With 2018 now in the rearview mirror, it’s now the time to curate my lists of the best toys of the year – and having done so with the official Hasbro/TakaraTomy releases, it’s now time to do so with the UNofficial stuff. The unlicensed things. The knockoffs. What the layman calls “third party” even though the actual definition for third party items is not these. And like the HasTak list, I will abide by certain ground rules:
- Toy must have been purchased and received in the calendar year of 2018 (this excludes stuff like MP Sunstreaker, who I was messing with Dec 31 of 2017)
- Toy does not have to have been released in 2018 to qualify – it can be something I only just got this year
- Five things plus an honorable mention of “something that’s not on the top 5 but deserves to be brought up all the same” are going to apply for each list.
This was honestly an INCREDIBLY hard list to curate – there’s a lot of quite frankly amazing things that didn’t make the cut even though I loved them. But I wanted to make sure I represented a bunch of high points of the past year, and so with that in mind, here we go:
Honorable Mention : Black Mamba Ares Nitrogen
2018 has seen a lot of knockoffs of official Hasbro/Takara product. Some are just essentially carbon copies of the original (albeit high quality) like all of the MP-36 KOs we got, and others are actually full-on upscales and upgrades of the original molds.
The Nitro Zeus figure from 2017’s TLK toyline was one of my favorites. Not just because he had a fun character and gold chain in the film, but also because it was a kickass design and just a really good overall transformation. And not something I expected to see, well, improved.
Black Mamba is one of the third party groups specializing in upscales/upgrades of movie toys. Often adding various engineering tweaks, paint apps, and diecast, their figures are pretty top-notch quality. And finding out that they were doing a Nitro Zeus upscale, I had to get my hands on it… and it is quite frankly amazing.
The paint budget is incredible. The feel of the toy is incredible thanks to the added weight. He’s got added ankle tilts. The entire plane body is even painted, and he comes with an alternate head that is an upscale of the DOTM Shockwave mold’s (which, in fact, is a far closer match to the movie design’s head than what came with him at retail). One of the surprises of the year for me, and something that I felt HAD to be highlighted SOMEWHERE on this list.
#5 : Mastermind Creations Stray Asterisk
Over the course of 2018, Mastermind Creations released a number of reworks of their Alpha/Beta mold based on Wing and Drift from the Drift miniseries. (I count both of these in the same breath because, even though he’s a very extensive remold, Beta shares the same core skeleton/transformation scheme as Alpha. In sum total, 2018 gave us 5 versions of this in total, and I am not ashamed to say I own all of them.
To flash back to an anecdote from 2017, when I was in Toronto in the days leading up to TFcon, I came across a really neat knockoff of RTS Jazz in Chinatown – done up in blue and gold with a new head, it was a representation of a G1 styled Drift based on his deco in AOE. Horrendous plastic quality, but too gorgeous NOT to own – and so I paid the relatively cheap cost and got my hands on him, as I mused just how WELL the movie colors worked.
Flash forward to TFcon 2018, and to everyone’s complete surprise, MMC unveiled a version of THEIR Drift done up with the same general inspiration – Drift in AOE colors. And as they did on the knockoff, they POPPED here. To further enhance the toy, the cloak that the original release of this mold came with was redone in a deep dark purple that was a fantastic complement to the already awesome blues and golds.
The mold is fantastic, and the TFcon Chicago redeco of the Wing version was also quite incredible. But the Toronto version is just pure perfection.
#4 : MakeToys Skycrow
As everyone who’s messed with it knows, the MP-11 Seeker mold… has not aged very well. A rework of the MP-03 Seeker design (that was basically removing all the deviations Kawamori did when they hired him to add a designer’s toucuh to said figure), MP-11’s aesthetics are really getting worse by the year in comparison to everything else on the shelf.
And so MakeToys stepped into the void in 2017 by doing an entirely new Seeker mold in the Masterpiece scale that went for cartoon accuracy. While I don’t own it yet, the original Starscream version simply looks fantastic and blows away the HasTak MP-11 release aesthetically.
2018 saw the release of the mold in the mandatory redecoes – Skywarp and Thundercracker. And, on the heels of a successful unloading of my extra FansProject Dinoking shells at a toyshow, I went straight over to Ages Three And Up’s booth and dropped that cash on the Skycrow – the purple and black redeco of the mold.
He is gorgeous. The transformation is great. Aesthetically he blows away the Hasbro release of Skywarp, and NAILS the shade of purple on his forearms/stripes – something that is definitely one of the hardest things to do with that color. With his acquisition, Skywarp has gone from being buried in the background of my MP Decepticon shelf to front and center.
#3 : Open and Play Big Cannon
Not all third party toys need to be fancy to be great. Sometimes affordability and playability can be big assets. And Big Cannon is a fantastic example of that – an upscaled rework of Hasbro’s Titans Return Galvatron mold, he adds a bunch of new parts to increase his articulation and G1 accuracy.
He’s no FansToys Sovereign. The paintwork is barebones, and it relies on the plastic colors to do all the work. Unlike a lot of Masterpiece-scaled releases, he definitely looks and feels like a toy. But his simplicity is his strength, because he also happens to be very affordable and FUN.
He’s a great toy to mess with. QC is pretty solid on him, and the biggest weakness is actually born of a strength – you can unpeg the cannon from its base and directly into the body in altmode to increase the G1 accuracy, BUT the unfortunate drawback is that it pegs in via a half-attached CLEAR PLASTIC peg. This part broke on me, and I have to thank the stellar customer service at Ages Three and Up for getting a replacement cannon to me ASAP.
(Incidentally no, A3U isn’t a sponsor of this or anything. I just buy a lot of 3P stuff from them, they show up to a lot of toy shows I attend, and overall I’ve had a great experience as a customer of theirs.)
#2 : Perfect Effect Mega Doragon
Okay, this toy was obviously going to be SOMEWHERE on this list. I’m a huge Beast Wars fan. A massive Beast Wars Megatron fan. And this is a companion piece to 2017’s Beast Gorira, their take on Optimal Optimus – the (clearly iconic) Transmetal 2 dragon form of Megatron, only revamped and stylized up the wazoo.
It’s not going for accuracy – in fact, it sheds the techno-organic look of the original toy for something closer to Beast Machines Megatron’s ideal of technological perfection – a very mechanized dragon that still evokes the original CGI model closer than the actual toy did (the chest on the original toy not being accurate at all, for instance.) He’s got a few bonus features, like a swappable faceplate, fold out blade, and an entire forearm hidden inside his dragon neck that can be flipped out to give him symmetry… allowing him to wield the twin swords stored in his wings.
And OH YE GODS, the wings. That wingspan alone is a reason to buy this toy – fully deployed, it is a thing of beauty. The headsculpt is sublime, and the colors bang on – in fact, the entire finish of this toy is a superb metallic gold, with some fantastic translucent orange wings and gold detailing everywhere, and a proper burnt-out purple look to the face.
It’s honestly weird that this is becoming very quickly the go-to design for 3P companies as the number of unofficial Beast Wars homages proliferates – it’s actually the SECOND dragon Megatron homage to market (granted, the first homages his TCC toy more) and there are 2-3 MORE dragon Megatrons soon to come that I will find myself tempted to buy, yessssss. I mean, the Transmetal gold dinosaur, to me, is still THE iconic Beast Wars Megatron body. But all the same, Mega Doragon is freaking GLORIOUS!
#1 : NewAge H1 Flipper
One is a small number, and so it’s fitting that the Number One on this list is also the smallest figure I purchased this year. Coming from NOWHERE from a brand new 3P company, this Bumblebee homage took TFcon Toronto by storm, being easily the toy of the show.
I’m not really using hyperbole – a number of people I know got him, and upon Vangelus getting a hold of one during his “Why Do We Like The Toy” panel and marvelling at it, the figure almost immediately proceeded to sell out. I ended up getting my own copy months later, buoyed by all this word of mouth – and oh man, it lives up to the hype.
The pocket sized 3P items have gotten really big, so to speak, in the last year or two – Iron Factory keeps putting out hit after hit, their releases eventually becoming hard to find months later, and DX9 and Magic Square are also throwing out a ton of great figures. And NewAge’s simple entry into the increasingly crowded but affordable market is, well, the perfect little tiny Bumblebee. Only a few inches tall, he easily has the complexity of a mainline deluxe, with an impressive partscount and even an alternate transformation to allow for the Goldbug redeco to maintain a Throttlebot backpack. (Which is also a nice redeco that I ended up buying.)
This Bumblebee is one of my regular fiddle toys – the QC is fantastic and the transformation involved but very easy, intuitive, and satisfying. Even if you haven’t fallen down the pocket sized rabbit hole, you owe it to yourself to try this toy.