In Figure 8, the PoP! Stars give their take on the latest and greatest in Action Figures and Toy Lines in eight (succinct) parts.
It’s a great time to be a Turtle fan. Not since the heyday of the original cartoon has there been such a saturation of Ninja Turtles goodness. Sure, the series has been revised and rebooted before (They even made a new movie in 2007), but the response was simply nowhere near as positive as it has been for the latest incarnation of the Heroes in a Half Shell on Nickelodeon. Turtles toys were practically impossible to find for months before and after Christmas (Easter, too, really). Turtlemania is in full effect. I saw big pillows shaped like the turtles’ heads last week. This thing is huge again. As with any children’s property, the cornerstone is the toy line, so let’s dig in and see what we’re dealing with.
The Basic Turtles
The various Ninja Turtles toy lines have never shied away from gimmick figures (as we’ll see in a moment), but the folks at Playmates and Nick are being really smart about keeping the core gimmick-free Turtle figures in supply even as new waves of new characters are released. The figures themselves are great. For the first time ever, each turtle figure is completely unique. The sculpts are all completely different and genuinely fantastic. They’re not even the same height. The general designs do limit articulation a bit in some places, but these are easily the best Turtle figures we’ve ever had (and yes, I am including the NECA figures). Along with their iconic weapons, each figure comes with a tray of various weapons not unlike the original toys, only tailored to each specific character.
The only real flaw to these guys is the lack of paint. There’s some amazing detail in the sculpts that is completely lost because of how flat the figures are. A simple paint wash would have gone a long way. There’s also no black painted in to separate their teeth, even though that detail is sculpted in. Overall, it doesn’t hurt, but it’s a glaring flaw on what are otherwise excellent figures.
The villain figures are where the entire line’s principle flaws become apparent. These toys are beautifully sculpted, but they’re lacking in paint, articulation, or both. The Turtles are so good that it’s obvious a majority of the budget went into them. They should definitely be the best toys, but not by such a wide margin. The villains don’t have knee joints and most of them don’t have elbows. That said, they look really great. Shredder, Dogpound and Fishface look solid together. The Kraang and Foot Solider figures have limited articulation, but the designs are good. Since the series as a whole is priced really well (usually $8-$12), it won’t break you to do a little troop building. The most recent wave includes episode-specific villains like Snakeweed, who is packaged without his legs attached so he can fit on the small card.
The Good Guys
Yes, the turtles are great, but their buddies suffer from a lot of the same issues as the bad guys. April’s long limbs have no elbow or knee joints. Splinter is hindered by his robe. The awesome-looking Metalhead figure has very little range of motion, but got even more shafted in the paint department. His “mask” is painted yellow on the front, but not the sides. That’s just half-assed.
Leatherhead looks fantastic, but he’s a prime example of how much this series needs a larger scale at a higher price point. Leatherhead and Baxter Stockman are good looking toys, but their biggest problem is how small they are compared to their appearance on the show. Offering those characters and characters like them for a couple bucks more in a different-style of packaging would add a lot to the line overall.
It wouldn’t be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toy line without some ridiculous gimmick figures. No, we don’t have our Leonardo/Chris-Pine-as-Kirk mash-up quite yet, but the infant toy series is already dabbling in some off-kilter figures. We’ve got the Power Sound FX figures and spring-loaded throwing action at a higher price point than the basic figures (so again, why not make bigger characters?) and a series of Ooze-centric figures at the basic price point. These very Ghostbusters-esque Turtles come with an ooze canon of some sort (the ooze is, naturally, sold separately). I can see why kids would be all over these. From a collector standpoint, the sound effects figures look pretty cool, but not as good as the Battle Shell versions.
Battle Shell Figures
Large-scale Turtle figures are nothing new, but they’ve never been done this well. The Battle Shell line utilizes a gimmick that started way back in the 80’s. The shells are hinged so that their weapons can be stored inside. The big difference is that back in the day, the gimmick destroyed the look of the figure, making the turtles overly big and boxy. The new oversized Battle Shells are nearly identical to their basic counterparts. The feet are a bit more show accurate and the pupils are painted in, but these are essentially upscaled versions of the excellent basic figures (but they lose their elbows and knees). The added gimmick doesn’t affect the aesthetic of the toys at all, and that’s really impressive.
For all the cool accessories and how well they hide, these big guys suffer from basically the same problems as the little guys. Even though they painted on the eyes, the mouths are still full of white blobby teeth. Paint continues to be the sole sore spot for the entire series, and that’s a real shame. At the original retail price of $28 each, they’re a little steep, but worth looking at if you can catch a good sale. I’ve seen them recently for as low as $20 each.
This decade’s Party Wagon is a modified subway car and that’s pretty rad. The Shellraiser is a pretty hefty vehicle with tons of detailing and a sticker sheet with show-accurate designs and 80’s-era-inspired signs. There’s a sticker sheet! For as good as it is on the outside, it’s woefully lacking details on the inside. It would be cool if the seats from the show were part of the design. What it’s missing in interiors, it makes up for in gimmicks. There’s a trap door for the missile launcher on top and a very cool bit on the side door. Attach a turtle to the bar on the side (usually Mikey since he’s the shortest). Wind him up and push him into the Shellraiser. Hit the button and the door flies open and the turtle ninja kicks the bejeezus out of whatever is unlucky enough to be standing too close. It’s a really cool gimmick. It’s worth mentioning that it’s possible that the lack of detailing inside is by design. This thing is a box on wheels (it’s a subway car after all), so a kid can easily use it to store their figures and move them one place to another. At around $25-$30, this thing is an absolute steal.
Bucking current trends, there’s a pretty full offering of other vehicles, too. From the show-inspired Turtle Stealth Bike and Foot Dragon Chopper (which has an awesome action gimmick) to the as of now toy only Mutagen Ooze Drop Copter, there’s no shortage of rides for your figures at around $20 each. You can score a skateboard for Mikey for only ten bucks. To further sweeten the pot, a lot of them even come with exclusive figures. The aforementioned stealth bike comes with Raph in a helmet and driving gloves, for example. Most recently, two 2-packs of go-karts were released just like the ones on the show and yes, the carts can connect to give you the sprawling foursome effect AsSeenOnTV.
The Sewer Lair
Further bucking industry trends, there’s a playset. Not only is there a playset, it’s the biggest probably the coolest goddamned playset I’ve ever seen (and I know a thing or two about cool playsets).All the pictures in the world really don’t do the Sewer Lair justice. Until you see it in person, you really can’t get a handle on how completely massive it is. The enormous multi-level playset (it’s over 40 inches tall!) is chock full of play features and gimmicks. It’s got everything from a working periscope to false walls, falling ladders, ooze traps and even a tire swing! When’s the last time you had a tire swing!? It’s huge. There’s plenty of room for all your Turtle figures, their buddies and plenty of bad guys. I can’t even imagine getting this thing as a kid. My head would have exploded.
Unfortunately, the Sewer Lair has one semi-major design flaw. The topmost level has a cardboard backdrop to give the look of a cityscape in the distance. It’s fixed to the back of the playset with a series of plastic clips that attach at various points on the backside. The problem is that the cardboard is pretty sturdy. This means that sure, it’s going to hold up and is a bit more resistant to damage. It also means that it’s heavier than it should be. The little clips can’t really support the weight of the backdrop, so after only a few days, they started shooting off the back from the pressure. I’ve had mine since Christmas and today the cardboard is warped from its own weight and there are only a couple of those little clips left clinging on for dear life. If the clips had a little more surface area to work with, I don’t think it would have been a problem. As-is, it’s the kind of problem that you don’t really notice until you really start looking at it. From all angles, the Sewer Lair is an amazing display piece.
At well over a hundred bucks, the Sewer Lair is absolutely worth it. If that’s outside your price range, you can always snag the Pop-Up Pizza Playset. At only $25-ish, this thing gives multi level play and a really impressive pop-up feature that allows it to store pretty much anywhere. The Sewer Lair is essentially a piece of furniture. It is absolutely what you’d call “intrusive.” The Pizza Playset is anything but.
In essence, the entirety of the new line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys can be summed up by “They’re really cool, BUT…” There’s not a single thing in the line that really hits the mark of perfection. There’s a little something you’ll wish was better at every turn whether it’s better paint, articulation, detail or lighter cardboard. That doesn’t change the fact that these are really great toys. There’s plenty to love for the adult collector and especially for the kids. With two more seasons already ordered and plenty of new toys already revealed, there’s no sign of this one slowing down any time soon. With any luck, the toys will only continue to improve. The bar is definitely set pretty high.