Wednesday, 27 June 2012

What's that coming over the hill....?

I've not made any secret of my increasingly "scattergun" approach to collecting LEGO; it was Star Wars that drew me back in after my lengthy Dark Ages, but my quest for Star Wars sets quickly expanded to encompass Indiana Jones, LEGO Exclusives (particularly the modular buildings) and Harry Potter, and before long I seemed to be taking a punt on pretty much anything and everything....

One theme which I've so far steadfastly resisted has been Time Cruisers, however. This theme, which consisted of a total of just 9 sets, had a brief run in 1996 and 1997 before sinking with barely a trace, and the sets look completely bizarre. Take for instance Set 6492 Hypno Cruiser (picture below - click to enlarge) which was also available in the U.S. as Set 1853. I mean, just look at it - a schoolboy and a professor driving a multi-wheeled vehicle which is propelled by a combination of what look like dragon wings, jet engines, a helicopter rotor and a dragster engine. In space. Pursued by a monkey. Someone must have been having a laugh.

Set 6492 Hypno Cruiser : Bizarre...
You need more proof ? Ok, then - check out Set 6495 Time Tunnelator. Honestly, it almost defies description, but I guess I can try... Kind of like a genetic fusion of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, an antique aeroplane and a dragon. With wooden beer barrels on the side. I have to be honest, these Time Cruisers sets hurt my brain and while I generally don't shirk a challenge, I've not yet dared to dip my toe into this theme.

When I saw the first images of the new Monster Fighters theme, I have to confess that my first thought was "Time Cruisers". Consider for instance Set 9464 The Vampyre Hearse (picture below - click to enlarge). Maybe it was the dragster engine that brought to mind the Time Cruisers sets, but the whole concept of a dragster hearse, its engine secured to the bodywork by bones, seems entirely bizarre. Or is it just me ?

The Vampyre Hearse isn't an isolated case, either. Take Set 9467 The Ghost Train (picture below). I could just about get my head round the plane from the set being piloted by a Vampyre Hunter in a Van Helsing-type scenario, but just check that train out ! From the cow-catcher and Boo-esque diabolical grinning face on the front to the bones and the dragon wings, it's utterly baffling....

Anyway, I finally got my first sight of the Monster Fighters sets "in the flesh" at the London Westfield LEGO store a couple of weeks back. The store had the full range of sets on the shelves, and at least one set built and on display. After spending a few minutes debating the wisdom of dipping my toe into yet another new LEGO theme, I eventually decided to get my wallet out and take a closer look at one of the sets.

Set 9461 The Swamp Creature is the entry-level Monster Fighters set, and you can see the box above. Given the subject matter of the theme, the artwork is suitably dark and moonlit, with a spooky font spelling out the name of the theme. Opening the box reveals a small, folded instruction booklet and two sealed bags of pieces. There are no stickers in this set.

You can see a few of the more interesting pieces from the set in the picture above (click to enlarge). No parts are unique to the set, although the trans-neon green Moonstone, also known as "Rock Stepped with Swamp Pattern" (or just "ice lolly" as far as I'm concerned) can only be found in one other set. Dark green sea grass has been around since 2009 but this is only the fifth set it's ever appeared in; this is also the case for the sand green modified 1 x 2 plate with clip on top which I also highlighted in my recent review of the Ninjago Fangpyre Mech set. You get a smattering of flat silver pieces including five 1 x 2 tiles with grille which have only previously appeared in 3 other sets. I've yet to grow tired of the grooved 2 x 2 round bricks, although you unfortunately only get one of them in this set, in light bluish grey.

The front of the instruction booklet (above) is pretty much identical to the box art, apart from the absence of a close-up of the swamp creature. The booklet is 27 pages long, which seems a lot given how small the set is; each stage of the build gets a parts call-out, and there's an inventory of parts and a couple of pages of advertising for the LEGO club and a LEGO survey at the end. Love 'em or hate 'em, flick-fire missiles are here to stay, even in sets as small as this; don't fire them at anyone's head, kids, or it'll end in tears, apparently....

And so to the build; first up as ever are the minifigures, of which there are two - the Swamp Creature, who is exclusive to this set, and Frank Rock, who appears in two sets including this one.

With his scaly printed torso and legs, webbed head and red-tinged fish eyes the Swamp Creature (below) is every bit the corny matinee monster of my youth and I think he looks great ! He also features extensive back printing and a webbed fin on the back of his head.

Below you can see what's underneath that goofy rubbery head-piece - big, staring eyes and sharp teeth ! He definitely looks more scary this way. Given that his face is largely covered by the head-piece, there's no back-printed alternative expression, just a few more scales.

Monster Fighter Frank Rock (below) is notable for his Elvis-style quiff, cheesy grin and cool shades, although if you prefer your heroes to be pensive and considered rather than cocky and brash then you can reverse his head in order to get a different look. The printing on the torso and legs is classic LEGO Adventurers fare, and it's nice and detailed. His legs are olive green, which is an interesting new addition to the LEGO colour palette this year.

Frank's preferred mode of transport is an Everglades-style airboat (below - click to enlarge), albeit one which is loaded out with considerably more weaponry then you'd likely see on any airboat in the Florida Keys... As well as a pair of flick-fire missiles, the craft also features a couple of front-mounted clips to hold Frank's revolvers.

The set is completed by a small section of suitably swamp-like scenery, which includes the neon green ice lolly Moonstone. LEGO has built the Monster Fighters backstory around the search for a number of different coloured Moonstones, each of which is hidden in a different location. I'm assuming that the fish is destined to be eaten by the Swamp Creature; not sure if the frog is on the menu too or just passing by.

I suspect that most will buy this set for the minifigures alone, but the airboat and scenery elements do add some modest play value, not to mention making the set a little more interesting for folks like me for whom minifigures aren't the be-all and end-all.

In conclusion, it's a neat little set, and a veritable bargain at £4.99 / $6.99 when you consider that you get two minifigures, one of them unique to the set, and a handful of parts for your money. I particularly love the kitsch Swamp Creature minifig... The downside is that it's whetted my appetite for the theme as a whole, which means more expense; I can also blame the display model of Set 9468 Vampyre Castle at the Westfield store for that - it looked amazing and is a must-buy set for me.

Outside of the LEGO Brand Stores, most retailers haven't yet started selling the Monster Fighters sets at time of writing, although some third party merchants are selling them on Amazon in the U.S. and Europe at inflated prices. No hurry - they'll be along soon enough at or below RRP, but if you really can't wait I'm sure you can find some old Time Cruisers sets on eBay to fill the time...

Set 9468 Vampyre Castle


  1. Monster Fighters sets at least makes some sense. All I can think of when I see Time Cruisers is that LEGO must have been allowing designers to use drugs.

  2. Anonymous28/6/12

    I agree, Time Cruisers is insane, but I don't see anything wrong about the Ghost Train. It is unusual, but all Monster Fighter sets are. However, it at least makes some sense and it isn't nearly as wierd as the Time Tunnelator...

  3. I for one like Monster Fighters' weirdness. Bit of fresh air next to overly serious sets like Star Wars.

  4. I loved MF the first time I saw them in the pics from the toy fair and have all the main sets (waiting on The Zombies to show in the US, and of course for the Haunted House, plus the Ghost & Renfield polybags)... in fact I have 4 Swamp Creature sets... or is it 5? Aside from the printing on the minifigs this is actually the first set to have olive green minifig hips... Dino introduced a bunch of pieces and this year's version of Nute Gunray was the first with olive hands & head (also The Monster from the Mad Scientist MF set (aka Frankenstein). For my money this is the ultimate kitsch fest in terms of lego sets and the whole backstory is a lot of fun. If you get a chance to go on the MF website ( i think) it's a ton of fun. For a great 2nd round at a very reasonable MSRP grab the Werewolf set, Fun build on both sides and great figures, plus the Dino rifle with the clip with the fez & telescope is awesome. Reminds me I've been planning a little MOC with the CMF S7 Little Red Riding Hood. My advice, good doctor, is join forces with Dr. Rodney Rathbone, Maj. Quinton Steele, Frank Rock, Jack McHammer & Ann Lee

    1. :-)

      The battle is lost - I fully agree that the quirkiness of these sets is very appealing and have now resigned myself to picking up all of them. I will however probably wait until Amazon start to discount them before diving in in earnest.

  5. Anonymous1/7/12

    The Hypnocruiser does indeed look like it was built (I can't even call it designed) by a toddler on drugs, but the Time Tunnelator looks from the Brickset picture as at least coherent in a sort steampunk way - I'd rather be looking at a 6495 than a 6492.

    Monster fighters looks good, I was hoping to pick up a Vampyre Castle in NY last week, but it wasn't in stock. (Mind you, I didn't pick anything else up either because the prices just weren't enough of a discount - the Sopwith Camel was $110 before local sales tax).