Monday, 24 March 2014

A New Millennium

Can there be a vessel in the Star Wars universe which has been the subject of more official LEGO versions than the Millennium Falcon ? By my reckoning, Han Solo's Corellian freighter has graced at least eight LEGO sets to date, from the mighty 5195-piece UCS version to the teeny micro scale advent calendar model, and that's even before we consider LEGO-branded Millennium Falcon Bag Charms, Messenger Bags and other tat. And yet, just when you thought that LEGO's designers had surely exhausted all conceivable options, they still somehow manage to come up with yet another variant, Set 75030 Millennium Falconwhich is one of a series of six Star Wars Microfighters sets released earlier this year. These sets, consisting of a Star Wars mini-build and a related minifigure, are surely the spiritual successors to the recently departed Star Wars Planet Sets; I was keen to check them out, and was predictably drawn first of all to the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.

At just 13 cm x 12 cm x 4.5 cm the box is laudably compact. Interestingly, it doesn't share the dark blue 2014 Darth Vader Star Wars branding, instead sporting a distinct Microfighters identity and logo.  As you can see from the picture above, the box art is dominated by a picture of the set contents superimposed on an end-of-Episode IV background featuring the Death Star and some explosions and blaster fire. The back of the box (below) shows Han Solo dismounted from his ship and highlights the set's main play feature - a pair of flick-fire missiles. It also advertises the six Microfighters sets and a Microfighters app, of which more later.

The box is designed to be opened via the single thumb tab that you can see on the right side of the rear of the box above. Opening the box reveals a couple of un-numbered bags of elements and a small instruction booklet. There's no DSS and no loose elements in the box.

The instruction booklet is wider than the box and is therefore supplied folded in half. The image on the cover of the booklet (above - click to enlarge) is largely the same as that on the front of the box, although strangely the explosion graphics are missing. A whole page of the booklet (below) is dedicated to advertising a Star Wars LEGO Microfighters app; a visit to Apple's App Store revealed that the app is surprisingly not free, but in the interests of research and for you, dear reader, I stumped up the princely sum of £ 0.69 and downloaded it to my iPhone and iPad. It's actually not too bad, basically a top-down vertical scrolling shooter quite reminiscent of games from my youth such as Capcom's 1942. I wouldn't go so far as recommending it - it's a bit of a one-trick pony - but if you're a fan of scrolling shooters and a fan of Star Wars then you'll probably get some enjoyment out of it as I did.

At this point I'd usually share a photograph of unusual or rare parts contained within the set. On this occasion, however, there isn't really much to show you - the majority of the constituent elements are pretty commonplace. There are a couple of exceptions to this generalization - a light bley 2 x 2 truncated cone featuring a printed Millennium Falcon cockpit pattern which is unique to this set, and a couple of trans-light blue 1 x 1 plates which have appeared in only 4 sets to date - but that's pretty much it.

The set contains one minifigure, a version of Han Solo. The back-printed torso, featuring Han's classic tan shirt and black tunic combo, also appears as part of the Han Solo minifigure included in Set 75003 A-wing Starfighter and Set 10236 Ewok Village. His head and legs are unique to this set, however. The light flesh head, with a smile on one side and what Bricklink describes as a "determined pattern" on the other, features wrinkles which are presumably supposed to make his expressions look more realistic but actually just look messy and seem a bit unnecessary to me. The dark blue minifigure legs in this set are similar to those found in the version of Han Solo included in Set 7965 Millennium Falcon but there's now a greater level of print detail on the gun belt; again, I'm not entirely convinced that the increased detail is really necessary, although the quality of printing is certainly good.

Once Han Solo has been assembled it's on to his ship; the building instructions for the Millennium Falcon occupy fully 22 pages of the instruction booklet, believe it or not, which is pretty remarkable for such a small model. Construction is quick and straightforward, and you can see the finished ship below (click picture to enlarge). Despite the small scale, some key features such as the forward mandibles, cockpit and radar dish have been reasonably approximated, although I don't think anybody's going to be making a case for the model being an accurate representation of the subject matter anytime soon. You can see the truncated cone with printed Millennium Falcon cockpit pattern that I mentioned earlier in the picture below. A couple of flick-fire missiles are included to increase playability, and there's a recess behind the cockpit to accommodate the Han Solo minifigure (see later). The model sits on 4 boat studs which serve as the landing gear.

From the rear (picture below - click to enlarge) you can see that the radar dish attaches via a pneumatic 'T' piece; this clicks into a modified 1 x 1 tile with clip, allowing the dish to tilt up and down. The characteristic blue glow from the engines is recreated with trans-light blue round 1 x 1 bricks plus a couple of 1 x 1 plates mounted sideways on modified 1 x 1 bricks with headlight. A light bley round 2 x 2 tile serves as the port docking ring, but there's no starboard docking ring due to the need to extend the cockpit backwards to accommodate the minifigure.

The Han Solo minifigure slots in just behind the cockpit as you can see in the pictures below (click to enlarge). The massive disparity in scale does admittedly make the finished model look rather ridiculous when the minifig is in place, but I think that the ability to integrate the minifig if desired does add some play value, in marked contrast to the Planet Sets which, with their various different elements mounted separately on a base, seemed more like display pieces than something a kid could actually play with.

The Falcon is pleasingly chunky and swooshable; its chibi stylings bring to mind the limited edition Comic Con Landspeeder that I reviewed on Gimme LEGO a while ago, and while I'm generally drawn to more 'realistic' and accurate LEGO sets, I think I'm going to find it hard to resist picking up the other 5 Microfighters sets at some point.... Set 75030 Millennium Falcon contains 94 pieces and has a recommended retail price of £8.99 / US$ 9.99; if you're in the UK you can currently pick the set up for a few pence below retail at Amazon (click here to buy).

While I'm on the subject of Star Wars, here's a thing.... I was in the Watford LEGO brand store recently, and Assistant Manager Kevin alerted me to something interesting. Below you can see one of the 2014 Star Wars Battlepacks, Set 75036 Utapau Troopers to be precise. Do you notice anything unusual about the packaging ?

No ? OK, take a look at the picture below of the left end flap instead. See it now ? In case you're still wondering what on earth I'm going on about, this small battlepack has tape seals, rather than the usual thumb tabs. There's also a small cutaway on the bottom left corner of the end flap, revealing a patch of light blue printed with a white triangle. The right end flap is also closed by way of tape seals, but there's no cutaway.

So when did LEGO start putting tape seals on small sets like this ? The Watford store had a few of the Utapau Trooper sets; some were sealed with tape, and the rest were of the thumb tab variety; furthermore, there's a review of this set on Eurobricks and the pictures clearly show the thumb tab version. I could only find one other small set in the Watford store which was closed with tape seals - Set 60056 Tow Truck - and again the store had a mixture of tape seal and thumb tab versions. It therefore seems as if LEGO may be in the process of transitioning to tape seals on some smaller sets, or at least tesing the water. As some of you will no doubt have realised from previous reviews on Gimme LEGO, I hate using thumb tabs to open sets due to the destruction that this wreaks on the boxes. I'm therefore absolutely delighted to find tape seals appearing on smaller sets, and I hope that this practice becomes more widespread.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Social Phobia

OK, I admit it - I've been slow to embrace the 'joys' of social media, be it Facebook, Twitter or whatever. It hasn't however escaped my notice that lots of people do seem to like these communication tools and spend a lot of time using them, so I figured it was about time I dusted off my Facebook account, signed up to Twitter, and had a bit of a play to see what all the fuss was about.

Having now done a bit of exploring, I'm starting to see why people spend so much time using these.... Still, at least I have something tangible to show for all my stumbling about in the dark - there's now a Gimme LEGO Facebook page and a Gimme LEGO Twitter page. At the most basic level, if you visit these pages and click 'Like' and 'Follow' respectively you'll get a notification like the Facebook example below when I post something new on Gimme LEGO.

Use of these tools also opens up a few interesting new possibilities. I've tended to stick to a fairly rigid template on Gimme LEGO consisting of generally lengthy articles which are usually posted a couple of weeks apart; use of Facebook and Twitter makes it easier for me to share snippets of news or information, juicy bargains etc. which wouldn't merit a blog posting of their own, as well as allowing me to highlight interesting LEGO-related articles that I've come across. They also offer additional ways for readers to interact with Gimme LEGO if they wish.

Feel free to click here and here if you want to follow Gimme LEGO on Facebook and Twitter respectively, or else click on the Facebook and/or Twitter icons at the top of the right sidebar when you're ready; I see a few folks have already signed up, so welcome ! Hopefully these services will be a useful addition to Gimme LEGO, and if experienced users have suggestions for content or anything else then please get in touch.

Monday, 10 March 2014

The Man from Atlantis

Nobody with a life (and a finite budget) could possibly ever acquire and build every single set that LEGO releases; a more attainable aspiration is to dip your toe into as many different LEGO themes as possible, and that's something I try to do. I therefore decided to pick a set from a theme that I'd not previously tackled and run the rule over it this week.

I didn't pay much heed to the Atlantis theme when it first appeared in 2010 - I was far too focused on LEGO Star Wars and the modular buildings at that point - but the theme started to appear on my radar as it approached retirement and the price of Atlantis sets tumbled. Although I subsequently snapped up a bunch of Atlantis sets because they were heavily discounted and looked interesting, I never actually got around to building any of them, something I felt it was time I rectified. The set I chose to build was Set 8080 Undersea Explorer, for no other reason than the primary model looks decidedly mech-like and I have a thing about mechs (see, for instance, here, or here, or even here...). There are actually some other pretty neat-looking Atlantis sets to choose from as well, not least Set 7985 City of Atlantis, but as the Undersea Explorer is perhaps a lesser-known, lower profile set I figured I'd go with that one.

The front of the box (above - click to enlarge) shows an action shot of the Undersea Explorer mech attacking a sea serpent, while the back of the box (below) shows the mech transformed into its alternate form - a wheeled vehicle - and also features a series of pictures illustrating the transformation process.

The box is designed to be opened via thumb tabs, should you choose to use them. Inside the box are three numbered bags of elements, each of which contains an un-numbered bag of smaller parts, an instruction booklet, a DSSand a couple of pearl light grey ribbed hoses.

The single glossy instruction booklet has a footprint of approximately 21 cm x 20 cm and it's 76 pages from cover to cover. The front cover imagery (above) is very similar to that of the front of the box, although the perspective is shifted slightly and there's more of the yellow Atlantis motif framing the image.

In addition to the building guide, which takes up around 60 pages of the booklet, there are a couple of pages (one of which can be seen above) explaining how to transform the Undersea Explorer from its primary mech form into its secondary wheeled form, a two page inventory of parts, four pages of advertising for other sets in the Atlantis theme, advertising for the microsite (now sadly defunct), a couple of pages of advertising for the LEGO Club, and a rather nice image of an Atlantis diver (below). The back cover of the booklet encourages you to complete an online survey for a chance to win "a cool LEGO product", although most potential participants would surely have been driven away by the accompanying image of a shouting child before they ever got to the survey.

The sticker sheet can be seen below. It contains a total of 13 stickers, to be applied to the sea serpent and Undersea Explorer. None of them, with the possible exception of the black triangular stickers at the bottom right of the sheet, turned out to be particularly problematic to neatly apply.

Most of the elements to be found in this set have appeared in many other sets as well, although there are a few which are less common. With the exception of the red 4 x 4 Technic cylinder, which has featured in a total of 11 sets including this one, all the elements that you can see in the picture below (click to enlarge) have to date appeared in ten sets or less. This set contains six of the red small hard plastic wheels; these have only appeared in 3 sets including this one, as has the red modified 2 x 3 brick with rotation joint half ball and socket. The variant of the lime Robot Body which appears in this set has also only ever appeared in three sets; you may recall having seen this element, which is a modified round 2 x 2 x 2 brick with a bottom axle holder, in my Ghostbusters MOC, where I used it for Slimer's body. The trans-red ring with centre triangle, gold bands and shark pattern, which can be seen at the top of the picture, is an example of an Atlantis Treasure Key. This one has appeared in 4 sets, and Treasure Keys in a variety of different colours, and featuring different designs, were distributed in sets across the Atlantis theme. The large, 7-blade pearl light gray propeller can be found in a total of 5 sets, as can the black curved Technic pin connector with fin and hole, while the trans-bright green bubble canopy has appeared in 6 sets, most recently the Alien Conquest Set 7051 Tripod Invader from 2011. The red Technic 2 x 2 modified brick with rotation joint half ball and socket, the small yellow barb and the 3-blade pearl light gray propeller, have appeared in eight, nine and nine sets respectively.

The set contains just one minifigure, who goes by the name of Atlantis Diver 2 - Bobby - Without Flippers on Bricklink. Given LEGO's propensity to stuff sets full of minifigures these days, just one minifig in a 364-piece System set seems almost inconceivable. Still, at least this version of Bobby is unique to the set, although only by virtue of the fact that unlike the version of Bobby included in other sets, he doesn't come complete with a set of flippers for some reason.

Although described by Bricklink as "Minifig, Headgear Helmet Underwater", Bobby's diving helmet has graced a number of sets which don't have an underwater theme; it appeared in white in some of the 2011 City Space sets, including Set 3367 Space Shuttle reviewed by me here. More recently, a sand blue version has appeared as part of Mr. Freeze's outfit in Set 76000 Arctic Batman vs. Mr Freeze : Aquaman on Ice.

Beneath Bobby's diving helmet is a dual-sided head with an open smile on one side and a surprised alternate expression on the other; the head looks fairly unremarkable at first glance, but its availability is actually restricted to just two minifigures including this one. Removing the bulky diving helmet also reveals a nice torso printed front (above) and back (below) with a cool design featuring air hoses and a weighted diving belt. The legs are adorned with what Bricklink describes as an "Atlantis Diver Pattern", part of which is a red and black trident logo the inverse of which appears on a sticker that attaches to the roof of the Undersea Explorer.

Once the mini figure has been assembled it's time to build the sea serpent (below, balanced on a perspex minifig case). The serpent is suitably intimidating and spiky, not unlike a cross between an angler fish and a dragon. It has a surprising number of moving parts and articulation points - the mouth opens, the fins flap, and the tail can be manipulated and rotated into a multitude of positions, although it unfortunately doesn't always stay put due to a lack of friction in some of the joints. The black and yellow colour scheme works well, and overall it's a nice little model, apart perhaps from the clunky section where the body joins to the tail.

I'm a big fan of the Undersea Explorer, at least in its mech form (below - click to enlarge). This isn't really much of a surprise, seeing as it brings to mind Set 6862 Superman Vs Power Armor Lex which was one of my favourite sets of 2012; look closely at the feet, arms, fingers and canopy of Lex's mech in that set and it's not hard to see the common DNA. I think the designers of the Undersea Explorer have done a nice job pimping the mech for deep sea exploration, loading it up with lights, and propellers to help it to manouevre. Armament comes in the form of a couple of trans green-tipped flick fire missiles and a Technic cannon complete with a spring-loaded Technic competition arrow. Rotation joints at the hips, shoulders and elbows permit a reasonable range of movement in two planes, and the ball and socket joints at the ankles facilitate a stable stance. I like the lime green canisters bolted to the inside of the legs, and the sparing use of lime green detailing elsewhere on the model.

The rear of the mech (below - click to enlarge) looks bare and unfinished, although in LEGO's defence it probably needed to be this way in order to permit the mech to transform into its alternate form. From the back you can get a clearer view of the various articulation points described above, and you can also see the insertion points of the pearl light grey ribbed hoses.

As previously mentioned, the Undersea Explorer mech can transform into a wheeled vehicle which you can see below (click to enlarge). The transformation process is very quick and straightforward - you simply straighten the legs and fold them back 90 degrees at the hips, whereupon the vehicle rests upon the previously-decorative wheels protruding from the sides of the mech's legs. You can then either fold the arms back against the body, as I've done in the pictures below, or leave them extended forwards per the picture on the back of the box. Credit to LEGO for designing this transforming feature into the set, and I thought that the wheeled vehicle looked quite cool in the promotional materials and on the back of the box, although if I'm hones it turned out to be a bit small and underwhelming "in the flesh". It also looks quite messy from behind. Even so, the alternate vehicular form is a neat play feature, especially given the simple and elegant transformation process which takes literally a couple of seconds.

You can see all of the elements of the set below (click to enlarge); Bobby's seated at the controls of the mech ready to rain Technic competition arrow death down on the unfortunate sea serpent and claim the prize - the trans-red Atlantis Treasure Key....

Set 8080 Undersea Explorer was released in 2010 and retailed for £39.99 in the UK and $39.99 in the US. This is expensive given that Atlantis wasn't a licensed theme and the set only included 364 parts and a single minifigure. Unlike many themes, the Atlantis theme hasn't in general increased in value much if at all since retirement, which is obviously good news if you're looking to pick up Atlantis sets; while Set 8080 Undersea Explorer is perhaps harder to find than many others in the theme - it appears that the set was only available at retail for around 6 months before being retired - there are nevertheless a number of new, sealed examples on Bricklink available for significantly less than the original RRP. I actually think it's an interesting set, with my only major reservation being the price, so if you stumble across a cheap copy then I can recommend it.