This Christmas, one of the most sought-after gifts out there is Playmates' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 24" Turtle Mutation Play Set -- and thanks to the generosity of the manufacturer (earlier in the season before everyone was struggling to get their hands on one), I got a copy to review.
Let's just put this out there: It's awesome. As somebody who grew up on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe, and wasn't quite the right age for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze, this is the first time I've owned one of their bigger-ticket items, and if I was a kid, I'd delight over this for weeks.
(Don't get me wrong; I had my share of the actual Turtles action figures themselves...and I loved having them play with my Playmates Savage Dragon toys...)
We'll start with the flaws, since there aren't many...and also since this is (due to technical problems) my third time writing this piece. So I'm grumpy, and starting with the flaws will allow me to end on a positive note.
The playset, of course, is sold out at most retailers at this point in the season, although both Target and Wal-Mart stores have said they planned to have more in before Christmas. Right now, you can preorder it online, order it for pickup to have a copy reserved locally if it's in stock near you, or you can get one on Amazon or eBay if you want to pay a bit more. The markup is actually not too bad, although the fact that the MSRP is pretty hefty might make paying more, or going out of your way to find this, a little bit of a tough decision for parents who haven't even had a chance to see it yet.
I'll help you resolve some of those feelings with this review, if only because I took a bunch of photos of the set while I had it out to play with and put the stickers on. You can check them out below.
So, the few complaints I had with the playset:
One of the biggest selling points -- something that stood out to me immediately -- was how durable it felt. This isn't a set that clicks together and has to be taken apart, with the pieces kept track of. It folds into itself and then back out again, so that at any given time, there's no question you have all of the pieces. it doesn't come apart easily and everything holds up to the kind of casual abuse that the average 8-year-old might give it while playing with their toys.
That's all true and good. But there are two particular platforms -- the brown one and the teall one, both of which fold out of that center level of the playset -- that were difficult to get to click into place.
Now, once you have it in place, it would stay and support the weight of the toys. But as a parent, I know that anything that's kind of a pain to get set up, and that you're going to have to try multiple times, is goign to fall on my shoulders. So there's that.
The other thing that bugged me a little also comes out of what is generally a strength of the set: The floor plan.
For the most part, the Leonardo playset doesn't act like the He-man playsets of my youth (or even the Sesame Street house my daughter has), which would fold open and provide almost no floor space for the actual toys to actually do something. In many cases, I remember that you had a great-lookign backdrop but almost no surface area for the figures to do much, so they just had to stand in place while you played.
That's the case in the bottom floor -- the one where the feet fold out -- here. It isn't the case on the rest of the playset, and so this feels a bit nitpicky -- especially since it's the ground floor, which means you get "bonus" sqaure footage from whatever surface you've placed the thing on top of.
I'm also never crazy about the application of stickers to a playset. I'd rather they printed designs onto the plastic, but I'm also cognizant of how much more costly that would probably be -- and with a high-profile, high price-point toy like this one it's likely just not plausible without taking it out of most parents' price ranges.
So...now onto the things I did like.
As I said before, it's a fairly durable and practical playset, relative to the ones I've had experience with in the past. There's something like a dozen usable surfaces to put your figures on and almost every space you can put somebody on, you can reasonably play them as interacting with somebody either on the same surface or within eyeshot. The skateboard ramp, staircase and rope ladder -- all of which struck me when I saw the promotional art for the playset as easily breakable and probably nothing you can play with very much -- all held up during the time that I and my daughter played around on this before it went back into its box for the holidays.
The floor plan is also a selling point: whoever put this together obviously thought through the fact that when your building has to fold into the shape of a Ninja Turtle, there's bound to be some awkward spaces. They put everything here to the best possible use, while also considering that most parents won't want to keep track of dozens of pieces to put it back together each time.
And, yeah, the transformation. It was a little rough the first time to get the playset folded back into a Turtle shape, but after that it was simple, and there's definitely something to be said for the floor space it saves...especially if you, like me, are somebody who fills your room up with way too much stuff.
For somebody who isn't a dedicated toy writer, it's an interesting experience to pick up a cool, feature-rich, $100 mega-toy. It's been years since I bought anything like this for myself and, by design, things like the aforementioned Sesame Street house or my son's Imaginext Batcave aren't nearly as complex or cool.
Functionality is a big thing that really drives my interest in this toy, and a reason that it got boxed back up to be a present rather than being given away, sold or what-have-you. Things like the "trap" floor, the skateboard ramp and the like actually work the way they're supposed to, as opposed to just looking cool. That sounds on the face of it like a bare minimum requirement, but very often, functionality is a thing that's overlooked when it comes to toys.
Another thing that's often overlooked in these base-things? A living area. In addition to jail cells, security monitors and combat staging areas, there's the aforementioned skate ramp and even a video game console. It's a nice reminder that, yes, the Turtles live where they stage many of their battles, and that these are three-dimensional characters that do more than just fight. It's a small touch, but a cool one...and it seems like something that's more common now than it was when I was a kid, since back then a living area would have felt "too much like a dollhouse," if I had to guess.
The short version: This is great. If you can get your hands on one, or it isn't out of your holiday price range, grab it.
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