Tuesday, February 10, 2015

REVIEW: Imaginext Pirate Serpent Ship

A Tale of Two Ships
As is the case with a lot of toy companies, Fisher-Price will often re-issue or repackage some of their older releases. And as you may have gathered, today's Review subject is one such toy.

Retired in 2010, the original Serpent Ship had long been unavailable (unless you were willing to shell-out the insane Ebay prices, that is...) but in 2014 the ship returned to shelves as a Kohl's exclusive, complete with a new blue-themed color-scheme (although now lacking the DVD included with the original release) and it's this new, 2014 re-issue we're Reviewing today. However, palette changes (and DVD) aside, from what I can gather the two sets are identical, so if you missed out on the original and always wanted one (and you're not fussy about the coloring) then now's your chance to grab it before it sails off into the sunset once more...

NOTE: I should point out that I was able to purchase the Serpent Ship for around $20 during Kohl's Black Friday sale. Although the recommended price is around $55, pricing in Kohl's stores is a very hit-and-miss affair and you may find the vehicle at a much lower price or, depending on the way the wind is blowing and the alignment of the stars, a significantly higher price. I would suggest monitoring whichever sales promotions the store is currently running to ensure you get this set at the best price.

The Serpent Ship
Let's begin by taking a look at the Serpent Ship in all her beauty.
As you can probably see, it's a pretty big set. Notice the figures on the poop deck (hehehe... ''poop'') and main deck and you'll hopefully get a sense of how large the ship is in comparison to the standard Imaginext figure.
There's certainly no denying that it's an impressive-sized piece of plastic. I love that it's so clearly ''readable'' as a galleon but also features a ton of close-up detail, from the ''dragon scale'' plates on the front to the wood grain planking, it's every inch the seafaring vessel. There's also a great ''oceanic'' influence on the scrolling design of the various panels and components, with a fin-like detail on the rear hatches to the octopus head mast.
There's a wonderfully organic flow to the curves and lines of the Serpent Ship and the more you look, the more detail of this type presents itself.
The serpent head has a pretty neat play feature. Press down upon the ''tail'' on the ship's aft section and the head moves forward, the jaw opening as it does so. I imagine it as some kind of fire-breathing weapon but it could also simply be a mechanism to allow the pirates to grab onto - or smash through - other vessels.

Like many Imaginext toys, the Serpent Ship features a number of activity discs, small, moving sections which, when a figure is placed upon them and turned, activate one or more play features. There are three in total here, ranging from one on the poop deck, one in the crow's nest and one on the mid-deck. Let's look at each one in turn, starting with the poop deck disc.

Turning the poop deck activity disc causes either of the rear compartments to pop open, thus allowing access to the interior. On the ship's left/port side is a storage compartment into which you can stow the included treasure chest (more on that below) or indeed, prisoners, plunder or any other item you should care to keep safe.
On the right/starboard side is the Captain's Cabin. Unfortunately due to the sheen of the plastic within, I was unable to get a clear photograph but you can see in the image below the entrance to the cabin space. Within is a bed featuring some pretty cool ''padding'' in its sculpture but little else. It's a neat little feature kids will I'm sure enjoy using in their play sessions but it would have been cool to see some paint used here or maybe a chart room rather than simply a bed.
The crow's next at the top of the mast features another disc. This time, turning the disc either direction will release/unfurl the sails.
You can ''close'' the sails at any time by simply locking them into their ''furled'' position. This allows a little more access to the crow's nest and the main deck - and of course, reduces the chance of the sails being damaged during battle...

(Don't worry about the lack of sail power in this mode - the ship's ''oars'' will provide adequate propulsion and will move as you push the vessel forward...)

And finally there's the main deck disc, which can be used to launch either of the missiles from the front of the ship. The missiles are pretty powerful but aren't overly prone to launching themselves and it takes a pretty good twist to get them launched.
There are a few other ''passive'' play features included, such as the spinning ship's wheel, a removable cannon/missile launcher (more on that below) and this cool rigging, which is designed to fit perfectly into the hands of your ship's crew.

And speaking of which...

The Crew
The Serpent Ship comes with two crewmen, whom I've dubbed Tikiman and Captain Drago.
My guess is Tikiman is modeled after Moby Dick's harpooner Queequeg.
Although the figure's sculpt isn't particularly special or unusual, the tampo transfer tattoos really make Tikiman pop. It's unfortunate that they don't extend over his back but they still really sell the idea of him being a Queequag-esque character.
The fact that he comes equipped with a sea form-laden staff-cum-harpoon doesn't do much to dispel that idea, either...
And here he is in his Tiki mask. There's some great detailing again here and fans of Lovecraft will, I'm sure, notice the Deep Ones-esque fins...

Overall Tikiman is a great figure but I do wish they'd used some more lifelike coloring on his accessories. The solid green mask and harpoon look a little strange (especially as the ship itself is primarily blue and brown) and we've seen other sets with more naturalistic coloring, so it's a shame these pieces are so neon-vibrant. Still, if this is what keeps this set from being over $100, I can live with it...

Captain Drago
The second figure is the more conventional pirate, Captain Drago.
Again it's a fairly standard sculpt that's elevated by some great tampo work. I love his Fancy Dan chest detail and wide collar but it's his arched eyebrows and epic mustache that really sells it for me.
Slip on his armor and you'll see why I call him ''Drago.'' It's a superbly detailed sculpt, with some fantastic dragon-scale detail and a helmet that echoes the lines of the Serpent Ship figurehead perfectly. There's also a neat little swashbuckling touch with the cross-chest harness.
And the scale/ridge detail on his back is an awesome touch. As you can see, he also sports a weapon, in this case a scimitar with - again - sea-form design.

Again, Captain Drago is a cool figure, marred only by the solid coloring on his accessories. From the variation I've seen in their approach to painted/unpainted weapons (with everything from blind-bag Collectible Figures to multi-figure playsets) my guess is that the expense of the paint app can't always be budgeted for, which is a shame, as it would be great to see these figures with fully-painted accessories. I suppose I could always just try painting them myself...

Additional Accessories
The set also includes a few additional pieces that can be used in a variety of ways or play scenarios.
First up there's a treasure chest. Like the other accessories, it's unpainted, which is a shame, as there's some fantastic detail on it (and again, there's a superb sea creature-inspired look to it all.) Within the chest are this set's Pirate Discs. This appeared to be something Imaginext included in a few sets, be they firing discs or simply bonus pieces (which they are in this set.) I love the Cthulhu-esque octopus head design...

The second major piece is the missile launcher/cannon, which can be used to fire a large, deck-smashing missile at your opponents. Again, it features the fantastic sea form design (and, sadly, lack of paint app) and can be mounted in any of the three ports on the ship (two on the main deck, one on the crow's nest.) The fire button is recessed so it's unlikely you'll activate it accidentally, which is a good thing, as the missile's trigger is a little on the twitchy side...

What I particularly like about all the accessories is that they can be stowed/displayed with the set, so you're not going to lose any of them. Plus they offer an additional set of play concepts and scenarios, from sinking enemy ships to claiming the treasure.

It's just a shame they're unpainted!

Final Thoughts
The Serpent Ship is a superb playset/vehicle, packed with great interactive play features, cool-looking figures, fun engineering and a design that looks so cool both at rest and during play.

With all that said, your enjoyment of this toy will be shaped somewhat by the price.

Currently Kohl's has the Serpent Ship on sale at $29.99, which is an amazing price when you consider the sheer size of the thing and just how many features it comes with (and the fact that at Kohl's it's not uncommon to see $20 vehicles marked up to $30...) but what's even more amazing is that with a bit of hunting around, you could easily score this incredible vehicle for less than $20 (with free shipping if you're an Amazon Prime member...)

The real question is: is the Serpent Ship worth $60.

The answer is: I don't know.

That's not to take anything away from this set (it really is an impressive, fun-packed piece of plastic) but I honestly cannot distance myself from the low price I paid for the ship and my enjoyment of it. My guess is that if you can find it at a price you're comfortable paying, then you won't be disappointed. I'd just suggest doing some digging around before you buy, as you may be able to find the Serpent Ship at an insanely low price online.

So with that out of the way, what about the actual toy?

As I mentioned above, the Serpent Ship is packed with great features. From the interactive/''guided'' play features to the imagination-fueling, scenario jump-off accessories, there's a lot of fun to be had with this set. The fact that it looks pretty damned awesome doesn't hurt, either...

It's not perfect. It's disappointing how little space there actually is on the deck to add extra pirates (and let's face it, what else are you going to do with those 2-figure packs?), mainly due to the precedence given to the activity discs and ''mechanical'' play features. And yes, the one-color accessories make it look a little cheaper than they should but these are really very minor issues.

Overall then, the Serpent Ship is a great, oversize vehicle-cum-playset packed with fun features and some great accessories, and if you're a fan of the Imaginext Pirate line then you'll definitely find a place for this one in your collection.

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