Tag Archives: splinter

NECA TMNT Cartoon Splinter vs Baxter

Got another two-pack for ya!

I didn’t intend for so many TMNT reviews to hit one after the other, but Christmas pushed a bunch of stuff into the final week of December and then some surprise difficulties with another review has moved this one up. So be it. 2020 had a final surprise in store for collectors of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. NECA had previously announced all of Wave 4 of its cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figure line would release in the fall, before having a change of heart. The two most anticipated releases of the wave were pushed to 2021, the deluxe Android Krang and the two-pack of Master Splinter vs Baxter Stockman in his mutated fly form. In addition to being some fan-favorites, these two releases were important to collectors as they represented for many the last essential release of the line. Everyone’s mileage is a bit different, but I think all can agree that the most important characters in the show are (in some order): the turtles, April, Shredder, Bebop, Rocksteady, Krang, and Splinter. You could certainly make a strong case for the generic Foot Soldier, and maybe some would push for Irma considering she was in a lot more episodes than you may recall. No one would argue though that those 10 previously mentioned characters are not essential.

I guess these two were paired-up because of their similar height?

Well, as I said, 2020 had a final surprise and it’s that both the deluxe Krang and Splinter vs Baxter two-pack arrived early. They first popped up in California Targets in the middle of December and gradually worked their way east before the end of the year. I actually found my Krang on New Year’s Eve, but had to wait on Splinter vs Baxter until 2021. While it’s always nice to get something earlier than expected, I definitely wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of running out to stores and hunting for action figures during the holiday rush, COVID or not. The whole pandemic thing just added another layer of anxiety, but I suppose there’s enough fool in me that I did go out. I masked-up, armed myself with a ton of hand sanitizer, and went through stores as quickly as possible until I found what I was looking for. In the case of this particular set I’m reviewing today, I never actually found it myself and was helped out via the CollectorsHelpingCollectors hashtag on Twitter so a special shout out is reserved for user og3 (@OG_mulch) for helping a fellow collector out!

Check out the sculpting around the base of Baxter’s wings and extra limbs.

Splinter vs Baxter comes packaged in the standard NECA window box. It’s a thinner box than some of the more recent releases as these are two of the smallest figures in the line so far. The only one smaller is the Roadkill Rodney. Not that we’re going to hold their size against them as these two boys more than make up for their small stature. And perhaps to compensate, there’s a ton of stuff included with this release, most of which belongs to Splinter. Some of it should be very familiar, but some of it is pretty obscure and I’m not even sure where it all comes from, but I’m happy to have it! More than accessories though, I am just thrilled beyond belief to finally have cartoon accurate depictions of both of these characters. The old Playmates line featured a Splinter that didn’t really resemble any version of the character. There was a slight resemblance to the Mirage Studios depiction, but he was kind of his own thing. And there weren’t a ton of Splinters to follow, and none really resembled the cartoon look. As for Baxter, his Playmates version was close, but like a lot of that line there was a lot more detail and grotesqueness with the figure that the cartoon chose to ignore. Playmates also wasn’t that concerned with scale so even though he was a fly he was the same size as basically everyone. For the cartoon, they took the already short Baxter Stockman (he was the same height as the turtles, pre-mutation) and shrunk him further when he was mutated resulting in a rather diminutive villain. They also gave him a sweater vest, but kept the bowtie, which just further separated him from the action figure.

Enter: The fly!

I get the sense that Splinter is the figure fans are most excited for, but I want to talk about Baxter first. I touched upon it a bit in my review of the Super7 Baxter Stockman, but this character was one of my favorites in the cartoon. And since I never got the original toy, it actually made me drawn to him more. He was used sparingly in the show, and he was able to be a sort of perfect villain for the show because he could be threatening, funny, and even sympathetic. He was as much a villain for the turtles as he was for Shredder, whom he blamed for his transformation into a fly. And I love the design! He’s got that big fly head with tiny wings and those purple appendages coming off of his back. He’s just a fun design.

Aww, he brought flowers!
And he brought a friend.

For this figure, NECA absolutely nailed it. First off, I love his size. Like a lot of characters in the show, he could be inconsistent in how he was portrayed, but generally speaking, Baxter should be shorter than the turtles. And he is here as he stands around 4 3/4″ when standing upright. The proportions also look pretty good with Baxter having a rather large head given that he has those big fly eyes. The paint though is where this thing shines. The way NECA painted the eyes is especially striking. This line does a great job of really giving the impression that these characters stepped out of a television set, but Baxter might be a new highwater mark as far as that goes. And I think it’s partly due to the fact that Baxter is basically fully clothed as the shading NECA has utilized for this line works really well here. NECA also matched all of the hinged pieces to the appropriate color this time around, so no paint-flaking that reveals the wrong color underneath as we saw with Leatherhead and the Triceratons. Oh, there’s still plenty of flake though as NECA continues to paint over joints, but at least once removed it doesn’t leave behind an eye sore.

“Hey, dude, you’re lucky I left my fly swatter in my other shell!”
“Lucky, am I?”

Little Baxter comes packed with an impressive array of articulation. Mine did feature some pretty stiff joints out of the box. Some of that is likely due to arriving rather cold since it did come by mail to the north east in January, and some of it is just the usual assortment of stuck joints this line is known for. Strangely, the joint that gave me the most trouble out of the box was the head which is just a simple ball-joint. I held him under running, hot, tap water for a bit and was able to get it to move. It sounded like there was some paint or something just holding it fused and once broken his head spun just fine. He has good rotation up there with a little ability to look up, but he can look down quite far which is useful if you intend to place him on a flight stand. His shoulders are pretty standard, ball and hinges, but at the elbow he features NECA’s somewhat unique double-joint. There are two hinges at the top and bottom and the arm can swivel at the top joint. He can bend well past 90 degrees as a result, but be a little careful as after the head this was the part that was toughest to free up. The hands are pegged in and can swivel. There’s also a hinge, but the hands sit fairly deep into the cuff of his dress shirt so it doesn’t do much. There’s what seems to be a ball-joint at the waist hidden under the vest that allows for some rotation and a little pivot. The legs are secured via a ball-joint, but they lack the usual amount of swivel we see in this line. He can swivel his thighs maybe 45 degrees or so, it’s not much. The knees are double-jointed and his feet are hinged and can rock side-to-side. The feet are also stuck pretty well on mine, so be careful. Lastly, Baxter has those wings and extra limbs on his back which are all attached via a ball-joint and hinge. I wish NECA had added additional hinges to the purple “arms” and some pinching articulation at the claws, but they’re largely just decorative.

I hear people enjoy comparisons.

Baxter is able to move around quite well which comes in handy since he has plenty of stuff he can be posed with. For starters, Baxter comes packaged with fisted hands, but he also has a pair of gripping hands and a pair of trigger finger hands. I’m glad NECA gave him trigger finger hands since it could have been argued he didn’t need to come with them since his main weapon, the trans-mutation ray, doesn’t have much of a trigger. You may recall this weapon from the cartoon as it allowed Baxter to mutate Shredder into a fly and Michelangelo into a gerbil. It’s mostly white and features a dial on the rear of the gun by the sights that allowed Baxter to select what animal he wanted to apply to his victim. It’s well-painted and looks great, though I wish that dial could actually move. Mine has a black blemish across the top too that I hope to rub off. Baxter’s hands are painted purple and are pretty stiff so it’s probably not a bad idea to heat his hands before trying to insert this gun into them lest you want ugly purple smudges on it. Baxter also comes with his computer buddy who helped him escape Dimension X. I don’t remember if he had a name, but he’s basically a computer monitor with attached keyboard. The screen is a lenticular image so he can display different emotions and it’s pretty cool. He has an opening for a socket underneath, so I’m curious if NECA will sneak a body into another pack for him, even if it’s non-articulated. The doku flower is also included, which poisoned April in the same episode Baxter debuted his fly form. I’m actually not sure if this is a Baxter accessory or a Splinter one, as it could be the gazai plant which was used by Splinter to cure April. Both plants looked identical in the episode. What will likely entertain people the most though is the included fly Shredder and gerbil Mikey. Both are non-articulated, but they look pretty great. The paint is applied well and Mikey is actually quite cute.

“What the devil?!”

It’s an impressive haul for Baxter, and like I said, I appreciate NECA including proper trigger hands with him so he can also wield any of the other guns from the show (like the small handgun that apparently belongs to Splinter, but kind of looks like the gun Baxter used in “Enter: The Fly”) with ease. Maybe some wanted a goofy accessory like a stack of sugar cubes and I know people are aching for Mousers, but I suspect those will be included one day with a human version of Baxter. I’m happy with this loadout and it’s cool that his computer buddy could even just function as a computer in a display for someone like April, if it’s so desired. The inclusion of the trans-mutation ray also makes it more fun to compare this figure to the Super7 version since that one came with the same weapon, albeit, unpainted.

Your ninja training has begun!

Baxter is impressive, and his box-mate Splinter is much the same. He stands basically at the same height as Baxter with his ears taking him up to approximately 5″. This is a depiction of Splinter from early in the show when his fur was a lighter brown and his kimono a deeper magenta. In later seasons, his fur would change to a much darker brown and his kimono lightened to a shade of pink, or maybe it just looked lighter by comparison. This is my preferred look though and it makes the most sense since the main turtle figures we have feature that olive flesh-tone from the show’s early seasons. Splinter has a rather stern and serious expression on his face which is appropriate for the character. NECA’s toon shading they utilize is blended really well with the sculpted fur which is different as it’s usually more pronounced. I think it works quite well. There’s a minor paint imperfection on my figure where a blob of the light brown is present on the back of his neck, but it’s partially hidden by the kimono. His body doesn’t have the toon shading on it and is painted the darker brown as it’s hidden by the kimono. His hands though are cast in the light brown so it looks odd when his wrists are visible. The kimono itself is a soft goods addition which I think is the way to go with this figure. I just wish NECA had done something different with the belt as it’s just a black ribbon tied in a knot. It sits too high on the character’s chest as his lower abdomen is very round making it hard to put it in the right place. A plastic belt like the old Playmates toy or the more nylon one Super7 used might have worked better. Or they could have sculpted a channel for the belt to fit in. It would have made the figure look a bit ugly when disrobed, but who is going to display Splinter without his kimono? They also could have just made the figure less round which probably would have worked the best.

Well, he apparently didn’t put much thought into their names.

The articulation on Splinter comes largely as expected. He has articulation at the base of the head and where the neck meets the torso. It’s very stiff on mine even after heating it multiple times so I’m not sure if this is just my figure or if the articulation is doing what it’s supposed to. He can look down, but I can’t really get him to look up and turning his head is also a bit challenging. It’s hard to get just the head to turn without the lower joint trying to as well. And that one is sculpted fur to fit over the body so it’s a bit rough and definitely not a fun joint to mess with as it feels like it’s rubbing quite a bit on the torso. His jaw is articulated, but mine looks miss-aligned. It’s like he has a cross-bite and I’m tempted to see if I can get it into a better position with a heat gun, though I’d probably have to remove the soft goods lest I want to set them on fire. The arms are standard joints at the shoulder and feature double-joints like Baxter’s. They move very well considering you have to contend with the soft goods. My only concern is that the top pin holding the elbow joint together on the left arm of my figure looks pretty jacked up like it was damaged during insertion and pushed in too far. I’m only pointing this out because it seems to be rather widespread with this figure. He moves fine right now, but I’m definitely being careful there. The wrists are the same peg and hinge joints we’re accustomed to. There is a diaphragm cut and the legs are joined with standard ball-joints. The shape of his rump prevents him from kicking back, but he can kick forward and balance on one foot so ninja kicks are still on the table. His knees are double-jointed in a very rat-like manner as they angle backwards. There’s a hinged joint at the ankle and also a toe hinge. Thankfully, that ankle joint is cast in white so no paint blemish down there, but the toe hinge is a bit ugly as there’s a gap between the wrappings and toes. Lastly, Splinter’s tail is connected via a ball-joint and moves much better than any of the other tails we’ve seen in this line. It’s also a wire with plastic sculpted over it so there is some bendy quality to it. It’s not a lot, but better than the movie Splinter from NECA.

Splinter, I think it’s upside-down…

Splinter probably won’t demand a ton of posing ability from most collectors, but he is a ninja and should be able to move like a ninja. I think NECA did just okay in that respect. I really wish they could have figured out a scheme that allowed him to cross his legs in a meditative pose or got some more torso articulation into him as well. I feel like they could have taken advantage of the fact that this is a robed figure, like they kind of did with the movie version, to fit torso articulation into him that may not have been super aesthetically pleasing, but would have been covered up. He looks the part, which is most important, he’s just not quite the homerun I was expecting after seeing the promotional images.

That’s a lot of stuff for both figures.

Even more so than Baxter, Splinter is loaded with extra goodies. He comes with gripping hands instead of fists, but also has five extra hands to work with. I should clarify they’re more like relaxed gripping hands as he has a set of tighter gripping hands he can swap for. He has a set of what I would call martial arts posed hands, or maybe even meditative hands. One even looks like Bart Simpson’s infamous Touch of Death. The other is a two-finger pointing hand. And lastly, he has a right, single-finger, pointing, hand. All of the hands are painted light brown and feature sculpted fur and claws, though the claws are unpainted (which is consistent with the show).

When a walking stick literally won’t cut it.

Splinter has all of those hands because he has a lot of stuff to hold. The relaxed gripping hands work great with his books and scroll. He has two books, one is open and features depictions of the artists that inspired the names of the turtles and the other is closed. The scroll, which is from an episode of the show and did something, is unfurled and he can hold it via either end. He also has his walking stick which the relaxed hands can fit over for standing poses. The tighter gripping hands come into play with the sword and gun. The sword is the Sword of Yurikawa taken from the episode of the same name. It looks a lot like one of Leo’s non-stylized katanas, which is to say it doesn’t really look like an actual katana. It has a yellow-gold hilt and short blade, but best of all, it comes with a flaming effect piece which is cast in translucent orange plastic and slides over the blade. It’s pretty cool and if you prefer your Splinter to be less of a pacifist this should work. If you think that blade is too elegant though, there’s a gun. I don’t recall where this gun came from, but it’s a small pistol. Splinter also has a Yin Yang medallion that he can wear and a dojo mat to meditate on. The mat is kind of cool as it’s made of a springy, foam-like, material instead of paper of cloth. Lastly, we have a little rat. It might have made more sense for a Hamato Yoshi to come with a rat, but I’m not complaining. The martial arts pose hands can even allow the rat to sit in Splinter’s palm.

When necessary, Splinter can turn up the heat.

That’s a lot of stuff, and there was so much in the box that NECA had to put the extra hands on their own, separate, tray and tape it to the underside of the main bubble tray. It’s something I really appreciate about NECA and this line as when figures seem to come in under budget they fill the set with extra stuff until they hit their standard baseline. They could have just shipped a set with a larger profit margin than usual, but didn’t, and that’s cool. I give a lot of credit to brand manager Trevor Zammit for spending probably far too much time with this cartoon to find all of this stuff and to director Randy Falk for encouraging him. Of the two figures, I think I prefer Baxter as he both looks fantastic and has the articulation needed to make him wonderful. I do wish he had a little more articulation in those purple appendages he’s got, and I wish NECA in general would start supplying vertically-hinged hands for proper weapon wielding. And I also largely like what we have with Splinter. He looks like the character from the show, and while I found more room for criticism with him, I still think he turned out well enough. You won’t hear me asking for a better version anytime soon.

And when that doesn’t work, he’s also packing heat.

This puts a capper on NECA’s release schedule for 2020 as far as TMNT is concerned. It was quite a year for the line with lots of frustration, but also lots of damn good toys. Trying to figure out a favorite is an exercise for another day, but I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s next. Next up is a Rat King and Vernon two-pack and I am super stoked to add a cartoon accurate Rat King to my collection. Also announced are the punk frogs, Ace Duck, Mondo Gecko, Muckman, Chrome Dome, and a four-pack of turtles all featuring cloth goods trench coats and new headsculpts. There’s also the cartoon city scape diorama set to ship to those who ordered it last year sometime this quarter. 2021 is going to be busy, but hopefully rewarding. Once again, thanks to those in the collecting community who helped me secure this set and good luck to the rest of you. Remember, don’t feed the scalpers! Good luck, and happy hunting!

At long last, the family is together.

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.

img_4528

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!


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.


TMNT Classic Collection

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Classics are here!

I’ve been out of the toy collecting game for several years now.  I used to enjoy it as a hobby and it was a nice way to link my childhood to my adult life as I pursued action figures of characters I loved as a kid.  It became a compulsion eventually.  I started off just buying the characters I was particularly fond of like Venom and Iceman, but once it became a full-fledged hobby I was suddenly finding myself scouring department store toy aisles six at a time looking for an obscure Man-Thing or Warbird.  That’s when it became about the hunt.  Tracking down the exclusive Wal-Mart wave of Marvel Legends was especially thrilling.  It seems silly in hindsight, but it was kind of addicting.  Eventually though the quality of the figures declined and I also ran out of room for all of these toys.

I got a little taste of that rush today when I tracked down a set of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Classics.  It was a pretty easy hunt as I found a full set at the first place I went to, but I can’t deny it was a lot of fun.  The wondering, the hoping they’d be there.  I credit my interest in the line to my love for the TMNT as a kid and the new collections put out by IDW Publishing of the old books.  I’m currently onto volume 3, expect a review once I finish it.

The reverse side of the packaging.

I’ve talked about it many times, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but I did love the TMNT as a kid and they still hold a soft spot in my heart.  One of my last toy-related purchases before today was for a set of the turtles puts out by NECA.  I dubbed them my all time favorite as they’re a wonderful representation of the turtles as they appeared in the pages of Mirage Studios brand comic books back in the 80’s.  These collections, plus a new line of comics launched by TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman, have helped to contribute to a renaissance for the turtles that will soon culminate in a new television show aimed at kids on the Nickelodeon network.  To capitalize on this, and the original cartoon’s coming 25th anniversary, Playmates has launched a new line of toys aimed at those who fell in love with the turtles through the toys and cartoon back in 1988.

This new line, appropriately titled TMNT Classics, was first shown last February at the New York Toy Fair and has recently hit shelves in speciality shops and big box stores like Toys R’ Us.  The packaging on these new turtles states that they’re based on the look of the turtles from the old cartoon, but it would be more appropriate to say they’re combination of that look along with the style of the old toys.  Back in the 80’s, kid’s shows were basically extended commercials for toy lines and the turtles were no exception.  The toys were developed alongside the show and since Playmates only had concept art to go off of they ended up having their own look.  Each turtles had his own unique skin-tone and all sported solid, white eyes.  It was basically a hybrid of the comic look and the one the cartoon would go with.  These new toys sport the rounded features of the cartoon along with pupils in their eyes but retain their unique skin-tones, though they’ve been changed some.  Raphael has a darker green complexion while Don isn’t as brown as he used to be.  Donatello and Leonardo also retain their shoulder straps and each turtle, excepting Donatello, has wraps around the handles of their respective weapons featuring their trademark color (Raph’s sais are red, Leo’s katana handles are blue, etc).  It’s an interesting approach though I do kind of find myself wishing that Playmates just went all out in trying to make these turtles television accurate.  We already have comic accurate turtles, and the 2003 toy line paid homage to the original toy line, but we’ve never had cartoon accurate turtles.  Yes there was a wave of Toon Turtles in the 90’s but they were pretty crappy looking.

Group shot! Notice how some of the pupils are oddly placed.

Even though they’re not entirely cartoon accurate, these turtles are pretty nice to look at.  They’re loaded with articulation but their features are more reminiscent of the TMNT movie line of figures than the NECA one.  NECA went through the trouble of trying to hide the articulation but Playmates didn’t see need to, so while a lot of poses are possible, the numerous holes and joints do detract from the look of the figures.  And if the joints aren’t tight, it really hinders the amount of poses one can achieve.  My Raph has pretty loose leg joints which makes standing him a chore.  The hands on all of them are particularly combative as each features articulated fingers and thumb.  The finger piece on the left hand of my Leo figure even fell off in the packaging.  They can never get a good, solid grip on their weapons and the hands on all four definitely feel fragile.  There’s also an abdominal joint in each turtle that’s kind of odd.  The show’s animators definitely did take liberties in how the turtles could bend and move in those shells but I’m not sure the abdominal joint adds much.  Playmates at least had the foresight to only insert the joint in the front and not the rear of the shell, which would have looked horrible.

I’m pretty disappointed with Mike’s face sculpt. It just doesn’t suit the character.

Scultp wise, all four turtles are the same with the exception of a unique head sculpt.  The head sculpts are a call back to the original toy line as each turtle features the same or similar expression he had back in 1988.  This means they all look angry and I kind of wish they had gone with less intense expressions.  Leonardo should probably be grim and serious, but Raph and Mike definitely shouldn’t be.  The figures are tall, around six inches, so they don’t fit in with any other TMNT toy line.  They’re not too stocky looking either, and their proportions do remind me a bit of the movie line for the TMNT film.  They have kind of odd looking forearms and really long arms in relation to their legs.  Overall though, the sculpt is pretty solid for each turtle and they look good side by side though I really do wish Mike had a better face sculpt.

As far as accessories go, these are pretty bare-boned.  While the original toy line came with a bunch of ninja stars and other oddities, these turtles only come with their trademark weapons and Don only comes with one bo staff.  Each turtle also comes with a personalized manhole cover stand and their belts can hold their weapons easily.  Some toon specific items would have been fun like a mouser or turtle-com, but oh well.  The quality of the weapons is pretty standard, though Playmates did go above and beyond with Mike and gave him actual chains on his nunchaku which is a nice addition.  I never want to see another Mike action figure that doesn’t feature this.

NECA Don with TMNT Classics Don.

The paint job for each turtle is solid, though not very demanding.  Playmates opted for colored plastic for most of the parts with the paint only really coming into play with the bandanas, eyes, and teeth.  In the case of the eyes, it leaves something to be desired.  The rounded shape of each turtle’s head makes it difficult to paint on pupils that appear to be focusing on the same spot.  As a result, both my Don and Mike almost look like they have a lazy eye.  This has convinced some collectors to just paint over the pupils on their figures and go with the classic all white look.  From what I’ve seen, this actually looks pretty good but does take away from the cartoon look.  I’m not one to modify my toys anyways.

So did Playmates deliver with their classic TMNT line?  Mostly.  These are the most cartoon accurate turtles to date and they feature a lot of articulation which will allow fans to pose them in almost any position they can dream up, provided the joints are tight enough.  Even though they are the most cartoon accurate figures of the turtles to date, they’re still not the definitive take on the source material and the copious amounts of articulation does take away from the look a bit.  They’re also light on accessories which is hard to take considering these are the most expensive turtle figures I’ve ever bought.  I paid 20 bucks a turtle at a specialty shop, though the MSRP is said to be $18.  That’s still a lot of money for an action figure that’s pretty basic but hardcore fans will probably pay it.  I’ll have a hard time finding display space for these guys, but the nostalgic factor alone makes me mostly happy with my purchase.  They don’t top what NECA did with the turtles a few years ago, but they’re pretty damn good in their own right.  If you’re the sort of fan that’s really in love with the TMNT, then these figures are for you.


%d bloggers like this: