Articles: Ben's Top Ten Transformers Toys of 2021


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!

10. Tigatron (Kingdom) - BigBadToyStore | Entertainment Earth

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!

9. Galvatron (Selects) - BigBadToyStore | Entertainment Earth

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. 

8. Optimus Primal (Kingdom) - BigBadToyStore

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.

7. Wreck-Gar (Studio Series) - Amazon | Entertainment Earth

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.

5. Blaster with Eject (Kingdom/Legacy) - BigBadToyStore | Entertainment Earth

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.

4. Megatron (Kingdom) - Entertainment Earth

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.

3. Dinobot (Kingdom) - BigBadToyStore | Entertainment Earth

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.

2. Artfire with Nightstick (Selects) - Amazon | BigBadToyStore | Entertainment Earth

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.

1. Black Zarak (Legacy) - BigBadToyStore | Entertainment Earth

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.

G1 Black Zarak suffers from Gold Plastic Syndrome and I just could not bring myself to pay thousands of dollars for a toy that was going to disintegrate upon transformation.  Enter a new Black Zarak toy, something I never thought I'd see in such a gigantic form.  Sure this is a natural redeco/retool to do based on the Titan Class Scorponok, but until this figure the only Titan Class redeco was the Takara Tomy  release of Grand Maximus, and that was very limited and exclusive to Japan.  When Hasbro announced Black Zarak as a (then) Selects release I lost my mind.
On top of "wish fulfillment", the Scorponok toy is simply a very fun toy that pays homage brilliantly to the original figure and character. Black Zarak does the same with his gorgeous black, red and gold deco and I am thrilled the retooled the head and gave him his spear weapon.  I hope this sells like gangbusters so Hasbro will seriously consider future Titan Class redecos (at least one is rumored for 2022!).
Update:  I need to clarify that I do not yet own this figure but I hope my explanation above is clear on why I am very excited about this figure and why it makes the #1 slot in this list.
Honorable Mentions
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.
Blackarachnia (Kingdom) - Amazon | BigBadToyStore | Entertainment Earth
Blackarachnia's Beast Wars CG model was a very um...exaggerated humanoid model that in no way, shape or form lent itself to being a practical transforming figure.  While the magic of CG can make almost anything turn into something else, when it came to action figures it has been tougher to get Blackarachnia to look show accurate at a regular retail price point.  The Masterpiece version did this beautifully, but it is also about $140 USD.  If you want a Generations price level, this figure fits the bill beautifully.  She looks like her 90's CG model in robot mode but manages to transform into a convincing toy spider.  So why didn't she make the list above?  Well, there is a problem some fans have reported about a tab on the torso section snapping on many copies of this figure.  Now, this has not happened to my copy of this figure, but I have seen enough reports that I do feel this is a pervasive Q/C issue.  Still, for a little over $20 USD I am impressed by what the designers pulled off.
Skids (Masterpiece) - BigBadToyStore | Entertainment Earth
The Masterpiece line kind of laid low a bit in the last year, but towards the end of 2021 Takara Tomy released Masterpiece Skids (along with his redeco/retool Reboost).  Now, I do not own this figure yet but from everything I've seen and read about this figure it appears to bring Masterpiece back to its roots a bit.  For years now, Masterpiece had been aimed at creating cartoon accurate figures with extreme complexity, and frankly it has not been my cup of tea.  I did not enjoy spending 40 minutes (with the help of a video) transforming Sunstreaker, and the increased price points often going over $100 USD each was quite a bit of sticker shock after years of paying $45-60 USD for Masterpiece Autobot Cars.
Now it appears Takara Tomy has decided to go back to basics a bit with Masterpiece, offering up figures that have a bit of a mixture of G1 toy and cartoon aesthetics while simplifying the transformations a bit so they are still a bit "above" Generations level, but not super duper complex at the same time.  This "sweet spot" is what I want out of Masterpiece and it is great to see the series go back to that.
On top of all this, I was always a fan of Skids from his appearances in the G1 Marvel Comic book.  For a few issues he was a feature character and given his relative absence from the G1 cartoon, this was very refreshing and I have very fond memories of getting the G1 Skids toy when I was a teenager.
Soundwave (Kingdom- Amazon | Entertainment Earth
Core Class Kingdom Soundwave hopped on and off the actual Top Ten many times until I decided to place him in honorable mentions.  For a "pocket sized" Soundwave, this figure is absolutely perfect.  I love both modes and I am still in disbelief the designers actually made the chest compartment open and included Laserbeak (non-transforming).  The aesthetics nail G1 Soundwave's appearance and he's super fun to boot.  The also did not cheap out on the weapons, including both Soundwave's shoulder and hand held cannons.  I absolutely love and adore this figure and think every Transformers fan should own it!
The beauty of the Transformers toy line is that it is so diverse and loaded with fun toys that I bet most people reading this are thinking "Well what about XYZ or ABC figures?!" and that's awesome.  Head over to my Facebook Page or Twitter to chat about it with your fellow fans and thank you for reading.  Happy New Year!