The Transformers have been around for over 30 years. The story of the Autobots and the Decepticons spans thousands of comics, dozens of shows, two good video games, a $3 Billion plus live-action film franchise, and enough toys to fill the Grand Canyon. Twice.
That’s a lot of robots with a lot of disguises.
Over the course of every version of the story, there are some things that always remain the same. The Autobots and Decepticons have been at war for millions of years, fighting across galaxies, dimensions, and timescapes. You know what that means. Plenty of new toys well thought out, three-dimensional characters. But can you tell which side these guys are on? For this quiz, we stuck mostly to the most famous incarnations of the characters, since that’s what fans are most familiar with, but we did not make it easy, and we certainly didn’t include anything from the Michael Bay movies, because, well, could you tell any of those Transformers apart? Can anybody? They look like post-modern trashcan art.
With thirty years of continuity working against you, can you tell if this character is an Autobot or a Decepticon?
Hot Rod is a controversial figure in Transformers lore. His impulsive actions were partially responsible for Optimus Prime’s death and becoming Rodimus. Hot Rod was overconfident to the point of arrogance, despite having accomplished virtually nothing and succeeding, repeatedly, on accident. Taking on a leadership role made him more grounded, even doubtful of his own abilities. Eventually, however, Hot Rod was responsible for taking down Unicron, which is a huge achievement, and leapfrogging on meteors through a planet’s atmosphere is undoubtedly cool.
Yeah, despite being born on Cybertron several million years before coming to Earth, he’s called Bumblebee because he’s yellow. It’s just one of those things you have to accept. He might be small and weak, but he’s also fast and brave. While Bumblebee can never match the strength of Ultra Magnus or the violence of Grimlock, he’s still one of the most respected Transformers of them all. Bumblebee has proven so consistently popular that he will become the first Transformer to get his own live action spin-off.
Ultra Magnus is one of the most powerful Transformers of all time. He’s heavily armored and armed better than most platoons—fit with guns and hidden missile launchers that could raze the city of Iacon in a minute and a half. He’s the right combination of smarts and strength; when the dangerous combiner Menasor rampaged through Cybertron, Ultra Magnus nearly single-handedly took the beast down. Though preferring his role as a soldier, Magnus is a more than capable leader who has a violent streak when he needs to.
Shockwave comes off as a soft-spoken bore, but he’s much smarter and more dangerous than everyone in the room. His plans are known to span eons. They’re meticulously detailed and they rarely fail. Following pure logic, Shockwave makes clear decisions, and his many webs of plans all meet in the center where the endgame is the same: he controls everything. Not just the Autobots and the Decepticons. Everything. They guy once weaponized Cybertron itself, bested Megatron without any effort, and ripped the Matrix out of Optimus Prime’s chest. Don’t mess with ol’ one-eye.
If you don't know who this is, we don't know how to help you. Described in the fandom as a cross between John Wayne and Jesus Christ, Optimus Prime is the seminal leader and a big red robotic father figure to a generation of children. Known as much for his wisdom and compassion as he is for his prowess as soldier, he not only can he kick your ass, he’s practically invincible given all the times he’s been resurrected. Beloved by his army and feared by his enemies, Optimus Prime is the consummate noble warrior.
Thundercracker derives his name for his ability to create sonic booms, making him arguably the fastest and most dangerous of the Seekers. He’s also uncertain of his loyalty to his faction. Over the years, he had small moments of rebellion and contradictory beliefs before making the unprecedented move of going AWOL. Unfortunately, all that cool development has led him to an ongoing story where he’s a screenwriter (ugh). Fun fact: Thundercracker was going to be called Starscream, before Bob Budiansky insisted Starscream be called Starscream, as it made more sense for the character’s shrill instability.
Cyclonus is the Stannis Baratheon of The Transformers. He lacks any kind of charisma or personality, but has a rabid cult fanbase that worships him. Cyclonus is one of the most loyal, true loyal soldiers in Transformers history. So great is his Smithers-like devotion that he refuses to overthrow his clearly insane leader. In recent years, Cyclonus has seen more development as a member of the Lost Light. He’s become more of a deadpan comedy act than a stalwart soldier with knowledge of Cybertron’s lost history and a merciless violent streak a mile wide.
Megatron has one of the most complicated character arcs in Transformers history. Originally just a stock evil guy, Megs’ backstory and motives were largely explored over the last two decades, depicting him as a blue-collar worker who had enough of the corruption of those in power. He’s also tragic for the same reason. He became a radical political insurgent fighting injustice, only to become the worst perpetrator of said corruption. Lately, he's been attempting to reform his image, but he’s a megalomaniac who believes in only one authority: his own.
You know how old people get away with saying inappropriate things because they’re old, crabby, and the fact that they’ve lived this long makes them practically invincible? Yeah, that’s Ironhide. A member of the Transformers version of The Greatest Generation, he remembers virtually all the Cybertronian wars. He's a mentor and a war general, and has probably killed more Transformers than an outbreak of scraplets and cosmic rust put together. He also shoots fire and ice out of his body—take that however you will.
Someone else may have created the cause, but Starscream is the best example of his faction of all. He’s never met an individual he wouldn’t betray or a life he wouldn’t endanger if it meant making his day even slightly easier. He’s so deceptive (see what we did there?) that Megatron refers to Starscream’s record of betrayal and deceit as “legendary.” In the current IDW continuity, he manages to become the elected leader of the (somewhat) united Cybertronian people. In a wonderful example of narrative irony, ‘Screamer realizes how difficult leadership is, becomes disillusioned with command, but has no choice but to continue.
Bob Budiansky named Ratchet after One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest's Nurse Ratched as a subtle joke that went over kids' heads. Ratchet doesn’t get the credit (or screen time) he deserves for his unique personality or his bravery. He’s not a great warrior, which is kinda ridiculous when you think about—download a fighting program or something—but Ratchet’s always there to save lives. And god knows, he’s much better than that wuss First Aid. Man, what a jackass. Fun fact: In the old Marvel continuity, Ratchet and Megatron shared a body at one point, if you wanted that Cronenbergian image in your head.
Swindle rules. He is to the Transformers what the Ferengi are to Star Trek. The consummate conman might belong to a faction, but he doesn’t have any real allegiance to anyone—since to Swindle, everyone is a potential mark. Hell, he once sold off his platoon for scrap. That’s like selling off your twins! If that wasn’t awesome awful enough, he also runs an interstellar black market that Ultra Magnus has repeatedly shuttered, only for Swindle to start it up again someplace else. At times, Megatron has shown that he trusts Swindle less than Starscream. Let that sink in for a moment.
Onslaught is a shrewd, tactically minded robot who prefers to let others do the fighting. His strategies are clever, complicated, and brutally efficient. Nobody pays attention to him because they associate him with Bruticus, the combiner he and the Combaticons form to create, and Bruticus is dumber than a bag of Dinobots. Or maybe that faceplate makes people think he has something to hide. Could be either one, to be honest. Although Onslaught prefers others implement his plans, he has no problem going into battle himself. He wears cannons on his back. That states his intentions clearly.
The first robot in history to have a Napoleon complex, Cliffjumper is more than just a repaint of Bumblebee. Temperamental and always looking for a fight, this Transformer is consistently out to prove something, even if he has to beat that pacifist Mirage for the tenth time. In the first episode of the old G1 cartoon, Cliffjumper was spying on the enemy and produced a gigantic sniper rifle/bazooka that was taller than him so he could take them out. No attempt at arrest. No trial. He was just going to assassinate him on the spot.
Grimlock prefers to handle most inconveniences with violence. While not always the most altruistic method, it has been effective. While the old G1 cartoon depicted Grimlock as a bumbling oaf, the one in regular continuities—while not exactly as smart as Prowl or Preceptor—is a capable soldier and leader. He may not exactly be easy to deal with, but he is loyal, and he's capable of taking out entire platoons by himself. He’s also surprisingly complex; he may dislike and resent the weak, but he dislikes those who would exploit the weak even more.
The most recent creation in this quiz, Windblade was a fan creation as part of Hasbro’s “Fan Built Bot” program. Everything from her gender to her weapons to her alt mode to her personality and color schemes were decided by fans. She doesn't use energy weapons much, preferring to use swords to cut people in half. The fact that she’s “new” to the war makes her an excellent audience surrogate, and the fact that she has flaws makes her more accessible as a character.
He’s a distant and cold individual, and he doesn’t have the people skills of a natural leader, so few actually listen to him. His plans are sound and could lead to victory, but at a heavy moral cost. For Prowl, it’s all about the numbers; they’re not Autobots or Decepticons, they’re figures on a screen. In order to achieve his goals, Prowl has been known to destroy evidence, brainwash his fellow Transformers, operate false flag operations, and shoot acid pellets at enemies. This is probably why most bots don’t like him and why fans definitely do.
Despite his awful name, Springer defines cool. Perfectly combining renegade and heroic aspects with gallows humor, it’s safe to say he was what Hot Rod/Rodimus should've been. As leader of the Wreckers—the Transformers version of the Suicide Squad—Springer has survived dangerous missions and developed an equally dangerous reputation. He's also a survivor; Impactor, his former commander, once used him as a bullet shield. Springer was torn to shreds but recovered (slowly). Many have compared Springer to Han Solo, which isn’t accurate. Springer is more comparable to Captain Kirk, since they’re both cooler than Han.
Possibly the only Transformer to be suffering from an enlarged prostate, Kup is old enough to have experienced everything. So much so that nothing seems to impress him anymore. Everywhere reminds him of somewhere else. Kup used to be a slave on the planet Dread (the place doesn’t get much tourism for some reason) where he fought a giant lizard made of death crystals (as one does), and is often seen with a cigar dangling from his lips. He's mentored many in his time, and those who survived turned out okay.
Carnivac was a courtly, honorable warrior who slavishly obeyed the rules of war. He had a strict code of ethics. Somewhere along the way, that changed. So much so that he became a member of the Mayhem Attack Squad, which certainly isn't a diplomatic unit. Now he kills for the sake of it; brutally and with a smile on his face. Well, if that isn’t a story waiting to be told, we don’t know what is. The horrors of war are as underused in Transformers as Carnivac himself.
Fortress Maximus is a gentle giant. Armed to the teeth but reluctant to open fire, millions of years of fighting has left him battle worn and sometimes a little nihilistic. He even dabbled in pacifism for a while—not during Vietnam, of course. He also has a tendency, as a headmaster, to take his own head off, which is unsettling no matter how many times you see it. He eventually became the warden of Garrus-9 where prisoners were reduced down to their spark cores and kept until such a time as Fort Max deemed they were ready to leave.
Rotorbolt doesn’t seem to care much about the war (he was even a Wrecker for a while) and doesn’t have a real love of battle. He’s actually a bit of an overeducated snob, but with a strange kind of nobility, similar to Dinobot. He’s loyal to his allies so long as they are loyal to him. He took it rather personally when his boss betrayed him, ripped his rotor blades off, and nailed him to the wall with them.
Landfill is a decent soldier, but, unfortunately for him, he lives up to his name. Landfill literally stinks. Apparently very, very badly. It keeps him isolated from the other Transformers. For whatever reason, Landfill either doesn’t notice it or doesn’t care. Of course, this brings up all kinds of horrible evolutionary questions. Why do Transformers have functional noses? Does Landfill have pores with which to secrete the smell? Does he merely bathe in toxic waste and current Hollywood scripts? Why would Vector Sigma create Landfill to live like this?
Horri-Bull is like getting bullied by the town drunk. You’re not sure how this happened, but you can’t help but wonder how bad your stock in life must be that Horri-Bull thinks you’re beneath him. That’s the thing about him; if he isn’t bullying anybody in arm’s reach, then he’s off being a slob. Yes, that’s right, we have another Transformer that smells bad. Despite science being against the possibility of Transformers smelling, let alone emitting a smell, Horri-Bull is one of a handful of Transformers to literally stink.
Sky-Byte is a flying robot shark. If you don’t see the inherent awesomeness of this, you probably don’t understand the face melting insanity that makes The Transformers so appealing. Sky-Byte was a bright spot in the otherwise disappointing Robots in Disguise series. He’s like a well-written Klingon in Star Trek: part poet, part warrior. And Sky-Byte literally is both a poet and a warrior, so it fits. He’s a brilliant and calm tactician that isn’t driven by ideology but by right and wrong.