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PYRATES Plunder The Toy Aisle!  

by Rudy Panucci

One of the most imaginative action figure playsets on the market today is not really an action figure set.  Technically, it’s a construction toy.  Mega Bloks has been quietly establishing themselves as one of the most adventurous toy companies over the past few years, with memorable genre-bending toys like Dragons, and Marvel Mega Bloks.  Now they’ve come up with a set that’s sure to delight fans of the recent hit movie “Pirates Of The Caribbean”--Pyrates.

Pyrates combines action figure play with puzzle-building, construction, and role playing.    Two-inch tall figures with eleven points of articulation are the stars of this toy line, but the endless variety of ships, islands, forts, and other constructible environments is what makes Pyrates so outstanding.   Just as adult collectors look back fondly at the cool toys of our youth, like GI Joe, Major Matt Mason, and Zeroids, Pyrates combines just the right amount of imagination with the “oooh” factor of a cool-looking toy with a great back-story.   Kids can lose themselves in these sets for hours, and adult collectors are starting to pay attention, too.   Even adults who aren’t toy-centric have been struck at the play value that these sets have. 

It doesn’t hurt their collectibility that Mega Bloks has introduced a wide variety of price points, so that this line doesn’t have to bust your budget.  Small “Treasure Bags” and three-figure sets start at just under five dollars, while the larger ships and playsets top out at around fifty bucks.  Particularly impressive are the Skull Cave playsets.  For less than eight dollars you get a neat-looking skull that also acts as a carrying case.  Inside, you’ll find three figures, a small island, and accessories like a shark, boat, or octopus.  Plus, these sets come with a CD ROM that contains more background on the line, and a lushly-animated adventure/origin story that uses the actual toys (helped greatly with some computer animation).

The concept is pretty cool, as you can see from this excerpt of the Pyrates website:

            A SEAFARING TALE Hundreds of years ago, a dark world existed where             bravery and legend stretched as far as the ocean…but so did corruption.

            Rugged, lawless PYRATES fighting for treasure, territory, and resources learned             of a legend – the LORD OF THE PYRATES lay dying and he ordered his bounty             strewn to the corners of the world so that no one could attain his wealth. But the             crew in charge of dispersing his treasures was mysteriously lost at sea…

            Now, many adventurers set sail on massive warships - vessels so huge that when             spotted on bleary horizons, they seem to churn the very waves of the sea. It is             every limey for himself, where alliances among PYRATES are temporary patches             on a hull of treachery.

            With rumors of an undead SKELETON CREW piloting a spectral ghost ship,             undiscovered treasure on the island known as SKULL HAVEN, and fierce             rivalries among every crew -- danger exists across every ship bow, where law and             order are castaways at sea, and survival is a luxury too few can enjoy…

So you see, you have a treasure hunt, ghost story, swashbuckling adventure, and period epic, all rolled into one big launching pad for the imagination.  The figures are either SEA MARAUDERS, PRIVATEERS, or members of the ghostly SKELETON CREW.

I have a feeling that this might be the next big collectible toy.  During the 2005 holiday season, these were selling faster than any other toy line that I observed.  They even out-performed Mega Bloks’ Dragons line, which has been entrenched as a best-seller for years.  

Aesthetically, the figures have an incredible amount of sculpting detail and articulation for being so tiny.  There are a lot of modular pieces--figures that are identical but for a head sculpt or paint scheme, but with dozens of figures in the line, that’s to be expected.   The sculpting on the islands, ships, cannons, and other accessories is quite impressive.  

The range of product is also impressive.  With at least ten products under ten dollars, and plenty of product under the twenty-dollar mark, Pyrates is a very affordable line to collect.  The ships sell in the forty-to-fifty dollar range, but they are massive, and look great (especially the ghost/skeleton ship made out of whale bones).   Toys R Us has an exclusive “Treasure Chest” with a huge island fort and plenty of accessories, and this was on sale for under forty dollars before Christmas.   The exclusive nature of this playset, which includes TREASURE ISLAND, the resting place of the LORD OF THE PYRATES, and home to his treasure, makes it extremely desirable among collectors.

When the dust form the holiday shopping season subsides, Pyrates looks to be one of the hottest toys of 2005, and with the sequel to “Pirates Of The Caribbean” coming out this year, and the hot new “Pirates” constructible strategy game sweeping the nation and building momentum for swashbuckling adventure, 2006 promises to be a banner year for Pyrates, as well.