The thing that really dragged me back in to Transformers hardcore was a glimpse at Beast Wars Neo when I was in college. Prototype shots were making the rounds of mammoths, dinosaurs, and the kinds of things I loved - so when I saw Big Convoy, Break, and Dead End I started buying pretty much everything, which is a challenge as a student. In the USA. When these toys are Japanese exclusives. While the Neo range is generally derided as "shellformers," they're wonderful alt modes with creative robots. There are fancier toys, there are better transformations, but if you like prehistoric creatures and puzzle play, this is a good line. You also won't find a lot of rabbits, tanuki, or giraffes elsewhere. It was a gleeful alternative to the cyborg vac-metal US line, Beast Wars Transmetals 2.
Dead End's ammonite mode doesn't do much, but it's an ammonite. I don't see a lot of toy ammonites, and the sushi-esque coloring on the head just pushed my buttons. The toy is two big shells - one of which can launch via spring - over a folded-up spindly "Basic"-sized 4-inch robot. The outer shell looks more or less like an organic creature, but there are cracks in the facade revealing the robot inside. Two of the tentacles peer out from the blaster mounted under the mouth, and there's a pretty decent face with green eyes and gold teeth. It doesn't look like many other toys. If you pop the shell open, it's filled with mechanical detailing - vents, panels, buttons, and grates hint at the machinery needed to power the illusion of a living, breathing extinct sea creature.
The robot is a 4-inch warrior with a Destronger (Predacon) spark crystal on its right shoulder, indicating where the spring-loaded launcher is for the shell. You can display the figure with or without the shell armor, and it sports 11 meaningful points of articulation. Squid-like detail on the face include tentacles for hair and a weird little red tongue behind a pearlescent face with subtle teeth. The feet also have squid elements on them, plus you have the whole beast head as the chest. I can't say the arm design does much for me, but he can hold his weapon and just plain look neat.
I can't say I love the transformation process - you have to contort the Dead End robot into a specific shape to fit inside the two shell pieces. Getting some of them right is a bit of a trial, particularly when you misplaced the instructions a few years ago. Simply put, the beast face sticks out of the shells, and the rest of the robot hides inside. Have fun with that.
Despite the fact that it's not empirically great, Dead End sports two good modes, a fun gimmick, and a neat weapon. I like everything about it, minus the transformation - the pieces don't snap off unintentionally, and it just plain looks neat. I wouldn't necessarily suggest that it's for everybody, but the entire Beast Wars franchise yielded much goodness between 1996 and 2000. If you like what you see here, it's a real charming piece of work.
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