Toy Retrospective

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A look back at how video games made the leap from televisions to toy shelves

By Andrew Kardon     March 25, 2002

Pixels aren't enough. Those video game heroes who fight evil sorcerers, save damsels in distress and mow down zombies like there's no tomorrow just aren't satisfied with entertaining you on your TV. Sure, some have successfully gone on to movies (like TOMB RAIDER and RESIDENT EVIL), but nowadays, video game action figures are all the rage.

Head to any video game or novelty store and you're likely to find some interesting collectibles. Chief among them are action figures. RESIDENT EVIL. FINAL FANTASY. ULTIMA ONLINE. Yep, game figures are pretty much the norm these days, but it wasn't always that way. Used to be, video game fans had to rely solely on Japanese imports for unique video game-based action figures. But that all changed with the help of a certain female globe-trotting adventurer.

Back in 1997, TOMB RAIDER was one of the hottest video games around. Looking to test a LARA CROFT action figure, Toy Biz took an interesting approach. To help keep costs and time down, Toy Biz used its existing 5-inch Jubilee action figure (from the X-MEN ROBOT FIGHTERS series), repainted it, and slapped on a brand-new sculpted Lara head. The figure may have been a far cry from bringing your average guy's video game fantasies to life, but regardless, Lara flew off the shelves.


Lara didn't stay hidden from collectors for long, though. Pleased with the test results, Eidos Interactive gave the toy license to Playmates and soon after, toy stores were filled with variations of the buxom babe. Playmates produced a number of 9-inch figures, as well as a line of 6-inchers with detailed bases and more articulation. And of course, these were eventually followed up by movie-based toys, which gave guys something else they've always wanted: their very own Angelina Jolie to take home.

But it wasn't just a hot video game babe that made it to the toy front. Uh, uh. Ms. Croft pretty much opened the door for other pixilated protagonists to join the action figure party. Back in '97 Bandai began releasing figures based on the uber-popular FINAL FANTASY. With its cartoony/anime feel to it, series VII really struck a chord with collectors, and was soon followed by series VIII, IX and even figures from the recent SPIRITS WITHIN animated movie. Around that time, a toy company called ReSaurus began putting out DUKE NUKE'EM action figures as well. Big, bulky and with an arsenal of heavy artillery, video game figures started to make their stand on toy shelves.

Even McFarlane Toys got in on the fun in 1999 with its line of METAL GEAR SOLID figures. Sleek design, gorgeous sculpts and neat accessories helped bring Solid Snake and company to life. McFarlane has followed up with a METAL GEAR SOLID 2 line, and its more recent ULTIMA ONLINE set, based on characters created by Todd McFarlane himself.

Even Nintendo joined in on the action figure act by hooking up with ToySite for some very basic LEGEND OF ZELDA figures. They soon joined forces with Toy Biz, however, for new ZELDA: OCARINA OF TIME figures that were much more detailed and articulated. Toy Biz also put out a really fun line of MARIO KART action figures featuring popular characters from the racing game (like Mario, Yoshi and Bowser), along with mini-karts that the figures actually sat in, as well as some nifty accessories like a string of banana peels.


And there were tons of others throughout the years. EVERQUEST. ZELDA. MARVEL VS. CAPCOM. HOUSE OF THE DEAD. RESIDENT EVIL. Basically, it's a pretty sure bet that if a new game's popular enough, the action figures will follow. Let's just pray someone doesn't get around to doing toys based on classic games. After all, who really needs a Pong action figure?


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