Hasbro is calling them Transformers Prime: Beast Hunters, but that's not what I'm calling the upcoming third season of the animated series and the corresponding toys. A dragon that transforms into a robot and a red-and-blue figure that's vaguely reminiscent of the original Optimus Prime? These are the new Beast Wars, my friends, and they're pretty damn spiky.
Perhaps it's just the hope talking. After all, this is the new continuity, and the adventures of Optimus Primal and talk-to-the-T-rex-head-hand Megatron are no longer a going concern. On the plus side, it means that the ending of the Beast Machines series (Cybertron becomes a lush natural utopia and a rat mates with a house plant) never happened. It also means that the Beast Wars series proper, featuring the greatest writing and characterisation of any Transformers series, isn't a thing anymore.
Beast Hunters could be this continuity's Beast Wars. While the Autobots deal with the fallout of season two's finale, a new threat arrives on Earth in the form of the Predacons, a race of animalistic Transformers created by Shockwave. Turns out old one-eye wasn't done messing with animal life after creating the Insecticons and Dinobots, as seen in the Transformers: Fall of Cybertron video game. He kept going, splicing together beast and machine. He was probably surprised when he lost control of them. He's pretty stupid for a super-genius.
And so we come to Beast Hunters. The Autobots and Decepticons have to reconfigure themselves to deal with this new threat, a process that involves lots of spikes. Seriously, these things have spikes all over the place. Just look at the first wave of Deluxe figures.
Those are some spiky robots.
And spiky vehicles too, but I'm not here to talk about the Deluxe figures, which have been showing up on shelves for a couple months now. We're here to talk about the first two Voyager-class figures, the obligatory Optimus Prime and the verging-on-blasphemy Predaking.
Oh fine, here are four incredibly quick reviews of the deluxe figures. Bumblebee - overcompensating. Soundwave - still a skinny pain-in-the-ass. Wheeljack - spikes make transforming him a joy (lying). Lazerback - vicious duck creature. Could use more spikes.
Now that that's over with, on to the main event, starting with the man himself...
One look at this figure's robot form is all it takes to recognise the leader of the Autobots. He might have wings, a jetpack and Rob Leifeld shoulder pads, but this magnificent bastard is definitely the keeper of the Matrix of Leadership.
He's just a little bit angry about the green-tinted windows.
Splashes of unfamiliar colour seem to be a theme with the reformatted 'Bots and 'Cons of the Beast Hunters line. Most of the Deluxe figures sport oddly-compelling mottled plastic, riddled with swirls of colour. Optimus isn't having any of that nonsense. He's red and blue, with windows coloured to match the green plastic of the mighty Star Saber he wields.
He's a bot with a backpack, a streamlined figure that houses all the ancillary vehicle bits in condense form on his back. Tucking it all away without looking at the instructions is a bit of a chore — he wasn't quite transformed all the way in the package — but once you get it right the configuration makes sense.
And hey, that backpack's not just for show. Eons of evolution have failed to grant most Autobots the power of flight, but it looks like they've finally figured out the jetpack. Good for them.
Optimus Prime's vehicle mode is a larger departure from what we've come to expect than his robot form. He's been a semi, a fire truck and a missile-toting military vehicle, but I'm not exactly sure what sort of truck he's supposed to be this time around.
Some kind of safari vehicle, perhaps? He's sort of a jumbled mess in vehicle mode, really. It's the wings. They're a crutch. Instead of giving the vehicle form any sort of interesting back end, the designers have used the wings to haphazardly cover up Optimus' arms. The jetpack folds down over top of them, and the wings themselves fold over the side. It's obvious this truck is trying to hide something.
It's a very peg-heavy vehicle form — lots of tabs fitting into holes in order to make everything fit. I'm not terribly fond of that style of transformation. It feels like cheating.
I'll be displaying Optimus Prime in his robot form, which is just fine. He'll need to be ready to deal with the new big baddie in town...
His name is Predaking, but in my heart he's just impostor dragon guy. To me Predaking will always be the massive gestalt from the first generation of Transformers, a fusion of five Predacons, the deadliest hunter in the universe. I only ever owned Razorclaw, the leonine team leader. Never collecting the whole set is one of my biggest regrets.
Hello, stupid dragon face.
He's got the colours right, I'll give him that.
Instead of five different animals combined into one, Beast Hunters' Predaking is a single entity with three heads, two of which are semi-sentient and the other is not really Predaking so he's a jerk. I'll get over this eventually.
He's actually a rather impressive beast with an impressive amount of detail, at least mold-wise. The paint detailing differs a bit from what's on the back of the packaging, especially in the wing area. The box shows the orange wings punctuated by black edge accents, which are nowhere to be found on the actual toy.
The wings are still impressive, though the joint holding the larger portion to the rest of the assembly is loose past a certain angle, falling to Predaking's sides limply and limiting poseability.
I'm also not sure how I feel about the semi-sentient dragon cannons. They've got lovely detail on the moulding, but again they could have used a little detail work. Still, they're removable, add a little play-action to the figure and can even be combined to fire simultaneously. If only they came in black.
Why hello there, tall, dark and menacing.
Predaking's transformation from dragon to robot is evocative of the Dinobots of old. The tip of his tail comes off to become a sword. The thick end of the tail splits in two, tiny dragon legs flipping away inside, leaving no indication that they were ever there. Tricky!
The top is more straightforward. The dragon head folds back, the bot head comes out of the chest cavity, and the forelegs become arms.
Predaking the robot cuts a menacing figure, retaining much of his bestial features without re-using everything that made him a dragon. Those feet, for instance, were not feet in dragon form — they were the dragon's waist, more or less.
I particularly love the wings in robot form, riding low on Predaking's body like he's some sort of metallic demon. This is a villain I can believe in.
If the battle between the Autobots and Predacons came down to a beauty pageant, Predaking would surely come out on top, thanks to the advantage of not needing to fit an established archetype. Too many sacrifices were made to make Optimus look like Optimus. He's not a bad figure — I adore his robot form — but that vehicle mode was phoned in. Predaking may share a name with one of the greatest Decepticons, but he's his own 'bot, and that makes all the difference.