Playmates Toys is an interesting company. They have maintained a fairly consistent vision for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toy lines
throughout its long history. And while there are aspects of that that I don't like, there are also things that they do that make the
TMNT toy line unique and have cemented its place in toy history. While it doesn't bring them much fan fare, Playmates track record with
Ninja Turtle playsets has been very impressive. After the amazing Secret Sewer Lair last year, it was hard to believe that Playmates
would even bother with another playset for the toy line for quite a while. But apparently no one told Playmates that, because they are back
in 2013 with a new idea, fold up playsets. And the first one has been out on shelves now for a few months: Anchovy Alley. But can the
new, smaller playset really hold a candle to the Secret Sewer Lair?
Packaging - 9/10The idea of the Anchovy Alley playset is to have a pizza box that unfolds into the playset. So what better design for the packaging than that of a pizza box? It is a very neat idea and exceptionally fitting for the toy. The background image for the packaging is that of a pizza box with an image of the four turtles in the center. The regular background then wraps around the edges and contain the TMNT logo, the name of the toy and a photo of the playset. The edges of the box are fairly narrow, so there isn't much effort put into using them. Meanwhile the back has a large photo of the playset, the fold up feature and the manhole lid action feature. The photos give you a pretty clear view of the toy and features. The only qualm I have about the packaging is that the image of the pizza box on the box does not match the actual toy. It probably wouldn't be much of an issue, but I like the design on the packaging better, so it feel a tiny bit like a bait and switch.
Sculpting - 8/10The sculpting and general design of a playset can be tricky. A well executed playset needs to create a space in which the figures can interact with both the environment and other figures. And when you have a playset that is also quite limited in size and that needs to fold up, that is a tall order. The Anchovy Alley playset does an admirable job. It essentially has four levels: street, upper, middle and the base. From the looks of it, the intention was to also have a roof top level that never went very far. Ignoring the aborted rooftop, there is quite a bit of detail on almost every other wall and floor. The only exceptions being the small bit of ground in front of the pizzaria and the back wall of the lower level. I don't mind the missing sidewalk, but a clean white wall as the backdrop for a sewer is quite out of place. But if the playset has a real short coming, it is that space is so limited on the street level that it is almost unusable. That level is less than an inch deep so the only hope of getting figures to stand up there is to keep their backs plastered to the wall. The limited height difference between the lower three levels is also a bit limiting as they are only separated by about two and a half or three inches in height.
Paint - 5/10The actual paint work on the Anchovy Alley set is fairly limited. The bricks around the opening in the back wall are painted as are the bricks and awning of the pizzaria on the street level. And when the playset is closed, the checkerboard pattern around the edge of the box and a small image of the four turtles are painted onto the top of the box. Additional visual interest is added via half a dozen decals. But they are largely centered around the pizzaria which leaves the sewer levels which accounts for most of the space in the playset looking fairly dull. That is a shame, because there is a lot of detail on those levels that would have looked amazing if properly painted. Even the paint work on the top of the folded playset just leaves me wishing that they had the budget for a full size image of the Turtles on the lid and painted borders for the sides. The work that is there is nice, but it can't live up to what was promised on the packaging.
Features - 8/10Anchovy Alley has a few features. Starting at the top level there is a street light with two handles which springs back into its default position which allows a figure to "swing" from the light pole and kick another figure through the pizzaria doors. The pizzaria's doors can be opened. There is a large manhole cover on the middle level of the sewer which serves as a springboard to launch figures into the lower levels of the sewer by pressing down on a level along the side. There is a vault style door on the lowest level that will break away. And finally there is the pizza launcher. The launcher is extrememly simple in design, just a box mounted on a stand with a lever on the side to fire. It plugs into any of four holes located on the roof and three sewer levels. Then when the lever is pulled back and released, a disk is launched. It has decent power, but there is little control over where you are aiming it. For the size of the playset, that is a decent number of features. But none of them are exciting enough to be a much if a highlight for the playset. So instead, the highlight of the playset is the playset itself and its ability to fold up. To fold up the playset, the bottom level floor plate is lifted along a joint that runs disagionally across it. The middle sewer level automatically folds against the back wall while the side and top level of the sewer fold ontop of it to form the body of the pizza box. The Street level and roof section then fold over to form the pizza box lid. There are even spots to securely store the pizza launcher and its ammo. This is the real highlight of the pop-up pizza the entire playset can go from multi-level playset to a 9" x 9" x 2" pizza box in a matter of seconds. And unfolding it is just as easy. The lid flips up and clips into place to form the street level while the rest just falls into place. It is an impressive bit of engineering.
Accessories - 4/10The central gimmick for the pop-up pizza playset is that everything folds up into the pizza box form. But that also means that space is at a premium. So the only accessories included are the pizza launcher and four pizza disks. There's pleanty of other things that could have been included, but there isn't anything else that it really needs.
Value - 8/10When the Anchovy Alley set first hit shelves, it was selling for around $23. But the price has dropped to just under $20 just about everywhere now. For a multi-level playset that is a remarkable price. The biggest downside to the pop-up playset is that it saves it best trick for folding for storage. For a kid that will actually take the playset someplace, that is a great feature. Truth be told, even if you don't want to carry the playset around, just having the option of easily and quickly storing the playset in the future is pretty cool.
Happy Hunting:The Anchovy Alley Pop-up Pizza Playset was released at the beginning of 2013. At this point, it is quite readily available at the usual outlets for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys such as Toys R Us, Target, Walmart and Kmart. It is also readily available online from their web stores as well. Some times toy hunting doesn't have to be difficult.