After seeing the phenomenal new Transformers film I had a serious case of childhood nostalgia. The film captures the essence of the Generation 1 series of toys, cartoons, and movie perfectly. Sure, there are changes made to the forms the Autobots and Decepticons take. But the film reimagines the classic series that so many kids grew up with. What better way to take a walk down nostalgia lane than remember the five best Transformers toys of our youth?
In order to quantify the list let me just say that I’ve looked at the entire Generation 1 line of toys. G1 premiered on toy shelves in 1984 as smaller and simpler versions of what I would later own, and the series of toys continued into the early 90’s when the crappier Generation 2 series was introduced. This is all G1 here, none of that Beast Wars or Energon crap that Hasbro has been shoveling into living rooms over the last fifteen years.
One of the things I distinctly remember is getting Bumblebee for Christmas and having to rub the little symbol to “discover” if my robot in disguise was an Autobot or Decepticon. The attention to detail in what should have been a cheap and simple toy is why Transformers has lasted over twenty years. Kids today still ask for the toys. That’s an amazing accomplishment, and I feel no shame in declaring my love of all things Transformers. In fact I’ve considered picking up one of the new movie tie-in versions of Optimus or Megatron. What doesn’t interest me are those ridiculous All Spark gadgets that transform from a cell phone to little robot. It’s a stupid idea, and quite frankly was the most disappointing aspect of the film.
Our very own head honcho Josh Tyler got his hands on the new Megatron figure and during a late afternoon walk through the park shared his thoughts on Hasbro’s newest version of the Decepticon leader. Before we get into the classic stuff, here’s his brief take on the new toys.
There are two problems with Hasbro’s new toy version of the Megatron. The first, is that it looks too good. It looks better than the Megatron in the movie. In order for it to work as a toy, they’ve smoothed out some of the CGI character’s point edges and removed some of the parts that might have been a choking hazard. The overall effect is a definite improvement. The second problem is that it’s basically impossible to transform. Granted, switching Transformers toys between modes has always been something of a challenge, that’s half the fun. But in the case of Megatron it’s more torture. The instructions they send with it are useless, and because he transforms into a bizarre alien jet rather than a normal Earth vehicle there are no recognizable shapes in his vehicle mode to help in figure out which parts are supposed to go where.
Ultimately though, transforming him doesn’t matter. He looks so cool in robot mode, you won’t want to change him, even if you could.
Yeah, he does look cool. But what was cooler is opening up your first Starscream and spending the time to figure out how the heck to get him to transform. If you’re like me you probably ended up with pieces not fitting together just right and there’d be half open doors and not quite snug joints on Ironhide. Oh well, we eventually learned how it was done and it was indeed half the fun.
Here are the Top 5 Generation 1 Transformers:
Vehicle form: Volkswagen Beetle
There are a few truths that the Transformers touched upon during the 80s. One was that you do not mess with Optimus Prime because he will own your ass. The other is that a boy and his car is a special bond, and while I was too young then to understand it I did love this little yellow bug. Maybe it was because he was my first, but I always found Bumblebee to be one of the easier Transformers to move from robot to vehicle mode.
Bumblebee’s character also appealed to me as a fan of the show. He was the one with a wise crack at any moment he could slip one in. For his smaller size he was also a fairly bad ass fighter and spy. Bumblebee would do everything, include put his life in jeopardy, to save his friends or complete a mission. The chosen friend of Spike Witwicky and loyal comrade of Optimus Prime is probably the number 1 reason I stayed a fan for so many years.
Vehicle Form: Red Nissan Van
If Bumblebee is the funny loyal little guy, then Ironhide is the loyal military commander. Essentially Ironhide is quite similar to Bumblebee, just with a few different quirks. I’ll admit that my putting him on the list has less to do with my love of the toy than with the cartoon series. But the toys became more than silly little pieces of metal and plastic with the characters brought to life on my television. Plus, I’m sure my parents thought that a nice van was a sensible vehicle for a protector to have.
Ironhide was Optium Prime’s bodyguard and military advisor. Which tells you just how much he could kick ass. Ironhide is one of Optimus’ oldest friends, and while he doesn’t share completely with his friend’s love of humans he does respect it. In fact, Ironhide is often seen taking his free time with the humans he protects. But let’s be honest, it was the cowboy attitude all of us really liked about Ironhide. I honestly only put him into vehicle form when I needed to put him away.
Vehicle Form: F-15 Eagle
Most of the time I kept Starscream in jet form because he was often involved in aerial battles with my GI Joes. He was by far the best of the Decepticons. Starscream thought he was better than everyone else, including Megatron. I’m pretty sure that he and Megatron had more battles than Megatron and Optimus Prime. Of course, while Starscream was a coward and would run away during a fight he was also very good at his job. The treacherous Decepticon had the most distinct voice aside from Optimus in the series. My poor imitation of it as a child probably drove my parents crazy on a nightly basis.
OPTIMUS PRIME (1984)
Allegiance: Autobot leader
Vehicle Fun: Flat nosed cab over semi-truck
OK, I never owned an Optimus action figure. But that’s where friends come in, right? As a figure he was fairly cool, but honestly I just never cared too much for the whole truck thing. In the cartoon series, and the new movie, Optimus Prime is pure awesome. But I never quite had the same feeling when I held the toy as I did with Bumblebee or Starscream.
Optimus Prime is considered the strongest and most intelligent of all of the Autobots and Decepticons. Not that he’d agree. Optimus is kind hearted, and makes it his mission to protect all life. He asks his fellow Autobots to sacrifice themselves to keep humans from being injured or killed, and does the same himself. It’s a trait that Megatron sees as a weakness, but Optimus’ ability to physically outpower nearly every Transformer in existence allows him to make the tough choices. The only thing the toy was missing was that brief moment when his hand turned into an energy filled axe. That would have been sweet. Lucky for us fans, Michael Bay tapped into that during his battle with Bonecrusher in the new film.
Vehicle Form: Made up of six Constructicons
This is a bit of a cheat since Devastator is made of six individual Decepticons known as Constructicons. Individually the Constructicons were decent, but bring the green and purple pieces together and you can form Devastator. A giant Transformer who pretty much destroys whatever is in front of it. Personally I only had Bonecrusher, who took a bulldozer as his vehicle form. My parents weren’t aware of the interconnectivity of these particular Transformers when the purchase was made. The same friend who had Optimus also advised his parents on getting him the Devastator set that included everything needed for huge transforming action.
The reason Devastator is on this list is because it was the first of the Transformer forms to feature a merging ability between a group of smaller characters. This would continue to be popular and is an integral part of the entire Transformers appeal. Other characters also included extra little features like Optimus’ cargo turning into a base camp, but it was Devastator that took transforming robots to a whole new level.
Devastator is comprised of the following Constructicons: Scrapper (front load shovel), Long Haul (dump truck), Scavenger ( excavator), Bonecrusher (bulldozer), Mixmaster (concrete mixer), and Hook (crane). I’d have to go back and rewatch the series because I remember being confused as to how they fit into the storyline. All I knew is that they built things for the Decepticons, may not have always been bad guys, and formed a huge lumbering giant of a robot that Optimus and the Autobots could always easily take down.
I have to acknowledge the lack of Megatron to the list. Honestly his “vehicle” form was not all that interesting. Megatron turned into a huge gun in the cartoon series, which worked great for animation but sucked as a toy. I had far better toy guns than him in my arsenal.
As my explanations above showcase most of the appeal of these particular toys came more from the cartoon series than how fun they were as toys. If it weren’t for the cartoons a figure like Jazz would be about equal with Bumblebee. But for us Transformers fans it was all about using our imaginations to enter the world of Transformers. It sucks not having that freedom of imagination any more. I’m glad Michael Bay could deliver a product that not only works as a big budget action film, but as a trip to my childhood where playing with robots in disguise left me thrilled simply based on my own ability to breathe life into inanimate toys..