Retro Review: Transformers Armada Nemesis Prime

As a Transformers fan in his early twenties, Generation 1 for me was 2003’s Transformers Armada, a sometimes-shoddy dub of the Micron Legend anime that served as the first installment of the infamous Unicron Trilogy that headlined the franchise for the first half of the 2000s. Armada is usually remembered for its Pokemon-esque premise (gotta catch ’em all, the Mini-Cons, that is), ungodly annoying human characters (Rad wants to tell you about the Traaaaansformers), and one of the most memorable portrayals of Starscream as an angsty anti-hero that spawned hundreds of Linkin Park AMVs. The last bit, as well as a much tighter plot focus in the last third of the show and the darker themes it explored, has begun to outweigh the show’s flaws as time goes on.

The toyline, on the other hand, is usually regarded as a step backwards from the complex and articulate Beast Wars and Robots in Disguise eras, burdened with an obtrusive and senseless gimmick. There are a few shining stars in the toyline that are well-regarded even today; chief of them being the deluxe class Optimus Prime, nicknamed “Bendy Prime” for his impressive articulation. Bendy Prime was redecoed multiple times, but perhaps the most notable is Nemesis Prime, who came towards the end of the line and has been one of my oldest Holy Grails as a Transformers fan. Now that I finally have him, let’s see how he holds up 13 years later.

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Background

Before we jump into the review, I want to take a moment to explain Armada Nemesis Prime, because he’s sort of a strange character. Nemesis (named Scourge in Micron Legend) appeared in episode 43 of Armada, “Puppet,” which is one of the stranger episodes in the cartoon. Basically, a handful of Autobots and Decepticons got randomly transported to a weird planet where an evil copy of Optimus Prime tries to kill them, and in the end the Mini-Cons use Mini-Con magic to give everyone a power-up that changes their colors to sell new toys. Nemesis Prime himself isn’t so much a character as he is a weird tentacle monster that is kinda-sorta implied to be Sideways, who is later implied to just be Unicron. After Nemesis Prime/Sideways is defeated, the planet everyone is on starts to fall apart and they all go back to their ships and continue on to Cybertron.

The episode has no bearing on the overall plot, and the only lasting impact is that the majority of the main cast now have different colors (and Megatron changes his name to Galvatron for some reason). Nemesis Prime never appears again, and nothing is ever explained. It’s one of the weirdest episodes of the series, and it’s one of the most memorable as a result. Anyway, we’re here to talk about toys, so let’s move on from my reminiscing and get to the figure.

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Vehicle Mode

Armada Optimus Prime was notable the first time Optimus Prime has taken the form of a typical semi truck rather than a traditional cab-over in mainstream media (G2 Prime doesn’t really count as mainstream), and therefore so does his evil clone. It’s a chunky, futuristic-ish semi truck that manages to look both cool and dumb at the same time, but of course everything looks better when it’s painted black (or in this case, very dark blue). There’s a hint of teal from RID Scourge that will become more prevalent in robot mode, and the darker bone color on his smokestacks and grille will go on to inspire Universe Nemesis Prime (fun fact – this is the first time Nemesis Prime was used as a name for an evil Optimus). The red windows and headlights are, of course, appropriately nefarious.

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Nemesis has a large trailer hitch peg that can be used to pull the trailer of the larger Optimus Prime figure, though Nemesis himself never got the trailer he had in the cartoon. Nemesis also has a 5mm hole off to the side, where you can mount his Mini-Con partner (who was not in the show) as a cannon or something. You can also peg him onto the Mini-Con port on top of the cab, but it does nothing in this mode.

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Mini-Con

A redeco of Optimus Prime’s Mini-Con Over-Run, Run-Over (see what they did there) has probably one of the coolest altmodes of any Mini-Con ever. Something about the retro rocket-plane design really appeals to me, even though the bone plastic is really ugly compared to the shiny silver of Over-Run. 

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Run-Over’s robot mode is pretty much par for the course as far as Armada Mini-Cons go, with minimal articulation (his arms can move) and a vaguely-humanoid shape. He’s got a painted visor, though, so that’s cool. Thirteen years later and Hasbro can’t maintain that level of paint apps for their current line of smaller partner toys, so points to Armada.

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Robot Mode

Armada Optimus also bucked the trend for his robot mode design, eschewing window boobs in favor of a big grille chest. The shoulder wheels and forearm-mounted smokestacks would also go on to inspire more Optimus designs. The Bendy Prime figure gets praise for accurately representing the cartoon model’s proportions, and Nemesis Prime maintains accuracy in that area, though most of his secondary colors are additions to make the toy look more interesting. I think it succeeds; the bits of teal and red are recognizable indicators of a proper evil Optimus, and the bone color gives the Armada version a unique touch (though it doesn’t quite jive well with the silver paint).

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Sadly, I do not have the original Bendy Prime for comparison, but I do have the redeco that was released three years later in the Cybertron line, which I actually think is the best deco for the mold. Still, it’s a good example of just how much a good repaint can change the overall look of the figure, something the Unicron Trilogy got very good at over the course of three toylines. Where the mold looks noble and heroic as Optimus, it looks brutish and sinister as Nemesis. This method of taking the exact same mold and changing the entire feel of the toy just through paint apps is something we don’t see much of anymore.

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This mold isn’t called Bendy Prime for nothing. In a line full of compromised articulation, this figure was practically an S.H. Figuarts toy. Ball-jointed neck, hips, and elbows; universal shoulders; waist and thigh swivels; soft-ratcheted knees; and he even has ankle tilts! This level of articulation is impressive by today’s standards, and in 2002 it was practically revolutionary. The basic design of the toy doesn’t exactly lend him to dynamic poses, but he’s capable of a lot more than almost any other Armada figure.

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The Mini-Con Powerlinx gimmick is difficult to explain and impossible to actually photograph. By plugging in a Mini-Con to the peg on his back and then sliding it up and down, Nemesis’s shoulders… shake a little bit. It’s supposed to be a punching gimmick that moves his shoulders to make him, well, punch, but it looks more like he’s doing a shimmy. It’s one of the least impressive gimmicks in the line, but I don’t think anyone would have cited that as a problem.

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Run-Over also has a bonus ability that sets him above most Mini-Con partners in that he’s also a Targetmaster! He makes for a pretty sweet laser rifle for Nemesis to wield, and he can also be held by anyone with 5mm hand holes. I still wish Nemesis had come with a smaller, scaled version of the red Star Saber fascimile he had in the cartoon, but sadly there were no third party companies in 2003 to make the accessory.

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Overall

Bendy Prime deserves a lot of credit for being one of the most ahead-of-its-time toys in a toyline of figures where gimmickry overruled articulation and aesthetics. Though his gimmick isn’t terribly impressive, it’s a good example of how to incorporate one without sacrificing any playability of the figure itself. Any version of Bendy Prime is well worth picking up (and you’ve got options), but Nemesis Prime is probably the most sought-after, and for good reason. He starred in one of Armada’s more memorable episodes, and could be considered the progenitor (along with RID Scourge) for the countless Nemesis Prime figures that come up whenever a new Optimus Prime toy is made. This toy is a piece of Transformers history on multiple levels, and he still holds up today in most respects.

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