Monday, September 12, 2011

REVIEW: GI Joe 30th Anniversary Black Dragon VTOL With Cobra Air Trooper

Produced by Hasbro | Released September 2011

The COBRA BLACK DRAGON VTOL flies through the sky, carrying powerful COBRA leaders to a secret meeting. If anyone threatens this sleek aircraft, the pilot responds instantly with heavy cannon fire and high-impact bombs.

COBRA AIR TROOPERS specialize in air assaults and extractions from hot battle zones. As ground forces keep the enemy busy below, these experienced air troopers sweep in from above. COBRA troopers who show exceptional aerial combat skills are selected for this elite force and given special training in airborne attack tactics. They also conduct scouting and reconnaissance missions and transport COBRA leaders.

Regular readers will know normally we just provide a few shots of the packaging and let it speak for itself. However, in the case of the Black Dragon VTOL there are a few points to draw your attention to.

Firstly, the box is remarkably small. Although face-on it looks around the same size as a fairly standard GI Joe vehicle package, it's surprisingly slim. It may leave you wondering just how Hasbro managed to fit a vehicle in there, given the box is only about 3'' deep. It's also very light - so much so that I half-expected to get it home and find most of the pieces missing.

The other thing that strikes me is that whilst the box art is very cool, nowhere does it mention that this is a GI Joe: Renegades toy. The Hub TV logo appears on the box, sure, yet beyond that there's no indication that this vehicle is a TV tie-in. There's also no mention on the front of it being a 30th Anniversary toy (although a small anniversary logo appears on the rear.)

Having worked in marketing in the past, it strikes me as odd that Hasbro isn't really making much of the 30th Anniversary or the (admittedly now defunct) TV show to cause an extra buzz about the toys, as it's an ideal opportunity to give the line some extra - and much needed - clout.

Cobra Air Trooper
Let's begin with a look at the vehicle's pilot, the Cobra Air Trooper.

Unlike the Mark II VAMP, which features a neat-looking driver in the form of the Steel Brigade Delta troop, the Black Dragon VTOL comes with a fairly run-of-the-mill bundled figure. Whilst there's nothing particularly wrong with the Cobra Air Trooper, he's not massively exciting and he's certainly not going to be the must-have Joe of the year.

The sculpt is reasonable for what it is: a nondescript, faceless pilot. There's a nice sense of bagginess to his flight suit's arms and legs and he certainly looks like a high-tech vehicle pilot. This basic sculpt is augmented with a removable pilot vest, which is also fairly well detailed and includes a variety of straps, harnesses and pouches. One issue though is that the leg-mounted ammo clips tend to get in the way when trying to place him in the cockpit of the Black Dragon. Given how many thigh pieces Hasbro has to choose from, it seems strange they decided on the one that would stop him fulfilling his role...

The design of the head is particularly cool and features a dark-visored modern-style helmet, as worn by pilots currently in service. Sadly though the execution isn't so great. There's a bit of a vagueness to the sculpt and a couple of harsh cast lines on either side really let-down what could have been a cool head sculpt. It's also worth noting that the helmet is not removable.

Articulation is very good, as you'd expect from a GI Joe figure. However, there's an issue with the knee joints caused by the leg sculpt. The Cobra Air Trooper cannot straighten his legs to their full extension, as the knee pads and shin pieces are not sculpted to accommodate each other. As a result, the pilot is left with a constant stoop. It's not a massive issue and the ankle articulation seems to be designed to work with it (so maybe it's actually a design decision rather than a production error) but it is still odd to see.

Paint is used sparingly but effectively. The basic figure is cast from a dark grey-green with red, light grey and black highlights. The highlights are well-applied and although there's not much additional paintwork, what's here is very cleanly applied.

Black Dragon VTOL
So what about the Black Dragon VTOL?

The first thing to get out of the way is that this isn't the vehicle featured in GI Joe: Renegades. Whilst it looks almost identical this is a smaller-scale version and does not feature the transport capacity seen in the cartoon. In Hasbro's defence, they don't actually claim it's from the Renegades show (remember the packaging makes no reference to it) but it is odd that the file card talks of it being used to carry high-ranking ''COBRA leaders.'' How? Do they hang-off the tail's handle? It's as if Hasbro want it to be the cartoon Black Dragon but at the same time don't.

Anyway, the Black Dragon VTOL comes in a number of parts and must be assembled before play. The main chassis, tail, wings, side-pods and propellers form the main core of the build and although assembly is fairly easy in principle, getting some of the pieces to actually click into place can take a little effort. I found the side-pods to be particularly tricky to lock into place, for some reason.

The basic vehicle shape is very cool. Rather than feature a range of small details like vents, pipes and tubing, the Black Dragon VTOL is made-up of larger plate-looking pieces. This segmented design looks very cool and whilst there's not the usual detail you expect to see on a GI Joe vehicle, the blankness of it works to its advantage, as it gives a kind of ''stealth tech'' vibe to the whole thing. 

The Black Dragon VTOL features a number of moving parts. The propellers - as you'd expect - spin quite easily and their wing-mountings can also be rotated to allow directional lift (hence VTOL.) The mounts use a fairly ''soft'' ratchet joint to hold them in place and there's just enough resistance to stop them moving but at the same time allow them to be re-positioned with relative ease. The wings themselves can also be manually moved into a swept-back ''parked'' position or - at the press of a button - locked into flight mode, thanks to a spring-loaded mechanism. Although moving them into the parked position can be a little worrying (they feel quite fragile) the spring-loaded release is just enough to snap them into place without causing the vehicle to go flying out of your hand.

The other big gimmick is accessed via the second of the two buttons on the Black Dragon's chassis. Pressing this button causes the normally-stowed chain-gun to pop-out from underneath and the twin side-pods  to open, releasing the bombs normally held within.

In terms of other moving parts, the Black Dragon VTOL also includes retractable landing gear, complete with rolling wheels. There's no ''activation'' feature here: you simply pull-down or push-up the gear when you need it. There's also a nose-mounted mini-gun that can be rotated during play.

We now come to perhaps the most frustrating part about the Black Dragon. The canopy cover on my vehicle simply refuses to close properly. I've tried removing it and re-connecting it, closing it without the pilot inside and even removing it from the front-mount completely to see if it would snap into place. But it doesn't.  The ''latch'' on the canopy cover simply does not line-up with the chassis to allow it to lock properly. There's also a rather ugly 1/2mm or so gap around the entire cover, which is quite detrimental to the toy's looks.

It seems this is a quality control issue, as this thread at the HISS Tank includes comments similar to the above, whilst other owners seem to experience no issues at all. Effectively it appears you'll either get a canopy that doesn't fit or one that works just fine. But there's no way of knowing until you get the vehicle home and try it for yourself. Great.

Paint-wise the Black Dragon looks great. Depending on your point of view, Hasbro has finally done the right thing/taken a backward step by removing the sticker sheets seen previously with other vehicles. All decals, logos and warnings are now tampoed onto the vehicle along with the colour detail such as chevrons and trim. The Black Dragon VTOL looks great because of this and the sinister combination of black and red looks great.

The Cobra Air Trooper comes with a small Han Solo-like pistol (which is sealed in one of the parts bags - check them closely before you throw them away) and - in what I think is a first for a bundled figure - comes with his own stand. His clip-and-collect ID card is also included.

The Black Dragon VTOL includes eight red missiles/bombs.

Final Thoughts
I really want to recommend the Black Dragon VTOL. It's a great-looking vehicle, is well-designed, is actually fun to assemble and - at around $20 - represents great value for money. However, I can't totally do that without offering a few warnings.

Whilst the Black Dragon looks great, the play features are very limited. The swing-wing thing is only really going to come into play when you park it (it's not like it transforms between super-sonic and VTOL modes or anything) and so I can see the appeal wearing-off very quickly,. And putting both the cannon and bomb release on the same button just seems like an exercise in cost-cutting than a conscious decision to add a cool feature. I also wish they'd marked the buttons in a clearer manner. Many the time I tried to operate the swing-wing effect only to see the bombs fall all over the carpet.

Worst of all though is the fact that there are versions of this toy out there with a major production issue in the form of the ill-fitting canopy cover. It may sound trivial but if you happen - like me - to find yourself with a Black Dragon VTOL that features this fault, you'll find you enjoyment of the toy severely limited. Not only does it spoil the look of the vehicle but it also makes it almost redundant as a play-thing. The moment you try any kind of cool turn or banking move you'll find the canopy flopping open and the pilot falling out. And that's just not acceptable.

If you can live with that - or you're lucky enough to find one without the faulty canopy cover - then there's a lot of fun to be had here. It's just a shame that not all of will fully experience it.

Cobra Air Trooper

Production QualityB+
Final ScoreB

Black Dragon VTOL
Production QualityC
Final ScoreB+

Final ScoreB+

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