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The Top 10 Playsets From Your Childhood

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Everyone has always been under the assumption that our toys come to life once we go to sleep; in fact, there is an entire series of films covering the very topic (I think they’re called Madagascar or something). Where is a suddenly sentient action figure supposed to spend his “off-hours”?  If you were a child of the ’80s/early ’90s and had generous parents, your toys spent their recreational time lounging around their own custom playset!

Forget the Barbie dream house (plus my parents wouldn’t buy me one, probably saving years of therapy bills) and take a peek at my very carefuly curated list of my Top Ten favorite childhood playsets (in no particular order). 

Ghostbusters Firehouse playset

THE GHOSTBUSTERS FIRE HOUSE HEADQUARTERS

Why I love it: First and foremost, it came with Play-Doh; instant win. Containment unit? Check. Ample parking space for the Ecto-1? Big check. This playset has basically everything you know and love about the movie firehouse, other than a cast of chain-smoking paranormal detectives.

Best Feature: The (sort-of) functioning firepole/ride at the playground that made you dizzy to a point of nausea. ‘Cause there’s no better way to start a day full of busting ghosts than giving yourself vertigo.

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EWOK FAMILY HUT

Why I love it: Technically the second Ewok playset, this toy made me a fan of Star Wars before I had seen Star Wars. Obviously marketed at the younger set (just like Ewoks), the “Family Hut” was always lovingly known in my household as the Ewok Treehouse; and let’s just say I spent as much time with Wicket and those bongo drums than I have with members of the opposite sex.

Best Feature: The conveniently placed hammock; that way, my toys could be as lazy as I was.

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MIGHTY MAX SKULL MOUNTAIN

Why I love it: Like all things Mighty Max, the bulk of the fun with this toy was finding out all the ways the playset “folded”, doubling itself as a carrying case for your figures. There was nothing more gratifying then discovering yet another secret hiding place or hard-to-spot “moving piece” in your Max toys, and Skull Mountain was definitely the biggest and baddest of them all. That and I could kidnap my cousins Polly Pockets, hide them in the castle, and hold them for ransom. It’s no wonder I wound up as well-adjusted as I have.

Best Feature: The sheer scale of it. Max has always been tiny, but standing next to these towering behemoths it really made the playset feel like an actual mountain. Made of plastic. Just like real mountains. (Editor’s Note: Matt Cohen has never seen a real mountain.)

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BATMAN RETURNS BATCAVE COMMAND CENTER

Why I love it: There have been many Batman playsets and most have been of either Wayne Manor or the Batcave itself, but none better then the one from Batman Returns (which is, incidentally, still my favorite Batman movie). Half golden mansion, half pinkish cave, this set had it all, if your definition of all was a closet, a TV screen, and a balcony. Still, you just can’t beat that metallic purple batsuit!

Best Feature: The fact that when you parked the Batmobile in the provided garage, it was actually halfway into the front hall of Wayne Manor. Alfred had a hell of a time keeping that floor clean.

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MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CASTLE GRAYSKULL

Why I love it: He-Man had maybe the most villainous looking lair of any ’80s hero, even giving Skeletor’s Snake Mountain a run for its money on the creepiness factor. As a kid, both having playsets and not having yet seen the cartoon they were based on, I legitimately thought Skeletor was the good guy.  In a weird way, wasn’t I right?

Best Feature: A trapdoor opens in the ground, triggered by the turning of Adam’s throne. Take that He-Man! I mean, Skeletor!

sewer-playset

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES SEWER PLAYSET

Why I love it: Because it has remotely anything to do with the Ninja Turtles. The single best toy line of the early 90’s had everything; countless variant Turtle figures, awesome vehicles that shot pizza, and one of the best playsets the world has ever seen. Plus, if you bought extra “sewer pipes”, you could connect the TMNT base to your own handmade and way less cool extensions. Also… LOOK AT THAT BOX ART!!!

Best Feature: Making my Turtles fight over the one provided bed. Raphael always won.

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G.I. JOE USS FLAGG

Why I love it: Though I never had one and wasn’t the biggest Joe aficionado, there was no denying that this 7 foot long floating aircraft carrier was pretty much the single most badass toy that any spoiled kid (It retailed for an astounding $109 in 1985!) could get his patriotic hands on.

Best Feature: The fact that your parents had to display a 7-foot-plus battleship in their homes.

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THUNDERCATS ELECTRONIC CAT’S LAIR

Why I love it: Add the word “laser” to anything and I’m going to be a fan; couple it with one of the most beloved animated shows of the ’80s, and you’ve got one of the cooler and more high tech playsets to hit the scene. Plus, Thundercats was all about cats before the internet was all about cats, and I like to support trendsetters. Lasers, Ho! (I really like lasers)

Best Feature: Hint: It rhymes with laser and is spelled the exact same way as laser. Give up?  It was the piercing electronic sounds!

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SWAMP THING SWAMP TRAP PLAYSET

Why I love it?: Based on the short lived Swamp Thing cartoon, this playset should not exist; meaning, for a well loved but sort of obscure comic book character to get the full playset treatment is a rarity, especially one as “dark” as ole Swampy. It’s the moss covered unicorn of early childhood toys.

Best Feature: Either the fully operating Venus fly trap or the hidden elevator; Or, the fact that this toy exists at all.

Technodrome

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES TECHNODROME

Why I love it?: Remember when I said this list was in no ranking order? I lied. By far, my favorite playset while growing up was the Technodrome, headquarters to the devious Shredder and his army of Foot-Soldiers. Basically, it was a Death Star with an eye on the top of it, and I loved everything about it, from the tank treads to how many compartments it had, to the fact that it doubled as a carrying case (as any playset worth its salt should be able to do).  And, again… LOOK AT THAT BOX ART!!!

Best Feature: The “Drome” could be connected to the aforementioned Turtle Sewer HQ, saving our heroes a hefty gas bill for the Shellraiser.

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Dig my choices? Have any fond memories of these toys? Did I leave out any of your favorite playsets? Liking these tour guided trips down memory lane? Kindly drop a Quemment, email me or say hi and howdy on ye olde Twitter Machine. I won’t bite, unless you specifically ask me to bite; and even then… it’s a maybe.

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38 comments

  • The Firehouse is my favourite. Other amazing playsets to check would be the Ghost Command from the Filmation Ghostbusters, Playmates Next Generation Transporter Room and Fortress Maximus. Anyway, the Firehouse did not come with Play-do and the USS Flagg was not a floating playset.

  • I may be showing my age here, but what about “Major Matt Mason” from Mattel (lot of Ms there). He had a space station and everything! Plus there was NO TV show or cartoon! It really got me interested in scifi, space exploration, etc. Maybe only Tom Hanks and I remember it? (He’s a huge fan.)

  • Amazing list; and I never knew for sure where that “Swamp thing” set was from-My grandmother bought one for me at a garage sale and I loved it.. I think and honorable mention should go to the “Beetlejuice” cartoon’s “Vanishing vault; I loved using that thing as an all-purpose resurrection machine.

  • My dear Lord…I was just transported back to a time of whimsy and no responsibilities, except those that involved me playing with my action figures. The Ghostbusters HQ was my favorite. I remember using the slime and pouring it down the roof grates upon the first use and my parents thinking I had just ruined the entire playset. Once i showed them the box, they were much less frustrated with me.

    And while I had both the TMNT playsets mentioned (along with their kickass van), I for some reason had the Swamp Thing playset, but never until this very moment did I realize what character it correlated with, so thanks for that!

  • I’m a late 80’s baby but my older brother had a few of these play sets and they filled the bulk of my childhood. I also remember playing with Metroplex because he was a hybrid transformer/base. That thing was pretty awesome!

  • Oh my god this is a massive nostalgia trip!

    I had the Ghost Busters firehouse with my brothers years ago. We also had one or both Ecto cars and of course Proton Packs!

    Our neighbor friend was a big Turtles fan so he had the technodrome and sewer playset.

    An honorable mention here, the Jurassic Park Visitor Center playset with the building and tons of electric fence bits. Played with that one to death!

  • I have to echo earlier posters on the omission of the Death Star – inexcusable, sir! But there were also a lot of “historic” military battle sets that could have also been included. The Force 10 From Navarone set was one of my favorites. If featured a 2-foot cutaway mountain with an elevator and over 200 accessories. Sweet!

  • How did Castle Grayskull make the list but not Eternia. Way superior.

    And I agree with Boulder Mountain (PS, Ewok Village also came out a few years later as Sherwood Forest for Robin Hood Prince of Thieves)

  • That USS Flagg looks like 7 1/2 feet of table top. Does it do anything inside, or is it all up top? My favorite part of GI Joe was putting on the stickers, so maybe I’d have liked it for that.

  • I was so excited to click this and have my two favorite childhood toys on the list. The Ghostbusters firehouse and TNMT sewer rocked my early ’90s world.
    This list reminded me of the time I went over to a friends house and his dad had bought him the GI Joe carrier. It blew my mind as a kid and made me break out into a cold sweat

  • Great list – I never had either of the TMNT playsets, but I did get the pizza disc-shooting van, which rocked.

    My favorite playset I had though, I didn’t expect to show up on this list… I had a full playset of Pee-Wee Herman’s Playhouse. My brother and I had a blast with it, while not getting half of the jokes…

  • Didnt have ‘nough monays to have a playset :/ but I have always wanted a Hogwarts Castle playset and I remember a Star Wars Deathstar playset that I saw at Toys R Us that I was obsessed with. Not sure if it is the same Deathstar everyone is talking about but to me it was awesome :D

  • +1 to disappointment in leaving out the Death Star. That thing was amazing.

    Less surprising, but one I’d like to add to the nostalgia list was the Space 1999 Eagle 1 ship. While technically a “vehicle” it was as big and complex as most playsets.

  • author

    Follow Up: My Top Ten toys I’ve never gotten the chance to play with but have always wanted to? ;)

    First and foremost would’ve been one of those mini battery operated cars that kids could actually drive around in. I never had one, and feel like this (and lazyness) are the contributing factors in me not driving until I was 24 years old.

  • author

    @Shayde :)

    I dont think my parents know what a Death Star is. I am the sole geek in my family (it’s okay though, because Im nerdy enough to make up for the rest of them)

  • No love for Hotwheels or MicroMachines? They had some rockin’ playsets that sent my cars across the room and down the hall. Or maybe this list should be named Top Ten Action Figure Playsets?

  • How could you have missed the Death Star playset from Star Wars? It had everything, a giant gun, an elevator, a retractable light bridge and a garbage chute COMPLETE WITH A DIANOGA!

    Tragic omission.

  • author

    Collin- I kept the list to toys I had or played with, and as I was born in Oct of 84, sadly- O.G Star Wars toys were not an option for me.

  • I had the Ewok Village Playset myself, which I thought to be CLEARLY superior, as the Ewok Family Hut was just a different colored Weebles Treehouse. However, you left off the greatest playset of all — the Death Star Space Station. Any playset that has a trap door in the floor which leads to a trash compactor full of foam trash AND a trash monster is the clear winner, barely edging out Castle Grayskull.

  • Before I opened this I was already filled with rage about you not including the Ghostbusters firehouse. I was ready to pounce! And then it was number one. Well then. My apologies.