Monday, January 28, 2013

REVIEW: Lego Monster Fighters - The Swamp Creature

Produced by Lego | Released 2012

Defeat the Swamp Creature and grab the moonstone!

Drive the swamp boat into the slimy marsh to battle the Swamp Creature with dual flick missiles and snatch the moonstone!

Lego Monster Fighters
The Lego Monster Fighters line features the titular band of heroic Monster Fighters and their attempts to thwart the diabolical plans of the Monsters and their leader, the evil Lord Vampyre. Although never explicitly identified as such it's pretty obvious that the designers at Lego have drawn upon the Universal and Hammer movies in the creation of the line (even going so far as to include Dr Rathbone and Ann Lee in the line-up), with the range featuring the Van Helsing-esque Dr Rodney Rathbone and big game hunter Major Steele taking on ''classic'' monsters like the vampire, the Mummy, the ''Mad Scientist'' and his ''Creation'' and, the subject of today's Review, the entry level kit, The Swamp Creature.

9461 - The Swamp Creature
The Swamp Creature set retails for $6.99 (hence my ''entry level'' comment above) and features two minifigures (with accessories), a diorama piece and an air boat vehicle, constructed from 70 pieces in total. That sounds like there's a lot in there - especially for the price - and that's because there is a lot in there. In terms of value for money this set represents an incredible bargain. But before we jump ahead of ourselves let's take a closer look at just what, exactly, is in the pack.

Packaging & Contents
The packaging is a simple, sealed box, which is opened by applying pressure to one end, at which point the flap splits open to allow access to the contents.

Within you'll find the instruction manual along with two bags of pieces. Although the kit consists of 70 pieces (according to the packaging) I found myself with a few extra parts when I'd completed construction. Whether this is intentional - and the same parts are included in each set - or simply an oversight, I don't know and although they don't number enough to really make anything substantial from, it's nice to have these additional parts to fall back on as spares should the need arise.

With 70 pieces to contend with, construction is fairly simple. I didn't experience any issues (and the instructions were perfectly clear), so assembling the kit is the work of minutes.

Frank Rock
Frank Rock is one of two figures included in the set (more on the other in a moment.) As one of the Monster Fighters, his role is to - as the name suggests - combat the creatures of darkness but unlike most of the other Monster Fighters, Frank appears to be an American - or more specifically, from the South, judging by his hunter/redneck attire and penchant for air boats and swamps!

Frank uses the basic Lego body, augmented with a neat tampo app and a fantastic pompadour hairstyle. What's particularly cool is that the head is reversible. One side features Frank sporting his wraparound sunglasses, with the other (pictured above) showing him without. It's cool they give you the option as to how you wish to display him but I personally prefer the version shown above.

The figure features the standard seven-points of articulation (2 x hips, 2 x shoulders, 1 x head, 2 x wrists) and whilst it's a little limited (especially when you compare the set-up to some other minifigures) there's just about enough here to get by with.

The Swamp Creature
Frank's nemesis is The Swamp Creature, a monster clearly inspired by the Creature from the Black Lagoon in concept, although his actual appearance is quite different, having a more fish-like set of head fins and a look that's actually a little more vicious than Universal's Gillman.

Again The Swamp Creature uses the standard Lego body, augmented with a character-specific headpiece. I'm not sure if this is supposed to be his head or a helmet. I'd assume the former but when the piece is removed the head tampo includes eyebrows and additional features masked by this accessory, which makes me wonder if it's the latter. But either way it's a great piece that really gives The Swamp Creature a unique look and a lot of character.

Like Frank Rock, The Swamp Creature sports his own unique tampo body transfer, in this case representing his scaly skin and super-cute seaweed trunks. The head also includes a tampo detail and is perhaps my favorite bit of work in the set. There's a genuinely evil look to his expression, which I absolutely love and that really sells him as the bad guy.

The Air Boat
The biggest element of the set is Frank's Air Boat, a 2 1/2'' long vehicle sporting an assortment of cool details and neat play features.

The vehicle is a really well thought out piece of design, sporting a surprising number of cool touches, including a spinning rotor on the rear and moving control sticks. I particularly like the way the designers have incorporated smooth discs on the underside, which allow the air boat to ''glide'' when shoved and the way the front-mounted weapons can be detached and used by Frank as pistols.

The coolest feature, however, is the twin, side-mounted rocket launchers. Not only do they swivel (and include a couple of spot/beam lights to help track down The Swamp Creature) but they also feature launching rockets. OK, so it's not the most complex of mechanisms (essentially you un-clip the rocket heads and then flick the rods with your finger to ''fire'' them) but it's a neat little touch that works as an extra play feature without compromising the design and when the missiles are ''locked'' in place there are no worries about them coming loose or being misplaced.

One point I did find odd about the air boat is the fact that the designers decided to cover the front pontoons/runners and pilot space with ''flat'' grooved tiles. Whilst this is, I'm sure, done for aesthetic purposes it does mean Frank is limited to sitting in the seat or - with a bit of effort - standing on the rear, as the Lego ''pegs'' on the pontoons and deck are covered. Of course you could remove them should you so wish but as I said, it does seem an odd, somewhat limiting move.

Diorama Base
The final part of the set is The Swamp Creature's diorama base/piece, a pile of mud and rock sporting an assortment of swamp-related details and providing a place to store the included Moonstone piece.

My guess is - given the presence of the frog - that this piece is intended to be a tiny island or outcropping in the swamp but it works just as well as an underwater piece upon which the The Creature can be posed swimming around (as seen above.) There are some neat little touches to the piece, such as the aforementioned frog and a fish accessory that's tooled to fit into the figures' hands, plus the use of the clear green ''slime trail'' is a nice touch but of the four main pieces included in the set it's probably the least interesting. Which is fine, as it's simply a pile of dirt and rocks and considering what it is, the designers have done a decent enough job in their attempts to add some neat detail.

Final Thoughts
I've spent a lot of time in the Lego toy aisle and have come close on a number of occasions to pulling the trigger on a few kits but every time I was about to do so, I recalled how the last Lego kit I'd tried to assemble (a Lego Mindstorm set, around 20 years ago when I was fascinated with robots and AI programming) had simply failed to impress, thanks to the way in which the Lego pieces wholeheartedly refused to stay connected. I'm not sure whether that was simply an issue introduced in the Mindstorm line or a problem that plagued the entire range of Lego bricks at the time but either way I'm now both pleased and annoyed to say that any such issues are no longer present with Lego kits. Pleased because it means I can return to the toy line I loved as a child and annoyed that I've waited so long to do so.

Anyway, with that minor point out of the way, you're probably wondering what my thoughts are on the Monster Fighters Swamp Creature kit itself. And the answer is that it's a really great little kit.

From a philosophical point of view I really dig that the set includes enough to play with as a stand-alone set. Not only do you have a little vehicle to scoot around and play with but there's also the concept of conflict, with both sides of the battle present in a single pack. That seems to be a recurring theme with a number of the Lego kits (yes, we'll be bringing you more Lego Reviews very soon) and I personally really like that, as there's nothing worse when you're a kid than having a good guy with nobody to fight.

In all honestly I can't envisage any toy collector not liking this set, but if you're still not sold on Lego or the Monster Fighter concept then this as a great place to start. For less than $7 you're getting two minifigures, a diorama and a great little vehicle, all of which look cool and are a lot of fun to assemble and play with. So if, like I was, you have your doubts, now is the time to sample Lego once more. You won't be disappointed.

I do have one query though: has Lego moved away from being a construction toy and become instead a line of vehicles and figures you assemble prior to play? Or am I simply looking at them now without the spark of imagination kids - including me, when I was younger - employ to create their own toys from the provided pieces? Perhaps it's simply that the kit's 70 parts isn't enough to build much else from and - when combined with other sets - new options become available. I honestly don't know and, frankly, given how much fun this kit was to build and how cool it looks, I don't care.

The best $6.99 I've spent in a long time.

Final Score: A-

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  1. Good review. I love the picture of the Swamp Creature swimming around his base,very effective! When I got out of Lego they were producing a lot more bespoke pieces, or giant single pieces that really took away from the imaginative play aspect. The few kits I've bought in recent years have been a lot more complex and challenging than I expected though. Nice to see such a classic toy back on form!

    As well as that, I was playing Lego with my seven year old nephew a few weeks ago, and I can easily say that he was applying as much imagination and creativity to his play as you'd hope. The SHIELD Jeep became some sort of Iron Man propelled monster truck!

    1. Thanks Joe. The ''swimming'' picture was simply a happy accident. I was moving the pieces and needed to make them as portable as possible, which is why I clipped him onto the plant. Then I looked and thought ''that looks like he's swimming. Cool!''

      I think for me it's a case of being an adult now and not wanting to ''break'' my toys. As a kid I'd happily build the intended kit and then break it down into something else, whereas now I'm more obsessive about keeping things mint!


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