From Castle Grayskull to The Technodrome: 11 Awesome Vintage Playsets

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Last Thursday, news broke that, after five decades and 10 remodels, Barbie is selling her Malibu Dream House for $25 million. Mattel is discontinuing the iconic $170 toy and will unveil Barbie’s new pad in the fall. In honor of the soon-to-be-vintage dream house, here are 11 other epic playsets of the past that came and went—and left a mark on our little kid hearts.

1. Thundercats Electronic Cats Lair

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The Thundercats’ base on Third Earth was carved out of a natural granite mountain and equipped with electronics from the wreckage of their space ship—so it’s only fitting that the 1986 plastic playset would be similarly tricked out. The toy had a pivoting cat head with a working light beam (it could shoot out light, and also recognized light from the included Mutant "Attack Sled" Vehicle), hidden trapdoors, battle stations, and huge paws that lifted to reveal an ion beam cannon.

2. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Castle Grayskull Playset

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Castle Grayskull is kind of a big deal: Without it, Prince Adam wouldn’t be able to transform into the most powerful man in the universe. Released in 1982, this interactive playset allowed kids to harness the power of Grayskull themselves. The toy had a roof-mounted laser cannon, workable elevator, a rack with set-exclusive weapons, a lockable drawbridge, and a trap door activated when the throne was turned—all the better to defend the fortress and Eternia from the evil forces of Skeletor.

3. My Little Pony Paradise Estate

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After the Smooze destroyed their home in My Little Pony: The Movie, the ponies upgraded from a Dream Castle to huge and gorgeous Paradise Estate. The playset, released in 1986, was just as epic as as its TV counterpart: The pink house had ornate window shutters, a gated cobblestone patio, and four rooms—a kitchen, living room, bedroom, and nursery—each furnished with pastel-colored plastic furniture and accessories (televisions, ceiling fans, lamps, etc.) with sticker decals. There was also a pool with a diving board, for sea and land ponies alike.

4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Technodrome

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The Technodrome, which served as Krang and Shredder’s headquarters in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, was a pretty badass base—after all, it had one-foot-thick titanium armor, a huge array of weapons, and a trans-dimensional portal that allowed the villains to travel back and forth between Earth and Dimension X. Sadly, the Technodrome playset that came out in 1990 didn’t quite have that technology, but it did have a giant swiveling surveillence eye, cannons, two levels, a "brain scrambler," jail cells, and more.

5. The Real Ghostbusters Fire Station Headquarters

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For New York kids, pretending to be a Ghostbuster was easy—all they had to do was head down to the Tribeca firehouse that served as the location in the films. For everybody else, the Kenner playset, released in 1987 and based on the cartoon The Real Ghostbusters, was the next best thing: It had a space for the Ecto-1, three levels, a ghost containment unit, a spinning pole that the action figures could slide down, and even came with some gooey Ecto-plazm.

6. G.I. Joe: U.S.S. Flagg

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The U.S.S. Flagg was featured in a number of G.I. Joe properties, from cartoons and comic books to commercials and action cards; it was based on a Nimitz class aircraft carrier. The playset, released in 1985, was awesome for its sheer size— over 7.5 feet long. It had an electronic public address system, missile launchers, a lifeboat, and a deck elevator, and you could fit a whole lot of Joes on it. 

7. Mighty Max Playsets

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From one of the biggest playsets to one of the smallest: When closed, Mighty Max playsets were so small you could hold them in your hand. Each set had a theme and came with two or three tiny figures. Doom Zones and Horror Heads were the first sets; they expanded into Battle Warriors, Hairy Heads, Monster Heads, and more. A few larger playsets were released, but they weren't necessarily as cool, if only because you couldn't take them to your friend's houses or the school playground (unless you had really patient, really cool parents). In 1993, a cartoon based on the toys debuted in America.

8. Jem Playsets

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When Jerrica transformed into Jem—lead singer of the Holograms—she was truly, truly, truly outrageous. So, too, were the playsets associated with the Jem line of dolls, which weren’t just toys, but actual gadgets. The Backstager, introduced in 1986, was both a dressing room and an audio speaker. The Rockin’ Roadster car was an FM radio. The Star Stage was a cassette player. The Rock On Guitar had a working microphone, and when wanna-be rock stars were done jamming, they could convert the guitar into a radio station. All devices worked together and with non-Jem branded gadgets. Rock on!

9. Star Wars Death Star Space Station

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Luke may have destroyed the Death Star in Star Wars, but some lucky kids could play with the Galactic Empire’s ultimate weapon thanks to Kenner Toys’ Death Star Space Station playset. The force was strong with this 20-inch-high, four level set, which was released a year after the first Star Wars film. It had a laser cannon, an elevator, an escape hatch, a retractable bridge, and a working trash compactor complete with a Dianoga. This was the largest of the Kenner Star Wars playsets, and finding a complete set is pretty difficult due to the myriad of small parts. A mint condition Death Star playset in a sealed box can go for four figures.

10. Smurfs Colorforms Playset

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This wasn’t a playset in the traditional sense, but many 80s kids-turned-adults probably still have a soft spot for this toy, which debuted in 1981. It featured flat background boards of scenes from Smurf Village, plus tiny little plastic Smurf pieces that stuck to those boards like magic. (Although sometimes that stick was made stronger by licking the back of the plastic pieces.) There were three sets: Smurf Colorforms Play Set, Smurf Land Colorforms Super Deluxe Play Set, and Smurfette Colorforms Dress-Up Set.

11. A-Team Command Center

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We love it when a plan—er, playset—comes together. This set, released in 1983, had an elevator, a crane, escape hatches, and a working periscope—in other words, everything a kid could want to continue the adventures of everyone’s favorite rogue military squad. The set was pretty big too, measuring 3 feet tall and over two feet long.

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February 11, 2013 - 9:11am
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