March Veterinary

Some topics are come back again and again, so it’s little surprise that the new LEGO Friends magazine once more is built around the pet veterinary subject in its March issue.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, March 2020, Cover

Most notably this becomes apparent by the buildable parts included. The examination table has been done a million times. In fact it was in one of the first Friends issues I reviewed on this blog and is also a recurring feature in similarly themed sets like e.g. Emma’s Mobile Veterinary Clinic (41360). The building style is always pretty much the same, with some variations on the decorations and extras thrown in to adapt it to whatever is the latest fashion. This time this means it comes with some prominent Dark Cyan pieces, bringing its color scheme in line with this year’s Heartlake City Hospital (41394) for instance. Overall that’s okay, but I wish they’d at least include some different animals.

One possible way is in fact even presented prominently in the magazine – one of the comics heavily leans onto the new magic cubes with the surprise animals, playing around with the fact that they contain the animals in previously unseen colors and even include “rare” versions in Pearl Gold. The comic features a blue peacock and lama, but for the immediate issue I would have settled on Chico the cat coming perhaps in Medium Azure or Lavender instead of the standard grey version.

The rest of the magazine is surprisingly well done (within the limits of what you can expect). It seems the message is getting through and it’s steering into a new direction with more emphasis on activities. There’s a good amount of puzzles and some large coloring and tracing images, so you might want to dig out the crayons… This could keep your kids busy for quite a while. That makes it overall pretty okay even if you don’t obsess about the little bags with the pieces on the cover like I do.

Magenta Hair, Anyone? – Heartlake City Hair Salon (41391)

Some sets have an amazing longevity and are around for years, so it becomes hard to imagine that there was ever a time when they didn’t exist. Such was the case with the old Heartlake Hair Salon (41093) from 2015 that in fact was available until earlier last year after having been EOL‘d in late 2018. Someone at LEGO must have missed it a lot and here we are with a new Heartlake City Hair Salon (41391) pretty much only one year later, effectively.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Hair Salon (41391), Box

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: While the details are different enough, the similarities between the old and the new set jump in your face right away. To say that somebody drew a bit of inspiration would certainly be an understatement. The most noticeable change is the reduced base area no longer using a large 16 x 16 studs plate and instead being adapted to the contours of the building using round plates. Likewise, there is of course only a single rounded window here instead of two.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Hair Salon (41391), Overview

The extras included in the set include a couple of wigs/ hair pieces, some accessories and the necessary tools and utilities for the coiffure, but regrettably no longer include the old “hairdresser utensils” sub-set. I’m all for things like building things like the hair dryer from pieces instead of relying on large compact single-mold pieces, but in light of the fact that there are no alternatives to some of the other elements like the hand-held mirror or even the star “broach” this diminishes the set somewhat. They should have included these bits, regardless.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Hair Salon (41391), Accessories

The main building is as simple and straightforward to build as you might want to imagine. Just a bunch of panels and a few elongated bricks plugged side by side like a child might build it if it had the parts. Funny enough, the building instructions again make this more complicated than it needs to be because somehow instead of focusing on stability first it asks you to build this layer by layer from left to right, with a bit of jumping over the place to occasionally place a single element elsewhere. Who even comes up with such nonsense?

Personally I also regret that the large window is done using a transparent panel, not the new actual 6 x 6 window with frame introduced last year on the Lighthouse Rescue Centre (41380). This would have clearly amped up the value and made it worthwile to perhaps even buy this set a second and third time just to scalp the part. Alas, t’wasn’t meant to be. 😉

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Hair Salon (41391), Front View

Interestingly enough in comparison to the older set the exterior looks pretty lively, despite the trimmed down plates allowing for fewer options. Of particular note to a parts-obsessed guy like me are once more the new Lime Green leaves elements also found in the Moana set I reviewed recently and the single Dark Pink 1 x 2 plate with round edges holding the barber pole.

The life saver ring/ toilet seat element used for the eyes of the scissors is also included in Medium Azure for the first time ever and could make it worth buying this inexpensive set if you plan on e.g. creating a nice bathroom in your custom building with a consistent Caribbean blue color theme.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Hair Salon (41391), Front Right View

The interior feels very uncluttered despite the limited space, which perhaps is one of the biggest improvements over the old set. It goes to show that within only a few years and new/ different pieces becoming available it can indeed help to improve things and not just be a means to reduce the overall parts count (while keeping the same price) for LEGO.

This becomes most apparent with the seating where this time they went for the “heavy old leather armchair” look. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but feels very 1960s American and/ or (male) barber shop. It’s definitely not as common here in Europe, or Germany specifically. This is also one thing I would definitely have changed. Not so much the shape and construction, but the color.

In my opinion the whole set is drowning in way too much Magenta and Dark Pink and thus looks a bit dreary. Ideally I would of course have preferred something like Dark Orange or Medium Dark Nougat for that genuine leather look, but in fact I’m inclined to think that this screams for Bright Light Orange to lighten the mood.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Hair Salon (41391), Back Right View

On the subject of screaming I once more could also yell at someone at LEGO for not including more prints beyond the standard greenback piece, the dime and the cash register. This is ridiculous, given that there’s a dozen variations of different newspaper tiles at least and clearly in the digital age it also wouldn’t hurt if they came up with a bunch of standard newscast or info screen designs for 2 x 4 tiles used as LCD screens. This just is too obvious.

LEGO Friends, Heartlake City Hair Salon (41391), Back Left View

Overall I think this is a nice little set and with a few modifications or building a larger version from multiple sets it might even not look half as bad as an annex to a building in your city. It’s very typical Friends, though, and thus the coloring may not be everyone’s kettle of fish. I also don’t see where the original 20 Euro price is coming from. It’s definitely not worth that. the good news is that this can be bought for around 13 Euro in many places, which makes much more sense.

January Cake Decoration

The Christmas craze is now behind us and I hope everyone gut through it well enough, but of course the world doesn’t stand still and as hinted last time, we’re getting another baking-themed LEGO Friends magazine for January.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, January 2020, Cover

The cake-centric topic is interesting not just interesting as a seasonal residual but of course also because there’s going to be at least one such themed commercial set, The Big Bake Show (41393). If you’ve been paying attention, i.e. actually buying these last two issues, you already have some extra pieces to deck out this scenario further.

Admittedly the buildable pieces in this set aren’t that special – a bunch of “squeeze bottles” for colored frosting, a small spoon, an egg beater and some decorative elements on a two-tiered cake, but where it gets interesting, and to me this was quite a pleasant surprise, are the little flower elements which for the first time ever are now available in Bright Pink.

Yupp, with years of Friends sets already one would think they are commonplace by now like their Dark Pink counterparts, but just the opposite is true: They have never been done thus far. Not only will this be super useful for this cake & cookie stuff, but also for real flower bushes and fancying up gingerbread houses, if you get my drift. One can only hope that they will become more widely available in foreseeable time.

The rest of the magazine is also surprisingly rich with some decent puzzles, a few coloring pictures and an acceptable comic. Even the poster with the two bunnies looks okay (the other not so much). Overall one of the better issues I’ve seen…

“Weep for the future, Na’Toth!”

I’m always one to sneak in a quote from my favorite sci-fi series of all time, Babylon 5, but sadly the melancholic undertones and the literal meaning of that particular one ring all too true for LEGO‘s first half year line-up for 2020, it seems.

I shared a few thoughts on Hidden Side and Speed Champions already a few days ago and now that images of the sets for City, Creator 3in1, Friends, Ninjago, Star Wars and Technic have been released, I feel like I’m stuck in a “WTF?” loop. The blunt and short version would be that about 70% of the sets are garbage, 20% are kinda okay and there’s only about 10% of sets that I would consider reasonably good. As if that weren’t enough, the ratings aren’t even consistent with what you would likely think, knowing my preferences and tastes.

Personally I’m most disappointed by the Friends sets. Why? To me they feel like a definite step back. This year was quite good with the water rescue theme and an equally sea life inspired fun fair theme, including the occasional interesting crossover of both worlds. Most notably everything was a bit toned down to the point of being almost realistic in terms of colors used. There were sets like the Heartlake City Restaurant (41379) that took this so far they would almost qualify as Creator 3in1 or Expert Modular Buildings with only hints of the typical Friends-related colors giving them away.

Unfortunately it seems this will be no longer the case and it’s back to wacky color combinations, overall flamboyancy and gaudiness plus non-realistic construction of e.g. vehicles. Aside from a few new pieces and recolors there is little to find there that would attract me. I even almost broke into loud laughter at the ridiculousness of the new hair salon looking way too familiar for comfort. To say it would be a rip-off of the one from three years ago would be stretching the truth a bit too hard, but the similarities are to apparent to dismiss.

Ninjago this time around doesn’t do much for me. The new cyber space theme with all the neon transparent colors and overall sharp-edged, aggressive design looks a tad too much like Nexo Knights reloaded. That doesn’t mean I might not buy one or two of the smaller sets just to check them out and get a few extra parts, but I think I’ll mostly pass. The last two years I bought a few sets and I guess that will have to do for now until another Shuricopter or similar comes along to tingle my taste buds.

The same is no doubt going to happen to City – I will try to get the animals in some form, but overall it’s probably fair to say that I don’t care much for the umpteenth re-tread of the police and fire patrol topics. They may be unavoidable standards for every new generation of four-year-olds every year, but on the whole it’s getting a bit stale. I’m also flabbergasted by the insane pricing. I would have loved to have children in my life, but seeing this I’m almost glad I don’t have to put up with my little tykes pestering me over those expensive toys.

Star Wars in a weird and wonderful way this time around isn’t the worst of the lot. Okay, it’s still all very much “been there, done that” and “more of the same”, but I find it oddly palatable. The new Poe Dameron X-Wing in its orange/ white livery with the huge rounded intakes looks pretty imposing and attractive to my eyes. If you already have the current one and the black one before it than this will make a nice third one to add to your line-up.

The smaller, figure-centric sets look okay, too, and, which I find pretty important, are not priced outrageously like e.g. the notorious Snoke’s Throne Room (75216). My favorite set of them all, though, has to be the Microfighter one with the Bantha. Similar to this year’s one with the Dewback it ticks all the boxes with me and I can’t help it. I just have to have it. In fact chances are this is one of the few sets I might buy more than once. It’s just too cute!

In the Creator 3in1 series of course the new building stands out. It’s nice to see LEGO having revived this tradition and the new toy store looks tasteful enough. It just looks awfully small even compared to the pet shop from earlier this year, so I’m not sure if it’s actually worth 50 Euro. This may be a case for waiting for the right discount to come along. Other than that I have set my sights on the set with the Dark Red dragon, though in actuality somehow the alternate scorpion build is what fascinates me most. Beyond that what I said earlier applies – I may pick up some of the other packages if I feel like it, but have no immediate urgent plans.

finally let’s talk about the debacle that is Technic. Yupp, you heard me right. Once again I think they are totally ruining the series. Once you subtract the “big” models like the Liebherr excavator or the Land Rover, you are pretty much left with what can only qualify weak shadows of great sets like the Claas Xerion and similar from only three years ago. In this short time the series has really been run into the ground and now only exists down in the dumps. Even their lame attempt at being funny by creating a super mini version of the aforementioned Xerion somehow misfires. At least I didn’t get that satisfied grin when you hit the punch line in a joke…

Here’s the thing: If you are a complete newbie to the series you are going to love the smaller models. The beach buggy isn’t half bad and neither are the pull-back drag racer and racing truck. Even the stunt show combo thing will go down well with kids. I also like the idea of actually floating boat parts. Sure, they’re too large for your bathtub swim, but will be fun during the summer in the pool. However, after all those sets clearly aimed at the younger audiences there is this terrible, terrible gap of nothing.

Some would call it “Models that define what Technic is supposed to represent.”, but that is perhaps a bit too grandiose. Still, one can’t deny that something is missing and this feeling will not be alleviated by the yellow crane, which itself might leave some unsatisfied due to it’s somewhat simple construction. On the bright side at least it brings back the yellow no. 5/ 6 panels (among other parts) and I’m sure people will buy this set in masses just to repair/ rebuild/ rebrick older sets where this was used.

Still, none of that can cover up the fact that the set itself is not the most attractive. Given the circumstances, this sure wouldn’t lure me into LEGO these days. In fact most of these Technic sets represent what has deterred me from even picking up the hobby for ages – crude, unsophisticated and toy-ish looking models. I know I sound like an old grandpa harping on about the better days, but that’s just how I feel.

So where does all of that leave us? If I were to make it sound positive in a very sarcastic way I would say that I can save lots of money, at least in the price ranges that are attainable for me. That’s good because of course I’m always on a tight budget, but at the same time also just sad. You know, at the end of the day I sometimes don’t know what’s more frustrating about being into LEGO: Not having enough money to buy the sets you actually want or standing in the aisles and wondering what to buy because the available choices are bad. With this cycle I’m definitely going to experience the latter a lot once I have exhausted the “good” options…

 

Premature Christmas Bakery

Christmas is quite a few weeks away, but apparently we are already getting the respectively themed LEGO Friends magazine with the November/ December issue barely a few days after Halloween.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, November 2019, Cover

As you would expect, it’s full of seasonal clichées and the Friends series being so gender stereotypical is getting more and moire cringe-worthy the more things progress on these matters in the real world. Perhaps a reimagining and restart of the series might be worth considering…

On the bright side, the CG renders are a little less creepy this time around, so it seems the artists responsible for this stuff are slowly getting a handle on their deformation rigs. It’s still far from great CGI, but knowing, as I do, that these things are whipped up on last-minute deadlines (always of course after the editorial staff have wasted months and months with being undecided which stories to actually publish) and minuscule budgets it’s okay.

Similarly the comics are compared to the other LEGO magazines still behind the times and just don’t look exciting or particularly enjoyable. This issue is also extremely scant on activities stuff, so if you were hoping to distract your kids for any thing longer than 5 minutes, that hope gets busted. The puzzles are really solvable by a three-year-old without much effort.

There’s a good volume of buildable parts at least, mostly owing to the inclusion of two “containers” for the cake fridge and a more regular storage box. Additionally there’s some related bits and bobs like cherries or the pretzels, so all around good stuff to have for detailing up a build. Even better yet, though probably total coincidence again, the next issue will focus on cake decoration and include even more decorations, so you could almost do your own version of The Great Bake Off

No-Good Octopus – Funny Octopus Ride (41373)

Being a lover of oceanic sea life, LEGO sets themed around this subject are of course high on my list even if they are only tangentially related. That’s why the Funny Octopus Ride (41373) from this years alternate-ish boardwalk fun park series in LEGO Friends ended up on my table.

First Things first

LEGO Friends, Funny Octopus Ride (41373), Box

To get the obvious out of the way before digging into the details, given the title I chose: No, this set isn’t good. So many things with it are so wrong in so many ways, that I’m going to sound like a negative Nancy all throughout this article. Of course it’s up to you to make up your own mind and draw your own conclusions, but perhaps consider this a sincere warning about what you may get yourself and your kids into.

LEGO Friends, Funny Octopus Ride (41373), Overview

I myself had been pondering whether to get this set on and off so many times. The pro argument to pursue a purchase was of course once again my desire to get some good parts for my stock and funny enough the set delivers on that front. there are a number of unique parts in the form of re-colored elements that didn’t exist before, there’s a lot of Dark Pink elements, some of which like the smooth pin connectors are also a first and of course then there’s the balloon shells which I wanted to add to my collection, being that I didn’t have one of the older Friends or Elves sets they were featured in in the past. I have vague plans for a model in my head that I might actually need them one day.

It also so happens that quite incidentally the set also contains the exact four rounded plates in White that I might need to rebuild the smaller promotional Gingerbread House (40139) from 2015. With the official Winter Village Gingerbread House (10267) available and me indeed considering buying it eventually, this seems almost inevitable. I also like the transparent tubes. They could be a great way of decking out a better Hidden Side ghost lab or something like that. And finally there’s that printed 1 x 1 popcorn brick. I never bought the small Popcorn Cart (30364) polybag even when I had a chance, so it’s good to catch up on that, too.

Engineering Degree Failure

LEGO Friends, Funny Octopus Ride (41373), Front View complete

The actual construction of the model is super simple and ultimately that’s the biggest failure of the set. It’s really not pretty to look at and as someone who started out with Technic and through his 3D work has a working understanding of some of the finer points of mechanical engineering (at least that’s what I like to think) it just feels wrong, wrong, wrong. Sure, it’s for kids and the build needs to be straightforward and easy, but it still doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Point in case: Someone forgot that there is this little thing called friction and ultimately the whole “system” (in the physical/ engineering sense) is totally bogged down by it. No, unfortunately it’s not as easy as turning the knob at the top of the octopus’ mantle. I as an adult struggle to overcome the initial “stickiness” (static friction), my mom can’t do it easily and I don’t even want to imagine how a first grade school kid will have to make quite an effort to even get this going.

LEGO Friends, Funny Octopus Ride (41373), Front View separated

There are two main issues here: First there’s the Technic elements used on the arms themselves and by extension the internal axis inside and turntable below the balloon-y body. It’s all a case of the overall forces becoming to strong no matter how much you wiggle the bushes around to loosen up the connections and reduce tension just like there is no good way of dealing with a 10 units and 12 units long axle plugged together and sticking them into stacks of axle holes at the top and bottom. This, BTW, is yet another exercise that requires so much force that it may be beyond a kid’s capabilities. There’s just no way to get this perfectly balanced so everything moves lightly and without getting stuck.

The second and by far just as critical an issue is of course the corrugated hoses vs. the arms themselves. If you think about it for a second, what you are creating here is a ratcheted mechanism with four (!) “teeth” burrowing themselves in the crevices of the hoses. Even if they do so only superficially it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how this adds up to considerable resistance. What’s worse is that even if you assume that part would work, there’s still this little problem with plastic sliding on plastic. Ironically the friction here is too insignificant to ensure that the connectors actually smoothly roll on the ridges of the hoses, and when they don’t, they just scrub along. After a while both the connectors and the tubes will get dull and show scratch marks. That much is certain.

Animal Pods or Pod Animals?

LEGO Friends, Funny Octopus Ride (41373), Shark Pod What makes this so sad is that the passenger pods on the merry-go-round are actually quite neat they nicely illustrate that if the set wasn’t betrayed by its shoddy cheat mechanics it could have been something great. The shark is particularly nice and if you replace the foothold piece for the figures with a tile you could re-use it in many scenarios once separated from its mounting plate. It would even fit into the Dolphins Rescue Mission (41378) as a shark circling the ship wreck just as it might fit e.g. as decoration on the Pirates Theme Park Rollercoaster (31084). The highlight here is of course the little 1 x 1 modified hinge plate in Dark Blue, a new and thus still relatively rare and expensive re-color of this element.

LEGO Friends, Funny Octopus Ride (41373), Clam Shell Pod

The clam shell isn’t nearly as complex, but for what it is supposed to represent sufficient plus you get another load of the Bright Pink 1 x 1 heart tile.

 

 

 

 

 

On first sight the crab looked a bit weird to me until I realized what this was actually supposed to represent. Aside from the way too short “legs”, which really are only stumps, I guess the failure is the lollipops/ paddles not being in Yellow plus there being no claws. In a way this makes the whole thing look more like a bug.

LEGO Friends, Funny Octopus Ride (41373), Crab Pod  LEGO Friends, Funny Octopus Ride (41373), Crab Pod

The turtle is basically just another variant of the one in the Turtles Rescue Station (41376) and the poly bag variant mentioned in the article or for that matter even the Elves oneLEGO Friends, Funny Octopus Ride (41373), Turtle PodDepending on how you interpret it, the basic ingredients are always the same as is the building style and whether one’s shell is Dark Azure and the other’s Reddish Brown ultimately makes little difference. in the end it’s probably down to there only being so many ways to skin a cat, i.e. building this model, if you want it to be at a specific size. Similar to the shark here at least another re-color of that little round hinge in regular Green making this worthwhile. A small complaint would have to be that they easily could have included angled 1 x 2 wedges (29119, 29120) to represent the flippers, given that they already have the 1 x 1 modified plates with the clip in Bright Green in place. This would not have interfered with the rest of the model and made it so much more “realistic”

Stranger in a strange Land

LEGO Friends, Funny Octopus Ride (41373), Fluke PartIn yet another anecdote of LEGO‘s quality going down the drain these days, this time I actually had a completely wrong piece in my set, meaning an utter fluke that doesn’t even remotely resemble any item that the set actually uses. The part in question is a 2 x 4 curved slope part in Dark Orange from the Deep Space Rocket and Launch Control (60228) set in the City line of products where it is used on the large central booster sections.

The irony here is that this single piece gives me so many ideas, I almost wish they had mixed up an entire bag that contains all the eight slopes used in that other set. If you look at it long enough, you just can see how this would make a perfect padding for an ocre-ish colored leather sofa or padded seating bench in a restaurant, bus or train. With this yet again being a new re-color of this part for the first time exclusive to the set you can see how this would be valuable to a guy like me who’s always thinking about the next possible project.

and what was the part it was actually supposed to be? Of all things a Dark Bluish Grey 4 x 4 round plate used on the socket of the octopus mantle! See how neither the shape nor the color relate to one another? Those sorting cameras at the LEGO factory really must have had a bad day. Anyway, thankfully I had a few of those pieces in my stockpile and in fact the color doesn’t even matter because the parts are mostly invisible and any of them would do, but if I hadn’t, I couldn’t have finished the model that evening. It’s one thing if some small 1 x 1 tile is missing that you can add on later, but it’s a different thing when a critical structural part is missing from a bag.

No Fun in the Fun Park

While I’m certainly not a fan of entertainment parks and fun fairs, I can get behind the concept as a technical and artistic challenge in the LEGO world. In fact I have been tinkering with such mechanisms on and off and if I ever finish them, one day some pretty awesome contraptions might come of it. Yupp, it sounds like self-indulgent  boasting, but at the very least it’s going to be better than this. A lot (presumably). It shouldn’t be too much of a challenge to surpass the hacky cheat mechanics, if you allow me to put it that way.

Overall I don’t know how to sum up all my frustrations with this particular set. It’s neither a good example for overall design and aesthetics nor for engineering. It just falls short of even the lowest expectations and is for all intents and purposes quite terrible. Unless you have a specific use case like myself for scalping the parts and/ or are willing to put in some major work to improve the details, you are not doing your kids or yourself any favors. I paid 25 Euro during an Amazon flash sale for this, but at the end of the day this feels too much for such an awful set. Paying the full 40 Euro would be totally crazy.

didn’t want to look at this abomination for much longer and couldn’t disassemble the set fast enough to salvage the components while they still were pristine. That’s how bad it is. Clearly the mess with the missing/ wrong part did nothing to improve my mood, either. The only things that gave me some joy are the little pod creatures, but that’s just not enough, unfortunately.

October Dog Spa

Two months seems like a long time when you’re at the start, but time flies quickly and in the end a few weeks isn’t that much, after all, as the October/ November issue of the LEGO Friends magazine proves.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, October 2019, Cover

Where the buildable parts are concerned, it’s back to “cutesie animal plus bubble bath”, which at this point is getting a tired and stale trope. I still have more Chico cats than dogs, but I think with the one from this issue I now also own at least five brown Dash dogs. The only saving grace this time around is the old-style golden dual tap, a piece which had a bit of a renaissance in the last three years after it was barely used anywhere after its introduction in 2011. That is to say it could sure be useful in a custom build one day.

The rest of the mag is forgettable or even terrible. The latter category is prominently filled with the very botched-looking CG cover and posters inside. I’m not going to bore you with my 25 years of 3D graphics knowledge, but if you look up “bad deformations” in a web search within this context, you can surely find enough examples of what I mean. It’s really creepy. The comic uses my preferred newer, more dynamic style of drawing, but its content is kinda WTF?. A parade of costume fetish? Just weird.

So overall this isn’t much to write home about and with the last issue for this year falling into November, we can’t even look forward to some good Christmas-y stuff…