I’ll admit it. I’m ashamed at my decision to not buy Playmates’ epic Secret Sewer Lair playset. I’m the first collector to go around pining for the good old days when toy companies made playsets, and when someone finally steps up and releases one, I abstain. I wanted it really bad. I still want it really bad. But I keep looking at it and realizing that I have nowhere to put it. And even if I could squeeze it in somewhere, it would take up what little space I have left for all the other things I’m going to want to buy this year. I was tempted to just buy it to show my support and keep it boxed, but even the box is huge. Plus, I know I’d have to open it as soon as I got it anyway because I have all the willpower of a crack addict. Fortunately, Playmates threw people like me a bone by releasing a more compact way to display my Turtles… behold Anchovy Alley, the Pop-Up Pizza Playset. It’s proof that Playmates may actually be a bunch of geniuses and have just been trolling us for the last couple of years.
The box has all the trappings of the TMNT Nickelodeon toy packages illustrated as if to be wrapped around what looks like a pizza box with a sketch of the Turtles on it. Holy shit, this is cool! It’s so cool that I wish it was designed in two layers so the wrap-around could come off and I could have the Turtle pizza box by itself. In typical Playmates fashion, the box has a ton of information printed on it. But rather than feel like overkill like on the old Star Trek cards, this box makes me think the designer of the package was genuinely excited about the toy and had way too much caffeine. But the best is yet to be seen.
Flip the box over and the back shows the toy in action with some of the best copy I’ve ever read on a toy box. It invites you to “serve up a fresh slice topped with furious ninja moves!” Plus it has a whole catalog of great pizza related puns that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger proud. “Table for one!” “Special delivery!” “Hand tossed!” “You got served!” The folks at Playmates are obviously having way too much fun with this line and it makes it all the more endearing. It’s like suddenly they get it and most other toy companies don’t. Even if my interest hadn’t already been peaked, there’s no way I could pick up this box in the toy aisle and not buy this thing. Oh yeah, it even opens like a real pizza box and it’s so heavy and dense that it feels like it contains a solid brick of plastic.
And that’s because in a sense it is. The playset comes folded into a plastic box that very nearly fills out the entire inside of the package. There’s just room for four corner protectors, an instruction sheet and a sticker sheet. This thing is designed so well that when it folds up there’s barely a square millimeter of space that isn’t used up. Because the playset is designed to unpack itself, there’s really no assembly required. There are, however, some very large and crucial stickers, which take a lot of care to put on. I gave it my all and I still had a couple of creases in mine.
So, when it’s all folded up, the set is designed to look like a plastic pizza box. It’s passable enough with the traditional red checker pattern running around the side. The illustration on the package is reproduced smaller as a green stamp on the upper right hand corner. I think Playmates should have just reproduced the pizza box on the cardboard package here, or at least printed PIZZA on it. You get the idea what it’s supposed to be, but they could have gone a little further with it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all good. This baby will spend most of its time deployed on my shelf and whenever it is collapsed down, I’ll likely put it right back in the box.
When I say this thing unpacks itself, I really mean it. Once you fold it out you’re 99% good to go. The only thing left to do is take the pizza shooter and the pizzas off the outside wall and put it into one of the three available sockets. It’s a simple spring loaded disc launcher and while I’ll likely choose to display my set without it, it makes for a very cool added play feature for the kiddies.
Once unpacked, Anchovy Alley stands 18-inches tall and has a similar set up to the Secret Sewer Lair in that part of the set is meant to be above ground and part below. The above ground is a colorful pizzeria with an awning, street lamp and opening doors. There’s only a small ledge to represent the street level, but it’s just enough to get a turtle to stand on it, even with their bulky shells. The streetlamp is spring loaded so you can attach a turtle to it, pull it back, and have him knock another figure right through the pizzeria doors. “Bahfangul! Wathca a-doin out there? Stop-a kicking da dirty foot clan into-a mia pizza parlor! Turtle Svacheems!”
The subterranean side is some kind of underground limbo that exists between the subways and the sewers. It offers up three levels of play, all connected with ladders, and includes a manhole cover that can launch figures into the air, and an opening sewer hatch on one of the walls. There are also some railings the figures can grab and swing on. The sculpted detail on the base is particularly impressive. You’ve got tires, dead fish, and all kinds of bottles and cans and other refuse. If I had the talent, patience and materials of a customizer, I would go to town painting the base of this thing.
The durability of the playset varies a bit. None of it feels cheap and when it’s unpacked it’s pretty solid. On the other hand, some of the rails feel really weak so I don’t know that I’ll have my figures gripping them that much. I could see them developing stress marks pretty easily.
The fact that Playmates actually named this thing, Anchovy Alley, rather than just Pop-Up Pizza Playset, makes me hope that they may do a few more. This formula is just too good to be a one-shot deal and other toy companies really should take notice. I’m not saying I want a pizza box that unfolds into a GI Joe playset, but Hasbro you could make it an ammo box or something. Use your goddamn imaginations because Playmates certainly is. Either way, this thing is proof that you can do a solid playset without taking up too much space on the retailer shelves… or setting too high a price tag. Anchovy Alley’s box takes up less space than most mid-range vehicles and only set me back $25. Whether you want to use it so your Turtles can mix it up you’re the Foot Clan or just want somewhere to display your figures, I can’t recommend this set enough. It’s awesome!
Tomorrow we’ll keep the Turtle goodness rolling with a look at the Sewer Cruiser.