With the schedule that Playmates has kept for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle lines since 2003, January and February have come
to be almost like an extended Christmas. Each January we get a slew of new figures and related product to refill the shelves.
And then February brings about Toy Fair when we get a look at all of the toys planned for the coming year. But in January, for
one brief window, even in the information age, toy collectors are treated to products showing up with little to no advanced notice.
This year one such January surprise was the the Z-line Ninjas Playsets.
The pop-up playset design of Anchovy Alley from last year seems to have proven not to be terribly popular, to the point that the planned second playset has been canceled. Personally, I suspect that it was a victim of the success of the Secret Sewer Lair Playset. Even though the Anchovy Alley set was cool, It couldn't hold a candle to the Sewer Lair. And as a parent, if you had already bought the Sewer Lair, why would you want to bother with it's smaller brother? That might explain why Playmates went in a very different direction this year. Instead of stand alone environments like the lair and anchovy alley, the Z-line playsets provide a much smaller portion of a city scene that can be mounted to a wall. The Turtles can then use the included cables to zip between them. In this way, the Z-line sets don't need to compete with the sewer lair. They can be use to expand off of it. It is an interesting idea. But as someone who has traditionally found zip line gimmicks to be a let down, I must admit to being skeptical about just how well these will turn out.
Packaging - 4/10The Z-line play sets are packaged in fairly standard boxes. But unlike most of the toys in the TMNT line, there is no window to show off the toy inside. That is a shame since these are a fairly unique idea, so it would be nice to see what exactly you were getting in advance. The artwork on the boxes gives a decent idea of the concept. But the "photo" is so poorly photoshopped together that I have a hard time believing it is even the real toy. The back of the boxes has the same issue. The photo of the sets is set against a background that is meant to look like the walls of a child's room. But it is so unrealistic looking that the toy looks fake as well. The sad thing is, if the photo editing wasn't so horrible, the packaging design itself isn't that bad.
Sculpting - 6/10All four of the Z-line play sets are centered around the wall mounted section of city diorama. And they look great. Each one has a great deal of detail. But they were careful not to go overboard such as on the billboard playset where the simple, clean look is more appropriate. Each set also includes a gargoyle anchor point for the zip lines. The gargoyles look nice, but it was disappointing to see that the same launcher was used for all four play sets. The deluxe sets also include mounting brackets for the green zip track that are sculpted to look like the top of the Chrysler Building which is a very cool touch. The sets do have one major flaw though. They are too small. Each of the sets seems to be between twenty five and fifty percent too small. While normally I would just accept that problems with scale in a toy by Playmates. But here, the reduced size means that there is very little room for figures on the playsets. There definitely isn't enough room for the turtles to have a brawl with Shredder's minions which makes them far less useful than they could be.
Paint - Water Tower 5/10, others 7/10There isn't much paint work on the Z-line playsets. But since they are suppose to be parts of buildings, they shouldn't be all that colorful. And even without the included stickers, the two basic playsets have enough painted detail to be at least passable. Once you add the decals, they look even better. That is particularly true of the Billboard playset since so much of the color comes from the large decal for the sign itself. There is still room for improvement, especially for the water tower playset since it has no decals. If these were fully painted, they would make tremendous display pieces.
Features - basic sets 6/10, deluxe sets 7/10Typically I prefer playsets that are first and foremost, a play environment and any action or play features which they add is a bonus. But in the case of the Z-line playsets, there is no questions that they exist first for the sake of the action features. Each playset has a drop away floor feature and multiple contact points for zip lines. The water tower playset takes it a step further in that the tower bursts open when the drop away floor is activated. It's not a bad feature and it works well. But using it for all four playsets makes it seem a bit repetitive. But the drop away floors are more of a bonus, the focus of the Z-line playsets is quite squarely on the zip line features. Zip lines are certainly nothing new for an action figure line. Generally they have been pretty simple, a piece of string for a figure to slide down. There was even the Sky Commander's line where zip lines and traveling via cables was the central theme of the entire line. Playmates has been including zip lines in the TMNT lines going back to the 90's as well. But Playmates has gone to new lengths with these sets, starting from the ground up. Each string has a coupler on the end allowing them to quickly snap onto the playsets and accessories. There are a variety of different styles of mechanisms for riding the lines including single hand, double handed and backpack mounted versions. Each set also includes a gargoyle platform which can be mounted to give you a starting point for the zip lines. But what I found really impressive was that the two deluxe playsets come with a green track that allows you direct the path of the zip line around a corner. That is something I have not seen before. I have to give Playmates credit. they went all out with the Z-line concept and have done it better than I have ever seen before. But while what they have created is impressive, it still has the drawback of needing a lot of setup and occupying a lot of space once it is set up. But its greatest shortcoming is that once it has been mounted to the wall, it can be removed but not repositioned without buying more Command Adhesive strips. There is one clamp included with each set. But the playsets need two mounting points to support their weight. Having to set them up just once and be satisfied with where you put them is a pretty big shortcoming.
Accessories - basic sets 6/10, deluxe sets 7/10Each set includes two 72" lines with couplers on each end, two hook ends for the lines, two pulleys and two different handles for the pullys, two tension cylinders, three wall clips with adhesive pads, a clamp mount and a guide to measure the angle of the strings. (The boxes and instructions say that each set is suppose to have one 72" line, but all four sets I have included two.) The deluxe sets add an additional 48" line with another hook end and a green corner track with mounting hardware. That's a lot of parts. But in most cases there will be a lot of parts that are not used. And for as many parts as are included, there's generally only one for each set. So if you just want an extra line, you need to buy an entire extra playset. It seems like there really should be an additional accessory pack available with extra mounting clips, adhesive pads and more lines.
Value - basic sets 6/10, deluxe sets 5/10The basic Z-line playsets sell for $20 to $23 each while the deluxe sets are $30 to $33. If you want them just as a playset, that is a very steep price, particularly for the deluxe sets which are only marginally larger than the basic sets. To really get the full value from these sets, you have to be interested in setting up and using the zip lines.
Happy Hunting:The Z-Line Ninjas playsets have been shipping since the beginning of the year to both Target and Toys R Us stores. They should be fairly easy to find at retail at this point. Toys R Us also has them listed on their website and has been putting them on sale from time to time as well.