Art Asylum has made a splash by being the first major toy company to hook back up with the STAR TREK toy license since Playmates and AMT/ERTL dumped it a few years ago, and Trekkies the world over are snapping up Asylum's new action figures, role playing TRek Tek sets (see our review elsewhere on the site) and now this ultra-cool little starship toy that blows away the ones Playmates used to release. Granted that miniaturization, molding and paint application techniques have improved radically in the last few years, but we really didn't expect things were this good.
ENTERPRISE seems to have been designed with the idea of both thrilling and torturing fans of the original STAR TREK TV show. When you identify your leading manplayed by Scott Bakula, no lessas "James Kirk's Childhood Hero" you've set yourself a pretty high standard. Trek fans were immediately put off by the design of ENTERPRISE's NX-01, a ship that's supposed to predate the original series Enterprise by a century but looks somehow both antique and more advanced... which is exactly what the show's producers were looking for. The design is based on the U.S.S. Akira, a ship seen in the background of the opening Borg battle sequence from STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT, and ENTERPRISE graphic artist Doug Drexler redesigned the ship to give it a look that crossed the original Enterprise with a twin-boomed WWII P-38 fighter. The result feeds older Trekkies' desires to see those original red warp drive engines blazing away while giving newer fans the complexity and detail they've come to expect from the franchise's all-digital space shots.
Art Asylum's NX-01 toy is a marvel, although it does have one fatal flaw we'll get to later. The series' NX-01 is the first STAR TREK series main ship to be rendered as a completely CG effectthere is no physical model (while VOYAGER's effects eventually went all-digital, a six foot model of the Voyager was built and filmed for effects on more than half of the show's run of episodes). In a way this may have made creating AA's toy easier, as data files containing the ship's virtual dimensions and contours could probably have been e-mailed right to the toy company. At any rate, the 12" recreation of the starship at least looks as if it's painstakingly accurate in every detail. The ship's shapea forward disc, twin booms extending off the upper sides of the saucer to meet an airfoil-like pylon that extends upward and outward on either side to hold the warp enginesis complicated, but AA hasn't simplified any of the vessel's details and in fact they've gone out of their way to hide giveaway construction problems like screw heads and joining seams that destroy the illusion of scale. Of course the NX-01 toy has light and sound features, which requires a button, right? But the toymakers have ingeniously placed the control button underneath the ship's copper-colored bridge dome, which just depresses a bit to operate the lights and sounds.
While the Playmates toy starships featured at most two or three sound effects, AA's NX-01 boasts more than half a dozen, all of them long and complexly tied into the ingenious lighting effects built into the ship. One sound effect has the ship going to warp, another has it traveling at warp 5, there are phaser and torpedo launch sounds, grappling hook effects and other noises. Lights are built into the ship's rear impulse engines (blue), behind the forward navigational deflector (blue) and within the warp drive engines (blue behind the long "intercooler" side panels, cherry red in the forward antimatter domes). The warp engine effects slowly build to intensity for the going-to-warp effect, pulsate slowly at warp 5, and in one elaborate "alien attack" sequence the engines flicker and are knocked out after an explosion, leaving a flickering effect behind the impulse and navigational deflector lights until these too go out. Pretty sophisticated stuff. Under the proper lighting conditions, the interior lights and the toy's beautiful, multi-toned metallic paint job recreate the look of the TV show's space effects shots very closely. There've been some complaints that the panel details on the ship's pylons are created by stickers rather than being molded on or painted, but the look is still convincing.
A display stand is included, and AA provides the option of removing a piece beneath the hull (specifically the ship's shuttlebay doors) to allow you to plug in the stand. Playmates had this feature on most of their ships too, but Art Asylum goes one better by providing a stand with a ball joint that lets you position the ship in any attitude you want. At 12" in length the NX-01 is compact enough to make an unassuming, but nifty, desk display.
So why does this superb toy get only a B+ rating? Well, there's gotta be a fly in every ointment and here it's the fact that the starship's warp engines have to be attached by you, the toy collector, even though there appears to be plenty of room for the completed toy inside AA's elaborate, nicely designed packaging. The connecting joints between the warp engines and pylons are highly problematic, and getting them to: a) appear straight, b) stay on, and c) connect correctly in order to allow the warp engine lights to work was, at least on the version I bought, a major challenge. In fact, ten minutes of fiddling with the parts did not produce any working lighting effects. I finally got one of the engines to work, even though it didn't appear to be straight. The second one never connected correctly after dozens of attempts. If this step is this difficult for an adult, how frustrating is it going to be for a ten-year-old? There are two metal leads on each pylon which have to hit connectors inside the engines in order to complete the lighting circuit; I finally gave up and crumpled up four tiny pieces of tin foil in order to bridge the gap between the engine and pylon connections. That worked fine, but I wonder how many kids will figure that out?
All that having been said, AA is a relatively young company and they've clearly poured their heart into both the NX-01 and the Trek Tek sets that have come out this month. Collectors will love them, and while they'll also bitch about the manufacturing problems, it's clear that the potential for an incredible line of new STAR TREK toys from this maker is being fulfilled. Bring on the Classic TREK stuff!