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REVIEW:
M.A.R.S. HEROES COLLECTION
By Thomas Wheeler



There's a toy company out there that you probably haven't heard of. They're not on a level of Hasbro, or Mattel, or Bandai, or even Playmates or Jakks Pacific. They're called Happy Kid Toy Group. Their logo spells out "HAP-P-KID" with the word "TOY" behind it.

They've generally been best known for a series of sci-fi type toys produced under the name "Cybotronix", and their best-known product is a series of 7" walking robots called M.A.R.S., which stands for Motorized Attack Robo Squad. These cool robots, which I have reviewed before, can generally be found at Wal-Mart for under $5.00 apiece, and they've also been known to turn up at Walgreens pharmacies.

And therein lies the basis for this review, because it was another M.A.R.S. product, exclusive to Walgreens, which led to this review.

A couple of months ago, I found out about some new 4" action figures under the "M.A.R.S." umbrella that were exclusive to Walgreens. They were called M.A.R.S. HEROES, and reportedly included well-made, well-articulated troopers, robots, and aliens. Even more impressive, these figures only cost $1.00 each! There were nine of them in the series. I could get the whole works for less than ten bucks even factoring in the sales tax.

Well, Tucson has quite a few Walgreens. One of my usual jokes is that we have so many Walgreens in this town that their method of home delivery is to toss your prescription out their window. If it doesn't land right on your doorstep, it'll hit the next Walgreens and they'll just pass it along. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but not much of one. In any case, I didn't figure on any real hassle in finding these toys - even when someone reported that not all Walgreens were carrying them. I still didn't expect any real difficulty.

Whooo-boy...

I'm trying to think of the last time it took this much effort to round up a complete collection of action figures. I can't think of any recent examples. I hit roughly six Walgreens on my side of town, and four on the far side of town. This was not as easy as it sounds, since I don't presently have a car (and given gas prices am in no hurry to get one). I am dependent on my feet, the local bus system (thankfully an excellent one), and rides from friends. Out of those ten or so Walgreens, maybe four had these figures.

And they weren't kept in the toy aisle, either. Being dollar specials and apparently a very limited release, you never knew where you'd find them - if you'd find them. I found them across from the toy aisle. I found them near the front of the store. I found them in with sports equipment. I found them in with hats. And none of the Walgreens had a very large supply.

I found seven out of the nine. The remaining two came from a friend of mine in California, who pretty well gave up trying to round up a complete collection for himself, figuring scalpers had gotten most of them (although if they did, they kept them to themselves, because I have yet to see any on eBay or anything).

A hysterical side note here is that while I was trying to track these figures down, one of the Walgreens that I visited had a supposedly near- impossible-to-find Star Wars figure, the Republic Commando "Scorch". Everybody had been complaining about how hard Scorch was to find. Hey, I've got Scorch. You want impossible? Try to find the MARS Heroes Blue Alien...

But, finally, I had a complete collection of all nine M.A.R.S. HEROES figures. The figures are broken down into three groups of three figures each, although the packaging advertises that the component parts of these figures can be detached and traded around between just about any of them, I surmise.

The three groups include TROOPERS, ALIENS, and MEGABOTS. Let's take these figures by groups for this review.

TROOPERS

Although two of these figures have more or less human heads, and the third is wearing an all-covering helmet, it's a bit of a stretch to call these figures standard human troopers. Their exaggerated and distinctly robotic bodies would tend to make them seem more like cyborgs of some sort. Certainly not impossible. One person on a G.I. Joe message board wondered how these troopers could fit in with the G.I. Joe universe. I recommended "Armor-Tech II", an idea which seemed to garner a fair amount of approval.

"Armor-Tech" was a subset within the Star Brigade series of G.I. Joe figures, and featured distinctly differently-made G.I. Joe and Cobra characters in bulky robot suits. Although far more robotic and distinctly less bulky, it's not implausible to see the M.A.R.S. Heroes Troopers as a possible successor to Armor-Tech, assuming you want to work them into the world of G.I. Joe. I'm offering the comparison as a visual analysis as much as anything.

The figures use the same body parts (as each group does), but with different heads. The three colors, predominantly, are silver, green, and red. The Silver Trooper has a fully visible human face surrounded by a cybernetic helmet. He has a few streaks of black camouflage paint on his face (why, I have no idea - he doesn't exactly blend in otherwise), and a heroically determined look on his face. The Red Trooper has some sort of cybernetic muzzle covering the lower portion of his face, but the top of his head is visible, showing half of his face, including the eyes, and reddish hair. The Green Trooper is distinguishable from the robots in this collection only by virtue of the body molds used. His entire head is covered by a helmet, which some have commented bears a vague resemblance to the helmets used by Spartan soldiers in the HALO video game. In profile, sort of, but not so much head on. All three Troopers come with two large guns.

MEGABOTS

These are the robotic entries in the M.A.R.S. Heroes line. Some have said that they look faintly Gundamish, but I tend to think that's a stretch. Granted, there's no shortage of Japanese animé robot concepts out there. And there's no question that, while perhaps not particularly resembling Gundams, there's bound to be some Japanese robot series out there where these three would fit right in. There's certainly something of an animè influence in their design, but honestly, they're a little too stocky to pass for anything Gundam.

All three use the same body mold, but different heads aren't the only difference. Each one also has different shoulder-mounted weaponry.

The Silver MegaBot, whose head reminds me somewhat of a robotic version of a medieval knight, has two large weapons on his shoulders that have a single circular something-or-other in the middle. I'm honestly not sure if this is supposed to be a launchable missile, or a laser blaster of some sort, but whatever they are, they look like they pack a wallop. One thing about these toys - they're not fully explained. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. If anything, it'll require a kid who receives them to use his imagination that much more.

The Green MegaBot has a head that is surprisingly human in appearance. It's silver metallic, but two distinct eyes can be seen. I'm not sure what the confusion factor is between him and the Green Trooper, but this doesn't help. He has two large weapons mounted to his shoulders that have two distinct circular bulges in them. Again, they're not explained, but I'm sure they're useful in a fight.

Finally there's the Blue MegaBot. This one has the smallest head of the three, and somehow it's the meanest looking of the lot. Looking rather compressed, there's a narrow yellow visor across the center of it. There's nothing at all human about this head design. The weapons mounted to the shoulders of this one are the most impressive, as each one has fourteen tiny whatever's on display. Bullets? Missiles? Lasers? Who knows. But with a total of twenty-eight of whatever they are, this MegaBot is ready for a fight.

The MegaBots are the only figures in this line that show any evidence of even slight cheapness, as their shouklder-mounted weapons are hollow in the back, as are the bottoms of their feet. But it's an extremely minor point. As with the Troopers, each MegaBot comes with two hand-held weapons.

ALIENS

These guys have been the tough ones to find, and this isn't surprising. Not only are they arguably the coolest of the series, but they don't really resemble any other toys presently on the market, and because of their bright colors, they stick out like sore thumbs in any display of these toys. You might get some of the others a little confused, but you're not going to miss the Aliens.

One comparison that has been made is that these aliens strongly resemble the Drej, the CGI aliens created for the very under-rated sci-fi animated movie TITAN A.E. That's actually not a bad comparison at all.

The Aliens come in three colors - Orange, Green, and Blue. They're pretty much identical, except the blue one has different lower arms than the other two, and they all have distinct - well, I'm assuming those are their heads sticking out of their torsos. They're molded in bright transparent plastic that has a sort of frosted look to it. It's not quite clear, but neither is it opaque. Painted details are kept to a minimum on these guys.

Each one comes with a weapon that can be mounted on either shoulder, and the orange and green aliens come with two hand-held weapons that are just as alien-looking as the rest of the figure. The blue alien comes with a really nasty-looking alien axe/blade weapon. While it could be argued that the Troopers and the MegaBots share some common characteristics with one another, the Aliens are an entirely different breed.

I can readily see a toy collector working them into any number of toy lines. Star Wars would probably be the most obvious choice. Me - I could see them as advance scouts or cannon fodder or something for the Lunartix Aliens within the G.I. Joe concept, as well. But even as just stand-alone action figures, they're pretty darned cool, and as I said, have been the toughest to find. While I was ultimately able to find seven of these figures locally, it was the Orange Alien and Blue Alien that I needed help with.

Now then, how's the overall quality on these figures? It's absolutely amazing, especially when one considers the price. One might expect upon opening these guys to encounter fragile, hollow plastic of the type used to make, say, CD cases or some such, with floppy articulation that couldn't stand up if it wanted to. Nope. Not here. These figures are very well made. They have a decent amount of weight to them, they're made from a strong, stable, very slightly flexible plastic, I saw no signs of mold creases in them anywhere, the details are well-sculpted, and the articulation, a modular ball-and-socket design across the board, still results in good solid articulation that can hold poses well. All this for a buck each. Okay, the one shortcut that was taken was that each "group" uses the same basic body mold with limited changes other than the head and base color used. But still, it's incredibly impressive. Any toy collector would've likely been willing to pay five times that for these, more if they could find this level of quality in a line based on an established product or license. I can honestly say that I have no complaints whatsoever with the quality of manufacture on these figures, and they should be shown as lessons of how to do things properly to several major toy companies I can think of.

Let me say this, too, and I know this is a subject that I've been griping about for some time. The paint jobs on these figures, all nine of them, are excellent. The Aliens don't have a lot of paint applications, and the bodies of the MegaBots and Troopers generally only have one color. But there are some points worth noting.

Consider the fourteen little points on the Blue MegaBot's weapons. Consider the faces on the Silver and Red Troopers. They've very neatly done. Fourteen tiny little points. Whites of the eyes. Eyebrows. Evenly painted "eyelashes" and pupils. And all of the detailing on all of the figures has been properly and evenly spray painted through stencils and paint-masks made for these figures. Which were made in China, same as most toys. And then packaged and sold for a buck apiece.

So, do I recommend the M.A.R.S. HEROES? Of course I do! They're extremely well-made, well-sculpted, well-detailed - if any other company made toys of this level of detail, articulation, and quality, they'd cost six bucks apiece, easily. Price aside, these are not cheap third-rate figures. They'll look good as part of any action figure collection, and the Happy Kid Toy Company should be proud of their product here.

But - good luck finding them. Not only are they a Walgreens exclusive, not only were they not stocked with the rest of the toys, not only did not all Walgreens carry them, but there are indications that they might've been a fairly short-run product that has come and gone. And unfortunately, they're not the sort of thing that's likely to be carried by online collectors' stores, either.

I'm not sure what I can recommend here. The package does make reference to a Web Site - www.happykidtoy.com, and even an e-mail address, custserv@happykidtoy.com. But whether either of those will do you any good, I really don't know.

But, they're worth the search. The M.A.R.S. HEROES definitely have my highest recommendation! Good luck!