Author Archives: Joe

Tiny Arcade Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Turtle Fighter

Ready to experience the classic game…Turtle Fighter?

The best way to quickly view the passage of time is through technology, and perhaps no piece of technology is better suited for such an exercise than video games. What was once high-tech is now novelty while the modern video game is almost incomparable to what passed as a game 30 years ago. And one of those measurements of time is available via the Super Impulse Limited run of Tiny Arcades. These devices are smallish arcade cabinets, so small they all have a keychain affixed to them, that contain one classic game. They’re not actually emulated though, or even really ports, but are actually remakes that aim to capture the look and feel of the original. Most of these games are so simple, like Pac-Man and Galaga, that it’s not readily apparent you’re not playing a ROM unless you’re super familiar with the originals.

Notice the only thing the box promises is that it’s functional.

Super Limited apparently wants a challenge, and one of its latest releases is an interpretation of the classic 1989 arcade brawler Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Adapting this game is considerably more ambitious than anything Tiny Arcade has done before. The promotional images looked promising though as the cabinet was decked out in the familiar imagery of that old cabinet complete with Konami logo. It promised authentic gameplay too, but I was rather skeptical. At approximately $20, it seemed like a worthwhile purchase as a novelty item. I certainly didn’t expect it to be a great way to experience the old game, but I was far too curious to resist.

At least they didn’t try to cram four joysticks onto this thing.

Things have changed since the first unveiling. I first noticed the shape of the cabinet is a little different when I picked this sucker up recently at a nearby Target. The screen appears to be a little bigger, but also orientated different for a more vertical display. As a result, the base below the screen has been shrunk making the controls lower to the ground while maintaining the same height of approximately three and a half inches. It’s unfortunate since I was really interested in this as a display piece for action figures. It was already too short, but now it’s even shorter and I’ll need to factor that in when I got to make a “riser” for this thing. If I do. The Konami logo has also been removed, either because Super Impulse didn’t want to pay for it or perhaps because Konami didn’t want to be associated with this thing. The button layout was also changed and instead of the usual two buttons with the nub-stick it actually has four. The unit is powered by three AAA batteries which are included and it comes in the familiar clear plastic packaging with some licensing art emblazoned on it.

It kind of looks the part, though my camera is obviously going to make it look worse than it is.

Turning this thing on and you immediately will notice the music is different. The original begins with the cartoon theme, and Super Impulse assuredly didn’t want to pay for the rights to that song. It’s been replaced with a very generic and very annoying new tune. Otherwise, the beginning is pretty familiar, aside from the lack of a Konami logo. The turtles still burst out of the sewer and you’re treated to the same four-panel image introducing each one. After that though, a rather ugly user interface comes into view that can only be described as utilitarian. You can turn the music and sound effects off and on and adjust the volume as well. What you can’t do is select a turtle as you’re assigned Donatello.

I can forgive the game its shortcomings, but can we at least do better with the stickers?

After that, the game returns to being fairly authentic. There’s a fire at a nearby building and Splinter sends his pupils off to save April. The difference is Michelangelo doesn’t fall on his ass as the turtles land on the rooftop and enter the building. Once the gameplay starts though, you’re in for a shock. The Donatello sprite and the background looks okay. The resolution of a tiny screen is obviously not fantastic, but it’s acceptable. Moving Donatello though will expose how this sucker has a severely reduced framerate. The other Tiny Arcade stuff I’ve played is similar, but it’s far less noticeable with something like Pac-Man. This game feels like it’s moving at 10 frames per second, if that, and it’s very choppy. All of the sound effects seem like they were optimized for Leonardo as there’s lots of clashing sword strikes. It’s definitely not pleasant.

There’s a keychain on the back for those who like impractical things.

Controlling Donatello has also been adjusted from the original. The stick moves him around as expected, but he has two jump buttons and two attack buttons. This was done to allow the user to rely less on the actual joystick, which can be imprecise. One jump button makes Donatello jump forward, and the other makes him jump back. Same with the attack buttons. Repeatedly pressing a jump button will keep him in the air longer which is necessary for avoiding certain obstacles like the giant bowling balls or cars in later levels. Donatello will be confronted by waves of Foot Soldiers of various colors armed with various weapons. Sometimes, a Roadkill Rodney appears and in later levels there are mousers. It is impressive how many enemies this thing can put on the screen at once, so much that they start to look like a massive blob of limbs and weapons. The game doesn’t appear to slow down further during these moments, but it’s hard to imagine it running any slower than it naturally does.

Next to a Pac-Man from the same series. You can see how the screen size has been changed leading to an adjustment of the unit’s dimensions.

Super Impulse was able to get the bosses into the game as well. Rocksteady appears at the end of the first level, followed by Baxter in the sewer, and so on. It is only 3 levels long though, and I have actually yet to beat it. I can make it to the street level following the dual boss fight with Bebop and Rocksteady where things just get really cheap. Foot in cars or on motorcycles will fly by and they’re a one-hit death. I even reached this scenario with all of my lives intact, but died when I got hit by a motorcycle. The game respawned me in the path of a Foot missile, another one-hit death, and it was an unending cycle that took all four of my lives in the span of a few seconds. Prior to this though, I found the game extraordinarily easy. The bosses are staggered when struck and they can’t break out of it so this game is one you can essentially button mash through. You really only have to make sure enemies don’t surround you and learn to avoid the few level obstacles there are. Defeating enemies seems to restore your health bar as there are no pizza pick-ups. The environment also cannot be interacted with like it can be with the original, so no smashing fire hydrants or traffic cones.

At least he seems to be enjoying it.

I think most who pick this item up are doing so for the sheer novelty of it. And considering that, it’s still lacking. I find it rather deceptive of Super Impulse to not inform the consumer that only one turtle is selectable. I thought maybe they were going to release multiple versions, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. The actual game plays like a Java cell phone game from 2007. It’s so jittery that it barely feels like a full video game and more like a Tiger handheld. I expected this thing to have issues with the inputs, but I wasn’t expecting the video to be so poor. If Konami didn’t want its name on this thing it’s not hard to see why.

At $20, this item leaves a lot to be desired. I would almost rather a Hallmark ornament of this arcade cabinet instead since I was mostly interested in it for the aesthetics. Its dimensions are odd though, and the low-res images on the sides and marquee leave something to be desired as well. I thought this would be a fun addition to a someday NECA sewer lair for my action figures, but now it feels more like something I’m going to return to the store on my next visit.


X-Men: The Art and Making of the Animated Series

A few years ago, I talked about my love of X-Men, the animated series, via a book review of Previously…on X-Men by Eric Lewald. That book chronicled the development of the 92 animated series that helped propel the Fox Kids Network to the top of the Saturday morning leaderboards through notes from the author and extensive interviews with the folks that helped bring that series to life. Now, Lewald is back with his wife Julia with a complementary piece all about the artists and artwork that went into creating that series, X-Men: The Art and Making of the Animated Series.

There are probably a few individuals out there who first wrinkled their nose at the thought of an art book based on the animated series starring the X-Men. That’s because the show was somewhat famously underserved by Saban Entertainment who had little interest in sinking much money into the art and animation that went into the show. It’s not that the show was abysmal to look at, it’s more that it was always going to be compared with Batman: The Animated Series. Both shows launched in 92 on Fox, though X-Men only in a sneak preview with the proper launch coming in January of 1993. Batman was on weekday afternoons, while X-Men was allowed to reign over Saturday morning. The other big difference though was Batman had the might of Warner Bros behind it which produced the series and just licensed it out to Fox. X-Men had the backing of Marvel, which wasn’t what it is today. Marvel was a bit touch and go for many years even when it was starting to take over the news stand with a lot of help from the mutants who starred in this series. Rather than self-finance though, Marvel licensed it out to Saban who partnered with Graz Entertainment. The budget was never going to be the same, nor was the confidence. X-Men was unproven outside of the comic book world, and thus received just a one season order initially, followed by a second, before eventually the big order came in.

X-Men on the front, bad guys on the rear. What does it say about me that I think I prefer this to the cover?

Despite all of that, and a legend who had no idea how the property should be presented (::cough:: Stan ::cough::), the show was a smashing success. It’s interesting to look back on because I think many consider Batman to be the superior show. And yet, X-Men was the ratings champ and my favorite of the two. And when it came to my friends, most liked Batman, all loved X-Men. I don’t know why that is, though I have some theories. Batman was a known property and the show reflected the Tim Burton films. Whenever something goes from the big screen to the small one (especially in the 90s), there’s a feeling that the TV version is inferior. The X-Men may have lacked the recognition of Batman, but it also lacked any sort of baggage. Batman was also quite great at being a moody, superhero, show with a lot of style. It was also mostly rooted in that, where as X-Men was an ensemble with more characters to lean on. Batman was almost devoid of personality as a character by choice, while basically every member of the X-Men (well, maybe not Cyclops) was rather colorful able to display a wide range of emotion and even drop a one-liner or two. Or maybe it was just the prestige of being on Saturday morning? Either way, it was a good time to be alive.

It’s an art book, so expect a lot of artwork!

Both shows were part of a gradual maturation taking place in children’s cartoons. We basically had left the wacky and cheap 80s in favor of something that actually had respect for its audience. Shows like The Pirates of Dark Water and my beloved Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars were quite different in tone from the likes of Thundercats and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Most of those shows still featured a character that could be turned to for comedic relief, and even Batman has the Joker. X-Men didn’t really feature that though. Morph could have been that character, but he was killed off rather quickly. It’s a drama starring people in bright spandex that captivated me as a kid. The serialized nature and some of the nuance of the show asked something of me, and I was willing to rise to the program as a mere 7 year-old. It’s no surprise to me that when I look back on my youth, X-Men is there and always will be as it was far and away my favorite program.

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the book is getting to read the descriptions that go along with each storyboard panel.

And despite what you may think, a lot of really talented and devoted artists contributed to this show. Knock the animation all you want, but I’ve always been rather insistent that the show looks pretty great in stills. Sure, pick through it and you’ll find some weird stuff or miss-colored limbs and costumes, that’s true of a lot of shows from that era. Where this book is able to shine is with the stuff not broadcast. All of the developmental art that went into the show; costume ideas, height charts, storyboards, are quite rewarding to look at. When Lewald and his team were handed this property, there were decades of material to cherry-pick for the show and a lot of ideas were cast aside. There’s also plenty of production art, like cels and such, that are quite interesting to look at. Especially some of the backgrounds, like the lair of Mr. Sinister, which featured several layers of artwork to make it right.

And it’s not just art! The books is broken out into six chapters, plus an intro and an afterword, with each containing a detailed breakdown of what went into each section. Some of this stuff is lifted from the prior book, so it will be a bit familiar for those who read it, and some of the details are new. Since this book is focused on the art of the series, you’ll hear additional nuggets about what went into a character’s look or a particular background. There’s a lot of ink spent on the various cameos that occurred throughout the series and some of the other details may surprise and amaze. One such nugget came from Director and Storyboard Artist/Supervisor Larry Houston who pointed out how difficult it was to animate a character like Mr. Sinister. His irregular cape basically forced Houston to storyboard the character with as little motion as possible. Basically, the camera was either directly in front or behind him and he was basically never allowed to rotate. It’s fun to go back and watch the series with such information in hand and it gives some newfound appreciation for all of the work Larry and his team had to do before sending an episode off to Korea for animation.

When the X-Men ruled the world!

There’s a lot to unpack in this book and I don’t want to reveal too much since a lot of the enjoyment I had was uncovering things I either didn’t know or really paid little attention to. There’s also some nice additions to this one like a collection of all of the episode logs and a picture to go along with it. Some time is spent on looking back at the X-Men craze, like the Pizza Hut promotion and the action figure line from ToyBiz, which might make you wish for a third book that covers all of that tie-in merch. The book itself is also quite lovely. It’s hardbound with new cover art from Houston, I think. There’s no explicit “Cover” credit, just a case credit to Houston with ink by Rick Hoberg and colors by Laura Martin. It’s a bit confusing as the inside of the front and back cover are storyboards which were definitely done by Houston, so the credit may be referring to that. Regardless, the cover, featuring the main team including Morph and Bishop, and the rear cover featuring the villains of the series look great. Pages are nice and thick and the whole thing totals 288 pages. Since it’s mostly artwork, it’s not a tremendously long read, but it’s hardly brief. I mostly read it while sipping a morning or afternoon coffee (first starting my read, appropriately enough, on a Saturday morning) over the course of a week. It was a wonderful, leisurely, trip back to the 90s and my youth that not only left me wanting more, but also with a desire to go back and revisit the show once again.

One of my favorite inclusions in the book is the visual episode guide with accompanying logs, a tremendous resource to have on-hand.

X-Men: The Art and Making of the Animated Series is a great companion to Previously…on X-Men. It’s a book intended to satiate fans of the show, but would also probably entertain casual fans as well. I had a great time engaging with the art from the property, and while I already had a pretty terrific appreciation of the art that went into the show, I think those who might not have that same level of appreciation will likely leave with a bit more. Eric and Julia Lewald do a great job of recounting their time with the show and the various artists and executives they speak with bring a lot to the table. It’s my assumption that anyone with a love for this old show will be delighted by this book and it’s something I plan to flip through again.


The Power-Ups of Super Mario Bros. – The Definitive Ranking!

Pay not attention to the mustachioed statue.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a video game post. In the spirit of the season, being Halloween, I decided to dive into…Mario power-ups? All right, hear me out. I’ve more or less exhausted The Misfits and everyone and their mother will have posts this month about horror themed movies, games, and TV shows. And what is a Mario power-up? It’s a costume! Sure, a costume with often magical properties and no real horror element, but a costume is a costume and not everyone gets dressed up as something spooky for Halloween.

Since the Mario franchise as we know it truly launched, power-ups have almost always been a major feature in the games that followed. The only outlier really is Super Mario Sunshine since the gameplay of that one focused on the user of a water pack. The other outlier is Super Mario Odyssey, but there’s a good reason there as Mario was gifted Cappy for that one which basically turns every enemy into a power-up of their own! A ranking of the various things Mario can turn into in that game is a ranking all its own, so I’m going to ignore that one. I’m also ignoring the power-ups removed from the main Super Mario Bros. franchise (like the RPGs) and the ones trapped in Super Mario Maker. I’m also ignoring the temporary accessory items Mario has been able to pick up, like the shoe or the blockhead thing in New Super Mario Bros. 2. I also excluded the intentional game-breaking power-ups like the Invincibility Leaf which gets offered to the player when they die too much. And lastly, I decided not to treat Yoshi as a power-up so he’s not included, nor all of the Yoshi-specific power-ups. What I’m left with was 34 power-ups, so since this is going to take awhile, we might as well get started. And we’re starting with the worst:

Tubular…

34. Power Balloon – The Power Balloon, or P Balloon, first appeared in Super Mario World and will forever be associated with the bonus level Tubular, the level most cite as the worst in the game (and one of the worst in general). It’s actually not that bad, and Nintendo has put far more annoying levels in its games since, but the P Balloon, which simply inflates Mario like a balloon for a short amount of time, is annoying to control. It’s not particularly enjoyable, and just the sight of it is anxiety-inducing. Sort of like an under water level in a Sonic the Hedgehog game since its effects are temporary and when it wares off there’s a good chance Mario is plummeting to an early death.

Even Mario would rather no bother with this one.

33. Spring Mushroom – This little power-up first showed up in Super Mario Galaxy, a game that unofficially brought the power-up back into style for Mario and oddly made them all mushroom-based. It, like the P Balloon, is ranked so low because actually getting the power-up is done out of necessity, not want. No one wants to control a spring-loaded Mario, just as no one wants him to control like a balloon. The Spring Mushroom sequences in Galaxy were, by far, my least favorite.

They’re no Ghostbusters, but they get the job done.

32. Light Box – The Light Box was brought into the universe via Super Mario 3D World and it serves one singular purpose: to thwart ghosts. And it’s good for that, but nothing else. It works, but it’s boring and honestly I almost didn’t include it.

At least he looks cute.

31. Frog Suit – The Frog Suit was one of the many power-ups found in the classic Super Mario Bros. 3. Getting it in World 3 was pretty exciting, until you actually used it. If underwater, the Frog Suit is great as it allows Mario and Luigi to swim faster and with more precision. On land though, it’s a nightmare and you’ll be searching for an enemy to knock you out of it. Maybe if Mario had been given a tongue attack or something it would have worked better.

The evolved form of Gravel Mario.

30. Rock Mushroom – Another Galaxy addition is the Rock Mushroom. It basically turns Mario into a Mario Golem that can roll around and smash stuff. It’s not particularly fun, but since Mario is nigh indestructible in this form it’s not as annoying to control as the Spring Mushroom.

Look at me! I’m a cloud!

29. Cloud Flower – Introduced in Galaxy 2, the Cloud Flower turns Mario into…Cloud Mario! This allows Mario to create cloud platforms to assist him in reaching new heights. It’s useful, just not particularly sexy. Unless you have a cloud fetish, then it’s very sexy.

All right, Bowser, now I’m-ah gonna fuck you up!

28. Canon Box – Mario has always lacked the fire power of Bowser and his minions, but the Canon Box evens those odds to a degree. It turns Mario’s head into a literal canon and he can blast anything in his way. It’s not particularly refined or cute, but it is pretty damn effective!

Sadly, not T-1000 Mario.

27. Metal Cap – The signature power-up of Super Mario 64. That game was a revelation when it came out, but one thing that it always lacked from the start was interesting power-ups. The Metal Cap turns Mario into Metal Mario, which is basically just good for letting him walk on the bottom of a sea floor without the need to swim. And swimming for the first time in 3D was quite the challenge so the Metal Cap was certainly welcomed, it’s just not particularly fun.

Mario’s got a nice set of cherries.

26. Double Cherry – In Super Mario 3D World, Mario gained the ability to split in two, or more, copies of himself. He’s always had the ability to gain extra lives, but never to live them simultaneously! It’s an interesting concept, but it’s less a power-up and more a method for puzzle solving or to get a star coin or something.

Admit it, you probably overlooked this one.

25. Life Mushroom/Life-Up Heart – A very useful power-up without really any “fun” component, the Life Mushroom in Galaxy just doubles Mario’s health. It’s something I’ll go out of my way to get when playing a level, but it doesn’t give Mario a fun ability or cool, new, look. It just makes him stronger.

Weee!

24. Penguin Suit – The Penguin Suit from New Super Mario Bros. Wii is the opposite of the Life Mushroom. It’s really fun and silly looking, but kind of a pain in the ass to maneuver in. It’s not as bad as the Frog Suit, and it gives Mario the ability to slide on his belly and to fire ice balls. It’s also the type of power-up that gets in the way and you may blame a death or two on this one before the level is over.

Angelic Mario.

23. Wing Cap – Mario had flown before, but the Wing Cap in Super Mario 64 was the first time he flew in 3D. And it was pretty cool to do so the first time, even though controlling Mario was a bit tricky and the level it’s available in feels more like a Pilot Wings demo than anything. It would have been a lot cooler if Nintendo could have integrated it into other levels like a more traditional power-up, but there was just no way to do it without breaking the game. I rank it as low as I do for that reason as it’s mainly just a diversion.

Red Star Mario reminds me of Red Son Superman, who was a communist. Is this Communist Mario?!

22. The Red Star – Basically the Wing Cap, but in Super Mario Galaxy. It drops the wings and just lets Mario fly like Superman. By Galaxy, controlling such a thing was far more refined and thus more fun, but like 64 it’s basically just a reward for players who stick with it and doesn’t feel like a true power-up.

He’s certainly owning this look.

21. The Blue Shell – Introduced in New Super Mario Bros., the Blue Shell is basically the Hammer Bros. Suit without the hammers. Instead, Mario can run and do a slide attack. It’s functional, doesn’t intrude on Mario’s basic controls, but also doesn’t impart much in the way of special abilities. It’s fine.

How small can he get?

20. Mini Mushroom – The Mini Mushroom was also introduced in New Super Mario Bros. and it felt like a longtime coming. We had the traditional Super Mushroom that makes Mario big, so why not have a small one that does the opposite? The Mini Mushroom makes Mario tiny and hard to hit while also seemingly boosting his running speed. He’s also light and floaty which makes him more challenging to control, but does let him run across water. It’s another power-up that has a very specific application usually in order to access secret areas. It’s fun to use though and adds a bit of challenge without making things too frustrating.

You best not get any sick ideas while invisible, Mario!

19. Vanish Cap – This one from Super Mario 64 renders Mario intangible. He can’t be hurt and can pass through certain things. Since it’s from 64 it has very specific applications, but it’s cool. It’s just not exciting to look at since it’s just regular Mario only he’s now transparent.

It’s a known fact that when you die your tongue increases in mass several times over.

18. Boo Mushroom – The Boo Mushroom lets Mario become that which he fears most: a ghost! He gets to float around and pass through fences and read a dead language reserved for ghosts, so it has a puzzle component to it. And it looks cool! What more could you want?

I’m-ah coming for you, Culken!

17. Bee Mushroom – The “big” power-up, I suppose, from Super Mario Galaxy turned Mario into an adorable honey bee. It grants temporary flight, the ability to walk on certain surfaces, and grip to others. It’s actually pretty fun and there’s definitely a rush of excitement when a Bee Mushroom is spotted in a level. The only thing that sucks is it’s from Galaxy, so once the level is done you can’t take it with you.

You can probably hear this image.

16. Super Star – The venerable Super Star, around since the beginning and a staple of 2D Mario gaming. It makes Mario invincible for a short amount of time and in some games augments his jump or running speed. Everyone loves a Super Star and it’s one of those power-ups you’ll run after when it pops out of a block, sometimes recklessly. And the best power-ups are the ones you don’t want to get away when they show.

Mario! Smash!

15. Mega Mushroom – Like the Super Star, the Mega Mushroom makes Mario invincible briefly, but only this time he grows to gargantuan proportions and can smash through pretty much anything. The only downside really is that once you’ve seen it and experienced it once a lot of the fun is removed since you literally just go right the whole time. And yet, if I see a Mega Mushroom pop out of a block I’m going all out to make sure I get that damn thing!

I don’t think I’d eat that…

14. Super Mushroom – The venerable Super Mushroom. What’s not to like? It turns Mario into Super Mario bestowing a precious extra hit point to Mario while often granting him an extra ability or two, like the drill jump in Super Mario World. It may be unsexy, but the Super Mushroom is undeniably useful and it has no negative side effects other than a larger hit box, but that’s hardly a trade-off since it makes Mario stronger.

I already made a testicles joke with the cherries, two would just be gratuitous.

13. Superball Flower – Super Mario Land was the first Mario experience on the Game Boy and it brought along the flower power-up. Only since the Game Boy lacked a color palette, Mario couldn’t easily be depicted tossing fireballs so Nintendo chose to go with Superballs! They do work a bit differently as they fire at an angle and bounce around. It’s the main power-up of Land and Super Mario Maker has given it a new lease on life.

And he was feeling good when just wearing the shell!

12. Boomerang Flower – Way back in 1988 we got the Hammer Bros. suit in Super Mario Bros. 3 and we had to wait until Super Mari 3D Land in 2011 to get the logical complement, the Boomerang Flower which grants Mario the Boomerang Suit. It’s the same thing, only Mario gets to toss a boomerang instead of a hammer. It’s pretty cool, but no hammer.

If this list were purely on aesthetics then this one would rank higher.

11. Ice Flower – Another one that took awhile, we’ve had the Fire Flower since the beginning, but the Ice Flower took it’s sweet time in making it to a game as it first appeared in Super Mario Galaxy. In that game, it was a temporary power-up like a Super Star, but it’s since become a permanent power-up in the New Super Mario Bros. series. It gives Mario the ability to toss ice balls which freeze enemies on contact turning them into blocks of ice which also have their uses. It’s not as good as old reliable, the Fire Flower, but it’s pretty fun to have ice powers and it doesn’t come with the limited movement of the Penguin Suit.

And this one would rank lower.

10. Super Acorn – One of the most recent power-ups, the Super Acorn was introduced in New Super Mario Bros. U and is basically the logical evolution of the Super Leaf. It grants Mario the Flying Squirrel Suit which allows him the ability to glide with a one-time height boost per flight to reach high places. He can also flutter slowly, but he descends quickly when compared with the Super Leaf. He can also cling to a wall when in this suit which has its uses. It’s a fun item to get ahold of, but also kind of terrifying as gliding is really tempting and blindly gliding over a level can end badly, especially if Mario loses his power mid-flight. It’s propensity for introducing trouble is why I don’t rank it higher.

More of these suits and powers should probably include a helmet.

9. Propeller Mushroom/Propeller Box – The flying item for New Super Mario Bros. Wii was the Propeller Mushroom which grants Mario the Propeller Suit. Basically, when wearing this Mario can do a double-jump that rockets him high into the air and allows for a slow descend. It’s a simple way to integrate a flying component into the game that’s not game-breaking, but it’s lack of an extra attack limits its use. The Propeller Box in the 3D games essentially functions as the same thing, only without the cool suit.

Like cats? Well, have I got a Mario game for you!

8. Super Bell – Introduced in Super Mario 3D World, the Super Bell lets Mario live out his dream – as a cat. It’s a simple power-up, but one that is always welcomed as it lets Mario run faster, climb walls, perform a dive attack, and gives him a claw attack as well. It’s awesome! And who doesn’t love Mario and his companions in an adorable cat costume?

Is this maybe too cute?

7. Carrot – The somewhat forgotten power-up of Super Mario Land 2 is the Carrot. Not Super Carrot, just Carrot, and it gives Mario…bunny ears? Yes, like the Super Leaf, it gives Mario the power to fly without making much sense, but who cares? Mario can fly! He flaps his new ears to clear large gaps. He can’t go up, but can travel horizontally in the air indefinitely and also slow his descent when falling. It is kind of game-breaking, like a lot of the flying abilities during this era, but undeniably fun to use and the signature power-up from that game.

Super Mario Bros. 3 Fire Mario is the best Fire Mario.

6. Fire Flower – Old reliable! The Fire Flower has been a mainstay and it’s never not useful. It lets Mario shoot fireballs at enemies and most of those enemies are not interested in taking a fireball to the face. It’s certainly been overshadowed over the years by flashier power-ups, but it still remains a hard power-up to pass-up when it shows itself in any given level.

Meanwhile, this look is a bit much…

5. Gold Flower – Everything that is good about the Fire Flower, only it also turns enemies (and a lot of other stuff) into coins and who doesn’t love money?! Sure, New Super Mario Bros. 2 probably went overboard with the whole coin focus, but the Gold Flower certainly fit in and it’s the Fire Flower, but better, so it’s ranked here.

Pure joy distilled into a single piece of Mario art.

4. Super Leaf – The Super Leaf gave Mario a raccoon tail and ears and changed the series forever. For the first time, Mario could fly! It was all anyone wanted to talk about when we first started getting a look at Super Mario Bros. 3. Since that game, the Super Leaf has resurfaced in a neutered form as it often just retains the ability to hover and tail-attack. That original one is still the best as the flying was easy to use and made exploring the levels a lot more interesting than they had been previously.

Mario’s most hug-able power-up.

3. Tanooki Suit/Statue Lead – It’s the Super Leaf, only it makes Mario both more adorable and more destructive! Mario goes full tanooki with the costume and never looked better giving him the same abilities as the Super Leaf. It also has the added ability to allow Mario to turn into a statue making him invulnerable to attack and able to smash stuff. It doesn’t get much better than that which is why it’s at number 3.

Mario! Hammers are for pounding nails, not throwing!

2. Hammer Suit – The most illusive power-up in Super Mario Bros. 3 is the game’s best. It gives Mario the ability to essentially be a Hammer Bro. His hard shell makes him impervious to fireballs when ducking and his hammers do massive damage. If you manage to hang onto the thing all the way through Bowser’s castle you’ll be rewarded with a really easy final battle. If you put it on though and then immediately lose it you’ll be left wishing that old game had a save feature and you could reload. The Hammer Suit is awesome, and if it only had a flight component it would be the ultimate Mario power-up.

All of those years he was calling himself Super Mario when he didn’t even have a cape!
  1. Feather – No power-up for Mario is as powerful as the simple Feather. It gives Mario a bright, yellow, cape and in a video game a cape can only mean one thing: flight. And unlike the Super Leaf, this cape can keep Mario airborne indefinitely once the user gets the hang of it making it the most game-breaking of all the power-ups. It’s probably the reason why power-ups like the Red Star are reserved for just certain areas in its games. And not only can Mario fly, he also gets a cape-attack which is incredibly useful throughout Super Mario World. Useful attack plus unlimited flight? Yeah, the Feather is the ultimate power-up.


Marvel Legends Deadpool 2 Two-Pack

Look through my various toy reviews and you’ll probably notice that I’m not much of a Marvel guy. That wasn’t always the case for me though as I was huge into Marvel Legends once upon a time. I basically stopped around the time Hasbro was awarded the Marvel license. I felt there was a dip in quality and also the character assortment stopped appealing to me. I knew what I wanted from the line and had wanted for years, but it seemed the line refused to give me what I wanted. I moved on, and it wasn’t long after the line was actually suspended for quite a few years before it made a comeback. I’ve never gone back though and that’s largely just due to my fading interest in the Marvel Universe.

Pardon the stock boxed photo, I was so eager to check this set out I forgot to snap a pic.

One figure I did review though was the Marvel Legends Deadpool. That figure was from the sixth series released by Toy Biz. I reviewed it simply because it’s the only Marvel Legends figure on display in my house. All of the rest are in bins crammed in an attic and most of the choicest figures have been sold. I liked that Deadpool a lot though when it came out so I did a little post on it. Well, when I was walking through an aisle at my local Target I happened upon one of the latest two-packs released by Hasbro in the Marvel Legends line. And that two-pack is the Deadpool and Negasonic Teenage Warhead set from the film Deadpool 2. It’s an eye-catching window box as it’s done up in red with Deadpool “effects” added to it like marker crossing out the figure’s real names and a faux Deadpool sticker placed over the X-Men logo. Since I still have a Deadpool on display in my house, I was really intrigued in having an updated version of the character to go with it. It turned into an impulse buy, so here we are.

She looks the part.

First off, let’s talk about the other figure in this set: Negasonic Teenage Warhead, who will now be referred to simply as NTW. I have little to no interest in this figure, but if I wanted a new Deadpool I had to get her. She is depicted in her Deadpool 2 costume complete with the mohawk hairstyle. She stands a tick under five and half inches to the top of her forehead, and is a bit taller when you factor in the hair. She looks the part and the face is a good likeness for actress Brianna Hildebrand. The sculpt features some nice texture work on the yellow portion of the chest as well as the sleeves and shoulders. Strangely, the pants feature no such touches and are basically just plain, black, plastic with some yellow painted on at the thighs. It would be okay if this were a figure based on a comic, but not a film. The only other aspect of the sculpt I’m not high on is how her head sits on her neck. The cut just looks odd from the side as there’s quite a gap between the back of her head and neck. I suppose the counter here is how many people are going to pose her on a shelf at a side angle? Probably few.

I don’t like that gap on the back of her neck.

NTW does come packed with quite a bit of functional articulation. Her head may look odd on her neck, but it can roll around effortlessly and she has a solid range of motion when looking up and down. The shoulders are ball-jointed and she has a bicep swivel and double-jointed elbows allowing her to bend about 90 degrees. It looks like the bottom joint should allow for movement past 90, but my figure doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. She has hinges and swivels at the wrist and an upper torso joint. It works more to pivot her side to side as she has little to no movement forward and back. The legs attach via ball-joints and can swivel. She also has a thigh cut and double-jointed knees. There’s a boot cut and her feet possess hinges as well as the ability to rock side to side. Being she’s not the most acrobatic of superheroes, this strikes me as a perfectly acceptable amount of articulation for this figure. It’s all integrated well into the sculpt and should you want to get creative I don’t think you’ll be limited too much.

Hands open.
Hands closed.

When it comes to accessories, NTW is a bit lacking, but also there’s not a ton of room to really add much. She comes with two sets of hands: fists and open style pose hands. They pop off and on easily enough and both are suitable for posing with this figure. She also has a pair of energy effects that wrap around her forearms. They’re okay, a little too flimsy for my liking, but the translucent yellow-orange plastic is a good look. That’s it though, but like I said, I’m not really sure what else would make sense for her to have.

Oh you are one sexy superhero.
And the view from behind, because the audience demands it.

The real draw of this set, for me and probably most who pick it up, is Deadpool. And to Hasbro’s credit, the company seems to be well aware of that. He comes with a lot more stuff than his boxmate and a lot more care went into his sculpt as well. First of all, this is a Deadpool 2 version of the character’s costume, though he does come with two sets of all black gloves, reflecting his appearance from the first film. I think Hasbro intends for this to be a catch-all version of the character, though the shoulder strap is clearly based on the sequel. Regardless, it’s not that important since his costume was pretty similar from one film to the next and he very much looks like Deadpool.

Home Alone face!
Sometimes a hero just needs to chill.

Deadpool stands at around six and a quarter inches and scales well with NTW. I assume he scales well with the other figures in this wave, but I also don’t have them to confirm. The sculpt is pretty involved with this guy as he has lots of seams, straps, and buckles, all over the place. The entire costume is well textured and looks like it was pulled from the film and there’s some minor battle damage on his chest as well. The belt Hasbro put on him is floating, so it doesn’t hinder his articulation to the degree one would expect. It’s also painted and sculpted quite well, at least on the front. Hasbro went cheap on the rear of the figure as the pouches are not painted to the degree the ones on the front of the belt are. Like the head on NTW, it’s something that won’t really show on a shelf, but come on, Hasbro! That’s pretty cheap. There’s also some errors here and there when comparing this costume with the film. The sculpt seems to be all there, it’s just some parts (in particular, the boot area and the collar) are either unpainted or painted black when they should be red, or vice versa. My figure also has one paint chip on the black portion of his abdomen and I’m frustrated at myself for not noticing that in the package since I had my pick from around half a dozen sets at the store.

Let’s pose!
Gun fight? Knife fight? Deadpool is always prepared.

Deadpool, essentially being a superhero ninja, is pretty well stacked when it comes to articulation. His head appears to be on a dumbbell joint giving him movement at the head and base of the neck. The collar Hasbro has on him limits the movement a bit, but it’s fine. The shoulders are on butterfly joints that give him some inward motion without marring the chest portion of the sculpt. They’re also ball-jointed and his elbows double-jointed and he can bend well past 90 degrees as he can basically do a full curl. The hands are hinged and also able to rotate, as expected. He does have an ab crunch and the way his costume is designed makes it work well with the sculpt. The waist can swivel and you can slide his belt up a bit to make it work. He’s ball-jointed at the legs with rotation there to go along with a thigh cut below it. The knees are double-jointed and his feet are hinged with rocking action. I’m a little surprised at the lack of a boot-cut or swivel down there, but it’s fine.

Let’s get messy!

The articulation Hasbro packed into this figure is plenty enough to get him into various poses, which comes in handy since he has a lot of stuff to pose with. In terms of hands, Deadpool has two all black fists and a pair of all black open, style pose, hands. His gripping hands have the back of each painted silver and his set of trigger hands are the same reflecting his appearance in Deadpool 2. I’m still not sure if this was intentional, or if the all black hands just weren’t painted by mistake. He also has an assortment of weapons including two katanas which fit neatly into the scabbards affixed to his back and a pair of handguns he can wield. They look like action guns in that the bolt appears to be set back like it’s being fired, either that or they’re some weird, made-up, pistol. He also has a pair of holstered handguns that Hasbro, for some reason, glued in place. I’ve seen some people get these out and they’re completely separate pieces, but mine are well stuck. He also has a knife which can slot into the little holster on his left ankle. You’re unlikely to pose him with the knife in hand, but I like that it’s included. Lastly, he has his stuffed unicorn and it’s pretty adorable. I actually might have to pose him with that for the sake of comedy.

Deadpool really is just a fantastic figure. I have some nitpicks with the paint, but I think the sculpt is great and I love all of the articulation Hasbro was able to work into this figure. My biggest complaint with my old Deadpool figure was with how that sculpt prioritized articulation ahead of aesthetics and some of the joints, in particular the shoulders, are kind of ugly. I have no such complaints here and really my only other complaint is with those guns Hasbro glued in. I love that Deadpool comes with lots of stuff, so it drives me a little crazy that he can’t holster the guns he’s intended to grip because his holsters are occupied by more guns!

I’d say things have improved over the last 15 or so years.

NTW is a fine figure as well. I’m disappointed that Hasbro seemed to phone it in on her lower half sculpt, but she looks the part and has all of the articulation she needs. Let’s be realistic though, if I could have bought Deadpool solo I would have. I’m not collecting Marvel Legends and I don’t plan on adding to this Deadpool collection either. Maybe Hasbro will get me to grab Cable if I run into him since I already have these two, but probably not. It’s great to see the Deadpool franchise getting some love from Hasbro though since it’s presently in limbo as far as films go. It was very successful for 20th Century Fox, but in the hands of Disney it feels like it doesn’t have a home. We know the company likely has plans for the whole X-Men Universe. I hope Deadpool is a part of those plans, but who can say? This figure sure kicks ass though!

I found this set at Target, but it’s being sold elsewhere as well. You can even pre-order it at Best Buy right now, or find it at other various online retailers. The MSRP is $49.99 so happy hunting!


Boss Fight Studio Astral Projection Jenny

Back off, Psylocke!

Sometimes it can be easy to lose sight of how good an action figure in a particular line is when it’s one of the first released. I’ve been really impressed with all of the figures in Boss Fight Studio’s Bucky O’Hare line, but recency bias certainly plays in a role in my favorites. And the most recent have been (in order of most recent) Bruiser, the Storm Toad Trooper, and the four-armed Dead-Eye Duck. It’s hard to top the sheer spectacle and massiveness of Bruiser, and any toy with extra arms is inherently fun, especially when it’s a pirate duck. Back in November 2017 though, I was pretty floored by First Mate Jenny and this variant I just purchased from Boss Fight Studio has quickly reminded me of that.

Just like with Stealth Mission Bucky, we get updated card art and a character bio from Neal Adams and Larry Hama, respectively.

Jenny had a long wait to reach the vast majority of Bucky O’Hare collectors. She was famously, or infamously, dropped from the vintage Hasbro line of figures back in 1991 because the company didn’t think boys wanted a girl, cat, action figure. This despite the fact that her toy was already complete and in production and despite the fact that she’s Bucky’s freakin’ first mate! She was going to see release in wave 2, but the line was cancelled and who knows how many fully-carded Jenny action figures were destroyed. Some were saved and have made it into the hands of collectors over the years, but the vast majority had to wait until Boss Fight came along and rectified the whole situation.

Astral Projection Jenny comes with the same stuff you remember from wave one, only now it’s clear and purple!

And that first figure is wonderful. I was really looking forward to both Bucky and Jenny when Boss Fight announced them, but I was more so looking forward to Bucky because he’s the star, after all. It was Jenny that basically stole the spotlight though with her clever engineering, terrific sculpt, and fun accessories. Like Stealth Mission Bucky though, I initially passed on the variant Boss Fight put out. And that variant is Astral Projection Jenny. Jenny, being part of a secret society of psychic cats, has the ability to astral project her consciousness leaving her physical body behind. She’s basically depicted as a ghost-like being when doing this who can’t be seen, nor can she interact with the physical world. It’s an interesting choice for a variant for obvious reasons, which we’ll get into. I was somewhat surprised that Boss Fight went in this direction instead of doing an “Aniverse” Jenny that matched the figure’s colors to the cartoon which is mostly a matte gray armor finish and pink hair as opposed to silver and white. I don’t know if I would have been more likely to pick that one up sooner, but it was something that surprised me.

Jenny is an 80s girl at heart so the hair has got to be big!

Astral Projection Jenny is essentially the wave one version of the character cast in translucent plastic with some mild paint variations. Her body is painted, clear, plastic which gives her an ethereal quality. The white of her fur is done with a pearl coat, while the black is largely the same as before. Actually, it appears the black portions may be mixed into the plastic to give it a smoky quality, and probably because black over clear plastic wouldn’t achieve the desired effect. The silver of her armor also has a pearl quality to it as opposed to the chrome of the original and the hot pink gems are now purple. The hair has been given a light brush of teal to impart that ghost-like quality of this form. The only other change is with the effects pieces which have had the pink swapped out in favor of purple.

Jenny has likely awakened a few furries in her time.

Aside from the change in color and choice of plastic, this version of Jenny is essentially the same figure as before. She has a lot of articulation for such a small, somewhat dainty, figure. Her massive poof of hair helps to make her the tallest, non Bruiser, figure in the line at right around 5″. She’s articulated at the neck, though her hair can limit her movement there. She has ball-joints at the shoulders with hinges and swivels at the elbow. Her hands are on pegs so there’s only swivel articulation there. She has a mid-torso swivel in place of a waist one with ball-joints at the thigh. The knee is on a single hinge with swivel articulation and she has a hinge and swivel combo at the ankle. Her tail is on a ball-joint and serves the added function of adding stability to the figure. Jenny’s frame is quite slim and her feet are tiny, so having that tail is most helpful for posing. I find she’s the most fun of all of the figures in this line to pose as a result, though that does come at a cost. At least with my original figure, I have a lot of paint-flake at the those ankle hinges where the chrome rubs off of the joint leaving behind black plastic. Boss Fight probably should have cast her feet in gray plastic to minimize this, but unfortunately didn’t have that foresight. I don’t think it will be as big of an issue with this version though since the plastic is transparent, but it’s something to look out for.

Jenny is also fun to pose because Boss Fight came up with some really fun effects pieces. For starters, her default hands are gripping hands which is odd since she doesn’t come with a gun. She also has fists and two styled hands, one that’s more open and one that looks like a heavy metal hand gesture or an “I love you” gesture. Two other hands are totally flat and surrounded with “psychic energy.” If you’re familiar with the Marvel Comics character Psylocke, these are essentially her psychic knives. They’re rather cool, though I actually prefer the other effects pieces which are these circular, star-burst, pieces that can be affixed to Jenny’s wrists before inserting one of the hands. They’re really fun and work exceptionally well with those styled hands, though fists work well too. It’s nice having two Jenny figures as now I can display one with the knives and one with the bursts.

With Wave 1 Jenny, and yo can see where the paint has flaked off on my Jenny’s ankle. It’s a minor tragedy.
Me trying to figure out an action shot of Jenny astral projecting.
Fun tip: a winking face from one side functions like an eyes-closed face!

In addition to all of that, Jenny also comes with four different faceplates, an improvement over Bucky’s three. Like with Bucky though, the range of expressions isn’t particularly diverse. Her default look is a smile and she also has an open-mouth version, a winking face, and another where the eyes are a bit narrowed with more of a wry smile. It’s a subtle difference from the default look. For most, the winking face is the clear winner since it’s very different from what the rest of the line features and certainly possesses a playful quality. I do like the more focused expression too, though I wish for this version that Boss Fight had re-painted the eyes to match the look of the card art, or just blank them out. I also wish we had a closed eyes face for the Wave 1 Jenny to make her appear to be astral projecting to work with this figure. Even making one of the face-plates that came with this figure the eyes closed one would have sufficed. That’s wishful thinking though. The important thing is I like these expressions and that it’s easy to swap from one to the other, unlike Bucky who is a bit of a pain.

Cheers!

Astral Projection Jenny is a fun spin on what was already a fantastic figure. My only gripe about the original release is the paint flaking issue, and I don’t see that being as big of an issue with this version due to the choice of plastic. Otherwise, she’s damn near perfect and getting this version was a great reminder that Jenny has a claim to the crown of best in the line. This is a hard line to pick a favorite though which is a great problem to have. If this is a figure that interests you, head on over to www.bossfightshop.com and grab one of your own. And if you want more Bucky reviews, check back soon for a review of the newest figure in the line, Bucky’s admirer and Jenny’s rival: Captain Mimi LaFloo.


Boss Fight Studio Stealth Mission Bucky O’Hare

He (quietly) goes where no ordinary rabbit would dare!

It’s been almost three years since toy maker Boss Fight Studio started shipping out it’s first figures in its Bucky O’Hare line of products. Ten figures have followed with an eleventh soon to be released and I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter of the line since day one. When the product first launched, my family had recently welcomed a new addition. We were in a new house and getting acclimated to our new life. At the time, I was pretty cautious with money and I set some limits on myself, especially when it came to a hobby like toy collecting. And when it came to Bucky specifically, I told myself I’d stay away from variants. Well, my restrictions have loosened over the years and a recent sale at Boss Fight Studio has allowed me to go back and grab some of those variants I had passed on initially, variants like the third release in the Bucky O’Hare line: Stealth Mission Bucky O’Hare.

It may be “just a repaint,” but Continuity Comics contributed new card art from Neal Adams plus a new bio on the rear from Larry Hama.

This variant is basically a straight re-paint or recasting of the inaugural Bucky O’Hare figure. It’s actually the second Bucky variant I’ve purchased as I couldn’t resist the Holiday Bucky that Boss Fight Studio released alongside Dead-Eye Duck. As you could probably guess from the naming convention of the figure, this is Bucky in a stealth suit, which is the same as his standard suit only it’s black and blue with a camo deco. This isn’t a look that appeared in the animated series nor did it appear in the comics. It’s a look dreamed up by the designers at Boss Fight Studio and approved by Continuity Comics. They even supplied some new Bucky artwork for the card back which features the new look.

Gettin’ sneaky.

Bucky O’Hare stands at about 3.75″ which stretches to about 4.5″ if you include highest point of the ears. Since this a repaint it includes all of the same accessories and articulation as before. What you’re paying for is the new aesthetic, and I must say I do enjoy this black and blue look. The blue is more like a deep turquoise while the black is almost a graphite color in places. Bright green are the lenses of Bucky’s goggles which contrasts well with the deeper colors of the costume. His fur is still that light green we’re used to, only now it has streaks of black across it to break-up his image. Even his guns are black though there’s a slight blue hue to the metallic coating on them. It’s a sharp look, and even though it’s one I initially passed on that was entirely due to cost, not look.

Bucky auditioning for the role of Fall-Out Boy.

For a small figure, Bucky’s articulation is rather robust. His head sits on a ball joint that mostly rotates as opposed to being able to look up and down. The ears swivel, as does his little tail and his cape fits into a peg hole on his back with a satisfying “pop” and stays in place. The shoulder tassels and belt are separate pieces of plastic and can be moved and repositioned as desired. Which is necessary at times to free up the articulation at the shoulders, which are ball-jointed. He has single-hinged elbows with a swivel there and at the wrist where the glove meets the arm. There’s a waist swivel and ball-joints at the legs with single-hinged knees and a swivel there as well in place of a true boot-cut. The ankles are on hinges and they can rock side-to-side. There’s a toe hinge as well to top it all off.

Not much differentiates the two extra faces.
Face #1
Face #2
Face #3

Bucky’s big feet make him easy to pose and stand. To add some variety to those poses he has some swappable parts. First off, he does have two pistols which are his primary weapon and accessory. He comes packaged with trigger-finger hands on both arms so he can dual wield, if you so desire. The pegs on his belt are to store the pistols when not in use and they clip on rather easily. You can put them on the front, back, or side, though doing so adds some bulk. If you want to change-up his hands he has two additional sets. One set are fists and the other contains an open palm and a pointing hand. To swap them, just give a firm tug on the figure and off it comes. It’s a little tricky because there isn’t much to grab onto between the wrist and elbow of the figure, but I’ve never feared breakage there. Bucky also has swap-able faceplates, and unfortunately they’re the weakest aspect of the figure. The default face is a frown with a closed mouth. The other faces both feature an open mouth and one has what I would call a relaxed frown and the other a deep frown. It’s the type of thing where the difference between the two isn’t obvious right away. I’ve also always had a hard time getting the optional faces to sit flush on the figure. It can be done, it just requires more effort than it’s worth, in my opinion.

The comparison shot you’ve been waiting for!

There’s not much more to say than that. This is a re-paint of what I already considered a great figure to begin with. I love Bucky O’Hare and I love the design of the character and Boss Fight Studio really nailed the likeness. I wish the optional faces worked better than they do, but I also like the default face that’s there and so it doesn’t bother me that I can’t go with something else, especially since there’s not much difference between the three. Even though I had passed on this figure for more than two years at this point, I still always wanted it and figured I would get it at some point. My plan was to actually buy it in-person with my Aniverse Storm Toad Trooper earlier this year at Boss Fight’s retail location, but COVID messed that up and since they have no plans to reopen I just figured I’d go the online route. He’s a fun figure and I hope there’s more to come. If you would like to secure one of your own, head on over to www.bossfightshop.com to find it and other figures in the series.


NECA TMNT Cartoon Traag and Granitor

Reinforcements from Dimension X have arrived!

After I posted my review of NECA’s take on Metalhead from the classic cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I thought I’d have a little break based on the upcoming release schedule for the line. Turns out, that break ended up being almost exactly one month as while I was out toy-hunting for my kids I happened upon the latest two-pack from NECA: Traag and Granitor!

And when I say it was a chance encounter, I mean it. This set started rolling out maybe a week or two ago in parts of the country. Like all of the NECA product based on the old TMNT cartoon, this set is exclusive to Target and a pain to find. The sets usually start showing up in California first and then gradually make their way east. As a denizen of the north east, I’m used to waiting a bit for them to show up in my area. Though in the case of Wave 3, I never saw a damn thing and had to purchase product from Canadian retailers that were willing to ship to the US. Well, either NECA or NECA’s vendor squashed that going forward so I was back to the old-fashioned way, since these guys have yet to appear on Target’s website (despite indications from NECA it was supposed to happen last Friday).

My kids love the show Bluey and a set for that toyline was supposed to release on the 4th. I went out looking for it locally, but while on my way my wife texted me to say she just scored a set online at Walmart. Since I was already out early on a Sunday, I decided to take a drive. While browsing Target’s app I had been keeping an eye on this set since it was supposed to go up any day now. I noticed when I looked at the stores in my area, there was actually one store across the border in New Hampshire that listed the item as in stock. I couldn’t do store pick-up though, and I have found it’s hard to get anyone at Target to answer the phone before 9, so I made the half hour drive to the store. Sure enough, the little inventory machines they have in some aisles indicated there were two sets in stock, but they weren’t on the shelf. I asked a clerk in electronics and he didn’t think they had anything since they never show on the app, but that he’d check in the back. Lo and behold, they did indeed have a set! It seems the store did its monthly inventory the night before, and someone actually scanned the sets into the inventory. This is unusual as a NECA rep is the one that stocks the section, not a Target employee, but in this case it worked out for me. It was especially surprising as I had yet to see anyone in the region on social media or even eBay list a set so this store may be one of the first in all of New England, maybe even including the tri-state area, to receive stock. Needless to say, after feeling rather snake-bitten with the last wave, I’m feeling quite fortunate today.

And it was a great set to get lucky with because Traag and Granitor are practically all new. Traag did receive a figure in the vintage Playmates line, but he looked nothing like his cartoon counterpart while Granitor never received a figure. And this was despite the two appearing in the first mini series as they debuted in episode four “Hot-Rodding Teenagers from Dimension X” when they crossed over into the dimension of the Turtles in pursuit of those pesky Neutrinos. And being made of stone means these guys are pretty unique looking to begin with so there’s little opportunity to reuse parts from already released figures. They’re big, dense, and chunky. I want to say beefy, but that doesn’t seem appropriate for beings made out of stone. And to top it all off, these guys have been a long time coming as NECA unveiled them years ago as part of the video game line, since both appeared as bosses in the original arcade game, but soon moth-balled them for the release we now have.

Traag and Granitor come in the standard window box format you should all be familiar with at this point. You get a nice look at the figures from the front with some licensing art beneath. The backdrop for the two has actually been changed from the sewer one we’re accustomed to and replaced with the Technodrome in Dimension X, which is very appropriate. The side and rear panels feature product shots of the figures in action while the rear also includes the series bio (sadly, not character specific) along with promotional shots of two of the sets to come as well as the previously released Metalhead. Since these boys are on the larger side, this is the oversized box previously used for Bebop and Rocksteady so if you’re a mint-in-box collector you’ll need to plan for a little extra room on the shelf for these guys.

Buns of stone.

In terms of likeness, Traag and Granitor are like a lot of this line – damn near flawless. Traag stands around 6 5/8″ while Granitor is slightly taller at 6 7/8″. Both feature a ton of sculpting to capture that rock appearance. They share some parts between the two in particular at the hands and basically from the abdomen down. The upper body is probably the same as well, but with different parts glued onto each to differentiate the two as they were quite different in the show. The plastic is very rigid and not that pliable, rubbery, stuff we’ve seen in some of the figures (in particular, the human figures like Casey and April) which really enhances the feel of the pair in-hand. Traag has very rocky shoulders while Granitor possesses a rock collar at the base of his neck and these huge shoulders and biceps. Of course, their heads are where they differ the most. Both are helmeted, but Traag has a flatter face and his open-mouth expression is a dead-ringer for how I continue to picture the character in my head. Granitor has this huge nose and these triangular eyes that make him look a great deal more evil than the general. If I have any criticism of the sculpt, it would be that Granitor’s head probably could be a little smaller as he was quite the pinhead in the show. I think the prototype head from a few years ago was a little better, but you’re not going to mistake this guy for someone else. The legs also probably should be longer, but I’m guessing these guys are just so big that NECA was limited to what it could do there and it was certainly more important to capture their massive upper-body.

General Traag seemed to always be making this stupid face in the show.
Meanwhile, Granitor looks ice cold! He’s not planning on playing nice with those Neutrinos.

Where I can’t render a single complaint with these two is with the paint app. This line just keeps getting better in regards to the paint and these guys look amazing. Traag, in particular, is an almost perfect recreation of a difficult deco to capture from the show. He’s mainly a red-orange, with a softer orange used for highlights that imparts a volcanic glow quality to the texture. Granitor is a bit cooler with shades of gray and both feature a lot of black line-work where appropriate. It’s all been applied in a very neat and clean fashion, which is especially impressive considering how much is here. There’s a little badge on the chest of each and both feature a belt complete with ammo and a holster for their gun. The belt is soft plastic, which has been the case with a lot of this line, so you do need to be a bit careful with the accents on it as they’re just glued on.

As far as articulation goes, these two are not quite as robust as some of the other figures in this line. That has a lot to do with the sculpt which only allows for so much. In terms of the points of articulation, it’s fairly similar with past figures. There’s a ball-joint at the head which affords the typical range of motion and both heads are on a neck with articulation at the base. Traag can look up, but not much down. Meanwhile, Granitor’s neck is quite long and thin and reminds me of an analog joystick on a video game controller, only without the tension that pulls it back to center. As a result, his range of motion feels a bit more dynamic and it’s a satisfying joint to play with, though also a bit scary since it’s so thin. The shoulders are on ball-joints and here Traag gets a bit more use as he can raise his arms outward, while Granitor’s massive shoulders are a hindrance, though his ball-joints are extended from his body more to at least provide for some functional range of motion. The elbows are double-jointed, though the top joint doesn’t have much range due to the bulky nature of the bicep. You still get close 90 degrees out of both. The triceps area swivels at that second elbow joint and the hands swivel and are on hinges. The hinges are pretty tight on mine, so a little heat goes a long way. The upper torso is on a ball-joint and you get a lot of twist there and it’s also nice and tight. The waist does swivel, but it was super tight on both of my guys to the point where I haven’t bothered to get it moving so be careful there (edit: I got it loosened up with just some added effort). The ball-joints at the thigh allow for some forward and outward motion, but nothing really backwards. There is a thigh swivel, but it doesn’t offer a ton. The knees are single-jointed at the hinge, but there is a tiny bit of swivel articulation at that point. The ankles are on hinges and have some outward, rocking, motion. Watch out for paint-flaking though as the entire boot and foot is painted over the base color. It’s not as visible as it was with Leatherhead at least, but still disappointing to see NECA isn’t casting the feet in the base color of the boot still.

“Lord Krang, please forgive us for our posture.”

The articulation is a bit less than what maybe some were expecting, but all in all I think it’s fine. These are big, bulky, rock creatures and they’re not looking to strike much in the way of dynamic poses. They basically lumber around, shoot their guns, and that’s about it. The upper torso is what really helps give them some posing options, and despite the fact that they’re rather top-heavy, they’re still fairly easy to stand. The only pose I wish I could pull-off that they just can’t do is to have them on one knee paying fealty to their lord Krang. Their arms are so long that they can even mostly pull off the ability to two-hand grip their pistol as they do in the show which is pretty cool as most NECA TMNT figures can’t do something like that since they lack a butterfly joint at the shoulder and chest.

Stuff.
“Can I interest you in the finest retro-mutagen Dimension X has to offer?”
“Traag! You must eliminate those radical teenagers before they start a rock concert! No offense…”
“Have you seen this boy?!”

Since these guys are so big and mostly new molds, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the only true negative here is the lack of accessories. It’s a business, so it’s to be expected, but still a bit disappointing. Both figures have a trigger finger right hand and an open, stylized, left hand. There are no optional hands to switch in and out, but I’m honestly not really missing them. Maybe a pointing finger for Traag, since he is a general after all, would have been fun, but it’s not a big loss. Their main accessory that both feature is a pistol. It’s a new sculpt and it’s painted up in a dark and light blue scheme that I find really appealing. It honestly probably has a bit more flourish to it as far as the paint is concerned when compared with the show, but that’s for the better. The only drawback is the hands of these guys are very rigid so you may want to heat up the hands before placing the gun in to avoid any paint scraping, which would be tragic. The pistols also fit into the holster on their belts in a snug manner. They also come with the Dimension X communicator many of the villains have featured in this line. In this case, the sticker decal is of Krang, but it appears to be the new Krang that’s expected to be released in November with the android body. The final, plastic, accessory is a mutagen canister. This time it’s painted gray instead of blue. It’s fine, though not really applicable to these guys and I think it’s just included because it was cheaper than doing a new one, like the weather bomb Traag unleashes. I was expecting that to come with them so it’s a bit disappointing to see it excluded, but again, I get it, it all has to do with costs. Lastly, they do come with three wanted posters each featuring one of the Neutrinos. They’re printed on a transparent plastic giving them a holographic effect which is pretty neat. They’re in a little bag taped to the underside of the blister so don’t throw it out by mistake!

Pictured with fellow big boy, Leatherhead.

Traag and Granitor are yet another addition to the many rogues of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s great to see them as part of Wave 4 since, even though they appeared infrequently in the show, they felt important. That’s probably owing to their debut appearance in just the fourth episode and those early episodes just feel a lot more important to the show than what followed. It’s especially great to finally have a Granitor since he was overlooked back in the day. I’m very happy with how these boys turned out and my only real issue is trying to find room for these bulky beings on my shelf. I’m really going to need that street diorama, NECA!

Poor Raph, he’s really going to need a few more allies.

Traag and Granitor is just the first two-pack in Wave 4 of this line. They’re being rolled out slowly across the US at Target, though considering I found my set in New Hampshire I would expect them to be in every state this week so start looking! There should also be an online release at some point, but that can be a real shit-show as product usually goes fast. Follow NECA on twitter (or me @samhainsgrim) with alerts switched on for your best chance to land them. This looks like it’s going to be a pretty awesome wave as up next on or around the 15th is the Triceraton Infantryman (Infantry-dino? Infantry-reptile?) and Roadkill Rodney (2) set followed by a big one on the 29th, Master Splinter and Baxter the Fly! The Triceraton officers, Zarax and Zork, finish things off on November 12th alongside the deluxe Krang with his android body. This line is hotter than hell right now so don’t go to sleep on it. NECA also isn’t offering any more made-to-order sets in 2020 so if you can’t get these guys at Target over the next couple of months the wait will only get longer. Plug yourselves into a toy community, stay vigilante, don’t feed the scalpers, and good luck!


Super7 TMNT Ultimates! Baxter Stockman

Baxter is here to swat some reptiles!

I am weak. When Super7 first unveiled its Ultimates! line of figures based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toyline from Playmates I said I was out. I still had those toys so why did I need 7″ versions of them in 2020? I had NECA and all of the TMNT product being released there, which was more than enough for the meager space in my home that I have for toys and it was going to eat up enough of my disposable income. “Not for me,” is I believe how I rationalized it.

I am weak, for I have since given in. I detailed it my thought process in my review of Raphael from the same line. In that I said I had decided I only really had affection for the actual turtles and that was it. I secured a Raph, and submitted orders for Leo and Mikey. When Donatello goes up for pre-order I’ll get him too.

Like Raph, Baxter gets his own logo on the packaging.

Again, I am weak! For when Big Bad Toy Store started putting figures up for sale, at the unfriendly price of $59.99 at that, I caved. If I am looking for small hints of my inner strength, at least I left Splinter and the Foot Soldier alone. I did not, however, pass on Baxter Stockman. Perhaps Baxter The Fly is the more appropriate name for this figure for it does indeed depict the mad scientist Baxter Stockman in his mutated fly form.

Hear him scream, “Let me out!”

Why Baxter? Well, I always liked that old toy from Playmates. Baxter was gross looking, like a lot of the figures in that line, with great sculpting on his feet and these two, purple, insect-like, limbs coming out of his back. He was just fun, and for some reason I have a “thing” for action figures with extra limbs. The thing is, I never got that toy. I didn’t lack for much as a kid, but I also wasn’t truly spoiled so on the rare occasion I was allowed to pick out a toy at the store I was limited to what was available. I don’t know if I just never ran across Baxter, or if when I did there was something else I happened to fall for instead. I usually could count on Santa or my parents to get me the top tier figures for Christmas or my birthday, but maybe I just didn’t push for Baxter as much as I should have? My grandmother got me Scumbug, and it would be a very grandma bit of reasoning to wonder why I needed two bug-based figures.

As tall as he can go.
And you thought back hair was gross.

In the end, I never did get a Baxter Stockman figure. I thought I would be content to just get a cartoon accurate version later this year from NECA, but apparently I’m wrong. I had even passed on the figure several times as pre-orders were available for quite awhile, but I just couldn’t let it go this one, last, time. Which is unfortunate since I ended up paying a $15 mark-up for my indecision. I did it though, what’s done is done, so how do I feel about it?

I call this pose “The Honker.”

For one, no amount of reviews I watched or read on this figure could properly prepare me for just how big he is. He may have been tiny on the small screen, but the action figure of Baxter is quite large, made even more so by the fact that he comes with his legs fully extended. Being a fly, he’s supposed to have his legs positioned in a crouch-style pose reducing his height, but since this is a super-articulated figure all of those joints are functioning now so he can stand as tall, or as squat, as you like. Fully extended, he’s a touch over 7″ in height, but in his crouch he gets down to about 6″. Even ignoring his height, he’s a pretty beefy boy even next to Raph. His torso is big, his hands are huge, and his head is also quite massive. The extra, bug, limbs on his back really widen the figure and overall he is just a really imposing presence on a shelf, which is amusing because again, he’s a fly!

It might be a stretch to say that’s a face only a mother could love.

In hand, he’s quite solid and has a nice feel. He’s weighty, and out of the box I found almost all of his limbs to be quite free and easy to move. The only joint that was stuck on my figure was the right elbow. I ran it under hot water and have had no issues since, unlike my Raph who still has a stubborn knee joint. His limbs are also the right tightness and if you position him a certain way he’s going to stay in that position. The only loose joints are the hinges on the hands. It’s unfortunately worse on the trigger hands so his wrist basically flops around whenever he has his gun in hand, which is a bummer. It’s amusing to me though, since tiny hinge joints such as those are often the hardest to break-in.

It’s like squeezing a melon.

Baxter comes pretty well loaded-up with articulation, especially if you compare him to the old Playmates toy. His head is on what I assume is a ball-joint or maybe a dumbbell. It’s hard to say since it can only rotate side to side as he has basically zero ability to look up and down. The shoulders are on ball joints with single-jointed elbows with a swivel at that point as well. The hands rotate and have those aforementioned loose hinges as well. There’s articulation at the waist and ball-joints at the thigh with a swivel as well. Single-jointed hinges at the knees and hinges at the ankle. The feet can swivel, but don’t have much movement side-to-side to speak of. The back arms are on ball-joints with hinges at the “elbows” and wrists with an additional swivel at the elbow joint. The wings are also on ball-joints so they can be rolled around and positioned where needed. It would have been nice to see double-hinges at the elbows, though they’re not really missed at the knee since he will most likely be crouched in many displays. The lab coat is a separate piece of sculpted plastic and I wish they had utilized that to hide a butterfly joint in the torso, but oh well. Overall, the articulation is good and pretty much what would be expected.

I love the sculpt work on those rear arms.

When it comes to these TMNT Ultimates! from Super7, I would say the articulation is good enough, but what helps sell these figures is the sculpt. Once again, this is from Four Horsemen and the reference is Playmates. Baxter has all of the little details you remember from the toy, and maybe some you never noticed or forgot like the wedding ring or watch. I love how the lab coat is soft plastic over a sculpted body as it adds some depth and texture to the figure. I’m surprised I haven’t seen any images online of folks removing the coat to look at what’s underneath. He’d look a little silly as the sleeves are sculpted with the arms, but from what I can tell the body underneath is a full sculpt. What really pushes Baxter to another level is the purple, bug, skin featured on the rear arms and feet. It’s so veiny and gross, but in a most excellent way. I get a very Xenomorph feel from it. It was the defining characteristic of the toy and Super7 did not disappoint here. Baxter’s face is also wonderful and he has this fiendish grin that I love. The hair is glued on and features some nice paint. The only aspect of the sculpt and paint that disappoints me a little rests with the wings. They look “too Playmates” for my taste. There’s so much good texture on the figure, so it stands out when the wings are just gray plastic with some purple splotches. I wish Super7 had gone with a translucent effect or something, but this just seems like the one area of the figure where they were too beholden to the original release. If they had even just painted the veins on the wings it might have done enough to add some more pop to the figure.

Baxter’s got some stuff.

On the accessory front, Baxter is a little less exciting than Raph. He comes with enough hands though as he has a pair of trigger hands, gripping hands, fists, and open hands. They pop in and out real easy and I can honestly say he’s not lacking there. If anything, it would have been cool to get extra bug hands in place of the fists or something. For weapons, he has a pistol which I believe was adopted by the cartoon as an animal muation weapon of some kind. It’s a nice sculpt, but for some reason Super7 neglected to paint it. It doesn’t “wow” like it should as a result. He also has his fly swatter painted teal with a smashed, baby, turtle on it. It can clip into this red contraption that fit on the original figure’s wrist, but now appears to just slide on the gun. It at least breaks up the gray of the blaster, but the weak hand hinges make it almost impossible to pose well in this form. He also comes with the old weapon rack like the original toy which features the same weapons, but all cast in gray.

You probably wouldn’t want to reach in there.
I tried to tell you…
“Good boy!”

By far, Baxter’s most exciting accessory is his mouser. The mouser features the same color scheme as the wind-up version from the old Playmates line, just not nearly as big. It’s about 3″ tall and features articulation at the jaw, neck, and each leg can rotate where it meets the body. The feet are nice and big so it’s easy to position the mouser standing upright or leaning forward a bit. The sculpt is great as there’s some nice detailing inside the mouth that makes it look like a really bad time to get your arm stuck in one. The only disappointing aspect of it, aside from there being only one, is the paint is a little sloppy on mine. The “eyes” aren’t very clean and there’s some slop on the legs. Hopefully Super7 finds a way to release more of them though, especially some with slots for maybe a sword or sai to stab at them as they are a lot of fun to have around.

“You have anything better than a turtle swatter, bud?”
“Good answer!”

Baxter Stockman from Super7 is largely as expected for me. He takes an old design from Playmates that was actually pretty good to begin with and just draws it out further. Every little nugget of detail on that old figure is here, but times 10. His size might shock some collectors who are more used to the cartoon version of the character, but few will argue he doesn’t look great on a shelf with your other TMNT toys. He was one of the best figures in the old line, and I think he definitely will be for this line as well. If I only end up with one villain from this toy line, I think I picked a good one. Though since I’m planning on assembling a squad of turtles, it would probably be a good idea if I grabbed another villain or two to supplement things. Maybe something awaits in the yet unannounced Wave 4, but since we’re probably a year away from release of that series it would seem Baxter will have to tend to whatever turtles stand in his way alone. At least he’s got a mouser.


Super7 TMNT Ultimates! Raphael

Most people in this world grow up with toys. Most of us love toys as kids, and some of us love them as adults. Even though they are material things, we tend to form bonds with them either because of where they came from, who they came form, or just how much joy they brought into our lives at such a formative age. Even though we’re able to forge such bonds with these material objects, pretty much no one can remember getting their first toy. That’s because many of us probably received our first toy while we were still in the womb. I know both of my kids had stuff waiting for them before birth. What we can often remember is how we got our favorite toy, assuming it wasn’t one handed over at birth, especially if we had a say in what that toy was.

For me, I can vividly remember being in the toy section of a store and having my mom shuffle through rows of the brand new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures. What I can’t recall is what store we were in, or even what time of year it was. If I had to guess, it was near my birthday because I apparently had money allocated to me for some reason and was able to pick out some toys. I don’t think I had really seen much of the cartoon that had begun airing on television, and I may have only seen promos for it. At the time, it was only five episodes, but the second season was fast-approaching. That day I selected for myself Leonardo and Donatello. I think my mom was searching for Raphael for me, because as a kid my favorite color was blue and after that was often red. When you’re 4, that’s how you select a favorite character.

Those first action figures from Playmates would end up being some of my favorite toys of all time. Maybe even my absolute favorite, all things considered. I played with them extensively and I still have them to this day. They’ve been beat up, even though I was largely careful with my toys. They were just played with a lot, enough so that I know I don’t have the original weapons (I loved having Leo pull the swords from the holsters on his back which really beat them up) and Donatello’s holster for his bow has completely broken off. I would eventually add Michelangelo and Raphael over the ensuing months, along with many villains and accessories, and the turtles basically dominated my life for the next few years.

It’s time to upgrade!

When Super7 acquired the rights to create figures based on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, few knew just what direction that would take the franchise. Everyone basically could have guessed there would be TMNT product in the ReAction line, a very basic figure line inspired by the old Kenner Star Wars toys from the 70s. Many hoped there would be something from Super7’s Ultimates line, and we ended up getting our wish.

The Ultimates line from Super7 is a seven inch scale line of figures that are basically made-to-order. Super7 puts up figures for a month or so, and whatever is ordered gets made. It means it takes a while for consumers to actually receive their product, but it’s also a hassle-free way to build a collection. The method does mean the toys run a bit pricey, $45 for most, and that’s before shipping and taxes are figured into the equation. Fans of TMNT were certainly happy though when Super7 committed to doing figures based on the franchise in this format, and since Super7 tends to enjoy doing “retro” inspired releases, it should have come as no surprise that the main source of inspiration for this line would be the vintage Playmates toys.

He was a little upset by my use of the word “upgrade.”

Super7’s TMNT Ultimates is basically the old Playmates line at a bigger scale and with modern engineering. As a result, how much affection you have for Super7’s offering is going to largely depend on how much affection you have for those old toys. The original Playmates line was made in conjunction with the cartoon, but it wasn’t necessarily intended to represent the show. The figures were conceived of first, and the cartoon was fast-tracked as a vehicle for selling the product. There ended up being quite a bit of difference between the two, such as the turtles all having a unique skin-tone and Shredder sporting a blue and purple mask. Today, a lot of the fandom can be divided into two camps: those who associate TMNT most with the toyline, and those with the cartoon.

It’s all good now!

As a kid, I loved both the toys and the cartoon, but there was a part of me that longed for the toys to better sync-up with the show. I really wanted Shredder and Splinter, for example, to better reflect the show. For the most part though, I was happy with the turtles. They were clearly inspired by the comics from Mirage Studios, but also incorporated the colored masks, pads, etc that would come to define the cartoon. And those white eyes just made them look cool. I was so satisfied with what I had as a kid that initially Super7’s offering didn’t stir anything within me. The first wave was revealed as Raphael, Splinter, Baxter the Fly, and a Foot Soldier. For the most part, I felt they all just looked like bigger versions of the old toys. If anything, the only one I felt drawn to was Baxter because I never had his toy as a kid, but always wanted it. His design was just cool, but I also knew NECA was prepping a figure of the same for its cartoon line of figures and that was good enough for me.

Smile!

As the months went by, I paid little mind to what Super7 was doing with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Then the first wave started showing up and reviews were popping up all over the web. It was at this point nostalgia started to grab at me. I thought about how much I loved those old toys, and I even retrieved what remained of my once massive collection from my childhood home and brought it into my own. It soon became apparent to me that I wanted to experience this line in at least a small way. And while it was a combination of the reviews of Wave 1 and the pull of my cherished Leonardo figure, it was enough to cause me to at least seek out a Raphael. Of course, this wasn’t easy since the pre-order window had long since passed and basically every retailer had sold out as well. The only places still offering the figure were based in the UK, which came with the cost of currency conversion and astronomical shipping to the US. I had to do what I often loathe to do as a result: I turned to the secondary market. I eventually found an acceptable price, made easier by a generous $25 coupon to eBay, and secured a Raphael of my very own.

If you hung with me through that long preamble, and I can tell you now we are onto the actual review portion of this blog post. Raphael arrived at my door in the same manner he would of had I ordered it form Super7. The box comes in a cardboard mailer with the vintage logo on the front. Remove that and you’re presented with a bold, green, box with the logo embossed on one side and a new logo on the other. The new logo is a manhole cover with an image of Raph in the middle and his sai alongside. Slide that bad boy up and you finally get to the window box with the figure inside. The image surrounding the figure appears to resemble a sewer tunnel and the window on the front is big and provides for a comprehensive look at the figure inside. This is a really nice package and mint-in-box collectors will surely appreciate that. The only difficulty there is even the slip-case looks nice, so how should one display this thing? I guess you need to buy two, three if you want to open one!

Let me out!

Raphael is based on the Playmates toy from 1988 and is sculpted by Four Horsemen Designs. That’s the same team that did NECA’s Mirage line of TMNT figures so it’s nice to see them return to the property. Even though they get the credit for sculpting this and all of the Wave 1 releases, it should be noted a huge amount of the credit goes to the sculptors who worked for Playmates in the 1980s. Raph largely looks like that old figure, just bigger. He’s about six inches tall and is in that light shade of green he sported back then. This time it appears to be slightly darker, but not by much. He has a lot of the same musculature, the same blank eyes, and the same teeth. His belt even features the holster on the back for that big knife all of the turtles came with. The main difference here, aside from the size, is in the detail and articulation. Raph’s belt, for example, has a lot of texture work on it that really brings it to life. It’s a far cry from that old rubber one that was prone to breaking in places, in particular the holsters for Raph’s sai. There’s also some nice, subtle, texture work on the front of the shell and the red pads on his elbows and knees. You can also see creases in the skin around the knees and neck that just really bring this guy to life. It very much is just a modern update of a vintage action figure.

Raphael comes packed with a fair amount of articulation for a turtle. The old toy only had 7 points of articulation: head, shoulders, wrists, and legs. It’s not surprising then that Super7 was able to improve upon that. Raph sports articulation at his head on a ball-joint. He can look side-to-side as well as up and down. His shoulders are ball-joints and he has articulation at the bicep, elbow, and wrist. His hands are on hinges and he has two sets of gripping hands with different hinges, some meant to move horizontally and some vertical. There’s some articulation at his waist underneath the shell that provides for some limited movement there, but the shell obviously prevents him from swiveling completely at the waist. The legs are on ball-joints with articulation at the knees and ankles. He can rotate his feet and he gets a lot of side-to-side “rocker” action down there as well.

Probably the only time you’ll see my Raph with a throwing star in hand.

Raphael moves pretty well, but there have been some criticisms in this area. For one, his elbows and knees are single-jointed as opposed to double-jointed. I don’t think, functionally, it’s a big deal, but there’s also part of me that expects all action figures in this day and age to feature double-joints in those areas. He also lacks swivels at the thigh and what would be called a boot-cut. This seems to be more of an aesthetic philosophy on the part of Super7 as cuts in those areas can take away from the sculpt. I agree with Super7 when it comes to true thigh cuts, and this figure doesn’t need one anyway since he can swivel at the ball-joint where the thigh meets the waist. The lack of a creative double-joint at the knee means no cut as well and while it would add something, it’s not a huge omission. He’s basically on par with what NECA has done with its TMNT figures and this one makes up for the shortcomings with more waist functionality than anything we’ve seen prior on a turtle. And the feet are really strong which further aids posing in more dynamic positions.

I don’t get angry, I get stabby!

Raph comes with a slew of accessories. He has more hands than most will know what to do with. For starters, he comes packaged with gripping hands in which the hinge is on the side of the hand allowing for what I call up and down motion. He has another set with the hinge in the middle for side-to-side, or in-out motion. This helps in giving him more options when holding his weapons and it’s something I have wanted NECA to do with its turtles for awhile. He also has a set of gripping hands in which the gap between his fingers is wider so he can hold his sai with the center blade going in-between his fingers, a popular pose for Raph. He also has a pair of open hands for handling pizza and such and they’re kind of clawed as opposed to an open palm. No fist hands, but honestly, he doesn’t need fists. Maybe a pointing finger would have been cool in place of the tighter gripping hands, but all in all I can’t complain much.

You know what they say about two heads…

Raphael comes sporting his default look, which is in-line with the old toy. He also has a second head that’s a bit more stylized. The teeth lack paint in-between them making him look much more modern. The bandanna tails look like they’re blowing in the wind and there’s a dark wash over his beak that gives him a real “print” quality. It’s a nice alternative and I’m honestly torn over which I prefer. He also has a pair of ninja stars and the old ninja weaponry all of the turtles used to come with. I don’t know what the proper names are, but there’s the big bladed weapon that can be stored on the rear of his belt, a small bladed weapon with three “teeth,” and a hook-bladed weapon as well. There’s also the old weapon rack in which all of the weapons are cast in that orange-brown plastic from the vintage line. One could conceivably snip the weapons off of it like they did back in 88, but I assume most will leave it as-is. It’s kind of neat to see it included, but also totally non-essential. Raph also has a turtle-com from the cartoon, two actually. One is open and one is closed. Super7 added some red paint to the shell portion of it that looks really cool too. Lastly, there’s a slice of pepperoni pizza. I have a feeling we’ll be getting more pizza as this line rolls on.

What is Raph without his sai? Not much, I’m afraid, and Super7 must agree because he comes with three pairs of sai! There’s the unpainted pair on the weapon rack that most are destined to leave alone, unless they REALLY want that vintage look. The figure also comes packaged with a pair of partially painted sai in his holsters. They’re cast in a gray plastic with painted, black, wraps on the handles. They look fine, but they lack some flair by just being colored plastic. Which is where the third pair comes in as they’re fully painted in a metallic, silver, finish. These are definitely the flashiest set, but they’re also the most flimsy. For whatever reason, the plastic used for the painted sai is very pliable and prone to warping in the package. The paint is also kind of sloppy at the tips which takes away from their pointy nature. The imperfections with this set makes it tough to settle on a preferred pair for display. I like the overall look of the fully-painted pair, but the integrity of the gray pair is far superior. It makes me wonder if Super7 should have packaged him with the painted pair holstered as maybe that would have helped to keep them from warping, or maybe it would have made it worse. Whatever the cause, hopefully it’s not an issue for the next turtle, Leonardo, since warped swords would be very disappointing.

There are lots of choices when it comes to the sai (not displayed, the brown ones), though it’s a bit like selecting the “least worst” as opposed to the best.

Aside from my sai criticism, the quality-control on the figure seems pretty good. There’s not a ton of paint on this guy, but what’s there is clean and neat. He’s a pleasant shade of green that’s a near enough match for the old toy and the red is striking and bold. The paint on the teeth is where things could have gone off the rails, but it too is quite clean and really captures that toothy expression of the classic toy. The hands are on thin pegs, but they’re easy to remove and replace so I don’t have any real concerns about those pegs becoming an issue. The head is far more snug, but the peg it sits on is quite beefy so, again, no fears of breakage there. The only consistent criticism I see for this guy is in the hips which are fairly loose. Shake him around gently and those legs are likely going to flap back and forth at the hip. It’s not so loose that he can’t hold a pose, and overall I’d say this is an easy figure to stand. My only concern here is that over time the hips will continue to become even more loose at which point we will have a problem. It’s an area that could stand to see some improvement going forward, and since it’s expected the other turtles will basically all share the same body, Super7 will have ample opportunity to make some improvements. Some of the joints are also quite tight, mostly the hinge joints on the hands and the left knee on my Raph. When I tried to work the hinge at the knee the lower part of the leg popped right off. It’s on a short peg which likely helps in keeping it from breaking, but it’s annoying. I heated up the joint with water and finally got it to move after applying some pressure. It’s held up, though is still as easy to work with as the right knee.

Lots of hands and things.

Raphael is a great pick for the first turtle in this wave. He’s arguably the most popular turtle, owing in large part to his portrayal in the 1990 film, and a logical choice to lead the pack. Super7 is rather wisely choosing to have a turtle lead each wave of figure releases which is smart, as they probably pick-up a few sales here and there that may have otherwise not have been. It’s no secret that there are a lot of TMNT collectors out there just looking to grab the four turtles from a given line and leave the rest. And with this line, I’m one of those guys. I already mentioned who is joining Raph in this set, but folks who are looking to rebuild their TMNT collection of yesterday can look forward to the likes of Shredder, Mutagen Man, Bebop, Rocksteady, April, and Metalhead. Leonardo is the turtle chosen to head the second wave, with Michelangelo leading the charge for the third. We have yet to see Donatello and we don’t know who will be joining him in the fourth wave. It seems like Super7 is looking to replicate the original 10 figures from the Playmates line, plus fan favorites. Could we see Casey Jones? Maybe Krang in his bubble walker? Or how about Slash since many fans seem to prefer his toy look to his cartoon one? I suspect we’ll know fairly soon just what to expect.

As for Raph, he’s probably going to please a lot of folks who pick him up. I hesitate to call him a “home run” because so much of what we have here is taken from that original toy. Four Horsemen Designs had a pretty easy job here making this feel like the action figure equivalent to a cover song. It’s definitely relying heavily on nostalgia as a selling point, and given the name of this blog, I’m obviously no stranger to nostalgia. For those who do just desire a bigger version of the old toys with more articulation, this is basically what you want. I’m left wishing Super7 had taken more of an homage path than an almost straight recreation, but I also can’t argue this turtle isn’t a lot of fun. He looks great on a shelf and there’s only so much one can do with that old turtle design. I suppose if it had been me, I might have tried harder to make the figure look like the old card art, but those were pretty close to the look of the Mirage comics so maybe that wouldn’t have been necessary. I think the approach works well with the turtles, though I’m less sold on some of the other figures I’ve seen shots of. I’m certainly happy enough with Raph to feel good about my purchase and also eager to add Leo, Mikey, and Don when they become available.

Let’s sneak in one more comparison before we wrap this up.

If you’re interest in collecting this line of Ultimates from Super7, make sure you get your pre-orders in now for waves 2 and 3. Plenty of retailers are still taking orders even if Super7’s window has closed. And definitely jump on wave 4 whenever it goes up. My guess is that happens before the end of the year, but it’s mostly just a hunch. If you want any of the figures in wave 1, unfortunately your chance to acquire them easily has passed. You’ll likely have to chase them down on the secondary market and pay a mark-up. The prices have actually already started to come down a bit, but they’re still above the $45 MSRP. Super7’s Ultmates are basically one and done when it comes to production. Because they are a business, there’s always the chance these figures get made again if the demand is there, but I wouldn’t count on it. Better to pay a little more now, than a lot later, or risk having a set of incomplete turtles.


Spider-Man (Arcade)

Forgive me if I’ve said something similar before; but younger people are shocked by the norms of the past! Yeah, it’s a very “old man” thing to say, but it’s also an easy way to impress someone younger. And in this case, the shocking thing to say is that Marvel Comics often found itself in a great deal of financial turmoil in decades past. The company that now is owned by Disney and is able to churn out hit film after hit film about even its most obscure characters once had to file for bankruptcy protection. Go through the history of the company and you’ll find other moments in time where things weren’t so rosy, though Marvel often can be credited with being forward-thinking in looking for other ways to make money.

That’s how Marvel ended up in the TV business in the 1980s. Unable to find the same level of success on both the small and big screen as rival Detective Comics, Marvel started self-producing television programs which included the company’s popular stars as well as properties unrelated to the comic business. The most successful Marvel TV program is probably Muppet Babies, as the company seemed to struggle to really break-through with one of its superheroes even famously failing to find a broadcast partner for its mega-hot X-Men franchise as the pilot for a cartoon series failed to be picked up. This ended up being a good thing since not too long after Fox would start airing a different X-Men series in 92 which ended up being far better than anything Marvel would have done on its own.

Sega landing the Spider-Man license seems like a pretty big deal.

When video games started to take off once again in the 80s, it’s possible some in the industry would have expected Marvel to self-publish. It was already doing so with TV, so why not games? It’s possible Marvel just didn’t trust the industry which had only recently emerged from a crash itself. And whenever Marvel wanted to make money easily, it would turn to licensing deals. With comics rapidly gaining steam in the 80s and building towards what would be a massive boom into the 90s, Marvel probably saw no real benefit in exploring the world of games and was more than willing to see what other companies would do with its characters.

Enter Sega. Sega was fighting an uphill battle to dethrone Nintendo as the kind of the living room. Sega’s strategy was to go after the kids who may have first experienced games via Super Mario Bros. and were looking for something a bit more their speed as they grew older. This made a character like Spider-Man appealing to Sega, and in a world where exclusive licensing agreements were still far off, Sega was able to convince Marvel to let it develop its own games featuring Spider-Man. Details of the agreement are scarce these days, so it’s unknown just what kind of restrictions Sega was under. The deal was apparently tenuous, but success of the Genesis/Mega Drive game Spider-Man vs The Kingpin apparently settled things down as the title once had an attach rate of over 60% with Genesis owners.

One of the first games I’d go looking for as a kid in an arcade.

Back in the 1980s, Sega was as much known for its home console business as it was for the arcade. The arcade boom was coming down, but Sega had success with a variety of genres and many of its games were ported to the Genesis. With the Spider-Man license in-hand, Sega sought to craft an arcade beat-em-up experience with the character that would differentiate itself from similar titles. It would be a game developed for Sega’s System 32 board which was the company’s first attempt at 32-bit development. This also meant hopes for a home port would essentially be dead-on-arrival, but that’s why Sega had the separate Spider-Man vs The Kingpin slated to arrive the same year, 1991.

The normally solo Spider-Man would need some help to take down Kingpin, and entertain more than one player.

When crafting a brawler for the arcade, one of the main issues to solve initially is just what characters to make playable? The brawler had started as a one or two-player affair, but by the 90s arcade-goers expected four-player co-op play. The challenge with Spider-Man is he’s mostly a solo act, so Sega likely had to work with Marvel on finding three allies to join him. They ended up settling on the sometimes ally sometimes foe Black Cat, Sub-Mariner, and the Avenger Hawkeye. The selection of Hawkeye was somewhat interesting as he was a playable character in the Captain America brawler also released in ’91. This naturally lent to comparisons between the two titles with at least my group of friends viewing the Spider-Man Hawkeye as the far superior affair since the graphics were far more attractive.

Not much to see here, just four heroes kicking some butt.

Sega’s approach to the tried and true beat-em-up genre is both conventional and unconventional. Sega often found gimmicks to keep things fresh, such as the transformations of Altered Beast or the mounts in Golden Axe. For Spider-Man, the game begins like any other. You select one of four characters and begin the game with a wave of enemies crashing down upon you. Players have to contend with enemies coming in from both sides of the screen and as they’re dispatched a “Go!” prompt will display imploring the player to continue right. Each character has just two action buttons: jump and attack. Pressing the two simultaneously provides for a ranged super attack unique to each character. Utilizing this move also sacrifices some health. Players can attack while in the air and also use a super move from that position as well which basically results in a diving attack. Interestingly, the amount of credits deposited into the machine increases the amount of health the character possesses as opposed to the amount of lives. As long as you keep pumping in quarters, you’ll never die!

Okay, now this is different.

Where things get interesting in Spider-Man is after the first boss encounter: Venom. The storyline for the game is the Kingpin as acquired some magical artifact and Spider-Man needs to get it back. When Venom gets exposed to that artifact, he grows to a tremendous size. In order to convey that to the player, the player characters and the environment around them shrinks via a zoom-out effect. This also alters the gameplay from a brawler to a basic platformer. Characters now have a ranged attack and all can cling to surfaces in order to scale buildings. Other elements often featured in that style of game show up as well such as falling surfaces, obstacles that need to be dodged, and so on.

Electro is one of the bosses who only appears during a zoomed-out sequence.

Every act in the game features a zoom-out sequence, even though only the initial one features a giant enemy. If the entire game were crafted around this style, it would be okay, but when the two are mixed it works quite well as a change of pace. Some boss fights are exclusive to the zoomed out mode too, which is actually kind of a shame since we’re denied seeing a proper, large, model of certain villains. Nevertheless, it’s Spider-Man’s defining characteristic and it works really well. It’s a real surprise this tactic wasn’t utilized more, but then again, fighting games mostly took over the arcade space shortly there-after and the arcade brawler largely faded away.

Battling a foe like the Green Goblin is a lot different from taking on someone like Venom.

The game is divided into four acts, but each one is quite long and will have the players going back and forth between the two gameplay styles. And even though there are only four acts, there are still numerous boss encounters with Spider-Man’s most popular foes. Expect to face-off against the likes of Venom, Green Goblin, Scorpion, Electro, Hobgoblin, and more. Many will have to be fought more than once, with Venom being the most frequent (this was probably when the character was at the height of its popularity). Some of the fights aren’t much to speak of as the enemy functions like a regular enemy, just with a unique sprite and health bar, but others are multi-stage battles and can get pretty challenging. Kingpin himself is also a bit of a red-herring as the real villain of the game is revealed after the third act, which keeps gamers on their toes, I suppose.

Character sprites are big and detailed when not zoomed out.

The presentation is where things are at though. The characters look great on the System 32 board, especially in the non-zoomed out portions. The models are big and detailed making Spider-Man one of the best looking beat-em-ups produced. The villains are tremendous as well, and in between acts there’s some story-line material with some limited voice over. About the only thing I dislike about the visuals rests with Spider-Man himself, as he has this odd, slightly stooped, posture. The music is also catchy, and some was even recycled from older Sega games. Most of the boss characters also get a line or two of spoken dialogue which helps add a little pizzazz to those encounters.

The charging attack, demonstrated here by Kingpin, gets a bit annoying.

Like any brawler, the gameplay does get repetitive eventually. Spider-Man is able to help itself not just with the gameplay switches during acts, but also with the boss variety. A character like Green Goblin attacks in a manner far different from the Kingpin, for example, though by the end of the game there is definitely some boss fatigue. The hardest foes all seem to attack in a similar pattern in that they get knocked down and then pop back up into a charging attack. The penultimate fight of the game can get a bit annoying as the boss has a very small window of time in which he can be harmed before going into a charging animation that renders him invincible, or a blasting position that grants the same. Even so, Spider-Man is a surprisingly fair game. Most arcade brawlers exist just to extract quarters, but it’s possible to gang up on a boss and practically neuter them. Especially with two players, as most boss characters will pop-up after being knocked down to immediately vault across the screen, rather than be momentarily invincible when first getting up. This means two well-positioned characters can effectively “ping pong” a boss until it’s been defeated. Preventing this from becoming a true exploit though is the fact that most bosses are accompanied by standard grunt enemies. I never counted, but Spider-Man can handle a lot of enemies on screen all at once so things can get a bit hectic. It makes those crowd-clearing special maneuvers more and more useful as the game progresses. The trade-off though is that enemy sprites are recycled throughout as you will largely battle the same three enemies all game long, just with different weapon and color variations.

The game keeps track of how many enemies each player defeated and which took down a boss adding a competitive element to the experience.

A play-through of Spider-Man will last about 45 minutes, maybe a bit more. The one trick the game does pull that I’m not a fan of is that the player’s health is always gradually depleting as a means of forcing the players to move quicker. This seems to mostly be in effect during the platforming sections which is a bit annoying as the game does encourage some mild exploration. The “Go!” arrow might be telling you to go one way, but there’s an obvious area in a different direction with health power-ups. Even with that health-drain in place, a pair of reasonably skilled gamers should be able to get through this one on about 20 credits, or 5 bucks back in ’91. After each act, scores are tabulated and health bonuses distributed in kind as well which helps prolong the adventure and adds a little competition as well. The game awards a boss “kill” to whoever scores the last hit and boss defeats are weighted far more heavily than basic enemies so competitive players will do whatever they can to make sure they land that final blow.

The game is quite unique when compared with its peers, at least as unique as a brawler can be.

Since Spider-Man was an arcade-only release, it has become a bit of an obscure title. For whatever reason, other arcade-only brawlers like X-Men and The Simpsons seem to be remembered more fondly even though I find Spider-Man to be the superior experience. It’s a wonderful looking game, even by today’s standards, and the gameplay quirks help set it apart as well. As much as I enjoy X-Men, that game is a pretty basic brawler that’s over quickly, but also brutal when it comes to quarters. It’s possible Spider-Man has been victimized by the success of the Genesis game since so many people had it that it’s likely the first game they think of when people mention the character and Sega in the same sentence. It certainly wasn’t an issue of distribution as I routinely encountered this game in the wild, and it was often the game I went to first.

If this game were re-released in 2020 the legal info would be a lot more complicated than what is seen here.

Spider-Man is one of the best arcade brawlers ever released, and it’s also one of the few to remain exclusive to that format. When Sega brought 32-bit gaming to the living room with the 32X, it chose to craft a new Spider-Man game for that system rather than port this one, which ended up being the final Spider-Man game developed by Sega. Eventually games like X-Men received a release just a via X-Box Live, but Sega’s Spider-Man has remained in cabinets alone. The game was fairly popular so it’s not hard to track down a cabinet today, but buying one is quite costly since the character is so beloved. I suspect we’ve never seen the game made available due to the complicated licensing agreements surrounding both the game and Spider-Man himself. Sony holds the license for basically all Spider-Man media, while the presence of Hawkeye might give Disney a substantial voice in the room should there ever be talk of re-releasing the game. And then there’s Sega, who no longer has a home console of its own to bill this as an exclusive for. The game is likely viewed as too niche to warrant trying to figure out how to spread the money among all interested parties. Ideally it would be offered as a downloadable title like the Konami brawlers were, but that window has apparently been shut, and Sony striking a deal with Sega to include the game as a bonus feature on a modern Spider-Man title seems unlikely. As a result, if you want to experience what Spider-Man has to offer in 2020 you’ll need to track down a cabinet, or resort to other, less legal, means. Should you find yourself playing it, expect to have a pretty good time. Just make sure to bring a friend, or two, or three!


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