Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Kre-O: The Perfect Storm?

I've heard that the last two toys boys stop playing with as they grow up, at least in North America, are LEGO and Transformers. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because each are more technically advanced and interactive than most other toys you could come across, and are therefor slightly more rewarding for the kid. Maybe it's because LEGO has that special European mystique and Transformers has a movie with boobs and guns in it. Either way, they both stick around, and have stuck around, and continue to stick around for large portions of adults. I myself suffer from this two-headed addiction, appealing simultaneously to my unceasing need to fidget and my happy memories of youth.

This review will be aided by Warpath and Jimmy the Squid.

So when I saw that Kre-Os were a thing, I sorta plotzed. LEGO and Transformers blended into a single heady broth of plastic meaning? Too good to be true. [Yeah, it's happened before, but Built-To-Rule was, as far as toys go, barf-inducing.] These things had all the weight of the years of TF character and history piled up on top of them, on a foundation of LEGO-like constructible fiddliness.

Let's get some things out of the way first: Is this, I dunno, unfair of Hasbro to be doing? Are they making themselves into a lowly clone brand by ripping off LEGO engineering? Will the quality ever be able to compare to the impossibly high standards that LEGO and its fans have set [standards that LEGO itself doesn't seem to meet all that often anymore]? And do the damn things transform?

Simple answers: no on all counts. Sort of. The parts are made by Oxford, which, sure, is a not-LEGO company and has that taint about it, but it's certainly one of the higher-regarded brands among those able to acknowledge such things. And, really, there's a surprising number of elements that are not standard LEGO designs. [Some definitely are, and some that aren't probably shouldn't be, but take it as it is.] The quality is fine. Not perfect, not even great. I'll go with good. And they don't easily switch from vehicle to robot, although, really, technically they do transform. It just takes a long time.

Anyways, here's a sort of photo-review of the three smaller sets I've gotten, little Bumblebee, little Prime, and Jazz:


Optimus Prime here is a silly little truck. He does the job, sure, but he's quite small and the shape's sorta wonky. That could be because [if you're really paying attention] you'll notice he's not built to spec there. I've had to free-style it a bit. But that's because the instructions would have you remove the wheels from the hubs from car mode to put on different ones in bot mode, which is extremely difficult. Like, gonna break them difficult. I would not recommend you try. Also, that version above contains all the parts that came in the set [including the head], which is something that will come up again.

Can't even fit the headlights anywhere? Really?
Here's Bumblebee in his official mode, and the pants-load of extra parts he has. This is a thing [perhaps THE thing] that irks me about these sets. I don't mind the not-transforming, but make it so each model uses as many parts as possible. Here's a demonstration of how:

Perhaps not the most graceful, but this look has really grown on me once I decided it's Rally Bumblebee, like the Pike's Peak Escudo. And only the head is left without a home.

Jazz [who, yes, is silver and not white] has an okay design. He's kinda chunky, and some of the lines don't quite mesh, but he's the only car of the lot that can fit a driver. But, in essence, it has that Jazzy quality you'd want. Although the stripes are doing most of the work. Again, the car's been slightly modified to put more pieces into the model [I couldn't get them all in, but I didn't try very hard], and you can also see a terrible thing in the original design: that thing across the top of the door. What's the deal with that? Dude had some serious troubs getting into and out of the vehicle.

You'll be happy to know [maybe] that LEGO Minifigures have little trouble piloting the vehicle. Compatibility was promised, and delivered.

Jazz features an important element as well: Kreons. Now, "kreon" sounds like an insult a smart person would level at me that I wouldn't understand, but I've grown to accept it.

Figure parts are generally interchangeable, although I'd be careful putting Kreon headpieces on minifigures, as the head stud seems a bit bigger and they threaten to stay there forever. You can see how much more poseable the Kreons are, too, but that's sort of a nice it's there but isn't necessary thing. In that it's nice it's there, but isn't necessary.

They have no trouble stealing LEGO vehicles too.
So here they all are for, you know, size comparison:


The designers spent an extra six weeks, but could not figure out a place to put that piece.

Bumblebee is cute. He does the job, he's just the right size that you're okay with the level of articulation, and with some easy flips and swaps he uses all the parts and looks good doing it. Both models [this and car] are easy and fun, and you can keep them as is or challenge yourself to make him better.

Jazz is a bit of a different story. He's bigger, and about half of his bot mode looks great. His chest and back parts and arms [for the most part] are slick, but his legs are so... stiff. He's big enough that the lack of knees is very apparent. He also comes with a butt-ton of unused bits...
Pictured: a butt-ton.

...which are frustrating, because had they been smaller elements, they could have been incorporated into the robot better. This sorta planning needs to enter into future releases of these toys. Also, Jazz has some really egregious aligned plate-on-plate building, which makes taking each model apart to build the other one a total pain in the ass. That's the sorta thing LEGO seems to avoid, but then they've had 50 some odd years to figure that out.

Jazz, using every piece on the set. That's, like, a big gun or something.

And Prime.... well, Prime is a little goofy.

Can one of you pick up that quarter on the ground? No? Not a knee among us?
His lankiness is what wrecks it, because otherwise he's pretty solid for a tiny set. But, man, those hips are weird. Again, as always, I've futzed with it to give him a gun of sorts, and implement all the pieces into a single model. Nothing major, of course, mostly just moving little bits around.


Warpath says: They're interesting versions of characters you know and love blending elements from different universes into a newish but still familiar shape. They aren't perfect, especially the proportions and articulation, but being that they're building sets, they invite you to improve them [which you can, in most cases]. And that's something Transformers of the past don't offer outside of using knives and paint. The heads are great, the stickers are junk.

Kreons [blurg] are cute, but stop bothering with the human versions, unless you make them transparent so as to be hologram drivers.

Jimmy the Squid says: nice attempt at a new thing, but sorta not enough. Some very amateurish designs combined with some very clever designs make me sorta confused about my official opinion. The lack of effort into fully incorporating all elements is a big sticking point.

The stickers are junk. The human Kreons aren't nearly as charming as Minifigures, but the robot Kreons work really well, where the unusual arm and head designs make more sense.

Brick-built figural stuff is something LEGO doesn't really do very often, so that's where these can fit for a LEGO fan. These three vehicles are nowhere near the refinement of LEGO sets of similar size, but the bigger sets show some interesting stuff that may be worth investigating.

Final Verdict:
If you're excited about these, you've probably already gotten them. If you're on the fence, definitely get Bumblebee and see how you feel. They are unquestionably the red-headed stepchild of Transformers and LEGO, but that doesn't mean they can't be fun to have around.

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