The predictable Failure of Hidden Side – A Post Mortem Analysis

As you may have heard by now, LEGO Hidden Side is coming to a close at the end of the year. If you haven’t, then now you know. There won’t be any new sets in January when the next wave of releases is due and the ones on the market will be EOL’d (end-of-line‘d), meaning only the leftovers will be sold off and no new stock will be produced. Also the companion magazine I regularly bought and reviewed has already seen its last issue.

Many may wonder: What happened? Considering that LEGO clearly aimed at this as their “next big thing”, this sure is a surprise to many, even more so since the sets effectively haven’t even been on the market for two years. On that latter point we may need to get used to new times, as even some sets only released in January are now being culled (Heartlake City Hair Salon (41391), some Dots stuff, some Disney Princess sets such as these), but Hidden Side? Something must definitely have gone wrong, so let’s try to figure out what the potential reasons could be

Warning: Lots of reading ahead! I tried to keep my thoughts focused, but forgive me if it still sounds rant-y and ponderous at times. It’s just difficult to get in everything I wanted to say elegantly and concisely with so much stuff running around in my head.

The List

In order to understand my viewpoints it will of course help to tell you which sets I actually got my hands on. Interestingly there are quite a lot of them, though I did not post a review of each and every set on my blog. Funny enough my ability to get so many of course shares a direct relation to the fact that the series was stumbling and faltering right out of the gate, meaning I was profiting from massive discounts every now and then, but more on that later. Here’s the listing of the Hidden Side sets that I built (sorted by set number, linked to article where appropriate):

In addition I was also able to snatch up the 40366 Newbury Juice Bar during a promo at the LEGO store and just a few days ago I also got the 30464 El Fuego’s Stunt Cannon this way.

Opinion Primer

First let me give you a rough overall impression on how some of my opinions may have formed, how they were influenced by what I observed and what led me to certain conclusions.

For me the core appeal of Hidden Side is the overall other-worldly concept of it and doing so in a reasonably modern way without looking like an overstuffed, kitschy fantasy series.  While I wasn’t always one-hundred percent convinced that everything in the series is great and some sets have serious shortcomings, you can say what you will, but at the very least the sets always stood out, regardless of whether you see this as a positive or negative.

As a graphics artist I also liked the design work behind it which in particular became apparent in the comics. It always showed that someone had put some thought and effort behind it. In addition – and I don’t know if that is even the best of arguments – it had a level of realism that made some of the models appear useful at least. You could always imagine just leaving a few pieces off, modifying the build or substituting parts and the buildings and vehicles might fit in a mundane city scenario. This also appealed to my more technical inclinations in the sense that some of the stuff could work for real.

Still, evidently others were a lot less enthusiastic and it became more and more clear that the writing was on the wall for this. You know, the series was barely even reviewed on the typical big news outlets or YouTube and that alone can be taken as an indicator that interest was waning or never existed to begin with. It literally felt like I was the only one even appreciating the existence of some sets.

A Sales Debacle

The main reason for the cancellation of a product or series such as Hidden Side is of course poor sales. When is it ever not? After all, we’re still living in a capitalist system and nobody wants to produce stuff that doesn’t recoup his investment at least and ideally makes him a bit of extra revenue on top. Love it or hate it, that’s just how it is.

Where Hidden Side was concerned, the slow sales were very recognizable. It may not be scientific, but one of my proven theories in the LEGO world is that sets definitely do not sell that great when they are on permanent massive discounts at large retailers. This is what has been happening with many Friends sets for years, has been a clear problem with The LEGO Movie 2, and Hidden Side then joined that group pretty quickly where on average you can get twenty percent off easily without having to rely on special promos, vouchers and other extra rebates. Retailers certainly weren’t making a big revenue cut on these sets.

This was even visible on store shelves, though in an unexpected two-fold way: Some of the sets were just sitting there week after week and others weren’t even available in physical stores after the retailers decided to only distribute them via their online shops because it wouldn’t be worth the trouble to clog up valuable storage space in expensive high-street rental locations. As a result I never once actually have seen a complete deck of all sets anywhere except the official LEGO stores, which also speaks volumes.

Interestingly, Hidden Side also never got mentioned as a best-seller in LEGO’s annual reports. One would think that if it really was meant to be that important, it would visibly show up on the sales charts, but no. This point is not utterly conclusive, though, as typically this stuff is listed by how much revenue it makes the company and not how many units are sold, meaning that in years like 2019 and 2020 where a lot of super expensive sets have been released the statistics easily skew in favor of premium sets, not necessarily representing how well the more mundane bred & butter sets have sold.

Too much Noise, no Signal

A huge contributing factor to the sales misery may have been the poor package design or for that matter any of the corollary marketing materials.

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

As you can see in the image I inserted from one of my reviews, the basic concept here was to show the alternate world behind the normal reality as some sort of split poster/ graphic with the smartphone screen of one of the protagonists sweeping across the scene like a spotlight and revealing the relevant parts.

The problem with that is of course that neither the regular version nor the ghostly world are ever fully visible, which depending on the subject of a set and the size of the model could have the effect of effectively showing very little to almost nothing. If you were a customer picking such a box off the shelf, wouldn’t you be confused as to what it actually contained? Things weren’t helped by the back side being equally non-telling with again too much emphasis on promoting the smartphone usage and only small images of the models that didn’t even always show the actual functions.

This deficiency in the marketing continued throughout other materials as well, most notably the additional images and photographs used in catalogs and online stores. The smartphone usage was front and center to the point of large screens obscuring big chunks while on the other hand very little was shown of the actual physical design and functions of a set.

Missing your Audience

One of the fundamental failures with Hidden Side to me is the attempt to pander to a specific crowd and trying to be “hip” and “cool”. This was inevitably bound to fail, as this stuff simply doesn’t age gracefully. What’s hot today could be long forgotten half a year down the road.

The toy industry always has had this pig cycle driven by holiday seasons, fashion trends, people’s vacation needs, TV series and films among other things, but in the age of the Internet and social media this has switched into turbo mode, barely leaving any room for not getting it right on the first try. If it works, you sell your stuff like sliced bread; if it doesn’t you sit on a huge pile of product you can only sell with discounts, if at all. I think exactly that has happened to Hidden Side – it simply completely missed its potential intended target audiences by a mile, regardless of what age tiers you look at.

Some of the stuff like the Ghost Train Express (70424) might have piqued my interest as a kid, because my father and grandfather being model railroad aficionados of course I inherited this trait, but at the same time the odd “monsterfication” would probably have turned me off. As far as I can tell from the neighbors’ kids around me (who are now also slowly outgrowing that age range) and what I have observed in stores they’re not much into it, either. Hidden Side is simply not interesting when next to it there’s a better Ninjago or City set on the shelf.

The 10 to 16 year generation are the most likely to have decent smartphones and use the AR app on them. In theory they are what I would consider the core demographic. However, they are probably also the ones who ignored Hidden Side the most. You know, kids at that certain age have other things to do between stressful school days, family life, sports activities and other hobbies and on top of it making it through puberty eventually with all that comes with that. They probably couldn’t have cared less for the app, given that there are so many better games out there, many of which they could actually play as a group with their friends. You can add a plethora of social media platforms on top of that that would also occupy their time.

Just as well they might not have dug into the buildable models so much due to the aforementioned time constraints and perhaps feeling a bit awkward about having LEGO models in their room beyond a certain point. One thing that would outright annoy me if I were still a teenager is how the minifigures inaptly play with certain stereotypes and portrays their clothing styles, head gear and so on. It’s that “How old people view the youth.” thing that nobody wants to be reminded of. That analogy would also apply to some of the models or does anyone really think being at the Newbury High School is the coolest thing on Earth?

I also think for that specific age range the scariness factor just isn’t there, making things terribly uninteresting on that front. I really scare easily and I’m not that much into this sort of thing, but I remember all too well how my fear thresholds changed when I started watching certain dark movies like Alien and similar. I would expect this to be even more the case today where those kids get to see all sorts of weird stuff on their social media feeds or games. Compared to that, Hidden Side must feel like a harmless birthday party prank. That’s a feeling I also share as an adult – the series is neither truly scary nor goofily funny and playful about certain horror tropes like e.g. some animated movies successfully do. It all feels a bit dull and yawn-inducing. The same goes for the app again.

Alternate Reality?

Elaborating on some of the previous points, one argument from customers popped up rather quickly after the series was announced and first demonstrations were shown – people despised the Augmented Reality (AR) gimmick and the app that came with it to the point of genuine deep hatred and loathing. This isn’t entirely unexpected, though – a lot of people like me are into LEGO building to actually get away from the digital overload they experience in their daily lives, be that through work, social media, online shopping, streaming services, gaming and what have you. That’s why being faced with yet another app easily feels like an annoyance or intrusion.

Things also became even more an issue when it was clear that the hardware requirements would be rather steep and boil down to mostly latest generation mobile devices with the most recent operating systems. The point here is of course that, while everyone and their dog these days seem to own a smartphone or other mobile device, only a minority would actually be in a position to have the latest tech at their disposal.

Kids would typically snatch their parents’ phone for a limited time, get hand-me-downs from them and older siblings or be gifted older models from a few years ago that can be bought relatively cheaply. Therefore these enormous prerequisites can be considered a major miscalculation, as the impact of limiting the potential user demographic cannot be denied. From a technical point of view this is perfectly understandable, as taking care of compatibility with older hardware can be a pain, it just doesn’t align with the reality of the targeted user base.

Things then further took a turn for the worse when it became clear that the actual game app wouldn’t be particularly good nor offered any genuine immersion and benefits beyond the physical sets. Designed as a simple shooting gallery to take out ghosts or, if you were playing as the ghosts, run away from your pursuers, it became stale very quickly only after a few rounds of playing with any one set and the same tiring game loop repeating with each of them. Adding new sets and having to scan their physical builds to unlock them inside the game merely felt like an artificial, entirely unnecessary extra hurdle at best.

Coupled with technical issues like the sets not being recognized sometimes or the simple fact that the app packages where huge due to containing lots of assets, including the full 3D models of the sets, there was little motivation to even download and install the game, let alone play it. For argument’s sake, you couldn’t even find some decent gameplay clips on YouTube for many of the sets, which I again would take as an indication for lack of popularity.

The actual gameplay looked way too predictable and completely failed to impress me. Everything looked way too toy-ish to be taken seriously, with the gaming loop appearing as repetitive as many users have reported and complained about indeed. I used to be heavily into console gaming in my youth during the 16 bit era of the 1990s and haven’t played a contemporary, technically advanced game on my PC or similar in ages, but even by my low and dated standards this simply looks lame.

Never-ending Story or what?

One of the most critical factors in order to establish a successful, long-running series is to have a wholesome story that glues everything together. You need good world building, interesting locations, sympathetic and relatable hero characters and just the same opponents/ enemies that fit the story and drive it forward. Hidden Side sadly failed in pretty much all of those departments.

As far as the story goes, there is simply none. The only thing we know is that this is playing out in the fictional town of Newbury, with no specific timeframe given, the relations of the characters not explained nor the actual geographical layout. One could probably think of it as a very boring version of a simulation game like The Sims where you just try to figure things out as you go along.

Now the detractors will argue that LEGO is all about using your imagination. My counter-argument to that is: Then why even bother to produce themed sets? If you wanted to take it down to that level, we could just as well talk about generalized minifigures inhabiting generic buildings and using standardized cars as is common in the Creator 3in1 sets or for that matter in City to some extent. This clearly isn’t the case here or the original intention, one would have to presume.

With regards to the geography and locations things are a mixed bag. We know that Newbury must be located by or near the sea thanks to The Lighthouse of Darkness (70431), the Shrimp Shack Attack (70422) and Wrecked Shrimp Boat (70419). We also know that it has a subway, a train station, a school, an abandoned prison, a decrepit fun fair and castle plus we have a few standard tropes like the graveyard filling in some gaps. However, we never know how it all goes together and where it’s situated in relation to each other and how people move around.

Does it matter? For me it does and, which is probably the bigger point, it would in the series’ imaginary ghost hunting scenario. You know, a bunch of school kids/ teenagers hunting down ghosts in their spare time clearly has its limitations in how far they could actually travel and what means of transportation they could use. Even if you disregard these rather real world considerations, simply having a rough map/ plan might have been nice or an explanation within the story.

Character Weakness

I’m going to say it right away: The characters in Hidden Side are terribly boring. Not only that, but their use within the sets, the comic magazine and by extension the app is so repetitive, I’m even struggling to find words to describe the dullness. This in particular extends to the main protagonists Jack and Parker.

The former was featured on the cover of every magazine and I used to poke some fun at it plus of course he also appeared in every set. That in and of itself is of course not necessarily a bad thing, but the way LEGO went about it. He always had one of two sweat shirt/ hoodie designs with the rest of his outfit and his face only showing minor variations every time. Parker fared slightly better, having at least some alternate outfits and occasionally shaking things up with her headphone or beany cap hair piece when used, but ultimately there was just not enough variation and distinction. To put it simply: If you had a mixed pile of these figures in front of you it would be nigh on impossible to sort out which of them came from which source. You really have to look it up on Bricklink or another reference site. That to me is just sad.

The supporting cast, to use a movie-related term, isn’t doing much better. Apart from the occasional character like Vaughn Geist or the fishing boat’s personnel I found them mostly equally uninteresting, be that El Fuego or one of the many “possessed” characters. Sometimes they just didn’t have well-designed prints on their torsos, other times the faces looked too much the same and overall many of them didn’t have that little extra touch (or even a literal extra piece of equipment) that would make them endearing or at least valuable as a unique collector’s item.

A final point that always bugged me massively was the lack of some serious ghosts/ specters/ spirits or other monsters and beasts. There are a few half-baked attempts like the “djinns” in the Portal (70427) or some “Shadow Walkers” in other sets, but to me those appeared as too obvious zero-budget efforts with minimal design work and bits and pieces scraped together from other themes. This isn’t mitigated by the fact that there have indeed been a few unique new pieces as well like the various “ghost goo” elements. Somehow things just don’t gel.

Design Failures

Many would argue that a consistent story, character design and even stuff like the packaging shouldn’t matter if only the content is good enough. After all, many sets in LEGO City and other series do not necessarily have an overarching theme, either. That is a fair point, but by the same token immediately raises another critical question: Do the models hold up on their own then? In case of Hidden Side that is an answer more complicated than you might think.

First off, viewed in isolation some of the sets are pretty good from a mere visual point of view in that they capture typical shapes and details of their real world counterparts. Some of those are the Paranormal Intercept Bus 3000 (70423) representing your typical American school bus, the Ghost Firetruck 3000 (70436) being a good retro-styled fire fighting vehicle, the The Lighthouse of Darkness (70431) being an adequate lighthouse indeed and so on. Other models like the Shrimp Shack Attack (70422) or the Abandoned Prison of Newbury (70435) can be lauded for capturing the spirit and playfully interpreting it in their own way. However, then there’s several sets that to me at least never made sense, be that the Newbury Haunted High School (70425) or El Fuego’s Stunt Truck (70421) for instance. They never really fit the rest design-wise and also somehow never really made sense within the world (see my comments on story and geography).

My specific point here is that I can’t see any clear “design philosophy” here. You can kind of see that different sets were done by different teams and they could never agree on a consistent artistic style and historical era to reference. There also is never that feeling of the world actually being alive and recognizable on its own. Without the stickers and Yellowish Green teeth elements on some sets you would think that they belong to Creator 3in1 or another series, not to Hidden Side specifically.

Another major fail, and I’ve criticized this a bunch of my reviews already, is the all too obvious “triptych design” with a center piece holding two wings at the sides at an angle. This affects anything from small sets to big ones. Of course there is a technical reason for that: The AR app may have dictated a certain openness and arrangement so it is able to recognize the individual models and do its thing. However, it has impacted the design process in a negative way and led to the sets looking repetitive and unimaginative.

Another bad side effect of this approach always has been the shallowness of many of the models and them looking like cut off scenic backdrops in a theater. Most infamous here is the Newbury Subway Station (70430) where neither the train carriage was complete nor the various tunnels and platforms extended deeper than four bricks. I honestly have no idea what drove those decisions, but it seems ridiculous. Many of the sets could have been much better had they been fully fleshed out as three-dimensional full models, which I guess is the point.

Elemental Powers

One of the good things that Hidden Side had going for it was exploring some new styles and color combinations and in doing so contributed to the ever-growing pool of new pieces. The series was the first to make use of some new part designs and recolored elements just as it brought back a few older items that LEGO hadn’t produced in a while.

Of particular note here are the Newbury Haunted High School (70425) and the Castle of Mystery (70437) that got a few people drooling over the many Dark Red parts and castle-like elements, respectively. This stuff is just too useful for MOCs of all kinds or rebuilding older sets. That crude logic could even be applied to the Ghost Train Express (70424) that appealed to starving LEGO train fans to some degree. It isn’t a perfect set and would take some effort to actually motorize and make work, but it’s better than nothing.

I would have expected this trend to continue if more sets would have come out, including additional molds for minifigures and animals. Perhaps we’ll even get to see some of that stuff that was already in pre-production recolored and repurposed in other series. Who’s to say? That also would have allowed to slightly course-correct and play around with colors. You know, after droves of Yellowish Green teeth could totally go for ones in Bright Light Blue and a few other “ghostly/ monster-ish” colors.

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

To me the most obvious reason for the failure was LEGO being too obsessed with the app stuff and nobody digging it. As a result, both sides of the crowd were very likely left feeling unsatisfied. Users interested only in the physical models had to accept too many compromises in terms of complexity, building techniques, color usage and so on while the ones who might have been more interested in the app usage and world building simply got a mediocre, uninteresting game. There may have been some overlap in the middle and there may indeed be a small group of people who enjoy it the way it is, but I doubt there were ever as many users as LEGO may have hoped to mobilize to sustain the series in the long run.

Of course it’s easy to say these things in hindsight and I’m totally aware that any such article can only sound pompous and self-indulgent. Yes, some of it is even pure speculation, supposition and conjecture based on my own biased perception of the whole affair. However, I would still claim many of the issues and problems with Hidden Side could probably have been avoided. The tragedy to me really is that all the good ideas were there, but the project got stuck in “the system” that is a big company like LEGO. Too many good ideas may have been ditched in favor of lesser ones, too many edges that would have made this a distinct product that stood out smoothed over in the strife for maximum mainstream-compatibility with mass audiences. And yeah, that app thing just totally didn’t turn out like everyone seems to have hoped.

Personally I’m going to miss Hidden Side mostly for the wacky colors and some very specific pieces, but sadly even I who regularly bought the sets has no deeper feelings about the world as a whole. It somehow always remained too unremarkable to leave an impression. At the same time, though, I feel that LEGO have given up too early. A lot of the bad impressions hinge on the type and order of sets they released and I can’t shake the feeling that had they e.g. given us the Newbury Zoo things might have turned around for the better. It always felt like just that one thing is missing to make it real fun or at least unique enough to stand out among other series to actually give people a reason to buy the sets in favor of others.

I’m hoping LEGO have something new in the pipeline that fills the gap and they hopefully will avoid all the mistakes. I really would love to have something a bit wacky and off-beat in my life just as well as I seriously need a parts source for funkily-colored elements outside of Friends. And in fact I’m pretty sure there’s enough people out there that feel similarly, despite a lot of others thinking that such projects have no place in the LEGO world and are always bound to fail. So what is your stance on the matter? Fire away in the comments!


Final Bow – LEGO Hidden Side Magazine, November/ December 2020

The inevitable is here and yes, this is going to be the final article on the LEGO Hidden Side magazine because the series as a whole has been cancelled. I’ve been working on an editorial on the many reasons why the series failed, but it’s not quite ready yet, so for now let’s focus on what the November/ December issue has in store.

It was actually released on Saturday, which was Halloween this year. This should have been a fitting coincidence, but someone forgot that this also doubles as Reformation Day in remembrance of Luther‘s publishing his theses and starting the Protestant movement. It’s a public holiday in several states in Germany with shops being closed, hence I was only able to get the magazine now some days later.

LEGO Magazine, Hidden Side, November/ December 2020, Cover

This being the last mag in this series I didn’t expect anything exciting and well, as much as I hate to say this, this sure feels like they are counting their losses and have just scraped together a few bits and pieces they had prepared in the long-term, but not tailored specifically to a farewell issue. The editorial team probably already had been dissolved two months ago and is now working on other stuff after they finished this edition.

This shows throughout all the pages, with in particular the posters and puzzles being super generically built around the pastel-colored ghost designs. You also notice it right away on the pages where references to Hidden Side sets and advertisements would have been. Blue Ocean simply use them for marketing their other mags (not only the LEGO ones). The comic is okay and likely gives us another glimpse of what might have been, had we ever gotten more to see of the Newbury underground.

LEGO Magazine, Hidden Side, November/ December 2020, Comic

LEGO Magazine, Hidden Side, November/ December 2020, Minifigure

The minifigure is a variation of the service technician found in the Newbury Subway Station (70430) set, this time in the guise of a demolition/ blast worker who is working on extending the tunnels. It’s completely identical, but they added at least some value with a pick axe, a bundle of Dynamite sticks and a map pouch. The figure itself is generic enough, so it might fit any construction or mining scenario in City or other series as well.

Sadly, this final issue doesn’t do much to leave a lasting impression and won’t help to keep Hidden Side as a whole in people’s memory. I would predict that two years down the road it will barely be remembered and with only nine overall issues the magazine had a very short run. You could get the mag for the figure or if you just want a complete collection, but otherwise there’s not much here that’s worthwhile, unfortunately.

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).


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.

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…

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…