The 250 Lego Reviews train keeps rolling along pre-packaged plastic tracks. Today, we take our first look at one of the many space-based themes trotted out across the years. Will it have the cachet, the cool, and the raft of beloved memories that Classic Space inspired lo those many years ago?
What do you reckon?
So: once there was a Lego theme. And it was much beloved. And there was much agitation from the cheap seats demanding it be reinstated. And it was ignored. And there was much impolite shouting from the masses, begging that it be brought back. And so Lego paid a Rowling’s ransom to acquire the rights to every shitty Star Wars vehicle that had been in the background of a twenty-second scene that didn’t make the remastered Accountant’s Cut of some spin-off where Han hugged Greedo and accidentally fed him a peanut sandwich whilst being unaware of his allergies. And there was much scunnerage amongst the fans who didn’t want to pay an extra 78% over the rational price point just so George Lucas could get a better class of blowjob.
And so, reluctantly, with pretty much negative one billion dollars sunk into the marketing, Lego every now and again released a space-based line deliberately structured to not actually mess with the Star Wars
Jar-Jar-jizz gravy train.
And some were good. And some were bad. And all of them barely lasted as long as it took to mark them down for the bargain bin.
And thus, eventually, we got to Alien Conquest. And it was bad. Very bad. And yet, somehow, I still ended up with a couple of sets.
Meh, a not-Star Wars Story.
Between Classic Space and Alien Conquest, something weird happened to Lego narratives, or as we used to call them, toys. In their continuing effort to
suck every available coin out of every available pocket preserve their market share, it seems they did some market research. Or to put it another way, they brought a whole bunch of eight year old boys into their Star Labs Research Centre to play on the floor while someone named whatever the Danish equivalent of Chad or Tiffany is asked them a series of questions designed to confirm whatever the hell it was the likes of Danish Chad and Tiffany already thought eight year old boys wanted from Lego in the first place. And once they had that confirmation-bias serving answer, they gave us what we all apparently wanted from the beginning whenever we thought about building spaceships and submarines and helicopters out of odd-shaped bits of plastic: enemies.
Specifically– and God knows why Lego occasionally gets accused of racism, right, kids?– enemies that almost exclusively never look like us. The cylinder-headed, yellow-skinned us, anyway. Atlantis gave us fish people. Ninjago, snake people. All those space themes, alien people. Even one of the City series got into the act, and presented us with rock people. Funny thing, though: for most of those themes, there was an underlying narrative whereby we normals spent a lot of time invading the not-normals’ territory in order to pillage something that actually belonged to them in the first place. Pro-tip: diving to the bottom of the ocean to loot an abandoned Atlantean civilisation of its treasures make you the bad guy, Chad. Just ask Aquaman.
Alien Conquest, at least, flipped that notion on its head. The aliens, probably pissed off at all the humans invading and stealing, and generally being all human and douchey, invade us.
Unfortunately, someone had the idea that the theme should be loosely based on the little green men/flying saucers paranoia of the 1950s. Visually fun, but as sets to be built, that central idea makes them horrendously tedious. See, the thing with saucers is, they’re round. And the thing with round sets is, you either make them out of Great Big Pieces that don’t represent value for money, look blocky and ugly, and are unsatisfying; or you make them out of lots of smaller pieces, which makes the task of going round and round and round putting the same piece in the same place over and over and over again in the name of symmetry…… well, you can guess how quickly that gets boring.
So what of this set? Tripod Invader is one of the smallest in the Alien Conquest line, being a shade under 160 pieces. And, to a certain extent, while it obeys the general design principles of the series, it avoids the repetitive build that spoils the larger sets. It does, however– and I’m aware that aesthetics are a purely personal response– look as ugly as a bucket of arseholes.
A look that is decidedly less than the sum of its parts. All 160 of them.
It’s blocky, but not in a good way. The three basic elements– hull, legs, and gun emplacement– don’t look like parts of the same whole. Rather, they resemble three separate design components that have been stacked on top of each other until the designer can put them where they’re meant to be. The main visual element, that big grey hull, is made up of four large parts, meaning it comes together too quickly and has limited rebuildability. It’s not swooshable. It doesn’t really have much in the way of playability– the gun swivels, sort of. The hull turns. The pod at the back opens and closes– badly, clunkily, always ready to come off in your hand if you’re anything more then extremely gentle– and that’s it. Altogether, it’s rickety and unappealing.
The saving grace is, perhaps, the minifigs. Specifically, the alien and it’s head-gripper sidekick. As much as we might give Lego the side-eye for its use of ‘otherness’ as a visual shortcut for ‘bad guy’, it has to be said that they design their ‘others’ beautifully. Leaving aside ‘Standard Businessman Guy’, the alien’s grumpy frog face, exposed brain, and overall design is both exquisitely detailed and surprisingly funny. And the head-sucker is a great touch: fun and funny all at once. It’s an alien invasion, sure; they’re controlling our thoughts via weird alien symbiotes, sure. But they’re doing so delightfully. I’ve swapped out unwanted minifigs to get extra. They look great in a diorama.
As good as they are (and they are), if the best thing about your set is the minifigs, you’ve not created a good set.
Basing a theme around an alien invasion probably felt like a good idea, and the idea to base it on underlying American post-war xenophobic paranoia must have seemed like…… something? Sadly, though, the execution is clunky, the design is lacking, and the build is really not at all enjoyable. As much as Lego clearly isn’t in the business of competing with itself, this was never going to provide a viable alternative to the ubiquitousness of Star Wars. But it doesn’t even provide any joy in its own right. It just isn’t good enough in any way that counts.
Saved by the minifigs. What else is there to say?
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