Ninja Action TMNT

Yet another review that I've been putting off for way too long, almost six months actually. Of course, since the figures I'm going to be reviewing were actually first produced in 1993, I guess there wasn't much chance of reviewing them while they were "fresh" no matter what I did. I am speaking of course of the latest round of figures revived from the original TMNT toy line and repackaged for the current line, the Ninja Action figures. In case you were not aware, the Ninja Action figures were first released in 1993 as a stand alone series of figures. At the time, they didn't seem to sell very well. I was still finding three of the four figures for years afterwards gathering dust at various toy stores. I say three of the four because from what I have been able to gather, Ninja Action Michaelangelo had the distinction of being recalled by Playmates. A fact that seemed to be verified when he was noticeably absent from the 1996 re-release of the figures on the Ninja Power cards. Well Playmates has dusted the molds off once again in 2004 and the Ninja Action figures have become a series of deluxe figures for the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle line.

Packaging - 5/10

The Ninja Action figures come on a fairly standard, though slightly oversized blister card. The card follows the same basic design as that of the regular figures with two changes, first, unlike the basic carded turtles, the Ninja Action ones do not have their individual busts at the top of the card, instead all four grace the top as with the basic cards for secondary characters. Secondly, the 'Ninja Action' logo has been added just above the blister. The blisters themselves are quite large as a matter of necessity to accommodate the figure and all of the accessories. But they still seem slightly disproportionately small when compared to the card. The figures are cleverly display within the blister in front of their break away wall accessory with their weapons displayed both in hand and to the side of the blister. The positioning of the figures is nice since Playmates got away from the static, at attention, looking straight ahead, pose that so many action figures have. These are set up almost as mini dioramas. The sad thing is, the effect is all but lost due to the overcrowding of the blister itself with inserts and stickers. With the usual insert for the TMNT logo and stickers for the break away wall accessory, the show on Cartoon Network and one demonstrating the action feature, more than half of the front of the blister is covered up. Playmates was at least smart enough to move the sticker for the Fox Box onto the card itself, just below the Ninja Action logo. But they should have moved the CN one there as well, and possibly the sticker for the wall accessory. The result is a card that looks overly crowded in the bubble while at the same time sparse at the top. The card backs follow the same basic design as the regular carded figures as well with the TMNT logo at the top along with a small blurb about the Ninja Action figures, images of the other figures in the series, images of the figure's action feature and a profile card. The layout is fairly well executed except that once again, it seems like there is too much room on the card. The logo at the top in particular only takes up about a third of the space available with the other two thirds just being vacant. Playing with the layout of the existing elements could have improved the look quite a bit but reducing the size of the card would have been better.

Now that I've harped on the size, I should mention that I think I understand the reason for the change in card size. I suspect that Playmates was trying to accomplish two things, increase the perceived value of the figures and distinguish them from the regular assortments. I'm sure that Playmates realizes that for many people, a large toy will seem like a better value. And since the Ninja Action figures are priced at least a few dollars more than the regular figures, increasing the card size makes those two bucks more palatable. Secondly, since the layout of the packaging is so similar to the regular carded figures, Playmates had to do something to distinguish it as a separate product on the shelves and so that they could more easily take the place of the Mutating figures. Increasing the card size may have been meant to do that, but it failed. I routinely see the Ninja Action figures freely mixed in with the regular figures and vice versa.

Sculpting - 5/10

Playmates has truly left me dumbfounded with these figures. As I sat down and prepared to write this review, I was all set to lambaste them for taking the cheap way out and just reissuing sculpts from the old line with the newer head sculpts. But these aren't the same sculpts as the original Ninja Action figures! The heads are an obvious change of course. The use the head sculpts from the regular (non-fighting gear) figures. The bodies have been resculpted completely. The plastron (front part of the shells) have been narrowed to match the newer style and the scars of the original sculpts have been left off. The belts have been updated to the more modern cloth look rather than the straight belt with buckle look of the originals. The plastrons have also been redone to lose the scratches and add more texture. Playmates did retain the tails, which is very odd since it doesn't reflect the new design of the characters. The arms look as though they are the original molds. While the legs appear to be recast and slightly modified versions taken from the original toys. (Mattle did a similar thing for the relaunch of the Masters of the Universe line, making impressions of original figures and recreating the molds from there for parts where the original mold no longer existed or was unusable.) The legs are nearly identical in terms of features of the sculpts, but the details are not as prominent as on the originals. There are also a couple of obvious changes that were made as well: the addition of clearly defined toe nails and the bottoms of the feet were modified to use different non-slip pads for Donatello and Raphael and remove mold identification marks on Leonardo. Whether Playmates' efforts were worth the results is rather debatable. The new Ninja Action figures match up to the new show's style much better than the originals ever could. But given that much of the original sculpts remain; it isn't surprising that these really aren't any better than the figures Playmates put out in 1993.

Paint - 4/10

The paint work on all four figures is nicely executed including the darker wash effect applied to the arms and legs. The only area I have noticed any problems is with the tan color used for the front shells. It seems to have been purposely applied lightly to allow some of the darker green shows along the cracks, thus emulating the look of the paint wash without the additional effort. But the results are inconsistent and on my Donatello figure the paint was sloped onto the belt in a few places as well. Still, that wouldn't be enough to justify a score of 4 out of 10 normally. What really hurts their score in the paint department is the presence of a bright yellow line on each figure's shoulder. The marks are there to aid in the use of the action feature, but they are really ugly and stick out too much. Plus they are completely pointless since the arms already lock into the proper position anyway due to the design of the joints.

Articulation - 1/10

Being generous, these figures have four points of articulation; realistically, two. The arms rotate. But even that is limited since they lock into place where they are supposed to be for the action feature. The necks are technically rotating joints, but the range of motion is less than ten degrees at best. The legs also offer an additional joint but it is locked into the action feature. So in the end, you have a one trick pony of a figure in the posability department that is stuck in jus the one position. And that pose isn't that great.

Accessories - 3/10

What do you get when you mix old school goodness with modern day garbage... why the Ninja Action Turtles! Ok, that may be a bit harsh. Each figure comes with four weapons and a break away display base. The weapons are all based on the original weapons that came with most of the TMNT figures for years. Each turtle gets the vintage version of their signature weapon except Michelangelo who has the special set of chuks with nylon string to work with his action feature. Raphael then gets a pair of kama. Leo gets a pair of brass knuckles. Michelangelo gets a pair of fist daggers. And Donatello gets the second style of fist daggers with three smaller blades. For fans of the vintage figures, it is great to see the original weapons make at least a brief return. But realistically, the weapons from the new figures would have fit better with the style of these figures and have been superior accessories. And then we come to the modern day garbage part of the accessories, the break away walls. Each turtle has a unique one: a metal cell door for Raph and brick wall for Leo, a Foot Dojo for Don and the gate to a picket fence for Mike. They are bland, with only two colors. (Raph's wall doesn't even get that!) They are WAY TOO SMALL! They are scaled better for the Mini figures. The turtles are only five feet and change tall (5'2" according to the included file cards) yet the fire hydrant on Leo's wall barely comes up to his knee and the door on Raph's wall only comes up to his shoulder. Perhaps I've been spoiled by the great bases from Toy Biz's Marvel Legend figures. But these are just a poor effort that will become so much accessory bin fodder for most people.

Action Feature - Donatello & Leonardo 7/10, Michelangelo & Raphael 5/10

I've already said that these figures are basically one trick ponies. They are designed to do their one action feature and little else. So you would hope they were able to do that one thing well. But experience has shown me that flipping features in action figures rarely work as well as they are designed. Raphael and Michelangelo are great examples of this. Raphael is designed to be placed on his back, resting on his hands and a weird ninja knapsack thing that is sculpted onto his back. His legs are then brought up near his chest from where a spring loaded mechanism causes them to slowly move back toward a standing position for a second before they spring down causing the figure to leap up and hopefully land on its feet. It works, but with limited success. And little changes like having weapons in the figure's hands with radically alter the success rate. Michelangelo's action feature is similar, but with the legs being bent down rather than up to the chest. He is also designed to allow the chuks to whip out of the holsters behind each shoulder. Thanks to weights in his feet, Michelangelo works better than Raphael. Plus, Michelangelo's feature can be used while the figure is standing to just deploy the weapons with almost perfect success. While functionally superior, Michelangelo’s action feature looks fairly silly, more like he is trying to induce whiplash than perform any martial arts move. Leonardo fairs much better with his back flip feature. From a standing position, Leonardo can be bent forward and released. He then inches upward for a second before spring up and completely over, hopefully to land safely back on his feet. And thanks to the oversized katana strapped to his back, his rate of success is fairly high for a flipping feature, as high as 50%. Donatello has one of the more ambitious features I've seen, a cartwheel. The figure is bent sideways at the waist and released. After a second the figure springs to the side, into the air, turning 360 degrees before landing on his feet and hopefully not continuing on to his face. I have seen other figures with this feature, including the small Puck figure from Toy Biz's Alpha Flight series. But Donatello is one of the only ones I can think of designed to land back on his feet and performs the trick particularly well thanks to the large bo staffs permanently attached to his back. His success rate is generally well over 50%.

Value - Don & Leo 3/10, Mike & Raph 2/10

Sadly, the Ninja Action figures just don't deliver much value for your dollar. Retail on these should run you anywhere from $7 to $9 depending on the store. But at $2 to $3 more than the basic figures, the value just isn't there. Visually, the figures aren't any improvement over the regular figures. The accessories are sub par. Fans of the vintage figures may be tempted to buy these out of nostalgia, but loose versions of the originals are readily available online except for Michelangelo and they have the added distinction of being styled after the original comic book designs of the turtles. Really, the action feature is the only thing these figures have to offer. For Leo and Don, that may be enough to justify considering the figures for the sheer novelty, particularly if they could be found for a lower price. But Raph and Mike don't even deliver much in that department and are really just oddly posed statues, with bright yellow lines on their shoulders.

Happy Hunting:

The Ninja Action figures are warming pegs at a store near you now. No need to hurry. I have seen these at all the usual toy outlets: Walmart, Target, Kmart, Toys R Us, KB etc... has them listed on their site, though as of this review they are currently out of stock. Otherwise, online resources for the TMNT line have been slim, due mostly I think to the ready availability of the products at local retail outlets. So if you do feel compelled to buy these, and don't say I didn't warn you, get out and support your local big box mega-conglomerate toy store.

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