Ben's Top Ten Transformers Action Figures of 2021
2021 was a very diverse year for Transformers fans. For fans of G1 there were plenty of Autobots and Decepticons to add to your collection. Fans of Beast Wars finally had an opportunity to buy updated versions of their favorite Maximals and Predacons after many years of absence from toy store shelves. Meanwhile, younger fans had plenty of Cyberverse and Rescue Bots Academy toys to enjoy. While all that was happening Masterpiece came back into the picture with the release of Skids. Given all that, picking just ten figures as my "favorites" was a tough call and there was much deleting and retyping of names on this list before writing this list.
In general, I tried to stick with sculpts that saw their first release in 2021. I also excluded repackaged figures from previous years (otherwise Studio Series Hot Rod would have been #1). If the figure is still available at retail I have included purchase links next to the names. Using these links helps to support BWTF. Where available, I have also linked to my reviews of the figures listed below. Enjoy the list!
Sure the 2020 Masterpiece Tigatron is pretty much the "perfect" version of the character's CG character in plastic form, the thing is it would also cost you over $200 USD to own one even at the time of its initial release. So when Hasbro announced a Kingdom version of the character, Beast Wars fans were very happy. Even better? This figure is not just a redeco of Cheetor. It is Voyager Class, allowing the designers to make it better. The Cheetor sculpt is neat, but it is clearly limited by the price point. Tigatron surpasses that release in every way and even has the distinct head sculpt and wonderfully gross "gut gun" to boot!
This is one of those rare cases where I find the redeco of a figure superior to the original. First, the Kingdom Galvatron release was rife with quality control issues, specifically shoulders that were incorrectly assembled. On top of that many fans were not big on the "weathering" or "cel shading" effects painted onto the figure (personally I think they're neat). However, this Selects release does a wonderful job of embodying a couple different versions of the character at one time. First, it pays homage to the original G1 Galvatron action figure from 1986. Not only does the color scheme match that figure but the designers took it to an extra level by putting sparkles inside the translucent orange plastic and providing optional stickers based on those from the G1 toy. Not interested in stickers? That's cool because right out of the box this figure is also a homage to the character's appearance in the G1 Marvel Comics! This figure takes a very cool sculpt and elevates it with a lot of G1 love.
If you want a "perfect" representation of the Beast Wars CG model from the 90's, then the Masterpiece version of the character does that beautifully. However, that will also run you about $150 USD. For fans just looking for a fun Generations style figure this toy fits the bill perfectly. The designers decided to do something interesting with Kingdom. The beast modes were based on more "realistic" forms such as those seen in Schleich animal toys while the robot modes were based on the CG models seen in the animated series. Optimus Primal embodies this combination of aesthetics perfectly and he looks fantastic in both modes. He also includes his signature swords and has blasters that pop out of his forearms. From an aesthetic and play value standpoint this figure is aces and one of my favorite releases of 2021.
There have been many attempts at creating new Wreck-Gar figures over the years including Reveal the Shield, Combiner Wars and Power of the Primes. However none have really tried to nail the look he had in the 1986 animated film, opting instead to update the character for the specific line. Now thanks to the focus of the Studio Series '86 line on movie accuracy, we finally have a Wreck-Gar figure that is modeled after the Wreck-Gar many G1 fans grew up with! From spikes on his arms and legs to the mustache/beard combo on his face, this figure looks like the animation model come to life and it looks brilliant. I look forward to many retools and redecos of this Junkion sculpt!
6. Grimlock with Wheelie (Studio Series) - BigBadToyStore
There is no shortage of Grimlock action figures in the Transformers toy line, and arguably the Masterpiece version is the best out of all of them. That said, even that figure had a very specific aesthetic that leaned towards a G1 toy appearance in some ways more than a cartoon one. Enter Studio Series Grimlock which is designed to be a representation of the character from the animated series and 1986 film at a Generations price point. To that end, the designers succeeded brilliantly. The beast mode is an 80's style "tail dragger" T-Rex while the robot mode looks like he popped right out of the cartoon. At the same time, extra greebles and details were added to pay homage to his G1 toy. Yes, the Wheelie figure is...not so great but to me this is the definitive Generations Grimlock figure.
File this under "It's about darn time!". While his Decepticon nemesis Soundwave has received the toy treatment a lot over the years across different lines from Masterpiece to Cyberverse to Generations, Blaster has been neglected for quite some time. The last mass release Blaster was in 2016 under the Titans Return banner. Now Blaster is joining the Kingdom line (with a repack coming next year under Legacy) with a brand new sculpt instead of sharing a core design with Soundwave. Even better, his head is based on the character's G1 animated appearance and he will include Eject (though that clear plastic worries me). Blaster barely squeaks by on this list as he just started appearing at Target stores in the US in late December 2021 but I am happy to include an Autobot who fans have been waiting for with bated breath. Update: I need to clarify that I do not yet own this figure, but it makes the list based on opinions of others I have seen and video I have seen of the prototype via Hasbro.
Much like Optimus Primal above, Kingdom Megatron is a wonderful blend of the character's 90s CG TV show model and a more "realistic" (read: not necessarily scientifically accurate but not the CG show model either) beast mode. He also feels hefty and bulky. With so many Leader Class figures basically being glorified Voyager Class releases with "extra stuff", it is great to see Hasbro still producing true Leader Class figures that are large and in charge. I also love the figure's articulation in both modes. Sure the "skin panels" break apart when you pose him, but I'm willing to deal with that design sacrifice for the articulation.
At the risk of repeating myself, Dinobot was already given the royal action figure treatment via his Masterpiece release but nowadays it is tough to find that at a reasonable price, and even during its initial release it could run you over $200 USD! This Voyager Class version is much cheaper with an awesome looking sculpt. Sure there is some tricky panel movement, and not all the robot mode bits disappear perfectly in beast mode, but given the limitations of the price point I am astonished by what Hasbro and Takara Tomy were able to achieve with this figure. His robot mode looks like the cartoon character jumped out of the screen into your collection and I think the beast mode looks really neat.
It may seem odd to see Artfire and Nightstick at such a high place on this list. Compared to say, Kingdom Megatron or Studio Series Grimlock why include a figure that is just a redeco of Inferno with a Battlemaster repaint? Well, this one is very personal to me. Since the 90's (when I first learned of G1 Artfire's existence) I have wanted to add the character to my collection. However, its high price on the secondary market and relative scarcity have thwarted me to this day. When one was released for United I thought that was as good as it was ever going to get, and I was fine with that. But as soon as the Kingdom Inferno sculpt was revealed, I desperately wanted him to be repainted into a G1 accurate Artfire with a Targetmaster - and now here we are! The past few years of Generations style Transformers figures have definitely fulfilled a lot of long standing wishes I have had for years and Artfire with Nightstick adds to that pile. On top of that, the Inferno sculpt improves over the Grapple sculpt (especially those darn pegs) so it's a plus on two levels.
Black Zarak barely squeaks into the 2021 list thanks to limited releases in Asia and some samples making their way into the hands of US fans (check out my buddy Billy the Kid's review here). Much like Artfire and Nightstick, I have wanted a Black Zarak figure in my collection for decades. However, it has not been cost or availability that has prevented me from getting one. Instead it is the dreaded Gold Plastic Syndrome. For those unfamiliar, GPS occurs when gold plastic (or other colors with metallic bits and/or swirls) breaks apart after some time. You can see a pretty horrific example in the video embedded below featuring the Beast Wars II figure Randy, who was mostly gold plastic.
Picking only ten figures as "figures of the year" is a tough call and there are some that I really wanted to mix in but they were just edged out by my (admittedly sometimes odd) tastes. For these figures I have honorable mentions which are listed here alphabetically.