Playsets in theory were all kinds of awesome. You had your action figures and were all set to reenact some awesome movie sequence or what have you, but you needed a setting for the excitement to take place in. You could either use your imagination and pretend the top of your dresser was the Death Star, or you could fashion something out of cardboard boxes, or you could be like the cool kids and get the officially licensed playset specifically designed to go with your toys. And when it was good, it was AWESOME. The G.I. Joe line for example boasted nary a bad playset. From the Defiant shuttle to the Cobra Terror Drome, to the massive 7.5-foot USS Flagg, those playsets set the standard for action figure accessories. Sadly not all playsets were so well-thought out. Here are ten such examples, in no particular order.
We'll start with one of the most beloved toy franchises, the original Kenner Star Wars line.
1. Jabba's Throne Room
Justin: Let's get one thing out of the way - the Jabba figure itself was spectacular. It was easily one of the best Star Wars toys Kenner ever produced, with incredible detail, movable arms and a tail that twitched when you turned Jabba's head. This toy looked fantastic. His throne though was a different story. The detail looked good, and it included a trap door into which Jabba could send his victims to be eaten by the Rancor. But there was one or two problems. First off, the trap door was the surface the Jabba toy sat on. So you'd have to remove Jabba to access it. Second, the door opened OUTWARD. The hell kinda trap door opens up like that? The victim would be catapulted across the room! Third, the area under the trap door was so shallow your Luke figure could only be placed there in a horizontal position. So there was no reenacting the Rancor scene with this stupid toy.
Dan: I wanted to LOVE this fucking playset. My cousin Jefferey told me all about it before I got it. How cool Jabba was. How awesome all the accessories were. And that it had a working pit. I was fucking PSYCHED. I had one of those Inhumanoid giant toys who could double for the Rancor so I was ready to play.
|This giant fellow in the middle? Oh yeah, Rancor on 'roids!|
And then I got the dumpster fart of a playset. Realizing that my dreams of having Luke get chased around under Jabba were crushed, I quickly dispatched with the playset itself and recreated one on my own out of a plain cardboard box, like a true poor person.
2. Ewok Village
Justin: To be fair, this was a pretty impressive playset for its time. A big walkway area with a fire pit, over which you could pretend the Ewoks were roasting a person, a tree elevator, and a net for capturing unwitting Rebels underneath. But compared to the setting in the film this was really skimpy. Only one place to roast people? A net underneath the village instead of off in the woods nearby? An elevator that only holds like two people at a time? Not to mention very little actually happened in the Ewok village in the movie - all the Endor action took place in the open woods.
Dan: I actually loved this playset a lot. But yes, my initial bitching about it was that there was no room to cook up both a Skywalker AND a Solo. I was PISSED. I refashioned the useless elevator into another roasting pit and I was happy about that. My parents were not happy, however, years later when they bought the Sherwood Forest playset from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and realized it’s the SAME FUCKING TOY.
Also, the Friar Tuck toy was a Pig Guard from Jabba’s palace with a new head. Blew my mind
Justin: This was I believe the first Star Wars playset I ever owned. And it kinda sucked. It's Yoda's cave but is also supposed to double as the cave in which Luke encounters a vision of Darth Vader, there's a pretend marsh for things to sink into, but it's only big enough for a person rather than Luke's X-Wing as it was in the film, and there's a goofy claw arm that's supposed to simulate Luke levitating. This here playset is half-assed.
Dan: This thing fucking BLOWS. It's a goddamn tree stump. And the guys were all sold separately. I remember at Christmas, my brother Dave and I both got a playset. He got Degobah, I got Jabba's Throne Room. And we both cried for days. These toys SUCKED.
4. Jabba Dungeon
Justin: I didn't even know this one existed until researching for this column. Remember the scene where R2 and 3PO get escorted to the dungeon for restraining bolt fitting and that one sassy robot gives them both a pep talk about respecting their new boss? Yeah, they made that into a playset, the only real feature of which is that it came with a few figures. Aside from that there's nothing you can do with this thing. It's just a vaguely Star Wars-y thing with random droid parts lying about. What fun is that?
Dan: I forgot this piece of shit existed. We got a lotta toys handed down from us by two of our older cousins. By the time this showed up in our toy room, pieces were missing or broken and I thought it was a mechanic's toy for Hot Wheels or some shit. Pointless and barely played with.
5. Well of the Souls
Justin: The Kenner Star Wars line is world famous, but the Raiders of the Lost Ark counterpart was not quite so successful. However I had a bunch of these toys and they were just as well-made as the SW figures. Their playsets however were pretty shabby. The best of these was the Well of the Souls, the resting place of the lost Ark of the Covenant. In the film this was a pretty expansive set with 20-foot ceilings, giant Egyptian statues, and hundreds of snakes. The toy version however came with zero statues, about ten loose snakes with the rest being molded into the playset itself, and one partial wall that had a breakaway section. Pretty lame, Milhouse. The only really good thing about this set was the Ark toy, which was a fantastic likeness of the movie prop.
Dan: I never even knew these Indy toys existed, and my jealousy is dripping like Toht's face at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
6. Map Room
Justin: Another Raiders set was the Tanis Map Room, where Indy figures out the location of the Well of the Souls. It's a big scene in the film, but it doesn't exactly translate to an action figure scenario. The hell are you supposed to do with this? You set Indy up holding the Staff of Ra and then, well, that's it. Real goddamn exciting guys.
Dan: It looks like a conference room. But the fact it was a playset is making my head explode, much like Belloq's at the finish of the first Indiana Jones movie.
7. Cairo Marketplace
Justin: The worst of the Raiders playsets was the marketplace where Marion hides in a basket before being kidnapped by Nazi agents. The playset comes with the eyepatch dude, his monkey, a crouched Marion, a cart and some baskets. Again, what the fuck am I gonna do with this? There's no action happening here in your action figure playset!
Dan: Looks like Aladdin & Abu should be running through this joint. But I can't believe they made this toy either. My brain is shriveling up, much like Dietrich's head at the conclusion of that action movie starring Harrison Ford as an adventurous archaeologist named Henry Jones, Jr.
8. Point Dread
Justin: Okay, moving on to He-Man. The playsets for Masters of the Universe were pretty damn cool for the time. The exteriors all looked boss, while the interiors left a little to be desired. But with Castle Grayskull for example there was a throne room with a trap door, a big weapons rack, some odd control panel-type stickers, what have you. You could work with that. But then came Point Dread & The Talon Fighter. Never before had something so awesome been paired with something so shitty (except for your garden variety Awesomely Shitty Movie). The Talon Fighter was the absolute tits. A freakin' fighter jet for He-Man to ride in? Sign me the fuck up. But Point Dread was basically just a pile of rocks with a window for the Fighter to perch on. You couldn't do a damn thing with this except detach the top half and attach it to Grayskull (which was awesome). But like, couldn't they have included some kind of air traffic desk inside? A chair? Anything? More like PointLESS Dread, amirite???
Dan: When we got this toy, my brother and I fought relentlessly over who got to play with the Talon Fighter. So much so, a second had to be purchased. So we had two of these motherfuckers. And also...two rock houses. But we were creative, and made them into a lookout tower in our backyard that was connected to actual rocks. This playset also came with a record (those were bigger CD's...err...DVD's...no...Blu-Rays...ah, fuck you youngsters) that told a whole He-Man adventure. And it was AWESOME.
9. Star Trek TNG Bridge
Justin: The idea of an Enterprise bridge playset for your Star Trek guys sounds great on paper, until you realize what it actually entails. This thing is basically a fancy miniature office for Captain Picard and friends. You sit 'em all down in their respective chairs, and then what? They spend the next hour mostly talking about whatever alien lifeform they've encountered until it's time to leave the bridge and do actiony things, or engage in a space battle with another ship, at which time you need the actual ship toys. The bridge itself isn't much of a playset. It looks nice, but nothing much happens there.
Dan: Dude...this is stupid. It looks like any office on a Monday morning right before some dickhead starts a Powerpoint presentation. DUMB.
10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Sewer Playset
Dan: So many problems with this playset. I was so excited when we got it...and then we barely used it. The Turtles were...stout action figures. Due to their shells, they were a tad on the fat side. Damn near impossible to get them all in this playset. The elevator? Fucking useless. Barely ever worked unless the April toy was on it. And there's only one sleeping quarters. Uhhh...there were FOUR turtles, assholes. WHERE DO THEY ALL SLEEP? Sonsabitches. It was far too cumbersome to be an active playset. You couldn't have battles in it. And the top of it wasn't big enough to have a big fight either. This thing sucks more than a hooker on Friday.
Justin: Thankfully I never had this. This appears to be to be the plastic equivalent of a loose Wendy's shit.
11. Batman '89 Batcave
Justin: And finally, 1989's Batman was an enormous hit, so it made sense for them to release a line of action figures, vehicles, and of course a Batcave. But this one sucked. Like, embarrassingly so. There was a desk for Batman to sit at, and a couple phoned-in walkways, and a Batwing far too small for the Batman figure. This playset isn't even two-sided like the current Imaginext Batcave aimed at 3-year-olds (Yeah, I have one of th-- I mean, MY SON has one of those). What a sucky, generic-looking Batcave. You could build something better out of Play-Doh.
|This here is a fuckin' Batcave, my friends.|
Dan: I don't remember if we had this...not like "it was so long ago and memories fade like farts in the wind"...more like "I don't remember this because I've 86'd it from my brain cells due to the excessive levels of suck." This toy looks like an afterthought. "Let's throw a TV set into the side of this broken Castle Grayskull". This blows.
And that's our old man rant for today - rough childhood we had huh? You damn kids today better appreciate the incredible advances made in toys over the last 30 years.