As I wrote in my first review on the subject, I was quite taken in by the water animal rescue theme of this year’s LEGO Friends novelties even before I actually owned any of the sets and that I wanted to basically get all of them. So here we go with the second outing thanks to the Dolphins Rescue Mission (41378).
I got the set pretty much right away when it became available, but of course only because the price immediately plummeted from its official 40 Euro suggested retail price to 30 Euro. It has been hovering around that mark pretty stable ever since, give or take the occasional additional promo where you can get it for around 25 Euro. Let me be clear: It’s a good thing that the market regulates itself in this case. I really like the set, but 40 Euro is definitely not a price I would have bought it for. It’s a 360 pieces set with no specific exotic pieces and even the few larger ones can’t justify the inflated price. LEGO are completely out of touch with reality by dreaming up those numbers, which is kinda sad. It makes it so much harder to recommend these sets and is detrimental to sales as it puts people off.
Why am I saying this again and sound like a broken record? While it’s one of the better Friends sets and you get a decent return value, the overall volume of stuff just isn’t there. In the end the two main builds, the submarine and the ship wreck, are still small-ish with the additional side builds also not contributing anything noteworthy in terms of the sheer bulk of the set.
Similar things can be said about the treasure map chest or more specifically what amounts to a crate with a bottle and a super secret treasure map inside. Again this doesn’t really contribute much to making the set more bulky and as a matter of fact the small isolated island could have been integrated into the ship wreck section easily and with a bit more fancy and finesse. It’s okay, but really leaves me with a “So what?” feeling.
The supposed treasure map itself looks more or less just like a collection of random camouflage splotches. It’s based on the same principle and employs the same trickery as the “painting” in Emma’s Art Studio (41365), i.e. a piece of cloth printed with a special varnish that repels water and in turn the areas having a different darkness/ saturation when moisturized. Overall a bit uninspired, even more so since it would have been a good idea to include a complementary printed map on a folded A3 sheet or something like that to tie into the play fantasy.
The submarine is a nice build and oozes a sense of realism. Many research and utility submersibles e.g. in the off-shore oil industry fit the construction pattern with a big single-piece bubble canopy, a main pressure cell and most technical gadgets being mounted externally. even the compact proportions feel about right.
There are of course a few things that don’t make sense, either. The odd snorkel/ periscope piece is exactly where on most real world examples the main access hatch would be and isn’t really of much use. Most of these subs would operate tethered to cables and/ or at least very close to their mother ships plus unlike on military u-boats there is simply no need for surface reconnaissance while the craft stays under water. While this part is therefore more or less superfluous, you could argue that another critical item is missing. Assuming the vehicle ever actually goes deep enough to crash on the sea floor, naturally it should have skids and not sit on the ballast tanks. Yes, I’m obsessing over minutia, but I’m just saying… 😉
The color choices feel a bit arbitrary, too. As I wrote in my review of the Underwater Robot (31090), a clear plexi glass canopy would probably look better and incidentally also make quite a bit more sense. You know, in an underwater environment where already everything is blue your wouldn’t use additional tinted glass in that same color to make things even darker. If I were to rebuild the model I’d also use the rounded corner train style panels for the windows instead of the plain transparent ones. Perhaps I’d also add a cupola for the hatch area.
The Coral bits feel out of place and in actuality my impression is that they were forced in just for the sake of it as an afterthought or color swap the last minute before the set was released and the components were actually available when the prototype may have been designed with other colors. They just don’t serve a specific purpose in the context of how this would work in practice other than as recognition marks for aerial rescue should the boat go adrift on the surface. Most of the time those areas would be just plain walkways and railings in boring colors, though.
The good part about the sub in addition to it being built to figure scale are some actually usable play features, that being primarily the openable canopy and loading bay. You could position one of the girls behind the steering column while the other goes back and forth from the open aft zone, e.g. retrieving items from the bottom of the sea and stowing them for later analysis. the other scenario is of course a diver egressing from the cargo bay and rescuing dolphins, hence the syringe and the feeding bottle. In addition you can of course also pose the robotic arms and swivel the propellers around, though this will get boring rather quickly.
I have a bit of a peeve with the ship wreck. It’s extremely lovely done, but man, is it small! It kinda ruins the whole illusion and in a way reminds me of painted box art for plastic model kits – you have the hero item (an airplane, a ship, a car etc.) large in the foreground and some decorative stuff in the background. This is pretty much what this is. If you arrange it suitably, the optical illusion kinda works, but otherwise just falls apart. Sadly, this becomes a real limiting factor for playing as well.
To begin with, applying realistic measurements the ship wouldn’t even qualify for a tourist excursion ship on a small river. You can literally fit two or tree people onto it and that’s about it. Similarly you can ever only explore it by bringing in the girls on their own or with the mini scooter. As soon as you bring the u-boat anywhere near it the fake scale crumbles and it just looks silly. You know, no such thing as beaming the spotlights onto the hull or moving things with the robot arms.
Now here’s the thing: I fully understand that they couldn’t build it to scale and make it as large as for instance the Destiny’s Bounty (70618) from The LEGO Ninjago Movie. That inevitably would have meant to inflate a 40 Euro set to another 150 Euro set for no good reason just to get a large ship. Not only would that be unnecessary, but also make it harder to afford the set. However, I still think it wouldn’t have taken too much effort and also not increased the cost too much by adding more pieces if the wreck was at least twice as large. It wouldn’t need to be hyper-detailed, just line up better scale-wise. It’s one of those “I need to buy a second set.” things that I might try one day.
A larger scale/ size would have helped with the integration of the dolphins as well. It’s just hard to imagine that they could get trapped when the “mother” is already half as big as the ship. To that end you can tilt down the main mast as if she was caught under it, but seriously – she’d just push it out of the way on the real thing. The pole would need to be really tall and thick to represent any danger whatsoever. That then in turn would again require a different representation for the sails. An endless causal chain! For the time being I would have settled on different colors for the “torn rags” at least. Always having the same Dark Pink and Magenta flag elements in Friends sets is getting a bit long in the tooth. For once, plain Tan or Dark Tan would have worked perfectly here.
My criticisms notwithstanding, this is still a pretty fine set, all things considered, even more so in the Friends universe with its many downright awful offerings. It captures the mood of an underwater exploration, the submarine is fully usable and when placed strategically far enough apart could even look good on the shelf. Regardless, though, if I was totally serious about the matter my contingency plan would be to get at least two or three of these sets and also heavily dig into my parts stock to build a larger ship wreck. I really only consider the small version an inspiration or template for how to do things, with an urge to one day genuinely do it kicking in even as I just look at the pictures…