Everyone has always been under the assumption that our toys come to life once we go to sleep; in fact, there is an entire series of films covering the very topic (I think they’re called Madagascar or something). Where is a suddenly sentient action figure supposed to spend his “off-hours”? If you were a child of the ’80s/early ’90s and had generous parents, your toys spent their recreational time lounging around their own custom playset!
Forget the Barbie dream house (plus my parents wouldn’t buy me one, probably saving years of therapy bills) and take a peek at my very carefuly curated list of my Top Ten favorite childhood playsets (in no particular order).
THE GHOSTBUSTERS FIRE HOUSE HEADQUARTERS
Why I love it: First and foremost, it came with Play-Doh; instant win. Containment unit? Check. Ample parking space for the Ecto-1? Big check. This playset has basically everything you know and love about the movie firehouse, other than a cast of chain-smoking paranormal detectives.
Best Feature: The (sort-of) functioning firepole/ride at the playground that made you dizzy to a point of nausea. ‘Cause there’s no better way to start a day full of busting ghosts than giving yourself vertigo.
EWOK FAMILY HUT
Why I love it: Technically the second Ewok playset, this toy made me a fan of Star Wars before I had seen Star Wars. Obviously marketed at the younger set (just like Ewoks), the “Family Hut” was always lovingly known in my household as the Ewok Treehouse; and let’s just say I spent as much time with Wicket and those bongo drums than I have with members of the opposite sex.
Best Feature: The conveniently placed hammock; that way, my toys could be as lazy as I was.
MIGHTY MAX SKULL MOUNTAIN
Why I love it: Like all things Mighty Max, the bulk of the fun with this toy was finding out all the ways the playset “folded”, doubling itself as a carrying case for your figures. There was nothing more gratifying then discovering yet another secret hiding place or hard-to-spot “moving piece” in your Max toys, and Skull Mountain was definitely the biggest and baddest of them all. That and I could kidnap my cousins Polly Pockets, hide them in the castle, and hold them for ransom. It’s no wonder I wound up as well-adjusted as I have.
Best Feature: The sheer scale of it. Max has always been tiny, but standing next to these towering behemoths it really made the playset feel like an actual mountain. Made of plastic. Just like real mountains. (Editor’s Note: Matt Cohen has never seen a real mountain.)
BATMAN RETURNS BATCAVE COMMAND CENTER
Why I love it: There have been many Batman playsets and most have been of either Wayne Manor or the Batcave itself, but none better then the one from Batman Returns (which is, incidentally, still my favorite Batman movie). Half golden mansion, half pinkish cave, this set had it all, if your definition of all was a closet, a TV screen, and a balcony. Still, you just can’t beat that metallic purple batsuit!
Best Feature: The fact that when you parked the Batmobile in the provided garage, it was actually halfway into the front hall of Wayne Manor. Alfred had a hell of a time keeping that floor clean.
MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CASTLE GRAYSKULL
Why I love it: He-Man had maybe the most villainous looking lair of any ’80s hero, even giving Skeletor’s Snake Mountain a run for its money on the creepiness factor. As a kid, both having playsets and not having yet seen the cartoon they were based on, I legitimately thought Skeletor was the good guy. In a weird way, wasn’t I right?
Best Feature: A trapdoor opens in the ground, triggered by the turning of Adam’s throne. Take that He-Man! I mean, Skeletor!
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES SEWER PLAYSET
Why I love it: Because it has remotely anything to do with the Ninja Turtles. The single best toy line of the early 90’s had everything; countless variant Turtle figures, awesome vehicles that shot pizza, and one of the best playsets the world has ever seen. Plus, if you bought extra “sewer pipes”, you could connect the TMNT base to your own handmade and way less cool extensions. Also… LOOK AT THAT BOX ART!!!
Best Feature: Making my Turtles fight over the one provided bed. Raphael always won.
G.I. JOE USS FLAGG
Why I love it: Though I never had one and wasn’t the biggest Joe aficionado, there was no denying that this 7 foot long floating aircraft carrier was pretty much the single most badass toy that any spoiled kid (It retailed for an astounding $109 in 1985!) could get his patriotic hands on.
Best Feature: The fact that your parents had to display a 7-foot-plus battleship in their homes.
THUNDERCATS ELECTRONIC CAT’S LAIR
Why I love it: Add the word “laser” to anything and I’m going to be a fan; couple it with one of the most beloved animated shows of the ’80s, and you’ve got one of the cooler and more high tech playsets to hit the scene. Plus, Thundercats was all about cats before the internet was all about cats, and I like to support trendsetters. Lasers, Ho! (I really like lasers)
Best Feature: Hint: It rhymes with laser and is spelled the exact same way as laser. Give up? It was the piercing electronic sounds!
SWAMP THING SWAMP TRAP PLAYSET
Why I love it?: Based on the short lived Swamp Thing cartoon, this playset should not exist; meaning, for a well loved but sort of obscure comic book character to get the full playset treatment is a rarity, especially one as “dark” as ole Swampy. It’s the moss covered unicorn of early childhood toys.
Best Feature: Either the fully operating Venus fly trap or the hidden elevator; Or, the fact that this toy exists at all.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES TECHNODROME
Why I love it?: Remember when I said this list was in no ranking order? I lied. By far, my favorite playset while growing up was the Technodrome, headquarters to the devious Shredder and his army of Foot-Soldiers. Basically, it was a Death Star with an eye on the top of it, and I loved everything about it, from the tank treads to how many compartments it had, to the fact that it doubled as a carrying case (as any playset worth its salt should be able to do). And, again… LOOK AT THAT BOX ART!!!
Best Feature: The “Drome” could be connected to the aforementioned Turtle Sewer HQ, saving our heroes a hefty gas bill for the Shellraiser.
Dig my choices? Have any fond memories of these toys? Did I leave out any of your favorite playsets? Liking these tour guided trips down memory lane? Kindly drop a Quemment, email me or say hi and howdy on ye olde Twitter Machine. I won’t bite, unless you specifically ask me to bite; and even then… it’s a maybe.