Welcome to a new limited run article series, I’m calling “Figures Wanted” where I’ll take a nostalgic look at some personal favorite films, video games, TV shows, and cartoon series that are sorely in need of new collectibles (in my opinion). This is a feature I’ve mulled over for some time. So long, in fact, that some brands that would have made the list at the beginning of 2019, are now in line for collectibles of their own. Some of these brands will, of course, have had toys and collectibles released in the past. While others, sadly, have yet to have any meaningful collectibles released. With revivals of classic brands still the running theme in entertainment, it’s sometimes disappointing to see which brands are passed over, or whose licensing rights are either too expensive, or too problematic to tackle.
In each update, I’ll talk a bit about the license itself, the story, and the characters. I’ll list core characters or concepts that would translate best into the collectible world, and then which (if any) companies would best be suited to handle the licenses. These opinions, of course, are my own, and I welcome our readers to share what they would like to see from each of these brands or who they’d like to see take them on.
In my first entry, I’ll be talking about my personal most wanted line of figures; the Double Dragon video game series.
Double Dragon started life as a 2-player arcade game released in 1987. It was created Yoshihisa Kishimoto, who also worked on the famed Kunio-Kun series of games that included hits like River City Ransom, Super Dodge Ball, and Renegade. In an interview with Polygon, Yoshihisa Kishimoto recalled that since many of those games required heavy localization for release outside of Japan, he was tasked by Technos Japan to create a new fighting game series. One that required little to no alteration for releases in Western countries. Double Dragon came about by taking inspiration from popular films such as The Warriors, and mixing them with the fighting elements seen in his previous hit; Renegade. The soundtrack, by composer Kazunaka Yamane, remains one of the most recognizable of the era.
The story of Double Dragon is simple and effective. Twin brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee (initially known as Spike and Hammer is North American advertising), must fight their way through the Shadow Warriors to rescue Billy’s girlfriend Marian. Fighting through city slums, a construction site, a forest, and the Shadow Warriors’ hideout, the duo face off against a variety of foes. Kidnapped in the opening scene of the game, Marian is held captive in the Shadow Warriors’ secret base by their machine gun toting leader, Willy. The player had punch, kick, and jump buttons. Punching and kicking could be combined to form makeshift combos. Score enough hits and the player performs an uppercut our roundhouse kick. You could combine that attack buttons with the jump button to perform jump kicks, elbows, and jumping round house kicks. There’s also a head butt move by tapping the joystick twice in one direction. Double Dragon II: The Revenge was released in arcades in 1988. In the sequel, Marion is shot down and killed by the Shadow Warriors, and the Lee Brothers must once again face off against Willy and his crew. The arcade version was more of refined version of the original game, featuring a number of reused and refined elements from the first game. Gone were punch and kick buttons, replaced by the directional attacks previously seen in another Technos game; Renegade.
Double Dragon was the game that initially defined the beat ‘em up genre. While not the first game of its type, it is certainly one of the most memorable. It was a near instant success in arcades, and spawned numerous home ports. Double Dragon was available on not only the NES at the time, but also the Sega Master System, both the Atari 2600 and 7800, and a number of home computer systems. The success was followed with ports of the sequels, a cartoon series, a comic book series, handheld LCD games, trading cards, and even a (truly dreadful) live action film. With each new iteration came further expansion of the story and new characters. Long-time fans tend to gravitate mainly towards Double Dragon and Double Dragon II: The Revenge in the arcades. The third game in the arcade series is best forgotten, however it did spawn a far superior (and wickedly difficult) port for the Nintendo Entertainment System. For anyone looking for the best Double Dragon experience, I highly recommend Double Dragon Advance for the Game Boy Advance. The remake features stages from a number of Double Dragon games, a full refined fighting system, and a more fleshed out story.
The series should be an easy target for a line of action figures. In fact, a short-lived toy line was released by Tyco in 1993. However, the figures were based on the animated series, and featured almost none of the characters, aesthetics, or story of the more recognizable video game iterations. Outside of the video games themselves, very little of Double Dragon is remembered fondly. However, the first few games, and many of the home ports are still enjoyable and loved among classic gaming enthusiasts. I would personally love to see figures from the arcade versions of Double Dragon and Double Dragon II, with some variants based on the assorted ports. For clarification, this article will almost solely focus on the original two arcade games, since much of those characters share similar designs, leadign to multiple toys based on the same molds. So how would I personally like to see these figures approached?
Billy Lee, Jimmy Lee, and Jeff
It makes sense to start with the most recognizable, and lead, characters in the franchise. In nearly every take on Double Dragon, the Lee Brothers are identical twins that share the same exact character design. The main difference is the color each wear, and a slight color variation of their hair. For a toy company, this would allow for the same figure mold to be used more than once, spreading the cost over multiple releases. Even better, these same molds could be used with no tooling changes for versions based on Double Dragon I and II. In the first game, Billy wears a mainly blue outfit, while Jimmy featured a red costume. In the second (arcade) game, Billy wears black, while Jimmy sports white. Even better, is the first games features a character known as Jeff, who is mostly a green outfit version of Billy and Jimmy, complete with the same move set. Like most enemies in the game, Jeff also had some color variations with each appearance in Double Dragon I and II. That’s not all, at the end of Double Dragon II, after deating Willy, you must face shadow versions of Billy and/or Jimmy! That’s quite a number of releases from just a single mold. Each release would simply need to feature different game themed accessories to add variety to a collector’s display. Swap out hands would be a must of course, as would items like baseball bats, knives, whips, dynamite sticks, and barrels to flesh out each release.
After the Lee Brothers, the huge character known as Abobo would offer a number of great options for toy makers. Like Billy and Jimmy, Abobo has a number of versions seen throughout the game series. Abobo is depicted as a series of hulking, shirtless characters. Abobo appears not only in different color pallets (Caucasian, African, Green), but with alternate portraits, such as a bald head, a mohawk, and even long hair with slightly different pants (DDII). Along with that, there are also variations in the color of the pants on some of those versions throughout the game. Additional game variations could be released, as Double Dragon Advance even added a Shadow Abobo that featured a jet-black skin tone. Additionally, the character of O’Hara (not pictured) from Double Dragon II could share many parts with Abobo as well. Being able to release a character requiring only minor retooling, and being able to release each tooling in multiple colors, helps to alleviate the initial tooling cost. Two packs with alternate portraits and hands are another way to spread the cost out.
Williams and Roper
I lumped these two together as they are far more similar than an initial glance would provide. Like much of Double Dragon, these characters use some of the same art, which is shared with Billy and Jimmy. A toy maker could use the base figures of the Lee’s and remove the vest to get the body of Williams. For Roper, you replace the shirt torso with a shirtless one, and add the vest back on. The only major new tooling that would then be required would be new head sculpts. And once again, each of these characters feature a number of color combinations that can be used to offer new variations. New head sculpts can be crafted to mirror their looks in Double Dragon II as well.
The character of Willy, the main end boss to the original arcade game, would be the most unique among these releases. However, careful examination of the character sprite reveals a number of shared elements with Abobo. Using the same body sculpt as Abobo, a toy company would need to add a new jacket, new armor pieces, a unique head sculpt, and his trademark machine gun. While Willy in the arcade version of Double Dragon 2 looked to use the exact same sprite, his colors are quite different, and could easily justify a second release using the same parts.
After a toy company made it through the above characters, then they could potentially begin to look at crafting figures that would require either unique tooling, or incredibly clever reuse of existing tooling. Characters like Marian and Linda from Double Dragon don’t offer a lot of wiggle room for reuse. Then, as you get to Double Dragon II, there are a number of characters such as Burnov, Chin, and Abore that aren’t quite as recognizable to casual fans. However, just about every one of these characters have the potential for color variants.
About The License
Right now, it’s tough to say why we haven’t seen any new action figures, statues, or collectibles for Double Dragon. The series has a recognizable brand, especially with older collectors who grew up with video game systems such as the NES. Perhaps toy companies don’t see the license as a viable toy line. Perhaps the licensing situation is too complicated. Over the years, the rights have definitely changed hands more than a few times. Currently, the license looks to be with Arc System Works who released the underwhelming Double Dragon IV for modern systems, and Kunio-kun: The World Classics Collection which was a compilation of many Technos games from the NES era, including Double Dragon 1 – 3.
Who Could Make The Figures?
The most obvious choice to many fans would be a company like NECA. Their 7” scale figures have included a number of video game licenses, such as classic NES, Sega Genesis, and arcade games. NECA also has a knack for finding ways to reuse existing tooling to craft new characters, which in turn lessens the initial costs. Their flapped window boxes make for great display pieces, but there are so many characters here, classic clamshell packaging would likely be more appropriate.
Super7 and their 3.75” scale ReAction Figure style would also be a great way to bring these characters to life. The simplified sculpts, and Super7’s penchant for variants could be a match made in heaven. They have delved into some licenses with the ReAction line that other companies have avoided, and the lower cost of development for the small scale figures has allowed them to delve deep into some line ups. The main selling point would obviously be the backer card, which would undoubtedly feature high quality art from any number of artists currently working with Super7.
The final choice would be Storm Collectibles. Since they began doing 1/12 scale figures they have taken on a number of licenses, many of which are video game related. As they have shown with licenses like Mortal Kombat, Tekken and Street Fighter, they are not shy about releasing the same character multiple times, which would actually benefit a line like Double Dragon.
In the gallery below, you can see some screen shots, key art, and assorted images from Double Dragon’s history. If handled correctly, Double Dragon is a license that could deliver figures for years. With the ability to share major tooling across multiple characters, and multiple variations on each character, the cost can be spread out quite a bit. The license taps into the ongoing nostalgia of the 80’s and 90’s, as well as appealing to the adult video game collectors. Perhaps one day, the right company will be able to make the numbers work, and at least a small line of figures could see the light of day.
What say you, the readers? Would a line of Double Dragon related action figures be something you would support?