Review: Star Trek replica Phaser and Tricorder are less than stunning

The phaser and the tricorder are two of the most recognizable gadgets that have been carried by the crew of the Enterprise since the 1960s. You know them at sight. They've been in every version of Star Trek since the beginning, a bit different each time. I even had a model kit of these as a kid, when I was desperate to have them to play with.

Now that J.J. Abrams' new Star Trek film is coming out, Playmates brings back its shiny new Trek license, releasing the new versions of these vital pieces of gear. I think I have almost every version of the phaser and tricorder out there, so I was eager to get my hot little hands on this new set.

The phaser pistol is almost all plastic chrome and fires a stun or kill blast depending on which nozzle faces the front. The mechanism allows you to push a button and rotate the bidirectional nozzle so that either a blue barrel or a red barrel faces the target. It's spring-loaded, so you have to manually flip it to stun, but if you want to quickly flip it to kill, a button releases it and it quickly flips back.

Pulling the trigger plays nice sounds sampled from the film. The phaser also has a power-on switch at the back, but strangely it is not an actual power switch, as on some other versions I have. Sure, it lights up yellow and makes a sound, but it isn't a real power button. There's another switch almost hidden underneath to turn it off... why? Why do that when the power switch could actually be made to work?

The sounds are nice, the lights look good, but that chrome finish unnerves me a bit. Makes it look a bit cheap, even if it is a fairly smooth finish. Let's face it, chromed plastic only ever looks like ... plastic.

The tricorder is an oddity as well. Keep in mind that Star Trek, the film, takes place when Kirk and Spock are just youngsters, some time before the original series. Yet the tricorder has been reduced down to the compact size it was in The Next Generation, when, presumably, some miniaturization efficiency has taken place. This tricorder is about that size, the size of a bulky juice box, and it has some visual resemblance to the larger original. But it should be bigger, shouldn't it?

Opening a flip-cover reveals two buttons, each of which plays a variety of sounds and causes one of two lights to light up. Three more lights below flash in sequence while a sound sample plays. The flashing varies depending on function. One thing that bugs me no end is a sticker at the top that has a printed readout instead of physical molding or real lights. I remember Playmates' Next Generation tricorder (I have one signed by Marina Sirtis, Next Gen's Troi—signed way back in 1996), and it was quite nice, and while it had stickers for printing, that made sense. All the lights were real, and they acted properly. This is a bit of cheapery I'm not fond of. But at least they provide a helpful "Tricorder" label for the flip-lid. The chrome on this one isn't so bad, because it isn't overwhelmingly everywhere.

And I know you're wondering, so yes, they will also be releasing a communicator, but I haven't had a chance to play with that one yet, so I can't say much about it.

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