Playsets are always seen as a risky choice in the development of Lego stuff. They often underperform, because they're not swooshable, and apparently kids only like buildings that can also turn into a robot (even if Tom Hanks doesn't think so). I'm pretty far removed from doing anything as a kid, so I know that my opinions are colored by being an adult, and worse, an AFOL, but I'd hazard a guess that kids just don't like playing with bad toys. Playsets, especially Lego playsets, are often just bad toys.
Sure, everyone likes vehicles, and they are rightfully the core of toys about doing stuff. My favorite toy as a kid was G.I. Joe, which has a whole mess of vehicles (including some spectacularly terribad ones), vehicles that were buildings (often with jets for some reason), and just straight up buildings (The Command Center was awesome). What was important with the stuff that was successful is that it made sense with the other stuff. I could put figures in the command center or park vehicles, things like that.
Lego has a tougher time with stuff like that, because sets aren't really designed to "work" together most of the time. This is especially true for the Super Heroes line... where a lot of the stuff is thematically similar, but mostly just sits there. The Quinjet isn't going to pick up the SHIELD truck, and no one wants to put Spider-man in any of those terrible vehicles. So how does Hulk Lab Smash, the Avengers Assemble set in the Marvel Super Heroes lineup measure up to the whole mix like that? At $50, four (or five) minifigs and only 398 pieces, there probably needs to be a whole lot of playset to make it work...
My favorite set from the Avengers movie line was Hulk's Helicarrier Breakout, a $50 set that I thought hit the perfect balance of parts, playset features, and awesome stickers. I know it's a little bit of an odd choice, as well, as most people probably picked the Quinjet instead (which I thought was okay, but not something that blew me away). It actually had a very similar piece count (389 pieces), minifigure count (three + Hulk), and price ($50 as well), but had so much interesting stuff to really make up ground on price-to-piece rules.
Some day, I need to write a nice opinion article on how the price-per-brick ratio, and the idea that 10 cents per part is perfect, just need to be done away with. We treat a minifig accessory that only exists in one set the same as we do a 1x1 stud or a flick-fire, or a technic pin the same as a 1x12 brick, and that means that our assumptions are wrong on value as often as not. Someone with more skill in math and patience in coding needs to write a good algorithm for calculation something better that looks at stuff like rarity, size, and minfigs.
I don't know about you, but the first thing that jumped in my mind when I saw this set first leaked was "MODOK!" He, and three other minifigs (and one brick-built A.I.M. Death Machine), along with Hulk (who Lego apparently says is not a minifig, despite being listed along with the minifigs). I guess this is a change that I've seen before, since astromechs aren't minifigs (something I've actually joked about before, in the Ewok Village review, but never made the connection). In fact, if you check a lot of the product descriptions for sets, it draws a difference between "figure" and "minifigure."
The not minifigure Hulk (which makes more sense than a not-minifigure General Greivous, since there is a minifig Hulk) is the basically the same as the Hulk we got in Helicarrier breakout, except now he has purple pants. I approve, as Hulk should have always had purple pants. Whedon didn't make any mistakes with Avengers, but putting him in khakis just felt wrong. Sure, it makes total logical sense, because who wears purple slacks that isn't also wearing clown makeup, a bright nose, and probably the subject of multiple restraining orders.
Basically, if you liked the old Hulk bigfig (or whatever we call them), you're going to like him better in purple pants. I still don't like the hollow arms that he, and figures like him, have, but I get why they do it.
Falcon is a totally new minifigure that makes use of the big wings introduced way back with the Pharaoh's Quest sets that languished on clearance shelves for months and months a few years back (they were terrible sets full of wonderful parts). In the Marvel world, Falcon has been around since the 60s, usually associated with Captain America (and later The Avengers). Sadly, he also has a whole messy history of being misused, which is a shame, because in the comics he's a genuinely cool character.
Obviously, this version is based on the Avengers Assemble TV show, and not the comics or the MCU version from Winter Soldier (which is vastly different). Hopefully Falcon shows up in Avengers 2 or something so we get a proper MCU version as well, but for a comic look, this version is just fine. The body in particular does pretty good, and is a good mix of generic and comic looking to lend itself to some other figures or customs. That's where being cartoon over the movie probably is a benefit to us.
The only knock I have on the figure is the design of the face and alt-face. The smiling face is unsettling for some reason, like he's about to sell me an extended warranty or something, but that's not my big gripe. It's more just the shape of the face under the mask, and how it just looks off. It's a limitation of the minifig head shape, but something about the look is just off. Looking at the Captain America figure that comes with the Hydra set, I'm thinking it's that the eye openings are so large compared to the mouth on this figure, but it's hard to pin down.
Thor, like Hulk, has been changed to his cartoon appearance, though the changes are far more apparent on him. The cartoon obviously draws inspiration from the movies, but the color scheme is far more like the comics, and that what we see here. It's not quite classic thor, with the lack of helmet and horns, but it's still far more comic in look than movie. He's also missing the beard in the show (and for most of the time in the comics), leaving us with just the hair as the common element.
I do wonder why Thor didn't get the two-color cape treatment, especially with the dark red/red mix from the Royal Guards in the Death Star Troopers battle pack, since that would fit. Looking at the pictures, that might have been a more accurate look. Still, the red works, and he is Thor after all. Alt-face wise, he's more upset angry than "coffee shouldn't take this long to make" angry on his regular face.
The difference between cartoon and movie style is very apparent when you put the two Thors side-by-side, a lot more than hit with Cap in the Hydra set (which was mostly just blue colors). The printing for Thor is darker and simplified on the cartoon version, with harsher lines for the eyebrows and cheeks, and the costume has less detail. Much like Cap, I prefer the movie version, but still, the new one isn't bad. I just like my Thor with a beard. All the coolest people have beards.
Taskmaster is probably the niche villain in the set (and in a set that features MODOK, that's saying something), but I guess he's a bit more prominent in the cartoons than the comics. In the comics, he's kind of like Deadpool, except without the humor or insane powers, a sort of joke that swings between rediculous and dangerous with few stops in between.
He has an alt-face as well, which is slightly different, but it is nice that they didn't use the stock skull head for the guy. The torso is also new, though the printing looks better with the cape and hood on, since you can't see the unprinted bits on the top between front and back. You have to love the look of trunks that the white waist gives to the dark blue legs, as well.
Okay, let's talk about the reason why most of us are going to buy this set. Well, except Ken, because talking about this figure gets his ire up even more than confusing Ultimate Spider-man figures with movie figures. I'll resist the urge to make this figure his picture on the site, because, while I like to tease him, his complaints are valid. The chair is actually intrinsic to the figure, as MODOK doesn't really walk around. It actually integrates right into some of the features of the set, which is very cool. I love this MODOK figure, but I'm willing to admit... it's a terrible MODOK figure. Just absolutely terrible.
At first glance, especially if he's sitting in the chair, you don't really notice what's wrong. MODOK is all about the oversized head, and that certainly is an oversized head. The problem is the body. Let's take a look at a cartoon version of MODOK (this is from the previous Avengers Cartoon, but the design is mostly the same)...
Big head, okay, we got that. And teeny legs and arms that jut out of that big head. See, MODOK isn't a guy that just mutated or deformed or got hooked on Nerve Tonic while playing for a softball team. Well, not exactly. He was once a guy, but got all juiced up by A.I.M. and turned into Mental Organism Designed Only for Computing. It was the 60s, computers were big and expensive and took up buildings so it made sense to want to use all of the brain power of a person to do math and what not. There's no way that they could have envisioned that an iPhone today would have vastly more computing power than the collective intelligence of every Katy Perry fan.
Of course, turning a tech into a giant head to help solve crossword puzzles tends to tick off your now super-intelligent program, so he turned on him and became MODOK, the Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing. Of course, how the little arms and legs were going to help is yet to be seen, but he was super smart. If Hollywood romantic comedies have taught me anything, it's that the smart guy always gets the girl instead of the big athlete.
The issue is that instead of molding the whole of his character and figuring out a way to attach those stubby little legs (or just molding them on), Lego opted for a full-sized minifig body and the hollow head. Sure, it's awesome to have the torso in pearl gold (which is new), and dark purple legs, arms, and hands are cool, though they've been in a few other superhero sets, but it looks totally wrong for the character. So I'm left in a weird spot, where I like the fact that I have any MODOK figure, and it certainly is visually distinct, but also that it's just an awful figure as a representation of the source. He's better in the chair than by himself, but still, the figure is off badly. Kind of curious to see if anyone can customize or MOC up a better solution.
He's not a minifig, he's a robot, and all brick-built, but you just have to love an A.I.M. Death Machine (or murderbot, or Turret, or whatever else they've been called in the various marvel comics and game... I know I've smashed thousands of these guys in Marvel Heroes). Lots of nice parts in there too, like the R2 body and the trans-yellow bionacle eyes. Sure, flick-fires, but as missiles, it makes sense. I will say that if you've seen what these normally look like, this is in no way accurate, but a good set addition.
The set, at first glance, seems kind of derivative of the Helicarrier Breakout set at first glance. It's similar in size, arrangement, and features some of the same "glass" pieces that were central to that set. One big problem with that set, as a playset, was that the playset pieces were kind of "meh" overall. Sure, you could knock down some barrels, lock up Loki, or swoosh the little jet, but it was mostly just a "sit there" kind of set. For a breakout, there wasn't all that much stuff to break.
This set, by contrast, is just absolutely littered with play features. I've built and reviewed a lot of sets over the years, but I don't think I've seen this level of play integration on a set before. More than that, I'm not sure that play features have ever been so... integrated... into a set before. I liked the Battle of Saleucami because the playset features were front-and-center in the design. It's a controversial opinion, and there is some disagreement (which is cool, because that's how we discuss things and the point of some of reviews) over it. After all, we're AFOLs, not kids, and we judge things differently. Of course, Lego is a kid's toy, and that means what we think as adult collectors really doesn't matter, since we're not the target market or audience. We're like a nice bonus for Lego, which is why we get some nods in a set (like the minifigure assortment included in sets like this).
This is obviously a set designed squarely at kids that want to play with their toys and make explosive and pew pew pew sounds. My 18-month-old daughter is just as likely to put these things in her mouth as to do anything else with it, but when she found out that the cannon above, which MODOK in his chair clips on to (and is powered by mjolnir, like you see) is designed to be smashed apart, she did so while giggling several times (and interrupting pictures).
Often, the playset features feel so tacked on, just stuck there because there were too many bricks that didn't move or something, like the cannon on the Sail Barge. Other times, it's a huge suck of parts to make a play feature work, and tends to stick out like a sore thumb, like mechanisms that go into firing a flick-fire on a lot of ships (instead of, you know, just using your finger). This gun, however, is built entirely with purpose to be smashed by the Hulk. The gun fits together on either side of a platform that just tucks away, and when you have it built, you would barely notice that it's something to be smashed.
Behind the gun is a platform that sits on a pivot and has a pin that holds it up, so you can continue your smashing. Not as cool as the gun, but nicely integrated into the overall set. Real shame we don't have some A.I.M. troopers or technicians to blow up as part of this. That's probably the biggest gap in the set, especially since we got that awesome Hydra trooper in the other set.
The middle wall section of the set is another example of integrated play features. It's stickered, and while not as awesome as Space Invaders, they're still pretty slick. I'd love more A.I.M. and keyboard stickers, and the rest could be interesting to pop into different builds. This isn't as slick of a feature as the gun, since smashing walls has been a standard feature for playsets for years, to varying success.
What is different is how it achieves the smashing and build. Most usually stack and do some basic interlocking, like exploding wall section of Helm's Deep, or come up with some weird stud offset pattern, like Colby City Showdown did with the jailbreak section. This one sort of mixes the two and adds a great little cross-piece that holds them in place while balanced on the 1x4 plates with 2 studs at the base. The effect is very cool, cutting down on the extra bulk to hold it into place and adding some stability to the wall until you're ready to smash it. My hat is off to the designer for this one, it's a great implementation for this feature.
Continuing our jaunt around the set, we get the part that probably reminds most people of the Helicarrier Breakout set, the prison for Taskmaster to lock up Thor. Again, the playset features are built right in, with a little pivot and 2x4 tile to start the smashing. At first glance, it seems kind of boring to look at, and this section, especially the clear cell up top, isn't nearly as sturdy as the other two. This is due mostly to size of the bricks being used, and the amount of destruction that smashing them can do.
That's actually fairly impressive with the parts being used, and continues the trend of well-thought-out play features. Apparently, much like Baby, no one puts Thor in a corner (or a glass tube, as it were).
The set also features the best use of a flick-fire that I've ever seen. And given my feelings on flick-fires, I hope that comes off as high praise. Unfortunately, this is probably the most tacked-on part of the set outside of the communication's dish. I almost wish the antenna would have been scrapped to make a better dish system to put up top, but I guess that's what MOCs are for.
There is a huge bulk to the set on either side, and really stands as the low-point of the build. You start out building the back and top section, and it initially feels like a very bland and boring build, with all the blue and big panel pieces. Once you start to move on to the other features and the front, though, the build really picks up.
From a playset perspective, this might be one of the best that Lego has ever made. Yes, the part count is light, but a good part of that goes into minfig specialization and some of the larger pieces, which explains the lighter count. But what it has it uses well, and the deep level and thought put into the play features really stand out. This set is a blast to play with, and parts of the build just have though "ooooh, cool" moments that put a set over the top. You get good figure value and some good stickers and parts to boot, making this set a standout, along with the Hydra set, against the barrel scraping that is the Spider-man stuff. The only real knock, outside of the back, is that it lacks an A.I.M. henchman to help out MODOK. I would have loved to see one added to the set, even if it was in the place of Taskmaster, who feels a little out of place, but still, worth the price even with the low count.
What I liked
- Playset features are well-built, well-designed, and well-integrated into the set. None of them feel like a waste of parts that is far too common in sets like this
- All-new Minifigure (and "figure") lineup adds a whole lot of value to the set
- Hulk finally has purple pants!
What I didn't like
- MODOK is a nice addition, but is probably the worst representation of a character ever in Lego form. Yes, even worse than the original Watto
- The lack of a generic A.I.M. trooper hurts the set a bit, and would have made a great set into an amazing one
- Low piece count, and the build starts out very boring and unexciting
Verdict: 4 out of 5. The price could be better, or it could have an A.I.M. Soldier to add value, but this set is just fun to play with. And for a toy, that's all that matters in the end.
You can buy 76018 Hulk Lab Smash right now on Lego Shop@Home, along with (almost) all of the 2014 Super Heroes Line