The Castle of Lions from the Voltron toyline.
The Castle of Greyskull AND Snake Mountain from the He-Man toyline.
The USS Flag from the GI Joe toyline.
In the 1980s, most every toyline offered playsets; specially-made diorama with which the primary figures of the line could be placed and interact. The playsets were almost always locations taken from the cartoons or animated series connected to the toyline. In fact, one of the few toylines that didn’t have a playset was the Trasnformers (though, it could be argued, Optimus Prime WAS a playset, but still).
The queen of the playset, however, was (and remains) Barbie. Mattel’s Barbie line has always thrived on playsets, some of which are marvels of toy engineering. In the 1980s, some of Barbie’s playsets were truly breathtaking. Her mansion was a staggering three-story dream, bigger than some of the girls who played with it, while her townhouse, was an impressive sight with a working elevator. Including the furniture, the decorations and stylizations, and this playset was destined to become the cornerstone of any child’s imagination.
In the late 1980s and into the 1990s, playsets became big selling points. Two of the unsung heroes of 1990s toys – Polly Pocket and Mighty Max – were essentially nothing but playsets. On top of that, Matchbox and Hot Wheels expanded their race track lines to become increasingly more engaging, involving more than just mere roads and gimmick tracks, but including fully-inclusive settings.
Sometime during the mid-1990s, toy lines took a pronounced turn away from playsets and I have never been able to discover just precisely when and why that turn occurred. It’s likely that the cost-to-profit ratio for making playsets was just too small, or that the number of playsets sold was too low to justify the shelf space, or both. But whatever the case, playsets have all but disappeared from toy shelves.
Not entirely, thankfully. The Avengers’ SHIELD Helicarrier playset was the most highly sought-after toy of 2012’s Comic-Con. Play Skool toys still deal heavily in playsets, and Barbie’s domain of playset-intensive aisles remains secure. But by and large, action figures playsets are extinct (unless you count the wrestling ring for wrestling toys…which nobody does). And it’s a shame too. My Castle of Lions is one of the pride and joys of my collection. And while there have been a few exceedingly expensive fan-made Teletron-1 playsets made for the Transformers toys, no official playset has seen the light of day.
But we can hope.