Happy Kid Toy Group LTD.
Room 410-411, 4/F.
63 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui East
Kowloon, Hong Kong
This set comes in a fairly-large, windowed box (roughly sixteen inches wide by twelve inches tall by two-and-one-fourth inches deep) that is predominately red--considering the color of the planet Mars, that's an entirely appropriate choice of hue. The front of the package claims there are over 100 pieces, and that's no lie; there are 107 of them by my count (88 parts between the seven figures, and an additional 19 accessories). The back of the box sports a large photo depicting a huge battle between the Aliens, Troopers (humans), and MegaBots, many of them mounted on various vehicles. Unfortunately, there is no background story about the characters or their motives to be found anywhere, which I found disappointing--that's one of the things that separates a great toy from a mediocre one. Yeah, I can readily figure out we've got three armies/species/races fighting each other, but why are they battling? As Happy Kid Toy Group isn't saying, I'm going to venture my own hypothesis: They're waging an epic war over the most valuable commodity in the universe--twist ties. If you're anything like me, then I know you are going to "love" removing the thirty shackles from six of the seven figures (the seventh, the red guy in the center--who is arranged with his limbs disconnected, exhibiting how the figure's parts can connect/disconnect--is kept in place via a plastic window snapped over his portion of the tray . . . how I wish the others had been secured in the same manner). Thankfully all of the guns, those not being held by a figure that is, just pop out of the tray. Seriously, one or two twist ties, per figure, would have been more than sufficient.
I'm going to start things off by going over the seven figures in the general sense, then, I'll break them down by faction. First off, these are about 4" in scale, so you can conceivably use them with 3-3/4" Star Wars and G.I.JOE action figures, amongst others, without them appearing too large or small in comparison. The main draw of these M.A.R.S. toys is their interchangeability--with few exceptions, all of the parts can be freely swapped between the seven characters, allowing you to come up with all sorts of crazy combinations. For me, they bring back fond memories of Mattel's Masters of The Universe Evil Horde Modulok character, as well as the entire line of Remco's MANTECH Robot Warriors--both toys that had similar modular designs. The body pieces, and shoulder accessories, attach to one another via ball-and-socket type joints, which the package has labeled the "Neo Snap Joint System". This has both good and bad consequences for the articulation/poseability. On the upside, all the joints are ball joints which generally give a lot more range of movement than cut or peg type joints. They also pop on/off quickly, yet remain tight enough for posing. Now, the negatives: While the balls provide a good range of motion at the hips, shoulders, and ankles, they don't work nearly as well at the necks, elbows, and knees. Part of that is design, while the rest can be attributed to the inherent limitations that the simplicity of the joint system entails. They also have a tendency to pop off too easily, which can lead to some frustration. The lower arms, for example, frequently came off when I was trying to take out, or put in, a gun. One thing that I noticed after opening these guys up, which annoyed me, was that the paint on the fronts of the Trooper and MegaBot figures were given preference/special treatment (which is what you see in the package and obviously helps sell them)--the anteriors sport more paint operations and a gloss overcoat (i.e., they're shiny and more detailed in the front/duller and have fewer paint applications in the back). An entire figure should receive the same amount of care when it's painted--not just the part the customer sees.
With seven figures, and three factions, one group had to have a majority, as there's no way to split them up evenly, and it's these guys. They're all identical except for head sculpt and color scheme. The body sculpt is quite intricate and impressive, featuring all sorts of little panels, lines, etc. The only thing I don't like about their design is that they look overly robotic, which makes them too similar to the MegaBots faction in appearance, which I think detracts from the whole three races thing--they should all be very distinct from one another in my opinion. It's worth noting that they have a hole in the center of their backs, but it's not the right size to interact with any of the ball joints in the set--I'm guessing this is for use with parts/accessories found in other M.A.R.S. toys, possibly the vehicles. The green guy looks an awful lot like the Master Chief from the video game HALO, so, if you're a fan of that license, this set might be worth picking up for that alone. The silver guy's head is covered with a metal "hood" and he sports some nice black stripes on his exposed face. The red guy is, surprise, a redhead, and has a metal face mask, which is reminiscent of some of the Mortal Kombat ninja character designs.
These two are my favorites out of the set, partly because I like monsters so much, but mostly because of their impressive design. In comparison to the Troopers and MegaBots, the Aliens are less detailed and more organic looking, but, what really sells their appearance is that they're molded in translucent plastic. This was a brilliant choice on the manufacturer's part, as it really sets them apart from the other two factions and gives them that other-worldliness feel that any good space critter should have. The two Aliens are identical in sculpt, except for the slightly different face plates and completely different lower arms. The blue and purple version sports large (twice the size of his comrade's), three-fingered affairs, while his orange and green buddy has more humanoid, four-fingered appendages. Alas, the Aliens don't have removable heads; the body and face plate are one unit. That shortcoming is somewhat lessened by the addition of two holes on the shoulders, that can accommodate pieces, but, there's a design problem here--the sockets will only accept the smaller ball joints found exclusively on the Aliens' two shoulder accessories, not the larger ones found on the figure's bodies, which severely limits their usefulness as far as creative recombination is concerned.
As far as robots go, the design on these is fairly generic. Don't get me wrong, there's quite a bit of detail in the sculpt and they look very nice, but nothing about them really stands out to me. They remind me a little bit of some of the mech designs in the Armored Core series of video games. Other than unique head/shoulder accessory sculpts and paint, the two robots are identical in appearance. The one aspect of their design that I really like, as far as playability is concerned, is that they have ball joints on their shoulders. While these are intended for the shoulder accessories, I find them a lot more entertaining to use for the attachment of an extra set of arms (you can see a photo of that further down the page). Additionally, out of all the figures, only the MegaBots have holes in their feet, which I presume would work with peg-equipped stands. Oddly, they also have hexagonal holes on the back of their thighs for some unknown purpose. The blue robot has a flat, box-like head with a yellow visor. The silver robot's noggin looks a lot like a helmet from a medieval suit of armor and is my favorite out of the two.
Not only do you get seven figures in this set, but you get a ton of weapons to outfit them with. Normally I break these down individually, but, as there are so many of them, and the majority are handguns, I'm going to address them more generally for this review. I also chose to count the shoulder parts for the MegaBots and Aliens as accessories, even though the figures were packaged with them attached. While I really like the quantity, I do feel there could have been a bit more variety, I mean, how many guns do you really need? How about some grenades or something to mix things up?
- Shoulder Parts. There are six of these, two each for the MegaBots, and one each for the Aliens. The gray robot has too pentagon-shaped affairs with a green circle in the center. The blue robot has rocket launchers. I didn't like that the back portions of these are left open (i.e., they're completely hollow, and you can see the ball joint sticking through from the back)--it just looks bad, although I suppose it's easier to make/remove them from an injection mold that way. The orange alien has a translucent green, um, thingy. And the blue alien has a yellow, three-lobed whatchamacallit. Both of these look great and match the overall Alien aesthetic they've got going on. I kind of wish the aliens had two of each, like the robots, but the asymmetry kind of goes along with the whole otherworldly vibe I guess.
- Guns. In a word, lots. In addition to the number, what really impressed me was that only two of them are duplicates, all the rest are unique sculpts. The Troopers/MegaBots' ten firearms are all molded from silver plastic that is a little bit on the rubbery side. The sculpts have a fair amount of detail, but nothing mind blowing. The two alien guns match the design of the otherworldly creatures that use them--they're molded in translucent orange/green plastics and share the same smooth appearance. Unfortunately, they're hard to get into the orange alien's hands, due to the large grip guards and the shape of the creature's pre-posed fingers--take some care, as I could see you snapping off its' thumbs if you're impatient.
- Axe. This is the largest, and coolest, accessory out of all of them in my opinion. The design is wicked and compliments the look of the blue alien perfectly.
I paid $7.49 for this set, plus tax, at my local Shopko store. However, that was clearance price--it started out at $14.99, then dropped to $9.99, and finally came down to the amount I paid. Really, any of those prices are quite reasonable, considering all that you're getting, but I'm glad I waited as long as I did (I almost bought them, for eleven something, when they were on sale at Christmas time). For value comparison, consider that the Shopko store was asking $1.99 for a single M.A.R.S. figure. And, similar sized figures, from other toy companies, usually run $5-7 a piece (i.e., Star Wars, G.I.JOE 25th Anniversary Collection, etc). Despite their shortcomings, these are great toys and I heartily recommend their purchase. Don't let the lack of an association with a popular movie/video game/cartoon/comic book license dissuade you from giving them a try.
- Outstanding price/value. Where else can you get seven 4" figures, and a ton of accessories, for $7.49? If you want to build a huge army of these guys, buying several of these boxed sets will get you there in a hurry, and relatively cheaply to boot. This assortment also supplies a lot of raw material to work with for customizers.
- Interchangeable body parts are always a fun play feature. There's no reason to ever get bored with the appearance of these figures, as you can easily change how they look whenever you want with the 107 pieces found in this set.
- Highly poseable figures. As each connect/disconnect point also serves as a ball joint, these guys are pretty flexible.
- Solid construction. I pulled apart, and snapped together, the joints on these figures dozens of times already and they all still work great with no breakage.
- Nice sculpts. The Aliens are by far my favorites out of the three body types. The translucent Alien bodies/accessories were a great idea and really add to their design/appearance.
- Lots of accessories. Only two of the guns are duplicates, which also impresses me.
- No storyline/explanation for the figures and their conflict is presented. This anonymity reinforces the "generic" nature of these figures. Yes, it's good for children to use their imagination and come up with their own play situations, but I've always felt that some background information on the characters adds to a toy line's appeal.
- While the interchangeability is cool, more part variety is needed. Even though you're getting seven figures, for practical purposes, there's really only three sculpts between them. There is very little, other than paint, to separate characters from the same faction apart from another. Also, adding some additional sockets and balls, on different areas of the figures bodies, would allow for more versatility and creativity (I like to make more exotic looking beasties, something I struggled to do, given the design/part limitations).
- Limbs pop off too easily, which can cause frustration during posing and play.
- The ball and socket joints work better in some areas that others, as far as articulation is concerned. The knees and elbows in particular have significantly less range of motion than I expected from a ball joint.
- Giving the front halves of the Trooper and MegaBots a glossier, and more detailed, paint job than their posterior halves is lazy and not appreciated. I want my figures to have consistent paint jobs, not look better from the front. While it's important that what the customer sees in the store is attractive, it's equally important, especially if you want said customer to come back and buy more of your product, that the opened item displays consistent quality front-to-back.
Where to Buy:
In my geographical area, I've seen them at both Wal*Mart and Shopko. Shopko had a number of copies of this boxed set, individually carded figures, and boxed deluxe robots. My Wal*Mart doesn't have any in stock anymore, but when they did, they had boxed sets containing figures and a vehicle (and I believe they were labeled as something else other than M.A.R.S., but maybe I'm remembering wrong). In another review of these figures, at Michael Crawford's toy review web site, where I first learned about this toy line, the reviewer stated that he found them at a Walgreens for a mere dollar (single carded figures). My advice is to visit a number of your local stores, diligently search the pegs, and hopefully you'll find some.
Happy Kid Toy Group recommends this set for ages 5 and up. The smaller pieces could pose a choking hazard, but, other than that, these are solidly constructed toys that I could see a child having a lot of fun with it. Even as an adult, I still got a kick out of rearranging these guys and trying to come up with interesting variations.
Some Recombination Examples: