Zizzle Pirates of the Caribbean
Isla Cruces Playset

L is back tonight to spread more of the Zizzle POTC love, with his review of the Isla Cruces

When Pirates of the Caribbean was a huge box-office success, most everybody was happy. The audiences were happy, the actors were happy, film criitics were pleasantly surprised. The only people left miserable were the merchandizers whorealized what a great opportunity had been blown by ignoring this 'how could it possibly succeed'? movie-based-on-a-ride-in-a-genre-that-always-fails.

Not so this time around. There's enough booty to warm the heart of the coldest bucaneer for POTC2, including not one but two lines of action figures. NECA is in charge of 7 inch? figures done for the discerning adult collector, while Zizzle has taken on the duties of making smaller, somewhat more articulated figures, and a slew of accessories for them. 

Since we rarely see lines like this anymore -- figures, deluxe figures with accessories, vehicles, playsets -- it is really a breath of fresh air for some of us. Some collectors think the figures themselves look poor (I've heard comparisons to Happy Meal toys and to the, shudder, Van Helsing toys) but a lot of us are happy -- Michael posted a very thorough review of the ups and downs of the figures with enough photographs to let anyone decide for themselves how they feel.

The two big playsets for the line appear to be the Black Pearl, which has not yet shown but may any day now, and the Isla Cruces playset, designed around whatI assume is a major action setpiece in the new movie. The Isla Cruces playset depicts a ruined tower of some kind, with a millwheel attached to it. It's featured in the trailers, at least fleetingly, and there seem to be toy versions coming from Zizzle in a smaller, Action-Fleet-style scale, and also from Mega Bloks. Here's my take on the 3 3/4 inch- scale version.

Packaging - ***
This was a tough call, because the box has no windows and therefore the picture on the outside is all you have to go on -- and it's slightly wrong. The paint apps on the product, as I'll get into momentarily, are not nearly as well-done as the promo pic, so without having the opportunity to see for yourself what you are getting, you could be in for a real disappointment. That hurts the packaging score. So does the fact that it is somewhat rote, generic, mass-market stuff. Still, the pic is a clear indication of what the set generally is, and the back shows all the action features well. It's colorful, it's neat, it does its job, albeit somewhat blandly. Since the set requires assembly, there's no real reason to think this toy can ever be used by collectors who like to replace their toys back in the packaging when not on display, and so the box is strictly a way to get it home and then toss it out? affair.

Sculpting - ***
The sculpting is well-done, especially for a new player in the toy world, doing its first large playset like this. The stonework is well done, with lots of bumps and cracks and stones of various sizes, but the wood is far worse. There is a hint of wood grain in some places, halfhearted raised lines here and there, but nothing all that extensive, and far, far removed from the sort of hyper-realism that toys have come to embrace since McFarlane came around. This looks nothing like wood, doesn't even look like a toy version of wood, looks like nothing so much as smooth brown plastic with a line or two etched into it. Still, the ruin is large and elaborate, and it does look good when its fully assembled.

The wood, poor as it is, only takes up a small amount of room, and the millwheel is ornate enough and interesting enough that it works even without a more impressive sculpt. Certainly this is a toy, not a model, and for people used to very high-end collectibles, this may feel a bit cheap. But it is well-done enough for the price, and looks pretty good if not spectacular. The design of the set is so well thought-out as a whole it's easy to forgive it -- this is more a toy to be played with than a model of a building from the movie designed to look just like a prop. There are lots of areas for play and display, lots of things to do all over the place, and still it actually LOOKS like something in the movie, not like a stunt that's been isolated from the movie set. This ruin is very three-dimensional -- compared to, for example, the Hasbro POTF2 SW playsets, the Death Star Escape set and the Bespin Freeze set, which never really look exactly like anything in the movie. The Death Star corridors don't look like that, the Bespin Freeze chamber doesn't quite look like that -- well, by contrast, this really does look (from what I can tell from the trailer) like the mill in Pirates of the Caribbean. 

Plus, I have to say, this thing is HUGE. For me, and maybe I'm not alone, that can be a negative as much as a positive. I can pay $30 for a set of SW figs and not worry for a minute about where to display them or store them. With this huge honking fortress, space is a real issue. Still, for people who want value for their buck and something really impressive, this does do the job. It's base is about 18 inches x 12 inches, and it stands about 14 inches high at the top of the building and maybe 20 inches high to the tip of the highest point (the overhanging wood beam). It is, in short, very big. The pics that show it with the figures should give you an indication of just how large this thing really is.

Paint - *
Having recognized how serviceable the sculpt is, and how impressive the general design of the set is, I can't ignore its major flaw. This is where it takes a hit. There's almost no paint. The stone walls have a touch of green at the bottom to suggest moss etc., but other than that there is no paint anywhere. The wood is brown plastic, the stones are grey, and the base is green. The lack of paint means lack of detail, as all the sculpted details disappear and the whole product ends up looking very plastic, very toy-like, and much cheaper than it needs to. A simple coat of paint turns this from a silly toy into something quite impressive, since the sculptors really did a good job. I fully intend to give it that coat of paint, but anyone who doesn't intend to, well, you get what you pay for. Anyone who's bought a MOTU Castle Greyskull knows a bit what to expect; the set also reminds me of the AOME Helm's Deep set, though the paint job on the exterior of that set, at least, was well-done. This is far more bare bones. Rumors are that this was done to keep the price down at the request of the retailers, and if that's the case, I don't mind too much. Better than not making it at all, or charging more for it. Still, there's no denying that the real weak spot for this set is the lack of paint. 

Features - ****
No real articulation to speak of, but more features than you can shake a pegleg at. I am glad to see a move away from electronic features, where the only play pattern is "push the button, hear the noise"? as this set really relies on far more imaginative, not to mention low-tech, tricks and traps. 

The inside of the ruin features three floors -- the ground level, a middle level, and a top level, plus the roof. On the middle level, there is a lever that can toss figures out the main window of the set. On the top level, there is a lever that triggers a trap door (and drops the unfortunate pirate onto the middle level, where he can be tossed out the window). On the roof, there's a pulley system with a big barrel so that figures can be pulled up onto the roof or leap from it (though the barrel far too light to cause figures to be pulled up by it).

These are all nice, but the real point of the set is the huge honkin' mill wheel. There's a lever on the back that can be pushed to get the wheel turning. Push it down far enough, and it releases a catch so the wheel spins off on its own and rolls away. But best of all, there are sets of pegs on the top of the wheel so that figures can be placed on top to fight -- and the bottom of the wheel is weighted so that while it spins, the figures always remain on top. This happens when the wheel spins in place on the set, or while it rolls away. I have no idea if this is going to be a good sequence in the movie, but it is a really fun, neat gimmick for the toy. It works well, the wheel turns smoothly but not so well it seems unrealistic for an old, decrepit wooden mill. It is addictive! And it's fun to display pirate figures fighting on top of this wheel. A unique, imaginative feature for the toy.

Value - ****
It's hard to rate a set like this on price. Since the figs are slightly overpriced at $7 a pop, it's really nice to see this set priced more reasonably in line with expectations. Some people might prefer a $20 or at least a $25 one, but considering the size and the special wheel feature that strikes me as unrealistic. At $30, this is just about perfectly priced -- I could have easily seen this going for more, but never for less. Certainly I don't feel guilty about picking it up for this price, and while I do think it needs a coat of paint, I can't really complain about a set this large, with this many features, and this much fun, for such a low price. In the end, I think it rates as a particularly excellent bargain, and as a playset fan I'm delighted. 

Overall - ***
Unfortunately, that paint issue remains, well, an issue. If this could somehow have been done with the promo paint job, and still brought in at $30, it'd be a four-star toy, no doubt about it. As it stands, while it is huge and fun, its goofy primary colors and lack of detail make it seem a bit too much 'strictly for the kids'? to rate that high for most collectors. If you have the talent/interest/resources to paint it, it really ends up a fantastic item, but I think right out of the box it won't quite rate as a classic playset. Worth it for kids/collectors/fans who don't care about such things, worth it for die-hard playset fans or pirate fans or fans of POTC, but probably a peripheral item for anyone else. 

Score Recap- 
Packaging - ***
Sculpt - ***
Paint - *
Featurs - ****
Value - ****
Overall - ***

EDITOR'S NOTE - L has posted quite an interesting article in this thread on his repainting progress on the playset.  Check it out!

Figure from the collection of L.

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