I honestly am not sure if these are knock off toys.
If they are, they're definitely "Class A" knock offs, because they are absolutely amazing considering I only paid about Php 2,000 (roughly $45) for them. But from what I see online, the "original" toys from the Unknown Chinese Toy Manufacturer cost about the same, so they could be original for all I know.
Either way, they are amazing.
These are the TFC Toys Star Rescue Team of dinosaur combiners from the Star Cats cartoon in China. TFC is, according to the TFC facebook page, "China biggest Transformers fans club site and forum,since 2002 (sic)." TFC Toys is their toy development group and they make what has come to be known as "3rd Party" transformers. That is transforming robot toys (and/or accessories) that are quite obviously based on (or meant for), but NOT identical to, the original Hasbro toys.
In this case, TFC was asked by Unknown Chinese Cartoon Company to design toys for their cartoon Star Cats. I don't have much info on the cartoon, but from what I gather, it's a story about a space faring cat.
What does a team of dinosaur robots that transform and combine into a bigger robot have to do with cats?
No idea. It's China. Like Japan, but with censorship.
Anywho... TFC designed the toys, but the cartoon company didn't go anywhere with them. Eventually, the toy designs were sold to Unknown Chinese Toy Manufacturer and these are the products that were made. The poor toy maker had no idea that these would be in such high demand after being hyped online in the Transformer fan community that there were some fulfillment issues initially, but it looks like those have been sorted out.
The original set had a more uniform gray and blue design that gave them all a similar look, but since then in a brilliant if diabolical move, they've been recolored and repackaged in boxes very close in design to the current Transformers: Age of Extinction line.
So far, I've honestly been far more impressed with these toys than I have been with the actual Age of Extinction line. It might have a lot to do with the fact that I would have paid more for a single Hasbro Leader Class Grimlock than I did for this entire set, but it's also got a lot to do with the overall quality of the toys themselves.
The dinos aren't made of the kind of cheap plastic that you expect of toys made for the Chinese domestic/export market. Anyone who's ever bought any toy from a tiangge stall at the mall or in Divisoria should know what I'm talking about. The kind of brittle, thin, and impure plastic that breaks after an hour of play. Nope, these babies are made of some impressively thick and solid, hard core stuff that feels like it will hold up for quite a while.
Plus, since the designs were made by TFC and don't look to be simplified in anyway by Unknown Chinese Toy Manufacturer, they are pretty fantastic. They've got light piping, extensive joints for great pose-ability, nice mix of multicolored plastics and well-applied paint applications. All of it comes together to give you a great set of bots.
The not-Slag, not-Snarl, and not-Sludge are pretty similar in layout. With a few variations, it's basically front of the dino is the head and torso of the robot, while the back half of the dino forms the crotch and legs. The transformation is very reminiscent of the old Generation One (G1) dinobot team, which is one thing that the new batch of Hasbro dinobots lacks.
In their dino-modes, the three "leaf" eaters are excellent toys, with articulated legs (at least two points of articulation each) and articulated jaws. The triceratops has even got articulated ankles on his hind legs, and articulated horns (since they're just attached by posts).
In robot mode it's more of the same.
Each one of the figures has fantastic joint work with ball-joints at their shoulders and hips, and great hinges at their elbows and knees. They've all got really great accessories which we'll cover later, but they've also got shields that become their tails in dinosaur form. You just slide them on and off their butts and unfold them to open them up into a shield. There's a nice "T" shaped handle that swings out in the back to allow them to hold the accessory in a couple of different ways. or to plug it into the other weapons.
Overall, good job, TFC and Unknown Chinese Toy Manufacturer! Way to go!
Strafe is a little different and his transformation is a little more complicated. His robot's legs fold up and lay on top of his dino mode, while his arms swing down to become his birdy feet. It all posts together pretty well, and he's probably the best one in the lot for me.
Each of these dudes come with several pieces of weaponry. Most of them are modular weapons, blades and axes, etc. and they all plug into the various 5mm holes around the figures. It's awesome:
Last on the list is not-Grimlock.
He's probably my least favorite, despite him being the biggest (about the equivalent of a Leader Class figure), he's got the most problems in terms of design.
Don't get me wrong, there are some fantastic things about him, like the gorgeous light piping in the dino head, the hinged jaw, the fact that inside the hinged jaw is a double-barreled cannon, the sheer size of the toy, etc. However, it doesn't detract from the fact that as the king of the dinosaurs, this robot doesn't look all that menacing.
The proportion of the dinosaur's body is really off, with the legs feeling too small and too far back to provide much support for the massive head up front. While that massive head is really impressive, the wimpy tail and weak hind legs really make him feel off. This is one area where I feel Hasbro did a better job, at least when you compare him to the Deluxe version of Grimlock, anyway. That toy's Tyrannosaurus form might be smaller, but it's got the balance and form down pat.
Not-Grimlock's robot form is less annoying, but isn't completely off the hook.
The proportions also look better this way, with the huge head sticking out of his chest and the rest of him balanced correctly to look like a proper robot. Plus he's got sweet ratchet joints in his shoulders that sound a satisfying, if somewhat frightening, CRACK! every time you move them.
However, because TFC had to design those ratchets there (they support the arms of the gestalt later), they've had to sacrifice a lot of pose-ability for not-Grimlock himself. The robot can't move his arms outward from his body, so he ends up with a limited range of motion. His legs don't have any ratcheting, so that problem isn't there, but there's another in it's place.
The knees have a lot of weight to support and do so okay, but only if they're balanced just right. If you pose him with bent knees, the weight of the figure really starts to collapse the joints and the figure. This is a huge problem in dinosaur mode where you need to bend the knees in order to make it look like "natural", but there really isn't a way to do it. You end up having to stand him with his legs locked straight, which makes him look like he's got a stick up his butt.
Still, I can understand why they made these compromises.
It was to allow this:
The five toys combine into a gestalt robot!
This is beyond awesome. I know there's precedent for this in one of the comic book continuities (how many of those are there now?) but I think it's only now that we're finally getting to see it in glorious plastic form on my desk. At least in a way that isn't complete crap (remember Grimstone and the Dinobots? yuck). This set really makes me want to shell out and start collecting the Fansproject Fall of Cybertron figure set that's supposed to combine.
The hands and feet are extra accessories that come with the individual robot figures and plug in via more standard posts. If what I've read about the set is correct, the parts are re-used from TFC's Hercules (not-Devastator) set of construction vehicle robots.
The need for those fantastic ratcheting joints in the shoulders becomes apparent once you get this guy together. The limbs are heavy and without the locking mechanisms in the shoulders and knees, you would never get him to stand. As it is, he's really top heavy and you'll need to do some balancing in order to get him stable.
If you're so inclined, you can take all the weapon modules from the individual members of the team and create a super weapon for the combiner. I'm not a big fan of it since he can't really hold it well and it looks exactly like what it is, a spear made up of spare parts. The fact that none of them comes with a decent gun doesn't improve the big guy's arsenal.
Still, that doesn't take much away from the awesomeness of the fact that this exists. It makes me want to score TFC's Star Cats Rescue Combiner set as well.
So while the Star Cats not-Dinobot set does have some real issues (mostly with not-Grimlock and the combined mode), they can be forgiven because 1) the price I paid for them was so low relative to what is usually asked for toys like this that I did a double take when I saw it, and 2) for the fact that these are something that actually exists.
I'm thinking of trying my hand at re-painting these in G1 colors (or at least hiring someone to do it). That's about the only thing I can think of that would have made this set any better.