Tuesday, August 27, 2013

REVIEW: Lego Friends Downtown Bakery

Produced by Lego | Released August 2013

Lego Friends
As you may (or may not) be aware, Lego Friends is Lego's ''girls-only'' line of toys. Created especially for female fans, the sets focus on typically ''girly'' activities and interests such as horse riding, beauty salons, Karate Dojos (wait, what?) and other such ''feminine'' pursuits.

One of the particularly cool things about the Friends series is the line's inclusion of numerous buildings, including pet stores, salons, schools, houses and more. My guess is that Lego feel that boys prefer vehicle-based play scenarios over static ones - and even when they do feature such locations, they tend to be themed around more dynamic environments such as police stations, fire stations and hospitals (which works to the TV writing trick of setting your drama in such a location because the story comes to you...) And whilst the Creator line does include a few non-dramatic buildings (ranging from the log cabin right up to the Department Store and even Movie Theater) there's really not much in the way of actual City building going on in the City line. Which is why when I spotted the Friends Downtown Bakery I realized that perhaps I'd been looking in the wrong place for my building fix...

41006 - Downtown Bakery
The Downtown Bakery features 253 pieces and retails at $29.99. That's a pretty decent price/part combo, especially when you see the number of set (or at least theme)-specific pieces within...
Construction is a very simple process and I found no issues in assembling the piece, aside from - as ever - applying the transfers. In this case there are only three (a side-bar advertisement, a shop sign and an hours of business sign for the door) and although the stickers in themselves present no issues, you may want to assist a younger builder as applying them does require a keen eye and steady hand (neither of which I have...)

The Mini Dolls
The set includes two Mini Dolls, Danielle and Mia. In the case of the latter I believe this is a set-specific ''costume,'' with Mia sporting a natty baker's outfit.
Each Mini Doll is comprised of four core pieces - hair, head, torso and legs, with the pieces being interchangeable between figures (so Danielle could fill-in for Mia on her day off...) It's worth noting that the hair pieces are standard Minifigure compatible but the other pieces are not.

The hair pieces are relatively flexible and each features a tiny port in the top, into which you can fit accessories (such as Danielle's bow, seen here.) The torsos feature shoulder articulation (but the wrists are ''locked'' in a static position) and the legs move together to allow each figure to stand, bend or sit, but they can't ''walk'' like the regular Lego people, something I do find a little limiting when it comes to posing them.

Whilst I could see young girls liking these figures I have to admit I prefer my old school minifigures. However, I do like the way in which Lego's designers have managed to make each appear young enough to appeal to the audience but also have that aspirational ''grown-up-ness' about them, without making them into top-heavy Barbie-esque ''supermodels'' (interestingly, Mega Bloks has a similar line of construction sets themed around Barbie, which it appears is their attempt to capture the same audience...)

And for those wondering, the Mini Dolls stand fractionally taller than the regular Lego Minifigure. However, the building is constructed using the standard-scale Lego doors and windows, making the set compatible with the other lines.

The Downtown Bakery
So what, exactly, does the Downtown Bakery include?
The answer is ''a lot.''

Let's begin by taking a look at the building's exterior. As you can see, the set features an outside bread basket (complete with French loaf), a tiled entryway, twin flower beds and huge window displays (as you'd expect from any good store.) There are also two ''detached'' pieces in the form of an oven (with opening doors) and a covered display case, featuring a nice fresh cream slice and a croissant.
Although the box art shows these pieces being placed ''outside'' the bakery, by moving the main counter back a row it's possible to slot the display case ''inside'' and - if you have a spare plate - you can easily attach the oven to wall, making everything a little more compact and ordered (should you so wish.)
There's a whole bunch of tiny pieces contained within this set, which allow for all kinds of play scenarios and I could see kids really enjoying the whole baking process. And the set has petty much everything you'd need to do just that, from bowls and plates to an electric whisk, cooking pans, ingredient bottles (the box shows two but I found enough pieces within to make four) and even knives and forks. Oh and there's also a little cash register with opening drawer containing some Lego cash.

Also, sadly not visible in these photographs, is a small, what I assume is refrigerated, ice box near the entrance, containing a number of cherries. I'm not entirely sure what purpose this piece - or the cherries - play but it's a neat little piece.
As for the cakes themselves, there's a the aforementioned French loaf, croissant and cream slice, a massive pretzel, a giant wedding cake and two layer cakes, three - what I assume are - gingerbread stars and three cupcakes. The latter are ''empty'' and can be filled with any circular ''dot'' piece, although be warned that the pieces do not ''clip'' into place, instead simply sitting atop the cupcake piece. As a result they will drop out if you're not careful with how you handle them.
All in all, it's difficult to fault just how much ''stuff'' is included with the set, so much so that - if I'm being entirely honest - it really needs an extra couple of storage spaces for these items. Shelf and counter space is of a premium with this set and it's very easy for it to become cluttered quite quickly. You may also find yourself limited as to how you display the pieces (or in some case, don't display them), as - thanks to their tiny nature - it's very easy to lose some of the parts like the knives and forks, plus - as there's nowhere to store it properly - you'll find the only way to keep the electric whisk safe is to put it in one of the figures' hands, which, again, limits your display options a little. It's a very minor point - and indeed, I really shouldn't be complaining about getting more stuff - but it's worth noting, especially if you intend to give this set to a younger child who will be playing with it.

As I mentioned before, the set is also compatible with ''regular'' Lego. Here are a few shots to illustrate how the set looks in ''Standard Lego Mode,'' with the Minifigure Waiter on baker/shop owner duties and Motorist from the Flatbed Truck set buying her power breakfast (as a cheeky Hobbit watches on!)
Final Thoughts
I have to admit I felt a little silly at first when buying what was so obviously ''girl Lego.'' But the lure of a building for my slowly-developing City that wasn't a police-themed construction and all the interior detail accessories (which if all else failed I could use to furnish the more macho Log Cabin down the line) sold me on the set and so I decided to bite the bullet.

I'm certainly glad I did, as it's actually a very cool set indeed.

If you're a fan of the Friends line - or you're looking for a good introduction to Lego to a girl who maybe isn't so keen on construction sets - then this is an ideal choice. The building is neat, with some great touches (I love the windows and the awnings) and there are plenty of accessories and pieces to really allow your imagination to go wild. Tiny accessory parts aside, it's also very sturdy and I couldn't imagine it breaking or coming apart during a regular play session.

If you're more a City fan then don't despair: there's still a lot of good here. It's compatible with your regular Lego in terms of scale (if in doubt, compare the counter heights to other Lego sets and you'll see they're pretty much the same) and - although it may border on the slightly whimsical - it will fit right in with the more expensive buildings in the Construction line or the larger City pieces, such as the Town Square multi-building/vehicle set.

There are a couple of minor downsides though. As I mentioned above, the intricacy of the accessories - whilst great - is a two-edged sword, as I could see a lot of these pieces being lost or misplaced during play - or even when it's being stored or displayed. An extra closet or shelf or even some extra ''hands'' into which key pieces could be slotted would have been most welcome (although the beauty of Lego is you can do just that if you have the spare pieces.) It's a minor point but as readers of my GI Joe Reviews know, I like to have storage space for accessories.

The only other minor drawback is the lack of a roof and back walls but as most of the City buildings tend to have open backs anyway, it's a very minor issue and one I'm sure your imagination (or a few spare tiles cobbled together to form a roof) will cover with ease.

Although it's probably $5 more than it really should be, The Downtown Bakery is a fun, feature-filled set fans of ''regular'' Lego would do well not to ignore, especially when looking to add a little variety to the police and fire department-dominated Lego City line-up.

Final Score: A-

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