Review: S.N.D Primo Vitalis Combiner Wars Optimus Prime upgrade kit

SND Primo Vitalis review

When Don Figueroa decided he wanted to redesign all of the Transformers for IDW’s ongoing Transformers series it didn’t go well. Marrying the G1 characters with live action movie style hyper detailed designs produced characters that lacked charm or personality and instead look like Rodimus Prime and Springer probably fought them off in one of Daniel’s nightmares.

But one design that emerged that fans seemed to take to was Optimus Prime’s new form. Mixing G1 with a modern aesthetic but skipping the Bay influence that smotherd the others, it had a certain Gundam quality that made it slightly more palatable.

When Hasbro started knocking out new figures for Combiner Wars, that design felt like it would be the natural choice as Hasbro had been leaning heavily on IDW for inspiration (including a legends sized Optimus that was based on the comics) but they went for something far stranger.

One great guy decided to change that and set about creating a series of epic shapeways upgrade kits to modify Combiner Wars Voyager Optimus Prime and greatly improve him and eventually a third party joined him to produce the subject of today’s article – SND’s Primo Vitalis upgrade kit.

S.N.D primo vitalis parts

The pile of stuff in the photo above is all the stuff you get with the kit. Well, except for the instructions, bio card, screwdriver, spare screws and pin. So, more accurately it’s all the stuff that’s sealed within the plastic tray. For the amount of work you are about to embark on, and the way it fundamentally alters the DNA of the figure, it doesn’t seem like many parts but rest assured it will still take you a good 45 minutes or so to install them all.

Actually fitting the parts is hauntingly familiar if you’ve ever had to cobble together a chest of drawers from Ikea. It’s fairly straightforward but some bit than can make you a teensy bit angry. Two pins from the torso have to be removed to allow installation of the brand new stomach grill and man they do not want to vacate the body (eww). Not only do they refuse to come out, when you are done wiping the sweat from your forehead and swearing at imaginary ghost Jedi’s of Prince, The Macho Man Randy Savage, Brian Clough and Egon from Ghostbusters – the damn pins don’t want to go back in. A small block is provided for Prime to rest on which does come in handy and I used a hammer and the provided screwdriver but I hit it so many times the screwdriver part was driven up inside the handle.

Kill Bill’s rage music was echoing round my house a lot on Monday night in my kitchen with an empty, beerless fridge. I’ve read posts from other folks who’ve not had the problems I encountered so I may have been unlucky or really bad at hitting something with a hammer. Repeatedly.

Upgrading the legs is pretty straight forward and it’s ingenious how the new shin panels have been designed to snap into the place where originally the panels for the stock combiner minds appalling waist lived. No screws or pins, they simply pop off and you you slot the new piece in. Like it, could do it all day long. The hips and waist are a bit more of pain because the screws Hasbro used are awful and in most cases stripped right out of the factory. I get that Hasbro probably weren’t thinking that one day some guy who likes rum will need to pop them open…but you know….just use better screws guys. Fortunately SND include five replacement screws (could really have done with six) of superior quality for the process of putting the figure back together.

Attaching the new head is a task and a half as the socket is a little small meaning it requires serious force to install. Where it goes is where the stock combiner head sits. You remove that and add the new head, if you can get it on, and then that becomes the stock head going forward. That tiny original pea head never has to leave it’s compartment ever again.

All of the parts for the upper chest, shoulders, back and head, easy peasy, they just slide or peg on and secure – it’s masterfully done with the minimum of effort. Most of the process is painless in fairness and does make you feel like a pro for having done it.

If you are going to buy SND’s Primo Vitalis kit I thoroughly recommend watching Emgo and Benscollectables great, detailed videos that demonstration the installation process better than the vague sketches in the instruction book. Also I hope you haven’t fallen asleep due to the sheer volume of text I’ve written here.
It gets better – I promise.

SND Primo vitalis idw optimus prime figure

45 minutes of perseverance is handsomely rewarded with a spectacular transformtion. So stark are the differences that the first time you look at it it’s easy to think some trickery has gone on and you are looking at a different toy. A totally different toy. If it wasn’t for the arms it would be impossible to tell that there is a Combiner Wars voyager Optimus Prime lurking somewhere within the Primo Vitalis shell. It’s not just the physical parts that have changed, but the extended legs alter the proportions to go from looking a little Optimus Primal, Ape like in shape, to stading with that stature of G1 Optimus Prime that had long legs to give him an athletic frame.

It’s completely different, and massive. Let’s not forget how big he is – Prime bulked up.

SND Primo Vitalis idw optimus prime idw masterpiece

During instalation new feet and thigh extensions are added into the mix and pump Prime up better than Reebok. Scaling up from small voyager to tall leader class is a heavy leap and gives a sense of grandeur. As already mentioned that fat look the stock figure has is washed away to reveal a Prime with a more conventional stature. I am all for creativity and going against convention, but in Combiner Wars Prime case it didn’t work and bought back memories of small fat bloke Energon Prime.

Nobody wants to be reminded of that.

If you are trying to imagine exactly how much he has grown then I’ll get the ruler out and measure him up….just shy of 9.5 inches from feet to the tips of his ear antenna thingys. If you want a comparison to another figure then he is about the same size as MP 10. Size wise he could coast onto a shelf of larger scale bots and more than hold his own but the scaling back of the hyper detailing works to marry the non replaced parts of the original toy. So it’s IDW Prime but with the detail level dialed back a little to ensure a smooth mix between the old and the new parts.

SND primo vitalis head

SND Primo Vitalis is based on Don Figueroa’s IDW Prime redesign, but does away with much of the curviness Don’s design had and gives it a blockier more traditional look – which is probably why I like it so much. If you compare the two side by side all of the hallmarks are in place but Primo Vitalis benefits from less of the greebly details and being forced to work around the original figure. In many a case that can be a detriment but not here as it grants this figure it’s own look. If you want the full blown IDW look to the nth degree then Toyworld’s Orion or Generation Toy’s attempt will have you covered, and this isn’t a Masterpiece IDW Optimus Prime – but it never claimed to be.

It’s going for a leader class vibe more than anything else and aside from the size that is most evident in how the new parts are all made from thick plastic and everything still feels like a toy to be played with. That’s the greatest success of this kit, it sticks to the tone of the original and doesn’t render a kids toy a nice looking ornament. All of the joint’s move well, everything feels sturdy,durable and functional. Sometimes with third party products they look great and stuffed with articulation that you never make use of because you are scared to touch them- this isn’t like that.

snd primo vitalis combiner wars optimus

Articulation is elevated in the playability stakes and the only articulation added is the foot tilt, Instead of chucking in a load of things for the sake of ticking them off an imaginary list, the Primo Vitalis designer has thought it out and simply added to what was there in a sense making way that continues to make the kit feel like a natural part of the original bot. Never does it feel like a kit just added over the top as window dressing, instead if you didn’t know better you’d swear it was Hasbro having a really good day. Like enough Advantage Card points for a free Boot’s lunch kinda day.

The only things that are jarring are how tight the stock arm joints to move compared to the legs – but that was the case with the toy before I jammed all these new bits on there. Other than that it’s surprising how well the voyager deals with the extra weight and parts loaded on to it. I figured he’d at least be a bit wobbly but nope, he stands admirably as the joints support the weight and the new feet provide an excellent base. Much better than the voyager could ever muster.

New hip panels do limit his attempts to do the splits but you still get a great range and once you think of how it moves as being like an excellent leader class official toy – then it will make a lot more sense.

SND primo vitalis optimus prime
SND Primo Vitalis squares up to MP-10

All the improvements to how it works are great – but it’s how it looks that’s ultimately going to make want this kit or not.

Fortunately he looks fantastic. I mentioned earlier that greebly detailing is absent but it still goes for that IDW Prime look. The new shins are excellent and props go to Johnbonhamatron (the TFW2005 username of the Primo Vitalis designer) for working in the flared shins of the original design in such a neat way. As a fussy G1 fanboy I normally roll my eyes when I see Prime’s shins painted silver instead of what I class as “signature” G1 blue, but in this case it works with that modernising lark Combiner Wars frequently shot for and it’s accurate to Don’s IDW design.

The chest is completely new and gives him 3D windows rather than the flat chest CW Prime had that *I think* was a subtle homage to the Power Master Prime cab robot, right down to the slightly slant on either side. But PM Prime looked great and CW Prime looked like a body builder melting in a pool of toxic goop from Robocop.

SND Primo vitalis gun

The windows are seperated but because Prime has Bot symbols on his shoulders we are spared the sacriledge of one needing to go in the middle. Plus it’s way too small, which is a good thing as it means the windows remain the key element your eyes are drawn to. The windows are on sliders for transformation but you can slide them together in bot mode too if you want to eliminate more that gap. Take it from someone who has tried. Sliding them across is really tight and as the whole thing is lovely looking clear plastic I kinda fear for that joint’s long term future. It doesn’t feel like it’s going to break but clear plastic is notorious for weaking over time. Take it from someone who almost sobbed a couple of months back when he had the temerity to move a leg on one of those Power Core Combiner mini cons and it sheared clean off.

That was a fun day.

SND Primo vitalis IDW optimus

New shoulder flaps (which attach brilliantly) are also on slidey rails and this is one of the very few places a bendyer, more pliable plastic makes an appearance. Being careful with it is probably wise as I reckon it’s one area that does have potential to break more than anywhere else.

A back pack adds a wind vane which can extend at either side if you want it to be a stronger visual element of the set (why am I talking like an art critic?) and along with the shoulder panels they surround the head to give Prime a buff, hunkered appearance.

The new head sculpt is actually what finally convinced me to buy the set. It has the details of the IDW head design but without that horrible round, bubbliness it had and instead it captures G1 Prime so brilliantly in a way most modern non Masterpiece Prime’s never do.  He even has an angry expression which is cool as faceplate wearing bots are generally tough to get a read on. I bet they are all secretly sad under there and just don’t want folks to see they’ve lost their smile like 1997 Shawn Michaels.

Yep – wrestling joke.

S.N.D Primo Vitalis optimus prime upgrade kit sword

SND have included a new wonderfully sculpted, fully painted version of Prime’s iconic Ion Blaster with the Primo Vitalis upgrade kit. It’s huge but very befitting this particular version of Optimus. What is clever is that they have repurposed the smaller barrel that hands underneath to fit either of the included swords or axe as a bayonet.

Come on, that’s cool?

Any of them can also be weilded as hand weapons but a couple of things drag them down slightly. First, the axe can’t mount over his hand as we’ve come to expect from any mad axe murdering Optimus. Second a grey handle clips to each piece in order form them to held – but only one is included. It’s a small oversight but one which just feels like it should have been thought of.

snd primo vitalis optimus truck mode

Transforming upgradey McPrime is broadly the same as the original but with a bunch of new tricks. Prime’s basic process of legs together, torso folds, arms rotate in is still here but the additional parts add extra steps with one in particular being very much a case of squishing until you think it’s right.

SND Primo Vitalis’s new feet flip back and slide in along a rail of plastic to sit flush with, and extend, the back of the truck. On mine they don’t compress fully leaving a small gap that doesn’t appear to be present in pictures or videos. I am loathe to force it to much for fear of breaking something and it doesn’t bother me too much. The shin panels flip inwards and rotate to sit on the truck bed while the new blue panels on the back of Prime’s legs rotate up to cover the leg extensions.  If you are familar with the Combiner Wars Optimus/Motormaster mould you will know there is a hinge in his stomach that folds to allow the bulk of the cab to slide backwards and clip in, well here it’s role is by the new leg extensions. Built into each is a joint to facilitate the same role but to account for the extra length and once you’ve done that, those blue panels slide in on a hinge to lock it together.

By this time you may have encountered a sticking point with the front of the cab refusing to close up or stay locked together. With so many new parts squished in, it’s understandable that the battle for space would cause parts to want to clip in as well as originally intended but with a lot of squishing you’ll get there.

The roof of the truck is an interesting insight into the lengths the designer went to in order to ensure no parts forming takes place. First the shoulder covers rotate, slide in and flatten to give the truck mode it’s wonderful new roof. The wind vane is attached to a back assembly that pegs into Prime’s combiner crotch. The idea is that you don’t have to detach it and you can swivel all the parts in and hide them away. On mine those little clips can often pop out but it’s hassle free to just slide the windvane section over the smokestacks and arguably less fiddly this way.

All in all the step by step process is pretty great and brilliantly thought out it’s just the base figures stubborn refusal to accept evolution that can make things awkward. The fact that it’s an all in one transformation without having to remove any parts is even better.

Combiner Wars optimus prime truck mode

At first glance truck mode can seem as if it benefits the least from the SND Primo Vitalis upgrade kit  because the bulk of it is the stock figure. Front and sides of the cabs are pure Hasbro and the blue plastic panels that were added during the upgrade to cover the leg extensions blend in due to being so perfectly colour matched.

Silver trimmed panels with yellow lights hang over the top of the cab to give the front a nice bit of depth. It makes it more interesting to look at and the wind vane is a further cool looking feature. I surprise myself saying that, as the G1 fanboy within me winces, but it fits in with the Combiner Wars aesthetic and more critically works to make this mode exude even more of a toy vibe. My only gripe is that owing to how to how a couple of parts attach – the smokestacks end up partially covered.

SND primo vitalis optimus prime

An extended truck bed was to be expected and it doesn’t look bad, but maybe a bit awkward. The folded feet do offer the classic headlights which is nice, but on mine they don’t collapse all the way so stick out even further.

Folded up shins looks better than they sound and the grey piece which connects the wind vane to the combiner crotch slides in to give the back of the truck a bit of detail and cover up any gaps. It’s a neat solution and appreciated touch. It’s funny because the truck mode is the one people will care least about despite it being one of the elements that make Prime such an iconic figure, and SND could have gotten away with sacrificing the look of this mode to achieve the others – but no it still looks great.

That’s nice to see in a world where Perfect Effect charged almost as much for just a combiner crotch that makes no effort to fit into the other modes.

snd primo vitalis optimus maximus

Combiner mode is….ah just look at that picture above. I’ll give you a minute to drink it in.

….

…..

…….

………it’s amazing right? I know, I’m speechless too which is why left all the space above.

snd primo vitalis combiner head

Irrespective of all the other positives of this set, keeping the combiner ability intact and improving on it to such a degree deserves a huge amount of credit. Transformation is pretty much the standard CW process but you straighten the legs instead of that ugly official configuration. SND’s Wind vane flips over the chest in a fiddly series of ball joints and hinges to hook onto Prime’s nipples more tightly than any legends figure ever managed. It does a great job of filling out the chest and making it not look like a crater anymore.

SND’s connecting grey piece now has proper role as it hangs down below to give the combined form something whose ommision killed it out of the gate – an abdomen. He now looks fully formed. Prime’s blue combiner crotch plate is still here, and attached and sits lower than before to give a sense of proportion to the combined mode. To finish the gestalt off, a G1 style combiner helmet inspired by Nova Prime and Star Convoy covers the regular head and closes up to peg into the scew hole.

Combined Prime looks amazing and you get better articulation than as stock or with the limiting Perfect Effect kit It’s not the most stable thing in the world so a set of the various foot upgrades will make a big difference and if you want to display it in this mode (and why wouldn’t you) I seriously recommend them. I still had to lean mine forward a tad, but once you get him balanced he looks phenomenal.

SND primo vitalis axe

So, I like this SND Primo Vitalis kit. I have followed it since it’s beginnings as a Shapeways set, so I was always inclined to buy this when it made the leap to full manufacture and far better plastic.  No mode feels like a compromise, it looks fantastic and it still manages to feel like a toy. This is the leader class Optimus Prime Hasbro should have given us in the first place and the best compliment I can pay it is once it’s complete it doesn’t feel like a figure with an upgrade – it feels like a complete figure.

The way the design fits around the original and changes so much to create such a different figure with few downsides is worthy of applause. Where most upgrades kits sacrifice something, this doesn’t and every mode is better off for it. The process of getting there is not fun and if you aren’t confident in removing pins or screws then I wouldn’t recommend this kit to you, but if you are happy to spend a bit of time with a screw driver and have a crap ton of patience – you’ll probably end up happy with the result.

 

Currently listening to: The Get Up Kids – On a Wire 

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