Time for another Lego 250 review. This time we visit a Lego staple in two ways– the bottom of the ocean, home to several themes across the years; and arguably Lego’s cleverest and most beautifully realised theme, the triple-threat of Creator.
Honestly, I have no idea how the people who design Creator sets do it.
For those of you who have yet to experience them, Creator sets combine three builds on a single theme into one set. Buy, for example, a vehicle, and you’ll get instructions on how to build two other vehicles using the same parts. Buy a building, two more buildings. One dinosaur = three dinosaurs. In addition to that, most sets stagger the complexity of the builds, so not only do you get three separate potential toys, you can vary between beginner, intermediate, and experienced levels of complexity, as well. I imagine these sets are designed by people who are extremely good at Sudoku.
I’m shit at Sudoku.
If 31088 Deep Sea Creatures was a set that contained only one build — the shark, in particular — it would still be anywhere from a good to a great set. To start with, it has as much value for money as a Lego set gets these days: 230 pieces for just over $20. The predominant colour is a deep blue shade that, for me at least, is one of the more desirable and collectible shades in the Lego palette. And the builds themselves, although small, are jam-packed with moments of delight and intricately clever techniques. They really are the ultimate expression of joy and inspiration that a Lego set is supposed to foster.
Not to mention, they look flipping great. They don’t just hint at the forms they represent, they are mini-sculptures that aim for at least as much quasi-realism as the brick form will allow.
The simplest of the three builds in Deep Sea Creatures is the squid, complete with blow funnels and articulated tentacles. There’s a lovely balance between the blue and white areas, and a sense of elegance, even while retaining hints of the classic Lego blockiness. It’s almost 20 centimetres in length, and feels exceptionally solid. Quick to put together, and looking as good as it does, it’s a satisfying build for beginning fingers or a more experienced builder travelling along on autopilot and just enjoying the feel of the bricks clicking together.
Eight arms just means more hugs. Hard, plastic hugs. Like a Kardashian.
An angler fish is the middle build. 15 centimetres long, the size of some actual anglers, it’s beautifully ugly. While it betrays its plastic origin more than the others — the colours of the illicium and its general construction are possible the weak point of the entirety of the three models — there are some nifty little techniques used to create the squat, angular overall shape. I particularly like the clever use of ball joints and layered plates to create the side of the face holding the fish’s eyes. They don’t look natural, but they look Lego natural, showing off the versatility of the pieces while giving enough of a sense of what is being represented to work.
Possibly the weakest of the three models, and yet, still so cool.
The highlight of this build, as in the fish itself, is that giant, gaping maw, lined with razor-sharp teeth. It’s beautifully articulated, too: this gulper gulps. While it’s undoubtedly the weakest of the three builds in its final product, getting there is a joy, and it’s still a fantastic little unit when completed.
And here, we come to the prize build of the set. The
Black Widow shark. Isn’t she lovely? Her bite is fifteen times as deadly STOP IT. This is simply gorgeous. Heavy-headed, cold-eyed, razor-jawed, yet utterly sinuous, like heavily-muscled living liquid.
We’re gonna need a bigger boat. But you know, this is Lego, so no problem, really.
And, somehow, this small collection of polygonal plastic bricks manages to achieve exactly the right look to impart all of that. The trick is in hinging three tubular sections of differing diameters: much like a shark itself, this model simply cannot sit straight. You have to pose it in action, tilting and yawing the shark until it balances precariously, halfway through a surging movement. It’s a piece of design brilliance– the set itself is solid as a rock, but the instability of its curvature means that any attempt to display it as a stiff bit of lifeless plastic is doomed to fail.
An overhead view, highlighting the in-built sinuousness. Where’s a Lego Batman leg when you need one?
The colour choice here is perfect: the dark upper and light lower sections of the body reflect real-life specimens, and while you never lose sight of the fact you are building with Lego pieces — those pectoral fins, and the attachment of the ventral fins are a Lego-y as Lego can be — the brilliance of these sets is not in supplanting your view of nature (you can easily simply buy a model for that), but in allowing you to recreate the sense of it while never leaving the zone of joy that comes from building with this specific toy: in short, this is a recognisably Lego shark, and that is a large part of the fun.
The full set in all its toothy glory.
Lego has experimented for umpty-million years with umpty-billion formats, themes, bells, whistles, add-ons, and associated falderal. But the Creator theme, by going back to what makes Lego so utterly brilliant in the first place — creating and re-creating different playable toys using the same limited number of brick elements — is the purest, and more often than not the best, expression of what makes this toy so special, and why so many of us are dedicated, zealous, fans. Cheap, beautiful, colourful, and a joy to build, 31088 Deep Sea Creatures is very nearly the perfect example of this, and therefore, very nearly the perfect Lego set.
Brilliance from the purchase to the final build. The perfect expression of all of which Lego is capable
The League Table of Awesomeness