REVIEW: Beast Wars reissue Optimus Primal

I’m going to be entirely honest with you – it’s a strange feeling to see toys that you clearly remember at retail the first time around suddenly coming up for the reissue treatment for a whole new generation of collectors to discover them. More than that, there’s perhaps no experience quite as sobering as then working out just how many years have passed since that first memory was even a thing. I can’t say I recommend it.

In this case, it’s been 26 years (there, I did it for you!) since the original Beast Wars Optimus Primal toy first graced toy shop shelves, and although the mould has had numerous other uses over the years (in all kinds of weird and wonderful alternate colour schemes and retool varieties), this is the first time it’s been ‘reissued’ (in the strictest sense). That is to say, this is the OG toy in packaging that comes about as close as you would hope to what we saw back in 1996.

Drink that in, eh? Yes, as much as I originally grew up on a healthy diet of Generation 1, I still get a similar nostalgia kick from vintage Beast Wars packaging, with the reptilian-themed card, large domineering eye motif and the metal AF box artwork still packing a whallop after all these years! Even the presence of the now-defunct Kenner logo is a welcome sight.

In my case, the box and contents may be all-too-familiar (I even made ol’ Optimus here a previous Toy of the Week entry!) but it is exciting to think of these toys now being more available for a new audience. It’s a very different world of collecting these days, mind, as now there are multiple options available for each character and a plethora of supporting media. Optimus Primal alone has had a wide range of different toys at varying price points all released in recent memory, not to mention a starring role in the latest high profile franchise cartoon. As exciting as it is to see the character getting his due, do the classic toys from decades gone by really stand a chance in the mix of all that, or are they going to struggle for relevance today?

Well, let’s start by saying that if any ’90s Beast Wars toy can do it, it’s this guy. Don’t get me wrong, I truly hope the reissue line stretches out far and wide into some of the more unusual territories of the original toys (imagine new Transmetals with non-flaking chrome!). However, as a poster boy to get things going, this is the ape you want in your corner, for many good reasons.

First up, the gorilla form is still pretty terrific, even after all this time. True, it may not look quite as ‘realistic’ as the Kingdom figure (which is a metric I use relatively speaking, but still), however, it retains an incredible presence as soon as you release it from that retro-styled box. Optimus here was originally classed as an ‘Ultra’, making him one of the largest toys at the time of release, and that stature is just one of the many things to admire even today.

Then there’s the detail and finish on offer, all of which continue to look fantastic. I’m always slightly wary of any new reissue line for how well it will replicate a set of original toys and whether they’ll look and feel as quality as you’d hope once in hand, but in this case, it looks like Hasbro have done a fantastic job with it all. The moulding is extremely sharp, with the lines of fur and other elements all looking on point.

In fact, I can’t tell you how much I still love this face sculpt, even after all these years! Although quite a few re-releases of this figure have attempted to rework the design (all in an attempt to make it more accurate to the original Mainframe cartoon), it gives me great pleasure to see this new reissue sticking with Optimus’ initial visage. The eyes are not quite as deep blue as they used to be and the teeth are perhaps a smidge more yellow than before but hey, that’s what happens when you get old, I guess!

Of course, one thing this toy has in spades is play value, with the first signs of that being evident in the beast mode. I wouldn’t say it was amazingly articulated (with the legs looking a bit awkward if you try and move them too much) but the arms have everything you need, including a rather ridiculous (but still kinda cool) chest-beating gimmick! You simply unlock a tab on either bicep and then manipulate the arms using a pop-up lever in the toy’s back, as they swing around in rather chaotic fashion. It’s perhaps a little cute by today’s standards but still, I love it nonetheless.

All in, there’s quite a bit to adore about this beast form then, and whilst I’m sure it would be possible to critique certain elements if you really wanted to cast a cynical eye on it after so many years, I happen to think it retains all of the necessary charm to win most fans over, even today. Of all the older toys from my collection that my son has been excited about, this one ranks very near the top, so I think that’s saying something!

Anyway, that’s not even half the story yet, as of course Optimus can convert to his robot form with but a few simple twists and turns! This is one example where the Mainframe animators stuck to the toy’s design pretty closely in terms of how it transforms, meaning that there’s a weird feeling of ‘reverse accuracy’ as you go about rotating the waist 360 degrees and popping the gorilla head down onto the chest.

The result of which is every bit as striking as one would recall from all those years ago, looking hugely handsome and heroic indeed! If anything, this Ultra release was always the most ‘idyllic’ portrayal of Primal that there ever was, as even the cartoon toned down the proportions quite a bit to make him look less buff!

That makes this first attempt at the character’s primate form feel rather unique in many ways, although given we now have options for significantly more cartoon-accurate takes from the years since, it’s great to be able to admire this figure under its own steam instead of comparing it to a bunch of pixels. To my eye, he looks incredible.

You will start to notice some fairly obvious colour changes from the original release at this stage, with a noticeably darker and more muted blue on the head sculpt being the most apparent. The red used for the eyes and other areas follows suit, making this new release feel quite different in hand.

The blue also has a much more sparkly finish to it, versus the matt plastic of the 1996 version, seen above. Whilst I do miss the more vibrant colours in some ways, I also really admire the changes they’ve made and I quite like that it separates it from the vintage release. Perhaps some collectors might be disappointed that it’s not a straight-up rehash but hey, it’s an option at least.

The other thing to note is the more brilliant-white mouth plate (also brought back here after subsequent retools of this toy attempted to add a cartoon-styled mouth). It’s a subtle change but one that I think yields a surprising difference, helping to make the face stand out a bit more as a result.

Fortunately, it’s not just good looks, as Optimus feels every bit as solid and robust here as he ever did. Again, there’s always a fear that reissues might feel like diminishing returns versus their original counterparts but not so in this case. All of the joints are super sturdy, the plastic feels good and there’s a nice sheen to the finish in hand, too. He presents superbly well.

Oh, and did I mention that he’s loaded with gimmicks? Yes, if you’re at all familiar with this toy then you’ll be well-versed in all the many surprises he’s packing under the counter, but that doesn’t make rediscovering them any less fun along the way. First up, a pair of spring-loaded pop-up shoulder cannons, deployed courtesy of a button rather handily located on the toy’s rear. One simple push and they lurch forward from his backpack with all the gusto I recall from the original, complete with missiles ready to be fired at the touch of another button should you wish!

Next are a pair of hidden swords, stowed away cleverly beneath the shoulder missile covers in his backpack. They can be unpegged and placed into Optimus’ hands rather snugly, at which point they look a little small but still suitably imposing. You can also reactivate that arm-swinging gimmick for a kind of melee-style sword attack!

The swords themselves are a much lighter blue than found on the original toy, as are the missiles. It’s a strange choice as it doesn’t appear to really reflect any particular source at all and dare I say, it arguably makes them look a little cheaper somehow but still, it’s not bad.

Now we move onto the other gimmicks in the arms, the first of which is a hidden compartment on the right, featuring a very memorable mace weapon. Simply pop up a flap and there it is, all tucked in neatly.

The mace then tabs in the hand with a little string that you can swing around for a bit of fun. The design of this may look unusual but will no doubt be familiar to newer fans as it was homaged on the recent Kingdom Fossilizer known as Paleotrex.

As for the left arm, well, it contains what must still be one of my favourite all-time gimmicks on any Transformers toy ever! Just pull on the catch on the wrist and suddenly the whole arm splits apart with spring-loaded force to reveal another pop-out cannon!

Again, it’s the kind of thing that people will likely be familiar with from the cartoon or on more modern toys now, although in many ways this original attempt at it remains the most satisfying, not to mention the most unique! Rather than being a weapon that pops up out of Primal’s forearm, it’s the entire arm that turns into a cannon here!

You can then add a second pair of missiles to this firearm should you wish, both of which can be independently triggered using small release buttons. Equally, you can store these missiles inside the toy’s backpack when not using them, just showing how cohesive and thought-through these original Beast Wars toys were in so many ways.

Oh, but we’re not quite done yet as lastly, we have one of the most bizarre but undeniably awesome gimmicks of all – the mutant mask! These featured on all the very early vintage Beast Wars toys outside of the Basic assortment and although they were sometimes a bit hit and miss, this example is definitely one of the best.

Simply turn Primal’s head round, folding down his antennae to use as ‘tusks’ in a rather clever manner, and then flip up the mask itself for the final look. It’s gruesome, strange, hideous, wonderful and more, all in one mix. The red paint on mine is a little bit sloppy but still, it’s great to see this idiosyncratic gimmick yet again.

So, all in all, this figure remains as fantastically fun as ever, meaning that I can’t tell you how overjoyed I am to see it reissued so successfully. Any potential fears I had about the Beast Wars toys being brought back have gone right out of the window at this stage, meaning that I simply can’t wait for more to come. I also do appreciate that they’re making small changes to the colour schemes as such, helping them to stand out quite a bit versus the originals (such as the Takara “Real Grey Type” Convoy seen here).

Again, it’s not the first time we’ve seen some of these early moulds brought back over the years (nor indeed the first true BW reissue, taking into account things like Encore Big Convoy, above) but it does feel like the most faithful in many regards, and given that we now have Masterpiece (or Kingdom) to cater to more anime-inspired tastes, there’s something incredible about the chance to appreciate the ’90s figures for what they were – simply great toys.

As for where it could lead next, who’s to say? Clearly, the intent is to focus on a lot of the names from the Mainframe cartoon for now, with the likes of Rattrap and Cheetor having already been released, but maybe Hasbro will see fit to broaden the horizons if those sell well.

After all, there are genuinely loads of incredible toys that have only ever been released back in the day that I’m sure plenty of collectors would be begging to get their hands on again. I’ll say it once more but just imagine reissue Transmetals, as one example!

Anyway, all of that is for another day, as for now at least, I’m just happy to have a fresh chance to admire what I can honestly say is one of the best Beast Wars toys of all time. No, more than that – it’s one of the most legendary Optimus toys of all time.

And hey, as if that wasn’t exciting enough, where there’s an Optimus, there’s usually always a Megatron. Yes.

WHAT’S HOT? One of the best vintage Beast Wars toys done superbly well in reissue form. What’s not to love?

WHAT’S NOT? Some may not like the colour changes versus the original release, I guess.

TTFN

About Sixo

Transformers collector from the UK, collecting vintage G1/G2, CR/RID, UT & Masterpiece/3P. Find me at twitter.com/SixoTF or on YouTube at youtube.com/SixoTF

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