"Beware the power of the Primes."
The above statement is a line from the Chorus of the Primes (portrayed by internet celebrity and Chocolate Rain singer Tay Zonday) in the Transformers: Titans Return animated series. While clearly designed to set up a mysterious background for the next series -- known as the Power of the Primes, hence the title of the writeup -- the line turned out to be not so much a dire warning for the characters in the show as a piece of good advice for consumers.
Power of the Primes (PotP) is the current (as of July 2018) sub-line for Hasbro's collector-oriented Transformers toyline called Generations. Unlike its two immediate predecessors -- Titans Return and Combiner Wars -- PotP does not have one over-arching gimmick or play pattern. Instead, it features a variety of different gimmicks drawn from previous Transformers toylines and attempts to integrate them with varying degrees of success. Some of this is due not so much to flawed designs as to poor product quality control, but we'll get to all that in a minute.
Like Titans Return, the PotP toyline has six size classes, namely: Prime Master (one inch, although slightly taller in their "prime armor" toys), Legends (3 inches), Deluxe (5.5 inches), Voyager (7 inches), Leader (10 inches), and Titan (approximately 18 inches). Each size class features a different gimmick or accessory type, but due to the nature of this particular toyline, there's very little that's universal across all the size classes. Most Legends class figures, for example, have seats that the Prime Masters can sit in, but one does not.
Allegedly, the main premise behind PotP is that the 13 original Primes have hidden their sparks (i.e. their life essences) in tiny bodies that can interact with normal-sized Transformers and grant them immeasurable power. As an additional safeguard, they use suits of armor to further disguise and protect themselves and these suits of armor can transform into various guns and melee weapons. Now if you don't know who the 13 original Primes are, don't worry, Hasbro doesn't know either. This concept has been bouncing around for several years in various formats with a somewhat uncertain membership list. It seems to vary between the different continuity lines, but in essence, the idea is that they're the original 13 Transformers created by the god Primus to do...well, that's also not always clear, but they do stuff of great, universe-shattering importance, believe you me! The Prime Master figures themselves are actually just re-worked versions of the Titan Master figures from the previous line in that they are the same size and transform in the same way. Whereas the Titan Masters transformed into heads for larger Transformer figures, though, the Prime Masters do not. They transform into, uh, boxes. They are supposed to be inserted into the pieces of armor that come with the Deluxe and Voyager class figures, but the figures themselves do not fit snugly and are generally either too loose or too tight. They also fit inside the chests of the Leader and Titan class figures with slightly more success. Since they're made from the same molds as the Titan Master figures, they're also able to be used as heads for the larger Titans Return characters, although they have designs on them rather than faces, so it definitely doesn't look right.
The prime armor suits are a reference to a previous Transformers group from the 1980s known as Pretenders. The Pretenders were Transforming robots who hid inside either humanoid or monstrous suits of armor. The toys were a pretty transparent attempt on Hasbro's part to compete with fantasy-based toylines that were popular at the time like He-Man, ThunderCats, and She-Ra. The figures themselves were not particularly engaging, even by the standards of the 1980s, since the shells lacked all but the most basic articulation and the robot figures did not really resemble the things they were supposed to transform into (since they first and foremost had to be designed to fit inside the shells, which meant that almost all of these figures had spindly legs, short arms, and the same basic shape). But some of the characters proved to be relatively popular in the Transformers comic books of the time, so the prime armor suits homage a handful of these more popular Pretender characters. Additionally, the ability of the suits to turn into weapons that the larger characters can hold is a throwback to another set of 1980s Transformers characters called Targetmasters, whose gimmick was to -- surprise! -- transform from little robots into guns that larger figures could use. However, as with the Prime Master figures, the prime armor weapons have pegs that are either slightly too small or slightly too large to fit into the fists of some of the larger figures, rendering their main function somewhat limited.
Deluxe and Voyager figures revisit the combination gimmick of Combiner Wars with new characters. Notably, PotP represents the first time that the Dinobots (Autobots who transform into dinosaurs, if it wasn't obvious) can merge together to form one giant combiner. Fans have wanted this for years, so I guess good for Hasbro for listening. The Deluxe characters all come with pieces of armor that can be used to form the hands of the combiners they form and the Voyagers come with pieces of armor for the feet. Each combiner is made up of five figures: two arms, two legs, and one torso. The Deluxes can all serve as either arms or legs although the Voyagers can only be torsos due to their size. The PotP combiners use the same combination mechanic as the ones from Combiner Wars, so figures of the appropriate size class are interchangeable between the two toylines. It's a good thing too, since there aren't actually enough Deluxes in PotP to form limbs for all of the Voyagers; there are three Autobot Voyagers and two Decepticon Voyagers with a total of seven Autobot Deluxes and 6 Decepticon Deluxes. Of these, the Dinobots represent four of the Autobot Deluxes and the Terrorcons (monsters such as dragons) represent four of the Decepticon Deluxes. There is one additional Autobot Deluxe figure set to be released for PotP, meaning that the Autobots will at least get a second complete combiner (even if it won't be tied together by any theme) but it will be exclusive to Walgreens pharmacies, of all places. Walgreens has had a number of exclusive Transformers figures in the past, but I'll be damned if I've ever found any of them.
The Voyager assortment includes the only "big name" Decepticon in the entire PotP line, specifically the treacherous second-in-command Starscream. This is one of the weaker Starscream figures in recent years, as the proportions are very strange and his jet mode is incredibly bulky and, well, not particularly jet-like. This was a major disappointment for me because that's my favorite character in the entire franchise. As a Voyager, he also has the ability to combine with four other figures, but as mentioned above, there isn't one set that really makes sense with him. The two non-Terrorcon Decepticon deluxes are also jets, true, but that doesn't leave any good options for the other two limbs. Also he looks awful in this form anyway. One of the other Autobot Voyagers is a repainted version of Starscream with a new head and different weapons called Elita-1, who was Optimus Prime's girlfriend in the original cartoon. There were two female Autobot deluxes in PotP, so that theme is kept up a little bit, but again, the other options don't fit thematically (the options are some dinosaurs, a white Porsche, and eventually a brown motorcycle). The final Autobot Voyager, Inferno, is a red firetruck that is a redone version of a figure from Combiner Wars; Inferno represents the 10th figure made from this original mold, which is a pretty large number of reuses, even for Transformers standards. More on this later.
The Leader class figures are all either Autobots or corrupted versions of Autobots. They are Optimus Prime (repainted as Nemesis Prime), Rodimus Prime (repainted as Rodimus Unicronus), and Optimus Primal (repainted as...himself) from the Beast Wars series. The two main gimmicks of these figures are the aforementioned Prime Master combination feature and the fact that the midsections of these figures detach and transform into roughly Deluxe-sized versions of these characters before they inherited the Matrix of Leadership and became Primes. They also transform into vehicles. Optimus Primal was the winner of an online poll to determine who would be the next Prime after Optimus and Rodimus and therefore who would receive a Leader-sized toy in this line.
The only Titan class figure in PotP is Predaking, the combined form of the Predacon subgroup from the 1980s. Predaking has long been a popular (although not exceptionally famous) character and this is the first update the character has received since the original toys were released more than 30 years ago. Despite being a combiner, the figures in this set are not compatible with the Deluxe and Voyager combiner figures in PotP since the engineering to make the combined form is different. Like the Titan class figures in previous lines, Predaking has the highest pricepoint of the bunch: $159.99 for the combined set. In addition to the five Voyager-sized figures used to make Predaking, this set also includes an exclusive Prime Master figure not available on its own.
Power of the Primes is notable for featuring a relatively small number of figures available at mass retail (i.e., not counting figures exclusive to only one store, online outlets, or conventions). There are fewer than 40 figures set to be released for the line and of these, 6 of them are remade figures from older Transformers toylines. The materials that go into making a Transformer figure are not particularly expensive, but the mold that is designed for the materials to go into is expensive. Like tens of thousands of dollars expensive. Therefore, it behooves Hasbro and their Japanese counterpart Takara Tomy to get as much use out of these molds as possible. This is why Inferno's base mold has been used 10 times, Skrapnel is being reused largely unchanged for the fourth time since 2014, and the Decepticon jets Dreadwind and Blackwing are respectively the 17th and 18th reuses of the same base mold since the Combiner Wars line (and there is a 19th iteration being released in Japan in the near future). When the molds are reused this many times, degradation of the parts tends to set in resulting in pieces not quite fitting together the right way, distorted design details, and loose limbs. Fortunately, this does not appear to be too much of an issue in the reused PotP figures except in the Prime Masters and their prime armor disguises.
There are also a relatively large number of figures in the line that are not available at mass retail. Nemesis Prime, for example, is an Amazon.com exclusive and has sold out multiple times since ordering for the figure was made available. The repainted version of Optimus Primal was originally sold only at San Diego Comic-Con before being made available on Hasbro's website. This version includes not one, but four exclusive Prime Masters not available anywhere else. This means that only 8 of the 13 Prime Masters are available on their own at retail. Notably, however, only the mass retail Prime Masters include prime armor sets. The Walgreens exclusive Wreck-Gar figure has yet to be released, but like all Transformers at Walgreens, it will be overpriced and in short supply.
Speaking of which, one problem that has plagued almost the entire PotP toyline is the terrible distribution of the figures to actual retail outlets (in the US, at least). Now it probably doesn't surprise anyone to learn that a company like Hasbro doesn't just release all of its figures for a given line at one time. In addition to being divided by size class, the figures are additionally divided into different assortments called waves that are released sequentially. So while there are 8 Prime Master figures, they're released in three separate waves, with 3 in the first, 2 in the second, and the remaining 3 in the third. Same with all the other figures in the other size classes, although in different quantities. Ideally, wave 1 Prime Masters, Legends, Deluxes, Voyagers, and Leaders should all hit stores at the same time. As each store sells through its stock of those figures, it will get restocked on the same ones until the manufacturer releases the wave 2 figures to the distributor, and the wave 1s will be phased out in favor of the wave 2s. Same thing with wave 3. Generally speaking, each wave is distributed for about 3 or 4 months.
First wave Power of the Primes figures debuted at US retail in November 2017. As of July 2018, wave 1 figures still comprise the bulk of PotP figures you're likely to find at your local Wal-Mart or Target. Retailers massively over-ordered the first wave and after the initial excitement of the new line died down, they were stuck with the leftovers. Eight months after the fact, everyone who wants a Dreadwind has one, and the leftovers aren't moving. Same with Jazz. Same with Skrapnel. Same with all the wave 1 Prime Masters. Many stores never even received any of the wave 1 Leader class figures, or if they did, they sold out and never received any restock since the more expensive figures aren't produced in huge quantities compared to the cheaper ones. Most stores' distribution centers won't send figures from the next wave until all the ones from the prior wave are sold out and in this instance, that just isn't going to happen. So both wave 2 and wave 3 figures from the different assortments have shown up in certain places in very small quantities, but it was such a problem that Hasbro had to release a statement acknowledging the issues with wave 2 distribution and they then made all of the wave 2 figures available to purchase directly from their website -- something they'd never done before. Time will tell if wave 3 will get the same treatment.
Having said all that...
The line itself is fairly weak. There are only a few figures that truly stand out and the line is noticeably lacking big name characters beyond Optimus Prime, Starscream, and the Dinobots. The Prime Master gimmick was a missed opportunity because even though the little weapons are kind of cool, there aren't that many of them. And as I said earlier, mold degradation and design issues make them incompatible with a few of the larger figures (or at least very awkward; your figure holding a gun at a 23 degree angle doesn't look very cool). Likewise, the lack of actual combiner components among the combiner figures is an issue, especially if you don't have any of the Combiner Wars figures. Maybe it's a blessing in disguise, though, since none of the combiners really look that great except for Predaking (which, for $159.99, ought to look pretty damn great). The fact that the line has only four waves compared to the usual six demonstrates how few figures there are here; realistically, it's only three waves, since the entire fourth wave is made up of one figure. Of course, all of these critiques are moot when most people can't even find the figures in stores.
Like its two predecessors, there is a PotP animated series, but I haven't watched it, so I can't recap or review it. All I know is that Ron Perlman plays Optimus Primal, which I guess is pretty cool. PotP is the third and final line in what Hasbro has dubbed the Prime Wars trilogy. It will be succeeded by the War for Cybertron trilogy, set to debut toward the end of this year with Siege as the name of the first sub-line. The early designs look good and appear to be a significant improvement over PotP in terms of both appearance and playability. To be fair, though, that is not a particularly high hurdle to jump.