Tag Archives: raphael

NECA San Diego Comic Con Exclusive TMNT Animated Series Action Figure Set

IMG_1436Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the franchise that won’t go away for me. I’ve been involved with it since the 80s when the cartoon series debuted and the first line of action figures started popping up in retail. I dropped the series when The Next Mutation came around, but picked it right back up when the 4Kids version of the Turtles debuted on Fox in 2003. And always there was a line of toys to go along with them that I happily indulged in. The only toy line I’ve really passed on was the current line that ties in with the Nickelodeon show. Even though I like that show, I never felt the need to go buy the toys. I thought, perhaps, I was finally maturing, but nostalgia for the original 1987 cartoon series has pulled me back into the world of TMNT toys.

Last year, Bandai gave us its take on the fearsome foursome based on the 87 series through its SH Figuarts brand. I reviewed all four and they were very impressive, but also costly. Those toys exist because they’re technically imports, though some retailers carry them in the US. When it comes to the real domestic products, Playmates still has a stranglehold on all things TMNT when it comes to action figures. Because of this, toy companies have had to get creative or get discouraged from even trying. NECA has been the leader in US TMNT toys and they’re willing to jump through the loopholes to get their versions of the Turtles to the public. When they wanted to do a set last year, they had to base it on the original TMNT arcade game which meant a bright, faux-digitized paint app for the figures. When NECA wanted to do a line of figures based on the 1990 movie, it meant they had to release them in a massive quarter-scale (and they’re awesome). Not satisfied, NECA has wanted to get cartoon accurate Turtles to market and finally got the clearance to do so. The catch, of course, was that it had to be a convention exclusive. Also possibly apart of the stipulation, was that it had to be a box set, which is how we ended up with this brand new set.

NECA’s San Diego Comic Con exclusive set of the TMNT is proving hard to get. NECA was granted permission to sell them on their website as pre-orders to be delivered the week of the convention. In addition to that, the set is available to buy at the convention the old fashioned way. It’s an eight figure set with a price tag of $200 that comes housed in a box meant to resemble the old action figure carrying cases of the 80s and 90s. I was fortunate enough to score one of the pre-orders which went live last month over the course of 4 days (and each day they sold out in about a minute) and my set arrived at my door last night. NECA is referring to this as the definitive take on the 87 Turtles, so how did they do?

The set comes housed in an attractive case. It’s decorated with all new artwork by Archie Comics artist Ken Mitchroney and depicts the Turtles outside the San Diego Convention Center with Shredder and Krang on the reverse. The case is likely made out of cardboard with a vinyl outer coating. Two clasps on the side made of metal close it up, though the case isn’t too rigid making the clasps hard to engage. This is clearly a case designed for decoration and to add a “Wow!” factor to the presentation, it’s not something you would have wanted to ferry back and forth between home and grandma’s like the case you probably had when you were a kid. I do find it a bit odd they went with an Archie look as the Turtles on the cover do not resemble the television show, but at least it’s original and not a stock image.

The set itself contains four figures:  Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello, Shredder, Krang, and two Foot Soldiers. The figures are packaged in a black plastic trays with a transparent outer shell that fits over it like a clamshell design. The trays are stacked in two layers, with the Turtles on top and the Foot on the bottom. The packaging is designed to be resealable, though it’s probably not durable enough to withstand repeated use. The figures themselves were pretty easy to remove, though some of the accessories were a bit trying (and there’s a lot of them, more on that later) and I worried I’d crack the plastic shell casing, but it held up.

If you’ve purchased prior NECA TMNT sets, then this one should feel some-what familiar. The Turtles are essentially the same figures released last year, just with a cartoon-specific paint application. Shredder is a composite of the two Shredders released last year (the arcade one and the Mirage Comics one), but with an all new head sculpt and re-tooled abdomen. The Foot Soldiers also borrow parts from last year’s Mirage Foot, but obviously with new head sculpts and new arms to represent the very long-armed look of the cartoon. The only all new sculpt is Krang, and that’s because he’s a pretty unique character and not one NECA has released before.

Let’s talk about the heroes first. The Turtles feature a dark, almost olive, paint-app for the majority of their body with a darker green used for shading on the backside of their limbs. Lots of black lines are used for definition and the look is certainly striking. The skin tone is quite close to that of the cartoon’s first season, especially for the scenes taking place in dimly lit areas like the sewers. The decision to add shading is a bit of a controversial one in the collector community; some like it, most don’t seem to care for it. I don’t think it works as natural light would have accomplished the same thing. A paint wash may have been a better approach, but it’s not something that kills the figures or anything. The colors of the pads and masks are vibrant, and each turtle sports a fighting expression. The articulation is pretty standard, and NECA hides the joints and cuts well within the sculpt. The only drawback is the hips feel a bit loose and some more ankle articulation would have been welcomed. The shells look great, and there’s no noticeable paint slop on any of mine. The only production error appears to be with Raph’s pupils, as one is centered in the eye and the other towards the top of the eye, making him look weird from head on.

The actual sculpt of the figures is also pretty solid. They’re about 5 1/2″ tall and fit nice in scale with Shredder and the Foot. The wrist bands and pads are all part of the sculpt and not separate pieces, and they look pretty good. NECA was able to get the kneepads to sort of hide the knee joints like an actual pad, though the elbow pads sit above the elbow joints. I’m always torn on what facial expression these 87 Turtles should possess since the show was so light-hearted and campy. In a perfect world, NECA would have included swappable heads, but those obviously add a lost of cost. Grim and serious works for Leo and Don, though I wish Raph’s sarcasm could have been reflected and Mikey’s more jovial nature. NECA also ran into the challenge of how to mold the head. These sculpts worked really well in nailing the lioness of the arcade TMNT, but they’re a little too frog-like for the cartoon. That’s partly because the Turtles in the cartoon look very different when they’re presented head-on or at an angle, versus a profile look (just watch the opening credits). The season one Turtles often had a vertical line on their beaks to give the impression of a sharper mouth that was mostly dropped after season one. NECA wisely didn’t try to incorporate that as I don’t think it would have turned out well had they. Overall, I do really like the look of these figures, though I think they come up just a tad short if they’re trying to be the definitive take on these characters.

The accessories for the Turtles are numerous and appropriate. Each character comes with his specific weapons which means Leo has two katana, Raph a pair of sai, Don a bo staff, and Mikey twin nunchucks. Don’s bo is especially well-detailed and probably the finest bo staff the character has ever come with. It also breaks apart in the middle which can make storing it in his belt a bit easier to manage as it’s really tight. Leo’s swords are quite broad and resemble a falchion more than a katana. This is consistent with the show, though the broadness might be exaggerated some (though his swords were kind of all over the place and not very consistent in the show). He has holsters too for his blades and they too are also really tight. I couldn’t really get them in and didn’t want to force it, though I’ve seen holstered pics online so it’s certainly possible. Ralph’s sai are probably the worst of the bunch as they’re really out of scale and resemble tuning forks. Ralph also carried his sai in his belt near his buckle on the show which isn’t possible with the figure as the belt is glued on. It would have been nice it NECA had found a way to make it possible without taking away from the look, but I see why they wouldn’t want to add a pouch or something where there really isn’t supposed to be one. Mikey’s nunchucks are twin pieces of plastic connected by actual metal linkage, a practice NECA basically started with its Mirage version of the figure 9 years ago that has been adopted by pretty much everyone since. One ‘chuck handle can detach and a “spinning” chuck attachment can go in its place, which is a pretty nice feature. Like Raph though, he can’t store his weapons in his belt, though I suppose you could wedge them under his arm if you wanted. In the show, Mikey stored them on his shell in little holsters that basically disappeared when he was holding his weapons (Don and Leo’s holsters often did this too, especially after season one) and NECA must have valued the look of his holster free belt over one that basically never existed in the cartoon.

Additional accessories include four turtlecoms; two are open and two are closed, that look awesome. There’s also an additional four pairs of hands that can be used on any turtle, since their wristbands are part of the arms. There’s a box of pizza from Weird Pizza with one slice missing. That slice is also present and even has a hole through the center for placement on Raph’s sai. The turtle-hook, which showed up in later seasons, is also here if you wish to change-up Mikey’s weapon. It’s slightly oversized but that’s likely because the hooks actually come out of it slightly. It’s not a great effect, but still appreciated.

Naturally, these editions of the TMNT invite comparisons with the Figuarts ones from last year. I think, overall, the Figuarts ones are superior, but they should be since they retail for around $65 a piece. Their articulation is better, the swappable heads help make the likeness better, and I really love that Bandai came up with those swappable belt pieces so all of the Turtles can holster their weapons. NECA’s chosen skin tone is definitely closer to that of the main show, while Bandai’s resembles the opening credits and later seasons. The Bandai Turtles also each had four pairs of hands, while the NECA ones share a community of hands. If I had to pick one I’d take the Bandai ones, but I wouldn’t feel disappointed if I only had these NECA ones. Both look great and they complement each other pretty well as now we have turtlecoms and a closed turtle-hook.

Of course, the NECA Turtles have one big advantage over the SH Figuarts ones:  they come with a Shredder! Shredder, for some reason, has really received some bad treatment from toy manufactures. Even from NECA, who delayed the release of their Mirage Comics Shredder by eight years (with part of that being attributable to Playmates, but mostly to a marketing decision). Toy manufacturers are scared that Shredder and other villains won’t sell. Playmates cancelled their own toon Shredder after showing prototypes, and Bandai has yet to bring theirs to market even though he was unveiled over a year ago. And the old Shredder toys from the original line? They were terrible, with Shredder having blue spikes and no shirt, plus that really weird semi-crouching pose. Naturally, this Shredder is the crowned jewel of the set as he’s a near perfect likeness to the cartoon. He comes in at nearly 7″ tall making him much larger than the Turtles. The head sculpt is perfect and conveys a lot of personality despite the restrictive nature of the character’s helmet. The spikes are a nice, soft, pliable plastic and the fabric cape adds a nice touch. I had to watch old episodes of the cartoon to spot any differences, and the only inaccuracy I could find was with the shoulder pads that featured fewer spikes on television, but I’m not going to complain about some additional spikes! My only other criticism would be the two-tone paint job is again a bit overdone, especially on the helmet, though overall it works better on Shredder than it does on his adversaries. His open hands also have some excess plastic from the mold that’s a bit ugly, though if it really bothers me I could probably trim it off with a razor blade.

Shredder comes with a few accessories of his own to go along with his excellent sculpt. He has a katana of his own, which is unique to him, for sword-fighting with Leo. He also has a gun that resembles the retro-mutagen ray from the cartoon and looks good in his hands. He has three sets if hands: fists, gripping hands, and open hands. He also has a com-link with a little picture of Krang on it as well as a blue canister of mutagen. I do not remember this blue canister from the show, but I’m sure it existed. I only remember the standard glass one with glowing, pink, mutagen contained inside.

The two Foot Soldiers are identical to each other. They are slightly stooped over and feature those long limbs they were known for. They two comes with three sets of hands each:  fists, gripping fists, and open hands in a karate chop like pose. There’s also a rifle and a large gun with a bowl-shaped end which was featured in the cartoon and also with the Playmates version of the character as well. The two-toned paint works well on the Foot, probably due to their clothing have a lot of moldered creases and folds, and it’s hard to find any fault with these figures.

Lastly, we have Krang, who too looks fantastic. He’s a light pink and features his trademark scowl lots of lumps and veins. Liberal use of black lining gives his face added definition, though they may have gone just slightly overboard with it. His tentacles are on ball joints and are also easily removable. This is so Krang can hop into his bubble walker and the tentacles clip onto outside joints to resemble the cartoon look. When not in his bubble walker, he also has his little tripod from the first season that he scooted around on before Shredder completed his body. This is a great touch by NECA as I don’t think this has ever been done before. It snaps into a recessed area on his underside so it stays in pretty well.

The villains really help round out this set as NECA hit a homer on each figure. It’s nice to have a new set of the Turtles without having to worry if they’ll ever have some villains to tangle with. Naturally, there are people who probably wish they could get more Foot Soldiers for display purposes, but that has more to do with licensing than NECA’s wishes. I have no idea what the future is for this property as it concerns NECA. The popularity of this set leads me to believe that NECA would like to do more, but it may have to wait until next year. Fans undoubtedly would love a Bebop and Rocksteady and Krang is just over here begging for a body. Other characters like Splinter, April, Baxter Stockman, and others would probably be welcomed too. I personally have no desire to go in too deep, but I definitely am hoping for more. If the property dies here though, it’s still a very satisfying collection of figures that will display well for years to come. I hope to be done with buying anymore action figures of the Turtles from this show, and I may even pass on the Bandai Shredder should he ever see release as I’m more than happy with this one. If you have the opportunity to get this set at a reasonable price, I fully recommend it.


NECA 1/4 Scale TMNT Movie Raphael

1200x-Raph9-It took awhile, but I finally have my hands on the second turtle from NECA’s 1/4 scale series of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles based on the original film. Raphael was released back in February, but I left the preordering of this series to my wife who saw them as gifts for basically the coming year for me. My wife, bless her, is not someone who normally orders such things and she ordered from a site I had never heard of that ended up not getting Raph in when they were supposed to, so what was originally planned as a Valentine’s Day present turned into a June birthday gift. Fear not though, I have since clued her in to better vendors so my actual birthday present (Leonardo) should be arriving soon, as I know you are all waiting with bated breath for my reviews.

If you read my review for Donatello way back in January, then you should already be pretty familiar with Raph. Structurally, he’s essentially the same figure as Don as both make use of the same parts. This is both good and bad as it means the things that are great about Don are shared by Raph, and the not so great things are as well. That’s sort of the “curse” of being a TMNT collector as you basically buy the same figure four times, but it’s hard to argue against the practicality of the release.

 

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way before getting to the good. This is a big figure, being 1/4 scale, so he’s also pretty heavy. Being heavy means he needs tough joints or else his arms and legs would be too flimsy for posing. This also means some of the joints are really hard to work, and the cumbersome nature of a turtle shell doesn’t make things any easier. My Raph has a particularly troublesome left shoulder that’s hard to get the socket to work right so that he can lift his arm. There’s definitely some “breaking-in” required for these figures, but since they’ll end up running you over $100, there’s a reluctance to work the joints too hard out of fear of breaking them. While Raph possesses an abundance of articulation, it’s not the most functional articulation out there and the pictures you see in this post are essentially the only poses I was comfortable creating.

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Hey, brother!

These figures are also somewhat minimalist when it comes to included accessories. Raph, by virtue of having two weapons, actually has one more accessory than his brother Don. Don came with five extra hands, a canister of ooze, and a slice of pizza in addition to his bo staff. Raph comes with six extra hands and a slice of pizza to go with his twin sai. Strangely, one set of extra hands is identical to his stock hands so I guess you can break and/or lose a set before you’ll be missing anything. Raph has one unique hand gesture compared with Don, a finger-pointing left hand that can be used to hold his sai in a unique way or use as a gesture. He famously gestures to his holstered sai when confronting a pair of muggers in the film, though sadly his range of motion can’t quite recreate that one. This is consistent with Don who has a thumb’s up hand gesture that Raph does not. The slice of pizza included with Raph is the same as the one Don came with, right down to the placement of the black olives. Laying them side by side, it looks like we’ll need four additional pieces to make a complete pizza so I wonder if Mikey will come with some extra slices when he’s released this fall. The missing accessory here is obviously Raph’s trench coat, hat, and backpack he sports in the film when he heads out to a movie. I can understand why NECA didn’t include such as it would probably be a substantial cost addition, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss it.

 

Raph primarily differentiates himself from Don with his head sculpt. One my favorite aspects of the original film is how the costume designers, the without peer Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, made sure each turtle looked unique. It was really the first time you could tell the turtles apart without their weapons or colored masks, even though they never remove their masks in the film. NECA did a great job with Don, and maybe a better job with Raph. His facial expression perfectly captures his beady eyes and that tough, but sympathetic, aspect of his character. A more serious expression works better for Raph than it did the more jokey Donatello, so it was probably easy for NECA to settle on a facial expression than it was Don. The “tails” on Raph’s mask are also of the same cloth-like material used for Don’s. The color matching between the tails and sculpted plastic of the mask is well done and it’s a nice, authentic, shade of red. The material adds a little personality to the ends of the mask that sculpted plastic can’t replicate. As I mentioned before, aside from the head sculpt the body is basically the same as Don’s. The freckles are different, and I don’t know if they’re just randomized for each turtle or if they match to the actual costumes in the film. Raph’s shell also sports significantly more ware and tear than Don’s, implying he’s probably been in more fights than his brother which certainly fits with his character. The musculature of his limbs is the same though, with an added vein here and there. His belt rides lower, as it did in the film, and the sai fit off to the side just fine, though I find angling them in the same manner as they are on the back of his box a little tricky. And that box, which resembles the original movie poster and VHS release of the film, is a nice way to display the figure for those who do not like to open their toys. I also love how the NECA logo on the rear of the box resembles the old f.h.e. logo of the home video release of the old cartoon.

 

NECA’s Raphael is every bit as good as Donatello which came first and which figure is better is probably determined by personal preference for the characters. Raphael was basically the star of the first film, and it’s great to see him brought to life like this. The 1/4 scale may not be for everyone (he stands over 16″ tall), but it’s hard to deny the level of detail the format allows. Licensing agreements with Nickelodeon and Playmates, who has held the main TMNT toy license since the cartoon was launched, prevent NECA from doing what they want with the license, but it’s clear the company has a love for the franchise. The price, which basically starts at $99.99 but is sometimes priced higher by other merchants, is also steep, but at least the release of each turtle has been spread out to help minimize the impact of such an expensive purchase. The figures are impractical, but if you loved the original film as much as I did, then you can probably talk yourself into collecting this line.


Bandai SH Figuarts Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Raphael

img_0717A couple of months ago I posted about the Bandai SH Figuarts release of Leonardo and Donatello from their new line based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon from the late 80’s/early 90’s. Well, now I’m back to tell you about the next mutant to be released:  Raphael.

Everyone’s favorite wise-crackin’ turtle was the one to see the biggest change in personality between the comics and cartoon. Where Raph was a hot-tempered and moody character in print, he was more jokey and sarcastic in the cartoon. And really, this version of Raph only exists in the old cartoon which makes him rather unique among the four turtles, who mostly are depicted the same across all mediums. His personality may have been different, but his other traits were kept intact. He’s the only turtle to sport a red bandana no matter where he’s found and he is armed with his customary sai.

Raphael’s action figure in the Figuarts line is pretty much in line with what we saw out of Leonardo and Donatello. He comes with four sets of hands: closed fists, closed fists with holes for his weapons, partially closed fists with space between the index finger and thumb, and open hands. He has two heads, the grim, serious expression both Leo and Dona featured, and a unique head where his mouth is open. He comes with two additional accessories unique to Raph:  a kunai and shuriken. Raph’s construction is the same as well, featuring a plastic body with die cast shins and feet. His chest is soft plastic so it has some given when posing, and his belt buckle also happens to be die cast. He also has the same swappable belt piece feature on the back of his shell so his holsters for his sai appear as needed, just as they did on television.

img_0715Since this sure is essentially the same as the Leo and Don ones, just with different accessories, it should come as no surprise to read here that he’s of excellent quality. There’s virtually no paint slop to be found anywhere or chipping of any kind. Everything is clean and tidy. He has lots of pose-ability, though the shell will always limit any TMNT figure when compared with something like Batman or Spider-Man. For my particular figure, his belt piece fits quite snug and there’s no fear of it falling (unlike my Donatello). The sai sit in the holsters loosely, probably to prevent stripping of the paint when inserting and removing them. The bandana knot that’s swappable between head pieces is especially tight on my Raph and I did worry I was going to damage it when inserting it into the yelling head. The sai and kunai fit in both the closed fist and the partially closed fit hands, though the shuriken can only be held in the partially closed hand.

Raphael is a fine figure, but there’s also room for improvement. I’m a little disappointed with the unique head sculpt. His mouth opening almost looks like a smile, but his eyes are in a scowl indicating to me this is supposed to be an aggressive position. Sure, Raph and all of the other turtles sported a look like this at one point or another, but something that captured his more easy-going nature would have felt better. I’m also disappointed in the accessories. I understand the shuriken, but I can’t recall ever seeing any of the turtles use a kunai in the cartoon. Maybe one appeared in the background, and Splinter or Shredder may have produced one on a rare occasion, but I don’t think Raph ever did. Donatello came with a pizza slice, and Leonardo a manhole cover, so Bandai hasn’t exactly impressed in this department, unfortunately. I suppose in that sense, Raph’s accessories are better than Leo’s, but that’s not something to boast about.

Raphael obviously makes three, so we’re one turtle away from a full set. Michelangelo was expected to release in November, so I would guess he’s not too far from release at this point. Criticisms aside, this is the best set of turtles based on the original cartoon we’ve ever seen and it will take quite an effort to top them. I look forward to completing my set.

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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.


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.