It seemed like just yesterday Hasbro was showing off their new not-LEGO product at Toy Fair, buried in a secret room, banned from all photography and our LEGO employee friend. Those were the days. My thoughts at the time were, well, those are kind of neat, I guess. I'll probably have to try one out. Probably Ratchet. Not because Ratchet's set looks the best to me, but because it's Ratchet. Yay Ratchet.
It's not Hasbro's first attempt at not-LEGO. Back in 2003 or so, they put out Built to Rule, which featured both Transformers and G.I. Joe to, uh, no success. The vehicles were all right, but the robot modes looked like ass on ass. (That's double ass.) They didn't hold together very well and they looked like crap. But this time around, for KRE-O, Hasbro seems to have wisely outsourced to a not-LEGO company in China called Oxford. And by my first photograph you can see how obviously this was a better way to go. It's a staggering comparison.
So finally, post BotCon, these KRE-O kits started showing up in Toys"R"Us. TRU has a ghetto Feature Wall they have to fill with Transformers product while Cars 2 crap continues to take up 30% of the store, so KRE-O has its first day in the sun. And by golly, these things are priced to sell. The tinier kits are $8. Ratchet, who I wanted, and is pretty sizeable, is $20. Do you have any idea how expensive real LEGO are? They are super expensive. So I grabbed the smaller version of Bumblebee along with my Ratchet.
These are building block sets, not Transformers, and so that means you build each mode. No, they don't transform in the conventional sense, nor would I expect or want them to. If I wanted a damn transforming Transformer, I'd buy one of the thousands which do just that. You put together the vehicle mode, disassemble completely, and then put together the robot mode. Neither mode uses all the pieces, but the robot mode uses more. The vehicle modes omit most of the robot mode limb and jointing pieces, for example, and the robot mode ends up leaving off one or two random pieces that you could probably peg somewhere on the back were you to be so inclined.
I very much liked my Bumblebee. I think I like the smaller sets in general. Once you get to guys at about Ratchet's size, putting them together starts to feel like this tedious chore where you're just layering in the thinnest of pieces for hours, like you're putting back together an onion. Bumblebee felt more immediately gratifying. A few days later I went back and got Jazz, who's another of the smaller-sized kits.
Instead of paint applications on the bricks themselves, stickers are involved. I would recommend not putting stickers on until you're done with the vehicle mode. The instructions (which are exactly like LEGO's) call for you to put them on as you assemble the build, but this is a bad idea if we're talking about stickers that represent stripes going across the top of the vehicle mode. You're gonna want to make sure you're lining up those stripes evenly from piece to piece, rather than here and there one at a time. Some of the stickers feel like they're too small for the space, like Bumblebee's stripes. The instructions show the stickers covering up a larger surface than they do in reality. As a result, his stripes feel more like a suggestion of stripes rather than real stripes.
(The quality of the stickers are not that great, sadly. Be careful with the corners. The color part can separate from the sticky part pretty easily. Reprolabels has spoiled me.)
The Transformers Wiki still hasn't decided how to categorize these things. Are they Generation 1? Are they the new "modern continuity" umbrella Hasbro keeps namedropping? Are they movie? The mini-figures that come with the bigger sets are straight copies of the Transformers as they appeared in the original cartoon. Bumblebee's smaller kit looks pretty G1, save for the stripes, considering his hood legs and windshield tummy. Both Bumblebee and Ratchet have heads that are knocked-off from their Classics toys. But the largest kits, Prime and Bumblebee and Sentinel Prime and Megatron, obviously take greater cues from the movie designs, though Megatron and Sentinel Prime's heads are strongly Animated style. S'hard to say. Hasbro cares less about these things than we do. They just want to sell some friggin' not-LEGO.
And so far they're doing a bang-up job, at least in my household.