Thursday, February 16, 2012

FEATURE: The Best - And Worst - of Toy Fair 2012

The New York Toy Fair 2012 is done, over, gone.

But before we turn our attention to the upcoming New York Comic Con, we thought we'd take a moment to look back at the Toy Fair's best - and worst - moments in this feature we're calling, unsurprisingly, The Best - And Worst - of Toy Fair 2012.

The Top 5 Picks

5. The Return of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
I was a little too old to be into the Turtles when they first hit (although I did have their crossover with The Flaming Carrot) but I still have fond memories of the figures and cartoon, so it warmed my heart to not only see a line of ''classic'' toys but also that the Heroes in a Half-shell were getting a new lease of life thanks to a line of toys created to tie-in with the relaunched TMNT cartoon.

What I particularly like is that Playmates has been very smart about these new figures. Sure, the classic toys have great nostalgia value for the older collector but the modern figures also appeal to the sophisticated sensibilities of the older buyer - whilst simultaneously appealing to the younger buyer.

Then there's the sheer scale of the line. Figures, vehicles and - most impressive of all - the sewer-to-street play set. It's over 40'' tall, brightly coloured and just bloody brilliant. And, yes, whilst the price point will probably put it out of the reach of kids spending their allowance, it would make a great addition to any fan's Christmas list - young or old.

Sometimes we forget that toys are play things and they're supposed to be fun. This is one line that not only remembers that but celebrates it with gusto.

4. NECA's Rocky and Hunger Games Sculpts
I'm not a fan of the Rocky pictures, I don't particularly dig the sport of boxing and I've no idea what The Hunger Games is about, except that it's ''The Next Twilight'' according to ''those in the know.'' Frankly that makes it sound terrible. Yet despite neither line of toys ''speaking'' to me and not being the sort of thing I'd personally collect, I have to give massive, MASSIVE props to the guys at NECA's design studio for creating such phenomenally good sculpts.

Toys based on real people can be incredibly difficult to get right, yet NECA has managed to not only produce excellent likenesses of the actual actors but also marry that to what look like highly-poseable, incredibly detailed toys.

3. World of Warcraft Mega Bloks
Like the NECA sculpts, the World of Warcraft Mega Bloks won me over, despite myself. I haven't played World of Warcraft in years and I'm not a huge fan of the Mega Bloks figures. Yet something about the idea of fantasy-themed figures (with customisable gear) appeals to my inner D&D geek.

I'm just hoping that these figures do turn-out to be as cool as they could be, because if they do, this could be huge. Although who am I kidding? It's World of Warcraft. Of course it'll be huge.

2. The GI Joe: Retaliation Movie Figures
As anybody who's ever read That Figures knows, I'm a GI Joe fan. Despite coming to the party late (the Pursuit of Cobra range was my introduction to the line) I've amassed a pretty decent collection of modern Joes and I'm always excited to see what Hasbro has planned for the line. Thankfully, it looks like 2012 could be another great year to collect the Real American Hero.

Whilst Wave 1 of the line looks a little cartoonish (Hasbro's explanation is that they weren't able to complete the movie-accurate figures in time for the release window) Wave 2 onward features some seriously good-looking figures. Yes, we're getting a few repaints/repackages and not everybody is happy with the character designs from the movie, but I challenge anybody to name a better looking, more detailed and more articulated figure than what Hasbro has coming our way.

1. Jakks Pacific's SLUG Zombies
I'm a sucker for Keshi-style mini-figures. I love blind-buy toys. I dig zombies. Jakks Pacific's Scary Looking Ugly Guys Zombies, then, check all those boxes. And then some.

The SLUG Zombies are proof that all you need is a good idea - and it doesn't always have to be your own idea. Yes, we've seen countless blind-buy, non-articulated mini-figures over the last year. Trashies, Squinkies, Blinkies, Star Wars Fighter Pods, the list goes on. But none of them have had the retro-cool styling that the SLUG Zombies possess. Add to that the fact every character design looks great, there's a sense of Garbage Pail Kids-style gross-out humour about each, there are over one hundred to collect (making the odds of duplicates pretty slim) and that they're a price-perfect  $1.99 each (and the $10 twelve-pack is a steal!) and you'll understand why I'm so excited about getting my hands on the SLUGs. 

Bottom 5 Picks

5. Too Many Licenses
I understand licensing. I know that a familiar brand adds a whole lot of weight to a product and selling it to a pre-existing fan-base makes life easier for everybody. But this year's Toy Fair seemed awash with the same half-dozen brands and IPs, shared across a variety of companies. As a result it seemed everybody was doing their own Marvel or Star Trek line and it all just felt a little ''me, too!''

Less licensing, more originality please.

4. No Reveals from The Bridge Direct's Hobbit Line
I'm a big Tolkien fan so I was eager to see what The Bridge Direct had planned for the upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit - especially given that, to date, the company seems a bit of an unknown. Sadly whilst The Bridge Direct had some prototype toys to show, they were kept under-wraps and shown only to a select few. Although they were very happy to answer questions, it would have been even nicer to actually see some of the toys.

It just seems odd, given that Lego was happily showing-off their Middle Earth figures. I certainly hope it's only down to licensing clearance and not a reflection on the state of the figures.

3. GI Joe's Vehicles and their Limited-Articulation Drivers
The toy business is just that - a business. So when times are tough, companies have to look at ways they can maximise their profits and - hopefully - minimise the impact of this on their audience. A prime example of this is the GI Joe: Retaliation vehicles. In order to produce these toys at an affordable price - especially the larger vehicles - Hasbro took the decision to limit the articulation of the bundled drivers.

As Hasbro points out, most kids (and let's not forget, kids do buy toys) are happy to sit a vehicle driver in the driving seat/cockpit and then drive/fly the vehicle around. And I can understand their position. As a kid I grew up playing with Star Wars figures that had five points of articulation and that didn't stop us having fun. But it is still sad to see the company being forced to cut production quality.

2. No Micronauts. Again.
My favourite childhood toy line was the Micronauts. Based on the Japanese line Microman (which saw a resurgence in the late 90s/early 2000s as a collector line), the Micronauts has been a brand Hasbro has bandied around repeatedly, mainly as part of the tie-in to the upcoming JJ Abrams movie of the same name.

Fans hoping to see Hasbro announce something (after all, last year's San Diego Comic Con teased us with the Micronaut-featuring UNIT:E comicbok) were saddened to learn that the Micronauts had been put on the back-burner for a while longer yet...

Oh well... There's always Toy Fair 2013. And 2014. And 2015.

1. GI Joe Fan Reaction to the New Figures
I'm digging these new figures and am certainly excited about getting my hands on them later this year. But it seems not everybody agrees with me. Indeed, reading through various GI Joe fan forums you'd think that following the reveal of these toys Hasbro had personally gone on to visit the home of every single collector and set fire to their pets/children/loved ones.

Whilst much of the collector rage seems directed at the vehicles (which Hasbro admit, are targeted at younger buyers) and the first wave of figures (which Hasbro also admit were produced without as much movie reference as they'd have liked) there's a very vocal group of collectors that are slamming figures which - to me -  look to be right up there with the best of the Pursuit of Cobra/30th Anniversary releases.

And whilst I understand some of the concerns - especially about vehicles and driver changes - I find the reaction bewildering. It makes me wonder just what, exactly, people were expecting.

Personally I think Hasbro has pretty much nailed what the line needs to be: highly detailed, intricate collector-friendly figures that also have a vibrancy and excitement about them that appeals to kids. Because, without sounding like a naysayer, GI Joe needs to widen its appeal and start selling. A quick trip to your local toy store should be evidence enough to show you that the line doesn't have a quarter of the fan-base the Transformers or Star War toys enjoy. And although I don't want to end on a negative note, personally I believe if these GI Joe: Retaliation toys don't sell, we could well see the end of the figures at retail.

Let's hope I'm proven wrong on that front...

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