Do you know that feeling when you want a pretty ordinary LEGO set, but for reasons beyond your control it’s more difficult than chasing down a rare old set? In times of seemingly permanent supply issues I’ve had this a couple of times this year, but the Crocodile (31121) from the Creator 3in1 series has proven to be a particular point of frustration. Let’s find out why.
Contents and Pricing
As indicated, this set is by no means anything special, but has been extremely elusive, at least here in Germany. I was released in March/ April, yet can barely be found in some online shops let alone stationary retail. Even in the official LEGO store in my area it has been sold out whenever I was there, rare enough as this may happen. Simply put, this set was unobtainable by regular means and despite biding my time and being patient, things never gelled in a way I would have hoped.
With no improvement in sight, I finally swallowed the bitter pill and purchased a box via Amazon Marketplace from a small outlet. Due to the scarcity and sellers exploiting the situation I even had to pay slightly more than the suggested retail price of 30 Euro. That also prevented me from buying two or more sets as I would occasionally do when a set contains interesting parts (more on that later) and in order to facilitate those reviews by building all possible models at once.
All that said, I feel that this is one of those few situations where the original isn’t that terrible, it’s just a bit of an inconvenience for the purpose of this article and my own limited finances. However, the caveat here is that this only applies if you really build the primary model for the crocodile/ alligator where pretty much all of the 454 pieces are used. The price/ value ratio drastically diminishes for the secondary frog and snake models and for those I would definitely prefer if the price came in around the 20 Euro mark. that may still happen if and when the set proliferates more widely and can more easily be purchased, but so far you have to count yourself luck if you can get it for 25 Euro.
The main model is the crocodile/ alligator and right out of the gate I thought it looked pretty amazing when I saw the first photos at the beginning of the year. It immediately awakened a strong desire to go out and just buy this set. You know the rest of the story and how we got here…
In addition to the croc there are two small side builds, some very piranha-like looking fishbones and an unspecified little bird which no doubt is more supposed to represent one of those species that rid other animals of parasites rather than being prey.
The crocodile is quite large and comes in at around 35 cm length, which helps that sense of getting some bang for your buck. What also won me over is the sufficiently huge head, a feature that is often not rendered well on other models. The model is not based on a specific species but rather an amalgamation of common features found on these creatures, but for the most pat it seems to be based on the typical North American alligators with their stubby nose and broad jaws.
As you can see, the model is built from multiple segments that are connected using the small ball joints in their extended version with the 2 x 2 plate as well as the regular shorter versions. For the larger sections two of them are stacked to provide greater stiffness and friction. The joints are in part built into small one stud deep recesses, which ensures that the gaps are as small as possible, but of course there are limitations. That’s why you can still see the interior construction on some of the segments, and in the usual LEGO manner those regrettably use some bright colors, which along with the joint pieces not having been colored green ruins the illusion at times. It’s not really terrible, it’s just that it could have been even better.
The body is built from a ton of Dark Green slopes, a bunch of plates and olive bricks, a whole lot of Olive Green 1 x 1 x 2/3rds “cheese” slopes and a few other element types, but overall there is not that much variety. It’s efficient, but not particularly fancy or elaborate. Kids should have no problem building this. For adults the lack of some clever sideways building to better approximate the shape might be an issue and the mere stacking of elements may also be a bit boring. All manageable and the result is rewarding, though, so you just have to approach it with a level of patience.
By comparison, the legs feel flimsy and their appearance suffers even more from the joints not having been tinted suitably. I think this is yet another case where I would have preferred rigid, non-poseable legs built from plates and bricks, but at least in appropriate colors. My thinking here is that those round plates introduced last year would look amazing in Olive Green. This may even be very fitting, as most crocodiles have very curvy legs, anyway. On the subject of color I also think that it might have been interesting if the set contained some pieces in Dark Tan or even one of the grey colors. This could have made the beast look older and like it has already lived a long life with the occasional scuffles and fights.
As mentioned, the head is quite big and this also allows to represent the inside with long rows of teeth and the visible gums/ palate. Similar to the above point, it might have been interesting to have some yellowed old teeth or even some brown-ish ones. With the belly being Tan already this would have necessitated some other color, though, or else there would barely be any contrast.
The undersides are made up of a whole slew of inverted brackets with sloped sides, both in 6 and 4 studs wide. For me this is another reason that potentially speaks against buying multiple packages of this set. LEGO uses these elements all the time to simplify builds, but their usefulness for MOCs and other stuff is certainly limited. If you were to buy a second or third box you could find yourself with boxes full of these pieces that you never will use again.
Second in line is the snake model. Again it’s hard to make out a specific species, but the widened neck suggests it is supposed to represent some small cobra.
The mouse is an inevitable extra in this context. It’s super cute and adorable plus the way it’s assembled provides a good template for building your own mice en mass for a scene.
The snake’s head feels kind of wonky and just looks odd. To me this is a good example where LEGO being miserly about perhaps a wedge or a few curved slopes really shows. Point in case: there definitely are better ways to get the correct shaping, but in order to do so they would have had to include extra pieces not used on the crocodile.
The segments are assembled in a similar fashion to the main model, but as you might already have guessed this also limits the ways in which this can be posed and arranged. Especially where two of the joints are used side by side or on top of each other you restrict motion on one axis and it behaves like a simple door hinge. This prevents some fancier placement such as draping the snake over a branch or indeed having it coil up for a “snake dance”
With the snake’s body being much more slender and having less bulk you are left with quite a number of leftover pieces. I haven’t done an exact count, but it’s no doubt close to almost fifty percent of the parts going unused. This hearkens back to my point about buying multiple sets and ending up with a lot of redundant parts.
The third model is a frog, though on some level it could also be a toad. I prefer to see it as a slightly chubby frog. 🙂 it even comes with its own little fly!
The apparent limitation is of course that with the other two models mostly relying on straight slopes and wedges there are not enough curved elements to capture the rounded shapes of the amphibian. It looks, for all intents and purposes, rather blocky.
The “tail” might look odd, but could be explained away as some frog species carry their tadpole tails for very long until it falls of and the remnants shrink away. That said, it would still have been preferable if the creature actually hat a real derriere instead of this chopped off end with a protrusion.
The real reason that the tail even exists is the play feature of being able to push out the tongue. This isn’t anything fancy and merely a simple slide mechanic, so it isn’t ultimately that exciting. It would have been cool if they had some spring-loaded mechanism or something with levers where the tongue would pop out by pushing down the frog. Either way, this feels rather unspectacular and like a missed opportunity.
As you would have imagined, this build uses even less pieces, so the pile of extra bits you have floating around unused is even larger.
Parts – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
If you put the images of the pieces not used in the secondary models side by side, you begin to realize one of the biggest issues with this set: Aside from the crocodile, the parts usage is rather inefficient. This is even worse as just by looking at the piles you can’t help but feel that there is a certain overlap and that if only LEGO had included a handful of more parts you might have been able to build the snake and frog at the same time. This also includes the color choices, in particular for the 2 x 3 and 2 x 4 plates. If they all had been done in Tan or Dark Green, respectively, we’d already be closer to this.
As for the parts themselves there are a handful of exclusive items like the 1 x 2 x 2 brick with studs on three sides in Bright Pink or the pin hinge plate in Dark Green. Several other elements also were new for this set in a given color, but ever since have also appeared on other models. This includes even one of my much disliked inverted brackets in Tan, the 1 x 3 slope in Olive Green and surprisingly enough also the 2 x 2 jumper plate in Dark Green. I’m always surprised how long it took for some of those pieces to come out in these colors, given how long many of them have been around.
The rest falls into the “ordinary, but useful” category with the positive thing being that the colors aren’t that wacky and the elements can be used rather universally. Most notably you get a ton of Tan and Dark Green plates and slopes, some Red, some Blue and I have never seen so many Olive Green 1 x 1 slopes in a set so far, either.
As much as I was crazy for it when this set was first announced, as much my enthusiasm has cooled off over time. The problems in even procuring this set were a major pain in the rear and building it was less fun than I had hoped. For the crocodile this is made up by it looking gorgeous, but the alternate models really are weak by comparison. Combined with the parts usage issues explained in the previous paragraph I’m kind of leaning toward a “This is only two-thirds good” rating.
The crocodile/ alligator is great, the snake and the frog sort of *meh*. At the end of the day this more or less feels like they should have made the croc even bigger and more detailed and just sold it as a collectible 18+ set. This might have made more sense commercially even, as the likelihood of someone buying a second or third set just for the snake and frog is not that high. At least I would at best only recommend buying two in light of the limitations. There just isn’t enough here to warrant more. It might even have been simple enough to complete the frog with a few extra parts from my own stock without disassembling the snake, give or take a few specific items. I was just to lazy to dig through my boxes and drawers.
So to bring this to a close: Definitely get this set once if you even remotely like large animal builds like the crocodile, but at the same time weigh your options if you really want the snake or frog or both.