When the original Tomb Raider was released in 1996, it was a massive success. It came out only six weeks after Super Mario 64, but within hours it was the #1 selling game and stayed that way for months. She was a cultural phenomenon. ToyBiz gave Lara Croft her first action figure in 1997 (a retooled Jubilee, oddly enough), but it wasn't until 1999 that she got a full-fledged line of toys from Playmates.
The sound of a twig snapping turns Lara around.
She is face-to-face with a powerful Bengal tiger. Lara silently curses herself for not hearing the jungle cat sooner - this is definitely going to cut into her search time. Keeping her eyes locked on the tiger's unblinking stare, Lara slowly raises her M16 and releases the safety. The thundering sound of automatic fire fills the dense jungle and echoes off through the distance. Lara lowers her gun as the striped cat disappears into the dense jungle.
Technically known as "Adventure Dioramas," Playmates' Tomb Raider toys paired 6" scale figures with a big background scene, making for some awesome value - these things retailed between $15 and $20 when they were new, which was high but not outrageous even back then.
The sculpt of the figure is simple, but accurate. Clearly Playmates was trying to copy the style Eidos used in the promotional materials, rather than the in-game models, and it worked out well. The face, for instance, is unmistakably the way Lara looked back then, with the flat face, the thin nose, and the massive, oversized eyes.
And speaking of things that are massive and oversized,
the rest of Lara's body is just as stylized as the head. There aren't a lot of sculpted details; she's very smooth all over. There are just a few wrinkles on her shorts, thick stitches on the seams of her gunbelt, and sculpted lines on her rolled-over socks. The boots themselves get complete laces and even a deep tread on the sole. But as far as her actual body? It's more the suggestion of muscle tone than actual muscle. Her figure - that is to say, her proportions - are closer to a real human being than the art at the time delivered (probably because Playmates knew that if they used Edios' own renders as a guideline, buyers would have thought there was something wrong with the toy).
The articulation is light. Lara has a swivel neck, swivel shoulders, swivel waist and a V-crotch. There's also a joint at the right elbow, but it's just another swivel. Clearly, poseability was not the end goal of this action figure. She has a very wide-legged stance, which makes her look dynamic, and the joints in the arms are enough to make her look cool. The way her braided ponytail curls means that she can turn her head
side to side without any problem, and it still looks natural.
The figure includes three accessories, all guns. There are her trademark twin pistols, which fit perfectly into her holsters, and then there's an M-16 assault rifle. Both hands are molded to hold the guns, so she can aim whichever direction you want. We do wish there was some way to stow the rifle on her tiny, tiny backpack, as you can in the game. But sadly, no.
Of course, this wouldn't be much of an "Adventure Diorama" without a diorama, now would it? This is the "Jungle" set, and so fittingly she gets a chunk of jungle. Well, a chunk of jungle temple, at any rate. It's 7¼" tall, 5¾" wide and 4⅝" deep. The base is a patch of dirt with some leafy underbrush and two shallow stone steps. Into that plug two thick pillars (half-pillars, if we're being honest) with a beveled lintel perched on top. The "stone" parts all have sculpted cracks that have been painted to make them stand out, and vines crawl up one of the pillars. Chunks of rock are scattered on the steps, and there's an angry-looking face overlooking the entryway.
Not content to stop there, Playmates has also seen fit to give us the Bengal tiger mentioned in the back-of-the-card
text. It's a solid piece, with just a single point of articulation at the tail, but its sculpt is beyond reproach. The tiger is furry, and posed in a crouch, waiting to pounce. The head comes down lower than the feet - it's meant to be perched on top of the scenery, so the chin doesn't actually butt up against anything unless you try to put it on the ground.
This tiger must be a juvenile, because adults are 8'-10' long, and this one is only about 5" from nose to tail. Yes, it's hunched over and curled around, but that still doesn't equate to a full length. The paint is very nice, with orange on the back fading to white on the belly, and crisp black stripes everywhere. There's a hole in one foot, and a matching peg on top of the diorama.
The Tomb Raider toys won Best Line in 1999, in part because of their packaging. The figures are sold on a huge blister card,
featuring a stone background and a large render of Lara herself taking up the right hand third of the blister. The back shows the other figures in the line, and offers some standard text in addition to the scene-specific info we quoted way up above:
International action hero Lara Croft has conquered the darkest jungles and topped the highest mountains - all for the thrill of the challenge. She starts every day some place new. Each exotic location more deadly than the last, Lara fights her way past beast and man in search of the world's greatest treasures. The odds are always against her - just the way she likes it.
By current standards, Lara Croft isn't a very impressive figure. But honestly, she's as close to the promotional renders of her time as the NECA figures are to theirs. Plus, the diorama is just awesome. Trust us when we say that every set in this line is as good as (or better than) this one. Add to that the fact that most people have forgotten it ever existed, and you can pick up some killer display pieces on the cheap.