Review(updated): Alto’s EX and the standard Nightmare Plus
Packaging & Extras: (3.5/5)
While the packaging is attractive enough I miss the boxes that had the flip-top lid that exposed a transparent window that revealed all the goodness within. Like the previous DX toys, the 171 comes in a Styrofoam tray with a separate plastic tray that houses the included stand and stand adapters. Here’s the goodies you get:
2) 2x Fist covers for fighter mode
3) 6x fixed-posed fists
4) Optional ABS replacement antennas/guns (less bendy then the installed PVC ones)
5) Gun with swing out latch and handle
6) Pilot figure (same figure that was included with renewal VF-25F for Alto)
The gun isn’t nearly as exciting as the gun included with Yamato’s VF-17 toy but it looks decent enough. The stand is no longer an SMS stand as the VF-171 was used by the regular military (and the stand does a great job looking very regular). Armored parts for Alto’s 171EX were released December 2012 and the Nightmare Plus armored parts are due out later in 2013 so don’t expect them in this box.
Charm & Collectability: (3.5/5)
This toy has quite a bit going against it but the Alto one still sold out at or near retail. In the con category, this isn’t an extremely popular mecha. Although we’re treated to a heroic paint scheme for the 171EX the Nightmare Plus was the cannon fodder for 95% person of Frontier. The reason the 171 was the cannon fodder instead of the 19 from previous stories was because the 19 looked too heroic to be a cannon fodder mech. The 171, being derived from the special ops 17, doesn’t seem a natural fit for the cannon fodder role except that it felt more natural seeing lots of them blow up than any other existing in-universe designs… which doesn’t bode well for making a hot selling toy. This is probably why it took Bandai so long to make a DX 171 toy since they’ve already took chances with the Konig Monster and Macross Quarter toys. Fortunately, this toy follows Bandai’s spectacular VF-25 V2 toys which were excellent and sold extremely well so collectors are giving Bandai the benefit of the doubt. Alto’s 171EX was released on June 30th, 2012 for an MSRP of 14,000Yen and like the V2 VF-25 toys before it, many preorders went unfulfilled. However, months later it wasn’t too difficult to find Alto’s 171EX for only a very modest mark-up. The Nightmare Plus looks like it will be easy to obtain on the secondary market for some time as it looks like the first of the post ‘renewal’ VF-25 lot where demand has not completely overwhelmed supply.
Sculpt, Detail, & Paint: (9.5/10)
Starting with the basics, like the previous DX toys, Bandai went top notch on the level of tampo-printed details. The toy is gorgeous right out of the box. It’s not as hard these days to convert a CG model to a toy although it’s still a lot tougher than people give these toy manufacturers credit for. Bandai got REAL close to giving us a near perfect rendition of the toy in all modes. There are little areas that could have used a bit more attention, like the cockpit, but for the most part this toy is a superb rendering of the VF-171. I do wish the odd yellow-ish triangles at the front of the wings were clear plastic inserts. Bandai also went the extra distance by giving us a Nightmare Plus toy that features a different head sculpt and cockpit.
Let’s hit the strengths first:
1) Integrated landing gear that includes front tow bar and elevates the toy enough to accommodate the gun in fighter mode
2) Ability to attach the gun in fighter mode (with two connection points so it’s stable)
3) Pivoting guns to either side of the pilot (nipple guns)
4) Integrated articulated hands (hand covers are optional)
5) Opening cockpit with separate pilot
6) Perfect transformation with a huge range of movement (more on that in articulation)
7) The toy is put together in such a way that it’s conceals the method of construction (this will turn into a big negative if you ever want to take it apart)
Okay, that’s some good stuff but almost all of it is to be expected from a $100+ toy these days. There are also some negatives:
1) Wings are removable to facilitate the sold-separately super parts that contain wings with hard points to attach armaments. The lack of hard points alone is enough of a negative but to make matters worse the method used to keep the wings attached (two plastic pegs) are flimsy and become easily dislodged. When the pegs fall out pray you don’t lose them… and they will fall out. I had pegs shooting out before I even made it all the way into GERWALK for the first transformation. The design is horrible and Bandai should feel great shame for this misdeed they’ve foisted upon us.
2) The transformation is complex… seemingly overly complex and since everything is so tight you’re going to find yourself in some awkward moments. In fact, I can almost guarantee that your first time through the transformation you’re going to think every reviewer who has said lots of positive things about this toy is a masochist. I thought I had outgrown the point in my life where I’d want to strap fireworks to a toy and send it off in a fiery explosion but this toy has revealed that, with just the right amount of frustration, that urge still lives within me. Things just get worse and worse as putting your fingers on the front of the chest causes the cockpit to slide upward and when you go to fix that a peg will go flying out of the wing so you’ll grab the front of the toy to put the peg back in only to have the cockpit slide back up again… it’s a cycle of hate. Now, my 171 Nightmare Plus toy does have wing pegs that did not fall out once in my handling of the toy thus far and it’s a much more positive experience. Still, I consider myself lucky and reiterate that Bandai should be ashamed of the wing design. You can achieve the VF-17′s “stupid GERWALK’ mode if you want but you have to angle the arms upward a bit and it manages to make the stupid GERWALK mode look even less appealing… but I don’t think the 171 ever actually uses stupid GERWALK mode in the show.
3) The gun seems pretty basic in comparison to Yamato’s VF-17 gun and the VF-25 and VF-27 guns… but this might be a non-issue as I don’t remember the gun being very exciting in the show either. Still, it’s the least gimmicky gun since the VF-19 (and Yamato has found ways to make even those guns fun).
4) I’m not really including it in the score here because it’s a bonus item, but it’s worth noting that the stand is an eyesore without much flexibility.
Durability & Build: (7/10)
This score is preliminary but so far the expected 5% failure rate seems to be correct. Most flaws people have found out of the box are minor and I have yet to see any catastrophic failures. I certainly felt like I was going to break my toy a couple times. The scariest part of transformation for my EX toy was definitely the hands. I had to put a tremendous amount of pressure on the slider to push the hands free of the sleeves where the tolerances are RIDICULOUSLY tight. I thought for sure something was going to crack… but nothing did. There’s also a lock to keep the hands extended which might cause further complication if you don’t notice that lock sliding shut while you’re trying your damnedest to free the wrist. Other people have had similar experiences with different parts of the transformation since there are lots of little parts that are connected very tightly and need to move throughout the transformation process. My Nightmare Plus seemed to have a much better level of tightness out of the box with things moving with a more reasonable amount of force. Even the little black tabs within the giant shoulder pads were very difficult for me to move in my first transformation of the EX toy and they’re tucked in so awkwardly it’s a puzzle figuring out how to apply any pressure to them at all. I’ve already dinged this toy’s design for the poor choices made for the wings so I’ll not knock the durability score for that as well but do everything you can to keep track of the pegs holding the wings in. You’re also going to want to be conscious of scraping the paint since there’s so much painted on detail here. You should also exercise patience when trying to open the cockpit and make sure you pull straight upward before swinging it back. Any toy that is this tight right out of the box is going to get loose with handling because you’re going to have to apply excess pressure to free things up and excess pressure leads to additional wear. I’m hoping Bandai will make some repaints of this toy and so when I update this review to include the repaints I’ll be able to include more durability comments from additional testing.
Battroid mode is like playing with an exceptionally well articulated non-transformable vehicle. There’s so much mobility in the hips and ankles that you can do one foot stances despite all the bulk at the top of the toy. You get a twist at the knee, extensions at the knee for greater mobility, and arms that bend and twist in every direction. Upon the first time you handle the toy you might find it a bit restricted but that’s just because many joints are so tight they seem like they don’t exist. You’re going to have to patiently loosen things up.
Total Score: (39/50)
From what I understand, the DX 171 toy was actually designed BEFORE the Yamato VF-17 despite Yamato beating Bandai to market by more than half a year. Allegedly Bandai had been toying with the idea of a 171 for a while but was a little shy about it and kept it on the backburner for a while. This story is a little more fun because I hear the same group/person that designed that 171 for Bandai then was contracted by Yamato to do the 17. As you can imagine, the two toys have a lot of similarities. Of course, there are also plenty of differences to keep both toys interesting for you. If I had to choose one, given the disparity in MSRP, I’d go with the Bandai offering (assuming I could get it for MSRP). There’s no doubt though that 17 has a different level of polish. On the eyeball factor, comparing the 17 to the 171 in the extremely scientific “which of these is sexier?” test my wife pointed to the DX 171. If I had to choose between a 171 and a renewal VF-25 toy I’d go with the 25 toy without hesitation. Maybe after several more transformations the 171 will loosen up and become a bit more enjoyable to handle… but I suspect the wings will just pop out more frequently and make it that much more annoying. The 171 is a very pretty toy that is very fun to pose in battroid mode… but it’s annoying and overly difficult/finicky. It’s been a while since I found a toy this little fun to change through the modes. Update here, after several months and numerous transformations of my EX toy many of the scary stiff joints are not just “a little too tight” which makes transformation a little more pleasant to walk through. As I feared though, the wing pegs on one of the wings are now so loose it’s a given that I must remove the wing, transform the toy, then reapply the wing. I should probably place a bead of superglue or some clear nail polish on the pegs to give them a bit more resistance.
NOTE: This review has been updated to include pictures and info on the Nightmare Plus toy. Original post: July 11, 2012