One can have the grandest plans one wants, but life sometimes gets in the way. That’s basically what happened when I was on a roll with some Mega Construx/ Mega Bloks three years ago and wanted to weave some articles on their products into the fabric. However, after nerding out a bit, this pretty much never materialized and quietly died down. The reasons for this are manifold, but ultimately not that difficult to figure out.
Aside from my own limited resources and my fragile health only leaving so much room for getting things done, the simple truth is that my plans coincided with a slump in Mega‘s activities. It was exactly the time when there really wasn’t much going on with Halo and Destiny, so they didn’t have much of a reason to release new buildable sets and were instead focusing on some collectible series for their small figures and aside from the Game of Thrones sets there wasn’t really much new. Combined with the fact that all too obviously their merger with Mattel did not in any way go smoothly and you could hear the sand in the gears grinding, this meant that there simply wasn’t much output on their end that would have been worth reporting on. Add to that the usual difficulties on even getting their stuff here in Europe and you can imagine how my motivation faded into the wind and I decided to more or less focus on LEGO stuff for the time being.
Things have however gotten a bit better lately, with the most notable change perhaps being that in 2020 Mattel somehow seem to have realized that there is money to be made in selling brick-based building toys and now at least some sets are being distributed officially through their partners. A few things are still exclusive to the North American markets and extremely difficult to procure, though, like blind bags with figures or those smaller add-on sets in the Halo line. What also helped was the success of the Detective Pikachu movie in 2019 based on the Pokémon for which they had a license plus there were suddenly rumors about a new Halo game (Halo Infinite) which clearly fired up things. How sustainable and stable the flow of sets ultimately is going to be remains to be seen, but there’s a t least a tiny bit of hope and optimism on my part. It would just be nice to have a bit more variety and something different to write about every now and then…
It started with a Gift…
This particular cycle of me getting back to Mega started out with a funny little anecdote. On weekends my brother and I regularly go for walks in what little forests we have in the area and on Saturdays on our way back home we occasionally use the opportunity to stop by a drug store that conveniently is near our route. They also have LEGO and my brother, being all too aware of my obsession with brick-built stuff, likes to poke fun at me when I’m walking through that specific aisle, looking for new stuff or discounted sets.
It so happens that on one such day before this year’s Easter they also had some Mega Construx stuff and while I wasn’t necessarily crazy over Charmander (GKY 96), but still kinda liked it, so it kept lingering in my mind. Fast forward two weeks later and the set was still on the shelf, this time for a slightly reduced price. My brother, having keenly observed me last time, just couldn’t help himself and bought the set for me, giggling all the time. So there you have it. This all basically started out as a family prank. Afterwards I researched the subject a bit and got me some more of these figures, so little Charmander wouldn’t be alone on the shelf.
Important Note: I’m pretty clueless when it comes to Pokémon since I never actually played any of the games or watched the animated series, not even way back then in my youth on the Nintendo Game Boy. Therefore all my decisions are based on pure visual appearance and how cute/ adorable I find an individual character, even if they may be bad guys in-universe.
Pricing and Availability
Despite improved distribution, actual availability is still very much all over the place. Thankfully you can get quite a few sets from Amazon and their Amazon Marketplace, but what sets you may find in other venues really depends on what day you order from your favorite online retailer or what day you waltz into a physical store that just happens to have them in stock. Not really a surprise, though, as Mega simply can’t seem to keep up with demand and distributors only have very limited supplies. This can even still be observed in their North American core markets, where sets sell out quickly. Maybe they really need to build a new factory or co-opt one from Mattel‘s empire?
As a result of these supply chain issues the prices are just as wildly different. If they’re available in sufficient quantities, you can buy some of those sets really cheap. If they’re scarce, prices will quickly skyrocket within a few weeks. Admittedly, for these smaller sets it is less of an issue, but it is something to consider and sadly this really spoils the fun. The buying experience is even worse than hunting for that LEGO set you desperately want, but really would love to have a better price.
Ironically this doesn’t even seem to be to blamed on Mattel (beyond the short supply). While clearly there is some wholesale price on their end that would result in a certain MSRP for the retailers, said recommendation likely is low enough that in theory the sets could be very affordable. It’s just my impression that in this case really the forces of the markets work against it, with the odd distribution system likely causing extra cost through intermediaries, repackaging and shipping small lots and all that.
With that said, even a small buildable figure like Charmander (GKY 96) can cost you anywhere from 12 to 30 Euro. That really makes you think twice whether you should buy it and how desperately you really want it. On the lower end of that range it could be a total no-brainer, but with every Euro more it becomes less and less attractive. Funny enough some bigger sets are in fact a lot cheaper when you break it down to the price per piece. So for what it’s worth: From a mere price point this is not going to be a cheap ride.
Charmander (GKY 96)
As mentioned earlier, this is the little guy everything started with. I used a different pack shot for reference, but it also comes in one of those “takeaway bag” type of packages. Similar to the LEGO Friends cubes or heart boxes I’m not much of a fan of these overly voluminous boxes. Even if you stack them inside a larger carton in an alternating pattern you likely don’t get anywhere near as many in as your would with conventional rectangular boxes. I’m sure there would be ways to design something that is visually just as impactful but more efficient.
The little guy is appealing because indeed he very well represents what you would expect from a slightly overgrown, bald dragon baby. Surprisingly, this set has 180 pieces, though from its outward appearance it looks a lot less. This is mostly due to some slightly awkward building in the head and body to keep them so small, meaning the insides are assembled from a lot of little pieces that only hold together due to the many layers they are stacked as. This really reminded me how different Mega‘s brick system is. Even with quite a bit of LEGO experience you have to pay attention and think while you build.
Once finished I decided to remove the flames emanating from the mouth like a flamethrower again, as it pushes the lower jaw to far apart and looks weird, but otherwise I’m pretty happy with how it looks. Comparing to the original sources the proportions have been captured nicely and while inherently it doesn’t look as smooth (and slightly chubby), it’s compact enough. In fact compared to the comic this could even be a slightly older, new inbetween stage of the Charmander/ Charmeleon/ Charizard evolution. If the original is a 6 month old baby, this could be it at two years where it has lost part of its wobbliness and cuteness with slightly more pronounced features and a taller forehead.
Meowth (GKY 96)
This was the second model I got and it was also the cheapest one. It only cost me 9 Euro on Amazon, which was too good a deal to miss. I have no idea why, but maybe it’s really a lot less popular than some other Pokémon. Anyway, that price is a steal for 170 pieces, including several larger custom printed ones such as the ears and the entire face, apparently. Assembly is a little more straightforward and more “logical” even with a LEGO mindset.
Mew (GKY 97)
This pink cutie kept popping up among my recommendations on Amazon and while initially I had no intention of buying it simply because I didn’t think the 20 Euro were justified, it ultimately got me with its blue eyes and adorable snout. At the same time it also caused me some frustration.
I usually tend to consider such smaller sets a relaxing evening exercise while watching TV on the side and therefore every little hiccup ends up being even more aggravating. In this case it wasn’t just a damaged or missing part, but rather Mega being their old selves and having mispackaged the set. Instead of the bag with pieces I needed I got two bags with the same pieces, which of course I only realized halfway through once I had opened them all up, had made nice piles and already had begun to assemble the head. So instead of spending a nice evening I ended up switching on my computer again in order to contact the Marketplace dealer about the mishap. Thankfully they were very forthcoming and sent a replacement package right away, so a few days later I could assemble a full version, after all.
On that same evening I also immediately requested replacement parts from Mega, but suffice it to say that they are not making it easy. Instead of just allowing to order the full bag that’s missing you have to go through the building instructions and input every part number separately. Even then you have to cheat the system, as initially it only allows five types of elements to be selected. It’s really not a great support experience. And apparently the substitute parts will be sent from their headquarters in Canada or the US, so as I’m writing this article they still haven’t arrived yet. Go, figure! this really exposes the flaws in their distribution and support system here in Europe (or more or less complete lack of the latter at least).
The model itself looks nice and even comes with a small stand to put it in its typical jumping pose. At the same time, though, this is lacking all the feminine characteristics and soft contours of the original. It’s still cute, but in a different way.
Tyranitar (GMD 32)
For the time being this was my last purchase in this series. With double the number of pieces compared to the other models this one comes in a larger regular box. However, once you have finished it, the difference in size is pretty minor. Aside from marketing considerations likely this has to do with some bulky parts that would be difficult to squeeze into the bag type packaging.
There’s no way arounbd it, but yes, this creature appealed to me because it represents a “Baby Godzilla”. I know that the actual comic character looks a little bit different, but to me it is what it is. Due to the number of pieces the build is slightly more involved, but that again is merely a concession to the different nature of the Mega Construx system and here in particular also due how they (have to?) work around some potential stuff to avoid getting in hot water with LEGO over part designs. As a result many of those extra parts end up being invisible.
LEGO, do you hear me?
Of course there’s a big question hanging over our heads: What, if this were LEGO? It certainly would be quite different. Aside from some obvious things like actual upside-down/ bi-directional building and a much more intuitive SNOT/ build on the side system I have a few other thoughts on the matter. I don’t mean to get into too many hypotheticals and arguments over “Who wore it best?” here, so take this for what it is – personal opinion – without getting too worked up over it one way or the other.
- Capturing the shapes with current LEGO elements would be much more difficult. Most notably the many “pancake” parts (flatly curved, round tiles) and the more steeply curved slope bricks currently are missing from their catalog. They have started adding similar pieces to the range like the 3 x 3 quarter discs on the NASA Space Shuttle Discovery (10283), but it will be a while before the line-up is even halfway that complete. Other stuff could certainly be worked around, but would likely not look nearly as smooth.
- On that note, of course LEGO would also have to get over themselves and actually produce certain parts in different colors. The models shown here for instance use a lot of those mini ball joints and since they are exposed of course they have to be consistently colored. Imagine how terrible this would look with grey peeking out everywhere!
- Prints! Yes, of course this topic has been done to death, but isn’t it just baffling how a company that is many times smaller than LEGO and has less technical, personnel and financial resources can produce pieces with excellent prints in a 9 Euro set?
As you see, there’s a few things going on here and personally I find it extremely difficult to envision how this would turn out as a LEGO set. In fairness, though, there are a few interesting Pokémon MOCs out there that prove it’s not impossible. On the other hand, creating this as a commercial set is still a different exercise, so I guess my points still are valid.
On the whole this was a fun excursion into a different world of brick building and I’m certainly open to exploring this a bit more. There’s already a bunch of new Pokémon sets on the horizon and that Corviknight really looks like it would be exactly up my alley. That and I also have this urge to get me a Pelican Inbound, but given its price that is a whole different exercise.
The best part is that you can really see how Mega Construx have made progress in terms of the quality of their pieces and the assembly process for the models is pretty enjoyable. No more working your fingers to death trying to squeeze together warped or too tight elements, having really massive injection points or incompletely molded items. Now if only they get a handle on their supply, distribution and service, this could really become something…