From my many articles here on this blog it’s easy enough to gather that I love underwater life of all types and one of those dreams I have would be to own a huge, custom-build tropical aquarium like they do on those TV shows. Since these things are expensive to make and due to the fish’s very specific requirements also a costly hobby to maintain even at smaller sizes (replacing a fish that died is quite an investment when you’re in the middle of continental Europe) for the time being I have to settle on alternatives until I become a millionaire. 🙂
The funny coincidence here is that I’ve long been pondering on whether to get my lazy ass up and build my own coral reef. I always admire those detailed builds bustling with life that some people create and while I do not always agree with the interpretation, you have to give props to them for creatively using parts and most importantly scrounging together 500 green Ninjago swords as sea grass blades and similar. I’ve gotten into that a bit myself and it’s really quite a feat. Anyway, I guess for the time being the LEGO Creator 3in1 Fish Tank (31122) is as good as it gets for me on that front and a not unwelcome excuse to delay my own ventures, so let’s see how it turns out.
Contents and Pricing
Unfortunately for being a mundane Creator 3in1 set, this one is rather elusive, at least here on the German market. Only very few retailers actually have it in limited numbers and when they do, the set is usually sold out quickly. Me being able to buy it at all is merely a lucky coincidence during a random visit at one of our drugstore chains’ outlets. As you may figure, this scarcity bears influence on the price and even getting a minimum discount is rare. This may of course change if and when it becomes available more widely, but that isn’t on the horizon yet.
The original retail price is 30 Euro, which for 352 pieces is actually normal and not that terrible. However, and you will see this as a recurring theme running through this article, the whole set simply does not feel like you actually get that much stuff. This is of course due to almost half the parts already being used in the construction of the frame which contributes very little to the perceived overall value. Basically my feeling is that it doesn’t even count. That being the case, I would really love if this set did not exceed 20 Euro. Maybe this becomes feasible once noticeable discounts are possible due to better supply, but for the time being I guess there is little one can do about it.
Let’s cut to the chase and address the elephant in the room right away: The tank itself or specifically the way it is represented here as a black frame. This to me feels wrong on so many levels.
For one I never actually needed to have a visual representation of an aquariums boundary to imagine it’s volume and extent. This to me is a case of “Either you see it (in your mind) or you don’t!”. It can help to put things in context, yes, but at the same time, and that’s the case in this set, it can also be extremely disturbing and distracting. The straight front-on shot is a good example for why: The thick and way too tight frame makes the fish tank look tiny and uncomfortable for its inhabitants.
The second and for me actually worse issue is how many pieces go in the construction of the frame alone. If I didn’t miscount too much, that accounts for around 140 elements already and what makes this so frustrating is that their majority is actually larger than the many 1 x 1 parts that go into the fish themselves. Point in case: The frame is way to elaborate and bulky and massively skews the perception of the value of this set, and not in a good way.
The dilemma here is of course that they had to include some constructionally relevant extra parts for the alternate B and C models, but to be blunt about it I couldn’t be bothered. This too literally feels like they had to come up with something to justify releasing it in this series when the outcome isn’t really that great. Neither the treasure chest nor the painting on the easel look that good and this forced diversification is to the detriment of the primary model in my opinion.
The thing is that there would easily have been a way to insinuate the “box” with a bunch of 12 units long black Technic axles for the vertical edges and then perhaps they could have included the newer 32 long axles in Black as well or plugged together suitable shorter versions for the horizontal top edges. This would have required what? Twenty parts perhaps? It would have been much more efficient and done the trick for most people plus it would have freed up a ton of parts that could have been used for additional fish, plants or detailing the sea floor.
Speaking of which: The “sand” is 100 percent just flat Tan plates. that’s the first thing anyone would avoid who is trying to build his own version of this. I wouldn’t expect them to go out of there way here, but a bunch of semi-circular and round plates of all sizes would have gone a long way to shape a small mound in the middle and perhaps there would even have been a way to accommodate a small rock formation in a different color. as a major fan of octopuses I also could have totally gone for a shattered amphora, stereotypical as that may sound.
I think it’s not much of a surprise and literally everybody would have expected it that the selection of fish species is a direct riff on the Finding Nemo/ Finding Dory movies with the three largest examples being a Blue Tang/ Surgeon Fish, a Clown Fish and a Yellow Butterfly Fish. There’s some pink and black fringe-tailed fish thrown in for good measure, though I’m not clear about the exact species. Additionally there’s a small submarine or remotely controlled underwater drone as a bit of a gag item.
The fish are mostly represented by their contours and color scheme, but have very little in the way of actual three-dimensional shaping. That is okay for what this set represents and tries to achieve, but of course more details would have been preferable. Many of these reef-dwellers aren’t that flat and a lot larger than it often appears in documentaries on TV. Bulking up their cross sections and refining their silhouettes is certainly something I would strife for if I were to do my own version of this.
On the bright side, due to this limitation they couldn’t avoid recoloring some parts because they would be visible and thus we are getting the 1 x 1 brick with opposing studs on side in Dark Pink and its bigger 1 x 2 brother in Orange at last.
This set stirs up a whole lot of conflicting emotions because I really want to like it, but ultimately I’m also too disappointed and miffed by its shortcomings. Not to sound like a disappointed kid that didn’t get the right present on its birthday, but this is once more a case of where the potential has not been used at all. This could have been totally awesome, however it only turned out as a rather average affair. Too many things feel not thought through or are not fleshed out, so this comes across as rather half-baked.
Assuming the prices drop into that sensible 20 Euro range in foreseeable time the set may be worth your time, regardless, but to really turn it into something outstanding you will have to invest some extra effort, buy a second set perhaps or resort to your own parts supply to fancy things up. At full price this seems a bit of a stretch, as I really feel that you’re not getting enough in return, but as usual this is up to personal interpretation.