Monday, July 28, 2014

Batman and Terminator Join NECA's Line of Video Game Figures

I've noticed over the years that if toy companies want to make extra money from an action figure line without increasing production costs, all they have to do is re-release an existing figure sculpt with a different color scheme, different accessories, and a different packaging design. Case in point: NECA has been appealing to toy collectors' sense of nostalgia by re-releasing existing figure sculpts of popular movie characters from the '80s (e.g., Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Predator, etc.) but with color schemes that match their first appearances in 8-bit tie-in video games. In other words, it's high-definition action figure sculpts with low-definition color schemes, packaged in boxes that deliberately emulate the packaging design of video games for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) game console. NECA recently announced that two other characters, Batman and Terminator, will be added to this growing line of tie-in video game action figures.

The Batman sculpt is based on how he appeared in the 1989 live-action movie, and the coloring is based on the movie's NES tie-in video game. Thus, instead of a Dark Knight clad in black, we'll be getting a neon purple Batman with neon blue trim and a neon blue face (!). Unfortunately, even though NECA has also produced a figure based on the Adam West version of Batman, I doubt it will release the same figure with an 8-bit color scheme (regardless of how awesome such a figure would be).

In contrast to Batman, Terminator is getting an upgrade from 8-bit to 16-bit. According to NECA's press release, the color schemes and accessories for its upcoming Terminator action figure two pack is based on how the character appeared in RoboCop vs. Terminator, the 1993 video game for the 16-bit Super NES. Terminator did have an 8-bit game for the NES, but apparently NECA sees this as an opportunity to re-release its 8-bit RoboCop figure under the Robocop vs. Terminator title, albeit with different accessories.

NECA's 8-bit RoboCop figure.

For as shameless as NECA's re-coloring and re-release scheme is, this marks the first time that Robocop and Terminator action figures will be released as complementary pieces within the same toy line. Alien and Predator merchandise have overlapped for years since Dark Horse Comics' first published Aliens vs. Predator in 1990, but RoboCop and Terminator have largely remained separate since Frank Miller's 1992 crossover miniseries and its subsequent tie-in video game.

Friday, July 25, 2014

When Video Games and Collectible Figurines Collide: Three Suggestions for Toy-Based Video Games

Disney Infinity's Marvel figurines.

Entertainment companies love durable franchises, because durable franchises mean name recognition and name recognition means merchandising opportunities. Two frequent merchandising opportunities for franchises are toys and video games, so it only makes sense that someone would eventually find a way to combine the two into a single package. From what I can tell, Activision accomplished the first major hit in the area of video game and toy collection combos with Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure, a game that was the second reboot of the Spyro the Dragon video game series.

Since Skylanders, Disney launched a series of Disney Infinity games, games where players buy collectible toy figurines and discs that represent vehicles and play sets. The figurines and discs plug into the game in a way that allows the game to expand and be modified according to the player's preferences, opening up new characters, abilities, locations and missions. The initial Disney Infinity game involved characters, vehicles and locations from Disney and Pixar movies and TV shows, and the second game in the series will include characters, vehicles and locations from Marvel Comics. Taking a cue from Activision and Disney, Nintendo has been promoting its new line of Amiibo figurines--figurines of characters from popular Nintendo games, such as Super Mario Brothers and Metroid--that can be plugged into a selection of upcoming Nintendo titles for added entertainment value.

I think that combining toys with modular video game platforms is a great idea. From what I've heard from various sources, toy sales for the standard toy demographic (namely, the pre-adolescent crowd) have been flagging while video game sales for the same demographic have been soaring, so it only stands to reason that companies would use one form of merchandise to boost the sales of another. If this kind of toy collecting-based video gaming catches on, then there are three types of characters and franchises I would love to see in their own version of Disney Infinity or Amiibo figurines. Read on ....

Monday, July 21, 2014

Bust Brick-Made Bad Guys in Lego City Undercover

Traveller's Tales has been on a roll with Lego video games for a long time and with upcoming releases such as Lego Batman 3, there seems to be no end in sight. Still, I think that the best Lego game I've played to date has also been the one with a limited release: Lego City Undercover.

Lego City Undercover was released as an exclusive for Nintendo's Wii U, designed with the intent of demonstrating what the Wii U GamePad can do to enhance a video game experience. While that alone is no small feat (Undercover succeeds at this task in spades), the other unique treat that the game has to offer is its expansive open world. Lego Batman 2 and Lego Marvel Superheroes both featured open worlds as well, but the one in Undercover is gigantic, diverse in environment types and completely devoted to Lego's own unique style of play. Read on for my complete review.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Raw Human Meat is the Main Course in Tokyo Ghoul Anime Series

Unlike vampires, werewolves and mummies, ghouls don't get much attention in the horror genre. It's probably because of George Romero, who successfully took the ghouls' most distinguishing characteristic--the insatiable hunger for human meat--and attached it to zombies in the original Night of the Living Dead; hence, zombies have been hogging the ghouls’ spotlight ever since. One place where zombies won't be showing up is in Tokyo Ghoul, an anime series that is currently being distributed in the U.S. with subtitles by Funimation.

Tokyo Ghoul, which is based on a manga series of the same name by Sui Ishida, takes place in a fictitious version of Tokyo where ghoul attacks are common and law enforcement agencies are aware of the ghouls' existence. The ghouls appear human, but their appearance changes when they're about to attack; their eyes turn black and their pupils glow red, and they also sprout spectral tentacles from their torsos. (Think Doctor Octopus with glowing, translucent tentacles instead of metal, cybernetic ones.) These ghouls are also very strong, difficult to kill, and are ready and willing to attack people and other ghouls alike.

The series tells the story of Ken Kaneki, a freshman college student who becomes the target of a ghoul attack in the first episode. However, the attack goes sideways and in the one of the most egregious examples of medical malpractice in anime history, Kaneki winds up receiving the ghoul's organs after he's rushed to the hospital. While he recovers, he notices that foods he once enjoyed have since become unappetizing and completely inedible, while the people who surround him are appearing increasingly delectable ....

I've only seen the first three episodes so far, so I can't say how good the series is as a whole; nevertheless, Tokyo Ghoul has such an intriguing and morbid premise that I'm curious to see where it goes next. It seems to be shaping up to the kind of story where the main character has to cope with his new status as a monster and how he can go about maintaining his normal life while dealing with his unrelenting desire to devour the nearest person. It also doesn't help that Kaneki is taunted by visions of Rize, the ghoul who attacked him and unwittingly became his organ donor. The visions add a psychological dimension to Kaneki's horrific situation, calling into question his sanity as his body changes to accommodate a gruesome new dietary need.

You can watch episodes of Tokyo Ghoul either on YouTube or by subscribing to the Funimation channel. I watch them on YouTube and I've noticed that some of the gorier scenes are darkened out or discolored, but I don't know if subscribing to the Funimation channel will get you the unedited version of Tokyo Ghoul or not.

Monday, July 14, 2014

We're Gonna Need a Bigger Christmas Tree for Hallmark's Jaws Keepsake Ornament

Hallmark normally does a good job at serving the holiday season needs of geeks by offering high-quality Christmas tree ornaments that depict characters, vehicles and scenes from franchises such as Star Trek and Star Wars, as well as DC and Marvel Comics. This year's selection of ornaments is going to be a great one for me, because Hallmark is releasing ornaments based on two of my all-time favorite creature features: Alien and Jaws.

The Alien ornament won't arrive in Hallmark stores until October, but the Jaws ornament was recently released as part of the summer kickoff for this year's Keepsake Ornament line. I picked up my Jaws ornament last weekend and it's a beauty, a worthy addition to any movie monster fan's Christmas tree. Read on for more details and pictures of this super cool ornament.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Great Moments in Remote Control Toy History: Bandai’s RC Mechagodzilla

When a company makes a remote control (RC) toy based on a character or vehicle from a popular franchise, the toy should (1) be a fun and functional RC toy and (2) it should look and behave like the character or vehicle after which it is modeled. For as modest as these requirements sound, the majority of licensed RC toys usually falter in living up to one or both of these requirements. For example, even though the Star Wars franchise has released some impressive RC toys through Hasbro in recent years, the RC Star Wars toys that were released by Kenner back in the '70s and '80s were very awkward and clumsy in both appearance and performance. Thankfully, Bandai understood the elements of a great licensed RC toy and provided one of the best to Godzilla and kaiju fans back in 2008: the RC Mechagodzilla.

Bandai’s RC Mechagodzilla was 20 inches tall and based on how the character appeared in 1974 during his big screen debut in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. It made roaring and laser beam sounds; various parts of its head, hands, knees and feet would light up; and its torso and arms could be operated to “attack” other toys. Its head would even spin around and around to imitate the force field generator effect. Sure, the toy doesn't have a flying mode and it doesn't really "walk" (it actually waddles along on its wheeled feet and uses its tail for support), but Bandai went to great lengths to ensure that the RC toy behaved like its campy cinematic counterpart.

Unfortunately, such an impressive collectible doesn’t come cheaply. When it was first released six years ago, it cost over $800 in American money; since it has been discontinued, the price of the RC Mechagodzilla has inevitably skyrocketed to kaiju-worthy heights. Check out the Japanese commercial in the video window below to see this fantastic RC toy in action.

Monday, July 7, 2014

More Pacific Rim is Coming Soon, and Robotech Academy Launches Kickstarter Campaign

NECA's Pacific Rim action figures.

I love stories that involve giant robots, especially the ones where humans are piloting the gargantuan machines. Unfortunately, the only giant robot franchises that appear to do well in the U.S. are ones that are imported (either in parts or whole) from Japan, franchises such as Transformers, Voltron, and Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Thus, if someone wanted to make a giant robot franchise succeed without any direct connections to Japan, how would one do it? Thanks to Guillermo del Toro, we'll soon find out.

In a recent interview with Wall Street Journal, del Toro confirmed that Pacific Rim 2 is scheduled for release in April 2017. Between now and then, del Toro aims to do much more than just a movie sequel for his big battle 'bots epic--he'd also like to do an animated series and a comic book series. According to del Toro:

"We are talking about all the possibilities in terms of networks. We're formulating ideas that are, again, interesting and not the usual route, but the series tackles the stories that happened to pilots working in the Shatterdome, but also cadets learning how to become pilots. All of this happens prior to the first movie, and it gives you a little more depth into the background of certain characters that will appear in the second movie. So it's really expanding the material. I was incredibly happy with the comic book series that came about from a graphic novel called "Tales From Year Zero," and we are continuing the tales for the next three years. So by the time the second movie comes out, you will have probably one year of the animation airing, and you will have three years of the comic book series ongoing, so we are trying for all these things to be canon, to be in the same universe, to not wing anything, so that if anyone ... a lot of kids, for example, have discovered "Pacific Rim" through the toys. They come in through the toys, and then they watch the movie, and then they learn this, they learn that through the movie or the comic book series, so we're trying to make it canon so we can expand the universe. And by the time we come into the second movie, you have a good feel for the world, and we can dedicate ourselves to character and ideas and spectacle."

This is exciting to hear from del Toro, who clearly understands the concept of "world building" in the context of establishing a franchise. When I watched Pacific Rim, it felt like it was one of del Toro's passion projects, something he made because he really, really wanted to make it. If he can keep the excitement going throughout future Pacific Rim projects, giant robot fans everywhere will be in for a spectacular treat.

In another corner of the giant robot multiverse, Harmony Gold has started a Kickstarter campaign for Robotech Academy, a sequel series to the 1985 anime series Robotech that was an American mash-up of three different Japanese series: Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Century Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada. According to the official Robotech Academy Kickstarter page:

"Carl Macek, the (late) producer of Robotech, was recently working with Harmony Gold on Robotech Academy. This new series set in the Robotech universe follows several new cadets in their adventures around the universe. ... The Robotech Academy Kickstarter will allow us to gauge how much of a new Robotech series we could actually produce based on Carl's original premise. We are setting our initial goal at $500,000 which will allow us to create an entire 24 minute pilot episode. This will help us cover character design, mecha design, 3D modeling, 3D animation, 2D animation, screenwriting, sound engineering, music composition, casting, voice acting and recording. This will also afford us a foundation on which to build future episodes."

I have many fond memories of Robotech, and I hope this project succeeds in spite of the franchise's long, agonizing history of failed and incomplete sequels and spin-offs. Yet what is particularly baffling is that unlike del Toro's approach to Pacific Rim, where he plans on using different mediums to build momentum and fan interest for his franchise, Robotech Academy only has a Kickstarter campaign to its name and nothing else. Dynamite Entertainment currently publishes a Robotech comic book series, but it is currently in the middle of the Voltron/Robotech crossover story arc that won't end until August--after the Robotech Academy Kickstarter campaign ends.

If Harmony Gold had played its cards right, it would've already used the Dynamite Entertainment comics to introduce Robotech Academy ideas, locations and characters to the fan base and promote investment in this new project. It also should have mentioned somewhere (either on the Kickstarter page, the official Robotech website, or somewhere else) if there are any connections between Academy and Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles, a sequel movie from 2006. Without more active support from Harmony Gold, it's likely that Robotech Academy will wind up lost in space like so many other Robotech projects.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Coming Soon: NECA's Alien Queen and Super7's Alien Egg Chamber Exclusive

Check this out, Alien fans:

NECA is taking pre-orders for their long-awaited Alien Queen deluxe action figure. Built to scale with NECA's other 7-inch Alien action figures, the Alien Queen measures 15 inches in height and 30 inches in length and features 30 points of articulation. This deluxe figure also includes a display stand and two different interchangeable inner mouths.

Photo courtesy of Cool Toy Review.

As part of its ongoing retro toy line based on Kenner's original designs for merchandise based on Alien, Super7 is releasing the Alien Egg Chamber playset as an exclusive for this year’s San Diego Comic Con. Not much is known yet about the playset's features, other than that it is made to scale with Super7's 3 and ¾ inch Alien action figures. Given its dimensions, the Alien Egg Chamber playset would be the ideal complementary piece for the Alien Queen Hive playset, which was released in 1994 as part of Kenner’s Aliens toy line.

Kenner's Alien Queen Hive playset, complete with oozing ovipositor.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Transformers: Remembering Diaclone and Microman Micro Changers

Ho-hum ... another summer blockbuster season, another mediocre Michael Bay Transformer movie making dumpster loads of money at the box office.

I understand what the Transformer movies are supposed to do: Like the cartoons and comic books, they're intended to help sell Hasbro's never-ending line of Transformer toys. Yet when I look at the movie's robot designs, they don't look like they'd be very fun as toys. Sure, all the moving parts and multi-layered armor make for flashy CGI effects, but the toys that are based on these designs look extremely awkward and clunky in comparison.

Personally, I think that it's best to leave robot toys to the people who started it all: the Japanese designers at Takara who created the robot toys for the Diaclone and the Microman Micro Changers toy lines, toys that would later be rebranded and sold as Transformers in the U.S. Yes, Hasbro's repackaging job (along with the help of writers from Marvel Comics) was what eventually catapulted these toys to international stardom, but I think that Hasbro's management of the line lacks the wondrous creativity and fun that Takara originally put into its products. Read on for a look back at the toys that made the Transformers possible.