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By Thomas Wheeler

Some names within the Transformers universe are more recognizable than others. Say the name "Constructicons" and people generally have a pretty good idea what you're talking about, if they have any knowledge of Transformers at all.

In Generation One, the Constructicons were a series of six bright green construction vehicles. They were also, significantly, the first Combiner. Not only could each of these six robots transform from vehicle to individual robot, but they could combine into one massive robot which had the very well-deserved name of DEVASTATOR.

Other Combiner units followed over the years, but none quite matched the recognition and popularity of this first one. In Generation Two, the various vehicles of the Constructicons were released in yellow and orange color schemes. But bright green remained the best-known color for Devastator. More recently, as part of the MicroMasters line of Transformers marketed to K*B Toys, a series of small, bright green Constructicons were offered that formed a mini-Devastator.

Then there's this odd group of four that are sort of a sideways step. A Target exclusive, I recently discovered them on clearance, and decided to bring them home.

There's a sideline of Transformers, marketed under the name TRANSFORMERS UNIVERSE. This name is most commonly used by Target and K*B Toys, and occasionally by Wal-Mart, for store exclusive Transformers toys that don't have any direct connection to whatever main Transformers concept is being offered by Hasbro at the time. These toys aren't necessarily part of Armada, or Energon, or Cybertron, or anything else. They're just interesting additions to the overall Transformers collection.

Somewhat curiously, there are only four in the collection, sold in boxed sets of two each. Previously, Devastator required six Constructicons. On the other hand, these four vehicles are very distinctly larger than any previous Constructicons, even if most of the names and some of the vehicular themes are the same.

The four robots include LONG HAUL, BONECRUSHER, SCAVENGER, and the new name in the group, HIGHTOWER. The vehicles are a dump truck, bulldozer, steam shovel, and small crane.

Let's start with packaging. This is the sort of situation where you really wish you could have five minutes in a locked room with a baseball bat and the joker who invented plastic-coated wire twist-ties. Getting these toys free of their packaging is not easy.

As one would expect, they bear the color schemes of the classic Constructicons -- bright green with a generous amount of purple trim.

In vehicular mode, the four vehicles look slightly fanciful, but not at all implausible. And I'll admit I haven't visited very many construction sites. For all I know, the designs of these vehicles isn't far off the mark from what one might expect to see in real life. Each of them, in their own way, look like more advanced versions of their original counterparts. And they all have free-rolling wheels. The two "treaded" vehicles actually have very small wheels underneath the treads. The vehicles average about 4-1/2" in length, but they look a little bigger because of their bulk.

None of the transformations are overly difficult, at least not for someone with a reasonable level of experience with Transformers. The instruction sheet, which covers all four of the robots, is about the size of a small-town road map, however, and this in and of itself can be a little distracting.

What's interesting is that, despite the relatively common size of the toys in vehicle form, they turn into very different-sized robots. Bonecrusher, the bulldozer, is the distinct runt of the litter, coming in at not quite 4-1/2" in height in robot form. Scavenger, in comparison, is over 6" in height, but looks pretty gangly in robot form compared to his bulkier teammates. This is one scrawny robot. Long Haul, the dump truck, is just under 6" in height, but more powerful in appearance than Scavenger, except for these really skinny upper legs. Hightower is the most evenly proportioned of the lot, at almost precisely 5" in height, but he also has the weirdest transformation aspect, in that his upper vehicular portion actually has to be removed, but then put back because it contains the robot head of the figure.

Paintwork on the whole is good, and thankfully there's no sign of any hand-painted details. I noticed a couple of minor glitches, but nothing serious, and the overall detail with is excellent. The only really problem of note is the red highlights on Scavenger's brow. There was a bit of paint overflow, but it almost works since it looks like he tried to paint flames on his forehead. And I'll still take that over the inevitability of sloppiness in trying to do hand-painted detailing.

Articulation is excellent. Given how largely unarticulated in robot form most Generation One Transformers were, I never fail to be impressed by the level of articulation given to modern-day Transformers. All four of these robots have excellent levels of poseability in their robot forms.

Now, when it comes to combining the robots to make Devastator, here's where it gets interesting. This will also explain why you don't see a picture of Devastator here. According to the instructions on the flip side of the page that tells you how to transform the individual vehicles into robots, it shows that there are actually MULTIPLE ways you can combine the parts of the four different robots in order to form at least three different versions of Devastator!

I chose not to do so for two reasons -- (1) -- I don't want to pick a favorite. (2) -- I have the nasty feeling that if I tried to get involved in this mess that I'm seeing on the page, the unfortunate end result would be a pile of broken robot parts all over the floor, and nobody wants that. I'm a Transformers fan, but I'd also be lying if I said I considered myself that much of an expert at transforming these things. If I can plod my way through the occasional Alternator, I consider myself fortunate.

But I do have to say that I think the ability to combine these vehicles in multiple different ways to result in several different versions of Devastastor only adds to the coolness factor of the entire set. And certainly this robotic jigsaw puzzle would doubtless keep anyone who's a Transformers fan, child or adult, entertained for quite some time.

Now, as I said, I did find these robots on clearance at Target. So I tend to question their current availability. And yet there are a few factors that need to be taken into consideration. Although the package bears a 2004 copyright date, it also has a sticker on it referencing a contest with a grand prize of a trip to SpaceCamp. This content runs until the end of 2006. There's also a "Get Your Key To Cybertron" Instant Win Game Card inside the boxes, so that sticker wasn't just something slapped on at the last second.

On the other hand, there's also a Transformers Universe poster and merchandise folder inside the boxes, that is pretty dated, showing mostly animal-based Transformers that are long off the market.

Speaking of dates, I'm pretty sure that these robots have been available in some other form previously. They have copyright dates, mentioning both Hasbro and Takara, of 2001. That'd be right around the time of the "Robots in Disguise" line. But a full Transformers historian I'm not, and these versions, whatever their previous incarnations, are exceptionally cool.

My recommendation on these four Constructicons? Get thee to Target. Check out the clearance sections. If you don't see them there, then check out the action figure aisle. But if you see them, in their big red box two- packs (Bonecrusher and Scavenger come in one, Hightower and Long Haul in the other), don't hesitate. Get them immediately. Because I doubt they're going to be around long, and they're extremely cool Transformers to have.

The TRANSFORMERS UNIVERSE CONSTRUCTICONS definitely have my recommendation!