Friday, April 23, 2010
Playmates Warp Factor Series...
If you are a regular reader of this blog you know how much I love the Star Trek Playmates toy line from the 1990s. In past articles I looked back at various different aspects of the line. Today I'll be taking a look at the line's last big push at retail with the final major assortment of Star Trek items from Playmates. These toys where released under Playmates new Warp Factor Series banner with the Paramount Toys logo right next to Playmates'. This new branding for the line featured one of the widest ranging assortment of Star Trek items ever put out by Playmates. With declining sales and constant battling for highly coveted shelf space in the boys toys aisles, Playmates figured the glory days of Star Trek toys at brick and mortar retailers were probably growing short. In prior years the company had started to focus more on exclusive items through specialty retailers. In Playmates mind if this was going to be the end of the line it would certainly go out with a bang. 5 more waves of figures hit shelves before Playmates officially cancelled the 4.5 inch line at mass retail stores. Along with these five waves of 4.5 inch figures Playmates released a wide assortment of role play toys and miniature playsets to compete with the highly popular mini figures fad of the times that had been so lucrative for such properties as Micro Machines, Mighty Maxx, and Polly Pocket.
The first wave of figures, which focused on the Deep Space Nine episode "Trials and Tribble-ations" launched with a major promotional push featuring the Triple Tribble Game sweepstakes which was supported by some of Star Trek's major licensees of the time including Interplay, Marvel Comics, Simon and Schuster Pocket Books, and off course Playmates. Paramount even offered multiple prizes themselves including a trip to Hollywood, a piece of the Deep Space Nine set, and an official Starfleet Uniform crafted by the studio's wardrobe department. Other companies like Dairy Queen and Pioneer also jumped on the bandwagon offering their own prizes and promotions. This was a pretty big contest with some major sponsors for a toy line that had already been on the market for over five years.
Subsequent waves included such figures long requested by fans as Ilya from The Motion Picture, Leeta from DS9 and Spock, Kirk, & Edith Keeler from the fan favorite episode "The City on the Edge of Forever".
Playmates also finished up their earlier line of Starfleet Academy figures by releasing figures of Cadet Data, Cadet Crusher, and Cadet Troi completing the assortment of TNG characters in this subset that had originally hit shelves more than 2 years earlier. These three figures did not include the Academy Test Simulation CD-Rom that had been issued with the original assortment.
A line of 6 inch figures focusing on characters from the Next Generation also showed up at retail early on during the Warp Factor Series run. These figures all had a specific action feature.
I didn't particularly like these 6 inch offerings until the third wave focusing on characters from Deep Space Nine was released. This wave eliminated the stupid action features focusing instead on better sculpting and in packaging the figures with some really awesome display pieces in the shape of the characters' respective control consoles. Sisko came with a kick ass replica of his command chair from the bridge of the Defiant.
I really wished we'd gotten more of these 6 inch figures with such cool accessories. Looking back on them now it seems these Galactic Gear accessories were the precursors to the bridge pieces included with the new movie figures. The idea of including bridge pieces wasn't really new to the Galaxy Series Trek figures from 2009.
At least eight more 9 inch figures where released in the early months of the warp Factor series featuring such characters as Odo, Bashir, Janeway, and Chakotay. Kay Bee toys was the best place to find these. They had so many of these a year later they had to put them on clearance at most locations.
Playmates went full force into the mini figures and playsets market with their Strike Force assortment. Having previously tested the waters with their innerspace line the powers that be figured it was time to offer an entire line of these miniatures.
These ships and playsets followed in the footsteps of Galoob's Star Wars Micro Machines line. Two character heads opened up to reveal fully equiped play environments just like Galoob had done in previous years with their Boba Fett and Stormtrooper helmets. Playmates used the popular Trek Alien species of the Borg and the Klingons as the themes for these two sets. The Borg set introduced the ridiculously crazy idea of a Borg temple. Nowhere in the series mythology was there ever any hint that a Borg would have any use for a temple so I wonder what were the Playmates designers smoking when they came up with this atrocity.
Playmates popular line of Role Play toys came to an end with two of their best offerings ever, the Starfleet Phaser from Star Trek 6 and the long requested Klingon D'K Tahg knife. Both where welcomed by fans who regulary attend conventions in costume. Remember this was a time before companies such as Master Replicas came around, so the Playmates weapons where the best bet for cosplay fans.
The last vehicle released by Playmates would be the Defiant Destroyer from Deep Space Nine. This one didn't disappoint in any way. Even today it can fetch hundreds of dollars on ebay mint in box.
After this Warp Factor series wrapped up the only new major release from Playmates came the following year in the form of 9 inch and 12 inch collector's figures from Star Trek Insurrection. The other items in the Insurrection line where repackaged pieces that had been previously released. The Insurrection line was not as widely available as the Warp Factor line. The end was near. After that the line went on to a few more limited releases as store exclusives at Target and online stores such as New Force Comics. It would be a decade before we'd get any new Trek toys from Playmates. And now once again the future of the line is in great doubt.