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Transformers Toy Review Archive (older series, 1984 to date)
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Warcry's Review: Masterpiece Optimus Primal

Name: Optimus Primal
Allegiance: Maximal
Accessories: Three beast faces, four robot faces, two swords

When the Masterpiece Optimus Primal figure was first announced, I had mixed feelings. As a huge Beast Wars fan, obviously I was glad to see my favourite series finally getting some love from the Masterpiece team. But season one Optimus Primal was, in my opinion, the character least in need of an update. The original Ultra-class figure of this design (which I reviewed thirteen years ago in Universe form) was a fantastic figure by the standards of its day and honestly still stands out in a good way compared to modern Voyager and Leader-class figures. And a decade and a bit ago now, Takara made the Robot Masters version of the design, which was somehow even better at a smaller size (and many of the RM revisions carried over to the 10th Anniversary Ultra release a few years later, as well). With the design having so many great figures already, it was hard for me to get too excited about yet another one coming out. Cheetor, Dinobot, Blackarachnia? Without a doubt, they could benefit from the Masterpiece treatment. But Primal? It just seemed like a lateral move, at best.

But in the end, I decided that even if this wasn't a figure that I "needed", I wanted to show my support for the concept of Beast Wars Masterpieces because I wanted them to make more. And since the figure did look good, I figured...why not? You can't ever have too many awesome Beast Wars figures, right?

Beast Mode: Honestly, Primal's gorilla mode is practically worth the price of admission on its own. The original figure was a bit of a lump in beast mode if we're being honest, able to move its arms a bit but not much else. The Masterpiece figure, on the other hand, is more poseable than some figures' robot modes. With a ball-jointed neck with tons of range of motion, double-jointed shoulders, hinge elbows that can almost fold up a full 180 degrees, wrist and bicep swivels, opening hands, ankle tilts, ratcheted double-jointed hips and an ab crunch (!) Primal is capable of a lot of fluid motion. He does lack knees, but as a gorilla he's got very stubby legs, and honestly they're not missed all that much.

What is missed, a bit, is the sculpted fur on the original figure. Masterpiece Primal is designed with hardcore show accuracy in mind, which means that instead of sculpting fur they made all of his beast mode parts unnaturally smooth, then painted low-res fur textures onto him. This makes him look a lot more like the CGI model, but a lot less like a real ape. Whether that's a good or bad thing is going to be a matter of personal preference. While I'd definitely prefer sculpted fur most of the time, the Primals I already own all have that, so I don't mind that Takara went in a different direction with this figure. It's a bit of a departure from the Masterpiece line's ethos of "real alt-modes looking as realistic as possible, with robot modes as show-accurate as possible", but for Beast Wars characters I think this was the right way to go. Two decades on, the fact that Mainframe managed to get such expressive, fluid characters out of 3D animation techniques that are beyond quaint by today's standards is a big part of the series' eternal charm. As a result, Primal is a nice, textured dark grey pretty much all over, aside from his upper legs when viewed from behind (those are, alas, pretty obvious robot-mode kibble).

Primal has a few nice accessories in this mode. He can wield his swords just as well as he can in robot mode, and in fact I usually have him doing that because (unlike the original) you can't store them inside his body in beast mode. An angry gorilla with two giant scimitars is a pretty impressive sight though, so there's not much to complain about. He also comes with swappable faces, one angry, one happy and one thoughtful. They combine with the figure's great poseability to make a very, very expressive MUNKY.

But while the designers made Optimus Primal's beast mode a lot of fun, it's not perfect. The legs, as I mentioned before, are a bit clunky and kibbly, something that's directly responsible for the lack of knees. The arms have their issues too. The robot-mode shoulder pads are supposed to flip down to form the beast's upper arms, but they don't actually fit into place, let alone lock in like they should. This means that no matter what you do, there's always going to be a sliver of white robot arm peeking out from under them. These issues don't come anywhere close to ruining the beast mode, but they do keep it from being perfect. Primal is such an amazing achievement compared to what we get in the Generations line today (let alone the 90s Beast Wars figures) that it's really hard to get upset over minor niggles like this, though.

Robot Mode: While Optimus Primal's beast mode is a quantum leap forward compared to his previous figures, his robot mode feels less like an improvement than a series of trade-offs. The larger Beast Wars figures were just bristling with play features and weapons, and none more so than the Ultra-class Optimus Primal. Some of those features made the transition over to the Mainframe CGI model, but some of them didn't, and the ones that didn't are absent from this figure. But in terms of physical layout, the show model was so similar to the toy that there's not much to differentiate them.

As with the beast mode, Primal is mostly dark grey plastic with fur textures painted on him. But he's also got his fair share of white and red, plus silver and baby blue highlights. And his head, of course, is the traditional Optimus dark blue. Going from memory, I think they matched the colours from the show quite well. The shiny parts aren't quite as shiny as the old CGI would have you believe, of course, but even there the designers gave it a very good try. I have to admit that I prefer the higher-contrast toy colours over Primal's character model look, but this figure still looks really, really good.

Previous figures based on this character design have all been champs in the articulation department, but I think it's safe to say that the Masterpiece outshines them all. With a ball-jointed neck, the same great arms as in beast mode, a waist swivel, double-jointed ratchet hips that can move 90 degrees forward, back or out, double-jointed (though somewhat unsightly) knees, thigh swivels and ball-jointed ankle tilts, it's actually pretty hard to think of any way you could improve the thing. Primal has good balance and no kibble to get in the way of wild poses, and the end result is on par with (or maybe even better than) a good non-transforming action figure like Hasbro's Marvel Legends.

It sounds greedy to say that weaponry is where Primal falls short, but that's only in comparison to the ridiculously well-armed original. The Masterpiece has two swords, pop-out wrist guns and two small cannons that flip up over his shoulders. That makes him one very well-armed Maximal. But the original had two gigantic missile launchers over his shoulders, two more in one forearm and a gigantic skull flail in the other. The smaller guns are show-accurate but not nearly as much fun. And the flail was only available to people who bought the toy from certain mainland-Asia sellers, which doesn't win any points for my straight-outta-Japan Primal.

As with the beast mode, the robot has several alternate faces. One of them is a full-faceplate version for those of you who like your Primal a bit Primier. I honestly can't really say what the difference between the other three is. I think one's supposed to be smiling and one angry vs. the standard neutral face, but the mouths are so small and inexpressive that I honestly don't even know which one my toy is currently wearing. What he doesn't come with is a new version of the toy's battle mask, though the thing was so damned ugly I'm pretty sure we're better off not getting it. Though if you really want one, the upcoming toy-coloured version of this mold does come with one.

(The original also had a lever that would make Primal beat his chest when you pushed it, but I don't think anyone misses that.)

So what we've got here is a toy that's great fun to pose and looks really great on display. It's not as chock full of fun play features as the original, but I think that's a fair trade-off for what you do get. I don't know if I'd say this is a better robot mode than the 90s toy, but it's certainly no worse, and it fills a different niche. And for what it is, it's fantastic.

Transformation Design: A few robot bits don't hide like they should in beast mode, and the shoulder pads not folding up properly is a pretty big issue. But all in all, this is a really well-engineered figure. It's not at all over-complicated like some Masterpiece figures can be. In fact, the designers mostly stuck to polishing the rough edges off of the original. 8/10

Durability: With so much paint on the figure, there's going to be some wear and tear. A lot of people seem to be encountering it on the heads, where they rub up against the inside of the torso during the transformation. But in terms of construction, Primal is one of the toughest-feeling MP figures I've ever owned. 8/10

Fun: This toy's not a playset in and of itself like the original was, but then again what is? For something that's designed to look good first and foremost, it's a heck of a lot of fun to play with. 9/10

Aesthetics: Not perfect but darn close. 10/10

Articulation: The robot mode is just fantastic, and the beast mode is basically the best I've ever encountered. 10/10

Price: Even by Masterpiece standards, Primal was expensive. I'm guessing that's at least partly because he's drowned in a million litres of paint? But he was nearly twice as expensive as Cheetor, who's not that much smaller and way more complex. So I suspect there might be a bit of a "Convoy tax" in play here. Either way, he cost $100 Canadian plus shipping, and that's a lot to ask for a Voyager-sized figure. Even an amazing one. 5/10

Overall: There are times when I question whether these toys deserve the "Masterpiece" label. This is not one of them. Primal gives Soundwave a run for his money as my favourite figure in the line. 9/10
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