Tag Archives: shredder

NECA TMNT Loot Crate Wild Speculation Post!

mirage_shredder_crateIt was announced earlier this week that a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles branded Loot Crate was incoming later this year. NECA, or NECA’s parent company to be more exact, rescued Loot Crate from bankruptcy last year and has been aiming to revamp the subscription service by incorporating NECA product into the boxes. If you’re not familiar with the scheme (some would argue scam), Loot Crate is basically a blind box service. Each box usually retails for about $50 and the only thing the buyer knows is what the general theme of the box will be. They’re almost always advertised as being a greater value than what they’re charging, which is a ludicrous statement, and instead they’re full of junk that would be a hard sell on its own. That’s likely why the service went bankrupt, but NECA appears at least committed to making this thing worthwhile.

There was a series of essentially trial Loot Crates with the NECA branding. One such crate was the Spirit of Splinter set. It came with a variant of the Splinter action figure from NECA’s TMNT movie line that was colored blue to resemble the character from the scene in the woods where he appeared as a ghost, or spirit, to encourage his adoptive children. The crate was $50, so if you’re in it for the figure it’s not the greatest value since NECA figures retail for around half that amount. It also had a shirt, patch, pin, and a Foot bandana based on the same from the film. It’s not an awful set, but I wasn’t really into the figure so I passed. Since the property is hot though, the resale value appears relatively high on eBay so anyone who did purchase it could probably turn it into a small profit, if they so desired.

spirit_splinter

If you wanted a blue Splinter you missed your opportunity.

That Splinter set apparently was successful enough to warrant a new round of crates. Announced Wednesday, a trio of TMNT crates are set to arrive this year with the first one arriving sometime in June. The featured action figure for that set is a first appearance Mirage Shredder. This is only the second time this figure is being released as the first time was as part of a four-pack with some Foot Soldiers for San Diego Comic Con. That Shredder was also colored based on the color version of the debut issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This version is basically all blue and black and looks pretty neat. He’ll have some accessories as well and the crate will come with additional items that likely tie into the original comic line in some way.

bunny_bebop_tease

I can’t believe how much I want this.

What we don’t know, at this time, is what the featured figures will be in the next two crates. For those, NECA has provided only the theme and a few hints. Crate #2 is an arcade themed crate and the placeholder image is the Turtles battling the Foot in the first stage of the original arcade game with April in the background. NECA confirmed via its Twitter account that the figure will NOT be an arcade deco April, and since the Turtles have been released already, it won’t be them. The third crate is based on the 1987 cartoon and the placeholder image is Rocksteady. The only other info we have is that it will not be a variant of Casey Jones (some had guessed at a version of Casey in a suit). Patrons who are all-in on this trio of crates and pay for all three upfront receive a bonus figure of Bebop in a bunny suit from the cartoon. No images have been shown yet so we don’t know how much re-tooling is needed for the existing Bebop figure to conform to this. He could just have new hands and a cloth suit.

That silly Bebop was actually the thing that pulled me in. I love goofy variants, and while I’m less enthusiastic about the First Appearance Shredder I decided to take the plunge with the safety net being if I don’t really want one of the other figures, I can probably at least sell them for cost online. Even though the Bunny Bebop is the figure I covet most, it hasn’t stopped me from speculating on what the other two figures will be. The guessing game is so fun for me that I decided to put my thoughts down here, so let’s see if I can get these thoughts organized.

For the arcade wave, NECA has released or shown the following for retail:

  • All four Turtles
  • Multi-colored Foot Soldiers
  • Shredder (Turtles in Time Arcade)
  • Shredder (Arcade)
  • Slash (Turtles in Time SNES)
  • Leatherhead (Turtles in Time)
  • Granitor (Arcade)
  • Traag (Arcade)
arcade_crate

The lone hint provided by NECA for crate #2.

And as mentioned, we can rule out April. The image NECA provided as a clue is the Arcade version of the first game. It’s also the first level which featured a boss fight against Rocksteady. Also of note, NECA showed off Granitor and Traag a long time ago and has never come back and confirmed them for release. The current figures at retail are based on Turtles in Time, and Krang’s loyal rock soldiers did not feature in that game. In other words, I think they’re in play. Cartoon versions are on the way as part of wave 4 too, so we’re just talking a simple repaint here. With all that said, let’s speculate! I’m ranking based on the likelihood of who gets released:

neca_dimensionx_trio

NECA showed off this trio almost three years ago and we just now received Slash. Granitor and Traag have mostly been ignored since save for the cartoon reveal.

  1. Granitor/Traag – This seems like a good spot for one of these two guys. There’s nothing separating the two, hence why I rank them together. It’s also a smart marketing idea as one could be included this round, and the other figure could follow in the next wave. Anyone who has Traag will want Granitor and vice versa.
  2. tmnt_arcade_level1

    Rocksteady is the boss for the pictured level, though if he’s the subject of crate #3 it seems less likely he’d be featured in crate #2 as well.

    Rocksteady – we kind of half to assume he’s high on the list because the image provided features the rhino as the boss character. And Rocksteady would just be a simple repaint of the current figure, perhaps with the added benefit of including his helmet. And like the scenario I outlined with Granitor and Traag, it opens up the possibility of featuring Bebop further down the road. And both characters were unique to the first Arcade game as far as their attire is concerned. For the SNES version of Turtles in Time, the two appeared in pirate attire which would necessitate all new sculpts. I think it’s safe to say, whatever is included in these Loot Crates will be repaints of existing figures with only minor re-tooling. I’d actually list Rocksteady as the most likely figure if he wasn’t the placeholder image for crate #3.

  3.  NES Rocksteady – Not to be confused with the figure above. The image provided is clearly from the arcade version of the game, so I think it’s more likely the figure comes from there than from the NES, but the NES version of the game does present some additional opportunities. Considering NECA already did Slash who was unique to the home console version of Turtles in Time, it suggests the NES version of the arcade game isn’t off-limits. When that game was ported, some concessions had to be made as the NES was not capable of outputting the same amount of colors as the arcade game. And for that version, Rocksteady appeared in basically a black, white, and gray attire. It actually makes him look a little more like the Playmates figure than the cartoon, and it’s not an ugly look for the character. It’s also an easy thing to accomplish as NECA could just re-color the existing figure. Though again, he’d need a helmet.
  4. tora

    a Tora figure would be pretty damn fun.

    Tora – If that name isn’t familiar then that’s okay, as we’re not talking about a very popular character. Tora is the white dog/wolf boss from the snowy level of the NES game. He’s never appeared anywhere else, as far as I know, nor was he ever done as an action figure. Because of his obscurity, it makes sense for him to be featured in a subscription service like Loot Crate. He could probably utilize some of the parts made for Bebop and/or Rocksteady with the only challenge being he’d require a unique headsculpt and he had a leather jacket. If given the choice, I think I’d most like to see this happen as it feels fun, though all signs point to the figure being from the arcade version of the game and not the home console port.

  5.  Roadkill Rodney (s) – We know Roadkill Rodney is on the way as part of the cartoon line, so a pixel deco version would also make sense at some point. The character appears in both arcade games, so it’s possible it could show up in the Turtles in Time retail wave. This would probably be the cheapest option as the figures aren’t particularly large, though if they feature rubber tires or something then I could be mistaken. This strikes me as the least exciting option though and I don’t know that it would be met with much enthusiasm.

That’s my top 5 most likely for the arcade crate. I kept my guesses to just the original arcade game and the NES release, but if it also could include Turtles in Time figures then that expands things considerably. That game features Tokka, Rahzar, and Super Shredder which are all getting released as part of the movie line. Would NECA do a pixel deco on any of them and release them? I think so, but I also think they would rather release them as single-packs to retail and not in a Loot Crate. Baxter the Fly also features in the home NES arcade port and both versions of Turtles in Time. He has a figure on the way in the cartoon line, though he’s considerably larger in the games and I’m not sure if that figure is really appropriate for a game version. Maybe NECA isn’t too concerned though. Metalhead is also in that game, so he would be possible. Krang is featured in both, but I ruled him out as his android body is probably too big for this kind of release, but I’d love to be wrong!

cartoon_crate

The lone hint for crate #3. Seems like Rocksteady is a given, no?

Let’s turn our attention now to crate #3. We have even less to go off of here as the image is just Rocksteady and it’s the same licensing artwork featured in NECA’s action figure release, so we don’t even have an episode or season to go off of. It wouldn’t exactly be much of a hint if the figure wasn’t Rocksteady, but for completion’s sake, here’s what NECA has done or is prepping for release at Target:

  • All four Turtles
  • Shredder
  • Krang (Bubble Walker and Android Body)
  • Foot Soldiers (regular and damaged)
  • Bebop
  • Rocksteady
  • Casey Jones
  • April O’Neil
  • Baxter the Fly
  • Splinter
  • Granitor
  • Traag
  • Leatherhead
  • Metalhead
  • Foot Alpha
  • Triceratons (Various colors)
  • Bunny Bebop
  • Roadkill Rodney
  • Slash
bunny_minions

Could figure #3 simply be a Bunny Rocksteady to complete the pair for those who are all-in? Maybe, though it seems like NECA would reserve him for a future release.

That’s a lot of figures, and I may even be forgetting some. NECA has also strongly hinted that Ace Duck and Mukman and Joe Eyeball are forthcoming, and the assumption is that neither would be featured here. Again, we’re mostly assuming this figure will be a variant of an already released or soon-to-be released character. And since this crate may be arriving in the fall, virtually all figures to be released are in play. Though since the image is Rocksteady, I have to go with him first:

human_rocksteady

Might a human version of Rocksteady be on the way?

  1. First-Appearance Rocksteady – Rocksteady didn’t show up as an existing mutant, he had to first be some regular dude who wasn’t very nice. He basically featured the same outfit as his rhino form, only with a vest and no helmet. NECA could simply retool the existing figure and give him a new head to accomplish the job. It would then setup for a future crate figure of human Bebop.
  2.  Bunny Rocksteady – if the bonus fourth figure is Bebop in a bunny costume, then fans are going to wonder when they can complete the pair. As a result, a Bunny Rocksteady makes sense as once again it’s an existing figure with a few new additions. And as a bonus, since the two-pack continues to be hard to find at retail, it gives collectors another opportunity to get these figures. Especially if the bunny outfit is just a cloth addition leaving the regular figure underneath largely intact. The only reason why I think it won’t be a rabbit version of Rocksteady is that it probably makes more sense for that to be the featured bonus figure of another round of Loot Crates. Such a maneuver is borderline mean, but that’s capitalism for ya!
  3.  Ultimate Rocksteady – Basically, just the regular figure with more accessories including a helmet, something fans have been requesting ever since the original two-pack was released last November. It wouldn’t be very sexy, but considering how hard those figures have been to find it might give NECA some reason to assume fans would still be onboard with such a move. It’s not what I would want, but I also wouldn’t hate it.
  4. mightyhognrhinomanRhino-Man – I talked about wanting this figure in my list of most wanted NECA figures, so naturally I’d put him here. This was Rocksteady in a super hero costume. He could easily be repainted to accomplish the look well enough, and once again it would setup for a future release of Bebop in his super hero attire. Since fans would expect such a move, that version of Bebop could once again occupy the bonus figure slot or something.
  5. Mighty Rocksteady – I’m sticking with the Rocksteady theme! It just seems to me that if NECA wanted to give fans a hint (and they confirmed that was the goal), then making the figure something other than Rocksteady seems pointless. It would just mean the hint was actually no hint at all and reinforce that we shouldn’t trust these going forward, which wouldn’t be much fun. Mighty Rocksteady is the robot replacement from the episode “Super Bebop and Mighty Rocksteady.” He still looks like Rocksteady, but he’s metallic. Potentially, any figure would be a mash-up of parts made for Rocksteady and Metalhead. Though admittedly, to really get this figure right and do him justice it would be preferable to create an all new mold which is why I think he’s the least likely version of Rocksteady to be featured in this crate.
mighty_rockteady

A Mighty Rocksteady would be considerably harder to pull off, but that Bunny Bebop looks like it might feature a lot of new sculpting so who knows?

That’s it, my picks for most likely figures. I hope this doesn’t come off like an advertisement for NECA and Loot Crate, but it felt like a fun exercise to undertake. I’d prefer to not have to deal with the Loot Crate nonsense to get these exciting figures, but given how hard they’ve been to find at retail it’s not the worst thing to actually know I’m guaranteed to get four new figures this year. Expect a review for each one when it arrives and I’ll definitely refer back to this post to grade how well I did.


NECA San Diego Comic Con The Capture of Splinter Action Figure Set (TMNT)

 

img_4504.jpgOver the years, various toy companies have given their take on the venerable Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And no company has done that more often than Playmates, holders of the master toy license from back in the late 1980s when the property made the leap from print to world-wide phenomenon. I have no idea how many iterations of Leonardo or Raphael that company has made over the years, but it wouldn’t shock me if the number is over 100. For whatever reason though, when it came to the biggest foe the Turtles faced Playmates often came up short.

The Shredder was the villain in the debut comic and naturally he was chosen as the main villain for the cartoon series. As a result, he was one of the four villains in the debuting toy line. That Shredder left something to be desired. Few of those toys resembled the cartoon, but Shredder was particularly off. He had a blue helmet with a purple mask that appeared to reference a cloth material in the sculpt. He had his various spiked pads and a piece of purple cloth that served more like a gi than an a cape (most of my friends ditched the belt and opted to display him as a shirtless, caped, villain). Worst of all, he had this weird crouching pose that made him so hard to stand. It used to drive five-year-old me crazy that I couldn’t get him to stand or get him to properly wield a sword or something.

The toy was bad, but surely a better one would follow. Right? Eh, not really. There was a Super Shredder toy that became my favorite Shredder toy, though he was comically out of scale when compared with the other figures. He also wasn’t exactly like the Shredder I wanted. There was a wacky-action Shredder and a Toon Shredder, who was just a cartoon-accurate repaint of the original figure. Arguably, a good Playmates Shredder didn’t arrive until the 2003 cartoon series, long past the point at which I cared about the old cartoon.

 

When Playmates decided to make figures based on the film version of the Turtles, it oddly chose to essentially skip the first film. Maybe the company was unsure of how successful the pivot to live-action would be, but there were no movie tie-in toys for that film, which is really surprising in retrospect. The sequel came quick though just a year later and for that Playmates did make figures. Shredder looks pretty neat in the first film, and while he was changed for the second, it wasn’t a drastic change. Basically, he wore purple instead of red and the edges of his helmet were now serrated like a sawblade. Playmates opted against doing a figure though and instead just made a Super Shredder. Opportunity wasted.

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I need more shelf space.

It took almost 30 years, but NECA has delivered where Playmates failed. Earlier this year, the company released a quarter-scale version of Shredder from the first movie. I want it, and it looks awesome, but I made the painful decision to take a pass. I was partly able to do so because I knew this set was on the way. For San Diego Comic Con, NECA delivered another set of action figures based on the 1990 film. Last year it was the Turtles, and this year it’s Shredder, Splinter, and a pair of Foot Ninja.

I’ve had really good luck with these NECA exclusives over the past couple of years, but I had to sweat this one out a bit. I landed my set on the last day of the presale, having failed the days prior. It arrived just at the end of July as it was shipped after San Diego Comic Con and I’m happy to finally have it in my possession. The box will probably strike people as being understated compared with the past two convention exclusives. Last year’s Turtles set came in a box resembling the original VHS of the film. This one settled for a simple black with the Foot bandana wrapping around it. The inner box has some photos of the set, as well as the actual figures in a window display. It’s a nice piece, it just happens to follow two spectacular looking ones between last year’s VHS box and the prior year’s Archie action figure collector case inspired look.

 

We’ll get to the big guy eventually, but lets not forget that before Shredder there was the Foot Ninja. NECA did a quarter-scale version of this character as well and released it early this year. Unlike Shredder, the Foot Ninja has a Playmates counterpart which was actually one of the better figures Playmates did during that era, save for the fact that he was made green for some reason. A quarter-scale version of this figure was a bold move, and hopefully one that has worked out financially for NECA as he’s what we would call an army-builder in the collector community. You can’t have just one, but at that size and price point few can justify acquiring more than one. In a seven inch scale though, the figure works just fine.

img_4514Just like the Turtles from last year, the Foot Ninja appears to be an almost exact scaled-down version of the larger figure. He looks great, and best of all there’s two! The texture of the costume is so realistic looking that I feel like I’m looking at a still from the film. There’s numerous weapons from the film and even a weapon rack to stack them on. Want to re-enact the nunchaku face-off with Mikey? You can. Maybe you just want to see them smash the floor of April’s apartment with those giant axes? Go for it. The only thing limiting you is your imagination. This figure is expected to get a single card release down the road at retail (Gamestop exclusive) and I imagine there will be lots of people interested in acquiring more and more Foot to pose with their heroes.

img_4515The Foot Ninja is dressed all in black and sculpted with a soft, plastic, material in many places. This helps make him have a really excellent range of motion even with those funny shaped shoulders and such on account of his costume. He’s all plastic, save for a strip of cloth around his waist just above his sculpted belt. At first, I didn’t understand why NECA would include that until I realized it functions as a great way to store weapons on him. And he has a lot of weapons. There are two nunchaku, one with a plastic strap similar to Mikey, and one with a chain linking the two handles. He’s also got a katana, a baton, and the aforementioned axe, plus a pair of sai and a bo staff for good measure. I do not recall any of the Foot wielding sai in the film, but I’m happy to have the extra weapons. The longer weapons can be stored on that included weapon rack, and the smaller ones in the fabric strip on the belt. He also has a pair of gripping hands and a pair of open palms. I have no complaints about this figure, but one obvious shortcoming is in the hand selections. The two Foot by default have punching hands which means they have to share the other two sets. Really, the default hands should have been gripping hands with the pair sharing the fists. If you want one of the ninja to hold a pair of sai, or nunchuks, or even the staff with two hands then that means the other one gets to hold nothing. They also share an extra knot for their bandana, but that doesn’t bother me.

 

Splinter is the lone all-new sculpt in this set. There is no accompanying quarter-scale version and as far as I know there is no planned one. 2020 will mark the film’s 30th anniversary and NECA will surely celebrate that in some fashion, so maybe a quarter-scale Splinter could be a part of that. Anyway, this is a depiction of Splinter from when he was captured by the Foot in the first film. He looks a little worse for ware, and even comes with shackles for you to hang him with. A separate to purchase diorama of that area he was held prisoner would have really made this set perfect, but beggar’s can’t be choosers. Splinter looks solid, with cloth accents used for his rags. He’s done-up all in plastic, in case you expected NECA to do something else with the fur. Because of that, he doesn’t look as picture-perfect as the other figures, but this is still a near spot-on likeness of the character. This battle-damaged version of the character is expected to remain exclusive to this set, so if you want your Splinter tenderized you’ll have to track one of these things down. Otherwise, a standard version is expected to be made available at some point in the future. Presumably his robe will be cleaner (though the guy lives in a sewer so it can’t be too clean) and maybe he’ll have a brighter paint deco. This one is fairly dark, and I do wish some red was added to his fur to warm him up a bit (since he was often under a harsh light in the film). Maybe he’ll also gain some swappable hands as this one just comes with shackles, which can be removed if you wish, but I’m a big baby so I haven’t tried.

 

As mentioned above, Splinter is light on accessories with the shackles being the main feature. They clip around his bicep area and are joined by a chain. He also has a crate to stand on that’s just a printed piece of cardstock. Plastic would have been better, but the figure appears to stand on it just fine without putting much force on it so I don’t think durability will be a major issue. His cloth robe looks great and even has a nice feel to it, almost grimy. There’s a fabric belt around it that’s really long. It kind of stands out too much and I’m tempted to remove it, though I probably won’t as I don’t really mess with the integrity of my toys. That robe hides a surprising amount of articulation as well, so if you want to remove the shackles and go nuts you can. My Splinter’s arms want to stay in that hanging position and I’m reluctant to force them, but I’m pretty sure they can be positioned more naturally (I might just need to remove the shackles). It’s a bit of a shame he can’t hold the nunchaku convincingly, but I’ll probably just display him in chains so it’s not really an issue for me. I don’t have a nice chain-link fence to hang him from, but that weapon rack seems to function as a decent stand-in.

Which brings us to the main event, Shredder himself. This is the figure I have wanted since I was a kid first seeing these characters I loved so much on the big screen. Even more so than the Foot Ninja, he looks like he was ripped from the screen. His magenta outfit has that slight sparkle to it and the helmet looks like it’s actually made out of metal. The faceguard pops off to reveal the scarred visage of Oroku Saki underneath and it’s a quite satisfying and fun accessory to play with. He comes with various extra hands and weapons, including his hidden dagger he tries to take out Splinter with. His weird, shiny, zebra-print, cape is also here and it’s a heavy cloth material that convincingly drapes over the character. It looks great and it really causes a dilemma as to how to pose him on a shelf since he rarely sported that look in the film. I’ve opted for the no-cape look for now, but I might change in my mind in a month or so when I get sick of looking at the current pose I have going on.

 

The body of Shredder appears to be the same as the Foot Ninja. I suppose that’s a bad thing if you wanted your Shredder to be taller than his minions, but otherwise it’s fine as the body sculpt looks excellent. There’s a lot of softer sections of plastic making posing free and easy. His extra parts are also snug against his limbs, but can be manipulated if necessary. Mine needed some adjusting out of the box and at no point did I fear breaking anything. Like the Foot Ninja, he has a strip of fabric across his waist for storing a weapon or two, an obvious necessity for Shredder given the events of the film. He also has his long spear weapon to combat his foes with. He has additional hands as well including a pair of gripping hands and two open palm hands. The material his helmet is made of is soft plastic so getting the faceguard on and off is pretty simple. His face looks amazing and it’s almost a shame to keep it hidden under that faceguard, but he just looks so cool with it on!

img_4509

Hang there, until you die!

That’s not to say that Shredder is perfect. He’s almost perfect, but there’s one shortcoming with him and it resides with that helmet. It looks awesome in promotional images, and the texture of it is also well-sculpted, but that soft plastic which makes it easy to slide the faceguard off and on can also bend. Most of the images I’ve seen from consumers all tend to have an issue where the left side (Shredder’s left) curls into the figure or bubbles out. I’ve tried messing with it a bit, and I don’t know if hot water or a hair dryer would help or hurt (the heat might make it curl more). It’s not something I feel like I need to contact NECA over, but it does bother me a bit. Since removing him from the packaging and messing around with him it has improved, so it may settle into the right position eventually. The only other nit I can think to pick with these figures is that the Foot and Shredder don’t have the necessary amount of movement in the shoulders to hold the axes over their head in a swinging motion. That’s minor though, and really the only solution would be additional joints in the front of the shoulders which would harm the aesthetics of the figure. Given the choice between the two, I think NECA got it right.

img_4517

Maybe all that hardware’s for making coleslaw?

Overall, this is a really satisfying set that should please Turtle fans out there. If you happened to get one of these and you’re not satisfied with it, I’ll just add that NECA has some of the best customer support you’ll find. I haven’t had to do it, but I’ve encountered people who felt there was a problem with a part of their figure and NECA either replaced the part or the entire figure at no charge, often with no questions asks. It might take a few weeks, but they always deliver and stand by their product. The only real fault I can find with this set is the lack of extra gripping hands for the Foot Ninja, but if I’m really bothered by that I could always try and buy more Foot Ninja when they hit retail. Otherwise, the rest is just nitpicking here and there. At the end of the day, these are some really finely sculpted action figures and it’s hard to imagine anyone being able to top what NECA has done here.

 

The only other major shortcoming many people might add is that this sucker is a convention exclusive and thus, if you don’t have it, you can’t get it unless you’re willing to pay a scalper. The good news is that there’s a high likelihood of these figures all hitting Gamestop either by the end of the year or early next year. NECA all but confirmed that and if I had to guess the only exclusives with this particular set might be the weapon rack and shackles on Splinter and possibly some of the weapons the Foot get to play with. The single-carded Foot Ninja will likely have a full assortment of hands and the extra bandana knot and I’d be surprised if Shredder was changed at all. So if you missed out and you’re real upset about it, just be patient and keep your eyes open as these guys will sell fast once they’re made available. Earlier this year, Gamestop had issues fulfilling all of the pre-orders online for the Turtles so a pro-tip for you is if you have a local Gamestop preorder in store. Everyone I know that did so got their set and it was only the online orders that were cancelled. I don’t go into Gamestop too often, but every time I have I’ve taken a peek to see if they have the Turtles and I’ve never seen them so they’re still selling extremely well.

img_4521

Now I will finish what I began with your ear!

As for the future of this line, expect more! Nothing is certain, but Randy Falk at NECA was quick to remind folks during his interview with Pixel Dan that next year marks the 30th anniversary of the first TMNT film. Expect something from the company to mark the occasion. As for what that could be, your guess is as good as mine. NECA also confirmed it will make figures based on the sequel, The Secret of the Ooze. Whether or not those include quarter scale versions is unknown, but I think it’s safe to say if you’re a fan of two prominent adversaries from that picture then you’ll probably be happy, eventually. And of course, NECA is continuing its line of TMNT with cartoon themed figures in two-packs at Target (Bebop and Rocksteady should be showing up this fall) and also video game themed figures at specialty shops. Expect Turtles in Time themed toys, including Slash, to start showing up at those places this fall. Right now may be the best time ever to be a TMNT fan, so start saving!


Toy Collecting While Adulting

neca 2019 sdccLast Thursday was World Turtle Day, or something like that. I thought about looking up the reason why that is, but I decided I’d prefer not to know. Instead I get to just associate it with The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as well as NECA, the toy company that has become a favorite of TMNT fans worldwide. And that’s because it has become a bit of an annual tradition with NECA as it looks to that day on the calendar to announce its latest TMNT themed collectibles due to arrive for San Diego Comic Con in the summer. It’s an exciting time as a turtle toy collector, but this year there was some dread on my part.

For the past several years, NECA has really been killing it with its TMNT products. It started way back in 2008 when the company released its set of turtles based on their original appearance in the pages of Mirage Comics. Licensing issues with Nickelodeon and Playmates, the holders of the master toy license since the 1980s, prevented NECA from really going too much further with the line. A loophole, or just a voluntary opening on the part of Nick and Playmates, allowed NECA to return to the license as convention exclusives. NECA could create figures based on the brand and sell them at San Diego Comic Con and only there (eventually, it opened up to include NECA’s webstore as well). And I believe they also had to be a part of a set and not an individual release.

video game shredder foot

One of NECA’s earlier SDCC sets – arcade game Shredder and Foot Soldiers.

Nickelodeon and Playmates would not allow NECA to create figures based on the original cartoon series, so the company had to get a bit more resourceful. Its first solution was to make figures based on the video games complete with “digitized” paint. They also supplemented the original Mirage line with a set featuring Shredder and the Foot Clan. Eventually, likely due to the success of these products, the license started to loosen with its restrictions. NECA was allowed to create quarter-scale versions of 90s movie turtles and sell them at retail. These super-sized action figures are lovingly detailed and some of the best toys I’ve had the pleasure of owning. The license then loosened further to allow NECA to release a set of turtles and villains based on the 1987 mini series for sale at SDCC in 2017. Then last year the company followed with a set of scaled-down movie figures, but more importantly, they came with an announcement.

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NECA has finally received the go-ahead to distribute to retail. These Target Two-Packs have been in constant demand since release.

Last year was the final year for NECA and its TMNT product being locked into the convention exclusive category. NECA was finally granted the ability to head to retail with only minimal restrictions. The movie turtles could be sold individually, and NECA partnered with Gamestop to sell them in their stores and on their website. They were a huge success as they sold out quickly. Restocks have disappeared just as fast and hopefully the supply will keep rolling in. NECA also was able to partner with Target for its figures based on the 87 cartoon. These figures had to be sold as two-packs and retail for $50. They also could not be stocked in the toy section, but rather electronics (basically, where Target keeps its vast assortment of Funko merchandise). These figures have been just as hard to find as the movie figures, and it sounds like they’re here to stay as NECA showed off a Bebop and Rocksteady tentatively scheduled for release this fall.

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And look who is coming this fall!

Now, I’ve been fortunate in that I was able to secure the SDCC sets each of the past two years so I haven’t had to hunt for the figures at retail. NECA launched an ambassador program last fall in which fans are asked to photograph Target’s NECA section each week and send it in. I’m a local ambassador and have yet to see these TMNT figures in person in my store. Either the store never got them or they sold out so fast that I never came across them (I have seen them once in a different Target). I won’t be so lucky in the fall when the new figures drop and will be in the thick of things as I hunt for these sought after toys.

This year though brings another SDCC exclusive from NECA and it’s basically what most fans thought it would be. Earlier this year, NECA released a quarter-scale version of the Foot Soldier from the 1990 movie with Shredder to follow in May. I have longed for a movie accurate Shredder ever since I was a kid and the upcoming figure (who may be shipping now) looks beautiful. I’ve had him on pre-order since they went up and have been very much looking forward to adding him to my collection. As expected though, the convention exclusive this year is a complement to last year’s set in that it contains scaled-down versions of Shredder, the Foot, and introduces a brand new sculpt:  Splinter. The photos NECA released look fantastic and the set is virtually guaranteed to please.

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NECA’s take on Shredder from the 1990 film looks incredible.

So what’s the problem? Well, money for one. The quarter-scale Shredder retails for about $125.00 which is no small number when you’re talking about a toy. As an owner of the four turtles who were released at a similar price point, I can say it’s worth it based on their level of quality. The SDCC set will retail for $120, and if these figures receive single-card releases down the line they’ll likely run $25 a piece. The set comes with some extras and will likely have some kind of specialty packaging to justify the added cost. For me though, it caused me to reevaluate if I need two Shredders – a quarter-scale and a 7″ version. Had NECA not gone this route for the convention exclusive then I could have pushed it out of my mind and perhaps gone ahead with a less than responsible solution, but my sensible side has been crowing quite loudly.

2019 has gotten off to an expensive start for me. We had a family vacation over a year in the making in January to Disney World. It was an awesome experience, but then I got to come home to all kinds of fun literally on my first day back. We had some scary trees in the yard that needed to be taken down. Then both vehicles required over a grand a piece in maintenance and repairs for unexpected, non-crash related reasons. And then to top it off, a series of unexpected medical bills resulting from a hand injury I suffered which necessitated surgery (and will require additional surgery next month). That part of life has been no fun, and as a family of four in which I am the sole financial provider, it has caused me to reevaluate my spending habits.

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As awesome as the quarter-scale Shredder looks, it’s hard to choose over this equally incredible looking set.

Which brings me back to Shredder. I hated to do it, but I felt it was the responsible thing to make a choice. Having both seemed like a luxury I couldn’t do right now. Summer is coming, the kids have birthdays, they need new clothes, my son will be starting school in the fall. I’ve already cut way back on my discretionary spending, I haven’t bought a video game in over a year, and I’ve been forced to limit my toy hobby as a result. All self-imposed, but what feels like the right thing to do. I decided I can still collect NECA TMNT and Boss Fight Studio’s Bucky O’Hare line, but all others are being phased out for now. And if I have to make a choice between quarter-scale Shredder and the upcoming set, well, it wasn’t much of a contest.

I cancelled that pre-order. The quarter-scale Shredder looks amazing and I already regret my decision, but the SDCC set will feature four figures that will be much easier to find shelf space for compared with one figure who takes up a lot of real estate. I’m sure NECA expected some of this as toy collectors do typically favor the smaller scale figures over the large ones. Some collectors I know just collect the quarter-scale just to support the line in hopes it will lead to 7″ versions. Being an adult sucks. If given the choice, I would have been a kid forever. “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid…” was like my motto as a child. There are perks to adulthood of course (beer), and I wouldn’t trade being a dad for anything, but man being a kid without responsibility was pretty great.

This doesn’t mean I’ll never return to old shell-head. Maybe things open up later this year, or maybe Santa Claus can bail me out. For now, it means I’ll be there when pre-orders open up for the SDCC sets hoping to score one somewhat secure in knowing if I don’t get lucky this year well these figures will likely show up eventually at retail. That childhood dream of a movie accurate Shredder is very much alive. This post isn’t intended as a pity party, just musings on what it means to be an adult with an expensive hobby. Toy collecting is fun and something I’ll likely never give up, but I have to limit myself, even when I don’t want to.


Wanted: Bebop and Rocksteady

28e0eb55117749.5977644bd483aIt had a good run, but with this past Saturday’s airing of “Wanted:  Bebop and Rocksteady” the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series launched by Nickelodeon in 2012 has come to a close. In a somewhat refreshing manner, the show has come to an end largely because it’s told a story that was basically completed with the defeat of Shredder and the passing of Splinter to conclude season 4. Season 5, which came with a re-titling of the series as Tales of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, largely dealt with the fallout and the Turtles taking on the few stragglers remaining from Shredder’s empire. It was some-what directionless, but still solid entertainment. The finale though brought us another cross-over with the 1987 TMNT with a story centered around the comedic duo of Bebop and Rocksteady.

The series finale is composed of three episodes that Nickelodeon chose to air in succession as basically a little made-for-TV film. It starts off in the 2D 1987 world and Bebop and Rocksteady have just been driven back by the turtles. All of the classic voice actors are here with few exceptions (Kevin Michael Richardson stands in for the late James Avery as Shredder and is the most notable difference, though he does a really good job of sounding like Avery) for the 87 characters. The look and sound of that show is rendered well here, though the animation is obviously digital now and it’s kind of junky. Maybe that was in an attempt to mimic the less than stellar animation of the majority of that old series, or maybe it was just a limitation of the budget. Anyway, Shredder and Krang open a portal to the modern world and mistakenly leave Bebop and Rocksteady behind. Needing henchman, they place an ad and the current Bebop and Rocksteady answer it.

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The episode begins in the world of the 87 cartoon, aspect ratio and all.

The plot of this episode, being a scheme cooked up by Shredder and Krang, is naturally quite 87-esque in its execution. Shredder and Krang simply desire world domination, which includes total destruction by Krang’s rock soldiers from Dimension X. The 87 turtles soon follow via their own portal gun, and will naturally encounter their current selves. This isn’t new for this show as there have been a few cross-overs already. It is a novelty naturally designed to take advantage of the nostalgia adults have for that show, but the show runners here have been able to maintain a special aura by making sure each successive cross-over is better than the one before.

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It’s Shredder! In 3D!

The nature of the cross-over means a lot of the entertainment value is going to be derived from pointing out the differences between the two shows. The Turtles of this series are serious crime fighters who are kind of bored with all of their foes vanquished. The villains are dangerous and they fight dirty willing to use whatever is at their disposal. By contrast, the 87 Turtles don’t even use their weapons for anything more than intimidation. The villains are also hampered by a need to boast, gloat, and essentially delay actually killing their enemies. Shredder is also incapable of viewing Bebop and Rocksteady as anything other than brain-dead henchman incapable of even the simplest tasks, even as they’re proving themselves to be plenty capable at henching.

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Shredder insists on the comforts of home and has Bebop and Rocksteady dress like his 87 henchmen.

When the 87 Turtles meet the 2012 Bebop and Rocksteady, they find they’ve met their match. It’s a really amusing scene as the Turtles try to use silly cartoon cliches to take down Bebop and Rocksteady, which just don’t work. Their encounter occurs on an old playground and when Bebop hops on a merry-go-round Mikey tries spinning it to make him dizzy and he just gets kicked in the face. Raphael tries smashing a fire hydrant in an attempt to hose down his foes with his sai and finds breaking a fire hydrant is actually really hard. They’re easily taken out and their only saving grace is Raph’s ability to break the 4th wall and point out that this is a kid’s show and they can’t be executed. Bebop and Rocksteady are appropriately confused by this admission, but it works when they decide to just take them back to the Technodrome for Shredder and Krang to deal with.

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The 87 Turtles look pretty authentic, but so out of place in this world.

The 2012 Turtles basically play the role of competent heroes to their incompetent counterparts. They manage to rescue them, due in small part to Shredder and Krang’s futility, but take notice of the fact that the 87 Turtles are really bad in a fight. They try to train them, and it’s funny when 87 Leonardo reacts with horror when its suggested he actually try cutting people with his swords. The 87 Turtles get to meet most of the main cast of this show, including April, Casey, and what’s left of the Mighty Mutanimals. Meanwhile, Bebop and Rocksteady get to command some surprisingly capable robot Foot Soldiers as they’re charged with stealing some special computer chip for Krang. That segment actually includes some amusing easter eggs as they have to enter a 1987 vault and the silhouettes of various properties from that era are visible, three of which stood out for me:  Teddy Ruxpin, Robocop, and Freddy Krueger.

I found myself getting oddly defensive about how inept the 87 Turtles are presented. There’s a training sequence in which modern Leo throws a bunch of balls at 87 Mikey and he’s supposed to deflect them with his nunchaku, but can’t. He did that in the opening credits of every 87 episode! And seeing Shredder be such a push-over some-what bothered me. I always viewed 87 Shredder as a very strong fighter who always made the 80’s villain mistake of delegating everything to inferior henchmen. Still, this is mostly a failing on my part as I shouldn’t be hurt by this depiction. It was definitely amusing to see Leonardo actually wield his katana like actual weapons, and get a crazy look in his eyes as he revels in the violence!

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Expect many humorous moments such as this one where Shredder admonishes Krang for using his Chrome Dome brand shampoo.

The story is sort of secondary to the gimmick of the episode. It basically is just the eight turtles and their allies coming to repeated blows with the enemies. Krang is eventually able to open a portal to Dimension X, bringing in the 2012 version of the rock soldiers. He also goes “super” and in his giant robot body he is able to wreak a lot of havoc on New York. The Technodrome also rises to the surface for some destruction, and the Dimension X tank seldom seen in the old show also makes an appearance and it’s pretty cool. I don’t want to spoil anything, but you kind of no where this is going, don’t you? The destruction of the planet is avoided and everyone is sent home, all thanks to Bebop and Rocksteady. Wait! What?

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The 87 Turtles are treated like punchlines for the most part, but they get some redemption in the end. “Turtles fight with honor!”

Bebop and Rocksteady are the unexpected core to this story. They’re in the title, so obviously they play a role, but I guess I didn’t expect them to be this central to the plot. Bebop and Rocksteady are an oddly sweet pairing. They’re an odd couple with Rocksteady being some sort of Russian soldier and Bebop a street-wise punk. Ignoring the fact that they are kind of just racial stereotypes, it’s strangely endearing to see Rocksteady try to adopt some of Bebop’s vernacular as a way of bonding with him and Bebop even accepts a hug from his giant partner at one point, just because. They’re basically just a pair in search of acceptance and purpose. They’re directionless when we first encounter them and find a new Shredder to serve, but they hate how poorly he treats them. They even best Shredder in combat, rather easily, when he tests them out and yet they still are willing to serve beneath him even as he makes them do the laundry and wax the floor. When they find out towards the end of the story that Shredder and Krang aim to destroy the world they have a bit of an internal crisis. Rocksteady, motivated by the thought that his precious mama will be killed if the world is destroyed, decides he’s had enough and the pair thwart Shredder and Krang’s plans. By the end, they seem to have found their calling as they no longer wish to serve under anyone and even have designs on becoming super heroes (because that’s pretty bankable right now).

As entertaining as the story was, it’s a little disappointing to see the 2012 Turtles take a backseat to anyone in what is their series finale. The show even ends in the 87 universe with a joke featuring classic Bebop and Rocksteady. I would have preferred some sort of goodbye from the current TMNT instead. It felt like they were forced out by a brand that people have more nostalgia for, kind of like how retired WWE wrestlers seem to find themselves in the main event of modern Wrestlemanias. It’s pretty cool to end the show in a spectacular manner such as a cross-over, it just wasn’t quite the perfect end it deserved.

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Nickelodeon has gone to this well before, but it’s still pretty damn cool.

The 2012 version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may not have lasted long enough to leave as big of a mark as the original cartoon did. And yet, this version of the TMNT is arguably one of the greatest iterations of the turtles to ever be. I think it’s easily the best television show based on the property, and even though I didn’t post blog entries on every season here I still kept up with the show when I could. The show-runners did a great job of mixing nostalgia with new stories and new takes on classic characters. It was a show I was really skeptical of when it first showed up, but it won me over as a 30-something when it had no reason to appeal to me. I’m a bit sad to see it go, especially as its rumored to be replaced with something more kid-friendly, and I wonder if we’ll ever see a better TMNT show. It has proven though that this franchise can’t be killed. It’s never going away. What should have been a fad has become a cultural institution and future generations can probably count on receiving their own version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and that’s a pretty wonderful thing.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Nickelodeon) Season 2

TMNTThe resurgence of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been one of the more fun story lines from pop culture for me over the past two years. With an all new comic line, cartoon, and feature film, the TMNT are almost as relevant today as they were in 1990. Considering other old properties from the 80’s have been successfully resurrected recently, perhaps it’s not all that surprising the Turtles were able to accomplish the same. What has been surprising though is how successful the relaunch has been from an artistic standpoint. The general consensus for the vast majority of new films based on properties from the 80’s is that the material has been lacking. While no one can dispute how commercially successful a franchise like the Transformers has been for Hollywood, the movies themselves come across as overstuffed toy commercials. Like the Transformers, the return to the big screen for the Turtles was decidedly lacking when the new film was released in 2014 (I’d call the film trash but I personally have not watched it and don’t plan to). However, the comic book line launched in 2012 has been pretty well-received while the television show has been a smashing success.

When the cartoon was announced by Nickelodeon I was not optimistic about its chances at success. I was borderline indifferent, but my past romance with the Turtles was enough to make me curious. I set the DVR to record season one, and by its end, I was a fan. The show is witty, action-packed, and stuffed with enough in-jokes and material to appeal to 30-somethings who grew up with the Turtles. The cartoon successfully melds the old cartoon with the comic books while also taking its own path. The 2003 cartoon attempted the same, but was probably too reliant on the original Mirage comics. The old comics are an entertaining read, though nothing magical, but they do not possess an energy that lends itself well to animation. While on the other hand, the original cartoon was set on creating a fun series that appealed only to children. It never put the characters in any real danger and would eventually lose its audience as it grew up and acquired an appetite for more mature material. When the show finally made an attempt at change, it was too late.

What's old is new.

What’s old is new.

Like with season one, season two of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opts for a more serialized nature with plots carrying over from one episode into another with few stand-alone episodes and characters. When a stand-alone episode does pop up, it serves as a palette cleanser from the main plot and is often a more offbeat episode. Most of these episodes are packed with humor with season two’s “Mazes & Mutants” topping the list of funniest TMNT episodes so far. The writers have found a nice balance in the humor for the show with it coming up at opportune times and resisting the urge to go for the easiest joke or pun. The show is genuinely funny, but it also knows when to let up on the humor and isn’t overly-reliant on the Michelangelo character.

Season two picks up right where season one left off with The Kraang being beaten back temporarily. Shredder and The Kraang have appeared to have forged an alliance, and an early mishap with a canister of mutagen mutates April’s father, Kirby, into a bat monster causing tension between the Turtles and their lone human friend. Meanwhile, Splinter (and this is a spoiler for those who missed season one) is coming to terms with the fact that his daughter is alive and well but has been brainwashed by the Shredder into believing she is actually the daughter of the Foot Clan’s leader and not Splinter. These two threads, April’s distrust of the Turtles and Karai’s lineage, are major plot points for the bulk of season two. The Karai plot twist could be seen coming from a mile away, but it was still effective as the writers handle it well. Karai naturally does not react well when the truth is first presented to her, and her response to it is complicated and appropriately remains unresolved for several episodes. The Kraang maintain a healthy presence throughout the season as well, often playing a role in a small way in most of the episodes. The season concludes with another big face-off between the Turtles and Kraang and it would seem the alien race will not be going anywhere anytime soon.

Casey Jones and Raph team-up yet again.

Casey Jones and Raph team-up yet again.

Season two introduces several characters, old and new. As was revealed in press kits, Casey Jones made his series debut in season two. Like April, he has been aged-down for the show from his original depiction but remains a vigilante of sorts. And like the Casey of old, he forms a bond with Raph pretty quickly and the two are a crime-fighting duo in some episodes. And as predicted by me (and likely many others), Casey forms the third corner of a pseudo love triangle with Donatello over April. Naturally, April is more taken with the human and this creates tension between Don and Casey that is sometimes entertaining, and sometimes feels a little stuffy, but is one of the ongoing aspects of the show that serves to remind the audience that these characters are, in fact, teenagers after all. Other characters familiar to fans of the old show that make their debut in season two include Slash, Mutagen Man, and Pizza Face while other characters are obvious references to old ones (Kirby bares an uncanny resemblance to Wingnut, for example). The show also does a good job of hinting at future characters. When a thief with a purple mohawk shows up it’s only natural for fans of the old show to assume this character has a date with a warthog and some mutagen in his future.

Don't be surprised if Kirby's Party Wagon gets a make-over in season 3.

Don’t be surprised if Kirby’s Party Wagon gets a make-over in season 3.

My main point of criticism with the show early on was for its lifeless take on the city of New York, and while the show has done a better job of making it look like people actually inhabit this city, it’s still a relevant criticism for season two. The character designs though have improved. Some of the villains in season one were pretty boring to look at, and that has mostly been remedied (though some are underwhelming, I’m looking at you Tiger Claw). There’s very little for me to complain about when it comes to this show. The writers have also wisely made the Foot Clan robots in season two (and not just randomly, it’s explained in an episode) so the Turtles are free to user their weapons against them. The more graphic violence is handled offscreen, but the consequences are shown. When Leonardo gets isolated from his brothers in the season finale and beat-up by Shredder, we don’t see any of Shredder’s bladed strikes landing. However, when an unconscious Leo is tossed through the window in April’s apartment where the other turtles are holed up (awesome reference to the comic and original film, by the way) his body is cut and bruised.

Just like with season one, season two does a great job of tossing in winks and nods to the old material that came before it. They’re sometimes hidden in the background and other times in your face (the party wagon!). Shredder remains a credible threat to the Turtles throughout the season and is a more than competent ass-kicker when pressed into battle. And while the April plot is resolved during the season, the other big ones are still open heading into season three. The season concluded with an hour long special that was perhaps the best in the show’s short existence thus far. It was satisfying on an emotional level while also delivering the humor and action the show has become known for. I’m even more enthusiastic for the show’s third season than I was the second (aside from the fact that Seth Green is set to takeover the voice-acting duties for Leonardo). If you were a fan of the Turtles in your youth and still have a fondness for them residing somewhere inside of you then you should be watching this show.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – NES

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989)

One of the most successful games of all time, and one of the most divisive, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, arrived in 1989 for the Nintendo Entertainment System and flew off the shelves or retailers and rental stores across the United States. Turtle-mania had a strong grip on the nation’s adolescent and it would have been a huge embarrassment if the game actually failed. And while it was named as 1989’s Game of the Year by Nintendo Power, the first ever NES TMNT game is often regarded as a disappointment. Calling it divisive in the opening line may have been misleading, for the game is almost universally loathed for numerous reasons: too hard, not enough recognizable characters from the cartoon, no multi-player, and not the game fans wanted. In 1989, another game based on the TMNT was released, the equally successful arcade game. Based on the animated series, the arcade game boasted 2 to 4 player play allowing each kid to select his or her favorite turtle and wail away on an almost endless supply of Foot Soldiers, Bebop, Rocksteady, and of course, Shredder. When it was announced the Turtles were coming to the NES, many fans expected a port of the arcade game, but instead they got a solo side-scrolling adventure with few recognizable elements from the cartoon making an appearance.

The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game is best called infamous than famous. It was notably the subject of one of the earliest Angry Video Game Nerd videos in which The Nerd (James Rolfe) reminded many of us of the same frustrations we experienced as children playing this maddeningly frustrating game. As a kid, I never was able to beat the game without the near essential Game Genie peripheral, usually failing to make it beyond the battle with Slash/Mecha-Turtle/whatever the Hell that thing is at the end of act three. And like many, I preferred pretty much every other TMNT based game that followed over this one, which all took the form of arcade style beat-em-ups. I’ve since relived this game many times as a teen and adult but recently felt compelled to revisit it and see if the reputation this game had acquired was entirely justified. Just what is that reputation? Many Google searches will return this game on the list of hardest NES titles as well as worst or most disappointing NES games. The only way to answer my questions was to dust off the old NES and sit down in front of the TV.

Definitely not the arcade game...

Definitely not the arcade game…

For starters, the game was developed by Konami’s Ultra division, a secondary label created to circumvent Nintendo’s then policy of limiting publishers to how many games they could release in a year. Konami probably paid a boatload of cash for the TMNT franchise, and considering Konami was known to gamers for its Contra and Castlevania franchises, it seemed like the TMNT license was in good hands. Right from the start though, some things seem out of place. For one, the cover art depicts the four turtles all sporting red bandanas. For kids accustomed to the television show, this looked wrong while comic book readers would have recognized the cover to issue number 4. When the game boosts up, an unfamiliar tune plays as the four turtles are introduced. No player select screen is displayed once start is pressed, instead the game drops the player right onto a map-like screen with a tiny Leonardo in the center and some steam-roller like vehicle driving around. To summarize, there’s no licensed music, no option for 2-player, and no option to select which turtle to play as.

As the game unfolds, things start to become clearer. This overhead, Zelda-like perspective, leads into more traditional side-scrolling levels whenever the player enters an open manhole or building. A quick look at the pause screen is enough to clue the player in on the objective (rescue April, big surprise) and the ability to switch between turtles. The player is free to change-out a turtle on the fly. Each one has his own health bar, and since the game has no 1-up pickups, they function as extra lives. If a turtle loses all of his health, he’s out of action until the final level where a turtle can be rescued. Each turtle uses his own unique weapon and it will soon become obvious which turtle to use. Donatello, with his boring but long-reaching bo-staff, is easily the superior turtle in this game. When walking or standing still, Don thrusts his bo-staff out in front a great distance and even slightly behind him as well. He can thrust up and down as well with a press of the D-pad and take out multiple foes at once as a result. Because the animation for his attack lingers so long, he even seems to benefit from a double-hit, and as a result, does more damage per strike than the other turtles. If you lose Don, you’re in big trouble because the drop-off is huge to the next most useful turtle, which should be obvious for those familiar with the four heroes in a half-shell, Leonardo. Leo swings a lone katana in a downward arc when attacking and it’s useful for enemies at eye-level, but his reduced range and damage when compared with Donatello makes him far less suitable for the environments ahead. After Leo, Michelangelo is probably the next-best option as his nunchaku has slightly better reach than Raphael’s sai, which is pathetically useless. Raph and Mike are best treated like canon fodder and used only when attacking is not an option, such as when driving the turtle van or during the infamous swimming level. Each turtle can hold one secondary weapon, most of which appear as pickups randomly and range from throwing stars to boomerangs, to a weird energy wave that kicks a whole ton of ass (shell).

What the hell are these things attack Don, and is that a Foot Balloon?!

What the Hell are these things attacking Don, and is that a Foot Balloon?!

Gameplay wise, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is fairly straight-forward. The turtles can attack and jump as they move left to right, right to left, and across gaps and platforms. The pace is fairly slow and reminiscent of Castlevania, including the ever annoying jump-backwards animation after being struck. If you’re not familiar with Castlevania, when the character takes damage they always jump backwards. This is ever annoying when trying to negotiate a series of platforms as enemies frequently appear in mid-jump leaving the player helpless to defend. The turtles handle kind of like trucks as they’re heavy and clunky. Pressing fully on the jump button will cause them to go into a ninja flip of sorts that has a floaty affect on the character, which sometimes helps to re-align a jump but mostly just seems to cause panic in the player leading them to miss a platform. Enemies are numerous, and for the most part, unrecognizable from the show. There’s foot soldiers and mousers here and there, as well as boss encounters with Bebop and Rocksteady early on, but aside from that there’s a lot of just weird enemies. There’s some chainsaw-wielding maniac, a guy composed entirely of fire, and weird butterfly enemies that dive-bomb the turtles, among others. The obstacles are pretty standard for the era and take on the form of conveyor belts, water, and spiked floors/walls. The game gets bogged down frequently when too many enemies are on screen and slowdown is a frequent annoyance. Enemies on the map scenarios tend to flicker in and out which harms the presentation elements of an otherwise underwhelming looking game.

So what makes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles so difficult? Well, for one, three out of the four turtles are borderline useless. As I mentioned earlier, Donatello is by far the best suited to overcome the various obstacles placed in the turtles’ path. The other three are so bad that you might as well quit if Don falls in battle. Enemies who can be felled in one strike are manageable, but the ones that require multiple hits pose a challenge as they do not react to taking damage. The game also loves having the player enter a new screen with an enemy literally right on top of you, forcing the player to take at least some damage. The pizza power-ups, which restore health, become scarce the deeper into the game you go and are sometimes intentionally placed in impossible to reach locations. Platforms are often placed above turtles, making some jumps particularly challenging as if the turtle hits his head on a platform above, his forward progress is stunted and the jump falls short. There’s one really annoying jump in a sewer scenario that’s actually impossible in the PC port. There’s also no password feature, but unlimited continues, so this is one that has to be completed in one sitting which adds to the challenge. And if the game wasn’t annoying enough, Ultra did include a beeping alarm for when the selected turtle is low on health.

Even though this level isn't as bad as people make it out to be, Leo is totally about to end up dead.

Even though this level isn’t as bad as people make it out to be, Leo is definitely about to end up dead.

All of that said, this game does do some things well and some of the things it has become known for (negatively speaking) aren’t as bad as they’ve been made out. For one, the ability to swap the turtles into and out of battle is pretty cool. Yeah, it sucks that there’s no two-player and it really sucks that three of the four turtles are horrible to play as, but the thought was a good one and one I’d like to see revisited in a new game. The under water level that has become so reviled and is the part of the game often cited as being hard, unfair, and noteworthy, isn’t as bad as its reputation. If you get to it with little health on each turtle, then it’s pretty damn hard. As a kid, I failed many times. As an adult, I just save Raph for it and have no problem making it out with minimal damage taken. It, like just about every swimming level in recorded existence, is not a fun stage by any means, but it’s far from being among the hardest sequences in gaming history (and is among the easier parts of this game). And aside from the turtles not really handling like ninjas, the control is satisfactory and the ability to drive the turtle van is pretty cool (though why it doesn’t have its own health bar is a mystery still to this day). The soundtrack is actually enjoyable, even if it doesn’t contain any music from the TV show, and isn’t something I’d change about the game.

In conclusion, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was destined for commercial success just because of the license alone, but doomed to disappoint gamers for not being the game they truly wanted. Unfortunately, the game was not able to make-up for not being the arcade game by offering a lesser experience. The good news is that gamers didn’t have to wait long as a port of the arcade game arrived on NES consoles in 1990 as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game. Yes, it wasn’t a perfect port due to the system limitations of the NES, but it was suitably fun and is often remembered fondly by gamers from that era. The one that arrived first though is not, and it’s hard to defend the title even today. While it’s far from being the worst NES game, and certainly not the most difficult, it’s definitely not good and just another example of a licensed game gone wrong, but at least it’s not as bad as E.T.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) Season One Review

nick_tmnt_wallpaper1280x1024_02Back in September of 2012, Nickelodeon unveiled the newest incarnation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in a one-hour season premiere.  On August 8th, 2013, the first season came to a close with a one-hour season finale.  The symmetrical first season had its ups and downs, but no one can deny it was a smashing success from a commercial standpoint as Nickelodeon has already commissioned a second and third season.  Once again, the Turtles franchise has proven that it’s harder to squish than a cock roach as it rolls on into its fourth decade of cultural relevance.  Such was likely never predicted of the franchise back when it burst onto the scene in the late 1980’s.  I would be willing to bet most adults viewed it as the latest flavor of the month they had to endure to keep their kids happy as toys and various other merchandise was consumed by the millions.  Perhaps more importantly to fans, the first season of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was not only a commercial success, but a creative one as well as it successfully melded the various depictions of the Turtles over the years into an all new show.

I watched and wrote about the season premiere when it first aired and described my reaction as tempered enthusiasm towards the show.  That would eventually be replaced with full-on enthusiasm as I set my DVR to record each new episode (which became a challenge to keep track of as the broadcast schedule was all over the place) to watch at my leisure.  The show got better as the weeks rolled by and the writers seemed to become more comfortable with the characters.  A lot of the humor early on missed the mark but eventually the show found its groove in that department and routinely was able to bring a smile to my face.  The show also introduced a major plot thread that was woven through the entire first season revolving around the alien race known as the Kraang which helped make the show feel more significant for regular viewers.  I’ve always been a big fan of this approach for television over stand-alone episodes.

The Rat King was one of the better redesigns for the show.

The Rat King was one of the better redesigns for the show.

That’s not to say the show didn’t have stand-alone episodes here and there.  And quite frankly, that was when the show was its most uninteresting.  There was a period in the early part of the season where each episode felt like The Villain of the Week where some poor soul would be mutated into a monster the Turtles had to stop.  There was still humor to be found in these episodes and some nice action, but there was little lasting appeal.  Some of these monsters were also severely lacking in the personality department, both in a behavioral sense and visually speaking.  That is definitely one area where the old cartoon still reigns supreme as the villains often had a pretty interesting and fun look to them.  That was probably due to Playmates wanting a fun toy to market, but it worked.  The show did get better as the season went along, with one of my favorite looks for a villain popping up towards the end in the form of a newt with a Punisher-like pattern to his spots.

Overall, when compared with the old cartoon, the show was less reliant on guest spots and was content to rely primarily on a core group of characters.  The Shredder, obviously, was a big part of the first season even if he was secondary to the Kraang threat.  The writers wisely kept him out of action though, which made the episodes where he took up arms against the Turtles extra special.  He’s also a total bad ass when in combat, a far cry from the bumbling Shredder of the 80’s or even the original comic book Shredder who is famously decapitated by Leonardo at the end of the series’ first book.  This Shredder still retains his old look but with more black and bigger blades.  He’s also far more scarred than any other as his face has been badly burned and he appears to be blind in one eye.  Like the old Shredder, this one also has two mutant henchmen:  Dogpound and Fishface.  While these two are not as stupid as Bebop and Rocksteady, they’re not any more successful and are often beaten back by the Turtles.  Baxter Stockman also falls in with the Shredder during season one and provides him with some heightened technology.  Karai, Shredder’s daughter, is also introduced as a bit of tweener villain in that she has a bit of a friendship with Leonardo which serves as the backbone for a series of episodes during the middle part of the first season.  Other characters familiar to longtime fans also show up, such as Leatherhead and the Rat King, sporting new designs and new personalities.  I particularly enjoyed the new design for the Rat King and thought he was among the best of the villains shown off.  I hope to see more of him in the future.

The Karai/Leo subplot was one of the more interesting parts of season one.

The Karai/Leo subplot was one of the more interesting parts of season one.

On the Turtle front, the cast basically stayed the same throughout the first season.  A lot of old favorites were brought back though such as a new take on the Turtle Van which is now a subway car.  The Turtles retain their signature personality traits but they feel more honest this time around.  Raphael, for example, doesn’t just get pissed-off because he’s supposed to and Leonardo is far from being an emotionless robot.  All of them have strengths and weaknesses, and for the most part, they also feel like teenagers.

Of particular enjoyment for long-time fans were all of the little easter eggs and throwbacks inserted into this series.  Metalhead was brought back as a robot constructed by Donatello.  He looks fairly similar to the old one, only much smaller.  There’s even a spot during the episode were one of the bran-like Kraang latches onto his head, which I have to believe is a nod to the original action figure’s sculpted brain.  The leader of the Kraang also inhabits a giant robot body and the antenna on its head evokes images of Krang’s body from the old cartoon.  Little things like that go a long way towards pleasing the older fans and trying to spot them is part of the enjoyment in watching the show for me.  The Technodrome is also introduced during the season finale, and the long-awaited Splinter vs Shredder confrontation takes place as well.  There’s a big reveal in the season finale that I think anyone familiar with the franchise saw from a mile away, but it was still done well and, despite being predictable, is actually a new direction for an old character.

The Donatello/April relationship could have felt forced, but the writers have handled it well and I'm actually curious to see where it goes (expect Casey Jones to eventually butt-in).

The Donatello/April relationship could have felt forced, but the writers have handled it well and I’m actually curious to see where it goes (expect Casey Jones to eventually butt-in).

From an artistic standpoint, the show animates quite well and is far superior to the DC CG cartoons currently airing on Cartoon Network.  The city streets of New York remained pretty barren for the whole of season one with some signs of life in the finale, but otherwise the show looks good.  I like the fact that each turtle has his own shape and anatomy instead of basically looking exactly like the others with the exception of the mask.

All in all, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a good show that strikes the perfect balance between action and comedy.  The story-telling was also better than could be expected and the writing staff will have a hard time topping season one.  Its start reminds me quite a bit of the 2003 cartoon which, for me anyway, fell off quite a bit in the second season and seasons to follow.  Hopefully this show doesn’t meet the same fate.  Because season one was spread out over so many months, the wait for season two to begin is actually a fairly brief one as its set to kick off in late September.  This version of the Turtles may not be violent like the originals, or say “Cowabunga!” like the old toons, but they have a chance to go down as the best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles yet!


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