1987 Skullcruncher is my favourite Decepticon Headmaster. So this new toy has something to live up to!
Skullsmasher's Headmaster retains the original name Grax and comes attached in robot mode. The head mode's face resembles the original but with a prominent gold ridge between the eye where previously there was a straight visor: I'm not sure where that came from as the portrayal of Skullcruncher's face has been pretty consistent over the years! Detaching and unfolding the Titanmaster reveals a robot with a black head, arms & lower legs and green chest & upper legs, contrasting with the original's black head & body and green limbs - just the head & upper kegs have stayed the same colour.
They've gone a much better job with the robot though with the colours all but matching the original, though the green has a slightly more metallic sheen and the waist & upper body seem a darker grey/off white than they were. He comes with a gun, as per the original, but the tail is um.... actually I'm not sure what the tail is! It's certainly not a sword any more! It can be held by a peg in it's rear or a fold out handle in the top if you turn it over which then lets you plug the gun into it and seat a Titanmaster in it. The "shield" does really need to be held because it looks odd pegged into either shoulder's 5mm hole and if you stored it using the 5mm hole on the toy's back then the robot would be considerably over balanced.
Balance is something of a problem as it is: the toy is slightly back heavy carrying a crocodile head on it's back, a situation not helped by notoriously floppy knee & hip joints. The knee looks a particularly bad design: it's a double bending knee, which isn't necessary for the transformation, but the top joint is VERY stiff and the lower one is VERY loose - it's like having both versions of the Combiner Wars Brawl waist on one leg. the lower knee joint is the only one that needs to bend so I wonder why they moulded a separate knee pad especially as it's in a colour, green, that isn't present there on previous depictions of the character.
LATER EDIT: I've been told that the knee pads lock into the lower legs and indeed they do with a very satisfying click. Getting them to unlock again for Transformation is something of a trial though!
Above the knees there's a thigh swivel, again quite loose, and above that ball jointed hips. The waist turns and, like all Titanmaster heads, the head is ball jointed. The shoulders shrug up & are ball jointed, there's a bicep swivel, bending elbow and another swivel at the top of the lower arms. This is particularly useful as it allows you to rotate the lower arm so the outer edge, which has a Titanmaster peg on it, faces up letting you stand a Titanmaster on each of his arms.
The robot mode isn't a disaster by any means but the floppy joints on the legs, not aided by small feet that keep folding back in and a lack of heels spurs do mean the balance is a bit wanting.
Transformation: remove gun, shield & Titanmaster head, the last of which needs transforming to robot mode. Straighten the legs then fold the lower legs back at the lower knee joint over the back of the upper legs & tab together. Place the gun into the tail and put the 5mm peg hole on the base of the tail on the 5mm peg, half of which is on each leg's knee: a thing ring of plastic round two peg halves which are pushing apart? Gonna be a lot of broken Skullsmasher tail pieces down the line. Fold the shoulder up over the space where the head was. Hold the toy so you're looking down on the Titanmaster socket with the toy back towards you. Manipulate the shoulders so the tabs in the back of them sit in a slot each side of the body. Fold the crocodile head forward so the tabs on that fit in the tabs just bellow the shoulder's 5mm holes. Rather confusingly the shoulder peg holes also have a matching tab slot across them! A hint of a beast mode retool down the line perhaps? Fold the hands in and pose the front paws.
At this point it's necessary to go back to the original Skullcruncher. All the Headmaster toys accommodate their Headmaster as a pilot in alternate mode. This is easy when you're an Autobot vehicle as they all have a cockpit or driver's compartment of some sort. Most of the Decepticon animals settle for the Headmaster riding somewhere in the body. Skullcruncher however has the pilot sitting in a seat IN THE CROCODILE'S MOUTH! How radio rental is that? Now admittedly not all of you may share my fear of crocodiles, caused by an early exposure to Peter Pan, but I think anyone will admit that putting ANYTHING in a crocodile's mouth IS A BAD IDEA! This mad feature is one of the reasons I like the original toy so much.
Grax does not sit in the crocodile's mouth in Skullsmasher's beast mode :-(
Yes, OK, he crocodile's mouth now open to reveal a wonderfully sculpted grey tongue but my favourite feature is gone. What's worse is that there's a black strip down the crocodile's head to remind you of the original toy's feature. Then to compound things the new method of storing the Titanmaster is rather poor. There's a compartment half way down the body with a rubber canopy that folds backwards. Already the alarm bells should be ringing as rubber is a material I don't like to see on Transformers toys as it's perishable. Since only one side of the compartment is open, the top, you effectively have to drop the Titanmaster into it which is a bit hard because he then needs some manoeuvring to tuck his legs under the control panel. Then you need to fold the panel back down. Which doesn't want to fold down, doesn't want to sit in it's slot and when it does go in immediately wants to spring back out again. A piece of solid clear plastic wouldn't of done that! It is an absolute disaster. The only reason I can think of for changing the pilot's location is that the head on the hinted at remould can't accommodate a pilot necessitating the seat in the body which will be used on both toys but even then there's no excuse for it not closing properly. Fortunately the Titanmaster foot pegs, previously on the forearms, are now relocated to the forelegs so you can stand Grax there instead and don't open the body compartment because you will never get it closed properly.
But apart from that.....
Yeah it's a decent crocodile, again with all he colours in the right place. The back legs are wedged into spaces in the body - look at how they're stored before touching them - but can pull out to the sides revealing they're ball jointed at the hips. The front legs are fixed in a diagonally splayed angle but can still move at the robot's bicep, elbow and forearm joint. We've mentioned the mouth opening but the head can raise and move from side to side. The tail also moves from side to side, courtesy of the 5mm peg it's attached to but see previous comments about the long term viability of the connection which can only be harmed by moving it.
There is some fun to be had with the tail in this mode though. Firstly the handle for holding it can fold up and since the 5mm handle is a hollow tube it can be used as a Minicon peg. Next, the hole for the gun's peg, stored inside the tail, is bored straight through. Pushing the gun down slightly will give the sides of the hole enough friction to hold a 5mm peg weapon on top of the tail and store the gun. For a better hold remove he gun entirely, which can itself be mounted on the tail. Finally the entire tail can be mounted the other way up forming a gun station mounted on the rear of the tail as shown in Departure Time's Skullsmasher gallery.
Hmmmm. Bar the problems with the hatch it's a decent enough crocodile Transformer. However, for me, to be Skullcruncher it really needed that distinctive feature with the pilot in the mouth. Couple that with the looseness in the robot legs and you end up with a slightly disappointing toy. I tried to ignore this with Titan Force Brainstorm, because I felt I was comparing him with a previous version, but I wonder if Skullsmasher and the rest of the 1987 Headmaster could have done with being made at the larger Voyager scale?
Jetfire, because he didn't have the dreadful chrome the Generations version had, Sky Byte, because he looked much better, and Ultra Magnus, for the white guns and different small robot are the only 3 I have that there were also western versions of. I also purchased Blackarachnia & Starscream Super Mode/Thundercracker but they DIDN'T get western releases. However Takara have gone down a slightly different route for their Headmaster characters which swayed my hand especially when Kapow offered the initial releases at £20.99!
The first thing is the deluxe Headmasters have different faces and Skullcruncher's more closely adheres to what we're used to on the toy, in the comics and in both cartoons. It's not a huge difference here but is when you compare Titans Return and Legends Hardhead.
The other major difference here is that there's a little extra in the box for the Japanese version of the toy. The Titanmasters size class aren't getting distributed in Japan in the Titanmaster/Head with accessory sets that are in Titans Return. Instead the Head goes with a Legends figure and the accessory goes with a deluxe, but only the deluxe toys that were originally Headmaster in 1987, Autobots Brainstorm, Chromedome, Hardhead & Highbrow and Decepticons Mindwipe, Weirdwolf & Skullcruncher, are having the extra Titanmaster accessory included with them. Thus far LG-25 Blurr & LG-26 Scourge are the only Deluxes not to have them. It'll be interesting to see what will happen when the Wave 3 Titans Return deluxe appear in Japan as by that time there will be new Titanmaster moulds available for them to use. At it is from that list Both Skull and LG-34 Wipe are paired with Crashbash's Dragon/Dinosaur accessory, albeit in different colours. Already owning Crashbash & Clobber this is the third version of the toy I own. If I get Legends Wipe and Titans Return Overboard I'll have five of them!
Skull's companion/accessory is called Batora. The colours used here, Skullsmasher's pink for Crashbash's purple and purple for Crashbash's grey look nice but using Skull's Titanmaster with it results in adding an extra colour, black, to the dinosaur's lower jaw & arms and the loss of the lower jaw's teeth. It''l be interesting to see how the production colours for Cancer, the Japanese repaint of Crashbash who is packed with LG-24 Shockwave, match the accessory.
Eleswhere on the Skull toy I can spot several minor colour changes. Inside the mouth the grey has become transparent pink and this extends up through the eyes, no longer painted, which now glow when the toy's mouth is opened which you can see in Departure Time's Skull gallery. The off grey of the claws, gun, waist and the lower legs becomes a much cleaner white. The annoying hatch on the body becomes transparent red.
Yes this is a more expensive version of the toy. But I feel the fiver extra I paid more than covers the enhanced deco, extra accessory and new head.
Legends LG-22 Skull was released in Japan on July 23rd 2016.
Future RepaintsSkullcruncher never had a repaint itself but the first toy that usually spring to mind for a Skullcruncher repaint is Actionmaster Krok, despite it being the companion who is the crocodile and not him! The only other Crocodile/Alligator toy I can think of in Transformers is Beast Wars VS Pack Megatron. Since Mindwipe exists as a Titans Return toy the temptation to replicate that Vs Pack with a deluxe Optimus Primal bat is almost too much to be ignored, especially for a convention. Then there's also the possibility of doing the Japanese exclusive versions of purple Megatron Alligator and the red Convoy Bat.
As said above the moulding & some of the design choices on Skullsmasher indicate a remould as a different beast is likely and Beast Wars basic Megatron provides some ideas as he was remoulded as Beast Wars Iguanus and Beast Wars Neo Crazybolt.
Finally another crocodile exits in the Transformers cartoon. recently made by a 3P Company, a version of Optimus Prime, Alligaticon, would make another good toy with appeal to long term fans and thus another possible convention exclusive.