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Dante's Inferno

Player Select
by yo go re

Last year at SDCC, EA Games drew a lot of heat (and a lot of [digital] ink, no coincidence) for the incredibly tacky way they chose to promote the then-upcoming game Dante's Inferno. Other than that, fan reaction to the game was decidedly cool (as in chilly, not as in awesome), and that didn't change once the game was released. But just as a good game can make for bad figures, a bad game can still deliver something nice.

Dante returns home from the wars to find that his beloved Beatrice has been murdered, and her soul pulled down into Hell by a dark force. He gives chase, and vows to get her back. He wields Death's soul-reaping scythe, and commands holy powers of the cross, given to him by Beatrice.

An Italian who goes into the underworld looking to rescue his girlfriend? I had no idea The Divine Comedy was based on Mario! Dante's Inferno the game is an adaptation of Dante's Inferno the 14th-century literary middle finger/self-insertion fanfic. There are a few inconsequential differences, such as one Mr. Signor Dante Alighieri being alive in the late 12th century, rather than the late 13th, or having black hair instead of blonde. Oh, and also him being a self-mutilating warrior in the crusades rather than a minorly inconvenienced poet. You know, small details. But since the life of artists isn't exactly the greatest starting point for an action game, maybe we can forgive them for taking some minor liberties.

Dante comes to us from NECA under the Player Select banner. It's a hoot to go into Toys Я Us and see this guy right across the aisle from the DCUC remnants. Dante is a Crusader, so his clothes are vaguely old-fashioned. He has padded gray trousers, thick leather greaves over chainmail boots (possibly the least realistic garment ever worn by any videogame character, and that includes all this stuff) and armor plates on his knees, thighs, left forearm, biceps and shoulders. He has brown leather gloves with armor on the backs of the hands and, apparently, spiked knuckles. The armor is sculpted with a filigree pattern that has religious symbology worked into the design. DI art director Ash Huang said they didn't want to give the character a Lord of the Rings feel, and in that regard, they succeeded.

Continuing the armor enumeration, Dante is wearing a chainmail cowl. He has armor of some sort ringing his head like a crown, and covering the bridge of his nose. Since Dante (the real historical Dante, not Bolt Vanderhuge, here) was often depicted wearing a laurel, that's the style the armor takes - the ring itself has been etched with leaves, and there are large spikes coming off all the way around. No wonder he look so frowny!

The centerpiece of Dante's design (no pun intended) is the large red cross on his chest. If you, like most everyone else, have never played the game, you may assume it's a spot where his skin has been ripped away, revealing the muscle beneath - not quite! As you'll notice on the toy, the red bits are absolutely covered in small black figures. It's a tapestry, and Dante sewed it into his own skin as a mortification of the flesh (and also as an extension of the fact that Crusaders used to pin small fabric crosses to their tunics). The way the figure is sculpted definitely makes it look like the tapestry is beneath his skin. Is that right? Heck if I know, but it looks delightfully squicky either way. The tapestry has the texture of rough linen and distinct stitches holding it to his body. Excellent work, Sam Lute!

The strips hanging off his wrists are part of the same idea: he sewed the center to his chest, then wrapped the rest around his arms and let the rest trail. The strips are real cloth, cut to look tattered, and the edges are rough. Small rosaries hang from the lower ends, because Dante is such a pious guy. There are a few paint issues you'll need to watch out for: the most obvious being the amount of blood on his chest, but also watch the straps holding the armor onto his legs.

The figure is just over 7" tall, and highly articulated. Remember back when Kratos and Altair came out and we were all surprised by how good they were? Now you can count on that level of quality from NECA almost all the time. Dante has a balljointed head, swivel/hinge shoulders, elbows and wrists, a hinged torso, swivel waist, H-crotch, swivel thighs, swivel/hinge knees and swivel/hinge ankles. You may think it's redundant to have thigh joints when you've also got swivelling knees, but in this case, it's not: the swivel is below the knee, rather than above it, so the two serve different purposes. Some of the joints were realy stiff when I first got Dante out of his plastic tomb, particularly the ankles and chest, but none broke or required freezer time. Heck, he even popped apart at the waist while I was posing him, and he's still not broken!

Dante comes with two accessories, and they're the ones you'd expect: Death's scythe, and Beatrice's cross. In the game, the two give you access to both holy and unholy powers, thus giving you the option of saving or damning the souls you meet on your journey. The cross is small and simple, and actually gets holstered on his hip via two working straps. The figure also includes an extra right hand with a slightly tighter grip, designed to hold the cross, though the normal hand will do just fine.

The showpiece weapon is the scythe, which is more than 8" tall and wicked as hell. Befitting its origins as Death's weapon, it's made of bones. The shaft is a spine, and while the blade is metal, the part that attaches it to the rest of the weapon is some inhuman skull. Befitting a spine, the hilt is bendy, and the head can be removed either to slip the scythe into the loop on his back for storage, or to form a handheld weapon - thus the handles on either side of the blade. Finally, the blade itself can be repositioned within the skull-thing via a clever sliding system, so you can decide how you want the scythe to look. Nifty!

Even if the game is uninspired and has a worse sense of history than a Texas schoolbook, Dante is a visually interesting character and definitely toyetic. NECA has a real talent for picking the licenses that may not set the world on fire, but still make for cool toys. In the case of action figures, it's the design that matters, not gameplay or story, and when the toy is coming from NECA, you know that design is going to be treated well.

-- 06/23/10

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