Ideas out of Steam?

After last week’s disappointment with the botched LEGO Ideas The Flintstones (21316) set, it seems we’re in for even more frustrations with the latest choices. The results from the first 2019 review are far from encouraging due to licensed products once more having taken the crown.

Not that the pre-selection was that great to begin with. I’m a space and aviation nerd of sorts, but what would I do with an ISS or a jet engine model in my home? That Apache helicopter I saw today doing convoy escort/ scouting duty for US troops being moved to Poland on one of the Autobahns nearby got me more excited than any of that stuff. Conversely I’m far beyond the age to get pumped for m&ms dispensers. The only thing that got me halfway hooked was the Fiat 500 model, but it didn’t make the cut.

So here we are, stuck with a super toyish looking Steamboat Willy set and the Friends TV series café. I couldn’t say that I care much for either and sadly I have this bad feeling that behind the scenes Disney was pulling strings to get those sets made. Steamboat Willy being the birth of Mickey Mouse in my view is completely overrated, as frankly most younger people probably never heard of it until they hit that search bar in their web browser.

Similarly, Friends feels twenty years too late. Despite endless reruns in late night TV, I have yet to manage to sit through a single entire episode. It’s so cringeworthy and out of time like so many of those alleged 1990s “cult” series. I vividly remember that gag in the bloopers of We are the Millers, though, where they play the title song to Jennifer Aniston… Well, whatever, the fact remains: Not the greatest choices, at least not on this side of the pond. May sell well in the US, though.

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Heart of Hearts – Friends Heart Boxes (41354 to 41359)

LEGO The LEGO Movie 2, Emmet's Piece Offering (30340), Front2019 appears to be the “Year of the Heart” for LEGO with those little buggers popping up everywhere in different styles, shapes and sizes, ranging from the tiny new 1×1 heart-shaped tile elements in sets like the Chinese Dragon Dance (80102) and of course several ones for The LEGO Movie 2 as well. The latter takes this even further with the buildable kind of heart in Emmet’s Piece Offering (30340) depicted here and of course the cutesy little heart character also appearing in the movie.

Of course the Friends sets are not left out and my, have they gone out of their way. For now there’s seven different types of hearts to choose from. Two different ones are contained in the Heart Box Friendship Pack (41359) and then there’s the Mia’s/ Andrea’s/ Olivia’s/ Stephanie’s/ Emma’s Heart Box (41354 to 41358) sets. In the interest of efficiency and due to the similarity I have consolidated all the products into one article, but let’s begin with the “big” stuff presented by the Friendship Pack.

LEGO Friends, Heart Box Friendship Pack (41359), Box

This set is meant to be a play set in the sense that it contains a plethora of little gimmicks and doodads to dress up the two included mini dolls in a variety of outfits ranging from astronaut to firefighter and police officer to magician/ witch and pirate as well as any combination and derivation inbetween. Who’s to say there couldn’t be pirates with bullet-proof golden helmets? To that end it contains a number of minifigure hats plus a bunch of very minor minifigure accessories and buildable elements. None of this stuff is new nor is any of it made specifically made just for this set. It has all been gleaned from LEGO‘s back catalog of existing pieces and some of it may even be surplus stock from producing other sets.

LEGO Friends, Heart Box Friendship Pack (41359), Gimmicks

Therefore outside of actually using these items in the context of the set for playing with it, the individual value of these extras will hugely depend on how useful they may be to customize your other minifigures. For me it was okay, as I neither have a pirate hat nor a golden helmet in my collection and as a recent custom build proved, there could always be a need for some fancying up a model with some minifigures even if like me you don’t collect them proactively, so I’m sure going to keep this stuff around, be it just as a prop for setting the mood in a pirate tavern or whatever should I ever decide to create something along those lines.

LEGO Friends, Heart Box Friendship Pack (41359), Overview

In contrast to what you may think, the actual highlight of this set is the smaller heart for the simple reason that it’s based on a new custom-shaped plate. at the same time, though, only one of those little hearts being included to me looks like a severe laps in logic. If the intention was to provide a small pocket box to pack up your doll and some accessories when going on the road, wouldn’t it have made perfect sense to actually include two – one for every figure? Imagine the fuss when two little girls battle over who gets to take the small container along…!

LEGO Friends, Heart Box Friendship Pack (41359), Overview

 

To me it just doesn’t make sense and allowing for a second such thing in a different color to be built should not have been that much of a stretch. It would only have increased the price a tiny bit and, which is my point, could have helped to roll out the new plates in larger quantities. You may think it’s not that important and I’m just obsessing, but in my head I already have a pretty clear picture how useful this new part could be as a creative corner piece and such when used in combination with other plates. For now it seems we’re limited to just buying more copies of this set and wait until this shape has made its way in other sets and sufficient quantities become available on Bricklink and elsewhere.

LEGO Friends, Heart Box Friendship Pack (41359), Overview

The large version is pieced together from existing elements based on eight units width, meaning a square plate, some half round plates and a two studs wide strip to extend the “ears” a bit. If you’re into that sort of thing, you could come up with it yourself. It’s really pretty obvious and doesn’t require any major engineering skills, experience or magic. That is, of course, up to the point where you need those damned tiles, round bricks (Macaroni) and also the straight bricks for the side walls. It would have been possible to build something like this, but not necessarily easily and in a consistent color scheme. Some parts were just not out there in larger numbers, others downright didn’t exist in a given color yet. At the very least the set solves this conundrum and makes things easy on you by providing all the pieces.

LEGO Friends, Heart Box Friendship Pack (41359), Lids Undersides

Simple and obvious as the whole thing may be, there is always major drawback to using round pieces: You simply stack them and they don’t share any interlocking with neighboring bricks. LEGO have yet to come up with some form of plate or special adapter brick to get a firm connection that takes care of these concerns. These heart sets would have provided a perfect test case for creating plates with extended tabs or adding a stud and anti-stud system to the butt ends of the Macaronis. Maybe we will see it one day. In this particular case it’s not a major issue du to the boxes only being two bricks high, but regardless it’s still within the realm of possibility that inadvertently the curved parts may break off. Your little girl could find a bunch of separate pieces in her pocket with all the contents having spilled out as well, so beware!

LEGO Friends, Heart Boxes (41354 to 41358 ), Packages

Moving on to the smaller sets, the heart boxes named after the girls are marketed as a separate line of sets. To me this feels like they are trying a bit too hard to milk the theme for maximum revenue, though. The reasons for this should become clear a bit further down, but first let’s have a look at a size comparison.

LEGO Friends, Heart Boxes (41354 to 41359), Size Comparison

As you can see, the size is pretty much halfway there between the large box from the Friendship Pack and the small one from the same set. This already reveals one potential limitation: The amount of content you can cram into such a box and indeed this is a concern. I haven’t bothered to take shots of them, but each set comes with the umpteenth iteration of the girl who lends its name to any given set. This then would already occupy half the space in the box. The remaining space would – in theory at least – be filled up with the simple pedestal/ stand made from two clear sloped brick and a white 2 x 4 plate, barely leaving any room for something else. And there you have it: The inclusion of the useless mini dolls defeats the whole idea of using those little hearts as storage or gift boxes. Therefore I think disposing of the figures in whatever is your favorite cruel and funny method would be perfectly acceptable. Just make sure your kids don’t see it…

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Heart Box (41357), Package Front LEGO Friends, Olivia's Heart Box (41357), Package Back

Make no mistake: Despite their inflated packages, these sets are basically just poly bags with a slightly larger number of parts. Arguably the cardboard carry bag or whatever you wanna call it could have been done away with, but of course it looks better on store shelves. Ultimately it’s okay, though, even if you are environmentally conscious, as multiple packs can be stacked quite efficiently in an alternating pattern. Not as much unused space only filled with air is being transported around as first impressions may suggest. In fact it looks bulkier on the photos than in real life.

LEGO Friends, Heart Boxes (41354 to 41358), Colors LEGO Friends, Heart Boxes (41354 to 41358), Stacked

There are five distinct sets of which I got only four. For the time being I passed on the Lime Green version for Mia since it did not include any other new colors for the plates and I wanted to avoid having a pile of redundant Dark Purple already found in the Emma set as well as Dark Azure tiles for the upper edge as they exist in the Olivia version. I’m reasonably certain that I will get it one of these days just for the fun of it, though. Incidentally, LEGO could have made this decision easier by offering a five pack/ bundle deal with a bit of discount from the outset.

LEGO Friends, Olivia's Heart Box (41357), Lid Topside LEGO Friends, Olivia's Heart Box (41357), Lid Underside

Again the building techniques used in the sets are as plain on your nose as you can think and you could have worked them out yourself if you had the pieces. The same limitations as on the big heart box apply – due to some elements not overlapping and merely being stacked, the risk of breakage is not to be underestimated, especially with the lid off, which stabilizes things considerably. Overall those sets won’t win any prizes for outstanding engineering, anyway. With only two rows of bricks in all of them, it’s simply impossible to get enough robustness in there, try as you might. You would have to redesign this from the ground up. Regardless of these issues, the least they could have done is make the big heart in the Friendship Pack three or four rows of bricks high to increase storage volume.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Heart Box (41354), Flowers

The one thing that makes those sets at least a bit valuable for me is of course the fact that they are an excellent source for colored parts. As I mentioned earlier in my article, many pieces are for the first time even available in these flamboyant and crazy colors and trivial as it may seem, a Bright Pink 1 x 1 quarter round tile can sometimes be exactly what you need, not to speak of the many 1 x 2, 1x 4, 1 x 6 and 2 x 4 tiles. We even get the 1 x 1 round flower tile in Light Aqua in the Andrea set! In addition, every bit of writing you see on the boxes are specially printed tiles, so that’s fine, too. It just renders those tiles slightly less useful later on in your custom builds. Still, you could always pop them onto other sets like e.g. Olivia’s Cupcake Café (41366) as signage, so it’s not all a waste.

Within the very narrow corridor of what you can expect, those sets work okay-ish, but are not worth writing home about, either. Unfortunately it really seems LEGO are always falling for the same old mistakes and screw up a simple idea that could work otherwise. A girl just wanting a nice box for her trinkets isn’t going to care much about those ugly mini dolls and as an adult you feel it’s only an excuse to inflate the price. A more straightforward approach with selling the plain buildable items for what they are might have been better.

That being the case, if at all, you should see to it to get these sets as cheap as you can, since you basically always will be buying unnecessary useless fluff along with the buildable elements while the actual assembly is so simplistic, it will leave the true LEGO aficionado unsatisfied. Strangely, those sets are caught between a rock and a hard place and won’t satisfy either side fully. The are not LEGO sets in the traditional sense, but by that same token will also struggle to attract audiences that are used to simpler ways of getting plastic containers for their toys, the latter of which also being more stable when made in a single piece straight out of the injection molding machine. Too bad…

Your Hidden Side?

LEGO are really hitting it big time this week with news, so here we go again just one day after my last rant. Yes, we’re talking about Hidden Side, an upcoming new product series with a special twist.

First the good part: From what I can make out on the rather blurry photos and the short teaser video on YouTube, the sets could be cool. I like the exaggerated, comically stylized models and with the demise of Elves, clearly there is room and a need for other lines to include crazy colored elements and get them out to the masses, the Yellowish Green claws of the Monster School being a good and easily detectable example. If done right and the models indeed hold up to certain quality standard I’m all for it.

The other part gives me a bit of an uneasy feeling. Yes, I can admit that I truly don’t care for the AR stuff to begin with for a million reasons, starting with the “rich kid problem” (as in the technical requirements to use the features necessitating a reasonably beefy, contemporary and thus expensive mobile device) to my more general dislike for a lot of this virtual nonsense not going anywhere and only costing people’s time and money, but that’s not the point here.

I’m much more concerned with the potential for exploiting this in the long run. Make no mistake – what LEGO are proposing here is ultimately some form of a mobile game and it doesn’t take much imagination to see the temptation of cashing in at every turn. From the usual micro-transactions to more LEGO-like approaches like selling minifigures and collectible cards with extra activation codes printed on this hits all the beats a bit too well for my taste. I’m not saying that they are actually going to do it, but these days I’m extremely wary to such things. Either that or the AR ends up being just a gimmick that kids get tired of quickly and then of course none of this would ever come into play.

Naturally, at this point we have very little to base an educated assessment of the situation on, so this could go either way. One can only hope for the best…

A Week of Disappointments (and some Hope)

Big corporations are an odd thing. One always tries to be understanding for the many inherent structural issues, quirks and limitations that commonly occur with such large entities, yet, depending on how involved one is with the company or their products, they can get you riled up very quickly with incomprehensible policies and bad decision-making processes. This is no different for LEGO, so here I’m sitting, shaking my head at why so many things feel so terribly wrong this week.

The whole thing started off with the Brickheadz for The LEGO Movie 2. Only announced about two weeks ago, very quickly a disastrous picture began to form with the sets already being available immediately thereafter, but only in limited quantities exclusive to Walmart and Target in the US. Even worse, those limited numbers were 5000 units for each set, so it isn’t hard to imagine that they sold out almost instantaneously. It’s literally just a few drops in the ocean even just on the North American markets alone. Forget about the many people elsewhere who didn’t even get a chance.

Now you may not care much for Brickheadz, but the point here is that LEGO keep citing bad sales as a reason for possibly cancelling the series as a whole, but then they mess up the one time a lot of people would actually have wanted the sets. It’s really unfathomable, considering it should have been an easy enough thing to roll out enough sets and have them benefit from the already existing marketing for the movie. Fail No. 1!

While we’re already on the subject of The LEGO Movie 2, that one seems to turn out as its own failure. The box office figures aren’t that great, both in the US and internationally in the markets where it already launched. Attendance from cinema audiences seems rather low and so far it hasn’t even made its production cost, which no doubt is at least 130 million USD by my estimate plus of course on top of it at least double that money for marketing etc.. It has yet to launch in several markets and I’m pretty sure this movie “has legs”, meaning it will be profitable in the long run, but I’m just as certain it is by no means the big hit LEGO would have hoped for.

A third failure (sort of) are the first images for the latest LEGO Ideas set The Flintstones (21316). You can find some of that for instance here. One isn’t supposed to judge a book by its cover and a LEGO set by its box, respectively, but to be honest, this just looks bland and disappointing. It appears the internal pre-production optimization process has made the set “kaput” and bereft it of the charme the original project had. No dinos, no other animals, no large rib/ meat piece, no additional characters as minifigures, not even a printed plaque.

I’ve always been a bit skeptic about this and considered it at best an optional buy, not being the biggest fan of those old series, but this is indeed a major letdown. Speaking of which: The same could be said about the Duel on Starkiller Base (75263). I genuinely had a “WTF?” moment when I saw the pictures. To say it looks amateurish would be doing favors. It’s just awful and of course at least three years to late. Who at LEGO (and by extension Disney) even comes up with such harebrained stuff and clears it for mass production?

In more positive news, but perhaps also in some way a bit of a panic reaction to the bad reception of the film, the next wave of The LEGO Movie 2 sets have been announced this week, too. Maybe to calm potential buyers’ nerves? In any case, I kinda love the Shimmer & Shine Sparkle Spa (70837) and Queen Watevera’s ‚So-Not-Evil‘ Space Palace (70838). It’s exactly the kind of unconventional (for LEGO) building style and creative use and repurposing of parts that attracts me.

Emmet’s Triple-Decker Couch Mech (70842) on the other hand leaves me relatively cold. It’s stuffed to the brim with Medium Blue tiles and other elements, though, so if the price comes down a bit, it might be a good source for this stuff. Similarly I’m torn with The Rexcelsior (70839). It looks cool and I so want those small dinos, but now that some more pictures are available I can’t help that the faux Nerf gun functionality comes at the cost of sparse interior detailing despite a hefty price tag. Makes me think even harder if I would consider buying it, not just because of my limited finances…

Dinner served Pink – Emma’s Art Café (41336)

A set I’ve wanted for quite a while, yet never made it to the final checkout with one of my online orders (that old budget thing and other sets always being a higher priority) is Emma’s Art Café (41336). Luckily a big supermarket chain had a promo pre-Christmas where you could collect rebate stamps with every purchase and got discounted LEGO sets in return. With the discounted prices matching the then best online pricing and the number of stamps required for eligibility being reasonably low it wasn’t much of a stretch to collect them on the weekly grocery shopping.

LEGO Friends, Emma's Art Café (41336), Box

As I said, the price clocking in at around 22 Euros is very much okay and you can get the set for something along those lines at many online outlets and might even find it in a local store not costing much more. I wouldn’t expect it to go much lower than that, though, since it contains a lot of large parts that simply tend to be more pricey. On the other hand the original 32 Euros MSRP feel like a bit of a stretch.

The point here is that I genuinely wanted the set for its parts, but ultimately if you’re not the person to build stuff with those extremely colorful pieces it is of limited use. That and some parts like the Medium Lavender bricks with the rounded edge are simply not easy to integrate in many builds, regardless of what color they are, due to the limitations they impose.

LEGO Friends, Emma's Art Café (41336), Overview

What makes the set so nice is that it actually represents at least an attempt to capture the real structure and appearance of a small pavilion/ bungalow style café constructed from light materials as you can often find them in recreational facilities and parks, most of the time of course only open during summer/ holiday season. This is not least achieved by including some useful exterior details thanks to some generous space being provided on a large 16 x 16 plate plus some smaller plates as appendages/ extensions.

LEGO Friends, Emma's Art Café (41336), Exterior Corner open

This is nicely illustrated by the small extra corner on the hinge or the cobble stone pavement being hinted at in front of the corner door. as can also be seen the set is relatively rich with vegetation, which when used right can enliven a scene considerably and set the mood (unlike with the many faux trees in Friends sets that often are just a sad excuse). Point in case: You’d feel welcome in such a nicely decorated restaurant or café.

LEGO Friends, Emma's Art Café (41336), Exterior Corner closed

The artsy aspect is mostly carried home by the arrangements with the colored windows, which gives everything a vibe of this being a kind of club where people meet to discuss art, attend exhibitions and watch performances. I never use them, but the irony here is that applying the stickers would more or less ruin that atmosphere, as they look a bit too childish to be taken as serious art. In my view it would have been sufficient to just substitute the white tiles used to represent the image canvases with something colorful and it would have worked just the same.

LEGO Friends, Emma's Art Café (41336), Exterior Wall

Of course they would have had to think of something different for the large panel then, too. Naturally it looks a bit barren with nothing on it and one might need to replace the entire wall to create something interesting without those little adhesive buggers. This applies to the inside just as well.

While at it, I would likely also do something about the color scheme. It kinda bothers me that the Dark Pink is used so extensively. It really should have been reserved for the colored window frames. Most annoyingly even the window blinds are in that color. why can’t LEGO just be nice to us and produce them in a color that would look fine on a regular building as well like Dark Red, Dark Green, Dark Blue or one of the browns. *sigh*

The interior as such is functional, but not much beyond that. It feels like a lot of space has been wasted and the details could have been more refined plus there should be more of them. This should feel a lot more busy and to me it looks like the space is there for a second table or some stools on a longer counter. You should definitely consider pimping this set and rearranging the furniture, in a manner of speaking, should you keep this set around more permanently.

LEGO Friends, Emma's Art Café (41336), Interior

For me it was once more first and foremost a simple way to get some parts in interesting colors that are hard to come by otherwise. If you need some ideas: Those Dark Pink and Light Aqua window frames would look pretty gorgeous on a building in one of the dark colors, weird as it may sound. Yes, Black and Pink go well together as not only Lucy shows in The LEGO Movie(s). And those wedge plates for the sandwich pieces in Medium Dark Flesh are just sexy. They should be super useful on buildings with visible “wood” structures and similar things. Conversely, one can never have enough large plates in Tan.

So at the right price this is quite a well of pieces – within the limitations of any Friends set, that is. That being the case, it’s also one of the better, more useful sets in this series that would be easy to expand and improve upon, most simply by buying a second set and cannibalizing the pieces. Due to the large plate it’s reasonably stable and therefore should also be easy to handle by your little ones and offer a decent play value. As a bonus, this is also one of the few sets that actually has a male mini doll included and one of your girl gang can actually have a boyfriend (though given the terrible overall boys to girls ratio in this series, not every one of them will get a guy most likely…).

The big caveat is that despite my having built it now and being aware of its positives, oddly enough I still don’t consider it a high priority item. The things it does it does very well, but it’s overall a pretty mundane model and I guess I didn’t have that “Wow!” moment when you discover an original building technique or solution you may not have thought of yourself. Or in other words: It’s perhaps a bit too simplistic to tickle your adult nerves. So if you feel like it, pick it up, but otherwise you’re not missing much and can skip it. No big revelations of any kind in this set, just solid, if a tad boring conventional LEGO.

Fiery March

This year’s City line-up so far really isn’t that great. What functionality has been added by the inclusion of Light & Sound bricks, parachutes and fake water guns has unfortunately been done so at the cost of overall parts count and complexity of the models. Naturally, as the respective LEGO magazines are tie-ins to this stuff, it even shows here.

LEGO Magazine, City, March 2019, Cover

While the last issue focused on the police side of things, this time it’s the firefighters that get their due. The minifigure is actually okay with its reasonably realistic details even for a European firefighter (except the helmet), but the buildable extra otherwise leaves a lot to be desired. It matches the “burning” Octan fuel barrels found in some of the sets with the flames being on a round disc totally separate. This is supposed to topple down if you blow at it or otherwise “extinguish” the flames by moving them out of the way. Not particularly interesting. If they had at least decked out fully on the “flames” parts for better density…

The comic is nice. I feel that the focus on longer stories spread across more pages and using larger panels makes them a lot more enjoyable, be it just for inspecting the visual details. Granted, still nothing that will go down in literary history, but enough to keep your kids busy for a while. Even the main protagonist is something you can relate to. The posters aren’t very interesting and as someone who has done this for more than twenty years I even detected some “bad CGI” with straight edges of the geometry approximation showing where they should be perfectly round.

By any measure, for a person beyond a certain age this is a very skipable issue unless you really want the minifigure to bolster your squad if you have bought one of the sets and even then I’m not sure. When I was very little we used to get more fun out of toying around with little camp fires or watching our parents and grandparents stoop the fire in the coal oven/ stove… Anyway, the next mag will have a little lawnmower tractor, which looks a lot more interesting to me, so I’m looking forward to that.

LEGO vs. Mega – An Analysis – Part 4

In the world of bricks – for better or worse – the overall impression of a model hinges a lot not just on the shape of the constituting parts, but also on their color. Hence it becomes an issue of some importance, how consistent those colors are reproduced every time and how they approximate real world surfaces. As a graphics artist of course this is a subject I could discuss for hours on end, both in how technical aspects figure in just as well as individual subjective perception under different lighting conditions, in different environments, against different colors and so on down to debating historic color models as employed by painters and scientists of a given era and how those have changed and evolved. Since this would likely be endlessly boring and there’s already tons of books and info on this subject, I will forego delving into academic debates and focus on the more practical and relevant facets.

As far as Mega Bloks/ Mega Construx is concerned, there are three distinct types of colors: The regular solid colors, their transparent tinted counterparts anda large group of what I call “textured colors”, i.e. specific shades and colors that contain mixtures of different colors or pigments to create certain effects. The latter can be further classified into three sub-sets – metallic, marbled and speckled. There is of course overlap here, as for instance many marbled colors have a metallic component and a basic color one. This makes it hard to sort them in a logical way, even more so since I have yet to find an official list of colors from Mega themselves plus the colors appear to be used and remixed on an “as needed” basis, not so much a fixed pattern. Or in other words: Where LEGO is often reluctant to produce items in a specific color, Mega seem all too willing to come up with ever new combinations or even introduce new colors without much ado.

Precious Marbles

Mega Bloks/ Mega Construx, Metallic ColorsThe marbled colors are very prevalent and predominant on many spaceship and military models as a means to either simulate camouflage patterns or ageing effects like rusty drizzles, oil specks or just generally give vehicles a futuristic or alien vibe. Created by mixing differently tinted granules of plastic and relying on the random mixing of the molten plastic as it is transported through the injection channels and molds in the machine, the one big disadvantage is of course that this is completely unpredictable and essentially each individual part has a completely unique and different pattern.

The downside to this is that you can end up with parts almost consisting entirely of only one color, parts with nicely sized swirls and stripes in relation to the part or model size, parts with too tiny mixing zones and anything inbetween in every combination thinkable. This is evident in the image. As a result different areas on your model can look as if they were built from completely different sets. Therefore it is almost always a good idea (and quite necessary) to sort through identical parts before building and group them in a way that the color usage makes reasonable sense.

Mega Bloks/ Mega Construx, Camouflage Colors

Determining and naming a given shade is equally difficult under those conditions. As can be seen, depending on the actual percentage of a given color component contained in a part, the colors will seemingly be a mix of many hues and to make things even more complicated, in particular the metallic tones will of course also shift around under different lighting conditions. A prime example for this is the Pale Gold/ Brass color which can sometimes look just plain golden, but most of the time looks like a rather pale yellow with a green-ish touch and a metallic effect. Naturally, when combined with browns it can also look like copper or that orange-y metal flake paint you find on custom cars/ muscle cars and that was made famous by some Ford Mustang models.

Plain Metal

Mega Bloks/ Mega Construx, Metallic Colors

Other metal colors are a bit more forgiving with the blue-ish grey one so far being my favorite. Several of the colors also appear a bit redundant in that they are barely distinguishable from their counterparts when they are used on some specific parts. For instance the plain gun-metal grey and the marbled metallic grey/ black in the image can barely be told apart just like the metallic nature of the black element is hard to recognize. This is of course only because they are 2×1 plates with only small parts of the texture visible. On larger elements this would be a different story. Still, it can be confusing and is often unnecessary.

Mega Bloks/ Mega Construx, Metallic Colors

Freckle Speckle

The speckled colors are a bit more straightforward since there aren’t as many possible combinations based on the requirements of the technical process. That includes the need for a certain amount of contrast between the colors, a minimum size for the grains to even show up and an even distribution in the containing medium/ surrounding plastic – not too few, not too many, no clumps, no empty areas. All examples I have seen feature a relatively bright base color with dark specks, though in theory it would be possible to also sprinkle very bright and opaque colors into slightly translucent dark colors. Of course Mega already make their lives complicated by combining marbled textures with speckled ones, so there’s that thing with theoretically endless combinations again.

Military Commander

Mega Bloks/ Mega Construx, Camouflage Colors

Somewhere in all the regular colors, the textured colors and the metallic ones there is a group of “military colors” that represents a cross-section of all the aforementioned categories and contains examples of each and every specialty. It warrants a separate mention as of course Mega does a sizeable chunk of business with selling figure sets, a majority of which represents soldiers/ troopers from the games they were licensed from. As you can see in the image, to that end there is a lot more variation than just a single olive color or just one dark grey, though my poor photo probably isn’t as telling as holding one of the figures in your hands. Even then the differences are often so subtle you can barely tell which is which.

Not so transparent Transparencies

Transparent pieces have become a prominent part of most brick-based systems these days, not just for windows and windshields. Whether this always makes sense is another question, as I often think that opaque versions of those tiny bits would look better – if only they were available in more colors. If you get my drift: A transparent yellow 1 x 1 tile doesn’t really look like a car headlight when set against a dark grey plate and a faint purple doesn’t look like a disco light against white, either. Rather you would need something like in traditional painting – a base color brightened up with white, light blues and yellows (depending on the actual tone), possibly as semi-transparent items or you print a “light halo” on whenever you need it.

Mega Bloks/ Mega Construx, Transparent Colors

Now if you are a bit cynical like I am you could argue that Mega Construx are halfway there. Unfortunately their transparent pieces are all too often not so transparent at all and have a slightly milky, foggy appearance. For some elements that is inevitable like the marbled transparent blue/ opaque white parts – some undesirable mixing is bound to occur along with the intended marbling. For others it seems like an unwanted side-effect. The actual cause is ominous, but there are a few things I can think of:

  • Residue – The separator agent used to prevent the plastic from sticking to the mold could react with the plastic even after years. Similarly, it could cause dust particles etc. to stick to the surface when it hasn’t been removed fully.
  • Imperfect mold surfaces -The molds could require additional smoothing to remove microscopic irregularities. Those may not show up on regular pieces, but only on transparencies due to refractive and reflective effects.
  • Not ideal temperature control -The materials could be injected too hot, leading to partial decomposition of some ingredients or they could be cooling too fast, causing internal microfractures.
  • Contaminated raw materials – Though quality control should prevent this, it’s possible that on rare occasions unwanted substances are brought in with the raw plastic already. They may either pollute the material directly or react in ways similar to what was described in the previous points.
  • Initial choice of material – There is not one single type of plastic that can be used for all purposes even when it’s “just” for a brick-based toy. In effect this means that the manufacturers always use different materials to begin with and naturally are always looking for ways to reduce cost. They may decide on less suitable materials to save a few pennies, in turn taking chances with quality. if you need proof on this, check out some discussions on LEGO‘s recent changes for transparent pieces and the issues surrounding them.

Not all is lost here, though, as sometimes a bit of slight fogging is useful, regardless. A good example for this are the neon transparent colors, which as per the first paragraph in this section benefit from being a bit more opaque and appear even more glowing. For most other colors it will depend in which context they are used and how important the see-through effect is. Despite my niggles you will find it perfectly acceptable most of the time, being that Mega somehow still get it right for large parts like vehicle cockpit canopies and only smaller parts are affected by some of those issues.

Off-register Normality

Of course the special is nothing without the mundane and in this case this means the regular solid colors. Due to the massive reliance on the metallic and marbled colors the basic colors are actually sometimes pretty rare in many of the collectible Halo, Destiny, Call of Duty and so on sets, but are used to good effect in sets like the Pokémon series or movie-based set for the Despicable Me / Minions franchise. Due to the near impossibility to obtain a broader selection of sets at reasonable prices my view on this is of course limited, but let me try to explain my observations, regardless.

Mega Bloks/ Mega Construx, Colors

The first thing you will notice with many Mega colors is this “almost, but not quite” feeling with regards how they match up with original LEGO colors. They are always just a tad too light, too blue, too yellow etc. when compared directly. A good example here is the Sand Blue 1 x 4 plate in the above image which next to the LEGO 2 x 1 brick seems to get more bluish the longer you look at it. In contrast to that you don’t need to keep your eyes glued to the picture for long to see how dull the Orange looks.

In the photo below it’s easy to see that the Light Rose/ Light Pink color is warmer for Mega, meaning it contains more yellow, making it shift towards a more orange-y shade. Conversely, the Azure color, while a close enough match to LEGO‘s Dark Azure, has a tinge towards the lighter Medium Azure from the same company.

Mega Bloks/ Mega Construx, Colors

Other colors are even more tricky like the Dark Red. Mega Construx‘ version is much more red. It’s difficult to gauge this just based on a picture with two isolated elements next to each other, but the tonal disparity will eventually become quite apparent when you use those elements in bigger numbers to cover larger regions. This, BTW, applies to all colors discussed here.

Mega Bloks/ Mega Construx, Colors

While we’re already in the brown tones, the actual browns are a thing of their own. When building with LEGO I often find that the available choices are a bit limited in that they do not necessarily look natural when used on plants, trees and wood elements. The Reddish Brown feels too red, the Dark Brown is so scarcely used it’s almost sunk into obscurity (and parts in that color therefore being rare and expensive) and on the other end of the spectrum similar issues can be observed with the Medium Dark Flesh, Dark Orange and Dark Tan color. Mega‘s browns, at least to me, are a bit more satisfying in that regard. I especially like the Latte Brown, which exactly captures this feeling that I would want.

Something you perhaps already have noticed in a good chunk of images throughout the article is the lack of opacity in many of the Mega colors. If you haven’t, please have a look again and you should recognize how light seeps in from all directions and makes the edges look lighter. This kind of translucency is usually not an issue, but still undesirable. Point in case: It makes the perception of the actual color even more dependent on factors like which background colored elements are placed against, how thick walls are and how great in turn their ability is to block light and, worst of all, regardless of how well you build your models, you will always have elements that look oddly semi-transparent because light creeps into the smallest gaps and scatters inside the parts.

This is something the company need to address eventually. I’m totally aware, though, that this will be a tricky thing as changing the mixture of the materials is a complex problem that has a multitude of potential repercussions. Newer models with tweaked settings could give a completely different perception, colors may require to be dialled back or dulled down to compensate and even the production process would be affected as more pigment could mean the plastic becomes more brittle and more difficult to process. It’s a touchy matter.

Printed Parts

Before we leave, a few short words on printed elements and the quality of the prints. In contrast to LEGO who still insist on making use of a lot of stickers, by now most alternate manufacturers have moved on and realized that users do not necessarily want to put up with this potentially frustrating process and crooked results and therefore use prints whenever technically possible and feasible in terms of cost it may incur. For Mega this more or less should be an easy proposition, given that due to their massive focus on their figure lines and the accessories that come with them, many of which are printed and custom painted extensively, they should have the technical capabilities and experience in producing reasonably printed bricks as well.

That’s a bold assumption, of course, and the reality of it is naturally a bit different. I can alleviate any fears of something being fundamentally terribly wrong, but there are a few minor issues that I can’t ignore, either. The most glaring of those is the roughness of many paint jobs. From the paint being too thick to actual pigment size to micro bubbles to unwanted reactions of the solvents with the plastic surface this could have a million causes, but clearly I think it could be improved. It’s not every set and apparently the latest 2018/ 2019 releases (of which so far I haven’t been able to procure one) seem to already have ramped up quality, but it could be a concern, if only a small one.

A bigger problem for me are the all too often way too toned down/ dull colors. This issue first and foremost affects military models and everything else that has a (pseudo-) camouflage, including space craft made from marbled bricks, but it needs to be pointed out. Let me be clear on that – as someone who has been interested in military aviation all his life I totally “get” the meaning of low-vis(ibility) markings and the like, but as you can read in pretty much every scale modeling magazine, you need to account for the “scale effect” when translating a real vehicle into a model. this means that you need to either brighten or darken colors, shift their hues ever so slightly or play with the level of glossiness to get a perception that closely matches the original. I feel that this doesn’t always happen here and printed bits get swallowed by their surroundings.

Last, and I promise that will be my last complaint for now, are the dysfunctional glow-in-the-dark colors. The graphics designers that do the marketing photos hopelessly exaggerate this aspect. Understandably there are limitations to these types of colors in the first place, but it seems the flavor chosen by Mega simply doesn’t deliver at all. Therefore I would prefer that they just settled on bright standard colors for those situations.

Final Thoughts

At first Mega Construx colors take quite a bit of getting used to, especially if you dive in head first and buy one of those sets that uses metallic or marbled colors as your first one. However, they quickly kind of grow on you and you find yourself thinking more and more how perfectly they make sense. Some models wouldn’t look nearly as interesting in more plain colors, which I suppose is in itself a statement: Some of those colors can enliven a model considerably by tricking your eyes into perceiving more details without actually having to use more parts. That is of course in conjunction with strategically placed gaps and edges and the shape of the elements themselves.

The regular solid colors are a bit of a letdown on the other hand. The lack of opacity on some of them diminishes their vibrancy and as a result those models do not always look as good as they possibly could to the point of avoiding certain lighting situations because the light seeping in will only make the problems even more visible. Let me reiterate, though, that this assessment is based on the limited number of slightly older sets I actually was able to obtain and that this could already have been improved on the latest releases. In fact I’m pretty sure things will improve from here on as after the troublesome last two years (with Mega being absorbed into Mattel) things seem to be back on track and we could see more sets being turned out in better quality again.