Sunday, February 19, 2012

REVIEW: Lego Hero Factory - Bulk 3.0

Produced by Lego | Released July 2011

Calling Bulk! Assist Rocka and Stormer as they try to foil Witch Doctor’s destructive plans. If he removes jungle planet Quatros’ Quaza core, it will break apart. He must be stopped! Use your wolf animal power to track down Witch Doctor and use your wrist-mounted blades to keep his vicious beasts at bay. Happy hunting!

Lego Hero Factory
The Lego Hero Factory is a line of toys I've looked at in the past but never pulled the trigger on. If you've never encountered them before, they're a line of action figures that use the Lego Technics-style of construction. A successor to the wildly popular Bionicle line, the Hero Factory line has just seen the release of its fourth wave. As you may have guessed from the suffix of today's Review subject though, this Bulk figure is from the third wave of figures.

Bulk 3.0 comes in a rather eye-catching, very cool sealed plastic canister/container. This packaging is used across the line (at least for the ''standard'' sized figures), with each featuring a unique, character-themed label (which also seals the container shut.)

It's interesting to note that the packaging features little in the way of character profiles or information about the ''story'' side of the figure. I like that, as it encourages kids to use their imagination. Although if you're really in need of a back-story, the Lego website features a number of character profiles and the line is supported by a number of animated movies and TV episodes.

I'm a big fan of this packaging, as it not only keeps the pieces from becoming damaged but also looks very cool. It's unfortunate then, to see that with Wave 4.0, Lego has instead elected to use resealable foil bags...

Sculpt and Design
Bulk 3.0 - and the other Hero Factory figures - have a ''hyper-real'' aesthetic to them. Weapons, feet and hands are exaggerated to create a dynamic, comicbook-style of character. And it's a look that works well, overall once you accept that he's not an organic creature but is in fact a robot. Get that and the initially weird, spindly look of the figure makes a lot more sense.

As this is the first time we've looked at the Hero Factory toys at That Figures, we need to take a moment to look at how the toys are constructed, as it's a pretty integral part of the line's concept.

Each figure is built upon a skeleton, upon which armour plates and weapons are layered. I'm reminded a lot of the Microman Magne Force figures and although it's a pretty obscure line, I get the feeling Lego may at least have been aware of these toys. Anyway, the basic skeleton consists of a torso piece that resembles two inverted T-shapes, one atop the other. The head pops onto the uppermost piece and then the upper arms are attached at the shoulder and the thighs at the hips using a ball and socket-style set-up. This process is then repeated with forearms connecting at the elbow and shins at the knee and so on. 

Each ''bone'' of the skeleton features a number of spherical ''connection points'' onto which the figure's armoured pieces may be attached. Simply press the piece over the connection point and it snaps into place. The torso also features a series of connector ports compatible with the Lego Technics pegs, so if you have any spare parts from one of those kits you can combine it with the Hero Factory figure.

It's interesting to note that the Hero Factory pieces use a similar approach to that seen in the Glyos line, where a piece may be reinterpreted in a number of ways. The hands and feet, for example, are symmetrical (so you can switch then from either side of the figure) and pieces can be used for other functions outside of their usual role (Bulk's silver chest armour may be mounted on his arm to create a shield.) It's a pretty cool approach and I can imagine that when you've a few Hero Factory toys to mix it up with, it could be a lot of fun.

The actual assembly is pretty simple. Although there's a fairly hefty construction manual included, it's fairly self-evident how most of the pieces should be assembled, so you should have your Bulk 3.0 assembled and ready to play with in a matter of minutes.

Anyway, as for the figure's design, it's a pretty cool look. From what I gather, in Wave 3 the Hero Factory characters were upgraded from their earlier incarnations (interestingly, Bulk didn't appear in Wave 2 and there's no sign of him in Wave 4) with ''nature powers'' and each character has a new, animal-based power set - in the case of Bulk 3.0, his animal-inspiration is the wolf. His mask/head is particularly lupine but he also sports some pretty neat battle-blade ''claws'' and a wolf head motif on his left thigh.

Much as I like the overall design, there is one issue that I really dislike: Lego made the decision to leave the back of the figure ''open.'' And I just don't like that. I really don't get why they made the decision to run with this, as it undoes a lot of the very cool design work you'll initially experience when you look at the figure face-on. 

It's not massively noticeable on Bulk 3.0, as his skeleton and inner armour plates are both cast from black plastic, but when you look at it in strong light (or at the other figures in the line) it look appears as if a piece is missing. Indeed, the online games and other media depict the characters with ''closed-in'' backs, so it seems odd that the figures don't, especially as it would only take one extra piece to do so...

It's also a shame the figure uses a mix of port/peg sizes, as I'd have liked to be able to mix-up the pieces a little more. And if I'm nitpicking I'd also have liked to see more ports on the limbs, as that would have really opened-up the customisation options.

There minor points aside though, I'm a big fan of Bulk 3.0's construction - both aesthetically and as a building toy.

Another area where Bulk 3.0 scores well is in his articulation. The ball and socket joints allow for a wide range of movement and although it would have been nice to see a little more flexibility in some joints (the elbows and knees, for example, only have a small amount of horizontal rotation) what's here is very good.

The only real glaring omission is that the figure doesn't have any form of torso or waist articulation. That's a real shame, as splitting the torso ''double T'' piece into a two-piece, ball and socket joint would have really pushed this into a whole new world of articulated goodness.

As for what's here, there's a pretty good range of movement, especially with the ''freer'' joints like the hips, ankles, shoulders and wrists. The joints themselves are also pretty fluid but strong. I never experienced any stiffness but also am happy to report that there's no floppiness or slackness to the figure's articulation.

Minor points aside, though, this is a very poseable figure. I like this set up a lot.

There's not really much in the way of paintwork on Bulk 3.0. His left thigh features a wolf head tampo transfer and the remainder of his colouring comes from the plastics used - in this case, a pretty sensible but cool gun-metal/silver and black palette.

The overall effect is pretty neat, especially when his face and ''Hero Core'' (the badge/logo on his chest) are cast from a day-glo orange that really offsets the darker plastics. I'm not sure why the left thigh piece is green (maybe to represent nature/the jungle?) but even that works pretty well.

Extras and Accessories
Bulk 3.0 comes with a construction manual. The canister also contains an online code that can be used to unlock content at the Hero Factory website (such as games, desktop wallpaper and so on.) And whilst we're on the subject of the website, I have to give massive props to Lego for the way they've integrated the line into the online world. There are all manner of games, downloads and cool stuff kids can access, which really add a new dimension to the toys. You can even design your own Hero Factory hero and Lego will then ship it to you. Yes, you read that correctly. I love the idea of being able to design and buy your own figure.

However, I do feel that Lego has missed-out on an opportunity with the physical figure, in you can't assemble anything but the basic character construction. I wish they'd included an extra weapon or couple of panels that could be used to reconfigure the figure in more radical ways. I know Lego want to sell as many figures as possible but it does seem a little cheap of them not to include something else that could be used to modify the figure beyond the most basic of builds, especially as Lego's philosophy has always been about firing the imagination and encouraging creativity in kids. 

Even if Lego released a ''Hero Booster'' pack, featuring an assortment of figure-compatible parts and accessories, that would go some way to fixing this issue. Sadly though I really think Lego missed the mark here. Yes, I know Bulk 3.0 and the other Hero Factory characters are first and foremost action figures, but it would have added so much more to the toys if they'd focused a little more on the construction element, too.

Final Thoughts
Despite my grumblings above, the Hero Factory toys are actually a lot of fun. The addition of a back plate to the figure, the use of standardised plugs/ports and a few extra parts to encourage construction/creativity would have really added a lot to an already cool toy and I don't get why Lego elected not to incorporate these changes. But maybe I'm missing the point slightly with that stuff and I should focus instead on what the figure is.

The toys remind me of a few lines, truth be told. There's the creation/building/combining aspect of Glyos, a joint system similar to the Revoltech/Assemble Borg line and aesthetically they're somewhere between the robotic weirdness of the Microman Magne Force toys and the hyper-exaggerated look of the GI Joe Sigma Six toys. And although it doesn't excell at anything quite as well as those figures do, it does do a bit of everything pretty well.

Bulk 3.0 is - from what I can tell - a pretty good example of the line. The overall design is strong, he looks neat, he's very poseable (although I do still wish he had a waist joint) and there's a nicely-produced, fairly solid feel about him.

The price-point is also pretty good. You can pick-up Hero Factory toys for around the $9 mark (with larger figures being more expensive) but given most 4'' figures are creeping pretty close to that in many places, that's not a bad price for a figure that's over 6'' tall.

In summary, Bulk 3.0 isn't the most perfect figure I've ever seen - but he is a lot of fun and I'm certainly looking forward to seeing more from the Hero Factory line.

Sculpt and DesignA-
Extras and Accessories N/A
Final ScoreA-

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  1. I have always felt that these have a sort of "off" Microman vibe to them. Great review my friend.

    1. Yeah, like I said, I'm reminded of a few different lines here. There's a kind of Sigma Six kind of dynamism, Microman-ish elements and then an articulation set-up that's reminiscent of the Assemble Borg/Revoltech toys.

      I'll certainly be buying more!


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