20 years ago, Hasbro released the GI Joe S.H.A.R.C., a flying submarine pilot/diver Deep Six, and this became one of the benchmark toys in my life - I've had a real affinity for action figure vehicles and especially flying submarines since then. In the past few years however, the GI Joe line has been really disappointing with vehicles, opting for lame electronics, overblown action gimmicks, and "kid-friendly" chunkier designs. A few of the vehicles in the current Valor vs Venom line have been worthy to the "GI Joe" name, but none have excited me at all - I've been very disappointed with the likes of V.vs.V. vehicles such as the Cobra Night Adder, Battle Hornet, and Joe Tigerhawk. However, yesterday I stumbled across the newest $10 boxed vehicle, the Cobra Sting Raider - a flying sub - and it's now one of my favorite toys of the year. Why should you check it out? Read the review and find out...

Packaging: 2/5
The newest GI Joe vehicle packaging is dreadful, it doesn't look very good, it doesn't do a good job of displaying the vehicle, it's got a ton of twisties and clear-bands, and it seems overly-costly to make. It's a convoluted plastic box with the rear wall and floor being cardboard. The figure is prominant in front, with most of the vehicle angled behind him and the rest of the parts clamped down about. The character filecard is found on the bottom of the box.

The features are poorly-detailed on the box and in the instructions, something which kept me from buying the Cobra Night Adder when it was on clearance recently, I only learned it had some cool features today while browsing a Joe website! Hopefully, the boring photo on the back of the box doesn't repeat that problem here. Based on the packaging view alone, I felt I was taking a big chance with this set, I was lucky that this was such a pleasant surprise.

Sculpt-Design: 3.5/5 (Electric Eel); 5/5 (Sting Raider)
Electric Eel is a repaint of the '04 carded figure. The recent change of Joe articulation at the shoulders is still too bulky-looking, but he does seem fairly buff in the chest so it's not out of scale though the extra shoulder armor makes it look worse. I don't like the way the forearms and shape of the legs look anymore, they're the traditional Joe look but it's in need of an update. The use of rubbery plastic for the head and limbs doesn't feel so nice, but it's not a disaster. Eel has a detailed masked head sculpt with separate hoses running off his breather mask (they just end loose behind his back, I suspect they plug into the backpack that came with the carded figure), but the body is not quite as detailed. Annoyingly, the figure has fins on his lower legs which are a little problem in the cockpit since the leg area isn't wide enough to accomodate them - bending is required. All in all, a decent Joe but not great figure.

The Sting Raider is very cool, a sleek and well-proportioned vehicle unlike the last $10 Cobra vehicle, the ugly Battle Hornet. The Sting Raider's general shape is that of a stingray, hence the pun name, the front even has the "eyes" of the shark's cousin - the Sting Raider looks just as home in the air as underwater. The Raider has 2 pairs of jet engines in the back and above that a pair of large turbofan thrusters, each thruster has a movable fan inside even if there aren't actually any ducts on the other side (imagination will have to do here), the open end of the thrust looks really neat. The tail has a few guidance fins to replicate the barbs of the stingray, but the Raider's real sting comes from a movable pair of aft-facing blasters. The front is light on sculpted blasters, there are a few nubs that I suppose are the guns, but it's spartan compared to most Joe vehicles of late. The real firepower is behind the "eyes", slide the wings out and reveal a pair of cobra-patterned missile-launchers! The underside sports 3 rolling wheels. Importantly, the vehicle doesn't seem under-scale compared to the figure.

The cockpit canopy continues the stingray theme with a large shaped piece of clear plastic that narrows as it trails back, yet still gives the pilot a lot of view. Inside is seat and a few tech details (pretty spartan really), and a movable control arm. The controls on the arm are my only complaint, they're just 2 posts, not even tall enough to accomodate the figure's hands properly unless you turn them sideways a bit - luckily, the figure doesn't rattle around in there.

Articulation-Features: 3.5/5 (Electric Eel); 5/5 (Sting Raider)
Electric Eel sports the standard GI Joe 12-point articulation giving him the standard range of motion. As much as I didn't like the updated body design recently, this classic O-ring waist situation is no longer really working out for me which also goes for the floppy hips, and the knees are also classics that are past their prime. I wish Hasbro would make a design where the waist ended in a peg that slid into an opening on the underside of the torso big enough to let the waist move in any direction to accomodate vehicle seats that require the figure bend forward at the waist. Overall, I still think the Joe articulation is pretty good for range of motion, but not for quality.

The Sting Raider may not be very large or expensive, but the designers managed to pack a lot of fun into this vehicle without resorting to electronic lights or sounds - not only do I often find those annoying, but their inclusion generally forces the vehicle to be misshapen, as is the case with the Tigerhawk from earlier this year. As mentioned earlier, the tail sports a pivoting pair of blasters, there are rolling wheels on the underside, the thrusters have movable fan blades, and the control arm can be moved; besides that, the thrusters can rotate 90 degrees from facing up to facing back, the wingtips fold in, there is a tab to hold an extra missile on each wing, the very front of the sub features a button-activated grabber claw which snaps closed around a figure and is quite strong, and arguably the best feature, the wings slide open to reveal a pair of well-integrated spring-loaded missile-launchers. Although the instructions make no mention of it, I suspect the flight mode has the thrusters facing up to act as hoverfans since there are already jet engines at the back of the main body.

Paint-Deco: 5/5 (both)
Electric Eel is a massive repaint of the carded version which was green & yellow and sported translucent limbs; this version is much more realistic with no translucent anything, he's wearing dark gray, black, and red which ties in with the vehicle colors. There are some tricky bits, but it all looks pretty decent. The face has flesh paint at the exposed parts of the masked head, and classic Cobra "evil" eyes.

The Sting Raider is simple, almost all dark gray with red accents for contrast and a single dull silver panel at the front, it all comes together very well, the red is just dark enough to avoid being garish and matches up with the red plastic parts pretty well. Some of the red paint is a little sloppy, but that's fairly minor. The top of each wing sports a tampo-ed Cobra logo with a little weathering, way better than if they had gone with stickers.

Speaking of stickers, the vehicle has a few of 'em pre-applied, a triangular "danger" logo near the thusters (previously used on the Tigerhawk), 3 different techy displays on the various panels in the cockpit, and 4 "open" stickers at the seam where the wing splits open - while most of them are fine and acceptable (if a little off-kilter, seems factory workers aren't much steadier at this than myself), the "open" stickers are white with yellow triangles, not only do they clash but they give away the nifty hidden gimmick to the enemy, I removed 'em as soon as I could.

Value-Fun Factor: 5/5
Ten bucks gets you a figure AND a vehicle? Not bad considering when I was a kid, a Joe vehicle this size would have cost about the same, probably NOT come with the figure, and you'd have to totally assemble it yourself. The figure being a diver and painted similarly to the vehicle makes for great integration. The only accessories in the set are an extra pair of missiles which can be tabbed onto the wings, a classic GI Joe vehicle feature, but a lack of accessories doesn't feel missed.

As for fun, this vehicle has some very neat play features without taking away the imagination factor, something most other Joe vehicles seem to do lately. You've got a Cobra diver piloting a flying submarine that has a lot of features, that always spells fun in my book.

Overall: A+
Although not the first Joe vehicle to sport a punny name, this vehicle is one of the better ones. It crams some great features into a fantastic-looking vehicle without making sacrifices or compromises, and keeps the colorscheme realistic and attractive rather than bright and garish. I can't recommend this one enough... even if I weren't so enamored with flying subs.

YoJoe has pictures of the set here: http://www.yojoe.com/vehicles/04/stingraider/