Ninja Force has been a fairly hated concept in the G.I. Joe fandom. It’s not so much because of the concept, though Ninjas were probably played out by this point, but rather the figures were dead before they were even released, based on the terrible gimmicks implemented into the figures, so that they could compete in the action figure aisles of the go-go 90s.
The first Ninja Force series had two COBRA agents, Slice and Dice. If they’d been given traditional construction, they’d likely be as desirable as the Headhunter, for 1990s COBRA figures. The colours are good, the designs were good, and Slice even managed to be made an actual character in the comic, something that wasn’t often done after about issue #4. They’re interesting as the pairing of the two was actually very successful and it’s hard to have one without the other, they’re not quite Tomax and Xamot, but they’re pretty close. Which is surprisingly impressive for two characters with gimmicked figures from 1992.
Dice, is one of the nicer Ninja Force molds, it’s not too busy, and while his face isn’t fully covered, it’s not nearly as awful as Dojo’s Old man dressed as a Ninja Turtle, or T’Jbang’s Lucha Libre look. The mask that Dice is wearing, is stylized enough that it works for the Ninja appearance, and has an almost dragon-like appearance, so it’s kind of reminiscent of some of the more stylized evil Samurai face shields.
Dice’s outfit was a very strong design, and even before getting his Modern Error figure, aspects of the design were incorporated on a couple Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes’ figures. It made sense, since Dice looks cool, and it was something that could also provide a wink and a nod to fans of the 90s figures, and or anyone with a collecting knowledge that extended past 1987, which in the early part of the 25th Anniversary collection, that wasn’t always the case with the influx of new collectors.
While most Ninja Force guys got some ribbon or fake hair, Dice got REALLY BIG kneepads. It’s notable, if nothing else. His ninja action feature is some weird thing where if you turn his torso, it returns to neutral really quickly. It’s less intrusive than other moves, because his arms don’t have any restrictions on them. One of the interesting things done with the first series Ninja Force figures, was the skin tone used. Dice, T’Jbang and Dojo all have the same skin colour, which is a darker colour than the typical caucasian tone of the 90s. I assume it was done to indicate these were characters of East Asian descent, despite the file names! Then again, Sonic Fighters Road Pig also shares that skin tone, but he looks like someone who’d been victimized by sonic radiation.
Dice included a pretty iffy spear as his “bo staff”, as well as an axe. The staff isn’t bad per-se, it’s just oversized and not a ton of fun to use. The axe on the other hand might be the best of all the newly sculpted weapon for the Ninja Force line, as it’s well detailed and not massively oversized, and tends to be my go to weapon when using Dice. Jinx’s nagatina is also a good substitute weapon for Dice, as it provides the same overall design as his true weapon, without the size issues.
The 1992 Ninja Force figures don’t suffer the same colouring setbacks that the 1993 series does, Dice, winds up with probably the nicest colour scheme a Ninja Force figure would be coloured in. He’s got a deep purple base, with black and silver highlights. The colours all work well together, and aren’t gaudy or anything. The 1990s get a bad rap for neon, but really it’s just 1993 that’s really out to lunch. That’s not to say that the 1990s weren’t bright, T’Jbang and Dojo both feature an obnoxious yellow and blue colour scheme, that tends to diminish both figures as it’s too similar, as well both are done in a colour scheme that’s far brighter than the other four figures in the first Ninja Force series, which all had fairly reasonable colour schemes, especially when compared to where things were heading with the line.
The strength of Dice’s colour scheme, is nice enough to overcome his construction issue, and makes him one of the more commonly seen Ninja Force figures, especially in comparison to the new characters introduced on the Joe side of things.
Where Dice’s colour scheme really shines, is how the paint apps were applied. The paint masks are intricate for the time frame he was released, as his head for example features a purple face mask over a black helmet, when it probably would’ve been easier to make it just purple. The same could be said for his gauntlets, it was a level of detailing not seen as often as the 1990s rolled along.
Dice is a figure with a solid sculpt, and unique enough look, that he’s a usable figure, despite the construction changes. Part of what makes this the case, is he’s not an important character, he’s someone that could be standing in the background looking intimidating, and he’s being used to the fullest extent of the Dice character. Considering how most fans prefer Storm Shadow as a COBRA, Dice’s fate isn’t all that bad. COBRA having a variety of Ninja henchmen, is something that’s easier to explain away than a US Military unit having a half dozen ninjas on it.
It’s funny how, it’s taken close to 25 years for the Ninja Force figures to be viewed in a much more positive light than they were initially online. I think that’s something that could’ve come around a lot sooner, if these figures were judged on their actual merits, rather than the fact they’re not using the traditional construction. Fun fact, you can think Dice is a good action figure AND that he’d be better with traditional G.I. Joe articulation. It’s not an either/or situation. While not all Ninja Force figures are good, there’s a probably 4 or 5 solid figures released under that banner. Dice is probably the best of the lot, as his colouring is strong, and the articulation isn’t as much of a hindrance as others. One of the big disappointments of the final batch of Black Major Storm Shadow figures, was the fact a black and purple one didn’t the final cut.