REVIEW: G.I. JOE RETALIATION NINJA COMBAT CRUISER with NIGHT FOX
Any modern army is going to use vehicles. And certainly, G.I. Joe, since its return as a Real American Hero in 1982, has utilized a great many vehicles over the course of it's 30+ year history. While the original 12" G.I. Joe was not completely bereft of vehicles, the smaller size of the 3-3/4" line made it ideally suited for a wide range of vehicular combat hardware.
Jeeps, tanks, planes, motorcycles, helicopters, and a few things that defy easy description (I defy anyone to readily classify the Cobra Pogo Ballistic Battle Ball or the Buzz Boar), all the way up to the 7-1/2 foot USS Flagg Aircraft Carrier. G.I. Joe's world has been well populated by vehicles.
That remains true with the arrival of the sequel live-action movie, G.I. JOE: RETALIATION. This movie has been a far more successful successor to the first live-action movie, "Rise of Cobra", and has certainly been much better received by the fans, and in my opinion, deservedly so.
Naturally, there has been a toy line connected with the movie, and that toy line has included vehicles. One of the more elusive but impressive of those vehicles has been the NINJA COMBAT CRUISER.
There's a strong emphasis on ninjas in this toy line, somewhat stronger than there is in the movie, although that emphasis is definitely there. Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow are present and accounted for, as are Jinx, the Blind Master, and a whole mess of Red Ninjas that do battle with Snake-Eyes and Jinx along a series of sheer cliffs and mountains that make me very glad I did NOT see this movie in the 3D IMAX format.
But the package design for the toys has the Arashikage ninja clan emblem all over the place, and other similar markings. It even has an image of Roadblock, as played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, with an Arashikage tattoo on his arm, despite the fact that he didn't have this in the movie, and apparently any ninja connections for Roadblock, which presumably did exist, were downplayed in the final version of the film.
None of this diminishes the toys to any degree, but it does explain how a heavily-armed four-wheeled military vehicle would pick up the name "Ninja Combat Cruiser".
The vehicle is substantially based on the modern version of the VAMP, and there's some history that is worth a little review.
The original VAMP came out with the very first series of G.I. Joe figures, all the way back in 1982. It was a cool if relatively small, two-seater, modern jeep-like vehicle. VAMP stood for "Vehicle, Attack, Multi-Purpose", which admittedly made it sound like Yoda named this thing, but "Multi-Purpose Attack Vehicle" would've resulted in "MPAV" and I'm not sure how you'd pronounce that.
The VAMP would see countless use over the course of the line. It returned two years later as the VAMP Mark II, and Cobra stole the designs to come up with the Cobra Stinger. It reappeared in Tiger Force, the Street Fighter line borrowed it, there was a distinctive Canadian version, and Funskool in India turned out several versions of their own, including a police version in blue, and another in bright red.
Even when the G.I. Joe team picked up the far larger Hammer in 1990, there was still a lot of affection for the original VAMP. It would be modified again and again, including turning up in the 1998 line as the Cobra Rattler 4WD, and being remade as part of the 25th Anniversary collection, as well as remade once again into a new incarnation of the Cobra Stinger. There are well over a dozen versions of the VAMP out there. Some carry different names, and they may have some different parts and accessories, but the core vehicle remains the name. I firmly believe that no other vehicle in the history of G.I. Joe has put in more multiple appearances than the VAMP.
A while back, Hasbro decided to completely overhaul the VAMP into an entirely new vehicle. They started from scratch, and created a modern jeep-like vehicle that was far larger than its predecessor, and was now a four-seater, but wasn't quite as extreme-looking as the Hammer. The new VAMP's resemblance to its ancestor was somewhat superficial, but it was there nevertheless -- a four-wheeled, somewhat angular-looking assault vehicle, with more of a roll cage than an actual roof, and an open weapons mount in the rear. It wasn't hard to see this vehicle as, let us say, a "super-sized" version of the original VAMP, based on similar design principles while still creating an entirely new vehicle. There were, as with the original VAMP, two versions in fairly short order -- one tan, one green.
It is this VAMP that serves as the basis for the Ninja Combat Cruiser, but there have been some changes.
So, how's the vehicle? Excellent. The basic body is the same. Molded this time around in a dark turquoise (interesting color choice), the Combat Cruiser has a rugged, angular, and distinctly military look to it, that is not only a reasonable reflection of the original VAMP, but makes for a very impressive design in its own right.
The four wheels of the Combat Cruiser are mounted to the underside of the vehicle, which has been molded in gray. Curved platforms onto which the wheels are secured give the vehicle a certain shock-absorber feature. Interesting design touch.
All sides of the vehicle, including the underside, are very intricately detailed, with a very rugged and mechanical look to them that suits the vehicle superbly well. Although G.I. Joe has gone a little ways into the realm of science-fiction from time to time, and while I doubt there's anything specifically like the Combat Cruiser presently in anybody's motor pool, it's not so far removed from reality as to look implausible. You might not see anything specifically like the Combat Cruiser on the battlefield, but it doesn't look impossible.
New to this vehicle is the top. The rollcage of the VAMP is gone, replaced by an entirely new section, molded in gray, that looks a lot more like a roof. There's still an open area over the back seats, but the framework is a good bit thicker than before, and the rear has been entirely enclosed. This definitely sets the Combat Cruiser apart from its two VAMP predecessors by a considerable margin.
So do the doors. The previous VAMPs didn't have doors. The Combat Cruiser does -- four of them, black in color, with small, angular windows. They attach to the roof of the vehicle and swing upwards, something that several versions of the original VAMP, those that had doors, also did. It must have been something of challenge for the designers to take the body of an existing vehicle and some up with doors that would work well with it, even though the bulk of those doors connect to the new top of the vehicle, but they still need to match up with the base, with they do abundantly well.
There's a turret in the back, with four spring-loaded missiles. There's a sliding bar along the rear of the missile launcher, which will fire them off one at a time in as quick a succession as you can slide the bar. It's a cool feature, and an impressive bit of design work.
Fully assembled, and you do have to do some assembly, the Combat Cruiser is 10-1/2" long, 5-1/2" wide, and 4-1/2" high, not counting the turret or the radio antenna. The turret brings the full height to slightly over 6".
None of the assembly is especially complicated, although I did find getting the roof to snap in properly on all tabs to be a bit of a challenge. Some of the tabs didn't seem to want to snap in all the way. But I eventually got it. Your results may vary, and you might find it easier.
Of course, the Combat Cruiser, as with any self-respecting G.I. Joe vehicles, comes with a generous series of labels to apply to the vehicle. And right now I'm going to give you the best bit of advice regarding this vehicle that I can think of:
Do yourself a favor and apply labels 32, 41, and 42 BEFORE you begin assembly of the vehicle. These go on the inside of the vehicle, mostly the dashboard, and you'll be saving yourself a lot of grief. It also helps to pop the steering wheel off. It pops right back on. Wait until you've got the roof on and I can't see any easy way to get these three labels in proper place.
Most of the labels go right where the instructions indicate they should, and fit very well. The only two exceptions are a couple of small labels that go near the front of the vehicle that read "Vent: Keep Clear". According to the instructions, these are supposed to be placed right on the vents. It's been my experience that placing vehicle labels on a notably rough surface -- like a vent -- generally doesn't work too well. I placed these labels to the smooth surface of the hood, to either side of the vents. It looks fine, it's a good fit, and these labels will stay put much better.
Some of the labels are rather amusing, to some degree. For example, there's one that fits to the back of the turret that reads, "Caution: Stay Out of Turret's Path!" Yeah -- we need to be TOLD this!? Then there's the ones that read, "Warning: Turret Use is Prohibited Without Proper Training." One would hope that if one has made it onto the G.I. Joe team in the first place, one is well past the stage of, "Hey, what does this button do...?"
Nevertheless, the labels are impressive, and definitely add a good bit of character and authenticity to the vehicle. Notable by their absence are any labels with the G.I. Joe logo on them. They've been replaced by several labels bearing the logo of the Arashikage Ninja Clan. These go on the front doors, the hood, and the front mirrors of the grill, of all places.
There's also a couple of labels which appears to be some sort of Japanese text, which go on the rear doors. I assume it's authentic. That sort of mistake can tick people off these days. I have no idea what it says. For all I know, it reads, "Warning: Turret Use is Prohibited Without Proper Training." But I doubt it.
Other notable labels include a license plate, the only place where the G.I. Joe name appears, and some labels on the turret that have some exceptionally tiny printing on them. I have no idea what this might say. I've seen some small printing on G.I. Joe labels before, but these might set a new record. Legible or not, I'm impressed. I remember the early days of G.I. Joe vehicles, where lines of text like this were drawn just as lines. Not anymore. Still -- wow.
The vehicle rolls superbly well on its four wheels, and is raised high enough so that it's clearly designed to handle a wide range of terrain -- in scale, of course.
The Ninja Combat Cruiser comes with a driver by the name of NIGHT FOX. While not one of the most recognizable names in the G.I. Joe universe, he does have a little history with the line. The first Night Fox was released early in the post-movie line following the first movie, as the driver of a new version of the AWE-Striker, another very popular four-wheeled G.I. Joe vehicle that looks like a well-armed dune buggy, as much as anything. This vehicle was released in the second wave of Alpha-level vehicles in the "Pursuit of Cobra" line in 2010.
Night Fox, in his original appearance, wore a ski mask over his face, so we really don't know what he looks like. That ski mask was black, as was his shirt. He had gray-green gloves, light olive drab green trousers with dark gray knee pads, and brown boots. He wasn't an overly remarkable figure, but he wasn't a bad-looking one, either.
Although the Pursuit of Cobra line didn't go in for the extensive file cards of the early days of G.I. Joe, they were certainly more extensive than the Retaliation line, which doesn't provide any file cards. From Night Fox's Pursuit of Cobra profile, we learn that his real name is Armando M. Ortiz, with a rank of Petty Officer Second Class, and the rest of the card reads:
Night Fox is the G.I. Joe team's special combat and operations expert. This former Navy SEAL takes control of challenging situations with tactical force and strategic impact, calling on a broad range of skills including marksman, explosives expert and combat diver. In the desert battle, he blasts through a Cobra blockade to weaken the enemy's defenses and open a path for his team.
Obviously this applies to Night Fox as the driver of the AWE-Striker, especially that last sentence, but I think we can assume that it's meant to be the same character, and if he can blast through Cobra blockades in an AWE-Striker, imagine what he can do with the Combat Cruiser...!
So, how's the figure? Ehhh -- well. It's certainly well detailed. The sculpted details are superb. Night Fox is wearing that appears to be a black bodysuit, that includes a black helmet, goggles, and face mask that make one wonder if he's got a mild case of Snake-Eyes envy. Various belts, pouches, straps, and other details can be seen on the uniform, right down to specific treads on the boots.
Night Fox is wearing a separately-molded tan vest, with an extremely impressive level of detail, with sculpted pouches and other equipment readily in evidence. The vest has the only painted details anywhere on the figure.
But, there's two faults with this figure in my opinion. The lack of any sort of visible face really detracts from the overall look of the figure. It simply makes him too anonymous. Let's face it, Snake-Eyes gets away with it because he's had a huge media push since the start. Not everyone can do that. And Night Fox is not Snake-Eyes.
The other fault is the articulation. Five points -- head, arms, and legs. And Night Fox is also rather pre-posed. He has to be, in order to sit behind the wheel of the vehicle, but it certainly doesn't help the figure on the whole, and he's not the best at standing up on his own.
This five-points-of-articulation for Retaliation vehicle drivers was, to put it mildly, not well received by the fan community. I won't say that they stormed Hasbro's headquarters with pitchforks and torches, but that was just because they decided to flame them online instead. Unfortunately, limited articulation has become a trend in other 2013 Hasbro lines, including Star Wars, Iron Man 3, and Spider-Man. I'm hoping it doesn't affect Marvel Universe.
And it won't be affecting G.I. Joe much longer. Hasbro announced at the 2013 Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Convention that they won't be doing any more five-points-of-articulation vehicle drivers in the line. They'll be going back to more properly articulated figures.
I don't like to see any good action figure line lose articulation, and I'm certainly not happy about what's happened to Star Wars and Iron Man. But given that G.I. Joe has been known for a high level of articulation as one of its trademarks, it really didn't work out well there. Unfortunately, the end of the practice came too late for Night Fox. I suppose he's not a bad looking figure, if more than a little plain, but -- anyway.
So, what's my final word? This is an immensely cool vehicle. It looks different enough from the two previous VAMPs to stand on its own, and it still comes across as a very effective-looking military, or semi-military, at least, combat vehicle. It's sturdy and well made, and is certainly a valuable addition to any G.I. Joe collection, movie-related or otherwise.
As for Night Fox -- okay, not a high point in the figure line, and I really hate saying anything negative about G.I. Joe. But consider this -- you can seat any G.I. Joe figures you want in the vehicle, and it's well worth bringing into your collection!
The NINJA COMBAT CRUISER with NIGHT FOX from the G.I. JOE RETALIATION line definitely has my highest recommendation!