Armored Core V UCR-10/A (and Grind Blade)
Review by VF5SS
My absolute favorite video game of all time is the original Armored Core for the good old Playstation 1. For me this was the game that really captured that feeling of piloting a giant robot in a way none of its contemporaries could achieve. It was a perfect storm that combined a setting that encapsulated the best (and slightly less best) aspects of sci-fi anime with the ability to customize your Armored Core (AC) from the type of missile launchers it uses right down the color of its eyeballs. The real icing on the cake for me was learning that Shoji Kawamori was the main mechanical designer for the series up through the PS2 era. Best of all Armored Core is one of the few Japanese mecha combat series that has a strong presence outside of Japan with just about every game getting an American release.
Like any good Japanese gaming franchise, the developers at the oddly named From Software left the core gameplay of Armored Core largely unchanged for years while adding new features and gimmicks to keep things fresh. The PS3 era was their first crack at radically shaking up the formula. While AC's had always been powerful, Armored Core 4 and its follow-up For Answer gave players the exhilarating experience of piloting a high flying death god robot against humongous fortress sized bosses and their accompanying hordes of deadly enemies. For the uninitiated, Armored Core For Answer's "customize and tweak everything down to the kitchen sink" approach to building your AC was often overwhelming to newcomers. The speed of the game combined with the complexity of maneuvering also made mastering combat a daunting task.
The subject of today's review comes from latest game in the series, Armored Core V (ACV). Each numbered Armored Core game tends to represent a point where the gameplay was overhauled and things are revamped as video game technology progresses. ACV reduced the speed of the game and shrunk the main robots down to a more manageable size so they could revamp the everything with an emphasis on online multiplayer experience in which teams of players battle for control over territory across the in-game map.
What you see before you is essentially the spokes-mecha for ACV. This guy is Mr. Default from his paint job down to the basic configuration of parts and weapons. It appears in the game's promotional material and in the opening movie. A similar looking machine also shows up during story missions to menace you with flaming chainsaws and cryptic dialog. The name of this machine is derived from the part number for the robot's torso or "core." While UCR-10/A doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, naming Armored Core toys and model kits after their core part has been the default way of branding AC figures. Merchandisers tend to produce products based on the "image cores" or AC's used in promotional material. It's an adequate workaround when dealing with games that let you customize everything about your robot including the name.
The AC's of ACV all have a more squat appearance when compared to their forebears. As a Super Robot Chogokin (SRC), the figure has all the amenities of modern action figures with a small dose of diecast for added class. It stands roughly five and a half inches tall. The selection of parts in ACV are more often asymmetrical which is in sharp contrast to the previous games. As Mr. Default, UCR-10/A doesn't exude a lot of personality and his muted uniform color scheme is not terribly eye-catching. It's a shame since in the games you can color these parts almost any way you want and cover your AC with custom emblems and decals. This one doesn't even have the luxury of being a named character from the game.
All that being said there is a fairly intriguing design going on here. ACV seems to borrow some of its aesthetics from the Front Mission games and UCR-10/A does its job of essentially being a "tech demo" for how the game looks and feels. This particular AC is built from parts that specialized in high kinetic energy defense. Weapons deal one of three types of damage (kinetic, thermal, and chemical) in game and certain parts are better at protecting from one damage type more than others. Parts with a high kinetic energy defense tend to look very angular with extra panels affixed all over their bodies. By contrast, parts with high thermal energy defense are more more smooth and organic looking.
One thing I really can't excuse on this figure is how all of the numerous antenna found on its body are made from hard ABS plastic instead of soft PVC. As a result they feel fragile, and due to their position in places where you would normally grab a figure to pose it, breaking these antenna is a very real possibility. The pair jutting out from the AC's neck and the one to the left of its head are particularly egregious.
Antenna issues aside, UCR-10/A is well articulated despite its bulky appearance. The head normally rests close to the body where it is locked in place.
By pulling the head up until it clicks you can expose the neck which allows the head to move more freely. The face visor is done with blood red paint. The overall effect is adequate but doesn't quite "pop" as much as it could.
The four silver boosters on the torso's underside are on ball-joints and can swivel around. They were a little stiff out of the package so I just put the UCR-10/A on ice to loosen them up. I must admit I didn't even realize the AC's in this game had boosters on the front of their torsos as well as on back until I got this toy.
The arms are very well done with a diecast double-jointed elbow and free moving ball-jointed shoulders. Each shoulder pauldron can also hinge upward for more flexibility.
The pair of hip thingies on each leg are attached via ball-joints so they can move around for added posing clearance.
The big shield on the left leg can be opened up for extra defense. A common element in Armored Core games is that heavy weapons require AC's to kneel down before firing them. ACV gives the player a small bonus to defense when this occurs. The leg shield opening up is just a good way of visually cuing players in to this feature.
Also note that at the bottom there is a working piston attached to each shield panel.
This double hinge in the torso allows the upper body to do a pretty deep ab crunch. The upper body does feel a little floaty though.
Not quite enough to touch its toes but with a little help from his hips it can...
Still fail to touch its own toes.
The feet on UCR-10/A are quite elaborate and feature three independently articulated foot pads. The forked front and rear pads are diecast with the middle one being plastic. The middle pad has both a hinge and a ball-joint though it may pop off during posing. I do like the whole industrial styling of the foot parts.
A swiveling waist joint and double-jointed knees let this AC pose about as well as it can in the game. My only complaint is that the waist-joint is worryingly stiff and squeaks horribly when used. A friend of mine had similar issues with his UCR-10/A but I am not sure if this is widespread.
This embarrassing pantyshot reveals one of the cooler mechanical details to the hips in where each leg is attached to a small cylindrical mount that can swivel in and out separately from the ball-joint in the hips. The inner skeleton of the legs is also diecast.
Letting UCR-10/A get a little wild imbues some personality into the toy.
The weapons selection for this figure is pretty bare bones. You get four guns and a specific hand for holding each one. As each hand is designed to hold only one gun you cannot swap weapons between sides. The hands all attach to the wrists with a ball and socket setup. I found on my toy they tend to pop off easily.
Please note that the smallest hand is the one used for holding the Gatling gun. I found it difficult to get the hand around the gun's handle and ended up detaching the ammo drums. Nothing seems broken and the drums do plug back in but please be aware you need to do this carefully.
The weapons you get include a Soviet-approved rifle. Rifles are effective against most enemies in the game and a deal a moderate amount of kinetic energy damage. You can only use this in the AC's right hand.
The other right hand weapon is a battle rifle. All the battle rifles in the game are big ol' boxes o' gun that are suitable for long range engagements. Battle rifles deal chemical energy damage.
This left hand pulse machine gun is a short ranged, rapid fire weapon that deals thermal energy damage.
The final handheld weapon is one of those game breaking Gatling guns. Before the game was re-balanced with a few patches, these rapid firing kinetic energy weapons were the go-to bullet hoses for players looking to win. On the toy this weapon makes the wrist sag downward but the arms have no problem hefting it around.
In previous Armored Core games the shoulder mounts were where heavier weapons like linear cannons and missiles launchers were attached for some serious firepower. In ACV the shoulder mounts became additional gun racks for storing handheld weapons that can be swapped in at any time. Unfortunately only the battle rifle and pulse machine gun can be attached to the toy's shoulder mounts.
In the game the shoulder mount actually unlocks and rotates so the AC can store one gun and have another delivered into its waiting hand. It's a signature gimmick for the game and sadly the toy cannot replicate this at all. The best you can do is to put a gun in the upward facing prongs of the shoulder rack, but without any rotation the AC can't quite reach up to look like it's grabbing the gun.
Another feature of ACV is that each machine has a weapons bay in either one or both shoulders. For this set of arms the weapons bay is in the right shoulder. You can equip a variety of different parts inside the weapons bay ranging from offensive missile launchers to radar jamming chaff dispenser. Each arm has a neat little detail where the weapons bay opens up to dispense its ordnance. On this particular AC the top part of the shoulders where the ridged metal detailing is should actually rise up to show off a bank of weapon's ports. Here it does nothing. You don't even get a plug in part to replicate this effect. I am kind of baffled as to why Bandai glossed over some of the more toyetic gimmicks of ACV.
All that griping aside, UCR-10/A at the very least looks the part when posing. If you mind those small antennae, you can get a fairly wide range of poses out of this figure.
For some extra boosting action you get a stand adapter that can be used with any Tamashii Act Stage or compatible display stand like a Di:Stage. Due to this figure's heft, you should use a display base with a stiff arm.
I do enjoy the novelty of having a piece of the game as a ready made toy. Again I feel like the SRC figure lacks that quality of being the machine I created in the game world. It is an AC but it's not my AC or even a notable one like say Nineball or White Glint from the previous games. Bandai is making another SRC of Hanged Man who is one of the bosses from the game and it looks like a more much interesting toy if only because it has some character associated with it.
"Hey I got next game!"
Before I move onto to the next part of this review I would like to summarize my thoughts on the base figure. The Super Robot Chogokin UCR-10/A is an okay figure but not really an outstanding one. As an action figure it is competently executed. The touchiness of some joints, however, combined with the fragility of the numerous antenna and the way it omits what I think are notable gimmicks make it merely average rather than a must have piece. I almost feel like this would have been better suited to the (now dead) Soul Spec line where this toy could have come with more accessories like a range of parts so you could customize the figure much in the same way you do in the game. Without emphasizing features unique to Armored Core V, UCR-10/A feels like just another robot toy. I don't really hate the figure but I don't really love it either. I feel that with a little extra effort it could have been a better toy. Then again maybe those gimmicks would push it out of the typical SRC price range.
Now that I am done with the figure, let's talk about an accessory so big it's sold separately from the toy that uses it. This is the Grind Blade, which is one of the Ultimate Weapons players can unlock over the course of the game. In Japan these are called Overed Weapons because From Software believes if they keep overed using a word it will become more than just Engrish.
The Grind Blade was featured heavily in promotional material for ACV and is essentially a gigantic six-bladed flaming chainsaw. For the most part this huge accessory replicates the weapon from the game pretty well save for the "being on fire" part. The Grind Blade is made almost completely from ABS plastic with few soft polycap style joints for its own articulated arms.
Due to the sheer size of the Grind Blade you get an additional display stand to keep it upright. You get one base with two interchangeable arms. The skinny arm is for when the Grind Blade is being stored on the back of the AC while the thicker arm is for use during action poses. You wouldn't think it but the skinny arm is the only part that does its job well.
Attaching the Grind Blade to UCR-10/A is a simple affair. You just plug in a pair of mounting brackets to the AC's back and clip them onto the scaffolding on the weapon itself.
It's no surprise that the Grind Blade weighs down the AC to a point where it can't really pose too wildly. It reminds me of how even in the game the Overed Weapons are of dubious use.
I found that the skinny arm for the display stand is not essential for displaying the Grind Blade in its stored position as the bottom of the blades are almost on the ground as is.
Activating an Ultimately Overed Weapon in the game is treated like a massive strain on the AC carrying it. The screen goes all red with the HUD displaying numerous warning messages that an unknown component has attached itself to the machine. The Grind Blade actually makes one arm of your AC eject while its own clawed hand grasps the exposed socket like a mechanical symbiote. On the toy the claw doesn't really connect to the socket so you just kind of position it until it looks right. I appreciate that the claw itself has multiple moving fingers even though there's not much for them to grab onto.
Another robotic arm mounted on top of the backpack swings out to grab the weapon out of the AC's hand. On this toy the arm has no way of grabbing a weapon so the function of this detail is sadly lost.
The massive multi-segmented arm that connects the backpack to the main unit unfurls out to make its way to the AC's remaining arm while small clamps underneath the blades' collective motor grab onto the AC's forearm. You may notice that I am not using the included support arm but rather a Figma display stand. This is because I found the included support arm to be woefully inadequate at supporting the Grind Blade in any pose other than slightly off to the side.
With the Grind Blade engaged, the six chainsaws unfurl like a book and can move in and our like fingers on their own ball-jointed mounts. I want to make it clear that for this pose the main arm connecting the blades to the backpack is not connected and I could not find a way to keep it attached when posing the arm forward. The instructions have very little showing you how to properly pose the Grind Blade and I found little help from other reviews. There is just not enough flexibility to pose it in a dynamic manner. This is compounded by the fact that the clamps on the Grind Blade that are supposed to attached to the forearm simply do not grip it all. They're just there for completeness
In the end the Grind Blade is all for show with none of the fun. Over-sized weapons are a staple of video games and translating them to a physical object always comes with a price. I wouldn't mind the additional support parts if the thing still worked as advertised but here the whole package is just frustrating to deal with. It's a shame because there is a lot of mechanically interesting components on the Grind Blade like the three robotic arms, but they're all for nothing because they cannot secure the weapon to the AC in a meaningful way. I would say unless you really like the look of the Grind Blade and want to leave your AC in a static display you can skip it. At the very least this once web exclusive accessory has been made available at retail for American buyers.
Again the base UCR-10/A figure is alright. It is still widely available at places like Big Bad Toy Store courtesy of Bluefin Tamashii.
Well, after what amounted to a whole lot of griping about over elaborate gimmicks, I think our friend here needs to take a step back from all this ultra modern high definition gaming and get back to its roots. Yes that is my original game from back in the day, cracked jewel case and all.
"Well I guess it was the best game of 1997!"
"Aw man! There's no support for analog control!"
|Posted 30 December, 2012 - 15:32 by VF5SS|