Alternate Mode: TV Transmission Van
Height: 9cm Length: 12cm Width: 6.5cm
Tow-Line is the type of van TV stations use when doing a "live cross", with an array of transmitting gear on his roof. While this means his name is terribly inappropriate, it does represent a first for the Transformers toyline. Now, for a bus..
While Hasbro went with one of their stable of registered trade mark names, this toy is a tribute to Ironhide and Ratchet, which will become obvious later. The name Ironhide is used elsewhere in Energon and the colours are closer to Ratchet. So I'm going to treat him as a Ratchet tribute, for ease of comparison.
Tow-Line is a predominantly blue van with a white front, sky blue roof and transparent red windows and roof array. There are gold highlights on the roof and gold headlights, and an Autobot symbol stamped onto the front. The right side door features a small silver powerlinx gear, while the left side has the obligatory spark symbol. There are red stripes with white borders running down the sides, which is closer to Ratchet that Ironhide, and the left side stripe originates from the spark crystal - a nice effect.
The red roof array is a little strange, but this represents one of the best integrations of the Energon weaponry into the vehicle mode yet. They've also moulded ladders on either side, making the antenna array belong. I should point out that only the front and door windows are red, the others are solid blue plastic. Rounding out the colours are grey tyres and gold painted hubcaps. There's a lot happening in this colour scheme, but about 90% is red white or blue, so it's nice and unified.
Tow-Line doesn't have all that much play value in van mode. The array on top can unfold into his weapon, of course, and the wheels roll. The only hardpoint is on top of the antenna array, and doesn't activate anything. The play value is all in his other modes, so I don't mind that he sits there and looks like a van. Oh, while it can't open, there's actually a hollow driver's cockpit behind the windshield, which is a nice easter egg.
As far as I can recall, this is the first _new_ van mould since late in G1, which in itself makes Tow-Line's vehicle mode worth noting. While it doesn't do all that much, it's done a great job of integrating the Energon weapon, and this allows for a lot of play value later.
TRANSFORMATION TO ROBOT MODE
Firstly, you have to get the robot out. Remove the roof array, fold the sides down and unclip the top half of the van, which is destined to become the robot. Lift up the doors, swing the arms out to his sides. Swing the rear half down underneath the windshield and straighten his legs. Split the legs and flip out the feet, which will also reveal his heelspurs. Slide up the head, rotate and slide back down. You can attach his handgun, which I'll cover in a moment.
TRANSFORMATION TO REPAIR BAY
And this is where the Ratchet tribute swings into top gear. Fold down the rear door of the van's wheelbase, swing out the treads from underneath and swing the front wheels down to form the rear legs.
Lift the larger antenna out and unfold it into the barrel of the gun, swing the smaller dish down to one side. Rotate the gun and you'll see that the smaller dish is now a sight. This gun can fit either in his hand or on top of the platform. I recommend the latter, since otherwise it looks a little bare. There are four potential ways to attach it, incidentally. You can secure it into the front two holes, or leave it in array config and just pop it into the rear hole. Or you can clip it into the holes on either side - in either config - which will allow it to rotate.
Height: 14cm Width: 9cm
A dark brown (grey at first glance), sky blue and white robot, with most of the darker blue confined to the battle platform. By the numbers, his chest is the white front with red windows, his head, forearms, groin and thighs are dark brown, the boots are dark brown and his shoulders khaki with darker blue shoulderpads. Tow-Line has a gold face which is more reminiscent of Kup's than Ratchet's. The stamped Autobot symbol is now in the centre of his chest and looks good there, while he has some gold patterns on his shins. There's quite a mixture of colours here, but they combine fairly well, again they're mainly primary colours, and the dark brown is neutral. The pictures on the back of his card actually show the sky blue as a greenish colour, which gives him a Thunderclash feel, but the actual toy is colourful and tasteful.
The Ratchet tribute isn't as obvious here, thanks mainly to the different head. The chest is still very Ratchet like, and the boots remind me of cartoon Ratchet's legs. The shoulderpads are very much Tow-Line, and conspire with the head to make this toy a distinct character (unlike some Energon toys - eg Downshift).
The articulation is pretty good here - which you'd hope of something that is mostly just tucked away inside a shell. The shoulders, elbows and hips are ball joints while the knees and ankles are hinged and the head rotates. The shoulderpads get in the way a little and the heelspurs are linked to feet, but the heelspurs allow for a wide variety of stable poses and the arms can be lifted and swung back so they're just behind the shoulderpads.
The knee joints look like the boots are meant to slide out, but this is not the case. Since the thighs have a gap between them and the knees don't, Tow-Line ends up knock-kneed in a lot of poses. It's not really a major issue, but it's a design flaw that was quite avoidable by either ball jointed knees or sliding knees.
The knees are really the only weak point here, and the poseability is great despite the knees. It's a nice robot mode with good colours, and you can of course combine it with his battle platform, so there's a lot of play value. I suppose the colours could have been a little better - but they're a big improvement on the prototype colours on the back of his card. Aside from the green, they also removed some gold paint on his groin, which is also a good thing. Considering it's only half the toy, it's great that this robot mode is on the same scale as other deluxes.
REPAIR BAY MODE
Height: 12cm Width: 13cm Length: 18cm
All that and a bag of chips, this thing is far superior to Ratchet's repair bay. The platform itself is blue and brown while the front strut is brown and the rear struts gold (although you don't really see them). There are gold gun racks moulded onto the side platforms and of course the big red compound gun. You can actually attach other Energon weapons, up to a total of four, making this thing far more imposing than Ratchet's repair bay could have ever hoped for.
The front strut has twin treads at the base, and there are small wheels on the underside, allowing the platform to roll. The strut splits in half, and the two halves attach with ball joints, while the "ankles" are hinges. If you split these "legs" it looks like a drone of some sort, rather than an unwrapped missile launcher, since it's quadrupedal with rear wheels.
Tow-Line's powerlinxing is very different to the other Autobots to date - this platform actually becomes a bottom half (of a Sphinx-like robot), while the robot component can only become a top half. This also means that Tow-Line is actually able to powerlinx with himself! The robot's feet become shoulder cannons, and he has brown barrels that flip out from the soles of his feet. I should point out that you're able to flip them out in standard robot mode, although I prefer him without these toe-guns.
For those who are wondering - yes, you can stand Tow-Line on his battle platform, as was possible with both Ratchet and Ironhide. He doesn't clip in, but he has much stronger ankles and he's using it more as a vantage point that a battle station anyway. The joint that allows the front wheels to swing back is a little weak, so if you place the robot on top, you'll have to get it right or the platform will collapse in slow motion.
So it's an unusual design feature to resurrect, but I don't care, because it's been done really well. It makes for a deluxe with the play value of a mega, and there are lots of options. The only real downside is that there are only two hardpoints - on either side of the gun. But yeah, it can jump through hoops anyway, so two Minicon attachments is enough for me.
None that I'm aware of.
I only grabbed this toy because it was on special, and since the tribute piqued my curiosity, I nabbed it. I'll freely admit I underestimated Tow-Line - the pictures I've seen online don't do justice to the versatility of this toy. He's a great example of just how useful gimmicks can be when they're done right. Add to this that he's a Ratchet tribute - with a head - and is one of the few Transformer vans, and Tow-Line is worth picking up - 8/10