November 19, 2023
November 21, 2023
I first stumbled across Hasbro’s range of original Beast Wars Toys in a 90s Toys R Us, and I’ve been obsessed with these strange yet familiar Transformers ever since. As a child of the 80s and 90s, I was lucky enough to experience the original Transformers and their unusual organic counterparts in their
Optimus prime! Join me as we cover my favorite Maximal and Predacon figures, their backgrounds, powers, and why I think they’re so damn RAWR-some!
It is the year 1996. The shelves of Toys R Us are filled with Tamagotchi, Super Soakers, Action Man, and Buzz Lightyear (sorry, Woody). Batman, the X-Men, and Spider-Man dominate Saturday morning cartoons during another golden age of superheroes. Sci-fi CGI is changing the way we watch cinema. Life as a geek is good. You walk the aisle taking in all the glory of the 90s when a familiar brand catches your eye. Can it be? The Transformers? It’s been a couple of years since Generation 2 died a slow death, even though the original cartoon still repeats on TV, refusing to fade from your mind.
You go in closer to have a look – this can’t be right. A bat named Optimus Primal and Megatron as a crocodile? Is this a cheap knock-off? What on EARTH is Beast Wars Transformers? Heroic Maximals vs the Evil Predacons?
These questions plagued every nerd’s mind when the original Beast Wars toys hit the shelves in 1996. Transformers had exhausted every gimmick at the time, from Headmasters to Brainmasters, Targetmasters, Powermasters, Pretenders, and even the infamous non-transforming Action Masters. Was this another attempt to capture the next-gen of impressionable young minds?
The internet was still in its infancy, and Transformers fan loyalty stayed in touch through online forums, bot conventions, and comic groups. The passion was there, but not so much the product. Beast Wars changed all that. And while its introduction still divides fans today, it’s hard to deny the impact and reinvigoration it achieved due to the beast-type transformer mechanics AND one of the best story-driven TF cartoons OF ALL TIME (was that impartial?). I’m probably going to get some pushback here but if you’re adult fighting over a cartoon from 20 years ago… chill out.
My journey with Beast Wars toys began with the innocuous but hardy Clawjaw, a simple transforming squid that I loved dearly. The next step, however, was the Maximal commander, Optimus Primal, who will no doubt make an appearance on this list. At this point, I was hooked. The pose-ability was unlike anything we had ever seen with the original robots. You could display the Beast Wars in fighting stances or as animals ready to pounce in a ‘lifelike’ manner.
Over the next two decades, I added to my collection, hunting down every bot that appeared in the animated series, excluding Transmutate (one day, you will be mine). Bear in mind that, in this era, once a toy was out of the store, it wasn’t as easy as jumping on eBay or Amazon to find a second-hand or MISB-preserved figure.
Followed by the less-than-stellar Beast Machines cartoon, the Beast Wars toy line took a backseat once the franchise was re-awakened with new cartoons. With minor appearances in Bayformers, cameos in Cyberverse, Prime Trilogy, and WFC, there is still a lot of BW lore to tap into. The premiere TF Masterpiece line has released a handful of Beast Wars toys that perfectly capture the look and feel of the cartoon. But is there really anything like having those G1 (yes, I said it) Beast Wars toys?
So, which Beast Wars toys were the best? Let’s look at the entire Beast Wars original toy line as we review the top 10 figures – from the Beasts in disguise to Fuzors to Transmetals and even a combiner!
I’m rating them on design, transformability, weapons, and how great they felt in your hands! So, let’s MAXIMIZE and TERRORIZE!
I am going to start with a no-brainer. Affectionately known as Boss Monkey or Big Bot, Primal took Optimus Prime’s name as a tribute. The captain of the crashed Axalon, he grows into the leadership role of the Maximals thrust upon him, albeit with constant challenges along the way. In truth, he shares many traits with the original Optimus and, by the end, can be counted as one of Cybertron’s finest commanders.
His figure is the poster bot for Beast Wars. It had so many weapons, gadgets, and little fun gimmicks. He could beat his chest in the rugged beast mode or spin his weapons as a robot. He had great poses as a sturdy and robust silverback gorilla.
With a simple transformation, he turned into a one-bot arsenal. Optimus Primal packed serious heat. His arsenal included twin blades stored in his back, dual flip-able shoulder-mounted cannons, a forearm that doubled as a missile launcher, and a skull-shaped flail to smash his enemies’ faces in. And of course, don’t forget the mutant head battle mask that came with the first line of Beast Wars toys.
I didn’t include his Transmetal and Optimal Optimus versions in this list because, although the surfing blue monkey and futuristic jet-tank-ship were cool, they didn’t have the same feeling when transforming.
How would I describe the figure in one word? Well, that would be ‘Prime’…
What is an Optimus without a Megatron? Now, up till this point, Grimlock was the ‘King of the Dinosaurs.’ But the purple Tyrannosaurus Megatron quickly became a fan favorite. He was as devious as he was eccentric and, in other ways, craftier than the G1 Megatron. Allegedly deprived of anyone to have an intellectual conversation with, he also spent a lot of time talking to himself. ‘Yessss’. And you can’t forget that ego the size of a T-Rex. Megatron would risk everything to come out on top. Which he did… when he tried to rewrite history. All part of the plan. Which failed. Until Beast Machines. Then failed. Again.
While his toy counterpart did not have that Royal purple, it was no less fearsome. He loses points for his lack of articulation in Beast mode, but it was fun to squirt water from his jaws. His other weapons included the hip-mounted launchers and a spring-loaded pincer which was part of his dinosaur tail. And he was just massive, towering over the first generation of figures and, strangely, Optimus Primal too. There was something so glorious about the solidness, curves, and fully rotating joints of a Beast War toy (something we had not seen in the vehicle era). And Megatron was as thick and curvy as they come. Some fun trivia: the voice of Megatron later did the voice for Optimus Prime in another TF series, becoming the first and only voice actor to play both roles.
Oh, Inferno, you will always have a place in my heart. With a fanatic loyalty beyond any normal programming (can you say crash landing?), Inferno was an imposing lieutenant whose strength and firepower made him among the deadliest. Due to the damaged pod he landed in, Inferno truly believed he was an ant in a colony, and protecting his Queen Megatron was his life’s mission.
Responsible for much of the show’s comedic moments (shout-out to Waspinator), Inferno never relented his loyalty to Megatron and gave the Predacons the muscle they were missing since Dinobot’s defection. I will forever remember scenes with Inferno calling Megatron his ‘Queen’ until enough threats convinced him to refer to his leader as the ‘Royalty’ instead. Oh, and he liked to watch things burn. Like, a lot.
The fire ant figure itself matched the cartoon scale (not an ant’s scale, obviously), towering over his companions and enemies. His bright red colors warned danger, and his abdomen would open up into a quad jet thruster with a spin gimmick, while his mandibles became his assault weapon, or as I used to pretend, his flamethrower. And he looked like a maniac with that face sculpt. He was definitely one of the most eye-catching Beast Wars toys of the 90s.
The youngest and most reckless of the Maximals with a lot to prove, Cheetor was the ‘Hot Rod’ of the team. He went through personality changes with each upgrade, going from an inexperienced explorer to becoming a brash and risk-taking soldier to a reliable and confident warrior. Although it did take him a while to get familiar with each form, Cheetor always had his spark in the right place and would do anything for the Maximal cause.
His Transmetal figure was the most impressive out of the three. This sleek silver and gold cat now could take to the skies (Kitty Bot can fly?), and his robot mode still showed hints of his old spotted cheetah design. He was far more striking than his original beast form, larger, brighter, and he fired lasers from his hands while armed with a tail that became a sword. His side jets could fold out or be stored, and he was a delight to transform. The Transmetal gold made him stand out among any crowd, especially when jetting across the blue sky, which he did so with relish while distracting Predacons.
The only Fuzor to make the cut (sorry, Quickstrike). The noble and honorable Silverbolt was an awesome wolf and an eagle combination. Somehow, he fell for the Predacon Blackarachnia and eventually won her over with his sickening code of honor (her words). Along with Rhinox, they are the only two Maximals that didn’t have an upgraded evolution, but his original form was deadly enough. While he suffered a strange fate in Beast Machines, he managed to make it to Cybertron with his fellow Maximals.
In his wolf/eagle form, he had twin missiles that launched from his wings, and as a bot, they doubled as swords. His gimmick was an ability to flap his wings, and that wing flexibility and leg maneuverability were amazing to display. His front paws became his robot legs and would swivel to the back while his back legs became his arms. It was such a fun transformation! They managed to capture his noble Maximal face and the viciousness of his wolf head as well. Even 20 years later, my figure still has sturdy joints and remains incredibly articulated!
The original Beast Wars toys didn’t get more badass than Tigerhawk, the powered-up and alien merged form of ill-fated lost lovers Tigatron and Airazor. One of the few love stories in the show (unusual for Transformers), this character had all the makings of a Shakespearean tragedy. Seemingly perishing after being devoured by an alien plant while a wave of energy hit the planet, Tigatron and Airazor were later resurrected by the Vok as their emissary, Tigerhawk. He was arguably the most powerful of all the bots in the show. He could control and wield the weather using his alien powers. Eventually, Tigatron and Airazor took back control of their body and re-joined the Maximals before dying a violent death while protecting their fellow Maximals. (See? Shakespeare!)
The toy was part of the Transmetal 2 line. A mix of organic beast and metal robot, standing as tall as the other Ultra class figures. The brilliant blue chrome wings and feathers of Airazor contrasted with the arctic white of Tigatron. The green missiles accentuated his arsenal and gave him an otherworldly alien appearance. He was quite top-heavy but had a decent level of articulation, and you could display the mighty warrior in striking battle poses with his wings and weapons ready to fight. The blue mask could be pulled back to display the tiger’s head when he was not in attack mode. He also had that strange little cockpit that no one ever used. Despite having a bit of an awkward transformation, the intricate-looking Tigerhawk was still one of the best 90s Beast Wars toys.
The only Beast Wars toy that I picked that didn’t appear on the original show. I guess it counts as a 3-in-1 figure, but how could I miss a figure combining an elephant, lion, and eagle? It was a lot of fun to merge and a marked change from the usual five bot ‘arms, legs and torso’ configuration (is that trademarked to Voltron?). He had the appearance of a Shaman chief, and pieces of all three animals combined into his sword with missiles firing from his chest. He was as unique as they come! Made up of Prowl, Silverbolt, and Ironhide (Not to be confused with Prowl, Silverbolt, and Ironhide), the individual beasts were fairly simple and fit together surprisingly well. Magnaboss was very articulated and flexible considering his complexity, perhaps a little too so, and sometimes it was hard to balance. Still, any motivated kid would be able to create fantastic sword poses to battle the Predacons.
The ‘bad boy’ of the Maximals. A latecomer to the show, Depth Charge, was consumed with hunting down the serial killer Rampage. Depth Charge was a no-nonsense bounty hunter, and although he was a Maximal, he often ignored Primal’s orders, his mission taking precedence. This often caused friction within the team during a crucial time of the war. He could dominate the skies as a starship and sweep the oceans in his Manta form, giving him the same triple-changer abilities as his nemesis Rampage. Eventually, Primal gained the respect of the space warrior, and he joined the Maximals in their final battles against the Predacons.
His wingspan takes up a whole lot of space in any cabinet, but that blue and silver Manta ray form is beautiful. The aptly named Depth Charge was an explosive force in the water. He had a shark-like remora that could fire his yellow missiles, a tail that became a sword, and, my favorite, yellow disks that could eject from his Manta mouth/chest. The shiny silver against the blue made for spectacular photos. The face sculpt was impressively accurate to the show with his grim frown and red eyes. He had a slide and click style transformation, making switching between all modes easy.
Unfortunately, like most newcomers, he suffered a tragic but honorable death. But, with his last breath, Depth Charge accomplished his mission as he destroyed both himself and Rampage.
Unquestionably the most ruthless of all the Predacons and, until Dragon Megatron, the most powerful. He was formerly known as Protoform X, a twisted scientific experiment to recreate Starscream’s immortal spark. After leaving a trail of bodies across the solar system (the ones he didn’t consume), he was finally captured by Depth Charge, only for the Maximals to put him in stasis mode aboard the Axalon to be released on some empty world. However, he eventually broke free again.
But as with many of the show’s individuals, he wasn’t just an evil con. He was a multi-layered character and became very protective of Transmutate, the broken bot, willing to sacrifice it all to save the damaged creature those he shared a kinship with. In all his forms, he was devastating. His weaponry was unmatched, and if not for Megatron’s hold on his spark, this sociopath would have tried to slaughter every bot on the planet. Luckily, he was stopped by Depth Charge as they met their end together.
I won’t lie; this toy was difficult to transform. It was a pain trying to convert Rampage into tank mode with those tank tracks. Getting those tires over the legs and rolling him around was quite an achievement of patience and persistence. His crab claws and legs burdened his robot mode, but he looked magnificent carrying his ultimate chain gun. He would often fall forward in his crab form, but the metallic red and that angry crab face made up for it. While one of the most clunky and complicated Beast Wars toys, once you got him in each form, you had to appreciate him.
Well, I tried not to feature the same character twice since many of them had power-ups throughout the show, but Dragon Megatron was a glorious fusion of fire red and Transmetal. With a penchant for theatrics, Megatron tried to destroy the original Optimus Prime aboard the ark so that the Decepticons would eventually win the war. He then merged with the original Megatron’s spark and fell into a pit of lava, turning him into an unstoppable Transmetal 2 fire and ice breathing dragon who was almost impossible to kill, making him again a match for Optimal Optimus.
As a dragon, he stood out among all the other original Best Wars toys. Gigantic and menacing with his jagged neck and wings, he looked the part of the true leader of the Predacons. He was quite flexible, using rubber parts for movement on his neck and tail to give him that flexibility to pose the beast. His mouth could shoot a missile, his wings could flap, and the overall body was exceptionally detailed. However, it wasn’t easy to transform him, and he didn’t have the sleekest robot mode either. But his angry megalomaniac face was flawless, and his dragon head became an arm reminiscent of his original T-Rex form. Standing tall and threatening, his wings looked like an evil cape, but let’s be honest – we all had him in giant red dragon mode.
Firstly, I really should have put Transmetal Tarantulas in here. His techno spider bike form was so well suited for his mad scientist persona. With his revolving weapon, machine gun legs, shoulder pads, and crazed green spider eyes, he is definitely my 11th bot.
Aside from that, the original Maximals Rattrap, Rhinox, and then Dinobot were also fun figures but a bit too basic. The same goes for those Predacons; they had a one-flip gimmick that essentially transformed them in a split second! Dinobot’s TM2 form was also a strong contender for the list but did not make the cut. It’s hard when you love the show and toys so much!
While Beast Wars toys eventually went out of production, taking a backseat to the standard vehicle releases, the Beast franchise has endured. Credited with revitalizing the Transformers, Beast Wars holds a special place in many 80s and 90s kids’ hearts. And good news or bad, the next movie, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, will predominantly feature them!
Takara continues to release amazing Masterpiece versions of the Maximals and Predacons, and the entire cast of the original Beast Wars made a reappearance for Transformers War for Cybertron: Kingdom with updated designs. However, nothing beats holding those originals and reveling in the nostalgia! And I promise, one day, I’ll complete my collection when I get the last piece: Transmutate.
Born and raised a geek, Adam spent most of the 80s watching Saturday morning cartoons while spending most of the 90s trying to find them again! From Transformers to Marvel and Star Wars, to everything fantasy and sci-fi, no piece of merchandise is off-limits (as long as it’s sufficiently nerdy). He is a passionate connoisseur of nostalgic plastic and loves reading, writing, and dreaming about them.
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