Wednesday, February 8th, 2012 at 9:49pm by Andrew, BZPower News Manager
Okay, I've got my riot gear on in preparation for this one. Today our esteemed Blog Leader DeeVee takes a look at Stephanie's Cool Convertible from the LEGO Friends line. Before you go all up in arms, take a chance and read the review, you'll learn a lot about the new line and maybe a bit about yourself. Enjoy!
It doesn't behoove us to do a review of the Friends sets and not at least mention the controversy.
So, real fast, let's recap. TLG decides, after years of market research, including the (very old) discovery that children of different genders often tend to play differently (again, a discovery made decades ago in psychological circles), and so, after years of purposefully marketing a good number of their products to boys, decide that they want some of that female market, and introduce LEGO Friends. These new sets are not, contrary to the very outspoken (and very ill-informed) complaints, simplified, they do not come pre-assembled, and they contain just as many parts and steps as their price-point counterparts in the other LEGO themes. While LEGO has produced "girls lines" in the past (Belleville, Fabuland, Clickits [which only McSmeag liked]), none have been as much of a lightning rod as these new LEGO Friends. But it is what it is, and what it is, is a new LEGO line, with new parts, new colours, and new builds. So, whether you're a parent looking to buy your kid a new set, a kid who used to buy BIONICLE only, an AFOL, a boy, a girl, something in between, something different altogether, whatever, let's see what kind of staying (clutching?) power these sets possess.
From the design of the box to the instruction manual, these are the first things you see before building the set.
The new Friends line comes in the same type of packages as most LEGO lines do - boxes. Boxes of differing sizes betraying their price point. The one difference is that many of the Friends sets have a tab that can be pulled up, so as to be hung on a rack versus stocked on a shelf. Since TLG hopes that these sets will be stocked in the "Pink Ghetto" that is the girls and princess aisles, so as to appeal to their market, this tab seems to be a preemptive move, so that these aisles can hold the sets easily with little extra shelving.
Like most LEGO boxes, the front image shows the set in all of it's glory. The boxes are mixes of purples and pinks, with other pastel colours mixed in as well. Straight off the bat, it is clear that with these sets, TLG is not marketing to their normal audience (at least, not directly, but we'll get to that). TLG has stated that these sets are meant to appeal to the girls and more feminine of the world, those who would normally push LEGO away as not what they're interested in, and would normally grab some Barbies, Disney Princess gear, etc. Let me point out real fast that there is nothing wrong with little girls (and boys) who want to be more feminine and like pink and play with fashion and robots. This, LEGO's marketing has said, is a veritable untapped market force. So these sets aren't for "all girls" or the only sets "for girls". They are for those kids (and adults?) who want to play with Barbies or dress up like Princesses. If that's not you or your kid's cup of tea, there is a wealth of other great LEGO construction lines they might like instead (MAY I SUGGEST HERO FACTORY BECAUSE IT IS AWESOME AND I LOVE IT).
The back of the box shows the intricacies of the set, the accessories included, and the other sets included in this wave.
Now, when McSmeag, Tufi, LehvakLah, Nukaya, and I went into Canadian Toys R US to purchase these sets in Vancouver, these sets were on an endcap in the LEGO section. As such, their pink and purple finish helps them stand out quite splendidly. You will not miss these sets when stocked in the LEGO aisle.
(There was also a big "WE NOW HAVE LEGO FRIENDS!" sign at the door. LEGO is pushing these hard, but retailers seem really excited as well.)
Half the fun is had building the set. How fun is it to build and how easy or challenging is it?
Here's the deal, up front, honest, unabashed truthfulness:
This set was way fun to build.
There, I said it. It is not simplified, like you may have heard, it is not pre-assembled, and it is fun.
First, you start out with the little rest stop Stephanie is going to drive up to.
Not an overly difficult build, but there are some fun and intriguing designs, like the way the lamp and post have been built. I didn't know that some of those were legal connections.
I'm not sure what the bucket is for? Perhaps she's at a car wash? With a bench? I don't know. I really don't.
Next, you build Stephanie's Cool Convertible.
And it is indeed quite cool.
(I left the stickers off because I don't use the stickers, so sorry about that.)
I have to say, the bright colours make for a really pleasant build. The convertible is intricate for it's pricepoint, and doesn't seem that different from the Speed Racer sets from a few years back. It uses some neat SNOT techniques, and it comes together quite well. The convertible is solid, and you won't have any problems figuring out what the instructions are telling you to do.
One thing I should mention, is that TLG's research said that, on average, female builders liked to stop at different points in the build, and roleplay. As such, these sets are all very modular. As you can see, there's a little bench/rest stop, and then the convertible. Two very distinct and separate builds. I can definitely see kids stopping after building the little bench section, and having Stephanie and her dog (I will call him... Gilbert Scott, because it's clear that Stephanie is an architectural wunderkind, and greatly admires his work on the Waterloo Bridge) play around. These sets all seem to be designed with that mentality in mind, and I think this is great. When we built Andrea's stage together, we all had trouble not stopping to play around when we finished each piece.
Now that the set is complete, we can critique how it looks from every angle. New or interesting pieces can also be examined here.
As mentioned above, the set is designed to be very modular, with a car and a rest stop for play. The other sets in the line are very similar. I can't help but thing this is a great thing, and it's something I think a lot of LEGO lines have been doing, but nothing quite to this extent.
That said, before we look at her Cool Convertible, let's look at the most controversial part of the whole set: Stephanie, the new ladyfig/minidoll/whatevertheAFOLworldiscallingitnow.
I must admit, when I first saw images of these sets, I was worried about how big the new figures looked. But that fear was drastically alleviated when I opened the set and discovered that they are only slightly taller than the average minifigs. I know a lot of people are upset that this new line has ditched the traditional minifigs we all know and love, but apparently the whole "we all know and love them" thing is only partly true. We all know them, but TLG's research said they were too androgynous for the girl segment it is marketing at. Okay, whatever, I'll bite.
The new figs are, to put it less tactfully than I'd like, but for lack of a better word, gorgeous. They are intricate, they are detailed, they are beautifully sculpted. They come apart at the waist, and the head, unfortunately, no removable arms or hands here. The faces are a different shape than traditional minifig heads, and fit on a different size peg, so you won't be swapping their heads. However, the top of their head is the traditional stud, and their hair and minifig head accessories are entirely compatible.
This is a good thing.
Parts of note in this set:
If that looks like most of the set to you, that's because it is. I said I'd get back to this, and now I am. These clearly are not marketed towards TLG's current and usual market base. At least, not directly. Indirectly, I can't help but think TLG went "how can we make sure people that aren't little girls will buy these? Specifically, AFOLs?" And realized "oh hey, let's put lots of great pieces, like arches and cheese slopes in these sets, and then let's put them in brand new pastel colours that they will drool over". The pinks, the purples, the new teal colour (that I believe matches the new teal on Thornraxx [you know, whenever TLG stops fumbling the ball like a 49ers wide receiver and delivers the goods to those of us who are waiting for the two best sets in this Hero Factory wave, but I digress]). These sets are amazing parts packages. If for this alone, if you build with system parts, you should buy these sets.
(Also, the Gilbert Scott dog mould is adorable.)
The convertible is pretty much what you would expect from a smaller price point LEGO convertible. It is sleek, curved, with slopes, cheese, arches, and tires. It is quite glorious, to be honest. The colours are a delight, to be sure. The purples and pinks look so great next to the bright yellow and teal, and the whole thing makes me kind of thirsty for pink lemonade. Man that sounds good.
One thing I thought was neat, was that since the new figures don't have a way to connect to studs on the back of their legs like our beloved minifigs, TLG decided to make sure their feet aren't fused, and they used a part with a protrusion that slips in between the new figures' feet, so as to secure them in place while sitting down. This is actually pretty brilliant.
Things that aren't brilliant:
Stephanie can't actually reach the wheel.
But hey, most minifigs can't either.
(It still bothers me.)
The back of the convertible is open, and the box suggests using the teal compartment to store her accessories.
Oh yeah, she comes with accessories. There is a small peg hole on the side of her hair, and one on top of both her and the dog's heads. These fit the various flowers, bows, tiaras, and sunglasses the sets come with. In all honesty, this sounds kind of gimmicky. And it is. But man, it's actually a lot of fun customizing the figures like this. As you can see in a lot of these photos, Gilbert Scott is a big fan of that tiara. I mean, can you blame him? His namesake designed the Waterloo Bridge. C'mon.
(I am aware that the Waterloo Bridge is not architecturally significant, Stephanie is just funny like that.)
Anyway. The rest stop/bench is pretty neat. I like the branch, and the lightpole design is quite brilliant. I'm not sure what the point of the faucet and bucket is, but hey, Stephanie is clearly not from the town I'm from. Those aren't the native plants at all.
Whew, this is long, let's move on.
The other half of the fun is in playing with the set. How well does the set function and is it enjoyable to play with?
Thanks to coming with a small bench and faucet, there are numerous roleplaying scenarios inherent in this set. Stephanie, being the adventurous girl she clearly is (in another set, she's riding an ATV), drove her Cool Convertible through some mud, and needs to clean her car off, but oh no, someone abandoned Gilbert Scott on this bench, and he needs a home! Or Gilbert Scott caught too many bugs in his teeth, and now he needs a bath! Those are kind of ridiculous, but I'm an adult. I'm certain if I were a kid I could come up with even more ridiculous (and AWESOME) ways to envision fun scenarios with these elements.
The accessorizing lends a bit of a Barbie/Bratz feel to the set, and as a kid who had to play with Barbies to get his sister to play LEGO with him, this seems like the best of both worlds. Because this is all LEGO. Shhhh, don't tell, it's a secret.
(No one will ever know!)
In the end, this is a LEGO System set. It's playability lays in it's inherent design as a construction kit, which means, "oh hey, kids are going to take this apart and build something else." This seems more prevalent in System sets than with the Constraction figures, which are really designed for a different type of play than the System sets. (Not that MOCing with them is wrong, as I can clearly attest.)
And these sets are chock-full of amazing parts and potential. Tufi bought me this set over the others specifically because I wanted those slopes and curved parts for MOCs.
(Also because she is fantastic and nice and a great host when you're visiting Canada for the first time.)
Once it's all said and done, how does the set stack up? Should I get it?
What's to like?
- New colours
- Great figures
- Gilbert Scott
- Great design
- Cool techniques
What's not to like?
- Stupid controversy
- Lack of traditional minifigs might turn some people off
- Hair accessory pegs are not standard minifig peg sizes (though they are standard hair and hat accessory sizes, so feathers could fit too!)
- I just wanted to use those sunglasses on other things
- I don't understand the faucet and bucket
I know this was long, and if you're still with me, congrats! You can probably tell, I like this set. I like this line. I want all of them for parts. You should too.
TL;DR: Friends good, buy them.
And so concludes our review of Stephanie's Cool Convertible. Please leave your constructive comments and feedback in the Talkback. If this wasn't your thing, don't worry, we have a Hero Factory review coming up soon. So be sure to keep checking back for more reviews and LEGO news.
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