It seemed as bad a time as any to take a minute and talk about what we do here. Like every toy review site, we have our own approach for examining and scoring toys.
I've seen a lot of different methods and approaches, some of which I've liked and others I haven't. In general, though, I found most scoring systems needlessly complicated for my tastes. I've tried to simplify the system to something that made sense for the way I look at toys.
What I came up with really comes down to two steps: assigning an initial score based on the overall appearance of the figure, then adjusting the score based on some quick criteria.
In my estimation, this is basically what most online toy reviewers do to come to a final score. The difference is that I'm a little more upfront about my math. Rather than give you a separate score for several categories that won't matter, I gloss over the excess. I'll mention the packaging and show you some pictures, but I don't see the point of giving it a score that doesn't matter.
Lets take a look at the sections you'll see in our reviews:
No matter how much we complain about missing accessories or lacking articulation, most collectors fundamentally buy according to appearance. The notable exception, of course, are collectors buying vintage toys - but we don't really deal with that here.
I score the figure here - and ONLY the figure. This reflects how the toy looks out of the package WITHOUT accessories, bases, or anything else... most of the time (certain items, such as alternate head sculpts, will be examined on a case by case basis, and "sets" could force me reexamine what constitutes a "toy" versus its accessories... but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it).
Some reviewers like to break this down between sculpt and paint, and - honestly - there are times that's useful information. But, ultimately, I usually don't care WHY a toy looks good or bad as much as I care whether the end appearance is something I want on my shelf.
That doesn't mean I won't discuss the sculpt and paint when I talk about why I gave a toy a particular score: just that these (along with factors such as design) contribute to the final look of the figure.
Likewise, in situations where a toy might work for a custom project - say, a good sculpt beneath bad paint that could be fixed with a little work - I'll try to mention it in the review.
It is important to note that appearance is a difficult metric sometimes. It certainly would be unfair to grade a 'cartoony' figure according to how realistic it is. Instead, I typically wind up scoring according to either how well the figure captures its intent or how 'cool' it looks. This second possibility is required for situations where a toy, while coming up short in one sense, happens to work out anyway. Take the Deluxe Wall-E I reviewed a while back. The eyes were off model, which would normally hurt him - after all, the figure is supposed to reflect his screen appearance. However, the reflective eyes and streamlined look actually work BETTER in that scale than I'd expect a more accurate version. This may have been deliberate - or it just as easily could have been a happy accident - but the figure looks absolutely fantastic: I gave it a 10 in this category.
I do want to add that I don't typically adjust a toy's appearance score according to its cost. What a toy is worth is another subject - one I address in the conclusion. I will consider what a toy is - for instance, a twelve inch premium format figure will be scored differently than a ten dollar doll of the same size. But I won't typically rate two six inch figures differently just because one's five dollars and one's twenty. Prices fluctuate, toys get cheap on clearance, and they can get ridiculously expensive on Ebay: I score based on a toy's appearance, not its price tag.
If you don't care about a toy's articulation or accessories, the score in Appearance should carry more weight than the final score. But I still recommend looking at the next two sections: there might be some information worth having.
Packaging and Extras
This section covers everything you get other than the figure. Most reviewers divide these up into separate sections. Why don't I follow suit? Simple: because there are so few scenarios where the packaging will impact the final score, I don't see the point.
I realize that this will put me at odds with a portion of the toy collectors out there: a lot of people like to keep figures in their original packages to maintain their value. I get that, and I respect it. These are collectibles, after all.
But I don't see myself selling these. I just like the toys. What's more, I find the idea of scoring the package a bit... convoluted. If you're buying these as sellable commodities, what does it matter what the packages look like? Are you looking for something that's visually appealing or something that protects the toy? Do you want a package that opens and closes or one that can only be opened once (leaving no question whether it's truly unopened)?
Whenever possible, I'll provide photos of the figure in its packaging. If I like the packaging, I'll let you know; same if I don't. But it's almost never going to change the score.
I said almost, didn't I? Okay, there are a few situations that might be different. If a toy's packaging has exceptional value as a case, a display, or just a collectible in its own right, I might add a point. Alternatively, if a shoddy package damages a figure or is the cause of missing accessories, I'll subtract.
I haven't come across either of those situations since I've been reviewing here. So far, all of the points added or removed have been because of accessories, bases, and other added items.
So, what determines how many points a toy gets? It has more to do with expectation than anything else.
For example, when I buy a Green Arrow figure, I expect a bow. If it doesn't come with a bow, I deduct. If it comes with a really NICE bow, I add.
If a figure needs a base to stand, I don't give them any points unless it's an exceptional base. Points are added for figures that come with a base that's optional and are taken off if a base is needed but not present.
But, things get complicated. These days, it's becoming popular to add all sorts of extras: bases, alternate head or hand sculpts, displays, posters, and the ever-popular build-a-figure pieces. Each toy needs to be addressed on an individual basis, however I have developed some VERY rough guidelines:
-2 or lower: Figure is lacking accessories/base fundamental to its concept. A score this low is highly unusual - in fact, so far, it hasn't come up. A knight missing a sword probably wouldn't even be hit this hard - unless he had an empty sheath, as well.
-1: Figure is missing accessories/extras that should have been included.
0: Figure comes with required accessories and/or additional extras that don't add significant value (simple accessories, miniature posters, etc.).
+1: Figure comes with required accessories which exceed expectations or figure comes with additional extras adding some value.
+2: Figure comes with extras that greatly exceed expectations in quantity, quality, and/or concept. It is rare (though not impossible) for this score to be awarded unless a figure includes either a base or part of a build a figure in addition to its normal accessories.
+3 or higher: Figure comes with highly impressive accessories which far exceed expectations. This score will almost always accompany figures which include a base as well as accessories and/or additional extras.
I do want to add a final addendum: even though the cost isn't taken into consideration when I score Appearance, it may come up here. This is necessary because the price point sometimes helps set an expectation of what should be included, and whether a figure lives up to the expectation is the basis of this score. In these cases, I will always consider the "original" price, rather than what I paid.
Play and Display
This section is a combination of two or three different categories. The most significant are articulation, posability, and balance. In addition, if a figure has any action features, sounds, lights, or anything of the sort, that will be considered, as well.
This sounds like quite a lot, but really it boils down to one question: How well does the toy do whatever it is that it's suppose to do?
In the case of action figures, this will usually boil down to the number of poses of figure can hold. If the figure has an action feature, I'll score on how well it works and how it interferes with the figure's articulation and posability.
I won't, however, consider any effect the features or articulation has on the appearance - that will be covered at the top.
Sometimes things come up that aren't covered above. The most common of these will be defects in the figure or problems with its construction. When I pull a figure out of its package and the arm falls off, expect to see it reflected here.
A toy may receive a special positive addition in situation where an aspect makes the figure special or unique in a way that isn't reflected by the above. For example, if a toy is individually hand painted or signed by the artist, you might see some added points here. Likewise, if it's a limited edition figure, I might acknowledge it.
Price Tag and Final Analysis
The conclusion boils down to this: how much did is cost and how much is it worth? I'll include some other information, some thoughts, and tabulate the math... but really this part is about the price tag.
Every review should answer a single question: is this figure worth the price? Now, obviously, this is more than a little subjective. If a figure represents the perfect culmination of what YOU think an action figure should be - if it's a toy you've been wanting for years, but no one made it until now - it's probably going to be worth it. To you.
If that's the case, you don't need my comments here: you'll most likely know you need the toy based on the pictures alone... and that's how it should be.
What I try and do here is put that aside and give it to you straight: does the quality of the figure justify it's price tag or not? You'll see a lot of reviews where I answer 'no,' then say that I'm glad I bought it. These are situations where I think the figure is overpriced, but it's worth it to me, anyway. Is it worth it for you? That's always your call, not mine.