Imaginext's Pirate line-up combines the traditional pirate-y themes of sailing ships and cutlasses with Pirates of the Caribbean-style skeletal raiders and, coolest of all, a quasi-steampunk motif. It's significantly more Jules Verne than Robert Louis Stevenson, with an abundance of smokestacks, cogs and big brass levers abounding and adding a really neat little fantasy element to the toys.
Although the Pirate Crab Walker and Pirate Submarine are perhaps the two most steampirate sets in the line-up, the Shark Boat comes pretty close in terms of brass bits and buccaneering, as we'll see in today's Review.
The Shark Boat
There are no prizes for guessing that the Shark Boat is a, well, shark-themed boat. But look beyond the initial description and you'll find a lot of very cool details and play features are here, waiting to be discovered.
The Shark Boat Captain
So let's start with a look at the boat's captain. I've dubbed him Captain Sharky, but - like most of the Imaginext toys - there's no official title or back-story to this guy, which is something I really respond to, as it encourages kids to think creatively and create their own play scenarios. Is he a bad guy? Who are his friends? What does he want? It's this kind of ''blank canvas'' play that's central to the Imaginext line and is something I find most agreeable.
Like most Imaginext figures, Captain Sharky is the standard buck augmented with a few custom pieces and accessories, with his captain's coat - complete with very fancy epaulets - being the piece that truly defines the figure. It's a really neat-looking piece and although the shoulders may inhibit some of his movement, it's worth the sacrifice as it looks so cool.
Behold! The Bad-Ass Buccaneer!
The face tampo and the rear print on his coat are neatly applied, as is the minor detailing on his boots and belt. There's not a massive amount of color here but he's supposed to be a seafaring scoundrel, so we can excuse the muted tone of his grey/green outfit.
As with all Imaginext core figures, Captain Sharky sports a pretty neat articulation set-up, with a single-twist neck joint, double-jointed shoulders, twist wrists and a single-joint connecting both legs to a hip bend.
The Shark Boat
Let's move onto the Shark Boat itself.
As you can see, there's a lot going on here. From the smokestack exhaust pipes to the side cannons and tail rotor, it's a busy-looking piece that has a lot to offer.
My initial thoughts were that the boat was just that - a surface-faring vessel. But upon closer inspection I noticed a number of additional details that lead me to believe it's also a submersible vehicle. Note the presence of both a rudder (for surface steering) and a propeller (for underwater movement), along with the side-mounted fins (which serve no purpose on the water but would help steer when submersed) and - perhaps most telling of all - the top-mounted periscope. And I don't think I'm reading too much into the design of the rear segment when I say it looks like some kind of concertinaed/folding cover. This submersible design, of course, makes perfect sense, given that the boat is the Shark Boat and not the Swims on the Surface Boat...
And speaking of sharks, it's plainly obvious where the boat gets its name, but if you haven't noticed it yet...
... the front half of the boat is designed to resemble a shark's maw. But it's not just for looks. By pressing the captain down on the red activator panel (his standard ''command'' position) you can access the boat's major ''mechanical'' play feature: the disc launcher.
With each press, the mouth opens and a single disc is launched at your opponent. It's a very cool little feature that works well whilst managing to be fairly non-harmful. It would take a significant amount of effort to injure somebody using this feature, as the discs themselves are lacking in any form of spiky protrusion and the launch speed is enough for it to be fun but not so much as to be dangerous.
One point I will make though is that there are no instructions on how to load the disc launcher. Whilst this is a good thing, as it encourages children to discover the feature for themselves, as an adult I did find myself unsure as to how the loading mechanism worked and at one point managed to jam-up the launcher when I tried to ''manually'' load the discs. It was only when I lifted the boat by the ''conning tower'' that I discovered a hinged trapdoor, leading to the disc ''magazine.''
As an adult who is used to handling ''collectible figures'' I think I'm sometimes a little too cautious and so I don't tend to pull on parts or try to move pieces unless I'm 100% certain they're supposed to do that, so I'm sure a child - with all their reckless energy and desire to discover - wouldn't experience the same issue but I've included this confession just so others will hopefully not experience the same issue...!
Although the disc-launching maw is probably the Shark Boat's most impressive play feature, there are a few other minor points also worth mentioning.
The previously-mentioned rudder is mounted on a hinged joint, allowing you to move it from side to side (and thus steer your boat.) And on the underside of the vessel are a number of small wheels, connected to a mechanism that moves both the propeller and stabilizing fins (rotating and flapping them, respectively.) The fins are also hinged, which allows you to re-angle them independently or even fold them up for surface sailing/storage. There's also a periscope, which can be rotated and a rear-mounted, removable pirate flag.
Like a lot of Imaginext toys, there's not a great deal of paintwork on the Shark Boat, with the use of solid - and variously - colored pieces being the predominant method used to add contrast to the piece (although where there is paint, such as on the side rails, it's very cleanly applied.)
The palette is good, with the brass/gold and grey/silver industrial-style metal pieces working nicely with the steampunk aesthetic and the brown wood and nautical blue adding a sense of maritime vessel to the design. A few extra color details - such as a painted lens on the periscope or some blackened tips to the exhausts - would have been welcome but this is really nitpicking on my part and the overall color scheme works well.
One minor... and I hate to even call it a ''disappointment'' but I'm really not sure how else to word it... is that for all the Shark Boat's relative size, there's very little ''play'' space on the vessel. The captain can stand atop the conning tower or... he can stand atop the conning tower. I'd have liked to have an additional space somewhere for him, such as on the fore deck or similar, or space for a second pirate (Fisher-Price produce double-packs of pirates without vehicles, but as of yet I've yet to find a vehicle that can really accommodate additional crewmen) because, for all its awesome play features and great looks, it can feel a little like simply a ''lump of plastic'' at times. Again, it's a minor point and I'm criticizing it for not being what I personally think it should be but I did want to raise that issue.
And, like all Imaginext toys, there's a great feeling of solid, durability to this toy. I could imagine it would survive a tough play session with ease, as there's very little here that could break off (the pirate flag can simply be detached and re-attached should the need arise) but there's also a lot of very neat close-up detail in the sculpt that stops it from simply being a solid block. And if you're a fan of steampunk or industrial-style detailing, then you'll really appreciate what's going on here.
It's probably quite apparent from the above text that, despite my best efforts not to give it away too early , I really like this toy.
Yes, it would have been nice to have a little extra deck space or another position for the captain (or another crewman) and there may be a little bit of a squandered opportunity to capitalize on its surface-sailing and submarine qualities (such as having a space to allow the captain to climb into the sub) and, sure, the loading mechanism isn't as obvious as it should be (at least, not to me - I'm sure kids will figure it out in seconds) but these are really very minor points when you consider just how much fun this toy is.
When I first saw the toy on shelves, I expected the opening mouth/disc launcher to be the toy's only real feature but now, having played with it and explored all it has to offer, it becomes clear that this is only a small part of what makes the toy fun. The combination of ship and sub is a great little creative touch and I'm sure small hands will sail this vessel over - and under - various oceans and seas in search of treasure and adventure and it's that sense of imagination and wonder that really makes the Imaginext line so much fun. Even as an adult you find yourself creating play scenarios, ascribing function to form and thinking about how the toy could be used to tell stories. Indeed, much of the fun comes not from what the toy is but what it makes you think it is, if that makes sense. To me that's most definitely a good thing whether you're six or sixty.
Add to that the neat design, solid feel and cool little play features and it quickly becomes clear why the Shark Boat is just so much fun. If you're not collecting these toys then you should be, as they're super retro-fun with great designs at a fantastic price (the Shark Boat retails for around $20, which is little more than you'd pay for a 6'' action figure.)
A fun, well-designed, feature-packed toy at a great price.