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Figures & Speech: WWE Entrance Stage and the Lost Art of the Playset

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by on August 22, 2012

When I was a kid, a toy line wasn’t complete without a super-duper-sized playset to go along with it. I’m not just talking A-listers here, like the Star Wars Millennium Falcon, G.I. Joe aircraft carrier, and He-Man’s Castle Grayskull. Even the C- and D-level lines had their own giant fortresses, from the hand-puppet based Sectaurs to the surreal Power Lords and the strangely simplistic Robo-Force. Most featured gimmicks like launching missiles, secret trap door and hidden escape routes. These days, I don’t sit around playing with figures like I used to, but I do like having in-scale environments in which to display them, always more visually pleasing than a bare shelf. Unfortunately, nowadays, with individual figures running close to $20 due to rising oil prices (a double-whammy with toys, because it ups the cost of both the plastic AND the fuel to import them from Chinese factories), there’s no way most companies will bother with super high-end items like these any more. When they do – like the G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra Pit Playset – it’s generally to tie-in with a movie, and costs upwards of $100.

With WWE, however, playsets are essential. You can’t have a wrestling match without a ring, at minimum. And with weekly TV shows that never officially re-run episodes (they rehash plenty, but that’s different, sorta), there’s an ongoing entertainment property to justify more. You could stop at just the ring, but why not more arena-based bits, since the action at the main events is rarely confined between the ropes? Kmart just released an exclusive Raw Superstar Entrance Stage (which I ordered online with free shipping, though it may or may not still be in stock when you read this), and we’re going to take a look. Just as Raw itself recently relied upon special celebrity guest hosts, we even have one of those here too – The Iron Sheik action figure. He does not come included with the stage, but I like to imagine he does come loaded with horribly inflammatory statements like those on the real Sheik’s Twitter.

The stage costs $51.99, which is more than I paid for the Cobra Terrordrome back in the day, but, adjusted for inflation, it isn’t much more than previous comparable playsets by Jakks Pacific. Like them, it has a lights-and-sounds feature that you can try in short bursts on the shelf, though it’ll play longer and more selectable versions once you open it. The themes played are for John Cena, Rey Mysterio, Randy Orton, Alberto del Rio, and Sheamus.

Considering how Game Boys back in the day ran around $60, the dream of every wrestling-toy fan has always been an entrance stage that could play entrance videos, with customizable downloads or extra cartridges to add new ones. We’re not there yet, but much of this playset is made up of clear plastic parts with removable paper inserts, so you can customize the appearance.

Speaking of Jakks Pacific, though, Mattel did something smart here and made the stage big enough so that it’s compatible with the larger-scale Jakks characters. So if you want to customize this for TNA or UFC, you can.

The playset is actually quite astonishingly simple, but, then, so is the actual WWE stage, which is mostly just large hi-def monitors side-by-side. The toy uses textured clear plastic to make the inserts look “pixellated.” The giant Raw logo on top is cardboard, held in place by three curved plastic bracers. Construction is pretty easy, with curving the cardboard for the top part being the only task likely to challenge a child in any significant way.

The lights are inside the red borders on each side of the removable John Cena image, and they flash in time with the theme music. To select a theme, press one of two buttons on the back, and a ring announcer will call out the wrestler’s name (including an appropriately Ricardo Rodriguez-sounding “Albeeeerto…Del Riiiiiiiiiiiiooooooo!”) – once you get the name of the guy you want, hit the other button to play the theme.

Fans will notice that C.M. Punk and Daniel Bryan are not represented by music here, but that’s probably no grand conspiracy – more likely it’s due to the fact that they use variations on pre-existing music not owned by WWE (and hey, has anybody ever noticed that “Cult of Personality,” used by Punk, compares the singer to Mussolini and Stalin? Just feels odd when representing a supposedly straight-edge good guy).

The back of the playset is fairly nondescript, and makes more obvious the fact that it contains paper sheets – however, it does have a scaffold figures can “climb” and off which they can fall. No, it isn’t gimmicked, and it’s mainly there just to keep the whole thing standing up, but it adds a bit of play value.

If size matters, however, this thing is a champ, because it’s about two feet tall. For adult collectors, this means it’s probably too big for most of your shelves save the top one, though you can always do without the uppermost Raw logo band if you want. To make it a completely consistent playset, you’ll need a John Cena figure that isn’t out yet to match the one shown in the picture, but, of course, that’s how they hook ya.

And in the fine tradition of both toy playsets and WWE, there is a break-away feature – one of the panels on the stage takes but a little nudge to push through to the floor. It’s only about an inch or so off the floor to begin with, so it isn’t a big dramatic fall like when they do it on TV, but it’s something. The large WWE logo stage-right can also be easily removed for use as a weapon.

For pure display purposes, there’s a lot of space on this thing to stand your figures, though the sloped ramp does you no favors in that regard – I may well end up removing it. For kids who want to play, though, the ramp can be the source of all kinds of hijinks in falls-count-anywhere matches. It’s not as long a ramp (proportionately) as the real deal, but close enough for suspension of disbelief.

For me it was totally worth the purchase, and may reshape my WWE figure shelf. For Christmas, it seems like a perfect big-ticket item – the Elimination Chamber (either the Jakks or Mattel versions) is just TOO big, and the wrestling fan on your list almost certainly has a regular ring already.

Now, to figure out what kind of paper I need to use to give the Iron Sheik action figure the entrance he deserves…