"Vintage Beast Wars" Optimus Primal Toy Review

01/22/22

General Information:
Release Date: September 2021
Price Point: $49.99 (depending on retailer)
Retailer: Walmart US Exclusive (with limited amounts sold via Hasbro Pulse)
Accessories: Missiles x 4, Swords x 2, Mace weapon

Official images and product description in italics below are from Hasbro Pulse:
(Re)start a vintage Beast Wars collection with this Transformers: Vintage Beast Wars Optimus Primal figure! Inspired by the classic 90s toy, Optimus Primal is designed like the original version -- including figure styling, packaging, and art from the 1996 Beast Wars releases, plus classic tech specs and accessories.

Optimus Primal has biogenetically re-engineered his body structure into a gargantuan robotic gorilla! Cybernetically fused musculature has enhanced strength to super-powered levels. Shoulder-mounted, mega-blast missile cannons launch devastating attacks upon foolish Predacon invaders. When they force him to fight, they force him to win!

Optimus Primal figure comes with a skull flail, 2 Cyber Blades, and 4 missile accessories. Converts from gorilla to robot mode in 7 steps.

Clip out and save the on-box tech specs to share, then see how this figure stacks up against other heroic Maximals and evil Predacons (each sold separately).

Includes: figure, 7 accessories, and instructions.

  • This vintage Beast Wars Optimus Primal figure is inspired by the original 1996 Beast Wars release, including his flip-down mutant head and the switch on the back of the figure that triggers chest-beating gorilla arm action!
  • Optimus Primal figure features Beast Wars conversion from robot to gorilla mode in 7 steps
  • Optimus Primal figure comes with skull flail, 2 Cyber Blades, and 4 missile accessories. Flail accessory can be stored in right arm. Left arm opens to reveal double-barreled missile launcher
  • Inspired by the original Beast Wars packaging, this pack features the original Beast Wars logo and character art
  • Tech specs for Optimus Primal are included on the pack in the classic Beast Wars style fans know and love. Compare figures’ strength, speed, firepower, and more
  • Figure scale: 8.5-inch
  • Ages 8 and up WARNING: CHOKING HAZARD - Small parts. Not for children under 3 years.

In 2021 it had been over two decades since Beast Wars Transformers reshaped the Transformers world forever. In conjunction with the release of several new Beast Wars themed toys in Kingdom, Hasbro also reissued a set of Beast Wars toys from the 90's as Walmart exclusives in the United States (the figures would go to various other retailers outside the U.S.). One of these figures was the Ultra Class Optimus Primal.

The modern day "Ultra" Class is used for larger Cyberverse figures such as Clobber. However, in Beast Wars "Ultra" meant a lot more features than you'll find in Cyberverse (which often just gives one to two gimmicks per figure). Instead, "Ultra" in Beast Wars meant a larger scale figure that had several play features. This scale was generally reserved for leaders and feature characters such as Optimus Primal and Tigerhawk.

I reviewed the original release of this figure decades ago, and normally I would just cover the changes made to the figure for this release. However I think this figure deserves more than that, especially since my review style has evolved over the years. This review will both review the figure as a standaline action figure and cover changes made for this release.

Packaging:
Similar in theme to the Vintage G1 releases at Walmart, Hasbro attempted to replicate the original Beast Wars Transformers packaging as much as they could for Optimus Primal. Like the original packaging it features a "scale" background in red and black colors. The opening of the box features a large window showing Optimus Primal in beast mode inside. The original Optimus Primal box art is used with a thick green border around it. The "Beast Wars Transformers" logo is featured across the bottom of the box. To the left is Optimus Primal's name and to the right is the old "Kenner" logo, a beautiful touch. The left side features a callout that says "Launches Mega Blast Missile Cannons!" with a smaller picture of Optimus Primal, weapons all deployed. This phrase is translated into four other languages.

The back of the box is where the limitations of modern day packaging really come into play, though I give Hasbro lots of credit for trying to replicate the original box as much as they could. Unlike most modern day Transformers toys, Optimus has tech specs! However, they are translated into several languages, making the text fairly tiny. On the right is the "story" of Beast Wars (at the time) focusing on the Transformers using "bio-genetic engineering" to create new forms. The illustration on the back shows the entire first wave of Vintage Beast Wars figures. On the left are Megatron and Optimus Primal correctly labeled as "Ultra" Class. On the other hand, Cheetor and Rattrap are both called "Mega" Class even though they are really Deluxe and Basic Class respectively. This might be a way to unify them and justify both figures being priced the same even though one is larger and more complex than the other. Another change is the company logo box on the lower right hand corner. The Kenner logo is there, but so is the modern day Hasbro logo. I appreciate the spirit of this packaging and understand recreating the original box 100% is simply not possible given today's realities.

Accessories:
Nowadays it is cool if a Transformers figure includes one or two accessories. Back in the 90's however, Optimus Primal came with seven pieces. Here's the rundown:

  • Swords: Optimus includes two swords. Each of these is a curved blade with small pegs on the sides for storage and a peg at the end for Optimus Primal to hold. The swords have some beautiful detailing on them from top to bottom. These weapons are cast in a light blue plastic, which is different from the originals which were a much darker blue color. There are no paint applications on these swords.
  • Missiles: Optimus includes four missiles. Each is about two inches long (necessary to meet safety requirements in the United States) and are fairly thin. These are intended to be launched from either his shoulder launchers or his wrist launchers in robot mode. Each of these missiles are the same lighter blue as the swords making them a much lighter blue than the originals.
  • Flail Weapon: If he can't beat his enemies by slicing them, he'll just bludgeon them with his flail weapon! This awesome accessory features a striking head that is shaped like a skull with spikes on it (how metal!). This is attached to the handle via a string. The head part is grey plastic while the handle is the same light blue as the other accessories (as opposed to the darker blue of the original).

In addition to deco on the figure itself, these accessories are one of the asiest ways to tell this reissue apart from the original. While this may be disappointing for those hoping for a straight up reissue of the original I appreciate that it helps distinguish this release from the previous ones.

Beast Mode:
By today's standards, Optimus Primal's beast mode may look odd. However, go back in time a couple decades and we had never had an attempt at an "organic" looking gorilla beast mode before in the line, and to that end the designers did some great work. Structurally there are a lot of organic curves and lines. The texture sculpted into most of the figure has finer lines that look like fur. His fists and feet have very organic looking individual digits sculpted in and his beast mode face and ears have a very organic appearance complete with wrinkle lines on the face.

Now, this is a "robot in disguise", so some robot bits do show in this form, especially on the arms. The inside of the robot mode arms show through partly because they are white in color. Also, the springs in the shoulder missile launchers are visible on either side of the head. You can also see the white and red parts of his robot hip area. Honestly? Neither of these facts take away from my enjoyment of the figure, but I did feel it was appropriate to mention them.

Optimus Primal is mostly black, grey and white plastic. The shades of the colors match up well to the original figure. Interestingly, the forehead section is not the same shiny black plastic as the rest of the figure. Instead, it looks almost like it has a matte finish on it and reflects light differently. This makes it different than the original figure, which had shiny black plastic in the same place. While the teeth are the same bone white color as the original figure, the eyes are metallic dark blue instead of a lighter, flat blue color. Red paint is found on the robot hip mode pieces, but thanks to his hunched over posture they do not really show that much.

There are twelve points of articulation in this mode with eight on the arms and four on the legs. This lets him pose in a hunched over position or stand up on his legs. His beast mode fists are also his robot fists, so even though he's in beast mode Optimus can wield his melee weapons. Optimus has a fun action feature in this mode. Swing his forearms up and rotate them inward towards the chest, then lift up and move the lever on his back and his arms will move like he is thumping his chest, King Kong style! Since King Kong was part of the inspiration for Optimus Primal's beast mode, this is a wonderful homage and feature!

Transformation to Robot Mode:

  1. Just to be safe, I recommend pressing the small button on the back to reveal the swords and missiles (if inside the cannons). I would launch/detach all these and set them side as it is not difficult to accidentally press the button and pop open these panels and have missiles go flying or having the swords fall out.
  2. Straighten out the arms and legs, extending the legs out.
  3. Flip the beast mode toes around to form the robot heels.
  4. Rotate the lower body around.
  5. Swing the robot feet down.
  6. Swing the black "fur" panels on the upper arms up to form the shoulder armor.
  7. Lift up the head and rotate the face panel around, then push the panel down to form the robot chest.
  8. The swords or flail can be attached to either fist. The missiles can be attached to the shoulder launchers or the wrist launchers.

Robot Mode:
Optimus Primal's robot mode is one of my favorites from this era. His silhouette is bulky looking in a powerful way with chonky, beefy arms and legs with cool looking shoulder armor and a blend of "organic" and mechanical looking pieces. The faux pistons on his feet look super cool and the head was clearly designed as an update of Optimus PrimE's head. While the television show would eventually establish Optimus Prime and PrimAL as two separate characters, the original intent of the toys was to update the G1 character in a new form. The head design does this wonderfully using the traditional Optimus Prime head design and making the mouhtplate more angled and sleek looking and making his traditional antennae look like curved blades (a visual cue connecting to his swords). Add to that the weirdness of his insect like "Mutant Head" (more on that in a bit) and you have one solid sculpt.

Most of Optimus Primal's colors match the original release, featuring a lot of black plastic from the gorilla mode "fur" sections, but also featuring grey and white robotic pieces. Red paint is used on several sections including the head, arms and legs. The white and red parts really pop against the darker grey and black colors and they look great. Interestingly, the head is where most of the changes from the original are found. On the original figure the front and back halves of the head were different plastic colors, with the back section cast in red plastic. On this version both halves are now grey plastic with dark metallic blue painted onto the "helmet" section. The mouthplate is painted grey. The other big difference from the original is the chest. In the middle is a circle that was painted red on the original figure. On this version it was left unpainted, which is unfortunate because it looks very plain as a result.

Optimus has sixteen points of articulation in this mode. This includes four in each arm and three in each leg. He has several fun "action" features in this mode:

  • Mutant Head: Turn the head around, swing the antennae down then swing the "Mutant Head" mask up and the result is a very alien looking head that looks like it was inspired in part by the Predator monster. It has insect like eyes, some scary looking teeth and the ends of the antennae look like mandibles. It's a really freaky look and not one you'd expect from Optimus Primal! The head piece is grey and red, contrasting nicely with the rest of the figure.
  • Flail Storage: The flail weapon stores inside the right forearm. Just lift the top panel and it fits right in.
  • Sword Storage: Press the button to activate the shoulder launchers and you'll see openings to store the swords. They store by attaching the pegs on the sides of the sword hilt to the corresponding ports inside these compartments.
  • Wrist Launchers: On top of the left forearm you'll see a small tab. Pull that tab back and the wrist missile launcher will flip out as the fist swings back. Unlike the TV show where Optimus' weapons were on top of his fists, here the idea is to create the illusion that his fist is being replaced by the missile launchers. This can be interpreted as a callback to the G1 episodes where some characters such as Jazz could slide their hands into their forearms and replace them with devices such as a winch. The missiles fit into these launchers and each has its own launcher button.
  • Shoulder Launchers: Press the button on the back and the launchers deploy. Each missile can be fired independently. The left side launcher on my copy of this figure was a tad more sensitive than the right side, so be warned.
  • Arms: Using the same mechanism as the beast mode, you can have Optimus' arms move as if he is using his flail weapon or battling it out with his swords in hand. On each bicep there is a black switch. Slide it up then use the lever on the back and the arms will swivel back and forth right above the elbows instead of moving back and forth at the shoulders. I mean, they're not the most complex looking movements but if you think about the mechanisms that are inside this figure to do both actions it is pretty extraordinary by today's standards (where even launching missiles are a thing of the past).

Optimus Primal is absolutely choc full of play value. I don't just love how the robot mode looks, I love all the features it has and it harkens back to an era of Transformers where play value went beyond just transformation and experimentation with action features was the order of the day.

Final Thoughts:
Optimus Primal is one of the best figures from the early Beast Wars years. He looks cool in beast mode and really awesome in robot mode. He has a nice deco and features galore. And how about that creepy Mutant Head, huh? Overall this is a stellar figure. The price point may turn some folks off. After all, in 1996 this figure was around $20 USD which is about $36.11 taking inflation into account. That said, we're in a different economy now and with its various mechanisms I can see how this figure was perhaps more expensive to produce. It is also possible the tooling may have had to be fixed up a bit before this production run could be done. At a $49.99 USD price at retail this falls squarely into the area of being for hardcore fans or those looking for a big hit of nostalgia. The average fan will likely be more than happy with the more current (and cheaper) Kingdom Optimus Primal.

Pros:

  • Wonderful sculpt, especially in robot mode.
  • A bunch of action features, offering tons of play value beyond transformation.
  • Good deco (but it is missing one key deco point on the robot chest).
  • All mechanisms still work and hold together well.
  • Beautiful retro packaging.

Cons:

  • By today's standards, the beast mode sculpt may look unsophisticated (but I personally think it was great for the time).
  • The left shoulder launcher being a bit sensitive is a tad worrisome.
  • The missing paint app on the chest does bug me.