April what…?!

As indicated last time, we’re getting yet another LEGO Hidden Side magazine issue with Jack all too prominently featured on the cover and while I would be glad that him receding into the background might hint at something better, that is far from the truth. Yupp, I thought my eyes were cheating on me, but the El Fuego skeleton is already visible in the exact same pose in the preview for the next edition in May.

Talk about over-re-using stock art! That’s like when you find the same stock photo being used in totally unrelated adverts for different products. This couldn’t be *facepalm*-ier and is a poor testament to the designers, given how much new artwork has actually been created for the series.

LEGO Magazine, Hidden Side, April 2020, Cover

The minifigure of the bicycle gang member for me is a win, because I still haven’t bought the El Fuego’s Stunt Truck (70421) set where it was originally featured. the prints are nice and if you manage to buy a couple of those figs, vary their heads and other details and have some ideas for bikes an Easy Rider like formation is not impossible.

The magazine itself is oddly overblown and yet incoherent, trying to cram in a million story beats into the comic. This is just plain confusing and to me does only confirm how directionless Hidden Side is overall. It’s just jumping from subject to subject to crank out sets and that will be its undoing. The puzzles are only mildly challenging and the posters are as awful as the cover. Aside from the figure there’s not much of interest here, unfortunately.

Portal to Nowhere – Hidden Side Portal (70427)

I have been a bit too distracted with other things, so I haven’t been able to keep my regular posting schedule. Therefore this little review of the LEGO Hidden Side Portal (70427) set arrives a bit later than usual and breaks the “at least one post every ten days” cycle I’m trying to maintain, but maybe things will get a bit better again.

LEGO Hidden Side, Portal (70427), Box

As you know I’m actually a fan of the Hidden Side series, but immediately was skeptical and somewhat disappointed when these sets of the first wave for 2020 were announced. that view hasn’t changed much now that I actually have some of them. So lets delve into the details and see what wen’t wrong.

LEGO Hidden Side, Portal (70427), Overview

The contents of the package are okay for the 12.59 Euro I got this set during a sale, but I doubt I would have picked it up for the full 20 Euro MSRP. Overall it feels very light and just by looking at it you feel that there neither will be much to enjoy while building nor much play value after that. that is mostly owed to the fact that despite four minifigures being in the pack and some extra spiders and a bad are thrown in for good measure, none of it really feels integrated in the sense that there is no recognizable underlying scenario.

LEGO Hidden Side, Portal (70427), Figures

The figures feel a bit out of place, to be honest, because the intense colors of the ghosts don’t go well with the overall black and blue “scary moonlight” theme otherwise found in the set. At least that’s what I’m assuming the Medium Azure and Black pieces along with the “other side” blue-ish Jack figure are supposed to represent. Of course I’m referring to the ghosts.

Now the thing is that I fully understand that that’s they way they are rendered/ colored when you use the actual Hidden Side AR app and are chasing the “Gloom”. However, this is a good example of where something that might be acceptable and even necessary inside the virtual world doesn’t translate that well to the real world. That’s even more so the case once you consider that these ghost figures would be kind of redundant next to their virtual counterparts.

LEGO Hidden Side, Portal (70427), Front View

The main build is the portal itself, representing a (almost dead) tree with some sort of crypt or entry gate beneath. The construction is overall okay, but kept to a minimum. For the tree itself it’s mostly dictated by the two rock panels used for the base with only a limited number of extra parts on top whose primary purpose is to hold the arched elements used for the branches and the leaves pieces. Somewhere in there are also a black skeleton torso and the Bright Light Green parts for the face as well as a small tiltable platform to “dump” the spiders and bat on whoever dares to enter the passage.

LEGO Hidden Side, Portal (70427), Front Left View

On each side there are the “claws” of the possessed tree/ monster. On the left side there’s a pretty standard street lamp and on the right one the inevitable dial where you select the color of the “Gloom” while using the app. Unlike in some other sets, the monster mode is not a transforming feature. The sides are attached rigidly with static angled plates and not with hinges and the face is right there from the start. It can’t be covered up or tilted inwards to hide it. In my opinion that lessens the overall appearance and also minimizes the play options. Being able to swivel the claws towards the center as if they were blocking the entry and preventing anyone from getting in (or out again) would certainly not have been difficult to do.

LEGO Hidden Side, Portal (70427), Front Right View

The biggest disappointment for me is the back side in that it is just more of the same and the “portal” moniker isn’t in any way carried through. While I’m not one to expect anything miraculous, at the very least they could have changed up the coloring a bit. Ideally, of course, this would feature some sort of vortex like this one used in the Elves sets, corny and overused as this trope might be, and then some…

Ultimately, I guess this reveals the elementary issue with this set: It’s way too small and limited to really make something of this portal idea and connect two different worlds. It would have needed two stylistically different sides and in addition it would have had to be larger to cleverly disguise the back when viewed straight on from the front and vice versa. This also would have required to add more depth and volume, which is one of those other things.

It’s getting a bit annoying that many of the Hidden Side models are just shallow facades arranged in a triptych, as apparently that’s one of the requirements and/ or limitations of the tie-in app, so it can keep everything aligned when rendering the virtual content on top of the real world camera.

LEGO Hidden Side, Portal (70427), Back View

On the whole this isn’t really a good set. It’s pretty dull and boring and if it wasn’t for the leaves elements in Medium Azure being a new thing, I would likely have foregone buying it entirely. It just doesn’t offer anything that would stand out and for me personally even the parts are of limited value.

A little more attention to detail and a larger build could have easily fixed this easily. After all, the mere name of “Portal” implies that this could and should be important in the overall Hidden Side story, and that should be reflected in the model. There’s no rational reason for it to even be this small. If it were better, I wouldn’t have minded this being a 30 or 40 Euro set to begin with…

January Jack (again)

Guess what? It’s January and Jack is back! Not that that’s a good thing and yes, before you ask, he’s also going to feature on the cover of the next issue according to the preview page. I’m really stumped by the unimaginativeness of the LEGO Hidden Side magazine designers in that regard.

LEGO Magazine, Hidden Side, January 2020, Cover

The minifigure this time features El Fuego, which is sort of a good thing for me because it’s not redundant. I never could get myself to buy the Stunt Truck set (70421), at least not yet, so this is an easy way of getting the dude. Especially the helmet with the bullseye markings is a fun little addition that could be useful even if it’s only put up somewhere as decoration e.g. in a garage scene.

What I don’t get with these LEGO magazines are the CG-based posters. I mean this issue has several comic panels almost covering a full page and any of them would have made for a gorgeous poster. This seems such a waste, even more so since it’s apparent that some artists have been working hard for the past years creating all the graphics for Hidden Side. In my opinion this would have much more value instead of LEGO trying to force force the AR gimmick down everyone’s throat and thus every set and magazine being demoted to being just a tie-in to some ill-conceived bigger plan.

The activities section is adequate for the targeted slightly older kids and will keep them occupied for ten minutes, but on the whole the magazine feels terribly lightweight. I’ll keep on it for a few more issues, but if it doesn’t improve notably I think I’ll ditch it in the long run.

Looking back in…?

…Frustration? Anger? Bliss? All of them? End-of-Year summaries are a difficult thing and where LEGO is concerned, I sure have a bag of mixed feelings. So how was this year? Good? Bad? Terrible? Awesome? The answer is likely: “All of the above.”, so let me explain.

Personally I’m not that unhappy within the restrictions that I have to work within, anyway, meaning smaller, not too expensive sets. There indeed have been a number of good sets like my favorite Deep Sea Creatures (31088), a couple of excellent LEGO Friends sets that for once forewent the kitsch in favor of more palatable realism, a few surprising Star Wars models and even some of the The LEGO Movie 2 stuff was quite good. I also got a bit into Harry Potter and the new Hidden Side series also was surprisingly good.

On the other hand there has been a lot of frustratingly bad stuff in the same series I mentioned just as well. On top of that LEGO keep screwing around with Ideas by “improving” the sets in the opposite direction and over-optimizing them and this year has ruined Technic for me for good. Aside from the big and expensive showy models there is not much left there that would pique my interest. The smaller models are often just an embarrassment with their flimsy engineering. If that wasn’t enough, there’s that thing with a still barely functioning Control+/ PoweredUp system that gets stuffed into boxes with no rhyme or reason and makes models unnecessarily expensive for very limited return value.

On that note and on a more generic level I feel that the rift between relatively costly sets and the lower end is also growing. There’s definitely a dichotomy between pretty well-executed, large but expensive sets and many relatively lackluster packages in other price ranges. In addition it seems that LEGO are just trying too hard too see what they can get away with. There’s no way around it: Many sets feel unjustly overpriced and if it wasn’t for the magic powers of a free market regulating itself, i.e. discounts being available, this would be one heck of an expensive hobby/ special interest.

Unfortunately it doesn’t seem LEGO haven’t learned that lesson yet and as the first previews for 2020 indicate, we’re in for another round of sets where you wonder how they even arrived at some of the rather ridiculous prices. That in itself could be considered a statement and what bugs me about the whole matter that they just don’t seem to care. In fact a lot of this customer squeezing has a somewhat desperate undertone and one can’t help but feel that things aren’t as rosy as the company will have you believe. Now it’s of course pure speculation, but there are some signs that things didn’t go their way this year.

First, of course The LEGO Movie 2 was an epic fail. In Hollywood movie terms it was a bomb and didn’t break even, which in turn of course affected sales of the sets associated with the film. A second wave was only rolled out reluctantly in August and just before Christmas all the remaining sets were shoved out in a sale with crazy discounts. That and just at the same time Warner Bros. not extending their deal and the development shifting over to Universal. Cynically one could say that a tainted property was dumped at a different outlet in the hopes of producing tons of cheap movies.

Another big bummer also right in time for the end of the year is of course the acquisition of Bricklink. This also fits the pattern of a company perhaps not doing so great trying to control the market. No matter what, it’s just bad for the AFOL community at large and repercussions are already felt only a few weeks after the announcements with major changes to sales policies affecting what can be found on there.

All things considered this may not have been an outright terrible year, but some of what has happened just feels unsavory and a few things have been set in motion that just don’t feel right. So far it also doesn’t seem that we will be off to a good start in 2020 and that is just as much reason for concern. There will still be plenty to buy and to cover on this very blog and I’m more than certain that just like this year we will get some more announcements every now and then, but overall excitement on my end is limited for the time being…

January Wood Chopping

My already somewhat low activity in recent weeks had been further impaired by having caught a pretty nasty cold and pulmonary infection, so I’m pretty late with this month’s updates on the latest magazines.

Funny enough Blue Ocean, who publish these mags in our region also contributed to the mess by delaying the LEGO City magazine by one week. They kept printing December 10th as the announcement date in every of their mags, yet it only arrived this Tuesday the 17th. One can only speculate what went wrong. A botched print run? Those little bags not delivered in time from the LEGO factory? Who knows! I’d sure be interested to find out one of these days.

LEGO Magazine, City, January 2020, Cover

The LEGO City issue focuses on wood chopping which at this point of course could be interpreted as a sign of things to come once people start slicing up their Christmas tree after the festive season. The parts coming with the magazine are very much standard fare and similar to what came with the mini version of the forest tractor last year with some minor variations on the theme in terms of colors used and the prints on the figure. The feet are in Sand Blue, BTW, they were just printed excessively blue-ish so the colors look very different.

The City magazine continues to deliver with a satisfying mix of activities for your kids and a well done comic, so not much to complain about. The posters are okay, though I still wish they would use panels from the comics instead of those CG-generated versions. There’s just a specific charme to classically drawn stuff and the color contrast is better.

LEGO Magazine, Hidden Side, December 2019, Cover

The Hidden Side mag came out earlier and I’m only mentioning it for completeness, but somehow I feel that it just isn’t gaining traction. I played that fun trick last month, so I’m not going to do it again already, but can you spot what might be wrong with the cover? Yepp, it’s yet again Jack front and center for a third time in a row. Calling it repetitive and boring would be stating the obvious. It’s not helped by the extra being Parker of all things. I haven’t even bough all sets yet, but already have amassed a graveyard of the ever same figures. This only goes to show how named characters can quickly back you in a corner…

Hidden Ghosts, Visible Disappointment

It’s that time of year where we’re hit with news about soon-to-be-released new LEGO sets basically every day and while I don’t consider my little blog a news site and try not to flood it with the nonsensical trivialities of LEGO‘s marketing, I feel I need to say a few words on yesterday’s reveal of the first wave of 2020 Hidden Side sets (images and info here for instance) simply because I like the series it so much. That is, until now. And there’s the rub.

If you care to look at the images via the link or your very own favorite news page (they all have them, of course), you might feel a sense of being let down like I did. Compared to the first wave, the second outing sure feels underwhelming. It’s unimaginative, to say the least, and all too obviously some models have been stripped down to the bare minimum again, making their subject barely recognizable. The latter category is most notably presented by the Newbury Subway Station (70430). It’s tunnel and quay are literally just two-brick deep facades. The Lighthouse of Darkness (70431) doesn’t fare much better with it looking like a scaffolding structure with some panels shimmied on.

Finally there’s the so-called Ghost Fair (70432), which to me feels like a rehash of the all too similar Unikitty set from two years ago or for that matter any of the roller-coaster-ish sets, be that the Creator 3in1 pirate-themed version or the one in the Friends boardwalk fun fair. Point in case: They may be relatively large in terms of area they occupy, but without a wealth of extra parts to build additional attractions and landscapes around them the literally look like someone just dumped some old rusty railway tracks in the middle of nowhere. It’s one of those things where I tend to think “Why even bother if you’re not willing to go the full mile?”.

The rest is just as unimpressive. Given that we already have a pick-up truck by ways of El Fuego’s Stunt Truck (70421) there was no reason to already revisit the topic with Jack’s Beach Buggy (70428). Conversely, even now as I’m writing this, there’s still the air show plane from the Friends series available as is the Creator 3in1 stunt plane. Aside from specifics like color scheme and figures there is literally no good excuse for El Fuego’s Stunt Airplane (70429) to even exist at this point.

The only halfway original set it turns out will be the Hidden Side Portal (70427). Not so much because it would be extraordinary in design or construction, but it appears to introduce a new spin on the theme and possibly a new play mechanic for the associated game. All that said, of course I’m still going to get at least some of the sets to scavenge them for parts. After all, there are several unique re-colors for some pieces that weren’t available before. Still, I’m not going to jump at it and will take my time until I get a good price so the economics add up.

That’s also going to be true for the new Speed Champion sets (images here) as well, I’m afraid. For unfathomable reasons LEGO decided that it would be a good idea to bring out more dual sets featuring two cars at the same time and along with the switch from 6 studs wide to 8 studs making the models larger and requiring a few more pieces plus a general price hike this turns what should be good fodder for spontaneous casual into a genuine investment. I dare say that this isn’t a smart move and as some have pointed out it indeed feels like they are trying to dump unattractive secondary models on customers that only want that other hot one. We have to see how that works out…

October Dèja-Vu?

As I keep on chewing through some of the Hidden Side sets, a new issue of the companion magazine has just arrived, so let’s have a look.

LEGO Magazine, Hidden Side, November 2019, Cover

See something in the images below? Yepp, the cover is almost identical, a few minor differences notwithstanding. This had me confused at first until I checked the included minifigure. As hinted at last time it represents a version of the pizza guy also included in the Shrimp Shack Attack (70422) set. That’s good in that in its regular form it perfectly fits into an ordinary City scenario just as well. At the same time it’s a bit boring because it is way to unspecific and mundane for the ghostly world of Newbury.

LEGO Magazine, Hidden Side, November 2019, Cover LEGO Magazine, Hidden Side, October 2019, Cover

The rest of the magazine is very much in line with what you know from the other LEGO comics. What rubs me the wrong way, though, is that you can clearly see that a lot of effort has gone into some of the graphics. According to hearsay some illustrators labored over this for the last five years to prepare enough content for at least that long a publishing cycle as well, it seems. Yet it barely seems to pay off due to the individual panels being cropped and overlaid on top of each other in rather odd ways, obscuring large parts of some images.

Overall it is my impression that the mag has quite a way to go before reaching a certain level of quality. It likely doesn’t really help that for the next issue they are including the umpteenth Parker. L. Jackson figure. I really wish there was something a bit more exclusive as incentive to actually buy the mag regularly…