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…

“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…

 

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…

Graveyard Double Shift – Graveyard Mystery (70420) and The Rise of Voldemort (75965)

With Halloween imminent, I figured it might be a good idea to focus on reviewing some spooky-themed sets by ways of being built around graveyards – or sections of them at least. This includes the Graveyard Mystery (70420) from Hidden Side and The Rise of Voldemort (75965) from the Harry Potter line of LEGO sets.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Box

As you know, I’m quite a fan of Hidden Side – the sets are done well enough and to boot also very affordable because LEGO are pushing them so aggressively and there are discounts at every corner. This makes it easy enough to add them to the menu even if you are on a budget. The Graveyard Mystery can be had for as little as 20 Euro, which to me seems just about the right price. The full 30 Euro feels a bit out of proportion for what amounts to a rather slim model, on the other hand, and I’m not sure if I had picked it up then.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Overview

The set comes with the standard Parker and Jack figures along with Spencer, the ghostly dog. On the other side of the spectrum there’s a skeleton and the groundskeeper/ gardener, the latter of which is essentially the only really interesting bit in that department as with his overalls and all he could also be interesting for other uses e.g. in a City play scene.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Overview, Everything Closed

Being designed with the Augmented Reality app intended to be used with these sets in mind, the graveyard/ cemetery is kind of a panoramic arrangement, so that most parts are visible all the time and the camera can capture the entire scene. The layout in and of itself however is more or less a towel strip walkway with a linear progression. You enter through the gate, pass by a bunch of graves and then arrive at the angry tree with the keeper’s little storage shed underneath.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Overview, Markers Exposed

Since I don’t have the app, I can’t enlighten you about the specific meanings of the colors in the game, but there sure are a lot once you open up the respective areas and expose the insides and undersides of some elements. In fact I believe even the big green slope on the central grave may have some bearing even with the lids still down. The problem is of course that without the fancies of a mobile device the play options are ultimately limited. You can barely hide a minifigure in the central grave and even placing someone inside the little shed is finnicky. Doing a hide & seek  and guessing in which grave someone is hiding would not pose much of a challenge.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Overview, Back Side

A stand-out piece is naturally the angry tree with its “face” and “arms” being clearly recognizable. From what I’ve seen of the game it doesn’t seem to do much, though, and is merely whipping around. That is presumably not really useful. the same could be said for the mechanism on the real model in a sense. While I can appreciate the facial expression changing and the arms going up it still feels gimmicky. This is once more a case where a static, more detailed and more refined tree would have been preferable over such a very limited action feature IMO.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Angry Tree, Front Side

On the bright side, the set is full of pieces in very usable “natural” colors ranging from the various browns and grays to Olive Green. Nice to see that LEGO still can do such sensible stuff without them going bonkers or some higher-up instructing a designer to include bricks in crazy colors only to clear out the left-overs from previous production runs of other sets. There are no particularly unique or rare parts in this set, however. Thus there would be little point in getting this set for anything but buildings or indeed landscaping and cemetery building.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Angry Tree, Back Side

A small shortcoming, if you want to call it that, is the unattractive back side. Even with the emphasis on the panoramic effect it wouldn’t have hurt to have a few details here or at least the floor plates extend beyond the graves’ rear edges. To me it really feels like they chopped it off a bit too harshly.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Gate

After my experiences with the Hidden Side side I kept having this weird idea running in my head that perhaps one day I might want to build a larger custom graveyard, perhaps with a small chapel and crypt, so naturally I stumbled upon The Rise of Voldemort from the Harry Potter movies.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Box

The point is not so much that I would be a particular fan of the series – quite opposite, as now 15 years later I look at these films and wonder how I could ever have been so foolish to buy the DVDs – but regardless, they are not without merit in terms of production design and at least some of the less WTF?-ish story elements. I know, I seriously need to read the books one day for a fair comparison.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Overview

Anyway, on of the key things that also made me consider this set is that when doing churches, graveyards and similar you have a need for some specific extras, that being large numbers of grey minifigure elements and decorative bits and bobs for the slabs/ grave stones. Lo and behold, this set comes with a fully formed angelic figure in Dark Bluish Grey, which of course is twisted into representing the Grim Reaper and there’s also a frog in that same color.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Figures

What also made the decision to buy this set easier is the consistent color usage compared to the first set. This means that you can easily mix & match and expand the ground thanks to the Dark Tan being used in conjunction with the same contrast colors for other elements. Or in simple words: You can buy multiple sets of both models and need not worry that intermingling parts would result in odd color combinations.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Grave Closed

The set represents that scene where Harry Potter gets accidentally transported to an alternate place during the Trimagic Tournament in The Goblet of Fire, to witness the resurrection of He who must not be named, so there are all the figures relevant present. Personally I don’t care that much for them and for my taste in the context of the set there are simply way too many minifigures. In a sense it feels overcrowded due to the smallness of the available play are vs. the number of figures. That’s in my view also the biggest shortcoming of this set.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Grave Open

One of the side-effects of this lack of space is that it doesn’t really capture the mood of the scene. There is no sense of dread and feeling lost because everything is crammed together. This also isn’t helped by the simple construction with only a central part in the middle and the small side extensions clipped on with hinges. This inevitably limits the options for disguising some gaps and open areas, which painfully becomes obvious with the insides of the grave. It just looks extremely shallow and indeed a figure doesn’t even fit into it without the lid remaining ajar.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Grave, Front Right View

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Grave, Back Right View

At the end of the day both sets have their flaws and issues, with the Hidden Side Graveyard Mystery at least offering a better value for money, however, due to being larger to begin with. I guess the ultimate test would really come once you actually start combining things, possibly based on multiple such sets, to build a more elaborate cemetery. The irony is of course once more that basically all the ingredients are already there, but LEGO trimmed away to many things in the interest of being “economical” to make either of the sets genuinely great. As a consolation, both sets are very affordable at least, so it would not be impossible to grab a bunch of them and make your dream project a reality, assuming you, too, have a thing for graveyards…

When I’m on my Downeaster Alexa – Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419)

Borrowing that famous line from Billy Joel‘s song, it’s time we have a look at what is indeed a fishing boat – of sorts – the Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419) from LEGO‘s new Hidden Side series.

LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Box

I have no specific relation or affiliation to fishing other than enjoying being near the sea and in particular remembering those small fishing boats during my rehab at the Baltic Sea a few years ago. I’m totally intolerant/ allergic to seafood even and could throw up at the mere thought of the smell, but as you well know, I like oceanic creatures and some of the things relating to it. That’s why this set pushed a few buttons with me in a good way and I just had to get it eventually.

LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Overview

I also liked that the set represents a fresh idea overall, not just specifically to Hidden Side, but also in the broader sense in the overall LEGO portfolio. There have been any number of “fishing boats” over the years, but most of them were bigger trawlers or yachts. Getting a small cutter therefore seems like a missing piece of the puzzle is finally filled.

LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Figures

The minifigures are pretty much your standard fare (within Hidden Side) with Jack Davids and Parker L. Jackson making an appearance again as well as Spencer, the ghostly dog. The emphasis therefore has to be on Captain Jonas and Jonas Jr. and what can I say? They are some of the most interesting figures I’ve seen included in a set in a while. It’s not so much that they are super-special, but they are nicely done and have a generic appeal for anything to do with ships or the goings-on in a harbor or ship yard.

The key to this is of course the Bright Light Orange color representing the oilskin/ vinyl clothing or as we call it here in Germany “Friesennerz” as an in-joke to this being a fisherman’s finest everyday Sunday gown. The figures also come with the typical hat with the large rolled up rim hat and the knit wool cap, respectively, so in my world this counts as capturing the essence of these brave seafarers to the point, if in a stereotypical way. My only regret is the lack of opacity on Jonas Jr.‘s printed flap, which kinda ruins the illusion of the bib overalls.

LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Captain Jonas possessed LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Captain Jonas regular

Captain Jonas can be built in both a possessed and a regular form. Once possessed he turns into some sort of pirate ghost with tentacles coming out of his back and a glowing green sword. It doesn’t really add much for me, given that you can’t really do much with the boat itself to transform it accordingly. more on that further down. I suppose it’s okay, though.

LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Crocodile

Interestingly, the set comes with an albino crocodile. For a high seas them that is a bit of an odd choice even if in the play fiction the boat is thrown ashore/ stranded on a reef. The alligator would have kinda made more sense in the Riverside Houseboat (31093) from earlier this year. Still, nice to have one, regardless, given that there haven’t been that many crocodiles/ gators using this mold in recent years no matter the color.

LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Boat, Left Front View

Rather than relying on dedicated ship hull parts, the boat is built from more generalized standard pieces. This makes it easier to re-use them in other projects. You can of course argue endlessly whether using a large airplane underside part for the ship’s bow is really that much different, but in my opinion for such a shell in Dark Blue it’s easier to find alternate uses than say for a Coral colored large hull piece like on the LEGO Friends Rescue Mission Boat (41381). Your mileage may vary, naturally.

LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Boat, Left Aft View

It’s particularly noteworthy that, while it is part of a series aimed at kids and teenagers, the color choices are very restrained and even conservative. No wacky Orange or Dark Pink, it’s all in subdued natural colors like Reddish Brown, Dark  Brown and so on, nicely complemented by some bits in White, Black and Sand Green. The latter is always good to have and maybe one day even that bonnet piece used for the roof might come in handy.

People have said that this model would be perfect to go with the Old Fishing Store (21310) in the LEGO Ideas series from a few years ago. I well remember how I wished this set actually had a boat and would have rejoiced at the inclusion of what we have here, but the fact of the matter is that it’s not that easy, though not impossible, either. The truth is that in terms of scale even this relatively small boat would still be too large next to the building. There are comparison photos on the web that confirm this, should you care to look yourself. You will have to put in some work to make it more suitable, most notably cutting down the height of the wheel house at the cost of no longer being able to fit a minifigure in there.

LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Boat, Right View

Overall, though, the boat holds up nicely and includes everything you would expect with the exception of a hoist. That would really be more only serious concern, as even those small boats usually have some sort of crane to assist with reeling in the fishing nets or help with offloading the cargo at the port. Also notice the blank white discs. They are of course meant to be live saver rings where I just didn’t use the stickers. Thinking about it, if you don’t use those, it would be probably better to just leave them off entirely and replace the bricks with sideways studs they are attached to with smooth ones.

LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Rocks regular

Since it is meant to be a wrecked/ stranded boat there inevitably has to be something it actually crashes on and to that end the set contains parts to build a bit of rock face with some greenery tacked on. Once again I’m pleased by the color choices with lot’s of Dark Brown, Dark Green and Olive elements in addition to the ones in grey tones.

LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Rocks possessed

Now for a bit of a disappointment: Eagle-eyed viewers (or even your myopic granny) will clearly notice some pink/ magenta tentacles emanating from the waters surrounding the rocky island, which I interpret as some sort of octopus tentacles ripping the boat in half. You guessed it – they are nowhere to be found or even hinted at in the actual set. Respect to the graphics artist’s imagination going wild, but in this particular case it really feels like cheating and embellishing the packaging a bit too much. True, nowhere does it actually show those tentacles even on the photos on the back side of the box, but I was still hoping. It would have been quite cool and added another level of gameplay possibilities outside of the AR app.

LEGO Hidden Side, Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419), Rocks with Boat

On the whole there is a lot to like and since it’s basically sold around 20 Euro everywhere (despite an MSRP of 30 Euro) there is little reason to hold back on a purchase. Even if you don’t particularly like the subject, you can make good use of some of the parts and get at least one or two nice minifigures out of it plus with a little bit of effort it could still become a nice model on the shelf next to that Old Fishing Store

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.

Hidden Side, Hidden Gems? – J.B.’s Ghost Lab (70418) and Newbury Juice Bar (40336)

Just like in the fashion industry there are sort of recurring cycles in the LEGO world as well and so it’s not really that much of a surprise that we get similar sets within a series every few years or for that matter new series featuring similar subject matter. Not a bad thing, though, as long as it helps to rejuvenate the overall portfolio and keeps things fresh, be that taking a new approach to building techniques or for that matter re-evaluating an entire genre with a renewed perspective.

With Monster Fighters now being several years in the past, in fact before I even started to get into LEGO, a theme around, ghosts, monsters, zombies and the like isn’t that far fetched and Hidden Side so far seems to fill that gap nicely. At least the first wave got me quite excited for a number of reasons. Might naturally be a different story when the next line of sets is released next year and things may begin to feel a bit repetitive or redundant, but we have to see. It’s still early in the series life and as they say, it could “have legs”. Before I delve into the sets themselves, a few thoughts on the digital integration/ gaming stuff.

Crippled Reality?

One of the key marketing points is of course the Augmented Reality integration, meaning you can interact in a virtual world that’s lined up with the real one. In this case once you’ve the assembled the models they act as gateways to this alternate dimension or Hidden Side. See what they did there? Cheap word play aside, this idea is not without merit, but… And yes, there are a number of big “buts” here.

First, I can freely admit that I’m a skeptic when it comes to things like Virtual Reality and by extension Augmented Reality. The irony is that I can see the value of some of that if it’s done right, but working in the media industry for more than 20 years I have seen all those bold promises that these companies made completely crumble more than once and despite what those same people keep saying we’re still not there yet. A lot of this stuff is still prohibitively expensive and the technical requirements are steep. In my view in fact the commercial aspect is perhaps the biggest hinderance here as it excludes a good chunk of users from the get-go simply because they can’t afford it.

How is this relevant to Hidden Side you may ask? Well, your mobile device may simply be not contemporary enough or powerful enough to run the app. With Apple and Google only having implemented relevant functions into iOS and Android respectively in recent versions, you are going to need a smartphone or tablet that isn’t too old and has been updated consequently to those later versions of the operating systems. The official list on the LEGO site isn’t that long and even then there may be a chance it still doesn’t work reliably even if you have a spankin’ new iPhone. That is to say you should definitely verify the specs and test the app before actually getting into any active play.

The other thing that I was afraid of was endless commercialization of the actual gameplay via micro-transactions and similar. Luckily so far there are no traces of it to be seen, but I choose to remain just those five percent skeptical on that matter. You never know what happens and how companies desperate for cash might find creative ways to exploit their customers, to put it cautiously.

Of course you may take my ponderings with a grain of salt as I may be basically talking out of my behind, as they say. Because I don’t have a compatible device at the moment, I can only judge the actual gameplay from watching videos from other people. My conclusion here is that it barely seems worth the time, at least not as an adult. The core activities seem to be centered around chasing the “Gloom” by activating certain items to collect points and battling ghosts, or if you are playing on the opposite side, as a spectre or possessed entity to avoid being scanned by an imaginary other ghost chaser with a mobile device.

The presentation and detail of the world seems well enough, but truth be told, this more or less feels like pretty much any other free to play game of a similar ilk with the high technical requirements and the over 1 GB gigabyte app package size (due to apparently containing a lot of complex 3D assets and textures) representing an extra challenge. If your phone is full with other apps, photos, videos and other games, getting the app even installed could be tricky. In any case, to me it appears like something that could keep kids up to a certain age busy for ten minutes, but even if you buy all sets and try out all play modes this will quickly lose its attraction.

The good thing, though, is that the sets themselves are not dependent on the AR gimmick and have been designed well enough to be worthwhile on their own merits, so let’s have a look.

Monster Lab

The first set is J.B.’s Ghost Lab (70418), which is basically the smallest of the sets you can buy in this series currently.

LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.'s Ghost Lab (70418), Box

Stylistically the set is built on the stereotypical “monster lab” as you so often see it in old movies in different forms, but always more or less featuring the same recognizable standard features. Most notable is of course the large electrical arch generator with its insulator construct, a trope from a time when electricity was still considered something mysterious and the lightning flashes and sparks would mystify, scare and impress people.

LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.'s Ghost Lab (70418), Overview

The set comes with a selection of three minifigures and and part of the appeal is that they feel fresh and modern. One of the reasons I never took much interest in minifigs clearly is that most of them just look stuffy and boring as if the world hasn’t changed in the last thirty years or so. There are some good ones in collectible series or e.g. Ninjago, but for the most part the average minifigure still feels like someone from the 1970s to me. Things have been improving with quite a few new accessories and hair pieces having come out, though, and Hidden Side seems to amp this up even further.

LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.'s Ghost Lab (70418), Figures

There are some recurring characters throughout that are basically included in every set, just with different outfits. One of them is Jack Davids, the guy in the red hoodie sweater. You also get the friendly ghost dog Spencer this way. Other figures are exclusive to each set like J.B. (the lady with the Lavender hair) and Douglas Elton (the green guy). In contrast to what you might have expected there are no dedicated ghostly figures like spectres and zombies. Rather the idea is that some of the protagonists can be possessed by evil spirits. To distinguish and transform them visually you therefore get a separate head and hair piece in different colors, sometimes also some suitable add-ons like ragged cloaks, weapons and so on. For now those are done in Yellowish Green and Transparent Neon Green, but I would expect other colors to be used in the future as well, be it just that overuse of those colors could get a bit tiresome eventually.

LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.'s Ghost Lab (70418), Douglas Figure regular LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.'s Ghost Lab (70418), Douglas Figure possessed

The first batch of this particular set seems to have a consistent printing error on Douglas‘s head also noted in other reviews. While it’s a dual face head, it only has printed eyebrows on one of them. As you can see in the photos, this looks kind of odd even with the hair piece on. Most of my minifigures rest peacefully in a dark box so it isn’t exactly a critical issue like it would be if I displayed them on a collector’s shelf, but since I wanted everything to be correct and felt a bit entitled to get a flawless product, I requested a replacement part from LEGO, after all. Lo and behold, they seem to be fully aware of the issue and have produced a new badge with complete prints already.

LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.'s Ghost Lab (70418), Douglas Figure missing Head Print Issue

The laboratory itself isn’t much of a complex build and funny enough its construction reflects the movie origins it’s trying to mimic. For all intents and purposes, it’s just a flat wall with everything integrated like it would have been on those old film sets for quick turnarounds, i.e. being able to move things easily when preparing scenes. That would have been even more critical on TV productions shooting several episodes in a row or even live broadcasting them directly from a studio as wasn’t that uncommon in the early days of television due to the technical limitations. But I digress.

LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.'s Ghost Lab (70418), Front Side

The center piece of the model naturally is the arch generator with the transformation/ ghost decontamination chamber underneath it. it doesn’t have any actual (fake) transformative features like a revolving door mechanism to quickly switch between two minifigures or something like that. It’s not essential, but would have at least given one actionable feature in an overall mostly static setting. Spreading out from this center are some gadgets left and right.

The right-hand-side features a selection of vials and other lab vessels all neatly arranged on and around a shelf. It also has a wall-mounted computer screen, but since I never use the stickers, apparently it loses its magic and the functionality doesn’t really come across. Speaking of which – since the stickers are stylistically quite different, it seems odd that they included the rather old 2 x 1 tile for the keyboard.

On the left-hand-side you see the typical color choosing gadget associated with the AR game. The logic here is to select a differently colored element based on what the app tells you and once it verifies this you will be able to clear another sub-set of “Gloom”. In this case it’s disguised as some sort of electrical transformator, but again, since I didn’t use the stickers the voltage gauges are missing and the idea is lost on uninitiated observers.

LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.'s Ghost Lab (70418), Back Side

As you would expect, the back side continues the TV studio theme and doesn’t provide any additional details. In fact the hollowed out panels almost scream “fake paper wall”, so I guess you could call it only consequent and well done. My slight peeve with the non-existing turntable functionality is even re-affirmed with the small stair step at the back of the cylinder – as if someone could wait there to do a quick swap while the studio goes dark and lights flash. The things that could have been…

On a whole this small set is a good way to get your feet moist in Hidden Side, but you should not expect too much – neither with the build nor the interactive play features. Personally I feel it could have been grander, meaning that trivial things like having actual side wall would have rooted it more in reality as a genuine ghost lab rather than playing on the TV show/ movie clichées.

Not all is lost, though, as apparently this set is  structurally simple enough to modify it relatively easily. With the average price now being around 14 Euro buying it twice or three times is an absolutely attainable goal and with some parts from your stock thrown in, you should be able to create something nice without breaking a sweat.

Juicy Extra

The second set of the day is the Newbury Juice Bar (40336). This isn’t a regular Hidden Side set, but rather a promotional “Gift with Purchase”. Here in Germany you could get it when buying stuff above 45 Euro in a LEGO store (or their online shop) and as I’m publishing this article, this two-week promotion in fact just ran out. You may still be able to obtain this set, as naturally not only promotions are different across the globe but also many who picked up the set will sell it second-hand. Anyway, for which set I actually scraped my last pennies together to get this little freebie is a topic for another time, but maybe you will find out soon-ish… 😉

LEGO Hidden Side, Newbury Juice Bar (40336), Box

While I generally don’t get too worked up over promotional items, the reason I’m including this set here is because it’s actually quite superb. It’s perhaps not worth the 13 Euro mentioned on the receipt for tax reasons (which immediately are subtracted again, of course), but I’d be totally game if this was one of those 10 Euro sets you can buy via regular channels. Knowing this blog and how critical I’m of those things you can imagine what this means and how impressed I am with this little model. I had this positive gut feeling right after Io saw the first photos and just had to have it.

LEGO Hidden Side, Newbury Juice Bar (40336), Overview

Why is it so good? To begin with, it contains two full figures, one of them being recurring character Parker L. Jackson, the other Rocky the barkeeper, including his alternate head for once he gets possessed. The other thing that drew me in is the overall appearance. While certainly small, this feels like it could exist as some 1960s style retro-futuristic kiosk made from sheet metal parts or for that matter a converted caravan from that same era. It’s all bullet-y and round, if you get my meaning.

LEGO Hidden Side, Newbury Juice Bar (40336), Front View closed

The colors, in particular the Bright Light Orange parts, stand out a bit too much perhaps, but otherwise this could easily fit into a city environment. Ideally of course they would have made it with more Sand Green then right of the bat, but let’s not that this is targeted at kids first and foremost. In contrast to J.B.’s Ghost Lab this is one of the sets where the buildings/ vehicles themselves get possessed, too, so the center section of roof can be opened to expose some grimacing face with staring green eyes and teeth.

LEGO Hidden Side, Newbury Juice Bar (40336), Front View open

Of course for me a good part conversation is always about what pieces are included and their potential for future uses. Say what you will, but getting a bunch of Dark Blue 2 x 3 window frames, Sand Green 1 x 6 bricks and even the quarter cylinders in that same color can never be a bad thing. None of those components are in short supply of course, but you’d have to be crazy pass up on getting them free. I can only re-iterate: This set is damn useful and nice.

If that wasn’t enough, I also thoroughly enjoyed assembling it. With around 120 pieces it equals a small Creator 3in1 set and unlike those 5-minute-jobs with poly bags keeps you busy for a bit longer. When I was finished I immediately regretted that there wasn’t more to do. That’s how much fun I had. There is a tiny little caveat, though: Similar to other such sets that have perhaps been designed a bit too much with cost-awareness in mind, stability is not necessarily the best in places because the evil budget supervisor made no allowance for some extra parts. As you would guess, this especially affects the quarter cylinders before attaching the roof and some protruding parts of the counter. not the end of the world, though.

LEGO Hidden Side, Newbury Juice Bar (40336), Back View

Overall Hidden Side seems to be shaping up to be a hit series and so far I really like what I see. It remains to see whether LEGO can keep up this level of quality in upcoming sets. I have a few more of the first wave already lined up, so stay tuned for more reviews…