Nineball Armored Core Ver.
Review by VF5SS
The original Armored Core for the Playstation was a real watershed moment for mecha video games. It offered a well executed combination of fully customizable robots and solid gameplay that was heavily inspired by popular giant robot shows such as Gundam, Votoms, and Patlabor. All of these elements let the series endure for over a decade with 15 games bearing the Armored Core name.
Each game centers around the player a some kind of mercenary who performs various missions to fund upgrades to their robot in order to take on harder and harder challenges. In the original game you were a member of the Ravens, some of whom you would encounter in during a level as allies or enemies. A scoreboard tracked your level of success as a Raven and you could move up quickly by eliminating other ranked members. As you climbed the ladder of success, one final challenger remained unseen until the game's final mission. After battling through over 40 sorties it was now time to face the top ranked pilot, Hustler One, and his ominous red AC called Nineball. Among Armored Core fans, Nineball is considered an iconic part of the series and has been seen or referenced in many of the sequels.
While there has been a lot of Armored Core based merchandise over the years, very little of it covers the original PS1 games. It seems by the time the collector's market started to ramp up, everyone had already moved onto the PS2 era. Kotobukiya sought to rectify this by releasing the classic Nineball as one of their Armored Core model kits.
So here is the box for Kotobukiya's Nineball model kit. It is about 12 inches long, 7.5 inches wide, and 5 inches tall making it around the size of the average Master Grade Gundam's box. Note that because there were already two prior Nineball kits (representing variations from the later games), the original is saddled with the awesomely awkward title of "Nineball Armored Core Ver." Kotobukiya really hammers home what video game this robot hails from as "Armored Core" is written no less than five times just on the front!
Inside the box is a nicely printed set of instructions and eight plastic bags worth of sprues.
When all laid out you've got ten large sprues worth of parts in addition to four for polycaps and a single clear red one. Also note that there are a pair of pieces that come separate from the rest. All of this dwarfs my six inch scale Eckhart which lets you know Nineball is going to be fairly sizeable once built.
To make up for lacking Bandai's patented System Injection technique, Kotobukiya likes to treat their modelers with things like pre-painted parts. These two pieces will form the front of Nineball's shins and already have the necessary red stripes colored in with a paint that matches the bare plastic extremely well.
Additonally, Nineball's iconic emblem comes tampograped on one of the shoulder pieces. While this is great for casual builders like myself, the lack of a correspond decal (or any for that matter) may be a problem who those who plan to paint the whole kit and end up covering the emblem.
Despite the number of parts, I found assembling Nineball to be a pretty smooth experience as the kit is laid out in a neat and logical manner. The breakdown between the three colors of red, gray, and dark gray is smartly done with nearly everything ending up in its final color once the kit is completed. Seen above are the instructions for the forearm which demonstrates the basic flow of assembly for the whole kit. A large portion of a part will consist of a few pieces to which lots of different colored details are attached. The way you build everything by layering bits over each other creates a relatively clean robot with a small amount of cutting scars.
That being said, I'm still not a very good model builder so please forgive the imperfections you see on my completed Nineball. （ﾉ´д｀）
The only downside is that due to the abundance of details, some of the parts end up quite small and potentially fragile. Watch out for these tiny arched panels when building the upper arms as they can easily snap in two at the narrow curved area. The good news is that even if you break one like I did, the part has a peg on either side of the thin section so it can still be attached to the main shoulder. This will leave only a tiny barely visible crack which can then be smoothed over. Try to handle these parts with care as even removing them from the runner can cause damage.
After a couple days of working on and off, I arrived at the completed AC. The finished Nineball stands roughly six and a half inches tall. It is billed as being 1/72nd scale so it is compatible with a wide number of military models as well as the rest of Kotobukiya's Armored Core kits. The plastic quality is great and the colors are spot on.
While the first Armored Core game had pretty good graphics for its time, it could not capture the same level of detail seen in Shoji Kawamori's original line art. So while the general shape of everything is familiar, seeing Nineball as if it walked out of the pre-rendered intros and promo art is a really cool experience for me. A noticeable omission from the in game version is the large black antenna on the upper body. There is a tiny stretch of thin plastic at the base of the antenna so handle it with care.
Note how many of the tiny mechanical bits all over the body are molded in the correct color. It's really amazing what Kotobukiya was able to pull off with this kit as some of those pieces are smaller than a pea!
Nineball's utilitarian head is enhanced with a striking clear red visor. At first I had though the red on red combination would make the sensor eye blend into the forehead. In actuality, the visor catches the light extremely well and appears to glisten when seen from the right angle.
Nineball's eponymous emblem is an intimidating ⑨ that exudes power and lets you know this machine is truly the strongest AC.
Thanks to excellent engineering and a very straightforward design, Nineball has great articulation. Its shoulders can rotate a full 360 degrees and feature an extra joint to angle outwards from the main body. The elbows can swivel around without restriction and bend up quite far even with their single jointed setup. Nineball comes with three pairs of hands which consist of fists, splayed hands, and weapon holding hands. These attach to the wrist with a polycap ball-joint which is tight enough to hold a pose. I recommend gluing the red "cuffs" to the front of the arms as the stiffness of the wrist joint can often take the cuff with as you try to swap hands.
Nineball's head connects to its neck via a ball-joint that lets it tilt upward. The neck itself pegs into the body which affords the AC a swivel joint for looking left or right. Similarly, the Anti Missile System gun on the tip of the chest can also turn to either side. The waist has an excellent range of motion thanks to a ball-joint on both the top and bottom of the thin gray disk that makes up the AC's "belly." This also allows Nineball to angle its torso up and down as well as side to side.
The twin boosters on the back can wiggle around a little bit on their ball-jointed mounts.
The universal joints used in the hips give Nineball many posing options. Everything works well together and lets this AC achieve a very stable wide legged stance.
Nineball's ankles can handily tilt all over the place to keep its feet planted on the ground. As they move, a set of pistons flex around in a nifty mechanical manner. How this works is the pistons are a single two pronged piece that move along a track in the articulated achilles heel and bob up and down as the AC poses.
Unfortunately the feet can move in ways that far exceed the reach of these pistons which exposes the fact they are merely resting in a set of holes in the heel struts. This is a minor faux pas for an otherwise cool bit of engineering.
Nineball can easily kneel down to show the flexibility of AC's with humanoid type legs.
Hustler One's machine comes equipped with a simple yet powerful set of weapons which serve to complete Nineball's iconic look.
In its right hand is the standard pulse rifle. This boxy energy weapon is quite strange looking but is true to the source material.
The weirdest thing is how the tiny gun barrel is indeed parallel to the big block up front which means Nineball has to hold the rifle with a downward tilt to hit anything.
For a left arm weapon, a small panel flips down to reveal a laser blade emitter. In the original game, the nominal melee weapon was depicted as being integrated into the forearm rather than a visible piece of equipment like in the later games. The kit does come with an a way to attach modern external blades to the arm if you so desire.
Just pop in the clear red laser blade to get Nineball ready for close combat. Oddly enough that red blade means it uses the weakest one available in the game but that doesn't stop the strongest Raven from kicking your ass with it.
All AC's do a short booster dash when they do their melee strike.
If there is one weakness to Nineball articulation, it's how the arm can't quite swing out far enough for a clean horizontal swipe like in the video games. Although to be to be fair, this would require some extra joints just to replicate 3D model trickery.
On the rightmost back mount is a two shot small missile launcher. It is a nicely detailed little box that differs somewhat from the in game version. Both this and the basic laser blade are here to soften you up before Nineball unleashes its most powerful weapon.
Attached to the other back mount is the grenade launcher. This massive folding cannon is described as "an AC's symbolic weapon that mows down enemies in a firestorm." What this mean is it shoots big fireballs that explode on impact and cause massive damage. Again the kit uses the original boxy design seen in the CG intros and line art rather than the more streamlined version used in game. The long gun barrel swings into place on a double hinge. When in storage mode, a tiny support strut flips up to keep the cylinder parallel to the main body of the weapon.
Nineball can easily assume firing position with one hand steadying the cannon. AC's with humanoid legs must do this before using a large back mounted gun.
Hustler One has a few "enhancements" that allow his AC to fire the grenade launcher while on the move. Needless to say, this threw me for a loop the first time I played Armored Core. The kit can replicate this feat without any issues.
All of Nineball's weapons can be reconfigured so they attach to the opposite side of their default position. You get a left weapon holding hand and the right arm has a laser blade emitter due to how the parts are mirrored for both limbs. To swap the back units you just have to pull out their mounting arms and flip them around.
Also as far as I know, every major part of Nineball (head, arms, weapons, etc) can be used on other Kotobukiya Armored Core kits. However due to how tightly this figure comes together, it may be difficult to pop parts off once it is fully assembled. And I can't help but think these first generation AC parts would look kind of weird attached to a Armored Core: For Answer kit.
Here Nineball is joined by the Super Robot Chogokin UCR-10/A from Armored Core V. It's interesting to see how the tall mecha from the original would eventually lead into these stocky brawlers in the late PS3 era.
To my knowledge the Kotobukiya Nineball kit is the only piece of original Armored Core based merchandise that isn't a CD, art book, or game guide. While there have been resin kits of the early AC's, this Nineball appears to be it for modern mass-produced figures.
For what it's worth, I still find the original Armored Core to be a really fun game and a true classic from the PS1 era. Even when I sample some of the best and brightest of this generation, I find myself going back and reliving a small bit of 1997. My copy has received a little "battle damage" over the years but wears its scars with pride.
"Oh hey big brother! Nice to see you!"
"You are not part of the program."
My Nineball "happily" joins my cavalcade of Kawamori robots.
The Kotobukiya Nineball Armored Core Version is a great model kit and a fantastic tribute to the game that started it all. Save for the few things I mentioned before, this kit is overall a really fun build thanks to its smart design and excellent engineering. The finished kit looks terrific straight out the box and makes for a fully functional AC figure. I had been meaning to check this product out since its release and jumped on the chance when I HobbyLink Japan was selling them for half their 5,400 yen MSRP. Honestly though, I would still be thoroughly satisfied even if I paid full price. Kotobukiya's plamo tend to run more expensive than a similar Bandai kit but here you are definitely getting more than enough of model to fill out its price point. I highly recommend this Nineball for both fans of Armored Core and mecha enthusiasts in general.
Comments1 comment posted
For me, the original Armored Core really was the "watershed moment" that you describe. When I was a wee lad watching Robotech, my favorite scene was when Max faced Miriya in the arcade. THAT was the video game I wanted - when would games let us move and fight like that? When I first played Armored Core in college, I felt like that day had arrived.
I played the heck out of that game, with a special enthusiasm for light mecha with machineguns that could jump around firing wildly, to fulfill my Valkyrie fantasies. I still have my copy around someplace (looking just as rough as yours!), even though my PS1 has been gone for ages. I actually didn't keep up with later consoles, so I never played any of the sequels. But the original definitely has a special place in gaming my memory.
I like the look of later-series kits, but I've never picked any up. This, however... this I need. It may not be as crazy looking as those later designs, but it pushes all of my nostalgia buttons. Thanks so much for showing it!