REVIEW: HASBRO'S STREET FIGHTER
As the story goes, somewhere around 1992, one of Hasbro's top creative executives saw his young son playing a video game in an arcade. The game was Capcom's STREET FIGHTER II. The executive paid some attention to the game, noticing how involved his son was with it, and taking note of the generous range of interesting and diverse characters involved in the fighting tournament. And an idea struck him...
What if there were action figures of these characters? More to the point, what if there were G.I.JOE action figures of these characters?
That "What if" would become the basis for the first licensed G.I.Joe line of action figures ever. STREET FIGHTER II became part of the G.I.Joe 3-3/4" line during 1993.
It made sense, really. The background concept to Street Fighter, which had its origins in Japan, was surprisingly similar to G.I.Joe. You had a group of combatants fighting a maniacal tyrant and his group of cronies. Except instead of the Joe Team, it was the Street Fighters. Instead of Cobra Commander, it was M. Bison. And instead of Destro and Major Bludd, you had the likes of Vega and Sagat. And overall, there was certainly enough of a diversity of characters to keep the line interesting.
The original line of STREET FIGHTER figures included 12 different figures, the twelve from the video game -- RYU, KEN, GUILE, CHUN-LI, DHALSIM, E.HONDA, ZANGIEF, BLANKA, and the villains M. BISON, VEGA, BALROG, and SAGAT.
It was a pretty interesting mix, from a design point of view. Where possible, Hasbro used previous G.I.Joe molds, hopefully without corrupting the appearance of the character too much from its video game origins. A number of the figures used NINJA FORCE bodies, which incorporated spring-action features. I personally never cared for this feature, but I can see the logic of using it in Street Fighter. Not all of the figures had this aspect, though. The muscular Guile and the monstrous Blanka had the upper body of the bare-chested, massive Road Pig, for example. Balrog used the body of Big Boa.
Then there were a few figures that needed totally new body sculpts. In these cases, they were given Ninja Force style bodies, in that they all had spring-action functions. But previous G.I.Joe molds for the likes of the slender and very weird Dhalsim, the tall, chest-scarred Sagat, and the huge E. Honda, simply did not exist. Honda easily takes the award for largest 3-3/4" G.I.Joe-type figure ever produced, unless you throw in the Mega-Monsters.
One other change had to be made. Ken had to be given a last name. Now entering the toy world, no one wanted to upset Barbie's then-boyfriend. So Ken officially became Ken Masters, a name I am assuming Capcom came up with, since that name has carried over into other aspects of Street Fighter to this day.
The end result of the figures was interesting. They were packaged on cards which emphasized the Street Fighter logo, but which also carried the G.I.Joe logo, although, despite a fairly amusing live-action commercial that featured Duke among many of the Street Fighters, no direct connection was made between the two concepts. It was not suddenly revealed that the military-like Guile was a secret member of the G.I.Joe team, nor was Cobra secretly financing M.Bison's dictactorship of Shadoloo.
However, the cards did all feature G.I.Joe-style file cards, that also carried character statistics derived from the game background. Also, a sidebar to the file card offered game tips and cheats.
The figures were interesting. Since the characters in the video game were animated, not live-action, and had a distinct Japanese anime look to them, this couldn't entirely be translated well into the G.I.Joe style of action figure. Of course, all of the figures had distinctive head sculpts, since these could not be found within the G.I.Joe line. Arguably, the head sculpts looked like what one might expect less-anime and perhaps more-realistic versions of these characters would look like.
There were a handful of vehicles and one playset, all of which came with at least one and sometimes two figures. Interestingly, the figures were recolored versions of the carded figures, but it wasn't considered at all inappropriate, since there were different colored versions of the characters within the video game, as well. A blue-skinned Blanka was just as plausible as a green-skinned one (or as plausible as Blanka ever gets, anyway...)
The vehicles were all recolorations of previous vehicles, in some cases enhanced with spring-loaded missile launchers, which had recently become more popular in the G.I.Joe line. The BEAST BLASTER, for example, was the DREADNOK THUNDER MACHINE, given a new missile launcher and a different color scheme. It came with the aforementioned blue-skinned Blanka, as well as recolored Chun-Li, who had an orange and red uniform instead of the carded version's blue and white.
The only really substantially altered playset was the DRAGON FORTRESS, a sort of workout center for the Street Fighters, which was based on the COBRA TOXO-LAB, but with quite a few differences. The huge "Plasmatox" chamber was gone, and replaced with fighting and training equipment. The Fortress came with recolored versions of Ken and Ryu.
There was also a line of 12" HALL OF FAME style figures, some of which worked better than others. Ryu and Guile were decent figures, and Ryu even had flocked hair. M. Bison looked a little less than imposing in a faded red uniform that bordered on orangeish-pink. And Blanka was just plain ludicrous, as the body mold was not really big enough to convey Blanka's larger size, and they gave him a rather silly vest, shorts, and boots that made him look like he'd mugged Steve Irwin The Crocodile Hunter, who probably would've said, "Crikey, what's with that silly orange fright wig on yer head, mate?"
Hasbro looked to have a hit on its hands, especially when, the following year, a live-action STREET FIGHTER movie emerged, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme in the role of Colonel Guile, and Raul Julia as M. Bison, his final role.
Hasbro separated the Street Fighter toys from the G.I.Joe line, designed new packaging, using Van Damme's likeness, and prepared to help promote the movie with a superb line of toys.
Unfortunately -- the movie tanked at the box office.
That's not to malign Hasbro's efforts. They had a good overall toy line worked out. Indeed, a number of figures were substantially overhauled to one degree or another for their entrance into the movie line.
Balrog was given a different set of body molds, Salvo's instead of Big Boa's, and it was definitely an improvement. Similarly, Zangief was given the Road Pig body molds, which perhaps Hasbro had been reluctant to use for so many figures in the first line, since they'd been used completely for Blanka and for Guile's upper half. But the original Zangief had Gnawgahyde's upper body and flesh colored versions of, inexplicably, the B.A.T. II's legs, making the first Zangief look like a cybernetic accident of some sort. In the movie line, most of the Guile figures were designed along different lines, so Zangief got a better body for it.
Another all-new figure was Chun-Li, also a vast improvement. One that was not generally an improvement was Vega. Although he had an all-new body and a removable face mask, and the overall design was excellent as far as it went, he had this very silly action feature whereby his left arm, with its claws, could be spring-fired and then retracted along a string. This made Ninja Force look good by comparison. One figure never released in the line, although I have seen packaged samples of it, was Ryu. As I understand it, he had a fairly complicated spring-action in his total makeover, and it never quite worked right. It might be just as well. The head sculpt was inexplicable awful. He was given such a preposterously wide neck that he looked like he swallowed a blowfish whole and it went off in his throat.
Some figures were just repaints of their previous versions, such as Sagat, Dhalsim, and E. Honda. M. Bison received several makeovers, the best of which was one with an all-new head sculpt that bore a fair resemblance to Raul Julia, and also featured glow-in-the-dark hands, representing Bison's power. This was a far more imposing Bison than the first version.
Of course, the star of the movie was Guile, and so he received the most new versions. There was a spring-loaded version that was an all-new sculpt, and a series of "specialist" Guiles that used a number of previous body molds -- Snake-Eyes, Blizzard, Wet-Suit, and Dusty -- all with Van Damme heads and plenty of equipment for this hero to take on the forces of Shadoloo in any environment. The body molds were, in most cases, significant recolorings of their previous versions, and I know a number of customizers (myself included) that made ample use of them for special G.I.Joe projects.
There was also a series of vehicles, which for the most part was far more conventional than the somewhat oddball choices the first time around. The VAMP and DRAGONFLY were incorporated into the Street Fighter movie-based line, as were the SNOW CAT, the DREADNOK CYCLE, and the 1992 G.I.JOE HEADQUARTERS -- now painted purple and in the hands of M. Bison, who at the very least obviously needed a good decorator if that's what he did with it.
Now, there's every reason to believe that the line would've been a little more extensive than what actually came out. Sadly, the line tanked right along with the movie, and as Hasbro was in the process of (temporarily, although they didn't know it at the time) retiring the 3-3/4" G.I.Joes, they let Street Fighter die with it. Some of the movie figures, including all those Guiles, were mostly found in the 2/$5.00 section at K*B Toys about a year and a half after the line vanished from everywhere else. And they didn't last long there, either.
But what about the other four characters from what was, by then, SUPER STREET FIGHTER II? Four new characters, three of which had been in the movie, had been introduced by then -- CAMMY, T. HAWK, DEE-JAY, and the one that didn't make it into the movie, FEI LONG. Staggering irony given that Fei Long is, in the concept, a movie actor. Maybe Van Damme didn't want the competition.
There is reason to believe that these figures were in the works, based on package illustrations. For the Street Fighter helicopter toy, you can clearly see CAMMY in the second seat, riding shotgun along with Guile, who was included with the copter. And on the illustration for the Shalodoo Headquarters set, you can see everybody -- including Cammy, T. Hawk, Dee-Jay, and even Fei Long. I doubt Hasbro would've put these characters on the package illustration if there weren't some plans to make them.
However, I should also point out that no other evidence has ever surfaced. I have never seen any figure design sheets, prototype sculpts, paint masters or anything of that nature.
As for Street Fighter as a toy concept? It's had a few more go-rounds. TOY BIZ included it as part of their STREET FIGHTER VS MARVEL toy line. The toy company RESAURUS prodiced a brief but decent (if pre-posed) Street Fighter line before the company went ashcan.
Today, SOTA is the main American toy licensee, and from the pictures that I've seen, they're without question the best Street Fighter figures ever. Not to malign Hasbro's efforts, but SOTA's figures look to have more articulation, and are closer in likeness to their game counterparts. And of course there's a lot more characters than there used to be. The biggest problem here is that the toy line is one of those specialty lines that only turns up in places like Suncoast and GameStop, and for various reasons, SOTA's had a heck of a time getting the product to the stores. I look forward to reviewing them one of these days -- as soon as I can FIND the darn things!
In Japan, Takara plans to introduce several Street Fighter figures into their MICROMAN line, starting with popular female characters Chun-Li and Sakura. The results should be interesting.
Certainly Street Fighter remains a popular concept. A 15th anniversary version of the video game was recently released, and Udon Studios is producing a very enjoyable Street Fighter comic book.
But Hasbro did a capable job with the toys. It was hardly their fault the movie fared as poorly as it did. And the initial line made an interesting sidebar to G.I.Joe, and certainly the figures had all of the excellent quality that collectors had come to expect from that name. It's probably worth mentioning that the headsculpts for Sagat and Zangief recently turned up once again -- they were used as the heads for the new Dreadnoks CRUSHER and DEMOLISHOR in the 2004 Convention Set.
Besides, it was a real kick that Hasbro also turned out MORTAL KOMBAT figures a year later, also based on G.I.Joe, which made it possible for the first time to combine the characters from what were then the two hottest "fighting" tickets in the video game world. But I'll review those figures another time.
Meanwhile, if you're a longtime G.I.Joe collector that, for whatever reason, turned away from Hasbro's STREET FIGHTER collection, you should reconsider, assuming you can find the figures these days. It's a bit of a kick having the likes of a green-skinned monster and a giant sumo wrestler hanging around with the rest of the Joes...!