Remember when I said in my review of the Queen Anne's Revenge that I always tried to make sure my reviews were prompt and timely? Yeah, I'm not even going to pretend I was going for that here. Ace has been asking me to get this done for months and months, and I haven't. After seeing Pirates sets on clearance at one of the local Walmart's, though, I figured maybe it was time to cover the last set we haven't reviewed.
So, here we are, the last set in the lineup of reviews from the PotC line. I'll admit, I've been pretty harsh on the other sets in the series; in part because most of them just stunk, but in other parts because they didn't capture either the history of the Pirates line in LEGO or the PotC franchise. Most felt like glorified battle packs, and some didn't even manage to do that. So how does Whitecap Bay line up to that less-than-storied history?
Well, it doesn't live up to it... it far exceeds it. This set always felt, without much doubt, as the best set in the series. Unlike others, like London Escape and The Mill, it feels like a cohesive whole. Instead of relying on BURPs and big panels entirely, it actually brick-builds the parts that matters, and uses panels where they are needed. And as a playset, it feels like it works. So, this might be a little more positive than some of my others.
First up, the minifigs in the set. Of course, we get a Jack Sparrow, and we also get our zombie pirate friend from the QAR and the Captain's Cabin. Jack is the version from the more expensive sets, with the tricone hat and hair and brown clothing.
After the repeats, we get Scrum and Phillip, two pirate-y characters (I know, a bit of Googling shows Phillip is a missionary or something)... I'd say more, but still haven't been able to bring myself to watch the movie. Based on the movies, they're decent-ish, but are somewhat non-descript characters anyway.
Phillip features a dark version of the male ponytail and a reversible face, one of which is very angry looking.The torso is plain and printed, but features that annoying little triangle of skin that limits its usefulness for most other things. However, if you wanted to make a fleshy steampunk figure, it feels like it'd be a nice setup with just a little bit more flair or some very fancy pants.
Scrum is one of the pirates off the QAR, and gets a nice printed head with some serious stubble. Since the back of his head is visible with the tricone on, it's not reversible, but not bad. His torso is a bit more colorful, and it's hard to tell if the little section where his shirt is unbuttoned is a printing error, given it's off color, or if he's wearing an undershirt. But this one, more than Phillip or other torsos in the line, could be turned into a regular pirate easily. The legs are printed as well, which adds some serious utility to this guy.His back is also lightly printed. A different head and you have a wonderful generic pirate, so it's a good fig.
After these two, we get two mermaids, Syrena and a generic blond mermaid. Syrena gives us an interesting female face, even if she's fleshy. It looks sad and somewhat innocent, which is an interesting trick for a small hunk of plastic.She does feature an alternate mermaid/siren face, and the same hair that Elizabeth has, only in dark brown. Since both hairpieces only show up in pirates sets, stock up if you want something different! The back of the torso is printed... and it just looks weird. I'm pretty sure it wasn't supposed to look like she was topless there, but it really does. Very weird topless, like the kind of pictures that people post on the internet just to get you to go EEEEEEEEEEWWWWW.
The pictures above do show off one thing that really annoys me about these particular figures, and something that just feels lazy on the part of LEGO... the fins and the torso do not match up. The torso is noticeably wider when you look at it, and it looks just wrong. The color is also a bit off on the skin tones, and that hurts how these things work. What is otherwise a great figure has small details that just ruin it.
The other mermaid has no name, but fits the same shape. Her human face is somewhat plain, and reminds me of the other faces that have shown up on female castle figs over the years. The hair is the hula-girl hair from the minifig series, in blond and sans flower, and she also features the printed back torso. Even worse, she has the same tail/torso matching issue, and the skin color problems are even more pronounced. LEGO has had a real issue with this lately, between skin tones here and problems with the eyes on Cars sets.
The main set itself is less a "bay" and more a watchtower and a gate, along with a couple of small rowboats and an anchor, for some reason. The rowboats aren't anything special, they match the Pirates sets from a few years ago, except in black instead of blue or red. Of course, this does sort of beg the question... what's the anchor for? And how useful is an anchor that has no chain or rope?
The actual main part of a set is a true playset, something has become a little rarer and rarer over the years with the fascination with vehicles. Even other sets in the pirates line have been an odd mix of playset and moving stuff, and usually that means we get less than stellar examples of both. But here, we have a full tower, and it's designed to get moved around.
The base of the set splits apart into four parts. The tower, a tar bucket, a small connector, and a gate.
The bucket portion is a nice little siege weapon... and if you ignore the fact that it sits on the ground, and therefore makes it less than useful. It feels like it should be on top of the gate or something useful like that, but what can you do? I think this is supposed to be tar, but it could also be cannonballs or something like that.
The little connector section is just an alcove with a sticker on a window panel. I could do without the sticker, but the side and back are all bricks, you get a bottle and some tools, and it serves it's purpose to make it all cohesive. Not flashy, but it works.
On the far right, we get a gate/door section that conceals a net launcher. In a strange diversion from the other sets, this entire thing is brick-built. Even the doors don't use the arched doors from castle sets, they're round and straight plates. It's a very nice surprise, and it works quite well. The net launcher, in a continuation of underwhelming launchers, throws the net a good 6 inches if you really smack it. It can slide in and out, and has a plunger to launch it. But in the scope of the playset, it works quite well.
The back isn't flashy, but it works. Again, you get plenty of bricks, and no panels or BURPS. I'll take it.
Obviously, the main feature of the set is the watchtower. Three stories of fun and excitement, and plenty of fun points to show of. Yes, there are corner support panels with stickers, but I'm usually a bit more forgiving of those on things like this, when there are plenty of bricks to accent them. It's a tough balance, and those parts exist to make castles and forts more castle-y. Hard to say when it's good or bad, but here, it's not all bad. In The Mill, it was awful. The sides also have window panels, which aren't as nice, and still feature those stone stickers, but those can be easily removed without really affecting the feel of the tower.
What isn't really apparent looking at the box is that this thing is designed with the playset in mind, and not just as a tower. It's built so that the entire thing breaks apart. Combine with the QAR and it's massive three cannon battery, or the Pearl, or the Flagship, and you can have some real pirate-y fun! It's actually kinda fragile when you pick it up, but this thing obviously isn't meant to be swooshed. It's meant to sit there and go "arrrrr" and "avast" while having a sword fight between minifigs. Preferably Jack Sparrow and Han Solo, because everyone knows full well we'd pay good money to see that.
A lot of it is connected on either a single stud jumper, or sometimes just sitting there, so a good smack and it'll go crashing. It's actually a pretty nice touch that you don't expect, since all of the focus seems to be on the light brick. Of course, that's more of something that's cobbled together to make it work. The magnifying glass serves no purpose, it's not as if this is a death ray, but I guess they were working with what was available. This was the feature with a callout, so I figured I'd save it for lass. enjoy it in all it's glory!
Okay, yeah, kind of a let down. But hey, that's very much like the rest of the Pirates of the Caribbean line. So, I'm glad they got it in there.
What I liked:
- Decent assortment of minifigs, with four of them being unique to the set
- A good deal of things are brick-built, with panels and big pieces used sparingly
- It's a fun playset, and could easily be used in other themes and settings. Put some castle figs there and they wouldn't look out of place
- A nice assortment of basic parts for castle and pirate types in good colors... dark grey, brown, dark tan, etc
- It's better than any other PotC sets
What I didn't like:
- Expensive at $80, even with a decent parts ratio
- Stickers don't add anything to the set, they only hide ugly panels. And they do not hide them well
- Mermaid torsos and tails look awful together
- Spotlight doesn't add much to the set
The verdict? It's a good set, and easy enough to find on sale. If you like pirates or even castle stuff, it's a good fit, and well worth the buy. While it's on the expensive side, unlike other sets in the PotC line, I didn't feel let down at the end. You can still pick it up easily, and it's available now on Shop@Home:
Buy 4194 Whitecap Bay from Amazon