and in most cases, a base mode, acting as a play set for the smaller members of the team. I used to think that the distinction between the arm and leg mode for the smaller bots was simply a matter of flipping their head/connector peg, but after having made attempts to create my own scramble city transformer prototypes, I have realized that accounting for the enabling of that flip action alone affects the whole design of the toy, for better or worse, making it quite sophisticated in its own right.

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80´s icons

Further, I have come to find the comparatively crude, “cheap” design of Scramble City toys utterly charming, in the same sense that I find 8-bit Nintendo graphics charming and evocative of my 80´s childhood. In fact, it was a third party/independent toy company, Fansproject, who fully made me have this realization and thus reevaluate the Scramble City sub-line with their eminent offer the Glacialbots. This combining team, transforming into mechanical ice age animals (and yes, I am a huge paleontology fan), were engineered and designed in such a fashion that they might as well could have been released in 1986. This included having the same measures for the figures themselves, for the connectors and their ports, as the original Special Teams, so that they can actually swap limbs with each other! What was more, they remedied the ever so frustrating concept of loose combiner parts by making sure all pieces, such as fists, feet, etc, were fully integrate-able with the individual robots of the team. Seeing the glacialbots, I for the first time viewed the scramble city concept with new eyes. In retrospect, I thus find the Scramble City teams are fun, ingenious and utterly charming in their un-articulated, generic boxiness.

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Above, right: Three members of the Glacialbots. Right: Glacialord, swapping limbs with Computron

One complain could still be made about Scramble City – why the need to swap limbs? While it could be argued that this gimmick of Scramble City combiners is unnecessary and requires sacrifices in design and appeal of individual robots, it nevertheless made it easier for us as children to collect a complete combiner, given that it could be hard to gather all members of one team, if not bought as a gift set, it also made it possible to assemble your own Gestalt with the bots you happened to like best from the respective teams. Last year was the 30th anniversary of Transformers as a franchise, and this year, 2015, actually marks the anniversary of the appearance of the first Gestalt, Devastator! Befittingly enough, Hasbro has dubbed this year “The year of the combiner”, with, as of January, Superion and Menasor under release and with well-founded rumors of Devastator and Defensor being in the pipeline. At least for the first two, the toys have a standardized connection mechanism for combining, and the smaller bots can form the arm or the leg in any of the teams. In other words, not only the Scramble City characters themselves, but the very gimmick defining the sub-line has been reintroduced, which is, if anything, a testament to the legacy of this essential chapter of Transformers history.

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Above: Superion and Menasor – updated

Thanks to Seibertron for the pictures!

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