Battle Beasts was a joint Hasbro/Takara-developed action figure line from 1987. The two-inch scale figures are each a different animal, anthropomorphized and wearing brightly-painted futuristic battle armor. They were marketed in the United States and Europe in semi-random two-packs, advertising a sort of rock-paper-scissors game that could be played.
Battle Beasts figures are molded out of PVC rubber in three pieces, with the arms being snapped-on to allow them to be raised or lowered at the shoulder. Each figure also includes a melee weapon of some sort, usually appearing to be stylized axes, swords, or spears. The weapons can be matched to the correct figure by a stamped collector number that is also molded into the figure's back. The main gimmick advertised, however, was the chest-mounted heat-activated 'rubsign', of the same type designed and patened by Hasbro for Transformers. Each rubsign reveals an icon for either fire, water, or wood element, in the form of a flame, waves, or a log, respectively. The advertised game is that upon revealing the element, Fire figures defeat Wood (fire burns wood), Water defeats Fire (dousing the flame), and Wood defeats Water (by floating on it). The rubsign stickers later included a slight colorization of orange, blue, or brown to the revealed element icon. Each figure's icon was randomized, but figures were typically packed with a figure of adjacent collector number. While the identity of the figure was visible through the blister-pack packaging, the rubsign cannot be viewed without purchasing and opening the set.
Several vehicles and playsets were also released. Three small Battle Chariots can carry one Beast in the cockpit, plus two more on the sides holding onto retractable handles, while a pull-back motor races the chariot forward, snapping the chariot's mouth open and closed by a mechanism. Each chariot included a figure, possibly always the same figure for each chariot (I was unable to find firm evidence from a small sample size of sealed sets viewed). Three large Transport Stations were also released, again with an included figure. These sets more clearly correspond to the three-element theme. Each includes a number of 5mm-post weapons and accessories, and unfolds into a sticker-decorated playset, usually featuring some jail for holding enemy Beasts, opening weapon and figure storage compartments, and multiple platform levels.
After the first three waves of Battle Beasts figures, totaling 76 unique Beasts, the line was all but done in the West. Japan continued production by adding a further 36 "Laser Beasts". The first 12 of these were sparsely released in some Hasbro markets as "Shadow Beasts". These figures featured a plastic lens or 'orb' in the chest which magnified the image of an element on a transparency that received light from a hole in the figure's back. The Shadow Beasts also included a stylized rifle weapon instead of a medieval melee weapon. These rifles feature motifs of the type of animal wielding it, such as wings, heads, or fins. Even more rare are six Battle Chargers, a Shadow Beast that also includes a unique sticker-decorated shield, and a pull-back, 3-wheeled platform that the Beast's feat can peg onto, with the shield placed at the front. These were based on a similar item released in Japan, but the accessory colors and figure selection are unique.
While Hasbro-market Battle Beasts do not feature much of an explicit fiction (unlike their Japanese counterparts), each figure's name was released on a mail-away poster of the first 76 Beasts. The Shadow Beasts were not included, since they debuted the following year, and are generally referred to by their corresponding Japanese names, despite those never appearing on Hasbro Battle Beast Packaging. There was also a four-issue comic miniseries published by Blackthorne Publishing, but this did not have enough impact to rocket Battle Beasts into the sort of fame that many other TV-cartoon toylines enjoyed in the 1980s.
Despite the lackluster fame at their time of release, Battle Beasts have become a cult classic among modern '80s toy collectors. Several attempts at revival have been made, both officially, with TakaraTomy's Beast Saga franchise in Japan, and unofficially, with Plastic Imagination!'s unlicensed, crowd-funded Rise of the Beasts figures homaging the original characters.