From the early 90s onwards, when the concept of the gaming franchise was just beginning to appear, the game itself ceased to be the only product that developers could offer to an increasingly ravenous audience. Today, through agreements with other companies, new games often launch alongside related comic books, clothing, statues, keychains, and all sorts of other collectibles.
There were seemingly no rules about what could be turned into an action figure thirty years ago. Terminator II, RoboCop, Ghostbusters, Jurassic Park, and TMNT all had their own range of plastic people (and accessories to buy) on the market. However, gaming was a much more muted category of these collectibles. In fact, it’s hard to think of anything that came before 1993’s Street Fighter II figures.
The World Warrior
By modern standards, Capcom’s foray into the world of collectibles, which was, at the time, slowly recovering from the dominance of Star Wars, was a little embarrassing. Today, we’re blessed with high-quality merchandise, which includes the super realistic statues now available for purchase on a frequent release schedule, as well as a line of spin-off games, like the NetEnt-created Street Fighter II slot machine game, here.
In the latter case, the likenesses of the original game’s fighters are pulled directly from the 1991 console release, which could also be played on arcade machines. The slot, subtitled The World Warrior, also includes a number of stages from Street Fighter II, like E Honda’s bathhouse and Balrog’s casino backdrop. Curiously, despite the franchise’s upcoming 35th anniversary, developer Capcom hasn’t released any Street Fighter games since 2018.
“A Real American Hero”
Hasbro didn’t bother to make new molds for the likes of Ryu, Ken, and Chun Li, choosing instead to use existing G.I. Joe bodies for its new line. The only new aspect of these figures was the characters’ heads. This made for a Zangief who looked an awful lot like the Flash Gordon baddie Ming the Merciless and a curiously upright Blanka the shade of an envious Kermit.
What Hasbro did get right with its Street Fighter II collectibles were the accessory kits that came with each character. While, once again, trending towards the bizarre (Blanka had an arsenal that included a grapple-launcher), E. Honda’s collection of Eastern weapons at least seemed authentic on the surface. Branding his box with the tagline “A Real American Hero” might have been a little more controversial, though.
The Netflix documentary The Toys that Made Us indicates that re-using molds for new figures wasn’t actually all that unusual a process, probably because there’s quite a lot of overlap between the cavernous torsos of action heroes, professional wrestlers, and video game pugilists. Capcom would later introduce a range of plushes that bore a much greater resemblance to the source material.
Figures based on the G.I. Joe concept can go for quite a lot of money today, with a rare B.A.T.S model reaching $15,000 (£11,000). A blue Blanka still sells on Etsy for £55.54 (about $75), although its pedigree isn’t clear, and it has no box. In any case, video game collectibles have come a long way in a short time – but the joy of those old blister packs is going to be a hard thing to replicate.