Retro Future – Futuristic Flyer (31086)

Due to the lack of certain types of slopes and panels for flaps, rudders, wing edges and the like LEGO certainly isn’t the best way to pursue an aviation model hobby, but of course that doesn’t stop the company from trying just as it doesn’t stop me from almost instinctively buying every reasonably looking set of that type, especially since they are still relatively rare (not counting the many City helicopter and airplane sets here). The Futuristic Flyer (31086) set is no exception.

LEGO Creator, Futuristic Flyer (31086), Box

Admittedly this model wasn’t particularly high on my list. It has a distinct appeal, but at the same time there are some glaring shortcomings that were clear to me even just by looking at the package and marketing photos. I was quite a bit hesitant and only committed to the model after Jangbricks did a review on his YouTube channel that alleviated some of my concerns as well as showing some of the interesting technical details.

Naturally, the most stand-out feature are the forward-inclined wings. As a longtime  aviation aficionado I could chew your ears off explaining the pros and cons of such a configuration, but suffice it to say that there are reasons we don’t see more aircraft of this type and it was and is more or less relegated to experimental planes like the old X-29 or as Jang mentions, the Sukhoij S-37 Berkut. On the model this is implemented quite ingeniously by locking the wings into place between some angled place using those small ball joints. The added benefit here is that the wings can be easily taken off for transport and clicked into place again when needed, allowing to use a smaller storage box.

LEGO Creator, Futuristic Flyer (31086), Overview

The extra pieces depicted in the above photo are meant for the secondary and tertiary build, a sort of generic space fighter and a small Gundam-like mech. I haven’t really bothered with either, but at least the space vehicle seems on par with the jet in terms of complexity and quality while the robot really feels like a throwaway idea they just crammed in to get three overall models at all. It really doesn’t look that attractive and feels a bit out of place here.

Speaking of quality – that’s of course a relative term for a set with barely 150 pieces. That’s also why this set wasn’t a top priority initially. Unfortunately once you move on from the cleverly constructed middle section holding the wings, the rest of the model doesn’t really live up to that standard. To say it has been grossly simplified would be an understatement as it really feels like the nose and aft were just lumped on after the fact without much consideration. The nose is particularly disappointing as you just can feel how simple it potentially might have been to shape a gently sloped tip from a few different wedge plates and curved slopes.

LEGO Creator, Futuristic Flyer (31086), Left Side View

The same can be said for the engine exhaust using the old plastic wheel. It completely ruins the otherwise sleek appearance. You know, it’s not like this hollow cone doesn’t exist, not to speak of even better solutions like dual exhaust pipes. Keen observers will also have noticed that the model sits terribly low. It’s simply propped up on some standard small wheel plates as commonly used for three-wheeler vehicles in City and Friends. It’s acceptable when you see this as a play item as it’s at least a stable solution, but of course could be improved.

LEGO Creator, Futuristic Flyer (31086), Right Aft View

My main takeaway from this set is that it offers some good ideas and inspiration, but the technical execution could have been done better in places. It’s once more a matter of 150 pieces vs. perhaps 200 pieces where those 50 extra parts could have made a huge difference for the better. Don’t misunderstand me: I understand this this is aimed at kids for playing first and foremost, but the missed opportunity of making this also a better displayable showcase model is still highly regrettable.

No real Talent – Andrea’s Talent Show (41368)

Do you know that weird feeling of wanting a LEGO set and at the same time being extremely reluctant and skeptical about it? That was pretty much the case with Andrea’s Talent Show (41368), so let’s see what’s to love and what not and also explain my inner struggles a bit.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Box

In my life as an graphics artist working in a small media production company the subject of the set wasn’t that alien to me. Occasionally I would even help out with pushing buttons behind the scenes on trade shows and open house events for our clients so the screens wouldn’t remain black. That and of course I knew a few people who were in the stage show business, be that riggers, audio engineers, lighting people and so on. Combined with my own interest in elaborate shows from the likes of Cirque du Soleil or our very own Friedrichstadtpalast the subject on some level appealed to me. at the same time, though, I totally despise those awful “talent” shows on TV, so this caused me some trepidation to actually commit to it.

As usual the “right” price would help to convince me, so I took the opportunity when it dropped below 30 Euro. I think I ultimately got it for 28 Euro or something like that. The original price of 50 Euro is just ridiculous, so stay away from this set if you can’t get it cheaply enough. It’s definitely not worth that even if you allow wiggle room for the many large parts that by their nature are already a bit more expensive. Case in point: Due to the unusual colors e.g. even those eight Magenta plates in the set could be had cheaper on Bricklink than what they would cost you when buying the set. I’d definitely not spend more than 40 Euro on it even on a good day.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Overview

The set itself is reasonably large and comes with a number of little side builds, yet you always feel like something is missing. More importantly – to me, anyway – the assembled stage looks very uninviting due to the extensive use of Black. For a Friends set this is pretty uncommon and unfortunately doesn’t really elevate the set. I understand why they did it (more on that further down), but I still don’t particularly like it. Using Light Bluish Grey at least for some of those parts would have been preferable and incidentally also more “realistic”, as e.g. most trussing for portable stage construction is just plain aluminium, zinc coated lightweight steel or stainless steel.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Stage InsertHow unsuitable the Black is can easily be determined by just looking at the images of the little turntable inserts for the stage’s front area. The larger parts simply look like a mush, which is something you would avoid in a real scenario, at least in this way. Of course lots of Black are used on real stages to hide things in the background. Anyway, as the center pieces the inserts do not look particularly convincing. For all intents and purposes they should be flamboyant and stand out with strong colors. The singer pedestal could be Medium Lavender, the magic trick table with the rabbit could have glittery parts and the drum kit could at least have had its supports in Gold or Silver.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Stage Insert LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Stage Insert

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Jury Table

The judges’ table feels equally unimpressive and underdeveloped. Naturally there would be at least three jury members in most shows, so it feels way too small. They should at least have aimed to include two seats. how they undermined their own intention in fact becomes apparent by the elaborate construction of the buttons. They use rubbery Technic connector elements underneath them to give the effect of touch buttons rather than permanent switches as would have been the case with a simpler, more straightforward approach. It’s really odd to “waste” this idea in such a manner.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Dressing Rooms

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Dressing Room Connectors

The “dressing rooms” share a similar fate in that they are way too small and thus just don’t feel “real”. They plug into the back of the stage at the sides if you choose so, but in that case feel somehow quite misplaced. In my view they would have to have some panels then to give the idea of some physical separation even if only with paper-thin walls.LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Front View

The front view of the stage looks okay, but ultimately empty. aside from my usual not using the stickers in the set this can be attributed to the total absence of a background or for that matter the stage having no real depth. this brings us back to one of my previous points – the stage is black because most mobile phones and tablets have black frames and you are supposed to use one of those devices as a large background LED screen/ projection.

That’s all well and good if you have one, but there are at least two flaws in this plan: First, LEGO don’t tell you where to get those show-y backgrounds and how to get them on your device. In the end you might spend hours scouring YouTube trying to find a suitable clip and then struggle to somehow download/ rip it to your phone or tablet. I’m not even going to begin debating the legal implications.

The second flaw in this plan sure is that even if you have a mobile device available you might not want to give it to your kids to play around with. Therefore it seems to me it would have been inevitable to include some printed cardboard as an alternative to put in place. I mean they know how to do it with their Movie Maker sets and some others, so it sure wouldn’t be too much to ask, or would it?

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Top View with Insert

The shallowness of the stage is even more apparent from a slightly angled top-down view. This also shows that the stage is by no means a contiguous surface. It’s a missed opportunity that could easily have been remedied by including some of these new inverted round plates in White. That would have nicely hidden away the underlying gear construction for the turntable, of course.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Top View with exposed Gears

Sadly, this part doesn’t make much sense, either. If you look at the picture of the backside and imagine your phone being slotted into the yellow Technic holders, the driving gear might be very difficult to reach it would have been much smarter to construct a longer drive train using multiple gears and have it be accessible from one of the stage’s sides.

If that wasn’t enough, what also wouldn’t work with a device in place are the score boards. If you do the math in your head, you should come to realize that in their up position where they are supposed to be held in place by the grey axles they would also rest on the edge of your device and never drop down once you pull out the stoppers. This is such a glaring oversight and lapse in functional logic.

LEGO Friends, Andrea's Talent Show (41368), Back View

All things considered, this is far from a great set. I got what I wanted from it for the low price I bought it for, but I sure wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. This set is full of unnecessary mistakes and shortcomings and my resounding feeling is that the designer(s) were totally clueless how traditional stage design or design for TV shows actually works. Most annoyingly, though, the almost inescapable requirement for some sort of stage background makes the set feel lifeless without it. The Black color doesn’t help, either, even more so in light of the absence of more bling that it would contrast with. It really feels sort of drab and dreary when it should be exuberant and colorful…

Officially strange…

After that little PR debacle earlier this week, the Stranger Things – The Upside Down (75810) set has now been mangled through every LEGO-endorsed media outlet who apparently got review copies before its release (I wish that would ever happen to me *lol*) a better picture is forming about the set.

Overall reactions are positive and personally I think it’s okay. I never have actually watched the series, but think I’m aware of most going-ons based on trailers, clips and episode reviews on the Internet or YouTube more specifically. The set captures the overall themes of the series nicely, though I’m not sure if they couldn’t have chosen a different scenario.

Most notably the chosen presentation style results in many parts being gobbled up by structural builds to ensure stability as well as the decorative greenery while the building itself looks like a small doll house. Ultimately that’s my problem here: It doesn’t look like a 200 Euro Set. A simpler side-by-side presentation might have allowed more room for using those bricks for extra details and/ or reigned  in the price around the critical 150 Euro mark.

The Black, Reddish Brown and Dark Blue variants of the plant elements have me drooling and are completely new color variants. They would be so useful to have. One can only hope they’ll become available in larger quantities somehow. There may be other hidden gems, but without a building instruction or the actual set at hand this is of course difficult to judge.

On the whole this is a set I could get behind, it’s just so dang expensive. Was it worth the whole hush-hush and teasing? I don’t think so. It’s good, but not that good. With Stranger Things being on Netflix and covering a very special genre it’s not as widely known as some would like to think (here in Germany), so how much traction it gains remains to be seen…

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.

Ideas out of Steam?

After last week’s disappointment with the botched LEGO Ideas The Flintstones (21316) set, it seems we’re in for even more frustrations with the latest choices. The results from the first 2019 review are far from encouraging due to licensed products once more having taken the crown.

Not that the pre-selection was that great to begin with. I’m a space and aviation nerd of sorts, but what would I do with an ISS or a jet engine model in my home? That Apache helicopter I saw today doing convoy escort/ scouting duty for US troops being moved to Poland on one of the Autobahns nearby got me more excited than any of that stuff. Conversely I’m far beyond the age to get pumped for m&ms dispensers. The only thing that got me halfway hooked was the Fiat 500 model, but it didn’t make the cut.

So here we are, stuck with a super toyish looking Steamboat Willy set and the Friends TV series café. I couldn’t say that I care much for either and sadly I have this bad feeling that behind the scenes Disney was pulling strings to get those sets made. Steamboat Willy being the birth of Mickey Mouse in my view is completely overrated, as frankly most younger people probably never heard of it until they hit that search bar in their web browser.

Similarly, Friends feels twenty years too late. Despite endless reruns in late night TV, I have yet to manage to sit through a single entire episode. It’s so cringeworthy and out of time like so many of those alleged 1990s “cult” series. I vividly remember that gag in the bloopers of We are the Millers, though, where they play the title song to Jennifer Aniston… Well, whatever, the fact remains: Not the greatest choices, at least not on this side of the pond. May sell well in the US, though.

Your Hidden Side?

LEGO are really hitting it big time this week with news, so here we go again just one day after my last rant. Yes, we’re talking about Hidden Side, an upcoming new product series with a special twist.

First the good part: From what I can make out on the rather blurry photos and the short teaser video on YouTube, the sets could be cool. I like the exaggerated, comically stylized models and with the demise of Elves, clearly there is room and a need for other lines to include crazy colored elements and get them out to the masses, the Yellowish Green claws of the Monster School being a good and easily detectable example. If done right and the models indeed hold up to certain quality standard I’m all for it.

The other part gives me a bit of an uneasy feeling. Yes, I can admit that I truly don’t care for the AR stuff to begin with for a million reasons, starting with the “rich kid problem” (as in the technical requirements to use the features necessitating a reasonably beefy, contemporary and thus expensive mobile device) to my more general dislike for a lot of this virtual nonsense not going anywhere and only costing people’s time and money, but that’s not the point here.

I’m much more concerned with the potential for exploiting this in the long run. Make no mistake – what LEGO are proposing here is ultimately some form of a mobile game and it doesn’t take much imagination to see the temptation of cashing in at every turn. From the usual micro-transactions to more LEGO-like approaches like selling minifigures and collectible cards with extra activation codes printed on this hits all the beats a bit too well for my taste. I’m not saying that they are actually going to do it, but these days I’m extremely wary to such things. Either that or the AR ends up being just a gimmick that kids get tired of quickly and then of course none of this would ever come into play.

Naturally, at this point we have very little to base an educated assessment of the situation on, so this could go either way. One can only hope for the best…

Bastion what?

After the announcement almost half a year ago and the ensuing long discussions on the internet whether or not this actually fits LEGO‘s moral code and ethics, the first Overwatch set has popped up on the Blizzard online store featuring the Omnic Bastion (75987) character.

Personally I’m not opposed to Overwatch at all. I’ve never played it, but a) I like those character introduction videos both as a film aficionado and 3D artist due to their excellent quality and storytelling and b) I like the overall graphical/ design style just by looking at gameplay videos. Sure, it’s a shooter and doesn’t fit in with the pink fluffy unicorns theme so prevalent in many LEGO sets (But then again, they do have Star Wars, too, do they not?), but the comic style and the game not taking itself so seriously probably make it acceptable.

The Bastion set at 25 Euros or bucks, respectively, is quite expensive for under 200 pieces, but I suppose in a world where propped up limited editions with deluxe busts, artwork books etc. are now quite common, it will still feel quite attainable for most gamers compared to other cost, including their subscription and in-game virtual goods. From the LEGO side there’s not much to it and if you have the parts you could probably re-create it just by studying the photos.

Personally I would have hoped for a more massive set that really carries home that heavy mech/ battle turret theme, though. You know, one where the sheer weight of the LEGO bricks already makes you want to put it into certain poses. My concern here is that if this the scale they settle on it will be difficult to render the other characters in sufficient detail (if there are any plans on doing so). Admittedly, however, it would probably look just the part when placed in a recreation of the actual arena to same scale, which is what I’ve been hoping for more than anything else.

I’m quite likely never going to get this particular model due to the price, but now that the party has started, I’m slightly hopeful that this may turn out well, after all, and isn’t just another desperate move by LEGO to tap into new user bases. Should be interesting what will be next…