An Interesting Idea (Webdiver W-05 Gladion Review, Dedicated Consoles)

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Takara is sort of a "second tier" toy company in Japan. One could possibly blame it on BanDai of Japan's influence over television stations some, given more BanDai-related shows get more airtime. Add in that "piloted mecha" shows still remain more popular than "sentient robot" ideas(piloted mecha shows seem to do better with children in Japan. As I understand it, it's the whole idea that a kid can pretend to be the pilot of a large robot. Sentient robots don't offer that). Takara's recent merger with Tomy may even be another effort to keep the company going.

So rewind to 2001. Word is that Takara hated Hasbro's US Transformers concept Beast Machines(possibly backed up by various jabs taken even in the recent Japanese dub of the show, which got a limited release), so Takara pumped out their own line, Car Robots. Despite strong US import interest, the line didn't go over too well in Japan. The line consisted more of recolors of old toy molds than it did of new toys. So by the next year, while Hasbro was left to import Car Robots to the US, Takara took a break from their long-standing Transformers line and came up with Webdiver.

Takara has taken noticable breaks before, with lines such as Brave and GaoGaiGar. These breaks are usually ignored by Hasbro, who, despite having the US master license for Transformers with Takara, has never touched the other lines. Webdiver was yet another shot, a series based in virtual reality battles in a computer world. Not totally an original idea... effectively, Tron had started the genre, and Gridman in Japan had crossed the idea with the typical "sentai" theme.

The toy concept centered around Gladion(or Gradion, depending on translation. Gladion, however, fits better with the knight/gladiator look of the character), who was a large robot that transformed into a locomotive, as well as a game console.

Yes, GAME CONSOLE. A transformer with games.

In addition to all the nifty things that transforming robots have, a set fo electronics was inside the torso with buttons on the back and a mini-type A/V out hidden in a smokestack, as well as room for 4 AA batteries. Two games were programmed in, and if you bought other toys, you could link them via IR sensor to unlock extra features. The show even garned an anime series, albeit a short-lived one. From the official description-

Takara"Set in the year 2100 where the world is tied together by a computer network. The children of the world become Web Divers, adapting their consciousnesses into data, and love to play together in the cyber park called Magical Gate. However, a mysterious computer virus appears beginning to destroy Magical Gate from the inside out. In cyberspace, programs called Web Knights have been created to protect the children. But, the computer virus has turned all the Web Knights against the children. The only Web Knight to escape the "brainwashing" is Gladion. Gladion seeks the help of Kaito Yuki, a Web Diver who is in the fourth grade. When a Web Knight and a Web Diver synchronize, “they can have unlimited power. Will Kaito and Gladion's combined power be enough to save Magical Gate?"

Webdiver ultimately didn't become the hit Takara was hoping for. While villain toys, especially large villain toys, don't sell too well in Japan(note that Power Rangers gets lots of big hero toys, and a few small villains), Webdiver had NO villain toys. And most of the toys were expensive thanks to extra electronics(and even then, 2 of the largest toys didn't unlock ANYTHING). Connectivity was more a feature that was to look good with the toy atached, the unlockable bonus was minimal in the games. The toys even hit cheap online prices at the end. Ultimately, Takara turned back to Transformers.

I won't be reviewing the toy itself, just the games. For a toy review itself, please go to http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/BW/Japan/WebDiver4

Gladion includes a 3 meter AV/ stereo cable. On his back are 4 directional buttons and a single fire button, with a power switch recessed. The game you play depends on which form the toy is in- train form gets you a rail riding game, robot form gets you a shooter minigame.

The game system hardware itself was designed by Xavix, likely contracted out by Takara. The graphics are early 16-bit level, and while the graphics are primarily 3D, these are all pre-rendered 2D spirtes based on 3D models. Music and sounds are okay, if not too impressive. There is some dialog, but it isn't necessary to enjoy the games themselves. The game opens with a tarnsformation sequence to whatever form the toy is in at startup, followed by a bio and some dialog.

The rail game is a simple minigame where you jump between 3 rails, dodging computer chips. Most are static, though later levels introduce chips that fall from the sky. Wrecking into one slows you down. Hitting the button gives you a slight speed boost. Left and right are the functional directions, up and down have no function. Your only goal is to reach the end before time runs out. Wreck too many times and the game ends. Each round gets progressively harder.

The shooter game puts Gladion on one side of a canyon and a virus monster(a Deletros) on the other. You can move in all 4 directions on your side of the canyon. Fire shoots off a simple shot, and raising the right arm charges a super shot. You have to lower and raise the arm each time to charge, however. Basic shots whittle away at the virus' health meter while a super shot does far more damage. The enemies come in 3 different colors, each with differences in their own shots and in how well they dodge you. If you wait too long without killing the virus, it runs off. Each round, teir health lowers less with each shot. You also get a health meter.

Sprites and animation are okay. There's little to animate in the rail game anyway, and Gladion slides on his surface rather than walking in shooter.

Both games are preceded by a level select screen, allowing you to start on levels 1 through 4. The levels continue beyond, however. Each also starts with a tutorial. You can change games without turning the system off by transforming the toy. Various buttons at certain points are pressed down in robot form and let up in train form. Transforming gives you the transformation sequence animation. All the buttons are in the upper half of the toy, so it's best to do the legs first so as not to fiddle around too much with the buttons. Reportedly, you can crash the game during this, likely by reverse transforming. Unfortunately, neither game holds a score, or even a continue option. Lose, and you start over from level 4 at most.

Buying other toys and attaching them will unlock extra weapons in the shooter game as well as their on-screen bio, by means of an IR sensor in the chest(a recessed button is also likely pressed down, to activate the sensor). No new games are unlocked, however. One would assume all the games to be programmed into the toy, likely glop-topped to the board anyway. Using extra toys as "game cartridges" would have required another connector cable entirely, I'm afraid... still, it would have been a neat idea over extra weapons. Think about it- the big toy is a game console, the toys are game cartridges. If they'd done that, the line may have been more interesting. As it is, buting another expensive toy to unlock a feature that doesn't change that game much wasn't a concept that worked.

As a game console, it's an interesting try, though nothing more special than you'd find in one of the cheaper TV game dedicated consoles. As a toy, it was generally good, though as a combination, it was interesting. A nice idea that, if worked out just a bit better, could have worked well. Between market unpopularity and whatever interested parties buying them up while they could, combined with it's foreign release, the toys are rather difficult to find. And pricey, as boxed toys can go for about $80. A bit much for just the game, which makes the toy of more interest to toy collectors than game enthusiasts. But with the TV Game brand and other TV game consoles out, I hope Hasbro considers a US release of the line if they ever need a filler toy line, if just to give more gamers access to try one. It was idea that showed promise. Score: 7/10

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