Imaginext Cosmic Chaos
As regular readers know, the Imaginext line of toys has quickly become a firm favorite at TF Towers. From their retro-charm to superb designs (taking in great value for money and super-cool play features along the way) there's a lot of good to be found in the Imaginext world. And as somebody who grew up obsessed with space and sci-fi toys, you can understand why the Cosmic Chaos line - Imaginext's space-themed range of toys - is of particular interest to me. Which is why today we're taking a look at one of the ''entry level'' vehicle toys from the line, the Alpha Pod.
The Alpha Pod
As the name may imply, the Alpha Pod is a smaller-scale vehicle, I guess a kind of ''maintenance and operations'' vehicle. I imagine it being something along the lines of the pods from 2001: A Space Odyssey. At least that's my take on the matter.
It's a relatively small craft, seating a single pilot (more on that in a minute) in its cockpit, which features a blue-tinted ''glass'' canopy that sits in the center of the craft. There are two swept forward ''wings'' (both of which have their own individual weapons) and, front and center, a grabbing claw, used to carry equipment or scoop-up enemies.
Overall it's a neat design, which reminds me a little of the Spinner design from Blade Runner, particularly in profile, or even the GI Joe Mantis Attack Craft in terms of function.
There's some great exterior detail on the Alpha Pod. The ''wings'' are adorned with a variety of panels and vents, plus the tail features a main thruster engine, which is augmented by lift jets on the underside. For all it's ''you know, for kids'' somebody at Fisher-Price went to great lengths to rationalize how this fictitious vehicle would operate and the effort is certainly appreciated, as it really gives the Alpha Pod a sense of the functional.
As mentioned above, each of the ''wings'' has its own weapon, stowed beneath the fin and ready for action. The port weapon is a clip-in laser cannon, which can be removed and used as a hand-held weapon by the pilot (see below.) There's a small degree of movement afforded by the way the weapon slots into place, which is a nice touch. Stowed beneath the starboard fin is a missile, which - when the red button to the side of the cockpit is pressed - can be launched at enemy craft. It's a powerful enough spring mechanism (I do find it surprising how many missiles the Fisher-Price line features, given that every non-toy collecting adult is convinced these things are powerful enough to maim their children...) and the firing mechanism works well.
At the front of the vehicle we find the grabber claw, which - as mentioned above - is designed to snatch-up aliens and enemies. I was a little disappointed to find the claw was a fixed piece with no ''mechanical'' play functions. I'd hoped it would at least be extendable or - better yet - work with a pincer-style mechanism, allowing it to capture and pick-up enemies and items of various sizes. Sadly that's not the case. It's a set, static piece which, whilst it's shaped to accommodate Imaginext figures, doesn't fulfill its potential as a really engaging play feature.
I mentioned the canopy above, so let's take a closer look at this piece and the cockpit within.
The canopy is hinged at the rear, locking into a closed position with a simple click-lock at the front. I say, ''simple'' but opening it can take a little effort. Which is good when you're trying to ensure the canopy doesn't open and the pilot fall out, but not so good when you're simply trying to open it. I'm sure it's robust enough but I always prefer a gentle approach when playing with my toys, as I do tend to be a little ham-fisted...
As you can see, it's a comfy fit for the pilot and whilst there's not a massive amount of detail inside, it's enough to give the impression of a cockpit and the snugness helps keep the astronaut from falling out.
The set includes - as most Imaginext sets do - a pilot in the form of an astronaut. But this isn't the standard Fisher-Price figure, as we'll see when we take a closer look.
As you can see, he comes with a ''holographic'' semi-transparent helmet and tabard, similar to the one worn by the pilot of the Alpha Blade (but with some design differences.) I like that there's a sense of familiarity with the look but it also has its own unique features, thus differentiating it from the Alpha Blade pilot.
But when we remove the helmet, we discover a rather different look beneath it...
The figure sports a very ''animated series'' look, with his floppy-fringe hair, elongated head and cartoon-ish features. The head is also mounted lower on the torso (which is a different one to piece used by the ''standard'' astronaut figures), which gives him a bit of a hunched appearance.
Why is this pilot so different?
Why is this pilot so different?
Whilst researching this Review (yes, I do research...) I discovered that Fisher-Price created an animated series - dubbed Imaginext Adventures - that featured four kids imagining themselves into a variety of scenarios, themed around the various Imaginext lines (you can view the episodes here, should you wish to do so.) These characters are most prominently featured in the newest Dinosaur toys but this set's pilot, Kirch Johnston, is joined in the Cosmic Chaos line by his fellow Imaginext Adventure star Ed Venture (but that's a Review for another day...)
Quite why Fisher-Price decided to do this remains a mystery but personally I'm glad they didn't go the whole hog by including all the Imaginext Adventures characters in the Cosmic Chaos line (although with that said, the presence of Gemma Gensen would have brought a much-needed female dimension to the line...) One of the things I love about the Imaginext toys is that there IS no ''back story'' and that kids are encouraged to simply develop their own scenarios and characters, free from any ideas they may have seen on TV or read on the packaging and I'm glad somebody had the sense not to take the animated series any further...
It is also very odd to see and the two ''art styles'' do clash somewhat. Best just keep his helmet on...
As you can see, the weapon - normally stowed under the Alpha Pod's wing - fits into the pilot's hand with ease. The idea of the ''standard peg and port'' stuff reminds me a lot of Micronaut toys (something the Cosmic Chaos line often appears to reference) and I like that you can take weapons and pieces from sets and mix and match them in this manner.
As for articulation, it's the standard Imaginext set-up - double-joint shoulders, twist wrists, connected hip-twist joint and possibly a twist head. I say ''possibly'' because my figure's head joint (if there is one) is stiff to the point of immobility and I don't want to risk forcing it...
Again, fists of ham.
Again, fists of ham.
I have to admit the Alpha Pod is a bit of a mixed bag.
Starting with the negatives (so I can end on a positive note) I have a few issues with the overall design and playability of this set. For one, I really dislike the ''animated'' style of the figure's head sculpt. It just looks goofy and wrong, especially when compared to the other astronauts in the line-up. It's odd that Fisher-Price elected to mix the ''standard'' and ''animated'' styles of characters together in one line of toys and it's a decision I'm really having trouble understanding. There's no reason why they couldn't coexist but mixing the two just feels wrong.
(And again, I dislike the idea of ''guided'' play and feel that one of the strengths of the Imaginext brand is the way it encourages children to develop stories and characters. The Imaginext Adventures idea is the antithesis of this and makes it feel instead like Generic Branded Toy Line. And that's not good.)
Then there's the lack of functionality with the pod itself. I'm not a massive one for one-trick pony gimmick toys, certainly, but at the other end of the spectrum, I've come to expect a certain level of interactivity and engineered play features in the Imaginext line. And whilst the Alpha Pod has an opening canopy and firing missile, it's a real shame that there's really nothing much else to this toy. Perhaps it's due to my expectations not being met but I'm disappointed to see that the front grabber doesn't, well, grab. When I first saw the Alpha Pod I was reminded of the Action Man/GI Joe Capture Copter and remembered how much fun I used to have capturing my Intruder with its front-mounted pincers. To learn, then, that the Alpha Pod's claw was a stationary, solid piece came as a disappointment and I was really surprised to see nobody at Fisher-Price thought to make this a functioning piece. I can only assume they simply didn't have the budget for it, which is a shame...
Now onto the positives.
In terms of visual design, the Alpha Pod looks absolutely superb and is probably the best-looking and ''grown-up'' of all the Cosmic Chaos Alpha toys. I love the sleek-yet-functional lines and the way somebody designed this thing with the mindset of ''OK, how would this actually work...'' Sure, that simply comes down to ''molding some jets on the base and rear'' but you do get a sense of this as a vehicle that could - if the technology existed - function in the real world as a flying vehicle. It's certainly a touch I appreciate.
And then there's the pricing. For around $8 you get a neat spaceman figure (providing you keep his helmet on) with some cool-looking, semi-transparent accessories (which match the pod's coloring perfectly) and a great-looking mini spaceship with a few neat features and a fantastic design. Not even the super-cheap True Heroes/Legends toys can match that.
It's not without its faults, for sure, and perhaps I'm unfairly expecting it to be something it's not but even so, the limited play features and an odd-looking figure do little to hamper the overall impression, as the Alpha Pod manages to get by on its great pricing and awesome looks.
A great-looking toy that, despite its minor flaws, still represents superb value for money.