As regular readers of That Figures know, we're big fans of the Fisher-Price Imaginext toys. And it's no wonder, given they combine great value-for-money with super-cool play features and, in many cases, direct homages to some of our most beloved toys of yesteryear (more on that in a moment.)
Although we've looked at a number of toys from the Cosmic Chaos and Pirate lines, we haven't really paid much attention to the very cool Castle line-up, which, as the name may imply, features a variety of knights, siege machines, monsters and, well, castles...! So let's remedy that right now with this close-up look at the Wizard Tower playset.
The Wizard Tower
The Wizard Tower is a pretty big playset, standing at around 14'' or so tall and Fisher-Price's designers have managed to cram in a significant amount of detail and play features into that space.
There's a whole bunch of stuff going on here - and more becomes clear as you look more closely - so let's take a moment to give a quick breakdown of the various sections before looking at each one in more depth.
From top to bottom we have: an observation deck, a ''casting'' platform, a staircase, a balcony, a crystal ball chamber, the dragon cage and a dungeon cell. Even without highlighting the features of each, you can already see the potential for play and storytelling this set offers. But it gets even better, as you'll see when we examine each area more closely...
The Observation Deck - Positioned at the top of the Wizard Tower, the observation deck allows the wizard to use his telescope (included in the set) to study the movement of the heavens and perform astrological predictions. He can also watch local sports games for free...
As you can see, there's some neat up-close detail here. I really dig the broken shingle effect and the wooden floor, complete with an astrological/mystical symbol carved into it. Like most of the set, there's a little bit of imagination required, as - if this were a real-world building - the roof would be open to the world (thus making it somewhat useless) but it's clearly a cut-away to allow access. Don't get too hung up on it.
The Casting Platform - This is where our wizard can consult his grimoire or spell tome to perform various rituals and cast spells.
There's a neat-looking spell book, mounted upon a lectern, which the wizard can use to cast his spells and it features some great close-up detailing, from the multiple page edges to the mystical symbols and bookmarks. It's a shame it's not painted or colored to differentiate it from the lectern but the Imaginext toys don't tend to use a massive amount of paint, so if you're used to the line's style this won't be too jarring.
There's also a very cool ''cosmic crackle'' effect going on behind the platform and it includes the first of the ''action'' play features the set is packed with. Like many Imaginext sets, the Wizard Tower has a few ''action dials.'' Place a figure in the action dial and turn him and the playset performs an action. In this case it spins the cosmic crackle to accompany the wizard's ritual. That's not all it does, but we'll come back to that in a moment...
Those giant cogs also spin as you turn the dial (they are the actual mechanism by which it moves), which adds a cool element of motion to the set.
The Staircase - Continuing our descent, we come to the staircase.
There's not much to say here, except that I appreciate the inclusion of these stairs. My logical mind finds it frustrating when playsets include multiple levels that aren't connected and although this set is guilty of that, these stairs go some way to calming me down. And of course, it also offers us the chance to play out various staircase-based battles ala The Adventures of Robin Hood.
The Balcony - At the foot of the staircase sits the balcony.
There's not a great deal to say about these areas, as they don't include any ''working'' play features but, again, the detail is great, with knotted wood flooring adding a level of detail to hold the eye. This is also another place where young imaginations can come into play, allowing the wizard to rain spells down on attacking enemies or address an army of orcs.
The Crystal Ball Chamber - The tallest space in the tower, the crystal ball chamber is another area that includes some great sculpting and an interactive play feature.
The upper half features a barred window (which, despite appearances, doesn't really do anything) and some really neat wall sculpting of various books and bubbling flasks, giving the impression of a wizard's laboratory.
At the bottom sits a weird plinth, upon which rests a crystal ball/magic eye. Again, we have an action disc and, when a figure is places upon it and the disc rotated, the crystal ball/Eye of Agamotto spins around to reveal lost secrets or the future to the wizard.
The Dragon Cage - Dominating the set's design is the central cage, in which stands a mighty dragon!
Remember when I mentioned that the spell deck's action disc had another cool feature. Well, here it is...
Spin the disc and the cell doors snap open, unleashing the dragon!
Of course, you could also use the space to imprison knights or attacking orcs... And speaking of prisons...
The Dungeon - At the base of the tower lies a small alcove, just large enough to accommodate your Imaginext figures.
It's not packed with play features and it doesn't ''do'' anything (that's the beauty of it!) but it's a great little use of the space and allows for an array of prison escape or capture-the-villain scenarios. The fact that the sculpting is particularly awesome doesn't hurt, either...
Oh, I Almost Forgot...
On the subject of play features, I should probably mention that there's one major feature I've yet to mention, namely that the Wizard Tower speaks.
Yes, that's right. The set includes lighting and an electronic sound effects and speech set-up, triggered by the various action discs (and a few other circumstances, which we'll come to later) that adds an additional dimension to proceedings.
So in the case of the dragon cage, when the action disc is rotated and the cage doors open, a UV light flashes upon the dragon (which looks awesome) we hear the appropriate sounds and in most cases, a random exclamation from the wizard regarding his success. Similarly, turn the crystal ball action disc and you'll be rewarded with a line of dialog and a ''shiny'' magic sound effect. It's all very cool and it's one of the few times I wish I did video reviews, as I'd love to share this with you (thankfully our buddy Pixel Dan has done just that...)
So now we've looked at the tower, what about the figures?
As you've probably surmised from the images in the Review, the set comes with two figures, a wizard and a very cool dragon. Let's start with the former.
The wizard is most definitely ''of'' the Imaginext line, featuring the standard body and cool articulation we've come to expect, but in a shift from the usual set up, this figure is wearing a (near) floor-length robe and, as a result, his lower body features a skirt-style leg piece.
As the Imaginext figures don't feature individual leg joints, this isn't an issue and I actually really dig that we're getting something a little different here.
There's not a massive amount of paintwork here but fans of Imaginext will already know that the line generally doesn't really focus on paint apps. The face tampo is neatly applied, though, and his little mustache is a cool touch.
Accessory-wise, the wizard comes with a removable cowl and his wizard's staff.
The staff mimics the same ''cosmic crackle'' motif seen at the top of the tower, which is a neat touch, but also includes some great up-close detail on the base, which is set with rivets or bolts. Personally I think it would have been nice to see this in a wood-brown (and an attached yellow piece for the energy halo) but at least the color is in-keeping with the rest of the set.
And as for the cowl, it's another cool piece that, for all its odd coloring, continues the colors scheme of the playset. And is it just me, or does it look suspiciously like Skeletor's chest armor? Nah, I'm just imagining that, right?
Yeah, in the same way as I'm imagining that the underside of the tower features a design lifted directly from the Masters of the Universe Castle Grayskull playset.
Damn, I love me some vintage toy homages.
The other major element of the Wizard Tower is the dragon.
A piece that is - I believe - unique to this set, the dragon towers over the wizard, standing a good inch and a half taller. The sculpt is very cool, with the skin featuring an assortment of bumps and knots and the head in particular being impressive.
These custom pieces come at a cost, though, as articulation is limited to the shoulders (although they do still sport the same double-directional set-up as the regular figures) and the wings, which can be flapped by pressing a button on the dragon's back.
Oh and when you do that and he's close to the castle, you'll be rewarded with a cool flapping sound (and dragon roar) from the tower's electronics (which will also respond to other specific toys from the Castle line that support this feature). It's so cool...
I'm not a fan of toys with gimmicks. Too often they're ''one trick ponies'' which, when the batteries die or when you've seen the mechanical gizmo do its thing a few times, you're left with nothing else to do with them, no other way to interact or enjoy the toy. Not so here: the Wizard Tower is a playset that incorporates great electronic play features but also encourages imagination and free play. It's a set that - despite its awesome electronics - is just as much fun when the power is off.
One of the things that's so great about the Imaginext line is the way they encourage exploration, imagination and experimentation. Sure, the packaging may call-out a feature or two but on the whole the play experience is much more about learning how the features work and being rewarded for trying things. There's also the idea that the toys are ''blank canvases'' that allow children to project their own ideas and scenarios onto them, which is something I applaud. Without sounding like a Grandpa made from wood who worked 90 hours a day in a mine, too many modern toys rely on gimmicks or on ''guided'' (or even dictated) play. The toy does one thing and that's how you do it, or the character is from a movie and you know everything about him. Not so here. The Imaginext toys are designed with deliberate gaps in their presentation. Who is this wizard? Why is he summoning a dragon? What happens if I turn this dial? They encourage creativity in play and that's something I'm a huge fan of.
The fact that the set is also designed in homage to the Masters of the Universe Castle Grayskull playset is also a huge bonus. I've never been a collector of that line but even I dig the retro-references. If you're a MOTU fan then you'll absolutely flip over this.
The set isn't without its faults. The day-glo yellow/green accessories are a little distracting and I'd have liked to see some paint apps (or a more creative use of colored plastic) to really highlight some of the details molded into the set. A removable - and white-paged - grimoire would have been a neat touch, too. Foot pegs in the action discs would have helped keep the wizard in place (this is something Fisher-Price has introduced in some sets, such as the Shark Boat, so hopefully we'll see it more in the future) and yes, you will often hear the same phrases being repeated but these are really very minor points that will do little to hamper your enjoyment of this toy.
With an MSRP of around $30, it may be a little too expensive to make it an impulse or allowance-level purchase but if you're a fan of Masters of the Universe or you're just looking for a really neat castle-themed playset then I'd snap it up even at that price, as this is going to prove a very popular set on the aftermarket and that $30 price tag will soon be a lot higher...
Overall then, a fun, feature-packed set that will appeal to kids and vintage toy fans alike.