When I reviewed the original release of the Secret Sewer Lair almost five years ago, I was thrilled to see a classic 80's style giant playset to
accompany the new Ninja Turtle toy line. But of course, with such a large and expensive playset, Playmates Toys wanted to do everything they could
to extend the shelf life of the massive playset. So in four years since its original release, the Secret Sewer Lair has been rebranded and slightly
updated for two additional retail releases. The first refresh came in 2015 with the Secret Sewer Lair with Dimension X Portal. This set is essentially
the same playset as the original release, but with some electronic sound effects and a few other minor changes added. And then last year the playset was
updated yet again and released with the Out of the Shadows toy line. I've had both of these playsets sitting in my collection for months now. And a
combination of my curiosity and the circumstance of having finally finished reviewing all of the other Out of the Shadows toys means I'm finally
going to be opening these two up to see if they were worth buying or if I'm just going to have to find room to store three giant playsets.
Packaging - Secret Sewer Lair 7/10, City Sewer Lair 8/10The boxes for both newer versions of the lair are quite similar to the original in terms of the basic design. But each has a different overall look due to the changes in the packaging design for the line in general over the years. I liked the original design. But the overhaul for the 2015 style packaging on the Secret Sewer Lair with Dimension X Portal creates two issues. The first is that the large box has a lot more yellow background showing than I would prefer. And the images on the box don't really do a great job of distinguishing this version from the original. And considering that there was a fair amount of time when both versions could be found in stores right next to each other, that was quite the design oversight. The City Sewer Lair uses the graphics and backgrounds from the rest of the Out of the Sewers product line. I much prefer the green colors for the backgrounds. Though it is interesting to see that they change the banner listing the number of features in the playset now states that there are only 15+ features instead of 20+ features as listed on the past versions. As a collector I wish the new design did a better job of showing the changes that have been made compared to the previous two versions. But being realistic, that would just highlight the fact that this is the third release of almost the same playset.
Sculpting - City Sewer Lair 7/10, Secret Sewer Lair 9/10The Secret Sewer Lair with Dimension X Portal is the exact same sculpt and design as the original Sewer Lair, or almost the exact same. They did install a button and speaker holes in the base plate near Donatello's Lab and added a small bracket that hangs off of the back of the playset behind the lab for the Dimension X Portal. I don't mind the rehash of the playset. It was a impressive design the first time. It's still impressive this time. It does have some drawbacks. Its size is impressive. But it also makes storage an issue. And while I am impressed by how well they used the space to make multiple play areas, only the lab and street levels really have room for multiple figures. And there is no room to interact with vehicles. That is an issue I didn't even realize that I had until the OOTS City Sewer Playset.
Playmates put in a surprising amount of effort with the Out of the Shadows release of the City Sewer Lair. The entire bottom base plate has been replaced. They added a couple of new items on the back wall and in place of the stairs in the underground areas and redid the top level completely. But the changes are a mixed bag at best. The new base level is a great upgrade and makes the style of the movie set much better than the original design. But almost all of the space is used by the computer in Donatello's lab and the screen and chair in the center area. So unless you want your figures to stand in the water, there's very little space. That issue is compounded by changing the stairway to a curving pipe slide. You're losing several platforms for the figures to stand on and it blocks part of the raised level along the back. They replaced one of the platforms on the back wall with a Japanese style doorway with what appear to be Chinese lanterns above it. Again, it's nice that they put in the effort, but the platform just hangs in front of the rest of the playset rather than being incorporated into it. The top, street level replaces the building backdrop and electrical pole from the previous versions with a subway entrance. I don't mind them changing things, but it does mean that you've lost an entire level compared to the previous playsets. And it's also worth noting that there are several areas where there are decals to apply, but the parts are not designed for them to fit. In some cases the differences are minor such as the water area on the base plate or the upper sign for the subway entrance. But in the case of the chinese lanterns, it's not even close. You have a rectangular decal that is suppose to be applied over a rounded surface. There's no way to do that without a significant number of wrinkles and creases. As those decals constantly try to peel off in the future, that is going to be quite annoying. Even so, it's still an impressive playset. It just isn't as good as the previous versions.
Paint - City Sewer Lair 3/10, Secret Sewer Lair 4/10Both new versions of the sewer lair have had the colors of the plastics changed, new cardboard backdrops and some significant changes to the decals for the OOTS City Sewer Lair. The color changes from the first sewer lair to the second one aren't very extreme. And technically the colors for this second version are more accurate to the cartoon. But I still prefer the overall look of the original. That is particularly true when it comes to the backdrops. The new Secret Sewer Lair has giant images of Leatherhead, Snakeweed and Spider Bytes on the backdrops. That's an issue if you wanted to include those figures in your play since you'll have a giant image of them plastered right behind the figures. Things get even worse on the City Sewer Lair. The entire back wall for that version is a bright orange! And adding the light green doorway in front of it doesn't help. And the top level becomes rather dull looking with the grey of the street matching very closely to the subway entrance structure. Once you add the city-scape background it looks considerably better. But it's a shame that that is necessary. And of course there's still the issue I already mentioned about some of the decals not fitting properly in their intended locations. In the end, the City Sewer Lair is the worst looking of the three incarnations.
Features - City Sewer Lair 6/10, Secret Sewer Lair 10/10The Secret Sewer Lair includes all of the same features as the original release, plus it adds a few new ones. The first change is the inclusion of an electronic sound mechanism in the base under Donatello's lab. Then there is the Dimension X Portal. The portal is just a new backdrop piece that attaches to the left side of the back wall. That backdrop piece then folds back with a gap left at the bottom to form a doorway that forms the portal. It's a simple idea, but when viewed from the front, the effect works well enough.
The City Sewer Lair makes a few changes, but generally it lost more features than it gained. And what was gained isn't all that impressive. The one feature I like is the drive path to park the Tactical Turtle Truck. But that is a fairly passive feature. Donatello's lab has been redesigned. But the new lab is quite flat and cheap looking compared to the original. The sewer pipe slide is a nice addition and connects well to the movies. The playset still has the feature to spill a barrel of ooze down from the street level down onto a figure below. But as they no longer sell ooze, the feature is rendered useless. On the street level you've lost the electric pole with it's spring loaded cannon and the fire escape as well as the door to close off the elevator. And the only thing you get in return is a simple mechanism to make a figure flip around the street lamp next to the subway entrance. Finally the dumpster from the street level and the periscope that it contained with the previous version are gone. Instead they included a hot dog cart with a disc launching mechanism. If they had made the cart fully mobile, that could have been very cool. But as it is, you can only position it one of two ways. If you face the mechanism inwards towards the playset, you have the bare back of the cart exposed. If you position it so the cart faces outward, the discs are now facing out towards nothing. Unless you have a figure levitating two feet off the ground in front of the playset, there's nothing to shoot. It's unfortunate that the changes that were made didn't work out better than they did. But even with that being the case, it is still an impressive playset with a lot of possibilities to interact with your figures.
Accessories - City Sewer Lair 5/10, Secret Sewer Lair 8/10When I reviewed the original Sewer Lair, I included most of the items included under the features rather than accessories. That probably wasn't quite fair. The Secret Sewer Lair includes the same parts and accessories as the original version. That includes the projectile for the cannon in the electrical transformer, a shredder training dummy and parts for a zip-line just like was used in the Z-Line playsets. The City Sewer Playset is not quite as fortunate. The cannon is gone so the projectile wasn't included either of course. We do get a set of pizza discs for the hot dog cart launcher instead. The zip-line parts were left out as well. The training dummy has also been replaced with a heavy punching bag which I think is a nice addition. Beyond that, the only new addition is a single police barricade. The barricade is nice and quite appropriate given the events in the movie with the police. But a single barricade is pretty simple compared to what was left out.
Value - 9/10When the original version of the Secret Sewer Lair was released and I originally reviewed it, it sold for anywhere from $120 to $140. Over time and once the period where it was exclusive to Toys R Us ended, the price dropped to around $100 or less. And that is what both subsequent versions sold for. At that lower price, any one of the versions of the lair is a decent price for what is likely to be one of the most memorable toys in a kid's childhood and for everything you get. Though I still think that the original version of the Secret Sewer Lair is the best of the three.
Happy Hunting:The Secret Sewer Lair with Dimension X Portal was originally released two years ago in 2015. The City Sewer Lair was released along with the rest of the Out of the Shadows toy line. Unfortunately both have long since been removed from store shelves if only due to the sheer amount of space they take up. But they are not too difficult to find online. Walmart still has the Out of the Shadows version listed on their website. But if you are buying online, be sure to double check the shipping costs as it is a very large and fairly heavy box.