Another Deep Dive – LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.’s Submarine (70433)

I’m a sucker for certain subjects and as much as I may want to, my inner demons take the upper hand if only something stimulates my nerves in the right way. As I have written many times, oceanic deep see life is one of those things, so it seemed unavoidable that I would by J.B.’s Submarine (70433) from the Hidden Side series, after all. however, I did do so with some major reservations and inner struggles.

LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.'s Submarine (70433), Box

The first obvious reason for my reluctance of course once more is the price of the set. It became immediately apparent that the contents of this set are a bit on the sparse side just from looking at marketing photos. This was further confirmed by the small package size when I saw it sit on a shelf. I’m an advocate for using packaging volume efficiently, but in case of LEGO sets this really communicates that the box may not live up to what you might expect, so I’m always wary.

This weird unevenness of package sizes is also confusing and it begins to bother me – you can have two sets in the same price range stuffed into completely different boxes, making it hard to compare how much bang for the buck you possibly get. One could of course speculate endlessly whether or not this is intentional just like you could come up with a million rationalizations like larger parts needing more “air” so they don’t get scratched, but it’s at times frustrating as heck.

LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.'s Submarine (70433), Overview

The value of the set is split across four main components: the minifigures, the shark, the submarine itself and what I call a “reef” section for the scenery.

The Minifigures

LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.'s Submarine (70433), Minifigures If you have already bought the Supernatural Race Car (70434) like I did, one of the minifigures will be very familiar. I have nothing against Vaughn Geist, but you don’t necessarily need him twice in your collection. On the other hand it’s still nice to have him as a basis for some Steampunk-ish/ Victorian Era minifigure customization.

J.B. has a new torso and legs mimicking a scuba suit. that’s okay in the general sense, but has a very 1990s vibe. I think that was the last time cyan/ turquoise/ petrol and pink colored neoprene suits were actually hip. I also believe a hair piece with a pigtail would have made more sense, as you wouldn’t want your long hair to float about uncontrolled underwater.

Shark Time!

LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.'s Submarine (70433), Shark

The shark is a neat little addition. It is however regrettable, that they gave him “snotty eyes” as if he had some illness. Sure, that’s meant to be spooky and scary, but since the print is relatively weak it a) is difficult to recognize while b) at the same time limiting the use of the shark itself for other scenarios. If you care to remember, I was rambling on quite a bit about which types of sharks I would love to see. The Sand Blue color is a good start, though.

The Reef

Now for the painful part. Yes, the reef feels like they couldn’t quite decide what to go for, but somehow needed this filler to even validate the existence of this set from a commercial perspective.

LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.'s Submarine (70433), Reef, Front Complete

Most tragically, this section is not self-explanatory and does not communicate what it is supposed to be about. Maybe it’s somewhere in the AR app, but to date I don’t know what this grey figure is supposed to stand for and how it fits into the overall story. Sure, some sort of sea master/ guardian, possibly for some long sunken ruins, but other than that? It’s really not clear and at best feels generic.

LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.'s Submarine (70433), Reef, Front without Sub

Another massively irksome thing is the excessive use of colors. This little piece of “land” already feels rather flamboyant in a way and revealing the markers used to trigger the events in the game only exacerbates the issue. Again, there is an overall feeling that they really didn’t care much and on top of it were probably not allowed to spend an extra budget, so even the Dark Cyan curved slopes feel out of place and like they had to make do with what they could scrape together. One really wishes everything was Dark Bluish Grey and Black to make it more consistent even if you could argue that the Dark Tan elements are supposed to represent the ocean floor.

LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.'s Submarine (70433), Reef, Front with Markers exposed

In a bit of a “What?” moment there is a rather clever gate mechanism hidden under the central plate. In light of not knowing what is going on here one could assume this could be some way to release ghosts or a strong water stream that pushes away invaders. Just the same it could of course also be some very narrow passage. In fact I’m almost inclined to believe that it was initially even more elaborate and may also have included more coral bushes to actually cover up the statue, but then things were struck from the list to meet budget limits.

LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.'s Submarine (70433), Reef, Front with open Center

This feeling of incompleteness continues on the back side as well. One simply cannot shake the feeling that this originally was designed quite differently and possibly part of a bigger scenario which then got culled and now we’re only getting remnants.

LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.'s Submarine (70433), Reef, Back

The Sub

Calling it the main attraction hardly seems appropriate, but for me the tiny submarine is the best part about this set. This isn’t so much a case of it being particularly special overall, but for its size it is constructed pretty cleverly. Sadly, though, no time was spent to even hint at some cockpit interior, be that just adding the standard lever, printed 1 x 2 slope and a seat known from other sets.

There’s enough room inside there and the face print on the glass canopy simply does not cover up enough. On that note I would have preferred an unprinted bubble, anyway. Mine was also rather scratchy, but I didn’t trouble myself with requesting a better replacement part simply because it’s unlikely I will ever use it for any of my own creations again.

LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.'s Submarine (70433), Submarine, Front Left View LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.'s Submarine (70433), Submarine, Aft Left View

The one thing that also bugs me here is once again the excessive use of colors. Someone really must have had a bad day and everything feels kind of thrown together using a little less of the yellow and making those round tanks on the side also Black or Light Bluish Grey would have resulted in a more pleasing, overall calmer appearance.

LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.'s Submarine (70433), Submarine, Right View LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.'s Submarine (70433), Submarine, Front View

LEGO Hidden Side, J.B.'s Submarine (70433), New Wedge PieceOne thing of note is the wedge piece on the side. It’s actually a new part, not just the existing separate left and right pieces that have existed for the last two years now. Personally I don’t know how to feel about this, to be honest, as the only reason this part seems to exist is further “economization”, i.e. reduction of parts count in sets.

It’s not entirely without merit, as indeed the way it’s being used in other sets loosely hanging in the air and bridging gaps would be difficult to achieve with the same level of stability and elegance, but I’d rather they’d given us some other slope piece with those angled edges instead or at least use a more obtuse angle. if you will: This doesn’t necessarily expand creative possibilities, it really just solves a technical problem.

 


Concluding Thoughts

All things considered, this isn’t a must-have set unless you really don’t mind spending those 20 Euro (or 15 Euro with discounts) to complete your Hidden Side collection. Outside my own weird “I’ll use those crazy colored parts one day.” logic I can’t see how this would appeal to anyone else. It’s not even particularly good or desirable within the series itself. It just completely lacks a unique selling point that would make me recommend it.

Boombox Mechanic – LEGO Hidden Side Magazine, September/ October 2020

With the death knell for LEGO Hidden Side not being that far off, I welcome every opportunity to explore the series while it lasts and the associated magazine, while certainly not the most attractive out of all the LEGO magazines, this month certainly has some welcome goodness.

LEGO Magazine, Hidden Side, September/ October 2020, Cover

The September/ October 2020 issue comes with a very useful minifigure and an even more useful little extra and for once I was really looking forward to it, despite my not being much into collecting minifigs. The mechanic is a different version of the one also included in Jack’s Beach Buggy (70428) and by that I mean the body/ torso is the same and the head has been substituted for a simpler version. Since I bought two magazines this time, I was actually able to display the regular and the ghost version side by side in the same picture.

Now, why would I do such a thing? The answer is also already in the image – it’s all about the boombox. This particular version in Light Bluish Grey has only been included in a handful of sets, some of them pretty expensive ones, so it’s a bit elusive. Not in the crazy expensive and rare sense, just that it may not always be readily available in larger quantities. That’s why it’s nice to get it in such a straightforward manner. You never know when it might come in handy. After all, I outfitted my prize-winning MOC from last year with the orange version and it helps to bring across that beach vibe.

LEGO Magazine, Hidden Side, September/ October 2020, Extras

With the mechanic and his boombox being front and center they of course have to be in the comic as well along with the already mentioned beach buggy and the Paranormal Intercept Bus 3000 (70423). that and then the buggy is featured on a separate product page as well. A bit too much promotion for such a small, unimportant set, if you ask me. Regardless, the comic is done well enough to derive some fun, even though it doesn’t introduce anything we haven’t seen before.

The posters are once more pretty terrible, with some fat ugly type having been overlaid on the already hyper-active, overstuffed Hidden Side art style. The puzzles/ mini-games follow the usual pattern of “Find person X!” and some random “Ghost Hunter Practice” stuff like pointing at some crosshairs with eyes closed, so nothing new there.

Overall the main reason for getting the magazine at this point is to complete your collection of minifigures from the series. The other stuff becomes less and less relevant for this “no future” magazine and who knows, the next issue for November/ December could already be the last.

Locked up Ghosts – LEGO Hidden Side, Abandoned Prison of Newbury (70435)

Regrettably, LEGO Hidden Side will come to an end later this here, so let’s have a look at some more sets from the second wave while there is still a chance. Today’s menu is the Abandoned Prison of Newbury (70435).

Contents

LEGO Hidden Side, Abandoned Prison of Newbury (70435), Box

This set is one of the few in my life and the series specifically where it didn’t need much of a second thought and that “Want! Want! Want!” urge was right there as soon as I saw some real photos of the set. I was immediately taken in by the fact that this would be a “realistic” model using naturalistic colors and, also somewhat unusual for Hidden Side, wasn’t plastered all over with those colored markers that the smartphone app latches on to.

LEGO Hidden Side, Abandoned Prison of Newbury (70435), Overview

The Minifigures

The minifigures aren’t that special. There’s of course for the millionth time Jack in his typical white sweater, only this time with an added separate hood piece for good measure. Similar to J.B., his smartphone also has a different screen print to further distinguish him from earlier editions. El Fuego is his standard skeletal from know from his stunt truck set and often depicted in the comic magazine.

That only leaves the prison guard and Rami as actual new figures. The guard is okay, but ultimately just feels like yet another LEGO City police officer, even more so since he doesn’t have any colleagues to support him. God forbid there’s ever a prison riot! Rami stands out the most with his Dark Cyan jacket and Blue T-shirt with the neon-style logo. As a bonus, he also comes with a Chihuahua dog. This little critter has only be rarely used at all in any sets and here it comes with a refined print for the eyes and nose to boot.

LEGO Hidden Side, Abandoned Prison of Newbury (70435), Minifigures

The Prison Building

Despite my wanting the set, one thing made me go “Not again!” and *facepalm* myself: Yupp, it’s easily apparent and one can’t dance around it, but this set, too, follows the flat facade/ triptych type overall layout not least of all dictated by the requirements for the Augmented Reality (AR) app and some ill-conceived notion of accessibility to the individual sections. The consolation here is,however, that for all intents and purposes a prison is an enclosed facility and the idea of the cell blocks framing the yard makes sense.

LEGO Hidden Side, Abandoned Prison of Newbury (70435), Front View, Closed

The center section very prominently features a big hunking door constructed from the same piece used on the Ninjago play cabinets earlier this year, just in a different color. I’m sure we’re going to see this part being used quite a bit in the future, as it would be useful for anything from thick, reinforced bank vault doors to serving as a loading trough on a truck.

LEGO Hidden Side, Abandoned Prison of Newbury (70435), Front View, Open

The actual cells for the inmates open by ways of a custom-built sliding mechanism. Since they are based on the four studs wide fence element, there is ample room to move your minifigures through the opening when slid back. Those fence elements are done in Dark Pearl Grey for the first time here, by the way, which makes them super useful and highly desirable for custom builds. The same goes for the horizontal O-type bars used on the roof. Even better, you get eight and ten of each element, respectively, so even if you only buy one set, you have quite some good start count to work with.

LEGO Hidden Side, Abandoned Prison of Newbury (70435), Front View, Monster Transformation

The monster transformation is okay, I guess, but nothing to write home about. As always I didn’t use the stickers, so the eyes are missing, but I feel even if they were there they wouldn’t add much. It’s just not scary and the space in the surveillance towers could probably have been used better for adding some more small details. They also at the very least could have thrown in a bunch of chains in Trans Neon Green to put up as decoration.

LEGO Hidden Side, Abandoned Prison of Newbury (70435), Left Watch Tower, Front View LEGO Hidden Side, Abandoned Prison of Newbury (70435), Left Watch Tower, Back View

The towers are kept quite simple, being based on the old octagonal castle pieces. The left section has a basketball hoop and someone even left the ball laying on the ground, which makes for a lovely touch. It begs the question, though, how long ago the prison was actually abandoned. If kids are still playing there, it again can’t be that scary.

LEGO Hidden Side, Abandoned Prison of Newbury (70435), Right Watch Tower, Front View LEGO Hidden Side, Abandoned Prison of Newbury (70435), Right Watch Tower, Back View

The right tower is your typical elevated platform with a roof on it, but otherwise feels a bit barebones. They could easily have added some details like a loudspeaker/ megaphone and if the monster claws weren’t there, there would be room for a weapons locker with stun guns and a ladder or something to that effect.

LEGO Hidden Side, Abandoned Prison of Newbury (70435), Center Section, Back View

The center section is either the guards’ holding area or a community room/ shared facilities for the inmates. I couldn’t quite figure out which it is supposed to be, but either would be appropriate. The toilet even has a small gag in that a transparent yellow 1 x 1 tile hints that someone forgot to flush after taking a pee. I’m not sure, though, if Lavender toilet paper would be appropriate. 😉


Concluding Thoughts

All things considered, I like this set very much. It looks the part and I thoroughly enjoyed building it. The parts are very, very useful for custom builds, so despite being very cost-aware it isn’t really worth opening a discussion about it. Getting it for 30 Euro sure made things easier, but I’d have bought it for its full prize at 40 Euro eventually as well. This is in fact one of the few sets where I’m seriously considering getting it more than once and might rebuild it as a bigger version one day. In any case, if you have similar thoughts, you should definitely hurry up securing your copy before it’s going to disappear from the market. I highly recommend it.

July Jack

Know what? Jack is really getting a bit on my nerves. Not only is he once again front and center in the new LEGO Hidden Side magazine for July, but he also makes an appearance as a minifigure yet again.

LEGO Magazine, Hidden Side, July/ August 2020, Cover

The point here is of course that per se there’s nothing wrong with Jack, but the figures are simply booooring as hell. It’s like he only owns two sweaters and always has the same grin. Including Spencer makes things a bit more attractive, but only ever so slightly. So from where I sit this is a total miss and I’m looking much more forward to the next issue which for once will include a truly unique minifigure.

The comic in this issue is interesting, as it depicts the Newbury Zoo. This has been rumored as a set ever since Hidden Side was first announced, but given how the series is on a steady decline, I doubt that we will ever get to see those ghostly tigers and elephants for real. It’s highly unlikely that LEGO would invest the money in those potentially poorly selling sets at this point. That is, of course, unless they are already released the budget in the process of preparing actual production.

Interestingly enough, now Hidden Side joins the other LEGO magazines by including images for coloring. It seems someone realized that kids actually love to doodle around with this. That’s quite adequate because you can say what you will, but the artworks show that a lot of effort went into them. Would be a shame not to use them. The rest is the usual mix of obscure puzzles and rather unimpressive posters that I certainly would not put up anywhere.

Green Goblin Speeder – LEGO Hidden Side, Supernatural Race Car (70434)

For someone who doesn’t know much about cars I sure do write a lot about this type of sets here on my blog, so here we go again with the Supernatural Race Car (70434) from this year’s summer wave of Hidden Side sets.

LEGO Hidden Side, Supernatural Race Car (70434), Box

In my view Hidden Side as a series has more or less tanked and is doomed to be cancelled/ not extended pretty soon. The reasons for this are glaringly obvious, but suffice it to say that the lack of advancement in the world-building and a lot of pretty lackluster sets haven’t helped. It’s still being sold with massive discounts left and right, which of course is nice for me, but speaks volumes about how little consumer adoption and demand there may be. So I’m mostly enjoying it while it lasts and I’m raisin-picking the sets I think will benefit me, or more specifically my parts stock, the most.

LEGO Hidden Side, Supernatural Race Car (70434), Overview

Choosing this particular model was primarily driven by the Dark Green parts and I also thought the the faux white-wall tires looked kind of cool, with another contributing factor being that oddly enough I never even had the narrower rim type used for the front wheels in the first place, regardless in which color. There are some other, less visible useful details, but more on that later. Unusually for me I also liked the minifigures, well, some of them, which is unfortunately yet another point LEGO don’t seem to understand and exploit to their advantage.

LEGO Hidden Side, Supernatural Race Car (70434), Figures

Specifically I liked the leftmost character called Vaughn Geist, an all too apparent word play on van Geist. It’s color scheme with the different brown tones and the overall apparel style would wonderfully fit into a Steampunk inspired setting once you replace the head, a quality shared by several of the “ghost” figures across the Hidden Side sets.

The helmet of the Shadow Hunter in the middle will please knights fans, no doubt, as it was last used in some Nexo Knights sets. Similarly, the Uruk-hai sword has only recently seen a renaissance in Ninjago and as a Knights of Ren sword in Star Wars, so it’s definitely a nice addition. If nothing else, it could mean that prices on Bricklink will drop and you can complete your old Lord of the Rings sets more cost-efficiently.

Jack is pretty much his old self, but at least they gave him a new screen design for the smartphone tile.

LEGO Hidden Side, Supernatural Race Car (70434), Front Left View

The main model itself draws inspiration from an American Hot Rod/ custom car not quite unlike my own humble attempt. It’s designed as one of those compressed, very low suspension type of cars hugging the race track. It manages to convey the idea well enough, but falls short in execution. I’m particularly disappointed that not more effort was put in in actually covering the rear section.

The thing is that I know such cars with their innards exposed exist to show off that expensive carbon fiber undercarriage for instance, it just doesn’t look convincing here. You guessed it – LEGO are essentially screwing themselves by leaving all those grey and brown bits exposed, making for a rather unattractive posterior. If at least they had matched up the colors…

LEGO Hidden Side, Supernatural Race Car (70434), Aft Left View

The rear section also falls short in terms of construction in what I consider a critical area. The wheels are supposed to double as some kind of anti-gravity hover pads as seen in some science fiction movies and thus are attached on a hinge mechanism. So far, so good. Where things fall apart, however, is the way it’s implemented. Instead of using a proper double-beam suspension it’s built in a way that the stoppers of the axles on which the wheels are affixed simply butt against the car’s body.

In the front this isn’t as critical because there’s a pretend drive shaft poking out of the motor and it fits perfectly, but in the aft it makes me go *grmpf*. You could argue that “Whatever works, works!” and clearly kids won’t mind, but I see trouble. In the long run the areas where the two parts are in contact will show a white circle/ dot on the green shield due to the  microfractures from the pressure and eventually the pieces may crack completely or at least fall off because they have lost their clutch power. Point in case: It’s only clever as a quick, immediate solution, but the designer didn’t consider the repercussions for later.

LEGO Hidden Side, Supernatural Race Car (70434), Aft Right View

As usual the set ties in with the Hidden Side Augmented Reality (AR) game on mobile devices and to that effect features a bunch of colored markers that trigger the various ghost and Gloom interactions. The selector wheel on the back is commonplace and exists in the cylindrical form shown here or its flat, disc-shaped pendant on pretty much every model, but in addition there’s a Magenta marker on the inside of the roof. there’s also additional Medium Azure markers on the sides.

These got me excited a bit. As you well know I never use stickers on my models and in the before times this is exactly how LEGO would have done it – a sticker wrapped around a round 2 x 2 brick. This would have sort of worked, of course, but here it would also have been somewhat critical because there’s not much room. The edges of the sticker might have gotten snagged on the edge of the car body, peeling it off in the long run.

That’s why instead we get a new part, which is what you already thought it would be – yes, a 2 x 2 round brick cut in half. It solves the issue perfectly and personally I’m hoping LEGO will include this part in many more sets from here on. It solves a ton of problems and opens up new design options not just for rotating parts, but also protruding faux “columns” on buildings and the like that just need to blend in smoothly. It’s literally one of those “This piece should have existed for forever already!” cases where you wonder why it took them so long…

LEGO Hidden Side, Supernatural Race Car (70434), Game Markers

The rest of the car is very ordinary in every way. It’s built around a double Technic brick center beam, with most of the other parts being plugged on using SNOT techniques and conventional stacking without any sophisticated tricks. The overall slender style doesn’t really allow much more than that, anyway. There’s just not enough space.

A final small little highlight is hidden in the guns on the hood. They are constructed from standard double-barrel blasters and extended in length with Black binocular pieces. Why is that even worth a mention you wonder? Well, those pieces surprisingly haven’t been done in Black like forever. I hardly couldn’t believe it myself at first, knowing that I have tons of the min Dark Bluish Grey and Orange from various Friends, City and Star Wars sets, but yes, the mighty Bricklink says it has now been almost ten years since last they were used and LEGO have only re-introduced them late last year. Go, figure!

LEGO Hidden Side, Supernatural Race Car (70434), Front View

Overall this is an okay model for what it is and it had some positive surprises. However, it isn’t anything you’d miss if you didn’t buy it. It will work just fine as a play set for the intended age range of kids if you don’t mind the shortcomings that will eventually break it. It’s definitely not a collectible, though. Some major work would be required to improve the details and make them withstand the degradation that comes with time like the “white dot” issue I mentioned.

As most of the time, I had my sights set on the parts for use later and I might actually buy a second set at some point to get a complete set of four identical white tires and use the pieces for other projects (including the revelation of now owning one more large green tile modified in addition to the one from the A-Wing (75248)) . Still, there’s no rush and I’m waiting until prices drop further. 24 Euro isn’t that terribly expensive (MSRP 30 Euro), but I feel the value isn’t really there. This by all means would be a 20 Euro set in my world.

Saturday Triple

I’ve distracted myself with way too much other stuff this week, so I didn’t get around to catching you up on the latest LEGO magazines and thus I’m rolling three of them into this single article.

LEGO Magazine, City, June 2020, Cover

The June issue of the City mag this time is themed around the new racing/ car workshop sets from this year’s spring releases and consequently therefore we are getting a small kart as buildable parts. It’s nothing too special, but at least it uses the same base plate as they did in the failed Friends kart racing series, so building your little vehicle is super simple and at the same time super robust. The minifigure is also nice in that it’s plain and generic enough to fit many scenarios. Even the red helmet is a welcome change from the usual, as lately I seem to have only come across black and white ones in most sets.

The aforementioned figure is also featured on one of the posters and this, too, benefits from the somewhat unspecific, unbranded nature. If you will, it’s not as obtrusive as some other figures that are plastered all over with advertising, be that made up or real. The comics seem to now have fully transitioned to the newer, more dynamic style in all magazines, so it’s pretty acceptable and, which is a bonus, can also almost be followed without reading the speech bubbles.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, June 2020, Cover

The Friends magazine is giving me a lot of grief, not just because they reduced its publishing frequency to only every two months. It’s just done so poorly from the lackluster comic to the ugly CG figures. The only reason I still buy it are indeed the extra buildable pieces. With the puppy training theme being the latest weird trend in the commercial sets it was inevitable that it would show up here one day as well. The good thing about it is that this way I’m getting a white little doggy without ever having to buy one of those sets, as indeed Bello with the grey dotted eye patch is completely new print variant of this molding.

The rest is really not worth mentioning, though at least it seems they have adjusted their target demographic’s age a little and the activities and some other things at least make sense in that context.

LEGO Magazine, Hidden Side, June 2020, Cover

Finally there’s Hidden Side. The graphical fidelity of the series still impresses me and shows that a lot of labor was poured into it, the actual story and content not so much. At least the J.B. figure is pretty decent and they even were smart enough to include the ghost-hunting gun. That’s cool because it’s based on the newer 1×1 pistol piece, which due to its compact size and strategically placed studs opens up lots of possibilities to build custom weapons, household appliances etc. or even integrate is as a brick/ bracket of sorts into regular builds.

The poster with the different ghosts would actually be okay if it wasn’t so overstuffed, but Jack? SRSLY? Isn’t it bad enough that we’re getting yet another boring figure of him in the next issue? I’m sorry, but I’m literally facepalming myself over this…

Portal to Nowhere – Hidden Side Portal (70427)

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

LEGO Hidden Side, Portal (70427), Box

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

LEGO Hidden Side, Portal (70427), Overview

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

LEGO Hidden Side, Portal (70427), Figures

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

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

LEGO Hidden Side, Portal (70427), Front View

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEGO Hidden Side, Portal (70427), Back View

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

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

January 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…