Yellow April

Just another month, just another LEGO City magazine one might say. Yes, the April issue is already here.

LEGO Magazine, City, April 2020, Cover

First thing to note: Blue Ocean seem to be using a different glue for the tacked on bag with the buildable elements (and also in this case a free sample pack of Ninjago collectible cards). It appears to be a bit less elastic and thus sticks to the paper more. Being unaware of this and following my usual method i therefore managed to shred the cover and rip of bits of the top layer of the paper, hence the white areas. I need to be more careful next time.

The parts included are touted as being for a bulldozer, but honestly words begin to fail me. It’s quickly becoming pointless to even include these elements if the supposed vehicle is barely even recognizable. They are clearly taking the reductions too far. The pieces are not without merit for me, though. Funny enough in all those years I never had come across this particular wheel hub type in yellow nor did I have the shield element in Dark Blueish Grey yet. So at least it’s a minor addition to my parts stock. The yellow hubs might come in handy if I ever decide to build a DHL/ Deutsche Post (German postal services) vehicle at least.

The comic is pretty wild and colorful, which I guess is natural when it’s about a rainbow-colored theme park being built. The activities, i.e. puzzles and so on also tie in quite well with this subject. And for once there’s even a pretty good poster (the one with the construction worker standing on the steel bar in mid-air). While certainly not essential, this is overall a good enough issue.

Snake or Lizard? – Fire Fang (70674)

Ever since I bought those sets for The LEGO Ninjago Movie (e.g. the big shark sub, of course) I’m kind of in love with the Sand Blue color. I sometimes tend to think of it as “the better grey” and that notwithstanding, it is of course a nice complimentary color for many other colors, including greys and the various light blues. A single piece of this color thrown in as an off-color panel or the like can add a lot of interest to a model.

Unfortunately LEGO are not using this color nearly enough, so whenever it pops up in reasonable quantities in a set a purchase decision becomes a matter of much pondering on whether it would be worth it for expanding my parts stock. That’s why it took a while until I committed to the Fire Fang (70674) set from the LEGO Ninjago line of products.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Box

As usual the decision was made easier when the price dropped below a certain critical point, which in this case means 30 Euro or less. The original asking price of 45 Euro isn’t that outrageous to begin with, but following my own logic of course the math has to add up. There are a few pieces with limited reusability in future projects and I also don’t exactly collect minifigures, so I at least have to feel like I’m not paying for these extraneous things.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Overview

Ninjago sets surprise me again and again with their wealth of contents and this one is no exception. In a time where many much more expensive Star Wars sets only have two minifigures getting four of them in a relatively affordable box in another series is almost something worth pointing out particularly. You also get the spinner and the main model along with some extras.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Figures

The figures for the evil-doers are interesting in that they follow the Egyptian style of a human body with a stylized animal head. For apparent reasons in a set with a giant serpent those would be snake-like, too. This is even more interesting due to the fact that these are dual-molded and if you place them right the internal transparencies catch the light in a way that gives the illusion of an actual glow. It’s unfortunately very difficult to capture on a photo, so you have to take my word for it.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Rider

The main baddie, called Aspheera, represents some sort of military commander that is riding the snake into battle. The two bronze/ copper colored guards can be used to hold the chains/ reigns or simply placed beside the head-honcho in a suitable formation. Interestingly the curvature of the serpent’s neck didn’t allow for the strap-on seat to be placed at the very top and at first this looks a bit awkward, but once you get used to it it actually looks pretty realistic. The seat even has provision to somewhat compensate for the incline by the seating area being built at an angle itself.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Top View

The chair or portable throne, if you will, is itself pretty basic and relies and tried and true clichées like you see them so often in films like the back made from swords or spears and of course those extra large battle banners. In the LEGO world this of course suffers a little from the flimsy single point attachments using hinges and I messed it up a couple of times even in those photos. The flag staffs’ horizontal bars also come of quite easily at the slightest touch, so if you let your kids play with this set you might want to leave them off for safety and not losing those parts.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Back View

The top-down and back views reveal the one thing that bothered me the most: The whole model looks kinda short and stumpy due to the tail only having three movable segments. Considering how long the tails on some of the dragons are (most notably this one) this is definitely odd. Point in case: It’s not quite an actual Cobra, neither really a Dragon Lizard (with those large collars) nor fully something like a Skink with very short legs. If there were more tail sections it might at least pass as a genuine snake of sorts, but this “neither here nor there” hybrid just feels incomplete. It’s even ironic that you can’t really put the tip of the tail in an up position to make use of the rattle mechanism (a bunch of 1 x 1 round tiles enclosed in the dishes).

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Aft Right View

My beloved Sand Blue pieces are used on the front/ underside/ belly. Most of them are slopes of different types but there’s also those flag elements. Don’t mind that I didn’t pay attention and some of them are completely whacked out and not aligned correctly. The construction of this S-shaped segment has some interesting build ideas, but ultimately still feels inadequate even if you spend time to e.g. position the black wings in an arced formation. Subdividing this into more segments would have allowed a better approximation of the overall curvature.

The way it’s build also feels useless since basically there is only this one pose. Several parts use hinges, but whenever you are trying to change the angles and positioning, they will give in to their own weight and snap back into the same position where they are stopped/ blocked by another part. I feel that this hasn’t really been thought through, even more so when you attach the printed foil pieces for the collar. There’s only so many ways to actually get them attached and once in place they will act like springs pulling everything into place.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Front Right View

On that note: As an adult builder I would have much preferred some more effort to blend the collar in, meaning there should be transitional concave regions built from transparent orange bricks to give the “flames” some volume. that might also have allowed for some different fixation of the foil pieces, which due to their tension tend to slip of the ball joint heads at the slightest touch. I would imagine that putting them back in place over and over again would even be frustrating for kids.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Mouth Open

On a positive note, the model is more complex than I anticipated and it took longer to build than I had anticipated, which always helps with the perceived value. Nothing worse than a boring model lumped together using uninteresting basic building techniques, if you get my meaning. That is to say the model is better than I expected, but it’s not without shortcomings.

The most apparent problem is that it doesn’t quite seem to know what it wants to be. For a display model it feels a bit undercooked and lacking in details, for a playable model there are not that many options because it’s basically a solid, static block. This is yet again one of those sets where buying two packages and doing a bunch of simple modifications could enhance the look and feel quite a bit by breaking up the segments into smaller sections, extending the tail and so on…

“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…

 

Rider on the Storm – Stormbringer Dragon (70652)

Within my limited options I’m trying to live as environmentally and socially conscious as I can and part of that is not ordering every bit of toilet paper online and having underpaid people deliver my stuff. On the other hand of course I have to be cost aware out of necessity, so I can’t entirely avoid making a good catch on Amazon every now and then. Naturally, last week was Prime Day and the offer they had on the Stormbringer Dragon (70652) was ultimately too good to pass up.

LEGO Ninjago, Stormbringer Dragon (70652), Box

As you know from this article, I’m a bit wary of dragon models due to the many hinge and joint parts left over after disassembling the models and using the rest of the pieces for other builds. That’s why I had this set somewhere on my virtual wishlist, but not very high at the top. When the price dropped to 24 Euro on that magical day the math started to add up, though – it was the threshold where I would effectively only pay for the “good” parts and would not regret ditching the rest and burying it deep in one of my storage boxes later. Or in other words: In my mind this was the point where the joints and hinges were included “free”. With that said, the original 40 Euro price just doesn’t feel right and had this special offer not come my way, I’d simply let it be.

LEGO Ninjago, Stormbringer Dragon (70652), Overview

The set itself was released last year already and reflects the dragon hunter/ diesel gang theme that was current back then. Somehow this never fully took off and unlike other themes that had a longer lifespan it was already superseded by Forbidden Spinjitsu and Legacy this year. You can still buy the sets, yes, but I’d wager by the end of the year most of them will be pulled. Anyway, the one thing I particularly liked about this were the pale-faced gang members. The set includes two of them plus the usual color-themed figure associated with each dragon, i.e. Jay, the blue ninja and his companion Zane.

LEGO Ninjago, Stormbringer Dragon (70652), Figures

As a gimmick and sort of a cheap marketing ploy to get people to buy more sets there was also this golden armor thing with separate pieces in each box. This one contains the shoulder harness and a dragon hilt for the bone sword. The harness is nicely presented on an anvil-like pedestal with a piece of rock underneath, making for a lovely little side build and an interesting little eye catcher for presenting the stuff on your shelf or showcase.

LEGO Ninjago, Stormbringer Dragon (70652), Golden Armor

To my surprise the dragon turned out larger than I had estimated based on photos and videos. It’s by no means as long as the green dragon from the movie, but still a sizable beast. I blame the misleading perception mostly on two factors: One, the dragon is overall very thin/ slender or even scrawny and two, the head is relatively tiny. If it wasn’t for the various spikes and protrusions, it could almost pass as a normal lizard. Photographing it from certain angles furthers this impression even more.

LEGO Ninjago, Stormbringer Dragon (70652), Left, Side View

The skinny nature of the creature can of course be attributed to its somewhat barebones design. Only a minimum number of pieces have been used to cover up the various joint and hinge elements and most of them are flat pieces that don’t add volume like curved slopes and wedges would. Even the central trunk/ spine element is more or less just two studs wide all the way with some decorative bits attached to the sides to give the idea of scales. I like that they shaped it like a cat’s back, though, giving it a nice aggressive stance.

LEGO Ninjago, Stormbringer Dragon (70652), Front Left View

The head and neck part are a bit of a weird thing. The front looks very bird-like and with some printed 1 x 4 bricks used to represent the eyes is quite interesting, but then you stare at this gaping stair-stepped area at the back of the head. Even if you give credit to the fact that they may just have wanted to keep the neck thin by not adding further slopes for a gradual transition it just looks weird. It’s like someone carved out a perfectly rectangular piece with a chainsaw.

The decorative bits don’t really do much to disguise this. Arguably the head has been constructed upside down even, as of course the spine transitions into the upper skull, not the lower jaw, the need to integrate the arrow shooters notwithstanding. Dunno, it’s one of those things where I understand the limitations and it’s actually also cool on some level that for once the arrows really do come out of the mouth, but at the same time I can’t shake the feeling of possibly a better solution having been feasible.

LEGO Ninjago, Stormbringer Dragon (70652), Rear Left View, Seat and Head

The reason I ultimately decided to take the plunge are of course the many Dark Blue and Blue pieces one can never have enough of. The duck beak wedges are perhaps not the most useful, but the many curved slopes and even the shield-shaped tiles definitely are. I also think I might have an idea for the wings/ flaps one day. interestingly, I also didn’t realize I don’t have any of those small horns in Bright Light Orange yet and only ones in regular Yellow. Funny how one stumbles upon new discoveries even in the most mundane sets sometimes.

LEGO Ninjago, Stormbringer Dragon (70652), Rear Left View

With the design aspects talked about sufficiently, we need to have a word about the play value. As I wrote in that other article, I don’t think these long and slinky dragons are particularly safe for children under a specific age ore more specific a certain size where they would have sufficiently long enough arms and larger hands to actually hold the moving parts in check without gouging their eyes. Conversely some force is required to overcome the resistance and friction of the joints to be able to pose the model. The latter is very limited due to the rigid construction of the legs without knee joints, so basically the only way to get a stable position is to always move the legs in pairs and have the dragon stand flat.

LEGO Ninjago, Stormbringer Dragon (70652), Rear Right View

I wouldn’t say this is a particularly outstanding model, but overall it’s okay. For the price I got it it’s perfectly acceptable, though likely that in itself is a statement. Amazon aren’t known for having the lowest LEGO prices here in Germany (thankfully there’s some good alternatives) and them firing this out as Prime bait likely means they were sitting on a large stockpile that didn’t sell that well. With that in mind you likely only will truly enjoy it if you are a Ninjago nerd, generally have a thing for dragons or like me are always on the lookout for good parts sources that don’t break the bank…

Choppy Chop Chopper – Shuricopter (70673)

While funny enough Ninjago is easily LEGO‘s most successful original product line (next to City perhaps), I never quite hooked on it. I like some of the stylistic elements in the models, but even today struggle to keep the names of the protagonists straight for instance. So buying one of those sets remains the exception rather than the norm and the Shuricopter (70673) from the latest Forbidden Spinjitzu sub-series is and will likely be for a while one of the few sets I bought.

LEGO Ninjago, Shuricopter (70673), Box

Looking at the box art you might guess why I even bought it – yes, it’s a helicopter. Now that in and of itself is nothing unusual, as helos are a recurring theme in many of LEGO’s series, but this particular one attracted me for specific reasons.

First and foremost I was taken in by the somewhat aggressive stance and appearance that with its sharp angles and corners immediately reminded me of the first modern stealthy helicopter design from the 1990s, the Comanche, that never made it int series production. In particular the canted down tail section reinforces this impression. At least to me it seems pretty obvious where the LEGO designers were drawing inspiration from.

Second, and that’s always a good thing, the model would be reasonably large. I didn’t realize this at first, but after having a long hard look at the official marketing photos and the digital instructions before buying It dawned on me that this would be more around the 30 cm mark than the small variants that you typically find e.g. in Creator 3in1 sets. The 16 units long wedge panel used for the tail alone contributes to that length quite a bit.

LEGO Ninjago, Shuricopter (70673), Overview

The contents of the set are pretty rich, which is a pleasant, yet puzzling surprise. I’ll be the first to complain about LEGO‘s irrational and often outrageous pricing policy, but getting that much stuff for 17 Euro? This had me really stumped, given that there are three minifigures, several large pieces and a Spinjitzu top included. The cynical interpretation of this would be that indeed many sets out there are massively overpriced out of the gate, or in this case out of LEGO‘s factories.

Admittedly those 17 Euro aren’t the original price, but even those 30 Euro MSRP seem okay on some level if you only take 5 Euro discounts into account and were to get it for 25 Euro or bucks, respectively. At the same time I’m wondering, though, why exactly it is so cheap. Doesn’t it sell well? The eternal mysteries of the LEGO world… in any case, I’m not complaining.

LEGO Ninjago, Shuricopter (70673), Figures

Despite me not being an actual collector, the minifigures warrant a second look this time around. Not only do the overall designs for the main heroes and their evil counterparts appear generally modernized, but there is some interesting design work going on by ways of using dual molded parts with transparent sections. This is prevalent in all sets throughout this new series and offers some interesting visual clues to tie things to the themes of the respective protagonists such as fire and ice. That and of course it just looks cool to see different colors and patterns against light sources. Now LEGO only need to complement it with some parts using the same technology to put onto vehicles like ice-encrusted plates or icicles.

There’s a minor shadow looming over this in that the older style blend molding as it was used extensively in Bionicle for instance, meaning two colors are injected at the same time and mix directly to form gradated or swirly patterns, doesn’t always work reliably. So I ended up with my ice spear on General Vex not having an icy blue blade at all, but rather just a slightly more transparent Dark Pearl Grey tip. I wish they would find a way to use the newer two-step process where one color after another is applied in different sub-steps to get sharp demarcation lines also for the softer materials of the weapons to avoid such foul-ups. I haven’t ordered replacements, though, since it’s not that critical to me and likely I would have had to order not just a single piece but multiple ones to find one with a perfect blue blade.

The different elemental flags on the vinyl sheet are the same in every set, so if you buy multiple sets you can actually outfit more figures according to their factions. Of course they used transparent plastic to avoid alignment issues with double-sided printing, but I tend to think that printing on white or at least frosted transparency would have helped a lot with the colors looking more pristine.

LEGO Ninjago, Shuricopter (70673), Left Front View

From the outside the model very much is just a collection of larger panels and there’s not much of visible structure. The real magic happens on the inside using a bunch of Technic bricks, liftarms and pins. There are pros and cons to this approach with the main advantage being that this core is rock solid and makes for a very stable model. The downside is that unless you really extensively use every pin hole and outfit it with adapter pins your options for attaching conventional brick-based stuff are limited. Unfortunately this shows in several places with large gaps where the frame construction peeks through. Likewise, some panels are attached using just a single pin, which allows them way too much movement.

LEGO Ninjago, Shuricopter (70673), Left Aft View

Oddly enough there is a simple perpendicular gear mechanism that connects the main rotor rotation to the main exhaust tube. This makes little sense since you can’t actually discern much of a difference on the jet pipe, so it seems to me that somewhere along the way this was meant to be a propeller instead and they kept the mechanism, regardless, when they changed their minds. Mind you, I’m not saying it’s bad, just odd and a bit useless.

One of the biggest shortcomings is the absence of a genuine landing gear. The whole model basically just sits on its engine nacelles and the tip of the tail. My storage boxes are overflowing with those tiny rubber wheels and I don’t need more of them, but they could at least have included some struts and skids for the main gear and an inverted slope for the tail to have a hint of an undercarriage.

This would also very likely would have allowed to stabilize the outriggers with the Shuriken blades and wings. In their current form they are – you guessed it – only attached using single point connections and thus every thing tilts and swivels whenever you touch it. This also defeats one of the main play features – the Shurikens are on axle pins that have bushings with tires on them that are supposed to be perfectly level with the floor.

The idea here is of course that the tires touch the ground just enough to let the blades rotate by themselves as you push the model forward, plowing through hordes of enemies. Sadly with the flimsy connection this doesn’t really hold up as the outriggers bent out of contact way too easily. It would have been cool and given the word “Chopper” a whole different meaning, but it just doesn’t work as intended.

LEGO Ninjago, Shuricopter (70673), Right View

The front section has me torn as well. I like the idea of using the minifigure cleavers as some sort of grille/ wind splitters/ antenna array, but at the same time it frustrates me that they did not bother to create a “real” tip for the fuselage by including what maybe amounts to five or seven pieces more – some adapter bricks and a bunch of wedges/ slopes. This wouldn’t even have interfered with the rest of the cockpit design as apparently the canopy is opening towards the front. Merely using those flag elements as shim panels looks cheap.

LEGO Ninjago, Shuricopter (70673), Front View

All in all I’m kinda split in the middle on this set. The funny thing is that you can literally smell the good ideas everywhere and feel that the designers were considerate of some things, but then totally blew it with other stuff. In particular the flimsy attachments are a point of concern. Otherwise it would have made for a nice, large playable model for your kids. Naturally those issues are fixable, but will require some re-engineering and therefore this becomes a case of “Why should I even have to?”. It may be over some less experienced people’s heads, anyway. Be prepared to hear a lot of complaints from children when they manage to accidentally pull off parts! It’s really a pity! At its more than reasonable price this could have been a sleeper hit otherwise…

Harmless Kitten – Ultrakatty & Warrior Lucy! (70827)

I’ve still only seen bits and pieces of The LEGO Movie 2. I’m simply too lazy to go to the cinema “for that kind of movie” and always wait for them to come out on DVD/ Blu-Ray or run on TV. Since it tanked at the box office and will likely even accrue losses for Warner, I guess it’s a moot point, anyway. My few bucks wouldn’t have saved them.

It’s a good bet that now we’re not going to see some tie-in sets that may have been planned and obviously the early releases from the beginning of the year didn’t do much to get people interested, either. Incidentally this quite fittingly also matches my “I just don’t care much” stance in the matter – I kinda like some sets that were designed for the movie while a good chunk of the rest just doesn’t interest me because they too apparently play on nostalgia and are trying to milk the subject as it were. There’s also that fine line in-between where you think “Cool idea, but…” and Ultrakatty & Warrior Lucy (70827) fits into that narrow corridor.

LEGO The LEGO Movie 2, Ultrakatty & Warrior Lucy! (70827), Box

Initially I was quite reluctant to even get the set until I came to the realization that it actually contained some unique parts that somehow might be useful for one of the projects I have rattling around in my head, those in particular being some of the spiky parts being available in Red and Reddish Brown for the first time. Even better yet there are quite a few of them, so buying this set possibly means a little less spending on Bricklink for those parts if and when the time comes to build the model I envision. Funny how things sometimes coalesce by sheer coincidence.

Anyway, after that decision was made, it was time to wait for prices to come down and on a lazy weekend this set could be had for 17 Euro, so I jumped the chance. Not to sound like the eternal cheap skate, but to me this price feels right. Would I ever have paid the official price of 30 Euro? Very likely not. Point in case: There may be around 350 parts overall, but most of them are simply too small to warrant a price higher than 20 Euro for the whole set in my opinion. If it wasn’t for the exclusivity of some pieces the set could be rebuilt with standard parts from other sets quite easily at low cost.

LEGO The LEGO Movie 2, Ultrakatty & Warrior Lucy! (70827), Overview

For the price I mentioned as my preferred choice you get some okay content. At the very least it feels like there’s enough bang for the buck. The assembled Ultrakatty is weighty enough and the rest of the set feels like there are sensible additions. Again, though, a lot of the real value is in the details and therefore the more expensively you buy this set, the less favorable this may turn out since the parts are sometimes rather specific. You’d hate to think you paid too much just to get that printed “Don’t Stop” shield on Lucy, if you get my meaning.

LEGO The LEGO Movie 2, Ultrakatty & Warrior Lucy! (70827), Invader, FrontThe Duplo “invaders” are one of the funnier ideas in the whole film and re-creating them using regular LEGO bricks is equally cool. In fact I think it would have been fun to have a whole set just with these little critters in the various forms and colors they appear in and at the same time include some of the Plantimals (those other weird creatures with the leaves and pink elephant trunks for legs) as sort of an “adversary battle pack”. or whatever you want to call it.

LEGO The LEGO Movie 2, Ultrakatty & Warrior Lucy! (70827), Invader, BackThat would also have allowed some more consistent world-building in the truest sense of the word and perhaps been a little less frustrating to people like me. With the necessary colored parts being scattered across multiple sets, some quite expensive and others that I’d never buy, anyway, it’s a bit difficult to scrape the components together as obviously they wouldn’t be cheap on the second-hand market, either.

 

Ultrakatty is of course Unikitty in rage mode and all bulked up. The basic similarities are there by ways of the recognizable facial style and how the head is built, but it pretty much ends there. The rest is of the model is more akin to the tried and tested skeleton builds used on mechs and dinosaurs, which is another reason for my initial reluctance. I just don’t need another ton of those joints in my life. Buying too many sets of this type can easily clog up your storage boxes with those parts if you don’t use them that much…

LEGO The LEGO Movie 2, Ultrakatty & Warrior Lucy! (70827), Ultrakatty, Side View

As presented in the set, Ultrakatty is a trimmed down version from how she actually appears in the film. There’s a designer video on YouTube explaining the rationale behind the reduction as a necessity for keeping things playable (and the set in a specific price range, too, most likely) but to me this seems like a lame, somewhat nonsensical excuse. You can spin this however you want, but this is not a traditional play set. The model is reasonably poseable, yes, and you could likely do your own brick film with it, but it’s nowhere stable enough to be constantly changed around.

Some parts will always come off like for instance the spikes on the back of the legs. Therefore I would strictly consider this a showcase set that you may arrange in a little vignette e.g. next to your Apocalypseburg model if you are lucky enough to be able to afford that big boy. In light of that assessment of course they could have kept the original fully spiky version intact and sold it in its full glory. In a way this reminds me of the situation with the green Ninjago dragon, where the commercial set ended up being quite different from the actual movie creation, yet wasn’t much better off in terms of overall playability.

LEGO The LEGO Movie 2, Ultrakatty & Warrior Lucy! (70827), Ultrakatty, Front View

One of the most talked-about features of this set is the new 5 x 1 x 2 brick used for the face. The main motivation behind this is pretty clearly to get the face printed on a single contiguous surface as per LEGO‘s self-imposed rule of not printing across multiple bricks, at least not in that manner. It shows that they can introduce new, sometimes much-needed new parts if only they want to and they solve a specific problem, yet they are most of the time simply too reluctant, hesitant or cautious about it. That’s at the same time perfectly understandable (it’s a cost factor, after all, you know), but also kind of sad when you think of how some sets still require awkward workarounds just because some parts don’t exist.

In this case we can only hope that this isn’t a one-off thing and the mold for this brick will be used in other sets as well plus we also eventually get the 5 x 1 and 5 x 2 plates to go with it. Five unit long plates are even more necessary than the brick, as this covers a ton of scenarios where you currently have to piece things together with 3 x 1 and 2 x 1 plates. It would simplify things a lot. At the same time, though, I don’t think we need more than that, meaning seven or nine unit long plates like for example COBI has them would be a bit redundant.

The prints on the face are nicely executed with sharp detail, good opacity and perfect saturation. Personally I wouldn’t have needed swappable faces and the “more than slightly aggravated” one I used in my images would have sufficed. If at all, a face printed on a differently colored brick might have been more interesting like the sickly green one from the Unikitty Collectible Minifigures series along with matching green horns. Overall it’s okay, though. you have to stop somewhere and not every crazy idea can be put in one set.

LEGO The LEGO Movie 2, Ultrakatty & Warrior Lucy! (70827), Ultrakatty, Top View

The construction of the body is pretty straightforward and captures the bulked up aggressive pose nicely with the broad shoulders and the extremely tapered aft. It’s basically all built around a single 8 x 2 brick to keep it slim with most of the protruding parts simply being plugged onto the sides. This also furthers my point about this not being an ideal play set because the slopes are still easy to break off accidentally.

All four legs are built almost identically with the upper section being shaped as strong, thick thighs using some bricks and a brown wedge piece. In contrast to that the lower extremities appear almost fragile with their ratcheted hinges, but as I said, poseability is still good. As usual it will just take some time to balance out the individual positions so she doesn’t topple over.

The shin parts use some curved slopes with a flame print which is barely noticeable. The print quality isn’t that great, the slopes are narrow and so the flames blend in to a degree they could have been left out completely without much of a negative impact. It seems more than a bit weird, especially directly compared to the superb prints on the face. They probably shouldn’t have bothered. I’m not even sure if I would ever use those slopes on a car with flame stickers. That’s how poor they are.

LEGO The LEGO Movie 2, Ultrakatty & Warrior Lucy! (70827), Ultrakatty, Aft View

Overall this set turned out okay despite my original reservations. Just don’t assume it is in any way a play set. It can look quite impressive when posed and viewed from the right angle as a presentation model. Then fiddling with the spikes and orienting them correctly can pay off. However, if you mess with it too much and too often, it can look weird and re-attaching elements that fell off while you were handling it will become frustrating after a while.

Most importantly, see to it that you get it cheap. This is one of those sets where being a Scrooge can really amp up your satisfaction. Again, I’m not saying that it would be super expensive to begin with, but the many small parts will almost automatically make you feel that you shouldn’t be paying too much for them in the first place. The better the price-per-piece ratio, the happier you’ll be.

Ninjago Luke

Due to the placement of the Christmas holidays on the calendar this year, this month’s LEGO magazines only rolled out with some delay, but now that the festive season is over will hit in short succession one after another.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, January 2019, Cover

The January Star Wars mag comes with a Tatooine Luke Skywalker minifigure. Not that I would need one of those in my life, but for the more inclined collector of the Star Wars series this would be a simple way to obtain one of those to fancy up vignettes and dioramas without breaking the bank. You could even buy this multiple times and still save money in the process, considering that even the more basic Luke minifigures still seem to cost around three Euros at least on Bricklink (I’m no minifigure expert since I don’t collect them explicitly). The rest is pretty much standard fare, though at least the new style of the comics is much more appealing compared to older issues. Now if only LEGO actually had that golden 1×1 brick in their range… 😉

LEGO Magazine, Ninjago, January 2019, Cover

When I was browsing the newsstand the Ninjago magazine also piqued my interest this time around. Again not so much for the minifigure (though for me it at least solves the mystery of what Master Wu looked like when he was younger), but the fold & glue cutout figures brought back some fond memories when we used to build paper castles and the like at a very young age.

LEGO Magazine, Ninjago, January 2019, Extra

I spent an evening trying my hand at this, but it was more difficult than anticipated. The pages being so crammed full with add-on bits makes it difficult to navigate around with the scissors while at the same time the dark background makes it hard to discern the black outlines. It’s really a bit of an exercise to get clean lines. I also found the cardboard slightly too thick/ heavy, so folding things neatly and gluing them together is yet another matter of patience because this stuff has a mind of its own. Since it’s printed on glossy stock the ink on the fold lines also tends to “break” and show white cracks. You may need to have a black pen handy to darken them again.

LEGO Magazine, Ninjago, January 2019, Extra

In light of the aforementioned complications that could be challenging even for a ten-year-old, so you might need to get a second issue if something goes wrong. The idea is nice, though, and ramps up the value of the mag notably.

 

Lotso Green! – Green Ninja Mech Dragon from The LEGO Ninjago Movie (70612)

Do you know this weird situation when you want a specific LEGO set for a number of reasons, yet it never becomes a top priority or you even dislike it for certain other reasons? This weird dichotomy happened to me with the Green Ninja Mech Dragon (70612) from The LEGO Ninjago Movie and it always prevented me from buying the set. Fortunately I got a lucky break with a discounted price I couldn’t resist, so things worked out, after all.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Green Ninja Mech Dragon (70612), Box

To clarify this mystery, allow me to delve into the details a bit. First let’s look at why I possibly wanted this set. In my case the answer should be pretty predictable by now if you have read some of my other articles – it’s about the parts and their potential to be re-used in other projects. In that regard the set is almost a dream.

It’s overflowing with elements in Sand Green. Somehow I have that weird image in my head that on day I might build something where I’m going to need a ton of these pieces, be that a building with a green patinated copper roof, some ginormous sculpture or a vehicle and that’s why I can’t stop myself collecting sets with parts in this color, even if it may not be of any particular immediate relevance. In case of this mechanical dragon those inner urges are amplified by the inclusion of a large number of golden elements and some further ones in Dark Green. If you will, it’s the perfect bait in the sense that procuring those parts separately would be a lot more difficult and costly.

The reasons I was hesitant and that kept me away from buying this set for a long time are equally numerous and complicated, yet still somehow have to do with the parts. Correct, this creature is what I’d like to call a “Joints and Hinges Monstrosity” with half the mass and volume of the set being spent on those bulky large ball joints and 2D pin joints. If I was into building robots and other mechanical creatures all the time I might welcome this opportunity, but since i don’t, those parts are mostly wasted on me (they may come in handy in some form one day, though, I’m sure).

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Green Ninja Mech Dragon (70612), Overview

Further contributing to this “I don’t care much!” feeling was/ is the overall blandness and dullness of the set. Indeed I simply do not care for getting the 500th Master Wu or Lord Garmadon and there is little to nothing else to sink your teeth into in terms of details. It’s really just one big-ass dragon. That in itself represents a bit of a problem, as effectively the thing is way too large for kids to actually be able to decently play with it.

Basically you always have to be careful to not whip the tail in your face and hold it with two hands, making it nearly impossible to intuitively pose the model. If you put up the dragon straight in its fully stretched out form, this becomes even more apparent because the actual range of motion of the individual body segments is rather limited, i.e. they can partially move left or right, but not necessarily a lot up and down and vice versa. Ironically this is necessary because otherwise it would be completely unstable. You couldn’t put it on its feet and it would curl up like a snake all the time.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Green Ninja Mech Dragon (70612), Length

Despite its already huge size the model in no way captures the style and elegance of the version used in the movie. Mostly it simply looks too skeletal with the joints being too exposed. In the film the model is about twice as large, allowing each segment to be shaped with much more elements and looking much more organic. Something has definitely been lost scaling it down, as to my eyes it looks neither here nor there. In fact it would have been fine with me if they had made the best of the situation and actually played with the idea of exposing more of the inner parts, giving it a more mechanical look and feel.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Green Ninja Mech Dragon (70612), Engine Detail closed

A lot of the odd “caught between a rock and a hard place” feeling in my opinion also has to do with the inconsistent use of color and some crude, simplified parts. Had they run with my idea of a more mechanical creature, they would have had to use more gold and possibly tons of tiny elements in silver as well to represent some inner structure.

Just the same I feel that having a single molded part for the feet is not ideal. It may add stability, but it simply doesn’t look very pretty. They should have used some of the techniques that are commonly employed on LEGO Elves dragons where the feet typically are assembled from curved slopes and other parts and are just as stable while at the same time looking more convincing. That argument BTW also would apply for a larger, more organic version of the beast.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Green Ninja Mech Dragon (70612), Engine Detail closed

Color usage rubs me the wrong way in that they seemed to be unable to make up their minds about when to use black and dark grey vs. the greens. As a minor I would have expected that they settle on just black or just grey for the joints and not a wild mix of both, but ideally of course those parts would have been in Dark Green or Sand Green as well. Some additional covering up of exposed areas with plates and slopes also wouldn’t have hurt.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Green Ninja Mech Dragon (70612), Engine Detail open

The inconsistent colorization makes the various openable/ poseable appendages a lot less attractive than it would seem at first, too. It’s literally like you open up a hood and something ugly that totally doesn’t match in style is staring back at you. In particular the engine section really makes you go *eek*. Not that I think using an L-shaped Technic element is a good idea to begin with, but at least they could have made it black. This would have also made the silver “exhaust nozzles” stand out more and overall simply looked cooler.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Green Ninja Mech Dragon (70612), Engine Detail open

There’s a first time for everything and so after having had to get a replacement part for a set a while ago, I now had to request extra parts from LEGO service because they were actually missing. Under the two levers in the cockpit where I inserted some 1×1 round tiles there should actually be golden 1×1 square plates with clips to act as temporary weapons holders while the dragon is being operated.

The parts have arrived ever since I took the photos, but still – I’ll never quite understand why LEGO insist on their bean counting and you even have to use your spares sometimes instead of just throwing in enough elements to begin with. The padded envelope and mailing cost from Billund to Germany definitely cost them more than those two extra parts worth fractions of a Cent. It’s even more ridiculous when you consider that overall there are supposed to be ten of these golden clips on this model, so the jump from those seven to a generic pre-sorted mini bag with ten of these items seems trivial – in my mind at least.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Green Ninja Mech Dragon (70612), Cockpit Detail

Luckily nothing else was missing, so decorating the head with golden parts proceeded as planned. All of them are movable one way or another, so it’s entirely up to your taste how aggressive you make it look by spreading them out or conforming them more to the streamlines. the same applies to the black spikes which in contrast to the original design I added in their perpendicular position, not flat. The blades not being actually symmetrical kinda teed off my orderly tendencies.

An interesting detail are the golden bananas for the tear bags, which made me grin when I first saw photos of this set and realized what they actually were. Similarly, using a magenta flag for the tongue is an interesting solution. The rest is a mix of some minifigure accessories, Bionicle parts and the already mentioned regular recolored hinges and plates.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Green Ninja Mech Dragon (70612), Head closed

Similar to the Elves dragons I’m not friends with the jaws and nose being specifically molded parts, as they end up in the “useless” bin once you disassemble these models and use their parts elsewhere, but in this scale and in light of the absence of some specific curved elements I guess it is the simpler solution than trying to create the from individual parts.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Green Ninja Mech Dragon (70612), Head open

After so much criticism, why did I end up with the set, after all? As written earlier, this was a case of mere chance and the price was simply so ridiculously irresistible, it alone made up for all the shortcomings.

This is going to turn some of your faces blue and green from jealousy, but honest to God, I got it sealed and unused with a 45 percent discount in a regular store. Yupp, hard as it is to believe, I got this set, which is still current and retails for 50 Euros regular price for a mere 27 Euros. The crazy story behind this is that it had been lying unnoticed in a drugstore chain’s toys shelf for a while and when I first noticed it, it already had been reduced to 35 Euros. Because it wasn’t a high priority, I didn’t pick it up, hoping to get it even cheaper one day, most likely in some online clearance sale.

Two months later I stopped by in the same store and lo and behold – the box was still there, now for a lowered price of 30 Euros. I once again abstained from a purchase, still not thinking much of it, though admittedly afterwards I had regrets not having jumped the chance when telling my mom about it. Fast forward another two months and the exact same set was still there and I got this gut feeling of “If I don’t take it home now, it will be gone.”. Still somewhat reluctant i finally got over it and snatched it. This was simply too good a chance to pass up. Things then got even better when I got a further ten percent discount due to an ongoing special promo in this exact week when I buying it. So there you have it – that’s how I arrived at 27 Euros.

I wouldn’t call it a sign from a higher power, but the box having sat there unscathed for half a year in the end must have meant something, considering that despite everyone ignoring it and walking by this is a large and busy store, regardless. I guess sometimes even I get lucky.


In conclusion, my points stick: This isn’t really a must-have model. Similar to the Garmadon shark sub it isn’t in any way representative of the version used in the movie, so in no way is everything awesome in Ninjago City. It also is simply too unwieldy to play with it and due to its size you will be hard-pressed to find a place to store it. Display model collectors will also likely scoff at the simplifications and lack of some details as well as the color usage.

Don’t get me wrong – I feel that I got what I wanted, but I never had plans to keep the assembled model around for long to begin with and primarily had my eye on the parts. That being the case, getting the whole package for 27 Euros certainly is a good deal, but I wouldn’t have gotten it at much more than that, anyway, as essentially in this case I only paid for the useful parts (slopes, plates and details) and got the ‘”useless” ones (figures, joints and integrally molded one-offs like the head) for “free”. Talk about the economics of LEGO

The (Over)Watch is over…

…at least as far as I’m concerned. The first pictures of the first wave of Overwatch sets are out (for instance here) and what can I say? It’s a massive disappointment. Most of the sets look either like odd Ninjago mechs or those weird Super Heroes vehicles like the black Batman shuttle. Nothing I would want in my home, not even the bigger version of the Bastion, though at least it seems to be fully poseable this time. The prices look okay at least, though. Regardless, unless there will be other, more impressive sets I think I’ll skip over this. The pink D.VA battle armor tickles my creative senses, however, so perhaps I might pursue it for parts, after all.

LEGO vs. Mega – An Analysis – Part 1

While this little blog will quite likely always be primarily focused on LEGO, there’s of course no harm in looking out at other shores. That’s why I’ve decided to start a series of articles looking at some alternate brick-based systems and how they compare to LEGO. This will be limited by how I get my hands on this stuff due to things like limited financials and availability of some products, so I won’t claim to spread ultimate wisdom here. regardless, I will try to do this as comprehensively and objectively as I can in the hopes it may be of use to some people at least. The first will be a multipart series on Mega BrandsMega Bloks/ Mega Construx.

The Reasons

I like LEGO a lot and as is evident from the articles on this blog, as a male adult of a certain age I don’t even stay away from themes like Friends and Ninjago, weird as this may be to some. However, this doesn’t cover up the fact that after a while it gets a bit one-sided and stale no matter how many sets you buy. Eventually things become repetitive and you start to feel like you’ve seen the same a hundred times already. This feeling is further amplified by lack of differentiation across different series and many sets being quite similar, after all. For instance you could build a Friends vehicle one day and the next day one from the City series and you can’t help the impression that you’ve done the same steps before and only the coloration of the model is different.

Additionally I always feel like something is missing and to me that are some “serious” products for adults. By that I mean something that provides a grittier, darker take and at the same time a certain sense of heightened realism. Now in theory that latter thing could be Star Wars, but as it is, this particular series in itself is more than just a bit frustrating. For my taste those sets get infantilised and simplified way too much, often to a point where the original design is barely recognizable anymore. Everything is made to look harmless and playable, ultimately totally undermining the role the vehicles and set pieces play in the movies. I also find it infinitely hard to relate to things like Star Wars Rebels simply because it is a kids-oriented series with its own flaws and limitations. Throwing sets on the market based on this doesn’t do anything for me because I don’t know how they relate.

One could of course argue that the UCS sets should fill that void, but this doesn’t solve the issue, either. There are simply not enough of them, they are quite expensive and sometimes they are just remakes of previously existing sets, ultimately leading to that same dead-end of one day owning everything there is to own. I also feel that the limitations (specifically the non-existence of some specific elements for more advanced building techniques) in LEGO‘s parts repository don’t allow to provide the level of realism that I would expect from such a model.

You may ask: What about the other series? Personally I feel that those don’t cut it any longer, either. A good example for this is Technic. It’s almost tragic that a highly anticipated model like the Forest Harvester (42080) turned out as a flimsy, barely realistic toy. At the same time LEGO have made sets like the Bugatti Chiron (42083) so expensive, it puts them out of reach for many users. Not that this would particularly affect me – I never had much interest in it to begin with, but surely it’s a factor to consider. Similar observations can be made for Ninjago, City etc.. All too often I simply don’t find anything that would interest me thematically or that would be within my financial options.

All that has made me crave for some variation on the menu and Mega Bloks/ Mega Construx seems to fit that bill quite nicely, for a while at least. It’s not even that I would particularly consider myself a militarist (despite having had a keen interest in military aviation all my life), it’s really just that I wanted something fresh and explore something new (to me, anyway), be that different building techniques, differently looking models or for that matter just something cool-looking I can put on my limited shelf space.

Beyond my personal reasons what always bothers me is, that when it comes to LEGO‘s competitors, there is unfortunately rarely such a thing as an open discussion on the subject in certain communities. There’s a lot of false info being thrown around, the legal side of things being misinterpreted and ultimately often just plain badmouthing of LEGO‘s competitors. By crafting this series of articles I’m hoping to at least provide a somewhat broader view on the technical side of things and whether some of those alleged deficiencies and shortcomings even hold true.

Availability

A lot of the aforementioned issues come down to how present and prominent a brand is in a given market. You can’t form an educated opinion when you don’t even have the opportunity to obtain a specific product. Sadly, Mattel/ Mega are indeed not doing a great job here, especially beyond their home turf in the US and Canada.

Barring the occasional special promo run at some bigger store chains (with a limited selection of sets specifically ordered for these sales in limited numbers) there is no official, continuous distribution here in Germany for instance, so in order to even find sets you have to rely on small dealers on eBay or Amazon Marketplace that import these models on their own head. That being the case, you can spend hours searching for a model or to be more precise, any model.

Often it’s a case of “take it or leave it” since you don’t have any real choice. You may get lucky and find exactly the model you had set your sights on, but most of the time it will end up buying whatever comes up within your planned budget and roughly set parameters. You wanted a spaceship? Be thankful you got that tank that is missing from your collection, too!

So for what it’s worth: The buying experience is terrible due to Mega/ Mattel (seemingly?)not making any effort to proactively promote and distribute their products in these parts here. This short assessment doesn’t even cover exclusive/ limited/ special editions that only ever were available e.g. through the now deceased Toys’R’UsUS branch. You’d have to be a millionaire to even get your hands on some of those models when buying them from a collector.

There’s also a bit of a chicken vs. egg problem in that with such unreliable delivery chain and LEGO‘s predominance on certain markets purchase managers of big store chains/ online stores won’t be too inclined to sacrifice much (virtual) shelf space for presentation of Mega Construx/ Mega Bloks. As a result, those get even less attention from the wider public and you end up in this perfect causality loop where you can’t tell whether the sets sell badly because they’re not being advertised enough or if there’s no point in marketing them more aggressively because you don’t know how they will sell. Go, figure!

Pricing

Unfortunately gauging this aspect is a bit of a paradox in itself, given the conditions. Due to the unstable influx of fresh product there is no statistically reliable way for me to measure exact market prices. Everything is skewed and biased by the demand (or lack thereof) in a very limited market. Basing this on the official suggested retail prices e.g. for the US market is not much help, either, as even there the actual street prices seem to fluctuate quite a bit. The way the situation presents itself is essentially as follows:

There are affordable or even cheap sets, some of which are simply unattractive and thus tend to be around for a long time because not many people buy them. On the other hand there appear to be sets that are so high in demand that prices explode to crazy proportions, making them unattainable to a lot of users. This includes the already mentioned rare and exclusive items, generally seems to apply to larger sets with high parts counts somehow (possibly due to limited numbers being produced of those) and just as well sets that are apparently very well-designed and realistic, providing a very exact rendition of e.g. a vehicle in a game and thus appealing to collectors of paraphernalia around those games just as much as to the brick modeller.

There’s a lot of grey areas as well where you sometimes don’t know what to make of the whole affair. Sets that you feel would be rare and expensive are readily available in relatively large numbers and then at the same time the set next to it may be the whole opposite – it should be cheap and quite common, yet for reasons one can hardly understand it costs twice as much. That is to say the pricing often seems illogical and widely uneven.

In fairness, though, when compared directly to LEGO prices, Mega fare quite well. Most sets come in at around 30 percent cheaper than comparable LEGO sets with their base price right out of the gate and interestingly enough, the bigger the sets get in terms of parts count and actual physical size of the resulting model, the more favorable this ratio becomes. A 2000 pieces model for slightly above a hundred Euros? That’s something I have never heard of in the LEGO world even if you give credit to the fact that e.g. the Modular Buildings come pretty close to that with their parts numbers and standard pricing around 150 Euros. In any case, it’s all circumstantial of course due to the limitations I explained.

Themes and Subjects

Inherently the themes dealt with by LEGO‘s competitors (amongst other things)must of course be different and provide the necessary variation and diversion from the regular menu or else there wouldn’t be much point to it, would it? Exactly!

I’ve already hinted on the militaria side of things. Yes it is exactly what it sounds like – tanks, aircraft, helicopters, cannons, armored vehicles. Mega provide those primarily as licensed tie-ins to video game series like Call of Duty, Halo and Destiny. The sets themselves are not necessarily consistent in what specific edition of a game they represent (nor the factions within the games’ stories), so you might get a fictional futuristic vehicle from Modern Warfare one day and then the other day a WW II set harkening back to an earlier entry of the Call of Duty series. Naturally, whenever there is a new edition of one of those games you will also get topical sets specifically aiming to recreate scenarios from those latest incarnations.

Since I don’t play any of these games I can’t tell you more than which vehicles and stuff I like, but far be it from me to judge how realistic they are. For me it comes down to a certain level of elegance most of the time, so I tend to prefer aerial vehicles/ spaceships, anyway, though there certainly wouldn’t be anything wrong with a nice Humvee, a tank or similar.

The games are further complemented by a bit of the Assasin’s Creed and World of Warcraft, though it seems those series weren’t very successful and thus rather limited in terms of the number of sets or the sizes of the sets themselves. On and off there are additional sporadic issues of smaller model series. From Alien to the Terminator movies there have been a few of them, but they are so limited, I haven’t really bothered to research their history that much and from what I can gather, it’s probably nothing that would interest me that much, anyway.

There is another kind of sets completely opposite those “dark” subjects and those include for instance some Star Trek, Pokémon or the Despicable Me/ Minions movies. While it wasn’t my original intention to ever get some of those sets, being that colorful & fluffy is what LEGO has in abundance already, I’ve come to appreciate some of those models since. They are different enough to still warrant a look and on a selective basis can truly add to your collection.

In all of this the recurring them is that most sets are based on licensed themes, which begs the question whether there are actually original, own creations. That’s a question that could again be answered with a firm “Maybe?!”. The fact of the matter is that there are series like American Girl, the basic brick sets or the collector-oriented ProBuilder, but they are very sparsely populated with not many new sets coming out. In the past ProBuilder also used to be very military-centric just as well, so there was a bit of redundancy and oversaturation on those subjects. Currently there only are a handful of announcements on the Mega Construx website, so clearly things are only moving very slowly.

Many people within the Mega communities perceive this as ongoing friction and hiccups of integration in the Mattel conglomerate and it’s uncertain if and when this will ever smooth out again. It seems when everything was just called Mega Bloks they had a good run but ever since the started separating the product lines (and presumably teams) into the kids-oriented Mega Bloks and the more advanced Mega Construx there have been more than just a few bumps in the road. One can only hope that this situation will improve soon.

An aspect one mustn’t underestimate is that the choice of subjects and availability is also driven by Mega‘s own flavor of minifigures. Unlike LEGO minifigures they are much more “toy soldiers” in the traditional sense and due to the differences warrant a deeper look in one of the follow-up articles to this one.

Parting Shot

Introductory articles are of course always a bit ponderous and long-winded, so congratulations if you’ve made it to the end even if you just glossed over my writing. I promise the next article will be much more interesting as we are going to get to the meat of it all and will evaluate things like parts quality, specific building techniques, potential issues and caveats and a million other details, including tons of pictures to illustrate those points. So keep an eye out when the next part pops up here…