Wednesday 15 August 2012

Going for Gold

Given my new-found enthusiasm for LEGO mechs (e.g. see here) I suppose it was really only a matter of time before I stumbled into another theme which I hadn't previously paid any attention to : Exo-Force.
Exo-Force Set 7709 Sentai Headquarters
The Exo-Force theme ran from 2006 to 2008 and consisted of around 40 sets all told, from small, cheap impulse sets to large expensive playsets such as Set 7709 Sentai Headquarters which was made up of almost 1500 pieces . The retirement of the theme coincided with my emergence from my LEGO Dark Ages, so I guess it's not altogether surprising that I only recently discovered and started to explore it. The theme, from the box art to the minfigures, not to mention the design of the mechs themselves, was clearly inspired by manga, the distinctive Japanese comic style, and if you're a fan of LEGO and mechs then this theme is definitely for you....

I picked up Exo-Force Set 7714 Golden Guardian (below) a few weeks back. Despite this supposedly being a "Limited Edition" set I was able to get a boxed example with sealed bags for less than £20. With an RRP of £19.99 / $24.99 at the time of its 2007 release, this isn't the first Exo-Force set I've recently bought which doesn't appear to have increased much if at all in value since retirement, not that I'm complaining.

The box is ridiculously large given that it contains just 267 pieces - I'm a big fan of LEGO's recent tendency to shrink the boxes down to a more appropriate size - and it's emblazoned with a big "Limited Gold Edition" banner. Is anybody really impressed by the knowledge that something is supposedly a "Limited Edition" anymore ? My scorn stops there, however - I love the art style, which brings to mind the cel shading you find in comics and certain videogames and lies somewhere between cartoon and photograph. The front of the box is pretty much wholly dedicated to a close-up of the Golden Guardian engaged in combat, printed over a metallic gold background, while the back of the box (below) highlights a few play features of the set, shows off some other sets in the Exo-Force theme, and even gives us a couple of comic book panels featuring the mech in action.

Cutting the seals releases the contents of the box : six numbered bags of parts, an A4-sized instructions booklet, a sticker sheet, two loose sections of flexible tubing, and lots of Billund air - did I mention that the box was stupidly big ? The front cover of the instructions is very similar to the front of the box, minus the golden sheen and a few extraneous details, while the back reproduces the comic strip panels from the back of the box and blows them up to fill the page (below).

The building instructions themselves occupy 36 pages and are printed against a restful background of blue sky with a few hazy clouds. Black/dark grey discrimination isn't great, but there's thankfully a parts inventory (below - click to enlarge) so you can't go too far wrong. There are also two pages of adverts for the LEGO Club and LEGO Shop at Home. Compared with most LEGO instruction booklets I've encountered, the paper isn't as glossy as usual - it feels coarser and thinner, reminiscent of the instruction booklets in some of the 2012 Super Heroes sets. I suspect that the use of this thinner, coarser paper is a deliberate ploy to give the booklets more of a comic book feel.

The sticker sheet, or DSS, is a shiny gold affair. Shiny or not, I generally hate stickers, especially when they're large and abundant, and this sticker sheet ticks both those boxes I'm afraid.... Still, at least the sticker sheet was intact, so I guess I should be thankful for that if nothing else.

Moving on to the parts included in the set, the pearl gold panel fairing and 2 x 2 x 11 support pillar (pic below - click to enlarge) are unique to this set. I have to confess to more than just a twinge of disappointment that they're pearl gold rather than chrome gold as the box art makes them look shinier than they actually are. You also get ten of the pearl gold 1 x 2 tiles with grille. There are a few quite unusual dark red parts included, notably the 45 degree 2 x 1 double inverted slope and the 8 x 6 x 2 curved windscreen, both of which only appear in two other sets apart from this one, while the white 1 x 12 hinge plate with tapered ends can be found in only one other set, namely the Star Wars UCS General Grievous sculpture. See the small yellow tile in the picture ? Exo-Force sets released in 2007 contained a yellow 1 x 2 tile printed with a unique "Exo Code"; this 8-digit code could be used at the dedicated Exo-Force website to unlock bonus material. The site ( has unfortunately now been retired, however, redirecting to instead.

To the undoubted dismay of the legions of minifig fanboys out there, the set contains only one minifigure.... Golden Guardian pilot Ha-Ya-To appears in various iterations in a number of Exo-Force sets, but in his "gold torso" form he's unique to this set. His legs aren't printed, and there's no back-printing on the torso, but his head is reversible, giving you the choice of "aggressive" or "wry smile". His red spiky hairpiece, more recently seen in green and doing a respectable impression of a lettuce in Set 10190 Market Street, has a distinctly rubbery texture and sits rather loosely on Ha-Ya-To's head.

Construction of the mech begins with assembly of the of the feet, legs and cockpit, which involves the use of a fair few Technic elements. Once this is done, it's really just a case of bolting on the body panels and weaponry. It's not a challenging build; probably the hardest part is applying the stickers neatly.... The limbs articulate by way of a combination of ball joints and rotation joints, resulting in a reasonable range of movement and allowing the model to be posed to some extent, although the range of movement is perhaps not up to the standard of the more recent Super Heroes Set 6862 Superman Vs Power Armor Lex. You can see the finished article below - click to enlarge the pics and take a closer look.

The Golden Guardian is literally bristling with weaponry (pics below - click to enlarge). There's obviously the huge primary weapon fashioned from the pearl gold support pillar I mentioned earlier, and this is surely the very definition of a BFG if ever I saw one... The primary weapon is flanked by a spring-loaded launcher which can fire the supplied red competition arrow quite some distance. There's also what looks like a minigun on top of the BFG. And if that's not enough death-dealing ordnance for you, there are also a couple of rockets on the beast's shoulders....

.....and rockets !

The main defensive structure is the huge shield (below) which is made up of a couple of the pearl gold panel fairings that I highlighted in my parts round-up above. The shield is attached to the body by way of a couple of ball joints so it's readily manouevred into the desired position. Large stickers cover much of the surface; they're a pain to apply neatly, but I have to admit that they give the shield a nice, shiny appearance that'd otherwise be sorely lacking. A poor substitute for chrome gold parts, but better than pearl gold I must say.

Let's cut to the chase : I love this mech. It's big, shiny, cool looking and bristling with weapons and neat little design features. I love the use of the flexible hoses (picture below) on the feet, for instance, and the yellow-tipped rockets perched on the shoulders. All things considered, it's a mean-looking beast. On the downside, gold torso or not, the Ha-Ya-To figure isn't anything special. Also, I predictably found the application of the multiple stickers to be as tiresome as usual, but I do have to confess that they add to the sense of occasion when they're (finally) neatly in situ.

And after all this lavish praise, some more good news - you can pick this set up without breaking the bank if you'd like one. Used, boxed examples can be purchased via Bricklink from around £25 / $40 + shipping, while sealed sets start at around £50 / $75. There are a few ridiculously overpriced Buy It Now examples listed on eBay at present, but you can probably get one for much less if you're prepared to be patient, given that mine cost less than the original RRP a couple of weeks back despite being basically new.

A big thumbs up from me, then, and I'll definitely be seeking out other sets in the theme.


  1. Legoman16/8/12

    Hi Dr. Dave,
    I have just remembered, that somewhere in my dusty old attic is a Time Cruisers: Whirling Time Warper. I can't remember how I got it as I detest the series as much as anyone, But I do remember it was always useful as a parts pack, there's so much different stuff in there! And if anyone ever does get forced into making one, they'll find that it's a haven for technic lovers. Push it along the ground and Kazam! The dragon heads move up and down, the rotor and the cylinder both spin, the skeleton heads move up and down. But don't think I like this set. I have to say, It's crammed full of clever things, but the design, as always, is completely and utterly bonkers.

  2. Anonymous16/8/12

    Exo-Force has been one of my favoret themes over the years. I never got this set so I liked reading this review. Thanks!