So I swear I do not want this to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toy blog. It’s definitely looked like one ever since Christmas ended though and that’s partly because of new releases and some technical difficulties. I have some posts I’m working on, but they’re not ready to go up yet and it’s a situation where it’s out of my control. However, this is a post I have wanted to do for awhile and it’s just been a matter of when to do it. In the review of the most recent release, Splinter vs Baxter set, I mentioned that particular set was the end of the essential figures for some folks. Not me, as I’m sticking with this line for awhile, but it was a sentiment I’ve seen expressed online more than once within the collecting community.
Given that, it’s a perfect time to take stock of where we are with the line. And specifically, what characters have been done well and which may have been underserved. I will say upfront that this line has largely been very good. Ignoring complaints about scarcity and scalpers, this line has delivered a great assortment of characters from the classic cartoon series and will be the measuring stick going forward for a lot of TMNT related releases. The old Playmates line of action figures was great, but most of the characters did not resemble their cartoon counterpart and that’s a void NECA has filled. And I have liked every figure so far, just some more than others. Despite what you may read online, a NECA figure is also not destined to fall apart in your hands. By all means, if you have bad experiences with NECA toys your opinion is valid, I just feel the need to point out that I own a lot of NECA product at this point and I have yet to have anything break. I have had one quality control issue so far and it was with the cartoon Slash who arrived with a detached strap on his backpack, something easily fixed with a dab of superglue. That doesn’t mean I don’t think NECA has room for improvement, but my overall experience has been very positive.
With that said, let’s move on to the rankings! I’ll link to my individual review and write-up where appropriate (but only once, so I don’t have four different links going to the same thing) if you want to read more of my thoughts as what is presented below will be a summary. And in some cases, my opinion may be slightly different than what it was originally since we’re going back a few years at this point. Let’s get started though with what is probably the consensus worst figure in the line:
April O’Neil – April is an essential character to the cartoon and I think fans and NECA are in agreement there, but for whatever reason, NECA just didn’t get her right. Depending on who you ask, either her head is too big or her body is too small. It doesn’t really matter which is the true issue (it’s the body) as in the end we have a miss-matched figure that looks pretty goofy. Even absent that, her face just doesn’t really look like April. It’s very round and her expression is pretty blank. When I think of April I think of a fearless, cocky, go-getter reporter and that’s just not here. She isn’t terrible as the articulation is good and I like the paint app. She also has some great accessories. I’ll continue to hope for a redo on her though, maybe as a deluxe release with swappable parts referencing the times she was mutated on the show. I don’t expect that to happen, but a man can dream.
Krang (Bubble Walker) – Krang was originally released as part of the San Diego Comic Con 8 – pack and then again as a two-pack with a turtle and once more as a two-pack with Shredder. For what he is, he’s fine and I like that this version of Krang really resembles the Season One depiction of the character. He is a little on the small side, but that wasn’t really apparent until the new version came out so I don’t consider that much of a strike against him. He’s mostly ranked here because he’s just limited by his design from the show. He’s just a brain with tentacles and his bubble walker doesn’t really do anything. The legs move, but they lack “knee” joints which is unfortunate. By far the coolest thing this figure did was have easily removable tentacles that could plug into the bubble walker, a much better way of doing things than what the classic toy did.
The Turtles (Style Guide Colors) – The brothers four saw themselves re-issued as part of the second wave and have the dubious honor of being the only figures on this list that I do not have (hence why there’s no link or pic). I just have no use for them. They’re the same figures from the SDCC set and Wave One, but painted a bright green to match the style guides put out for the property in the 80s and 90s. These were the colors utilized for notebooks, t-shirts, lunch boxes, etc. and because the property was so popular it’s this look that some people most associate with TMNT to this day. There was even enough demand for NECA to release them as two-packs (Leo and Don, Raph and Mikey) with a few extra paper goods thrown in for good measure. Again, I personally have no use for these, but acknowledge that some people probably get more out of them than I would.
Roadkill Rodney – Like Krang in his walker, Roadkill Rodney is a figure that’s just limited by its design from the show. It’s a robot with no arms or legs that rolls around Gizmoduck style and has extendable tentacles. NECA packed two of them in with the Triceraton Infantry figure in what was the line’s second army builder bundle. For what they are, these robots are cool and NECA nailed the likeness. The swappable parts, while unnecessarily challenging to make use of, look great and were a good idea. I like them enough that I bought a second set, this is just a figure that really had no chance to be one of the best in the line.
Foot Soldier/Bashed Foot/Slashed Foot – No line of TMNT action figures would be complete without the lowly Foot Ninja. NECA included two with the SDCC set and packed some in with Wave One turtles and as a two-pack, army builder, set in Wave Two. Wave Three then saw the introduction of the variants, bashed and slashed, and there’s actually a deluxe version still to come. This is a solid figure that really nails the likeness of the source material, it’s just hard to get too excited about a Foot Soldier. I do wish it had more articulation as this figure would really benefit from some torso articulation. The variants, of course, can’t have that, but the standard Foot would benefit greatly. The bashed variant is definitely the lesser one as it just has some exposed metal and circuitry inside it. The slashed variant is pretty great though and I love it for what it is. I wouldn’t mind a few more, though I doubt NECA would ever release a two-pack of slashed Foot and I don’t need more bashed ones.
Triceraton Infantry – The Triceraton is best known from the original Playmates line, and the infantry ranked dino-alien is the one that resembles that figure the most. And that’s because it’s a big, orange, triceratops in an armored onesie. This figure is one of many to make use of the general body created for Bebop and Rocksteady, only it has Leatherhead’s tail with hands and feet to call its own. I do like how this guy turned out, and my main complaints were with some inaccuracies (the tail should be smooth, there are pants wrinkles because of the parts reuse) and the fact that this was an army builder not designed to be an army builder. A proper army builder should have some variety, but this figure has just one trigger hand and it only works well with the rocket launcher. The other guns, which resemble what Bebop and Rocksteady used in the show, work with the gripping hands and look kind of stupid without a trigger finger. I also wish he had an articulated jaw, something the other Triceratons possess. Still, on his own, this is a striking figure on the shelf and I liked it enough to buy two.
The Turtles – the Turtles have the somewhat dubious honor of being ranked in the back half of this list, despite being the stars of the show. They also have the added challenge of competition. Few companies have done a proper Shredder or Traag, but a lot of companies have taken stabs at doing figures of the Turtles. And these ones are showing their age. Originally released in NECA’s arcade set, the Turtles have been re-released a few times with little or no added engineering. Their articulation scheme is dated compared with the rest of the line, and they also stand out as many of the villains to follow feature a lot of paint given them a real matte finish while the Turtles are a bit glossy due to the presence of colored plastic. And I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that the general shape of these figures works better as a representation of the classic arcade game than it does for the cartoon. That said, while other companies may be able to boast that their Leonardo or Donatello is better than NECA’s, few can compete on price as these guys are basically $25 figures instead of twice that. And as we speak, NECA is prepping a release that’s a four pack of these figures with soft goods, new heads, and some re-tooled articulation. Maybe Raph will have better sais and the other boys holsters for their weapons (only Leo can accomplish that) to help move them up the ranks. For now, they’re fine, but there’s some obvious room for improvement here as well.
Zarax – The Triceraton Captain who few remembered. He’s essentially the same as the Triceraton Infantry, only yellow and with different armor. He has an articulated jaw which works great and I love what such a thing can add to a display. He also has removable bracers for his wrists and can swap in some bladed ones which look pretty cool. Aside from that, his accessories are the same from the previous release and any faults that other figure had, this one does too. Only this figure does have different feet which unfortunately are plagued by NECA’s paint woes. The ankle hinge is painted to match the bootie this guy is wearing, but the paint will flake off almost immediately and the plastic underneath is flesh-colored (which in this case means yellow) and it looks bad. He’s not the first figure to suffer from this issue, just the most recent. Hopefully he’s the last.
Zork – Zork is the other Triceraton released with Zarax. I rank him ahead of Zarax because I just think he looks cooler. He’s green and has his own headsculpt which is a bit wider and spikier than the others. Any con is shared with Zarax, so I won’t repeat those. The pros are also the same, I just prefer green to yellow apparently.
Slash – A lot of folks seem to hate on the cartoon version of Slash, but I for one enjoy him! Sure, the comic depiction that Playmates sourced from is cooler, but not every villain needs to look cool. Slash was a bit of a goof in the show, and NECA really nailed the likeness with the head-sculpt here. The body is recycled from the video game Slash, which was recycled from the other turtles only with spikes added to the shell and claws to the feet and hands. That does mean the articulation could be better, and Slash wears these half gloves that suffer from the painted hinges issue mentioned earlier, but the figure is able to bring it all home with an assortment of awesome accessories. He’s loaded with a pair of futuristic-looking guns, a pair of bad ass katanas, his precious binky, and an unmutated version of himself. And since his box mate has yet to appear on this list, you can basically infer that Slash has been part of one of the best two-packs so far. The only true criticism I have for this figure, and what keeps him from being higher, is just the reuse of the turtle body. Slash should be squatter, and chunkier, and reusing that mold did him a disservice. Not enough to truly disappoint, but it’s also something that comes to mind every time I look at the figure.
Casey Jones – A fan favorite, Casey Jones has been there since the beginning. It’s no surprise that NECA turned to him relatively early and even felt he could anchor a two-pack all by himself since he was packed with one of the Foot variants. Casey comes equipped with an assortment of weapons he apparently acquired from a sporting goods store and a golf bag to store them in. He also has a bunch of extra hands and all in all looks really good. The only cons with this release is that this was the start of the painted hinge problem and it affects both his feet and his hands. And he’s also made of a really soft, bendy, plastic that gives the figure a cheap feel. His knees are prone to bowing as a result and he’s a more challenging figure to stand than most. Thankfully, most of the figures to follow have not been of this construction, though the paint issue will persist.
Granitor – Granitor had the distinction of being one of the earliest villains introduced in the show to never receive an action figure. NECA showed off a version of this figure a few years ago as part of its video game line, but it was before the cartoon was on the table for retail and it was apparently cancelled when the cartoon line took off. Granitor is a cool figure though who shares a lot of parts with his box-mate and fellow rock soldier, Traag. The only reason why I rank Traag ahead of Granitor is because I think Traag better reflects his cartoon appearance. Granitor has a lot of the parts in place like the pointy nose and big shoulders, but something is off. He probably should be taller and slimmer than Traag, and his head might actually benefit from being smaller. He looks good, but more so than the figures to come (and actually some that came before) NECA just didn’t quite nail the likeness. His rather lofty ranking is a testament to how fun he is to handle and the fact that he’s been missing in action since 1987.
Shredder – This was the figure that really impressed in that initial SDCC 8-pack. Which means that for a little while this was the best figure in the line. Shredder has since been topped, but he’s still the definitive take on the cartoon version of the character. Like the Turtles, he was adapted from a previous arcade release, but unlike them it all works perfectly. He also gets a new headsculpt and NECA’s paint app on it looks great. Like the Foot, I do see opportunity for more articulation that could have been incorporated into his torso, but for the most part I have no complaints. He just looks a little dated now for the same reason the Turtles do as he has more colored plastic and less paint. Again, I’m not against colored plastic in place of paint (Bandai pretty much shuns paint and they put out great stuff), but it makes Shredder look more toy-like when positioned amongst the later figures which better capture that “ripped from the screen” look.
Splinter – The most recently released two-pack brought us the first cartoon accurate Splinter. And once again, NECA really nailed the cartoon likeness. Splinter scales well with his surrogate sons, and I welcome the use of soft goods with the kimono. And more than anything, this guy has tons of accessories. Some no one asked for, but it’s still nice to have them. I didn’t have much to complain about when I reviewed him, and he’s ranked here because he’s just not as fun to mess around with as some other figures. Because of who he is, he lends himself better to simple poses as opposed to dynamic ones, but no one can deny that this is a rat that belongs on the shelf.
Traag – Krang’s general, Traag, got a figure in the old Playmates line, but it looked nothing like the character in the show. This was the first time we got a proper cartoon Traag and NECA knocked it out of the park. The only negatives with the figure is just the lack of accessories, but that’s because there’s so much plastic in the sculpt (and he was bundled with Granitor) that it likely prevented NECA from adding much else. He moves well though and has tremendous presence on a shelf. He’s basically the surprise sleeper of the line so far as I don’t know that many had Traag high up on their list of wants, but anyone who got him is probably pretty happy with him.
Metalhead – The first deluxe figure in the line, and thus the first solo release, was The Mighty Metalhead! And he’s awesome, a true cartoon-to-plastic creation that’s big and beefy with some fun parts. The more recently released Android Krang does make him appear a little less “deluxe” than he did before, but he was also cheaper. He was also a real pain in the ass to find last summer, but at least NECA put him up for order on their site leading to scores of people like me ending up with two by accident. Nonetheless, I’m not down on having two as he is a great figure. The only real negative is his articulation isn’t great due to the shape of his arms and such, but he also doesn’t need a ton and he’s perfectly capable of looking imposing on your shelf or tidying it up with his vacuum attachment.
Krang (Android Body) – Bubble walker Krang is nice, but this is the Krang everyone wants. Krang in his weird body is a natural for NECA’s deluxe line. He snuck in just before 2020 ended and nearly stole the show. He’s big, he’s got a new Krang to go inside him, and he comes with a bunch of extra stuff. The only thing that stinks about him is that he has so much paint on him that he is prone to chipping and factory defects. He’s definitely the kind of figure you want to come across in-store in larger quantities so you have a chance to pick the best available. Thankfully, that’s what happened to me and I was able to find one with pretty terrific paint, but literally every other one I left on the shelf had some ugly smudge or chip somewhere. He’s a truly goofy looking figure, made more so if you slap that shower attire on him, but that’s TMNT!
Leatherhead – More so than any other figure, Leatherhead surprised me. I wasn’t really looking forward to him even though I like the character, but once I had him in hand I was pretty blown away. He looks awesome and he’s based on the Bebop/Rocksteady body so he’s big and moves well enough. NECA gave him an articulated jaw and also packed him with some fun accessories like his weird ketchup gun and shackles. I love this figure, and the only issue I had with him is the damn painted joints. The issue is just more pronounced with Leatherhead because his legs and boots are blue since he’s wearing hip waders, but for some reason they were cast in white plastic which really shows up in the ankles when the blue paint flakes away. Supposedly, there has been a running change with this figure that fixed it, but I haven’t seen evidence of that. I’ll be curious to see if it’s no longer a problem when NECA ships out its made-to-order Leatherhead/Slash sets next month. Despite that annoyance though, this is a great figure, just watch that hook on his belt which appears to be prone to popping off.
Rocksteady – The moronic duo of Bebop and Rocksteady were staples in the cartoon, and they were part of the first offering of figures from Playmates back in the day. They were, however, never toon accurate until NECA stepped in. Rocksteady, to put it plainly, looks perfect. He’s chunky, he’s got a gut, and his eyes capture that “dangerous but stupid” expression he seemed to always wear. When I lucked onto a set around Thanksgiving 2019, I had nothing to really complain about. He could have come with a helmet, but he rarely wore that so I don’t know if I would even use it. He’s probably a little oversized when compared with the Turtles, but he looks so good this way that I hesitate to really complain. This is the Rocksteady I wanted when I was a kid, and I’m really happy to have him now in my 30s.
Baxter – Old Baxter is a character I just have a soft spot for. I’ve always liked his design, and like with many figures in this line, I always wanted a cartoon accurate version of him for my collection. He’s tiny, but packed with articulation and, more importantly, personality and I find myself charmed more and more each day that passes with this guy in my possession. NECA gave him some great accessories and he’s one of the few figures I really don’t want more from. The only real criticism I had was the lack of articulation in his purple appendages, but it’s not a deal-breaker, by any means. Just a wonderful little figure that does what it needs to and more!
Bebop – The mutated wart hog is my pick for best figure in the line. Like Rocksteady, I just had nothing to complain about with this figure. He has all of the screen-accurate details I expected and his size and proportions are even better than what we saw with Rocksteady. Sure, you can quibble with that size as far as being too big goes, but he looks great and I wouldn’t mess with him. Literally the only thing that bugs me with this figure is his wrist chain, which is a real chain. It looks wonderful, but it will fly off when you swap his left hand and it’s hard to get it to look as good as it did out of the box. If they had sculpted the chain on his arm it probably wouldn’t look as good, but it would also work better, so it’s both hard to complain and praise the decision. Otherwise, he’s fantastic and I’ll never need another Bebop. Oh, I’ve definitely bought more that you’ll get to read about some day, but I didn’t need any more. For now, Bebop is the high water mark for this line and if NECA never tops it that’s honestly okay, but I hope they do at some point.
February 5th, 2021 at 12:45 pm
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