Contra: Bill Rizer and Lance Bean by NECA

If you came of age in the 8-bit video game era than you already know what run-and-gun platforming perfection looks like. If you didn’t, than here’s a visual aid…

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That’s right, motherf’cking Contra on the Nintendo Entertainment System! It rocked hard than and it still does. It remains one of my go to games and I still play it frequently because the music is fantastic, the action is frantic, and it brings me back to simpler times when all you had to worry about was a jump button, a fire button, and not getting hit. Of course, that was easier said than done. I was already 16 when this cartridge blazed its way onto the NES. By then, I had a solid eight years of video gaming under my belt and I still had never played anything quite like it. It was tough as nails and the alternating perspective was a nifty trick for its time. This game was undoubtedly the shit, but we’re here to talk about toys, not video games, so let’s check this out…

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You’re looking at the packaging for Private Bill Rizer and Lance Bean in glorious action figure form, lovingly crafted by the fine folks at NECA toys. And let’s not forget Konami, who apparently licensed it out and then fought them every step of the way. They were so uncooperative and difficult to work with that NECA claims to have sworn off dealing with them ever again. Yup. Did you see those early shots of the 8-bit version of Castlevania’s Simon Belmont? Well, forget it. It’s gone. Thank Konami for that. But I don’t want to dwell on the bad stuff. This is a day to be celebrated, because it genuinely looked like this pair of figures would never see the light of day… and yet here they are!

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The packaging is very reminiscent of NECA’s other video game figures as well as their Ultimate line. You get a big beautiful box that in this case looks like an over-sized box for a Nintendo cartridge. You get the beautiful retro artwork on the front and an opening front flap that shows you the player select screen on the reverse and a window displaying the figures inside. The back has a little blurb about Contra and shots of the figures set up to look like screenshots from the video game. The figures come on one tray and there’s a second tray under it with a whole bunch of extra goodies. Naturally, everything is collector friendly, so you don’t have to ruin this fine presentation to get at the toys inside.

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And here they are. If you aren’t up on the characters, That’s Bill Rizer on the left with the blonde hair and red outfit and Lance Bean on the the right in blue. Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know. I’ve been playing this game for decades and even I had to look it up. From the neck down, these are the same sculpt, with the exception of Bill having gloves and Lance going without. I’m guessing NECA borrowed some or all of these from either the Rambo or possibly the Predator Dutch figures. Sadly, I don’t have either in my collection to verify. They come shirtless and advertising their 80’s action hero manliness and wearing combat fatigues and boots. The head sculpts are bursting with personality. Bill looks a little confused, like he’s trying to remember the Konami Code, whereas Lance looks like the most pissed off guy I’ve ever seen in my life. Superb!

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The coloring on these guys consist of some great digital 8-bit camo on the pants and some white wash on the skin to further drive home the video game look. The red and blue used for the pants, boots, and headbands are both vibrant and beautiful. Each figure also includes an ammo bandoleer strap across their chests. The articulation here is pretty standard for NECA’s modern figures. You get rotating hinges in the shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, and knees. You get both hinges and lateral rockers in the ankles. The torsos have ball joints in the waists and below the chest, and the necks are also ball jointed. In short, these figures are loads of fun to play with!

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The figures include belts with holsters for automatic pistols and sheathes for combat knives. I wasn’t expecting either of these accessories, so they come as very welcome treats. You get some very nice painted detail on the pistols and the knives have bright silver blades and handles painted to match each player’s color palate. The hands hold the guns beautifully, but they clearly aren’t designed to hold the knives. I was still able to make them work.

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Of course, the pistols and knives are just fallback weapons. These babies are the real hardware! Each figure comes with the same base gun, but with attachments to set them apart. Bill’s gun comes with a removable muzzle and stock. The stock also extends and collapses. Lance’s comes with a double-barrel muzzle attachment. Both guns have fold down stands, possibly meant to be similar to bi-pod rests. The customization on the guns is something else I hadn’t expected to see in this set and it’s a great surprise, which adds some play and display value. And speaking of which, how about that other tray of extra parts?

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The tray consists of a whole bunch of effect parts, as well as the previously mentioned stock for Bill’s gun, and what I like to call the Power Up Football. There are some great pieces in here, and one piece that doesn’t quite pan out as well as I had hoped.

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The Power Up is pretty simple. It’s a great likeness to the floating Power Up in the game and it can be displayed “levitating” on the clear stand. Unfortunately, the base for this stand is shared by another piece in this set, so you can’t really display everything at once. But I’ll come back to that in a bit to explain how that isn’t a problem for me.

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The first of the effect sets consists of these simple shot pieces for Bill’s gun. These peg into each other like a chain, so you can have one shot, two or three, however you want to display it. I think the effect here is pretty damn cool.

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You also get a three-way spread shot piece for Lance’s gun. The explosive effect plugs into the barrel and again, this is a great looking effect. If you want to go full spread shot, that’s an option, albeit sadly not an ideal one.

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Yes, this huge piece simulates the extension of the spread shot effect and I think it looks awesome here. Unfortunately, I had to use a lot of trickery to make it work. The piece was very warped when I took it out of the tray, mainly because the plastic is so very thin. It’s designed to plug into the same base that the Power Up uses, but when I plugged it in, it just leaned to the side. It’s possible it could be straightened with some heat, but considering how tenuous the plastic is, I wasn’t about to try it. In the end, I had to cobble together a bunch of pieces from a Bandai stand kit to get it to stand straight so I could take the highly doctored picture above. I’d be interested to see if the issue is common to all sets or just mine. It was a nice idea, I’m glad they tried it, but in the end, it just doesn’t work out all that well. So, sharing that base with the Power Up won’t be a problem after all.

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But believe me when I say that I in no way want to end this Feature on a downer, because these is an unbelievably cool set of figures and I can’t even express how happy I am that NECA was able to make it work and get them into the hands of us collectors. I picked this set up off of NECA’s Ebay store for about $55 shipped and I couldn’t be happier. There were times when I practically chewed my fingernails down to nubs reading some of NECA’s tweets about whether or not these were actually ever going to happen. It’s sad that NECA and Konami had to part ways over this release, but if you’ve followed gaming news lately, than you already know the folks in control of Konami have lost their god damn minds. Still, this set opens up so many other possibilities. Damn, I’d love to see Double Dragon get this exact same treatment!

World of Nintendo: Diddy Kong and Deluxe Donkey Kong by Jakks Pacific

It’s been a couple of weeks since I chronicled my delight in discovering Jakks’ World of Nintendo 4-inch line of figures. I loved Mario and Luigi so much that I quickly snatched up a bunch more. Today we’re looking at Diddy Kong, another of the standard carded figures as well as my first of the Deluxe boxed 6-inch figures, Donkey Kong! I’m excited to have at these toys, so let’s start with the packaging…

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Diddy comes in the same carded bubble as we saw with the Mario Brothers. He even still comes with the mystery accessory. The only real difference is the color of the card is now yellow instead of red. Donkey Kong, on the other hand, comes in an awesome window box to contain his larger stature. Yes, DK is a 6-inch figure, but he’s still designed to be in scale with the 4-inch line and I absolutely love that! While Diddy’s package isn’t collector friendly, DK’s can survive the opening process pretty well if you’re careful getting him off the tray. Let’s start with Diddy.

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Diddy is just a smidge shorter than Mario and the back of his card actually calls him a 3 3/4″ figure, which is really confusing and makes me think that Jakk’s doesn’t get the whole scale thing. Yes, I’m sure that’s his height, but he’s still part of the 4-inch line. Why you gotta be confusing people with that shit, Jakk’s? Anyway, Diddy’s sculpt is packed with personality. While I know he’s been in a lot of games, the only ones of his that I’ve put in a lot of time with are the Donkey Kong Country games on the SNES and Donkey Kong 64. And when I say a lot of time, I mean an obscene amount of time. Especially DK 64. Man, I used to zone out in front of that game for hours and hours after work. Just thinking about it makes me want to dig it out again. Diddy’s got sculpted brown fur and an adorable monkey face. He also comes sporting his red shirt with the yellow stars and a red ball cap with the Nintendo logo printed across it. The paint on my figure is pretty solid with just a little bit of slop around the eyes.

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Diddy comes sort of pre-posed in a bent over monkey-like fashion, but he still sports a good deal of workable articulation. The back of the package claims he has fourteen points, so let’s count them off. The arms have rotating hinges in the shoulders, hinges in the elbows, and swivels in the wrists. The legs are the same with rotating hinges at the hips, hinged knees, and swivels in the ankles. The head looks like it might be ball jointed, but all I can get out of it is a side to side rotation and lastly his tail can swivel at the base. And that does indeed make fourteen points!

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Diddy’s mystery accessory comes in a banana box. What could it be? Yup, it’s bananas! The bunch of bananas is just a molded piece of yellow plastic and doesn’t feature the nicer paint apps found on the Power Up Mushrooms that came with Mario and Luigi. The figure really isn’t designed to interact with it or hold it either, but it’s still a welcome accessory.

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Moving on to Donkey Kong and holy crap, I love this guy! DK is a whole lot bigger than the figures I’ve looked at so far and that’s what makes him a Deluxe. His scale works well when compared to Diddy or Mario and I think it’s really cool that they made him a bigger figure, rather than just do him in 4-inch style like the others. Mr. Kong comes sporting his now trademark red “DK” necktie. By the time this design came out, Donkey Kong had already become a major video game icon. I can’t think of another company that could take a character like that, slap a red necktie on him, make him a mascot, and manage to sell it, but Nintendo can do it and nobody even blinks. The rest of the figure is mostly comprised of sculpted brown fur and a set of big hands and feet.

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Oddly, I’ve seen some negative fan reaction Donkey Kong’s portrait, particularly his ridiculous toothy grimace but I just don’t get it the hate. Sure, it’s goofy, but we’re talking about a gorilla wearing a necktie, we passed goofy about six exits back. No, I really like the head sculpt on this guy. His stare is downright creepy and when coupled with the wide grin he reminds me of those cymbal-clanging monkey toys of days gone by. The ones that caused endless nightmares for so many innocent children. I also like the swirl of hair on the top of his head. It looks like that final swirl of ice cream you get out of a soft serve machine.

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While Donkey Kong is a bigger figure, he actually doesn’t feel a whole lot heavier than the smaller figures and I suspect he’s mostly hollow. He also sports less articulation with only ten points. His arms are ball jointed at the shoulders, have hinged elbows, and the wrists are hinged and also swivel. HIs legs are ball jointed at the hips, and his ankles can swivel, but there’s no knee articulation. Donkey Kong features a hinge in the torso and his neck can rotate. I can still have plenty of fun with him, but the lack of articulation in the knees is a bit of a bummer.

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Some people may be disappointed by Donkey Kong. He’s a larger Deluxe figure, but features less articulation and also no mystery accessory. On the other hand, he was only $14.99, which feels like a pretty great deal. I’m sure Jakks had to cut some costs to make the larger figure work out and I’m fine with that. Truth be told I’m just as delighted with this line of figures this time around as I was when I got Mario and Luigi and I still find myself hoping that Jakks can keep this line going for a long, long time. Meanwhile, I’ve already got my next two figures on deck and waiting to be opened, so I’ll try to swing back next week to check out Wario and Yoshi!

World of Nintendo: Mario and Luigi (4-inch) by Jakks Pacific

Folks, I was a SEGA kid. Now, I’m not talking just Sonic and Genesis, no sir. My first 8bit console was a SEGA Master System and I loved it. What I didn’t love was feeling ostrasized in the playground because I wasn’t playing Super Mario Bros. or Metroid. Nope. I was playing shit like Aztec Adventure and Wonder Boy. And the only kid who I could talk to about that was some weird Polish exchange student. I later remedied the situation by trading a few sundry items for a broken NES system, which my father (who happened to be an electrical engineer) promptly fixed, thus giving me the best of both worlds. I never lost my adoration for SEGA, but I soon learned to appreciate the wonderful world of Nintendo. I’m only slightly aware that there have been Nintendo toys for ages, but it’s only now that I’ve noticed an attempt to build a truly cohesive line of action figures based on The Big N’s various franchises. I spotted these on the pegs a while ago and I couldn’t resist picking up the Mario Brothers.

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This line comes to us via Jakks Pacific. It’s a company that I know so little about that I frequently get them confused with Jazwares and that’s probably only because they both begin with a “J” and have both been associated with putting out some questionable product. A quick scan of my Index of Reviews tells me that the only other Jakks Pacific toys I’ve featured here on FFZ were some Smurfs that I found in Target’s dollar section. Anyway, the packaging is everything it needs to be. You get a bright red card with Mario’s big mug at the top, left hand corner and a large bubble showing off the figure inside. The cards are generic on the front, but character specific on the back. An insert declares the character name with little fanfare and the name of the game they’re from on the bottom of the bubble. You also get a “Mystery Accessory!” Oooooh! I should also note that the figures I’m looking at are from the 4-inch line and that there is also a 2.5-inch line running parallel with this one. They are also putting out some Deluxe 6-inch figures to allow larger characters, like Bowser, to scale with the 4.5-inchers and some Micro Playsets that look like quite a bit of fun. Alright, enough with the Menu Screen. Let’s Push Start. 1UP = Mario.

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First impressions out of the box is that this is a pretty incredible figure for the money, and let me remind you that we’re talking about ten bucks. Mario is chunky and colorful and has a nice heft to him. I can’t fault the sculpt at all, as they’ve really captured all that there is about the essence of this iconic portly plumber. It’s only when I really start to scrutinize the figure that I can start to see some blemishes, like weak paint on his overall’s buttons and some rough texturing on the top of the hat. Of course, these are minor complaints for a figure in this price range and possibly just QC issues on this specific figure. Still, overall I have to say I’m impressed.

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The package boasts these figures have 11 points of articulation, which breaks down to: Rotating hinges in the shoulders, hinges in the elbows, swivels in the wrists, ball joints in the hips, hinges in the knees, and a ball joint in the neck. Super articulated, this figure is not, but it is certainly serviceable and makes for a fun figure to play with. I think my only complaint would be that the neck joint doesn’t have a lot of range of motion.

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Luigi is every bit as good and in fact my Luigi has virtually no paint flubs or rough plastic. Even the buttons on his overalls are bright shiny, leading me to believe that if I hunt around I can find a Mario with better paint. He’s obviously taller and a little leaner than his brother. There isn’t a lot more to say about the sculpt other then once again this figure captures all there is about the character. He also scales wonderfully next to Mario.

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Overall, Luigi feels like he has a little more range of motion than Mario, but that’s to be expected with his less stocky sculpt. I should also note that these figures are beautifully balanced. I love that you can pose them in a running position without even using a stand. Magnificent!

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As for those Mystery Accessories, each one comes in a cardboard box made to resemble one of the blocks in Super Mario Bros, which makes the box itself a nice display piece. Inside, ecah one came with a Power Up Mushroom. A green one for Luigi and a red one for Mario. I don’t believe these items are random. From what I’ve seen these are what you get every time.

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Even a SEGA kid like me can’t deny that Mario is as iconic a pop culture character can get and Jakks has done a really nice job recreating him and his brother as action figures and at a great price too! It sounds like a crazy thing to say, but when you’re as into collecting toys and stuff as I am, sometimes buying this stuff can feel like a sense of duty. Add to that how the Internet has become “The Great Spoiler” of all new releases and it’s rare these days that I can get pleasantly surprised prowling the toy aisles. That’s probably why finding this pair and getting them home and playing with them was sheer delight. They’re just so colorful and durable and so much fun to play with.

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Now, if your’re willing to go all out with your Mario toy buying budget your best bet is probably still the S.H. Figuarts release. I had the opportunity to play around with that figure (and Luigi too) but even at a good price those will run two to three times the cost of either of these guys from off the peg at your local Big Box.. While my own personal Nintendo well of knowledge may not run as deep as this line, I still may go all in just to support it and hope it continues on and on and on. Considering Nintendo’s rich history of characters, if Jakks can keep putting these kinds of figures out at this price point, they could have a veritable gold mine here.

Figma “Legend of Zelda” Link (Skyward Sword) by Max Factory

Some time ago I got my first Figma figure and I was suitably impressed. I decided why not go for another and that leads me to today’s feature! I actually had Link pre-ordered back when he was first revealed but some budgeting cuts caused me to drop it. I always planned to get him later, but between the figure’s insane popularity and some importing issues he sold out fast and became extremely pricey on the second hand market causing me to write him off. Fast forward to now and he’s had a second release and is readily available at a fantastic price so it was only natural that I would avail myself of a second chance to add him to my collection. Better late than never!

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Link comes in a colorful window box, which is a hell of a lot more compact than the one used for my Figam Mikasa Ackerman. Of course, Link’s box doesn’t have an entire set of Omni Directional Gear in there, so that’s understandable. The box features plenty of great shots of the character showing off all his display options and the window lets you see all the goodies quite clearly. Otherwise, there’s nothing terribly exciting about the package. Most of the box is lettered in Japanese, but there’s just enough English there to point out that this is Link from Skyward Sword. I’ll confess I haven’t played that one. In fact, the last Zelda game that I played through to completion was probably on the N64. Try not to take that as blasphemy or to diminish my love of Link. He’s just about as iconic as anything else from my childhood and the look of this figure is versatile enough to work perfectly for me even as a Zelda fan that has lost his way a long, long time ago. Inside the box, you get the figure, a swap-out yelling face and extra bangs, the Master Sword and Shield, a scabbard, a sprue with four extra pairs of hands, a figure stand, a sword-swooshing effect part, and a ziploc-style bag to hold all the accessories.

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Ocarina of Time may have been the last serious time I spent with Link and a controller, but this figure represents my favorite look for the character. Yup, Link has to be one of the few cases where I prefer what the character evolved into over the nostalgia from my past. In fact, just looking at it makes me want to finally tear the cellophane off my copy of Skyward Sword and give it a play. This is a more mature Link than what I’m used to, but it doesn’t jump the shark and become too extreme and over-the-top. Nope, this Link is just right and the figure looks absolutely amazing. The green tunic is soft plastic and layered onto the figure, with the upper arms sculpted to look like sleeves. The pliable plastic below his belt gives the legs a lot of room to move. The bottom part of his shoulder rig is part of the torso sculpt, but the strap that actually goes over his shoulder is a seperate piece. He’s got a couple of pouches attached to the back of his belt and all the joints are fairly well concealed for this type of figure. There are two peg holes in his back, one for the stand and one for his scabbard.

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Link’s head sculpt is right on the money. He’s still got a very youthful and anime-stylized look, but it toes that line of being more mature than the Link I remember from my youth. The paintwork on his eyes and mouth is immaculate and the fact that the hair is sculpted as a separate piece gives the portrait a lot of depth. There’s even a swivel cut in his cap, which was a very pleasant surprise. The alternate portrait is applied simply by pulling off the face and bangs (always creepy!) and plugging in the new pieces. The differences between the hair pieces is rather subtle to me, but the alternate face is a great feature to have for those action poses.

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Link features a fantastic level of articulation which comes from packing rotating hinges and swivels in his arms and legs. You also get generous ball joints in his torso and neck, and even hinges in the toes of his boots.

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HANDS! It wouldn’t be a Figma figure without tons of hands. Link comes with his pair of fists attached. You also get a pair of hands with splayed fingers, a pair of relaxed hands, a pair of of hands designed for holding the grip on the Master Sword and Shield, and a pair of hands designed to hold the Master Sword out at an angle. I love the sprue that Figma uses to hold the extra hands and I can’t believe that S.H. Figuarts hasn’t jumped on board with something similar. It’s a great system.

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The Master Sword and scabbard are exquisitely reproduced both in sculpt and paintwork. From the subtle painted cross straps on the hilt to the blue hue of the blade and the etched Tri-Force near the hilt, this sword is a tiny little work of art only to be outdone by the ornate beauty of the scabbard. The gold paint used for the fixtures on the scabbard is sumptuous as is the glossy blue used for the sword’s hilt. The sword fits snugly into the scabbard and the pommel pulls off the end of the hilt to help get it into Link’s hand without damaging it. The scabbard features a peg so Link can wear it on his back.

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Of course The Master Shield is no slouch either. It features a sculpted reinforced rim, a raised Tri-Force and some immaculate paintwork. The back of the shield features a wrist strap and a hand grip, both of which are pegged into place and can be removed to help get Link to brandish the shield or to have him wear it on his back in conjunction with the sword.

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The effect part slides over the sword blade and is made of translucent blue plastic to simulate the swooshing blade. Effect parts… I can either take them or leave them. This one works pretty well and looks good, but I still doubt it’ll spend much time out of the box. And last, but not least, you get the standard Figma stand with the triple articulated arm that pegs into his back and works beautifully whether Link is just standing or jumping into action.

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At about $40, this figure was a deal and a half, especially since it was so prohibitively expensive when it was first released. I’m so thrilled that he was eventually made available at a good price and put into wide circulation. This is without a doubt the definitive Link I need in my collection, unless I find a suitcase of cash on the street, in which case I would probably spring for the RAH version as well. This figure looks absolutely amazing and is so hard to put down once I get started fiddling about with him. Sure, you could argue that Figma could have invested more in the accessories to make him more of an all-inclusive Link. They could have at least given him some breakable pottery! But, honestly, with the Master Sword and Shield included, and so beautifully executed, what’s here still feels like a complete package to me.