By request of J from Resurrection Songs. If you are familiar with the concept of bootleg CDs, then the idea of third party toys should be easy to assimilate. For the purpose of this story, I’m going to be speaking only about third party Transformers toys, as they are the only ones in my collection.
GETTING MORE TALE #570: Third Party
What is a third party toy? Simply put, it is an unauthorized toy designed to look like another toy, without infringing on any copyrights. Third party toys are big business today. These independently produced collectibles have limited runs and when they’re out, eBay prices can be prohibitive. One of the reasons the prices get so high is that third party toys often exceed the quality of the official ones. They cater to hard core fans looking for specific features and homages. Stuff that officially produced toys ignore in favour of mass production, safety features and mass appeal.
Third party toys are not to be confused with “KO” or knock-offs. KO toys originating from China or Korea are complete reproductions of official toys. Therefore, you can buy a KO of the original Optimus Prime from 1984. It will come in a KO of the original box with a KO sticker sheet and instructions too. It’ll be made of die cast and plastic just like the original, and these toys are getting better all the time. It used to be they would be made with cheap plastic and fall apart immediately. That happened to me, when I ordered a KO of 1985’s Devastator figure. First time out of the box, and one of the figures broke. One part was too tight, the other part was too fragile, and snap. They are of much higher quality now, and the bonus is that you can get a “brand new” toy of something you always wanted but never had.
To make matters a little more confusing, there are now even KOs of third party figures, and a current popular trend is oversized KOs. The theory is that bigger is better! The waters are murky indeed!
There is a certain amount of caution and “buyer beware” to be exercised with third party toys. Especially with new startup companies, the quality and design can leave a lot to be desired. One company, Keith’s Fantasy Club (KFC) had early products that were beyond shite. They initially focused on cassette-bots: robots that transformed into microcassettes. I bought one that fell apart out of the box. Now KFC have worked out the bugs and produce some of the heaviest, highest quality third party toys on the market. I recently received their “Opticlones”, an original toy based on Transformers Generation 1 Reflector. This is a set of three robots that combine into a camera. He has a lot of metal, intricate transformation and dead-on accurate looks to the original cartoon character. The figure is in “MP” or Masterpiece scale. He is designed to fit right in with the official Masterpiece Megatron, Optimus Prime, Soundwave and the rest of the line. Often, third party toys will be designed to interact with the official ones. Reflector comes with a little miniature version of his camera self that can be held by the official Soundwave.
The early days of third party toys was like the wild wild west, you really had to do your research. Fortunately, Youtube reviewers like Peaugh made some decisions easy. A company called Fansproject put out a two-figure add-on kit to go with the official Revenge of the Fallen Bruticus figure, a combiner made of five robots. Fansproject’s kit flat-out replaced two of the robots with much better ones. It improved the overall figure greatly by supplying new hands, feet and guns. Ingeniously, all the numerous accessories had a part in play in all three modes: robots, vehicles, and combined robot. Each part was perfectly integrated, and significantly boosted the firepower of the toy.
Bruticus before and after
This was wish fulfillment for fans! The intricate parts were above and beyond the official Hasbro versions. There was a new head too, with neck articulation. Guns could combine into larger guns, parts unfolded into missile launchers…it was great stuff and Fansproject have consistently been on the top of the heap.
One of the reasons companies like Fansproject have lasted so long is that they continually cater to the demands of fans who feel the official products are missing something. For just about every major Hasbro and Takara release, there is an add-on kit available from a third party company. New heads are common, because fans are picky enough to want their figure to look like a specific iteration. Transformers have a 33 year history and characters have undergone many versions.
Often there are multiple third party add-on kits to choose from. Dr. Wu is one that I have bought from frequently. Dr. Wu tends to focus on small add-ons, like guns and additional weapons that are missing from the official toy. If Hasbro and Takara could only release toys that fulfill wishes from the fans from the start, third party companies like Dr. Wu wouldn’t be necessary. Either due to cost or a desire to have toys less “weaponized”, Hasbro and Takara often omit weapons and accessories that the characters have traditionally wielded. Enter Dr. Wu and a slew of others.
Even the sticker company Reprolabels/Toyhax have entered the weapons black market. Reprolabels/Toyhax used to focus strictly on stickers, either to restore or enhance your Transformers. Now they are including plastic weapons that, once again, Hasbro and Takara have omitted from classic characters. Toyhax were the only major third party sticker company on the market, and now they’ve gone even further by adding solid add-ons too. Any serious Transformers fan should visit and make at least one purchase from Toyhax.
Maketoys’ Battle Tanker is a kit to provide weapons and a trailer for Hasbro’s G2 Prime figure, as well as new waist and head.
Similar to add-on kits are upgrade kits. These require partial disassembly of your figure to outright replace major components. This is often done to add articulation, especially in the hands. Beelzeboss is a third party that sells a very complex kit for the official Combiner Wars Optimus Prime figure. It’s a hairy process, involving tiny screws, pulling out small metal pins, and replacing entire waist and leg pieces in exchange for new ones. The upgrade adds height and completely changes the appearance of Prime. If you’re up to the task, it looks incredible. Other upgrades are simpler. A lot of modern Transformers have ball joints and it’s easy to pop off a head and replace it with a third party one that has light-up eyes.
At this point, there are now so many quality third party companies out there fighting for our dollars, that choosing one version to go with can be daunting. KFC doesn’t have the only version of an MP-scale Reflector out there. Another fine company called Fans Toys also have one. Ultimately I preferred KFC’s version of the camera mode, which tipped the scales. For other characters, especially combiners made of multiple robots, there are many versions, most great. Choosing one might depend on which one is biggest, or fits in better with your collection. Youtube reviews are essential. Benscollectibles is one of the best. Emgo316 “The freakin’ geek himself”, Peaugh, Balmatrix, Optibotimus, and many more can be counted on for their prompt and thorough reviews. Another benefit to these reviews is to master the transformation process. These companies are based out of Asia, and the instructions have no English. You have to rely on sometimes vague pictures. Some third party toys are so complex that, like a Rubik’s cube, it’s easy to just give up in frustration. Maketoys’ Wardog (aka G1 Warpath) is the most difficult toy I own. These guys will guide you through transforming it.
You might ask yourself, “What if there is a quality issue? What do I do?” Most of these companies are very good about providing replacement pieces. X-Transbots Apollyon is their version of a Masterpiece Megatron. The heavy battery-powered fusion cannon on his right arm is quite heavy, and the right arm droops. It won’t hold up. So X-Transbots provided a tighter replacement piece for the shoulder ball joint. It’s easy to install, and they began including these replacement shoulders right in the box. This is one example.
Apollyon on dispaly with official, third party and knock-offs. Can you tell?
Where can you get third party toys? Online of course, but I am lucky enough to have a store in town that sells them. B&K Collectibles in Cambridge is my go-to guy dealer. If Big Dan doesn’t have it, Big Bad Toy Store and TF Source will. Now, there are even crowdfunded third party toys! My buddy Jason just received his Ocular Max Kojin project, one such crowdfunded toy. There were incentives offered including discounts and free bonus figures, and I regret not jumping on board myself. (I didn’t because I was waiting for the official Takara version, and now…well, that might have been a mistake.)
Ocular Max Kojin
My biggest third party purchase is happening this summer. A favourite company, Fans Toys, is releasing their massive version of as Masterpiece scale G1 Omega Supreme. It is called Aegis Sentinel and is so huge that it is being sold in two separate parts. Sentinel A is the tank and track component, and it will be available in June. Sentinel B is out in August, and will have the rocket and base components. Together, Aegis Sentinel will combine into a 21 1/2″ robot behemoth. This is a beast that will look amazing in proper scale with Optimus Prime and cohorts. The official Prime is already a large figure at 9″. It’s going to be quite cool to have the giant Autobot in proper scale with Optimus!
Then all I have to do is slap some Autobot logo stickers on him, courtesy of Toyhax. Hasbro/Takara will never release a full sized Masterpiece Omega Supreme figure. Fortunately the fearless Fans Toys will. Based on their Iron Dibots line, I know that my Omega will be heavy, strong and very impressive looking.
If you’d like to know more, check out the Youtube reviews of some of the fine folks above, and browse the third party section of Big Bad Toy Store or TF Source. Even if you never buy a third party transforming robot, you have to admit they’re pretty damn nifty.
Aegis Sentinel and the Iron Dibots by Fans Toys