It’s time for another listicle!
Fun fact, I actually DID fully intend to do a list for 2020. I had rankings worked out and everything!
Then I got busy and slept on it until it became too much of a time gap from the new year to really be able to do so.
So with that said. 2021 had a lot of AMAZING toys and it was a CHORE pairing down that list to just 5++. As always, my rules are simple:
- Toy must have been purchased and received in the calendar year of 2019
- Toy does not have to have been released in 2019 to qualify – it can be something I only just got this year
- Five things plus an honorable mention of “something that’s not on the top 5 but deserves to be brought up all the same” are going to apply for each list.
Fun fact, this rule is also why none of the Kingdom Wave 1 deluxes/voyagers made it on for consideration – I found them right before the end of 2020 in stores. Cyclonus was, in fact, gonna be on my 2020 list. Even then, there’s a freaking LOT that had to get left of this list in order to narrow it down to a top 5, so some toys I DID love like Kingdom Tigatron and Dinobot sadly were not able to make the cut.
SO ANYWAY LET’S-A GO:
Honorable Mention: Hasbro Pulsecon Beast Wars Ravage
There was no way this guy WASN’T making the list somewhere.
This depiction of Ravage has a neat toy history – created for the Beast Wars S2 finale arc, he was a bash of existing model parts (Transmetal Cheetor/Tigatron’s beast head for instance) and as such never really designed with a toy in mind. He did receive a figure in Takara’s Beast Wars Metals toyline – a retool of Transmetal Cheetor – but that figure never got a stateside release outside of a Tigatron repaint, and as such its aftermarket value has only gone up and up. When I bought mine, I believe I paid around $125 CAD, and that was a good price a decade ago – he’s more expensive now.
And then Hasbro blindsided us with THIS thing! Derived from the Kingdom Cheetor mold, he’s got a LOT of new parts and transformation steps to him, and in robot mode hews VERY closely to the cartoon model for Ravage – about the only shared parts with Cheetor are his lower legs and parts on the arms. Transforming him into Beast Mode, which never actually did into the show, reveals that this incarnation of Ravage isn’t actually a Transmetal – he’s got a full on organic panther mode – well, with a couple of exposed robot thighs, but you can cover those up with his show-accurate pistols (which, again, like the show, are stored at the hips).
Icing on the cake is the gorgeous packaging, with boxart depicting the cockpit of Ravage’s stealth ship, as seen in the “Decepticons Forever” scene from “The Agenda Part 2” . He also comes with a rerelease of the G1 Ravage cassette, now with tampoed detail on BOTH sides of the tape. I get why it’s there – because he turns into a tape in that scene of the cartoon – but at this point, I’ve gotten enough tape Ravages to not be all that world of warcrafted.
#5: Studio Series Slug
I’m kinda contractually obligated to include this guy, purely because of my reaction when I got him in-hand. I’ll freely admit I wasn’t expecting to be blown away – sure, the Grimlock they did earlier in the same scale was fantastic, and I’m all for Leader-class G1 Dinobots – but Slug wasn’t one overly exciting me as I figured he’d be more of a crowd filler.
Then I got him in hand, and holy cow is he ever fantastic. SO MUCH FUN to mess with and he’s got a very clean transformation that manages to do some new tricks. Both dino mode and botmode look fantastic, his weapon integration into the tail is top notch, and… he comes with a Daniel Witwicky accessory I guess? It’s one that I can take or leave – and given we’re getting a proper TRANSFORMING exosuit Spike in Studio Series this year, one I can leave all the more easily.
#4: Masterpiece Skids
A latecomer in the year, Skids is just a really good car Masterpiece figure. His actual character history isn’t overly remarkable from the original G1 cartoon, but he had some fun stories in the Marvel comics, and really got to shine in IDW’s MTMTE book. He’s another car Masterpiece – but one that’s got more in common with the ones before the current “all in on animation aesthetic” trend.
Skids turns into the Honda City Turbo, an old Japanese compact vehicle that was reinterpreted as a full-sized van in the G1 cartoon. And this in of itself gives this release special significance, as it was very much a celebration of the vehicle as much as the character – to the point where it got an entirely new red redeco called Reboost as well. (A redeco which has better accessories, in complete fairness).
Altmode is a nice compact little car, which some cool bonuses like the opening hood/trunk – and then transformation is just a nice intuitive joy. Everything comes together well, and he expands out from this tiny little car into a standard sized robot. Really, he was a lot of fun to mess with and it was nice getting a proper old school car Masterpiece again.
We also got another really good Masterpiece this year with the MP Starscream redo. And I hate that I forgot him until I finished this writeup. But you know what? I think I’ll still keep Skids on the list as he’s just really really good.
#3: Generations Unicron
After the amount of money this guy cost, ignoring him would have been a MASSIVE oversight. Especially given how BIG he is.
Back in 2019, Hasbro, IMMEDIATELY after we all blew our budgets at TFcon Toronto, announced a backer-funded release of this big boy. The first official transforming Unicron with a fully sphereoid planet mode, in robot mode he’s about 27-28″ tall and in planet mode, thanks to the ring, manages to take up even MORE space.
Honestly space was THE big issue of this figure – it’s one thing to back it and say “it’s future me’s problem”, but quite another to get it in hand, marvel at how BIG it is, and then actually have to find room for it. My solution was pragmatic – cover the giant box with a sheet and use it as a display centerpiece for this toy. Which also puts him at a comfortable height for transformation!
It’s not an easy transformation either – even though he’s a shellformer whose planet mode is stacked on his legs and back, you still have to actually take the time to work the heavy joints and transform the thing. A big toy means a lot of torque becomes necessary in order to actually move joints designed to support all that weight, and he manages to take 20-30 minutes to convert. Plus side is that he was designed to be converted while still mounted on his display stand – so if you have him on a small table, say the size of a Unicron box covered in a sheet, he’s actually fairly workable.
Botmode is nifty and properly posable on this guy, but planet mode is where he SHINES – that orb looks AMAZING when fully in “Pac Man from Hell” mode. And given all of the support figures that have come out this year – Galvatron and his minions, RED Reformatting Megatron, and the upcoming “Behold Galvatron” upgrade set with a mid-reformatting Galvatron, it’s pretty easy to make a pretty cool display to surround him.
#2: Studio Series Gnaw
This was HARD. One of the toys I really wanted to feature on this list had to be bumped to include Gnaw, but Gnaw is just such a fun Deluxe Sharkticon!
He’s got a surprisingly involved transformation, and the altmode silhouette is much less of a “ball with legs and jaws”, and more the elongated landshark look of the original animation model. Robot mode is also pretty great too, and he lends himself SUPER well to army building in tandem with the Allicon mold from Earthrise last year, the mini-Sharkticons from Cyberverse, and the old Titans Return Gnaw mold.
I’ve got a lot of them. And by “a lot” I mean “I have three more still to open on top of the three I already have.”
#1: Kingdom Autobot Ark
BOY this was a tough choice. Both the Commander class and Titan class releases in Kingdom were pretty much fantastic. Both have some design issues with them, but they’re easy to overlook on the strength of the overall toy.
And the Ark won out by the narrowest of arbitrary margins. Largely on account of how, quite frankly, I think it’s my favorite Titan class release. It’s not the biggest Titan we’ve gotten – not by a long shot. But it’s also the first one has both a solid robot mode AND a solid altmode.
…I mean, I should probably highlight what I mean by “solid altmode” here. None of the prior Titan-class altmodes were all that BAD. But, end of the day, they all are very much “Giant Humanoid Contortion: The Toy.” A lot of the time that’s basically “Because G1 Did It”, and they still look really cool, but even a badass like Scorponok is still “man stretching with his legs curled on top of his torso.”
The Ark eschews a base mode in favor of putting all the energy into an alternate mode – an iconic one at that. He’s the Ark! The Autobot ship from G1! There’s a few design compromises due to the way the legs transform, but hey, it’s still very visibily a spaceship! He folds and shifts into a surprisingly compact spaceship that looks like a proper ship and then unfolds into a very solid robot.
One of the reasons he edged out Kingdom Rodimus, though, is the “Person Has Money” tier – customization potential. Given his size, he’s not all that difficult to disassemble and repaint, and the oodles of sculpted detail mean that a new paintjob just POPS on him. Add in stuff like say replacement 3D printed heads, and… oh man. I’ve got one custom that’s been in “almost done” stages for a couple months now (it’s waiting on me printing the new hands) and a couple more Arks in storage, waiting to be repainted into new characters as well.
Again, what a fantastic year for Transformers toys. Looking forward to seeing what Legacy and Studio Series bring us in 2022.
Check back in at some future point for my listicles on the Top 5 unlicensed third party and non-Transformers toys of 2021!