Combining the classically cute with the technologically terrifying, Battle Beasts brought animal and mineral together in a way that could render one into a vegetable. As if playing with them wasn’t fun enough, just looking at the amazingly unique and endlessly creative designs was enough to occupy a kid for hours.
A bat with a computerized monocle; a deer with a rock drill for a hand and laser visor; a piranha with dual shoulder cannons… each of a multitude of half-beast, half-machine warriors featured their own specialized design. Some of them were appropriate to the animal (the mole with the head lamp or the rat with the shovel for a hand) while others were simply for effect (the lion with the eye patch). Battle Beasts also incorporated the entirety of the animal kingdom. While kid favorites such as sharks, bears, and elephants received their due, equal, admirable, and sinister attention was given to perennial cutie-pies such as ducks, penguins, and koala bears. Even classic no-names like flamingos and sea horses joined the fray, each with its own design.
The battle in question was an adaptation of rock, paper, scissors featuring the elemental properties of earth, fire, and water. When Japanese toy maker Takara added the Beast Formers subset to their Transformers line in the mid-80′s, they included the heat-sensitive “rubsigns,” a small sticker that – when rubbed or pressed by a finger – revealed the character’s allegiance. As with the Autobot and Decepticon rubsigns from Transformers, the Beast Formers wore their loyalties on their chest (and their emotions on their sleeves if the commercials were any indicator). When Hasbro brought the toys to the U.S. in 1986, the Transformers connection was severed and Battle Beasts began to distinguish themselves.
Although featuring the attributes of machine and animal, Battle Beasts were ultimately anthropomorphic. The three factions of wood, fire, and water battled endlessly with no clear heroes or villains except those determined by kids themselves. The banal names defied the fantastic designs. Pirate Lion and Ferocious Tiger hold only so much allure, while even the less obvious Slasher Sea Horse, Panzer Panda, Killer Koala and Frenzied Flamingo had a hard enough time surmounting their place on the food chain, let alone an asinine name. No more than a couple of inches in height, each figure also carried its own plastic weapon, generally some kind of blade or elaborate spear. But the power of each Battle Beast truly existed in the insignia stuck to their chest.
As Fire torched Wood, Wood in turn subjugated Water, while Water brought balance to the fray by dousing Fire. The “Battle Badges,” worn proudly on the front of each beast’s armor was the ultimate trump. A small number of Battle Beasts possessed an ace up their sleeve in the form of the “Sunburst” elemental. This rare power bested all others, thus giving a Hare Razing Rabbit the unlikely victory over, say Gruesome Gator. A few pull back vehicles and transforming bases in the shape of common animals were released as well to advance the wages of warfare.
Battle Beasts enjoyed a brief but frenzied popularity. Three generations were released in close succession, the creators mining more and more obscure animals to characters. The fourth series, Laser Beasts, abandoned the rubsign for an orb that revealed the character’s element when held up to the light. Although this edition finally produced projectile weapons, the craze had passed. Still, credit Hasbro for leveling the animal kingdom playing field. Never was a kid so humbled as when his fire-allied Pillaging Polar Bear was undone by another’s water-based Squire Squirrel.
If you grew up playing with Battle Beasts in the 80s, we’d love for you to share your recollections of these memorable toys in our comments section.