In late 2001, after years of it being a budget video title with a strong cult following, Tron was suddenly embraced by Disney as if it were the next big thing; a new special edition DVD was prepared, a long-overdue soundtrack CD was released, and quietly, behind the scenes, Japanese toy manufacturer Neca picked up the license to reproduce the cool toys that were originally produced by Tomy in 1982.
Perhaps to the chagrin of some collectors, the Neca Tron figures are all virtually identical to Tomy’s. The only differences immediately noticeable are the presence of Neca’s logo in place of Tomy’s on the light cycles, and the color of the light cycle pack-in figures, which were molded from a dark, smoke-colored plastic and detailed with a darker paint than their original versions. But the individually carded figures are absolutely identical in every detail.
Neca also made me jump for joy by reissuing the glorious scale models of the Syd Mead-designed light cycles, complete with the “rip cord” that can send them flying across a smooth floor or other flat surface. The light cycles, too, are exact replicas of Tomy’s original toys, though this time they each come with a bonus figure. The cycles are available in yellow, red and blue, with red being the least common paint job. I lost my beloved yellow light cycle many, many years ago, so it was this even more than the figures that had me personally going nuts about the new Tron toys.
These items and more were on display at the 2002 Electronic Entertainment Expo, where an elaborate booth was set up to promote the upcoming sequel video game Tron 2.0. Not only were identically-numbered sets of the toys given away to lucky winners in a drawing, but a 3-inch mini-CD-ROM with a video preview of Tron 2.0 was also being handed out freely to the press – and its contents make the new game look like a blast of retro fun, even though it’s another first-person shooter. Light cycle designer Syd Mead himself was also on hand to autograph stills from the movie and talk to admirers – and as you can imagine, since Tron is a cornerstone in the consciousness of anyone who’s old enough to be a video game journalist now, there were plenty of fans around.
Dare we hope for a 20-years-overdue second wave of action figures with characters such as Yori, Ram and Dumont? Maybe I should just hush now, go race my light cycles, and be glad that we have all the goodies that hit us this year. And something tells me that we might just get some toys out of Tron 2.0…
Special thanks to Dave Thomer and Chris Cavanaugh for making this article possible.