Tag Archives: teenage mutant ninja turtles

Neca 1/4 Scale TMNT Movie Leonardo

IMG_1387NECA is now 3/4 of the way through the release schedule of their TMNT 1990 movie line with the release of Leonardo – the REAL leader of the group. And like Donatello and Raphael before him, he’s a pretty impressive specimen.

The original 1990 movie impossibly never had dedicated action figures. Playmates half-assed a line in recent years that didn’t seem like it committed to being a representation of either of the first two films and tried to have it both way, similar to how their own “classic” turtles were an amalgamation of the original cartoon and toy line. These giant figures from NECA have done an admirable job of filling that void, and while I do wish they came in a friendlier scale, I can’t deny how awesome these 16″ behemoths look.

Leonardo has all of the same articulation as his two brothers and that’s primarily because he’s essentially the same figure with a different head and belt. Of the three I have thus far received, I found Leo to be the easiest to pose right out of the box as his joints were pretty nimble and I never felt like I was in danger of breaking anything. His ab crunch however, hidden underneath the shell, is a little loose compared with Raph and similar to my Donatello. This means he has a tendency to pitch forward slightly and it’s hard to get his head to look straight out in front of him. The rest of his joints are tight and accommodating and the paint applications are flawless on my turtle. His belt is film accurate featuring two thing strips of leather crossing his chest from his right shoulder. I have no idea if the sheaths on the back of his shell are film accurate since you never really get a good look at them onscreen, but they look fine to me.

Leonardo naturally comes equipped with his twin katana. They’re very light which kind of surprised me and I do worry some about their durability. Currently, I’m a little scared that he’s going to fall off of my shelf and snap his blades, but hopefully that does not happen. They look pretty accurate to the film, and even have the octagonal hand guards and taped hilts. The film makes them seem a bit more dingy and worn, but that could just as easily have more to do with the lighting of the picture than anything. I can’t deny they look good, and their length seems spot on. Leonardo also comes with the same set of extra hands as Raphael. I’m a little disappointed that his pointing hand isn’t the reverse of Raph’s. He also comes with the same slice of pizza as the other two, but surprisingly he also comes with a canister of that famous ooze. Unlike the canister that came with Donatello, this one does not feature the crack from which the ooze leaked out and thereby justifying its existence. This means Leonardo comes with more accessories than brothers, though not by much. I would have preferred extra pizza to complete a pie, but oh well. Maybe Mikey will comes with that, though I doubt it since his weapons are probably the most costly to produce.

Aside from that, there isn’t much more to say since he’s fundamentally the same figure as the other two I’ve already reviewed. The only real downside to that is Leo should be a little taller than his brothers, and Mikey should be noticeably shorter (we’ll see how that turns out later), but it’s not egregious. The head sculpt looks fantastic and captures that grim seriousness embodied by the character in the film. The likeness is flawless, and I’m really glad to have this version of my favorite turtle upon my shelf. I very much look forward to completing this set when Michelangelo ships later this summer.


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 Michelangelo

img_0905At last, my quartet is complete! The famed heroes in a half shell have had their finest animated series likeness released to eager collectors around the globe and the results are pretty awesome. If you follow this blog, you may have caught my posts about the first three turtles. Leonardo and Donatello were released simultaneously in the late summer with Raphael arriving in the fall. The wait for the fourth, and perhaps most popular, turtle was a bit longer than expected, but Michelangelo is now being shipped world-wide by American distributors and the good news is; he’s probably the best of the bunch.

If you have seen either of my two posts on the other turtles, then you are likely familiar with the general look and construction of these figures. All four turtles are essentially the same figure, just with different swappable parts and their signature color scheme and belt buckle. They’re sturdy, mostly plastic figures with loads or articulation despite the fact that they’re hindered by their turtle anatomy. The lower portion of the figures, specifically from the knee down, is painted die-cast which gives them a solid base ensuring it will take more than the wind to knock these ninjas over. And even though those lower portions are die-cast, the paint job is seamless and you would never know by looking at them. Bandai’s SH Figuarts line is known for being a high quality line, and the turtles do not disappoint in this regard.

When it comes to the accessories, there’s been a clear pattern with these figures. Each turtle comes with two heads, with one featuring a serious, kind of generic expression that’s the same for all four turtles, and one that’s unique to each brother. They have four sets of hands:  fists, fists with a hole through the center for gripping weapons, slightly opened fists for a more gentle grasp, and open palms. Each turtle naturally comes with his signature weapon, a unique accessory or two, and a swappable belt piece that contains holsters for their weapons (in the show, these holsters would often “disappear” when the turtles didn’t have their weapons holstered and this piece allows collectors to do the same).

It’s the accessories that differentiate each turtle from the other, so not unexpectedly, it’s my enthusiasm for these that make Mikey my favorite of the pack. Someone over at Bandai must love Michelangelo, because he easily has the most accessories. Mikey comes with two sets of nunchaku:  one set is all plastic and features a frozen pose, the other has each end connected by an actual chain. The NECA Mirage Michelangelo was the first one I encountered that featured the real chain links on the nunchaku and I still love that effect even ten years later. There’s no denying though that the more realistic representation of the weapons does limit the poses one can achieve, which is why Bandai included the additional “frozen” weapons. Even though the chain on these is all plastic, the detail is still excellent making them look light-years ahead of anything Playmates has done with their figures. One ‘chuck is positioned in a triangle-like pose for an under-arm position, while the other has more of a swinging look. I’m torn on if I prefer these to the Revoltech nunchaku included in their version of Mikey from the current animated series, which features a disc at the end of the chain to really simulate the animated look of a twirling nunchaku. The nunchaku with the actual chain links are also great for posing as they have natural weight. They’re also the only ones that can really be holstered on Mikey’s back. Both offer great options for display.

The other included accessory is Michelangelo’s turtle hook. The turtle hook first appeared occasionally as a grappling hook carried by all of the turtles, but eventually the show would phase-out Michelangelo’s nunchaku and have him only wield the turtle hook due to the perception of nunchaku being too violent in some circles. It was pretty stupid to see Mikey standing there alongside his brothers with nothing but a grappling hook to defend himself, but it happened. Interestingly, virtually all of the toys associated with the cartoon would still feature nunchaku and I can’t recall a single one that had the turtle hook, so it’s inclusion as an accessory is certainly long overdue. Bandai used actual rope to connect the handle and the hook portion and it looks great. The hook unfortunately is permanently in its open position, but it probably would have been either really fragile or over-sized if it featured moving parts. The rope is also too short for it to look like an actual grappling hook, but it probably would have looked sillier if it was absurdly long (the cartoon version stored the additional rope in the shell portion which isn’t feasible in reality). While I’ll always consider Mikey’s weapons to be his ‘chucks, I do love the look of the turtle hook and it’s a fun display piece.

Mikey’s second head features a smirking grin. It’s not unexpected that his unique head sculpt would be something light-hearted, as opposed to the angry expressions worn by Leo and Raph. I still find it kind of weird though as the smile gives his head a shape I can’t ever recall seeing depicted in the cartoon. In short, I think Bandai could have done Mikey better in this regard. And it’s also kind of disappointing that Bandai included the same generic facial expression for each turtle. I get it that it helps cut down on costs, but how expensive is it to make a new mold for such a small piece? Obviously, Michelangelo wasn’t always smiling and goofing off in the show, but who really is going to display their Michelangelo with the serious expression? Very few, I’d wager.

That about covers it. Any of the flaws possessed by the other turtles are naturally attributable to Michelangelo too, but so are all of the good points. These four represent a pretty awesome collection, but the true test lies ahead. Will Bandai continue to support this line beyond the four turtles? So few companies have. Shredder was unveiled last year, but I have yet to see anyone start taking pre-orders so I’m not holding my breath. With the New York Toy Fair drawing close, perhaps we’ll see how far Bandai intends to take this. I’d love to round out the villains at least with Krang, Bebop, and Rocksteady joining Shredder. Foot Soldiers, Master Splinter, and April would be the icing on the cake, should they come to be. Anything beyond that would be unexpected, but most likely welcomed.

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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: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 4

1336705It’s been hard for me to find the time to sit down at the computer and contribute to this blog since becoming a dad in the spring of 2015. It has become especially hard as my offspring has learned to crawl, and then walk. Even so, that event occurred well after I posted my review of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:  The Ultimate Collection Vol. 3 in January 2013. Hopefully, no one has been sitting around waiting for this post since then, but at long last, I’m finally getting around to reviewing volume 4 of The Ultimate Collection.

For the uninitiated, The Ultimate Collection is a five volume set of hardcover, oversized comic book compilations chronicling the early years for the TMNT and collecting only the works of their original creators:  Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. The comics are presented in their original black and white with new cover art and liner notes by both creators. As someone who primarily experienced the Turtles as a kid via the cartoon and the films, I wanted to get this collection to experience firsthand the genesis of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

If you go back and read my review of Volume 3, you will notice I apparently took a long time in getting to that one as well. That was due to my lack of enthusiasm towards the product. For Volume 4, much is the same, unfortunately. Though I should point out right off the bat that Volume 4 is a better read than 3 as it compiles the last major arc of the original run:  City at War. Volume 3 concluded with the re-death of The Shredder and Volume 4 picks up right where that one left off with the two-part Shades of Gray plot commencing in Issue 48. This volume runs in perfect continuity as it contains issues 48-55 as it represents a point in time where Eastman and Laird both had a renewed interest in the comic and a desire to put a finishing touch, of sorts, on everything before going their separate ways.

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This encounter ends up making a large impact on Casey Jones.

Shades of Gray focuses on the Return to New York fallout and takes stock of where all of the main characters are presently at, in terms of their frame of mine. The Turtles return back to North Hampton but intend to return to New York after consulting with Splinter. Splinter is not coming with them, and Donatello wrestles with where his place is. Meanwhile, Casey is returning to his vigilante routes and accidentally takes a life in self defense, which gets the attention of Nobody, another vigilante introduced in the Tales of TMNT stories. Casey is spared, with some help from the Turtles, but is a wreck in the aftermath. April is also shown as lost and decides she needs to leave, especially with Casey being so distant. There’s some nice attention paid to Donatello as the story succeeds in giving his character a little more color than usual and he and Casey have a poignant encounter in the woods nearby.

Shades of Gray is basically a setup for City at War as it sets all of the characters out in new directions. April, searching for a fresh start, heads west to LA where her older sister Robyn resides. The Turtles head to New York, and Casey resolves to go after April after he clears his head. City at War also welcomes back Eastman and Laird to the artist’s chair for issue 1. Aside from that though, all of the pencils are handled by Jim Lawson in this collection. Eastman and Laird’s crowded, cross-hatching heavy art lends itself well to the congested city setting and their take on the Turtles is a welcomed return. Their still pretty amateurish when it comes to illustrating the human characters, in particular April, but overall I enjoy their artwork the most in this collection. It’s a shame it’s only for one issue.

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City at War Part 1 marks the return of Eastman and Laird as artists.

The City at War arc is primarily focused on the Turtles and their place in the New York community. They take on a Batman like role upon their initial return which frustrates Raph. The other brothers confide in one another that they’re unsure of what their place is and Leo has the hardest time with it and struggles with his role as leader for much of the collection. Meanwhile, the Foot Clan is in disarray and has splintered off into multiple factions. We see a rag-tag group of the ninjas mostly making trouble, but also a more sophisticated faction that targets the others financially via cyber warfare. And then there’s the Japan faction which is teased throughout the entire collection. They’re lead by Karai, who finally reaches New York by issue 55, but her presence isn’t felt until Volume 5. The Foot Elite are also around making trouble, and their allegiance is unclear. One encounter seems to place their allegiance still firmly with their deceased master making them a chaotic force simply out for revenge. It’s also unclear how large their numbers are, but considering they’re the elite force, probably few.

April’s adventures in LA are shown and they’re dull by comparison. Her scenarios often retread familiar ground as she still feels lost and without a home even with her sister and her sister’s young son. Robyn is the foil who tries to get April to loosen up, have fun, meet a guy, and so on. She humors her sister, to a point, and shows some genuine enthusiasm in the upcoming Christmas celebration she’ll be able to share with her sister, but not a lot happens.

Casey, on the other hand, gets sidetracked out in New Mexico when his truck gets stolen. He falls in with a waitress named Gabby, and the two quickly become an item. When Gabby confesses to Casey that she’s four months pregnant, he seems to find some new purpose for himself. The scenes between the two are hard to get a read on as Casey becomes consumed by this new role for himself. Does he genuinely have feelings for Gabby or is he too just looking for some new purpose for himself? Someone to take care of and protect?

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AC Fairly handles the covers and he prefers a “chunky” kind of turtle that I’m not particularly fond of.

It hurts that Eastman and Laird aren’t the most gifted storytellers or script writers. There’s a lot of groan-inducing dialogue, some intentional as Casey is basically a lunkhead, throughout the two more grounded arcs. The parts with the Turtles have minimal dialogue at times. It is frustrating to see, that after such a strong character-driven opening with Shades of Gray, that the Turtles mostly return to their personality-less roles for City at War. Only Leo and Raph are given room to show-off their personalities, which has become a reoccurring problem for the books as a whole. Mikey is the most criminally overlooked as his comic book counterpart has almost no defining characteristics beyond his weapons. Perhaps it was an unintentional reaction to his oversized personality everywhere else that Eastman and Laird chose to keep the spotlight away from him.

Not to be forgotten, is the Splinter arc which is mostly small, but contains a nice reveal at its end in this collection. Another Tales of TMNT character makes their main-line debut and one that is familiar to longtime TMNT fans. The setup is done well and I really enjoyed the brief depiction of this character. Hopefully it pays off in Volume 5.

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Lawson’s version of the Turtles is not one of my favorites.

As I mentioned before, Jim Lawson handles almost all of the pencils in this collection and it was the reason I grew so disinterested in the volume to begin with. I do not enjoy his take on the Turtles. They’re blocky and his art is sometimes sloppy. I’m mostly okay with his April, even if she seems to not have any of the physical traits of the Eastman and Laird version, and his Casey is fine. His backgrounds are a lot less crowded which works for some of the action scenes but sometimes there’s an emptiness to them. Perhaps the over-sized format draws more attention to all of the white space. He does have some awkward transitions where he tries to convey too much motion on one page, but at least he’s not beholden to the traditional panel approach. There’s also an overuse of splash pages in issues 54 and 55 that feel like filler. Even Laird admits in the liner notes he’s not sure why they went with so many. Lawson’s art does shine some in issue 54 when he gets to depict a cloaked Mikey in the snow. For some reason, the snow is abandoned in the following issue. I guess they had a heat wave.

The cover art and some of the interior art is new and handled by Eastman. It’s in line with the other collections, though not my favorite. I think the back cover would have been better off as the front as it depicts the Turtles surrounded by Foot Ninjas which is a nice representation of what’s contained inside. Otherwise though, it’s fine. The liner notes feel more substantial here as well, especially from Laid. Eastman is still too in love with everything they did while Laird is a little more critical. The quality of the set is once again very high and there’s little to complain about there. The pages are nice and thick and the whole set has a nice weight to it.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles continues to be a mostly action-oriented affair. The attempts at actual story-telling work better here than they did in some of the other issues, but a lot of it is also cliche and amateurish. No one picks up a TMNT comic expecting Shakespeare though, and there are some genuinely good bits of character development contained in these issues. I just wish they had a better artist.


Bandai SH Figuarts Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Leonardo and Donatello

img_0505Over the years I’ve been able to shake my compulsion to collect action figures. I went nuts with it in my late teens and into my early twenties. Outside of a couple of purchases here and there (actually, mainly the TMNT Classics line a few years back) I’ve stayed out of it for almost ten years. For whatever reason, I have a weakness for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I think it’s because they were my first love. Prior to the Turtles I had Ghostbusters, but I never went nuts with Ghostbusters like I did TMNT. Had Bucky O’Hare managed to hang around, he may have joined them and the X-Men would replace them. I obsessed over the Turtles though in a way only a young kid can. And as much as I loved the toys, it did always bother me how inaccurate they were or how little they resembled the show.

In the year 2016, accuracy is almost spot-on when it comes to action figures. I’ll walk through a comic shop and look at the new stuff just to amuse myself and it blows my mind how amazing toys look today (and how expensive they are, more on that to follow). Have you seen the new Batman The Animated Series toys? They look just like the show. Admittedly, it’s not a hard art style to translate, but it’s still miles ahead of the toys they had for the same show in the 90s. When Playmates released their TMNT Classics line in 2012 I bought them because it was as close to the old show as any toy had come. And while I think they’re mostly good, there was no denying that the accuracy was less than perfect. And in a way, it was intentional as Playmates tried to pay homage to both the show and the original action figures. If my love for the Turtles was confined to the original black and white comics by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird then I’d already be satisfied as NECA’s figures based on those old comics are perfection.

Enter Bandai and its SH Figuarts line. Bandai has acquired the license to the classic Turtles, something NECA never had any luck obtaining, and has released the first two of their planned four turtles:  Leonardo and Donatello. When I first saw the promotional images for this line I knew I had to have it no matter the expense. These, in my estimation, are as close to the old cartoon as we’re going to get. There’s always the chance another company could get closer (Revoltech did an amazing job with the new TMNT from Nickelodeon), but these ones look great enough that I feel comfortable in saying I won’t need another set of four turtles based on the classic cartoon.

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Donatello, waiting to be freed.

Bandai doesn’t just want to make these figures look awesome, the company also made sure they’re fun. Both characters come with four sets of hands, two heads, two interchangeable belt pieces, an accessory, and their respective weapons. It should be noted, that the weapons count is also toon accurate so Donny comes with one lone bo staff instead of the usual two his figures often come with. Both figures are primarily plastic, but have die cast for their belt buckle and their lower legs. Why die cast below the knee? To give the figure a low center of gravity, and it works remarkably well. I don’t know how much this design adds to the retail cost, but the die cast portion is indistinguishable from the last and the paint isn’t flaky or anything. The included instructions indicate to handle these parts carefully as the paint could be rub off, so you have been warned.

The figures themselves are loaded with articulation, perhaps too much. The front chest part of the shell is a nice, soft plastic that doesn’t hinder movement. The joints are tight, and the various armbands and knee pads are separate pieces of floating plastic. They’d probably break if put in the hands of children, but for an adult collector they should hold up fine. I did find that my Leo’s right bicep is rather weak and detaches too easily when trying to pose his arm. This is the type of thing that tends to happen with these figures that are loaded with articulation. Coincidentally, my NECA Leo’s left hand seems to always fall off with light posing. It must be a curse of the character.

Each character comes with three sets of identical hands, but also one set unique to each figure. For both, there’s a closed fist, fist with a hole through the middle to hold a weapon, and an open hand. Leo’s fourth set is a partially closed fist that can also hold a weapon, while Don comes with hands that can handle his included slice of pizza. The pizza slice is appropriate for any turtle, though if it was only to come with one it’s surprising Bandai chose Don and not Mike. It looks like Mike’s unique accessory is going to be the Turtle Hook weapon he used past season 2, and yeah that’s probably the right choice. It seems like Raph could have handled the pizza (he comes with a ninja star and dagger), and Don should have come with a Turtle-com or something “science.” Leo’s accessory is a rather boring one: a manhole cover. I don’t think I ever need another toy manhole cover given how many have come with TMNT toys over the years (ditto for cans of mutagen, or ooze).  As for the heads, both come with a serious facial expression and a unique one. Leo’s unique one is an angry expression that reminds me of his original action figure. Don’s is more of a smile as he’s getting ready to take down that slice. I find the serious head sculpt works for both, and while I like Leo’s angry expression, I do wish he had a smile as well since a lot of the show featured the Turtles in pretty light-hearted moments. Don’s smile is probably just a touch too “toony” for my taste. Maybe a mouth closed smile would have been more suitable.

My fear with figures like these ones are almost entirely centered on the durability. While I love having tons of accessories like interchangeable hands and so forth, I’m always afraid of snapping a peg or joint when switching them. The little time I’ve spent doing so with these have been mostly okay. The head comes off and goes on nice and easy, but the hands are tricky. Getting them off is no problem, but putting others on is a bit stressful as the peg wants to move all over the place. I’m terrified of breaking my toys so I probably won’t switch them up too often, but they do seem fairly sturdy. The bandana knot comes off the head and needs to be moved to whichever head is currently on the figure. It goes on and off very easily, but also sits snug enough that it’s not going to fall. Again, if these were in the hands of children then the knot would probably fall off a lot. The rear part of the belt has a removable piece as well. Often in the show, if the Turtles were holding their weapons then their belt looked like any old belt (just with a big buckle on the front for their first initial), but if their weapons were holstered then magically the belt grew little sheaths for them to go in. Bandai decided to mimic that by having a flat belt piece for the rear shell, and a separate one with holsters. It’s a pretty cool idea and shows a nice attention to detail. Getting the flat piece off though is a little tricky. It sits very snug, but there is a small opening on the bottom just wide enough for a fingernail. It will come off, but I’m afraid repeated removals could eventually chip the paint. The piece with the holsters come off almost too easily, by contrast. Donatello’s in particular required minimal effort to remove, and I even knocked it off by mistake when trying to slide his bo staff into it.

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Die cast lower legs means Leo can achieve poses like this one.

I must say, these toys are pretty bad ass. While not 100% accurate, I’d say they’re around 95% and the look seems to capture the season two look from the show. There’s drawbacks to everything though. For these two, stylistically there’s not too much to complain about. I think the accessories could have been better, but the weapons look great. Donatello’s staff isn’t painted though, which seems like a really odd oversight. Leo’s katana look great, which is a tough thing to pull off as his weapons were easily the most inconsistent in the show often changing shape and length from episode to episode. The shoulders and neck area of the figures do seem a little off from certain angles. Bandai made little effort to hide the shoulder ball-joints and I think the head could have sat maybe a millimeter higher. It’s a fine line. The biggest, and most obvious, negative with these figures is the cost. At over $60 a piece, these are pricey additions to one’s collection. There are more expensive toys out there for sure, but it’s a far cry from the four bucks I paid for my Leo and Don back in 88 (it just so happens my very first TMNT action figures were also Leo and Don, plus Krang) and it will cost more than $250 for a set of four turtles. I’m all in though, so hopefully Mikey and Raph turn out well too.

Bandai has said the company is committed to this line of classic TMNT and intends for it to continue for at least a little while. In other words, they plan on making a Shredder though they also added in the caveat that the line needs to make them money, which is a given. After ten years, NECA is finally releasing its Shredder this fall in a box set exclusive to Comic Con, apparently the only way around the licensing issues with Playmates that has prevented them from putting him out this long. Playmates, for its part, never released its Shredder for the TMNT Classics line. I just want the essential characters, so Bandai, please, do right by fans and finish this line properly. I’d honestly settle for the four turtles and Shredder, but I would also love a Bebop and Rocksteady too. And if done well, a Master Splinter and Krang in his android body. At $60 a pop, I can probably do without a generic foot soldier and I honestly don’t care if I get an April, Casey, Irma, etc. No company has ever put out a solid Shredder from the cartoon, and that really needs to change.


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.