Transformers Activity Center
Review by VF5SS
Having been born right smack dab in the middle of the 80's I sometimes find myself torn between two worlds like an underwritten bit character from Star Trek. With the rise of syndicated cartoons being rerun on every two-bit TV channel I found myself surrounded by the leftover heart of the 80's even as I lived out my adolescence in the 90's. One thing that still catches some off guard is how the original Transformers toyline (retroactively called Generation One or G1) ran all the way from 1984 straight through 1991. Even with no new episodes being produced after the truncated fourth season, the brand was still hanging on until the Generation 2 relaunch in 1992.
My parents always knew of my enthusiasm for Transformers and would often tell friends of theirs who had older children with old toys they no longer wanted. In addition to a few worn out early G1 Transformers I received a hand-me-down of the more unique items made to supplement the main line.
Behold the Activity Center! For something with such an innocuous name, it looks like quite the playset. The box is large like a huge jigsaw puzzle. Even going by just the cover photo one can see the whole setup is pretty massive. The combination of the soft blue backdrop in the photo and the slightly bored looking child rocking a popped collar announces proudly that this product was made in the heyday of the 80's. In fact it was released the same year I was born.
Every part of this box fascinated me as a child. I gazed longingly at the images of Transformers toys from a few years ago. As I had no idea about second-hand toy shops, my Transformers were mostly from whatever came out in the waning years of the brand. Generation 2 was a godsend for a kid who wanted an authentic G1 Optimus Prime. I noticed that the Optimus in this photo has his smokestacks rotated forward like a pair of guns. When I tried doing this on a reissue G1 Optimus it resulted in one smokestack breaking off, which continued an unfortunate trend of Transformers media convincing me to do harmful things to my toys.
In addition to EXCITING HIGH-TECH INTERIOR GRAPHICS, the box boasts of the Activity Center's 18.5 x 37 x 13 inch play area.
The box has a mix of first and second year Transformers positioned in a natural manner around the playset. Nothing looks staged or propped up with wire and spirit gum. I especially like how Dinobot Snarl stands prominently on top of the Autobot's fortress like a silent and slightly stupid sentinel. He's not doing a good job, as Laserbeak is perched off to the side and is probably up to no good.
Of course every dreamlike stupor induced by the box photo has to be curtailed by a cover-your-afterburner disclaimer that the Activity Center does not come with any Transformers and does not spring out of the box fully formed.
When I got the Activity Center it was already pretty beat up. Vintage packing tape keeps the top half of the box together.
The sides of the box deliver a little more information about the playset's features in addition to a smaller version of the cover photo. I love the delightfully old style logo of the manufacturer, Warren, who made a few Transformers tie-in products over the years.
The back of the box contains some more artfully arranged shots of the Activity Center with its intended occupants. There are also some curious holes dotting the surface of the cardboard.
The main blurb on the back promises grandiose battles and explains more of the set's built-in features. There's something so classy about the old G1 grid pattern surrounding blocky white text.
Appropriately the back of the box has a great shot of the back of the playset. I wanted to give readers a good look at a complete set as mine was missing a few parts when I got it. Nothing major, just the ceilings of the leftmost tower and of the "armory" on the right.
Snarl guards the armory full of weapons that are printed on the walls. The box says these weapons will supplement the ones that come with the figures. How is that? Through the power of imagination of course!
Starscream menaces the gates with his stubby arms and giant wings.
Opening up the box reveals something we could all guess, the Activity Center is made entirely out of cardboard. My G2 Optimus Prime gives a good sense of scale. For this review I tried to use as many G1 or G2 re-releases of G1 toys as possible.
Even a 90% complete spread of the set's constitute parts is still quite impressive. One thing you may notice is that electric orange detailing seen on the playset's exterior is found on the bottom half of the box. In a fit of what some may call genius efficiency, part of the box forms the main core of the playset itself!
It looks like a lot of love went into the creation of the Activity Center. All of the parts feature painted renderings of high-tech weapons and equipment.
Damn, we got sine waves...
I must admit the printed on weapons still look Transformers-y and fairly formidable.
The main control room has some of the best artwork of various displays filled with incomprehensible readouts that vaguely resemble something science-fictiony.
This image always fascinated me as a child. Is it a camera or a component in some Autobot device? It must be important because it's a wireframe.
The main control center is so large it had to be spread across two hunks of cardboard.
This monitor shows where the Decepticons are threatening to steal our energy to make energon cubes! Those fiends!
The fully assembled Activity Center is still an awesome sight even in its aged state. For a short while I did play with it almost every day. The constant of assembling and disassembling took its toll on the numerous tabs holding the playset together, so now it isn't as sturdy at it used to be. For this review I had to do some additional repairs using scotch tape. Parts of it had been taped up before by myself and the previous owner. While the design is not based on any existing Transformers building, it looks like something right out of the cartoon or comic.
Vintage Transformers look great with the whole setup. Everything is sized to go alongside all the iconic G1 toys. The Autobot symbol shaped windows in the tower and the battled hardened walls make the Activity center look like a real fortress.
I like how the upper level is just the right height for Optimus and his troops to stand underneath. The artwork on the walls manage to affect the image of battle worn metal.
Due to the age of the set I gently pegged in as many of the old cardboard tabs as I could but still couldn't get everything to stay neatly locked together. I know some readers out there think that the "loved" appearance of my Activity Center give it some real authenticity.
The tower itself has two levels inside that can hold a standard sized Transformer. G2 Sideswipe makes a sweep of the area in search of hostiles.
My old G2 Optimus Prime (a toy that is twenty years old this year) has been missing a fist for over a decade. He's seen many battles around the Activity Center.
Even the mighty G2 Devastator cannot break through the thick cardboard of the armory. Note that I am missing the part that goes between the main armory walls and the upper balcony. It still kind of works in a kludged together way.
The advertised "break-through door" is accomplished with a simple set of cutout panels on the front of the base. Even as I kid I was wary about the durability of an action feature that depended entirely on the strength of folding cardboard. Still, the image of Runamuck trying to wedge his vacuum cleaner shaped body into the front door like a nasty solicitor is strangely charming.
On the front of the base is the iconic Autobot symbol frame by printed on windows and bullet-ridden rock. There is a genuine sense of solidarity surrounding this part of the playset. Even after suffering some water damage, the strength of the Autobots will never waver in the face of hardship.
The back of the playset is where things start to come alive as the simple but effective layout of the Activity Center works so perfectly to give a child (or child at heart) an amazing place to play with his or her toys. There is even enough space to place Optimus Prime's combat deck underneath the upper floor. Since this set is made from cardboard I have no doubt it inspired some enterprising young ones to create their own mighty fortresses out of discarded boxes and paper.
A thinner piece of cardboard goes over the lower half of the packing box to give it a proper floor complete with a helipad.
G2 Beachcomber gazes halfheartedly at the monitors and wonders when his shift will be over. I must admit that even as a child I tried really hard to line up the two halves of the control room perfectly to no avail.
OSHA came around and decreed that only lighter Transformers can occupy the upper level of the base.
It's really amazing how a few panels of cardboard manage to come together and make a fairly intricate looking interior complete with walls that wrap around and attach to the adjoining tower.
G2 Hubcap does what his Tech Spec says and monitors communications at his station. He also grumbles about how everyone mistakes him for either Bumblebee or Cliffjumper.
He really hates that punk named Bumper.
The floor above the control center is where Snarl was positioned on the cover photo. Here it serves as a place to put G2 Optimus's infamous sound effects box. The old cardboard strains a bit under the weight of two AA batteries.
G2 Beachcomber stands quietly on the upper level and sighs. He wonders when all this terrible fighting will end and at what cost to the shining planet called Earth.
I also just noticed I am missing an extra outcropping from this upper level that pegs into the remaining hole on the right.
I am missing the ceiling that adds another level at the very top. Now despite my love for them, the Throttlebots are too short to make good lookouts.
G2 Bumblebee and G2 Seaspray stand guard inside the armory and remark, "Damn, we got sine waves."
The Activity Center has plenty of space to line up your troops. Optimus and Rodimus overlook their battle hardened Autobots in preparation for the next mission.
THE MONEY SHOT!
It doesn't seem like much but for me the coolest part of the Activity Center is this large ramp leading up from the bottom floor. From a low angle it just looks imposing like a huge flight of stairs leading up to a governmental building. Also it's the perfect steepness to launch a fast Autobot down the ramp and off on an adventure!
AND THEN DEVASTATOR COMES IN AND TOTALLY WRECKS EVERYTHING BECAUSE DEVASTATOR IS AWESOME AND IS THE BEST TRANSFORMER!
So I hope you all have enjoyed this trip down memory lane with me. In shooting the photos for this review I noticed two things. First, a lot of the Transformer toys that originally came from Diaclone are pretty awful in terms of durability and play-ability and second, I am not quite as good at playing with toys on the floor as I used to be. Perhaps the aged look of the Activity Center reflects my own mortality or maybe the fact that I need to bend down farther to interact with this playset has something to do with how play time with some Transformers stuff has changed for me. The Activity Center is definitely one of the best ancillary items produced for the line and is oddly enough one of the first playsets ever offered to go along with Transformers toys. It wouldn't be until city style Transformers like Omega Supreme, Metroplex, and Fortress Maximus that the line would get more traditional style playsets such as the numerous G.I. Joe ones. Even then, it wasn't until Micromasters and Action Masters that a Transformers playset didn't have to be a character in and of itself like Metroplex. The Activity Center represents a straightforward approach to augmenting a line of diecast and plastic robot toys through something as simple as chunks of cardboard and pieces of a box. They don't make 'em like this anymore but perhaps technology has given the young and young at hear the means to do so on their own.
|Posted 26 September, 2012 - 18:59 by VF5SS|