The Dream of the ’90s Arcade is Alive With NECA’s SDCC Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Set [Review]
The NECA Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade Set was arguably one of the most anticipated and sought-after San Diego Comic-Con exclusives this year. Fans have been after more NECA TMNT figures ever since the company delivered its Mirage-inspired foursome way back when. The rest of the planned line, which consisted of Shredder and the Foot Clan, never saw the light of day --- though those "lost" figures were retooled and repainted to fit into the Foot Clan companion set to this Turtles collection at SDCC.
The Turtles themselves got all-new sculpts, paint apps and accessories that more closely resemble the animated characters on which the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game were based. The wait has been long for some truly quality TMNT figures, and even though these are a very specific set of ninjas, they're damn brilliant.
These days, there are very few aspects of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' long history that haven't been explored in collectible form. To that point, even one of the Turtles' creators is working to craft an entirely new line of figures with updated designs on the reptilian heroes. But leave it to NECA to cover one aspect of the sewer-dwelling mutants that's been largely ignored in figure form, despite being one of the most recognizable and revered: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game.
Nary a bowling alley in the country went without one of the TMNT arcade machines in 1990, and it's just the kind of iconic game that fits within NECA's Classic Video Game Appearance series. For the past few years, NECA has been reworking and retooling some of its more popular figures with paint apps that recall their 8- and 16-bit gaming incarnations. There have even been a few specially designed figures developed specifically for the VGA line, such as the Turtles here, which give fans and collectors a new perspective on their childhood.
Like many of the VGA figures, it all starts with the packaging, which calls back to Konami's original four-player arcade machine. The exterior apes the cabinet's art, with a mix of live actors and graphic imagery. It's perfectly cheesy, and speaks to a bygone era of design. New arcade cabinet's are few and far between these days, and lack the creativity of the glory days of the arcade... which were many, many years ago. Beyond that exterior, the front of the package flips open to reveal the Turtles displayed along with the New York City streets from the game itself. Cleverly though, the package also shows the four-player tabletop, with each Turtle appropriately lined up with his original placement on the game.
But nice as it is, the packaging only gets you so far. It's what's inside that really counts. Once again, NECA does not disappoint.
From the neck down, all four figures are virtually indistinguishable save for the lettered belt buckle illuminating the difference between the Turtles. Leonardo and Donatello do have different belts to accommodate their weapons, but beyond that and the color of the knee pads, wrist bands and elbow pads, NECA's Turtles are the same. That's not a bad thing, primarily because the sculpts and articulation are so strong, but also because they're all based on the same sprite design from the arcade game. All the Turtles looked identical save for variations in their color schemes, and NECA captures all of those elements wonderfully.
Since the VGA line launched, artists John Wardell and Geoffrey Trapp have been honing NECA's pixelated paint apps to perfection. Though the TMNT figures aren't as intricately detailed as some VGA releases, there's still just as much challenge to capture the look and feel of an old arcade game with physical figures without making them blocky statues. The specific details of shading the right pixels in the right spots to give the impression of depth on a 2D plane come together fantastically here. In addition to making the Turtles look that much more like Konami's original game, the styling also gives them a different look than almost anything else you're likely to have on display. They're immediately draw your eye thanks to the paints.
Where the bodies and palettes are near identical, each of the Turtles does get a personalized head sculpt. Donatello plays it straight with a tight-lipped expression; Leonardo has a double grimace of leadership; and Michelangelo and Raphael each get a half-grimace on opposite sides. All of the sculpts (done by Trevor Zammit) work well together even though there aren't many differences between each individual character. There's just enough personality in each Turtle to set him apart from one of his brothers, and again, it all still falls in line with the video game aesthetic. Copy, paste, change a few colors, and you've got yourself a brand new character model.
Where you start to get some true variance in the figures is in the accessorization. Along with their trademark weapons of choice, the Turtles each come with two alternate posing hands (eight extra hands in total). Though each pair is packaged alongside a given Turtle as a way of indicating which hands go with which Turtle, those are more suggestions than hard facts. Each hand can be swapped out with any of the four figures, giving you a range of options in posing beyond having them stand with their weapons at the ready. Though I suppose Raphael's secondary hands are mostly only valuable to him, as they allow you to pose his hands in a different grip for the sais that doesn't quite translate to the other Turtles.
Michelangelo actually makes out the best of the bunch, as he comes with a special attachment for his nunchuku to make it look like they're swinging wildly in the air. It invokes the animation from the game, and is easy enough to swap out with the more standard chained portion. Something like that would have been nice to have for all four of the figures, but not every Turtle had a weapon animation as simple to replicate in figure form. At least they all get to share part of the Pizza Power-up included. The in-game energy boost is the perfect small addition to the set, as it works with all the figures and is a great wink and nod to people who plunked down dozens of quarters playing the original game.
It's only fitting that after launching the VGA line at San Diego Comic-Con in 2013 with the smash hit Friday the 13th Jason that NECA would again find that same magic with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This is by far one of the best SDCC exclusives in recent memory, and might qualify as NECA's greatest since it started hosting figures at the event. The sculpts are terrific, the paint apps are outstanding, and the whole package comes together to deliver a unique Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles set that's virtually unrivaled by any other company.
The NECA Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade Set was available exclusively at San Diego Comic-Con. This set was purchased for review.