We've already looked at a few of Art Asylum's C3 Minimate sets, both in the small and medium size. But there's one truly massive set on the market that dwarfs them all. Does it have the same high level of quality as the smaller, more affordable pieces? Most importantly, will you get your money's worth? We're going to find out.
The Batcave set is the most expensive item in this first series, averaging about $50 at retail. When it's assembled, it may be the best Batcave we've ever gotten from a line of toys - there are three levels of cool features, tons of detailing and just a great look overall.
The top floor (the smallest floor) is the hallway of stately Wayne Manor. There's not much here beyond a window, a grandfather clock, a phone and a few railings, but it's still decent. The "exterior" brick walls are, oddly, purple, but they're decorated with brick patterns like the old Lego castles. One of the coolest little features is the portrait of Thomas and Martha Wayne - Bruce's parents - done in Minimate style. The end table that the phone rests on is secretly hinged, opening to reveal a button. The hands and pendulum on the clock move and, just like in the comics, the whole thing swings open to reveal the secret entrance to the cave.
The second floor is rather plain, compared to the other levels. It is little more than a transition piece between the others, so it's a bit short on detail. There are vaulted archways and a little flip-up computer, but that's about it. A strange little pod rests on one corner; it folds open to reveal a little changing room or closet or BDSM chamber. Whatever.
The best feature is that this is where the elevator from the clock lets out. The translucent blue tube is connected by a long rod to the mansion's roof - raise the green shingles and the elevator follows suit. It's executed simply, but it works well. The roof panels can be flared out to simulate a radar dish.
A spiral staircase connects this level to the ground floor, which is where all the really cool stuff is. The pillars that hold the ceiling up are less "polished" than those above, built from varied pieces that help them look more like geological features than man-made structures. There's a bit of a garage for you to park your Batmobile in, and a big huge bank of computers.
The computers are on a rotating section of floor, though why you'd want to be able to rotate your computers is a mystery. It's actually a pretty nice area, with five or six different stations arranged around the big central monitor. The monitor is actually a lenticular motion card that shows four different images: the black and yellow bat-logo; blueprint schematics for the Batwing; a group shot of Batman, Robin, Nightwing and Catwoman; and Arkham Asylum records of Catwoman, Joker and the Riddler. In the center of the floor is a command chair, which also rotates freely.
Assembled from 447 pieces, the Batcave set is 15" tall, 8 1/2" deep and 16 1/2" from end to end. Unfortunately, actually getting it assembled is beyond difficult. You build from the ground up, and every time you go to attach a new level, everything below tries to fall apart. If you're trying to build on a soft surface, forget it - anything less than a hardwood floor is going to hinder your efforts.
Attaching the second level is particularly hard, as the thin supports tend to give way under pressure. Kids will not be able to build this one by themselves, and even their parents will probably get a headache from trying to help. I don't really know what the problem is - it could be thin bricks, warped bricks, bumps and holes that aren't as tight as they could be... anything is possible. The sometimes-unclear instruction booklet doesn't help, either, and neither does the fact that there aren't enough holes on the bottom of the large flat pieces to adequately support the structures.
Play Along offered a free "repair" kit to anyone who requested one, but even that didn't help. It was basically some thicker bricks to support the lower level, but trust me, it didn't help. Nothing short of completely remolding and redesigning the set would have solved the problem. This is the most frustrating thing ever. Freaking piece of crap.
The Batcave set includes three DC Minimates. Since we got a little piece of Wayne Manor, it makes sense that we'd get a little piece of Wayne. the first figure is a little Bruce Wayne, clad in a tuxedo and white shirt. Though similar, this figure is not the same as the one that came with the Convention Exclusive Stealth Batwing - that one was based on the new cartoon, while this one is based on the comic. Batcave Bruce has a new face, new hair, new torso and a new jacket - more than enough to set him apart.
Like the exclusive Bruce or Stealth Batman, this figure comes with the extra pieces needed to turn him into Batman - a chestpiece with cape, a cowl and two gloves. He doesn't include the little spats that fit on his feet to suggest boots, but that's no great loss. Packaged in the tray next to Bruce is a little gun. Okay, no, it's not a gun, since Bruce doesn't use them - it's a grapple launcher, with a little batarang poking out of it. While it doesn't actually fire, the line can be moved forward or back for a bit of play value.
The second figure is a suit of armor that Bruce keeps stored in the basement, Heavy Assault Batman. Now, this isn't anything we've ever seen in the comics, but it does make sense that he'd have some high-tech riot gear on hand. The armored suit is black and purple, very good "creature of the night" colors. The detailing on the metal plates is intricate, even by Minimate standards. The suit's got big boots, an imposing helmet and big, moveable shoulder pads. There are four sets of wings that you can attach to the figure's back, depending on what type of situation he'll be facing. Behind the helmet's neon green electronic eye is a stern Bruce Wayne face.
Our third figure is a villain who's somehow managed to find his way into Batman's secret lair. It's the Joker, looking positively menacing in his striped purple pants and bright yellow vest. He comes with a perfect Joker pimpcane, and the wicked grin on his white face is truly maniacal. His green hair is a seperate piece, but it stays on his head well. We test these things like Dairy Queen tests its Blizzards - if it can be turned upside down without falling apart, it's fine.
At Toy Fair, the Batcave was shown with a Minimate of Wayne's faithful butler, Alfred Pennyworth. It looked pretty cool, but sadly, he didn't make the final product. Looking at the set, though, there seem to be plenty of ways that expansion sets could be added on to what we have here to make the Batcave bigger and better. I'd be in favor of a Batcave 2, if they could fix some of the quality control problems theyve had with this set.
For legal reasons, the DC Minimates can only be sold as part of these building sets, so they have block-compatible holes in the bottoms of their feet. Other than that, they share the same body as their Marvel counterparts, and move at 14 points: neck, waist, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles.
The packaging design for the C3 sets is nice - not only does it make good use of bright primary colors, but it is also designed so that the Minimates are visible through the box. This is a particularly good choice, because otherwise less-scrupulous fans would buy the set, take out the figures and return it. It also lets you compare paint apps - some folks have reported sloppy paint jobs on the C3 Minimates.
Art Asylum is new to the land of Legos and Mega Bloks, so we can forgive a few flaws. But still, maybe they should have waited until they had things more in hand before attempting something this large and ambitious.
Think Art Asylum can improve the flaws that plague this set? Tell us on our message board, the Loafing Lounge.