Hot Toys – Star-Lord – Guardians of the Galaxy

Who?

Aloha! It’s a been a little bit since our last review. Life has been crazy this past few months with a move and a baby on the way, as well as taking my first official steps into toy design! All good things of course, but sadly they’ve taken a lot of my time and attention away from kicking out the quality reviews you guys and gals have come to expect from RtR.

Believe it or not, I’ve actually written about 10 different, almost complete reviews in my spare time over the past couple months. Toys from 3A, Hot Toys, Acid Rain and a few others have all been met with my critical eye and slathered with my remarks. I just haven’t had time to take the photos/shoot the videos and publish the darn things.

With life showing zero signs of slowing down, I decided I needed to bite the bullet and do whatever it took to find the time to get a new review published! I was so excited to finally have Hot Toys Star-Lord pop up on my front porch last week, I figured if there’s ever a good excuse to stay up into the wee hours just so I can break the wheel, this is it! Continue reading

*Review* 3A’s Halo Commander Carter

INTRO

Halo.

You’ve spent a stupid amount of hours playing it.. your friends have kicked your butt countless times in it.. your girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife/mother/father have rolled their eyes while you spent long evenings shooting at things in it.. even your weird red-headed neighbor has probably heard of it. I guarantee their somehow even weirder kids have. I’d say, it’s pretty safe to assume that if you or someone you know has picked up a video game controller in the last decade, you’ve played or at the very least heard of the epic video game series, Halo.

It started with Halo: Combat Evolved way back in 2001 (am I alone in thinking that wasn’t that long ago? Also, where did these crow’s feet come from?) by the very talented game devs, Bungie. Since then, the Halo franchise has become a multi-billion (with a “b”) dollar juggernaut for Microsoft Studios.

I have really fond memories of playing Halo: Combat Evolved on my ugly tan desktop with its massive CRT and beefy BFG Video card. At the time, I didn’t care much for single player games, but I was a multiplayer fiend and that’s what really hooked me! Since then, I’ve picked up each and every Halo game that slips down the chute, despite opinions of fluctuating creativity and quality. Microsoft has a knack for timing Halo releases via some intergalactic series of happenstance, which somehow seems to coincide with the exact moment I start to feel a depressing lull in my gaming world. I take comfort in two things when it comes to Halo games. I know that they’ll always be pretty to look at, and I know that, regardless of how the single player story turns out, I’ll be darn sure to wring my money’s worth out of the multiplayer. Continue reading

*Review* NECA Team Fortress 2 – Demoman and Pyro

INTRO

Ah.. sweet, sweet Team Fortress 2. It’s amazing how the vitality of this game has remained so high for so long since it’s release in ’07. With it’s Pixar-styled good looks, a touch of semi-graphic violence and the fantastic personalities of the playable classes, it’s like super glue disguised as magnets for FPS fans. Myself included. Valve did a bang up job releasing a plethora of introduction  trailers for each class that endeared them even more to current players and skyrocketed the popularity of the title to those who hadn’t yet dipped their toes in.

I’ve wanted someone, somewhere to make action figures of them since day one. The character designs are perfect for it. Whoever it was couldn’t skimp though. These couldn’t be tossed together for mass consumption.  Whoever tackled them would have to handle it just right to capture the true essence of each character. It couldn’t be some homage or “you get the idea” kind of deal. They had to be spot-on.

Well, look what we have here. Oh NECA, you sly fox you.

I got a chance to preview a few of their upcoming figures at SDCC last year and I couldn’t have been more excited for the first two releases, Pyro and Demoman, to hit my doorstep!

TF2 Heavy from SDCC 2012

PACKAGING

Despite Pyro selling out so quickly.. most likely before he was ever able to properly settle in at your local retail chain or toy shop, both he and Demoman share a fairly standard, retail-esque package scheme. A Bubble prison on a card with some bright artwork and fun stuff to read on the back. Readers may know of my preference for collector friendly packaging over bubble/card action.. not because I don’t like the way it looks.. but because it makes me destroy something I’d rather keep intact.

Anyway, it’s nice looking and you’ll know what to expect. The character renders on the front should give you a pretty good idea of how well NECA matched the character’s look.

Check out our unboxing vid right ‘chere!

WHAT’S INCLUDED

Pyro comes with a cool axe and of course, his massive flamethrower.

Demoman sports a set of extra hands, one with booze perma-fixed to his grip. He also comes with his two default guns, the grenade and a sticky grenade launchers.

Both come packed with an exclusive game code for unlocking special goodies in Team Fortress 2. I haven’t had a chance to try them yet, but if you do a quick google search you can probably find out what they do. (hint.. hint.. it’s hats)

THE BREAKDOWN

At first blush, amaze-balls. These guys look EXACTLY like their video game dopplegangers. NECA knocked the sculpts out of the park and truly captured everything, character-wise, I love about these TF2 characters.

The sharp, flat edged details give both these guys a truly animated look that I’ll say again, is ripped right from your computer screen. I wouldn’t be surprised if Valve provided NECA with the original 3D model assets to make this happen. They’re that perfect.

The paint job on each is also above reproach.. at least at first. Both have colorful accents that mirror that of their cell shaded, computerized brothers. Pryo gets the higher marks between the two as he arrived practically blemish free. I love how vibrant and perfectly painted the colors and decals on him turned out. The yellow/orange paint accents are particularly nice.

Demoman looked sharp as well.. at first. It only took a few seconds to see he had all sorts of paint problems straight away. There’s a thumb sized paint smudge on his belt that is an entirely different shade of grey than the surrounding area. It stands out like a sore.. well you know where I’m going. He also had several paint chips and blemishes as if someone at NECA couldn’t resist playing with him before packing up and sending him my way. It’s a shame for me, but you may not experience the same kind of issues with yours.

The accessories both guys come with look fantastic. They share the same spot-on accuracy for their in-game counterparts as the characters do themselves. There was some truly obvious care put into both the sculpt and paint app for everything here. Whatever science NECA’s dropping to make the colors look so.. cartoon-like.. they need to continue!

I love that Demo came with a hand sculpted with his signature bottle o’ booze. It’s silly and fun to pose him with it while an errant grenade launcher flops about carelessly in his other hand. It actually works out best to have his one hand holding the booze as getting him to hold either gun with two hands at once is quite a chore.

While the axe is cool on Pryo, I wasn’t able to get him to hold it with any real conviction. It seems his hands were more-or-less sculpted to support the flame thrower. It’s kinda of a shame, but doesn’t ruin the toy for me.. particularly since the flame thrower is so awesome looking!  While it wouldn’t be game accurate at all, I wish there was a place to store the axe on him when it’s not in his hand just to keep it around. I sorta wedged it in a loop on his back. Whatever, works.

At this point, I’m still really happy with these two. Despite Demo’s preopened paint problems, they still look fantastic.

Things started to stray a bit when it came time to pose them. Maybe I’m just not used to playing with figures that don’t share a similar articulation system so many toys other toys in this catagory adopt . Hot Toys, ThreeA, Play Arts Kai, Marvel Legends, they all have a general, however-many-points, articulated body system they’ve dumped tons of R&D and $$ into to support a wide range of character types. It hearkens back to the days of 80’s GI Joe figures which make them really easy to pick up and pose around as they bend and turn exactly as you’d expect.

This is not the case for this first pair from Team Red.

The short version of it is this, NECA obviously had to sacrifice articulation for sculpt preservation. I can’t fault that gameplan really, but for some reason they still managed to stuff a bunch of joints in each figure.. it’s just most of them don’t  seem to do a whole lot. At the end of the day, I was left wondering why they even bothered.

The long version is this..

Despite having two handed weapons, it’s really tough to get Demoman to hold his weapons as he should. Each launcher has two grips, but in order for him to hold them, you’ll have to push his arms beyond the limits of where they’re meant to go. Pyro can really only hold his flamethrower in one default position, and even then, it’s not that tight a grip. Demoman definitely has more range dexterity than Pyro, particularly in the legs and elbows. Pyro has a ball joint at his elbow, but the overlapping sculpt of the glove makes it completely useless/borderline pointless. Both bend at the waist (Pyro more than Demo) in a few different ways, which is nice, as it does add a little play to the figures.

Demoman’s legs and feet have to be the most frustrating I’ve run across in all my days of reviewing toys. They’re definitely heavily articulated which allows for a lot of leg positions, much more so than Pyro’s.. but they’re accurate to the game which means they’re also very thin. Demo is very top heavy.. which means he topples CRAZY easy. So while there’s a lot of moving bits of articulation in his legs, it seems to me that less would have been more in this case. It’s a little like trying to build a treehouse on top a sapling and then chipping chunks out of its base. The excessive joints really don’t help balance as much as they weaken how steadily he’ll stay standing once you finally do get him balanced.

If NECA had left out, at LEAST the mid food joint, that’d given him some extra stability. Instead, his upper body weight will eventually overpower the friction somewhere in the chain and he’ll fall flat on his face/butt.

It’s soft plastic, so it’ll just slowly bend until it gives in under his own weight. I watched this happen in what seemed like slow motion on several occasions.

Below is how Demoman chilled for 90% of the photoshoot. Drunk already.

At least Pyro was easy to balance. He’s a bit chunkier and less flexible than Demo is, but he stays in place pretty well. I think he only fell once throughout the entire photoshoot.  That being said, you’ll get maybe three good poses out of Pyro before you decided ones a keeper and just leave him in it.

His neck joint is a bit of mystery to me. It flips up and down and then swivels at a sharp angle. This can give him the the sort of head motion that a dog makes when it hears a funny noise.

“Ruh-Roh.”

Check out the video below to watch a grown man fiddle about with these two fine fellow’s wiggly parts.

THE FINAL WORD

I walked away from posing these two pretty frustrated. Basically all it resulted in was some more paint rubbing off. Sure, I managed to squeeze out a few poses here and there, but you should’ve seen all the ones I wanted to do, but couldn’t! Anything really dynamic I attempted always ended with Demoman getting friendly with the floor.

Believe me, I get it. NECA wanted to stay true to the look of characters, which is something I really wanted them to do. This meant sacrificing articulation in light of sculpt integrity. OK, fine.. but when you have joints in place that are by all accounts useless or work against stability, it’s time to go back to the drawing board for a minute. If these figures are going to be that limited articulation-wise anyway, then I say let them be limited. Simplify them and get rid of some of those excess joints so at the very least they can stand up soundly. Figure out what they NEED to do and ensure they can do it. If a character has pistol, make sure he can hold it firmly. If it’s a machine gun, make sure he can reach the grip and the stock with both hands. At the very least, make sure they can stand up on their own! If they’re too top heavy due to the their design, then provide a cool looking base for them to stand on. Heck, sell them separately (and cheaply)! Problem solved.

I didn’t find posing and reposing Demo or Pyro all that enjoyable. There’s just not a lot of play here.

However…

I still REALLY like these guys and would HIGHLY recommend you buy them. WHA-AT?

Am I crazy? Mayhaps.

Take away the fact that these are intended to be articulated toys and struggle to be so and you’re still left with some amazing looking figures. I plan to pose them in some stable, neutral pose on their own little shelf so there will be plenty of room for the other Team Fortress figures to join the ranks. Case in point, they look great. NECA knows it’s stuff and have successfully ripped their likeness from your GPU. I applaud them for that. Go in with the idea that these guys are for display and not something your going to mess around with on your desk and you’ll have a better experience with them.

Sure, I certainly wish these guys came out sporting either better or maybe simplified articulation, but they’re too good looking to ignore. If I can manage to get Demoman standing safely next to Pyro on the shelf, along with the rest of the crew, it’s going to be an amazing display.

I honestly can’t wait to collect the entirety of Team Red whenever NECA finally releases them…

and here’s hoping they’ll consider tossing in a figure stand or two when they do.

PROS:

  • These guys look EXACTLY like their in-game counterparts. A fantastic job by NECA that’ll bring a smile to your face.
  • The paint application was nigh perfect on Pyro and both share the great cell-shaded look straight from the game
  • Fun, game-accurate accessories (Pyro’s flamethrower is the bomb!)
  • Despite their low price, you feel like you’re getting a high quality product

CONS:

  • Articulation is poor, almost to the point of frustration. It’s either too much or too little.
  • Both are pretty top heavy, though Demoman takes the cake and is a complete pain to balance. NECA should have provided some TF2 figure stands with these guys

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*First Look* Wondercon Exclusive Star Wars Shock Trooper Two Pack ArtFx+ Statue by Kotobukiya

INTRO

Can statues be toys? I’ve been asking myself that question since my early days of collecting, particularly when McFarlane toys started to systematically eliminate articulation with each new update of their Spawn figure series. The line blurred further as I began to delve into collecting comic book-based statues to crowd my office with. They’re awesome to look at but you can’t play with or pose them.

As an adult collector, I still enjoy posing and “playing” with my toys, although certainly on a different level (I’d like to think) than when I was 10. As a 3D character artist, I really appreciate and enjoy looking at high quality sculpted characters, searching for that hidden detail that sets the whole piece off. So what do you get when you combine a little bit of toy and a little bit of statue?  I think you’d get something along the lines of what ARTFX and Kotobukiya have put together with their ARTFX+ Statue series.

Today I’m excited to have the opportunity to review the 2012 Wondercon Exclusive Star Wars Shock Trooper Two Pack. These 1/10th scale figures are limited to only 1000 pieces and now available for preorder ONLY through Action Figure Express.

PACKAGING

The Shock Troopers are packed up in a classic black-dominated box befitting the Empire. A small “limited edition” sticker on the front informs you that you’ve just gotten something only available in finite figures.”Star Wars” embellishes several of the sides so there’s little question what you’re getting into. The front and back features the Shock Troopers themselves posed up in a few of their available configurations. On the back, a few paragraphs give you a little back story on these elite security soldiers and fills you in on some of the things that make ARTFX+ figures unique.

WHAT’S INCLUDED

Once you crack her open, you’ll find all your goodies cased in a plastic prison tray. It’s a pretty daunting amount of individual odds and ends. You have your two base Shock Trooper bodies, ten extra arms, four extra legs, two DC-15S carbines, two DC-15A blaster rifles and two magnetic bases. Each one is individually packed in little plastic sleeves. You could probably watch the entire Star Wars collection including the 1978 Holiday Special (slight exaggeration) by the time you got them all unwrapped, but the pile of stuff you have left over once you do should get you pretty excited to start piecing together what kind of options you have in front of you.

THE BREAKDOWN

I really didn’t know what to expect when I started to rummage around with this set. I’ve been a fan of Kotobukiya’s Bishoujo line for awhile now as well as a (almost-goes-without-saying-because-I’m-an-adult-toy-collector-running-a-website-about-toys) huge fan of Star Wars. I’ve had countless Star Wars toys and Koto’s Bishoujo statues are of course pvc plastic statues. I’ve never had a difficult time telling them apart. But I’ve never had a statue that’s not quite a toy but not quite not-a-toy either. The only thing I knew to do was to jump right in.

There’s a little instruction paper included with the set that shows the default stance for the troopers. It details how the arms for that stance have hands that swivel at the wrist to help you better get the pose just right. At the bottom of the page it also gives you a handful of reference poses to point you in the right direction with the other pieces. After that, you’re pretty much on your own. Like so often is the case, I skipped the directions my first go and just got right into mixing and matching pieces to see for myself what would and would not work.

First, let me just say that I really like the magnetic bases. It’s such a simple but great idea that makes moving these guys around into various positions so much easier. No worries for balancing them or one toppling over once you get them arranged like you want. The base will hold them nice and secure.

How the pieces fit together is pretty self explanatory. Peg goes into hole. You can’t jam a left arm into a right’s spot just as you can’t have your Trooper sporting legs for arms. The joints fit nice and snug with very little wiggle room for error. I found everything to be fitted very exact with hands meeting the rifles soundly as expected.

Aside from letting you switch out different limbs, each Shock Trooper’s head is on a ball joint and can be rotated side to side/front to back. Coupled with a twist joint at their waist, this adds further flexibility to your setup.

One thing you’ll notice if you start blindly placing pieces as I did, is that not all configurations are created equal. While I found one or two variances that looked alright to me, you pretty much can’t stray too far from the options shown in the instruction paper. This isn’t a bad thing at all as the poses given are dynamic and “tell a story”, it’s simply the intent of the design. But if you went in blind, it’ll take you a few minutes to sort it out. Lesson learned: Read instructions.

So after playing with these guys for about an hour, I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on what arrangement I think looks best and a pretty solid grasp on ARTFX’s interchangeable limbs system. But what about everything else?  Are these guys well made? Are they worth the cost of admission? Are they cool?

I was pleasantly surprised with the nice solid feel of these figures. I’d compare them to high-end models minus having to worry about glueing your fingers together or delicate pieces snapping off. The sculpt itself is clean and accurate to the character design. Details like the wrinkles in the cloth under their armor add a few nice subtle touches.

Individually sculpted, yet already attached, pieces for the elbow/knee pads, hand/shoulder guards and belts gives them a convincing layered look.

The paint application, being mostly red and black accents on white plastic is pretty straight forward. These guys must have just had their armor dry cleaned or never seen a second of battle because there isn’t a speck of dirt or grime on either of them. Because of their incredibly clean look, there really isn’t a ton to discuss except to say that what’s here is done well. The bold red is a good deal glossier than the white, particularly in the boots. Whether this was by design or simply the result of paint vs plastic, it definitely adds to the overall look.

FINAL WORD

I’m a child of the 80’s and thus have always been a much bigger fan of the original Star Wars trilogy than anything related to the franchise that’s come along since. But I admit, prequel or otherwise, I really like these guys. I can imagine how great they’d look with a few other Clone Troopers and maybe a Jedi or three. Once I got my head away from the “toys or not toys” thought bubble, I started to really enjoy the simplicity and exactness of their design.

I’m happy with the way I’ve set my little crew up. I will probably leave them that way for a couple of months, after which I’ll swap a few things out and be good to go for another few. ARTFX+ Statues are all about giving you a bunch of fun options and basically letting you squeeze a little play and interaction out of what would otherwise be a couple of static figures.

If you fancy yourself a Star Wars fan, whether or not you’ve ever experienced Kotobukiya/ARTFX+ Statues, I highly recommend giving this Limited Edition Shock Trooper 2-pack a look. Though I must caution that if you pick it up, you might want to clean some space off  your shelf because I highly doubt it’ll be your last.

I can see a slippery slope a mile away. You’ve been warned.

A big thanks to Kotobukiya for providing us with this set to preview. 

Make sure to hit up Kotobukiya’s Facebook page to stay updated on all their upcoming releases! If you’re interested in preordering this exclusive set, head on over to Action Figure Express and they’ll take care of that for you lickity split!

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Thanks for reading!

GALLERY