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Kre-O and the Elephant in the Room

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Kre-O and the Elephant in the Room

Postby Staff » Wed Feb 16, 2011 10:00 am

You might have heard by now. There's a new line of toys preparing to transform and roll out to construction toy aisles from #2 US toy maker Hasbro. The line is called Kre-O, and it's debut theme is Transformers.

At the American International Toy Fair this weekend in New York, Hasbro debuted their new line of brick-based building sets. Although security was pretty heavy in Hasbro's venue for the press event, extra care was given to Kre-O: segregated from the rest of Hasbro's offerings, surrounded by security guards and behind an extra set of doors and with strict no photography rules (the exception being one media outlet given the chance to shoot some exclusive video) Ace and I got to spend a good half hour with the first wave of sets that will launch this fall.

While Ace launched salvo after salvo of questions at one representative, I spent the majority of my time poring over the sets on display. You've probably seen the shots of the sets for Optimus, BumbleBee, and Starscream.

Not Lego: Hasbro's Kre-O Transformers Optimus Prime (Vehicle) Not Lego: Hasbro's Kre-O Transformers Optimus Prime (Robot)

In Hasbro's ideal PR world, they would love to talk your ear off about the innovative new product line for boys and how it stands on its own as a creative new construction line, without ever dropping the word "Lego." Hence, the elephant in the room. Since Hasbro decided to slap shiny gold stickers on their Kre-O boxes emblazoned with "Compatible with most leading brands!", I'm just going to dive into the comparisons headfirst.

At first glance, these look like really awesome Lego models. I can honestly say I was impressed when I first glimpsed the imposing Optimus Prime robot mode. It reminded me at least superficially of some of the Transformers creations I've seen from Lego fans. And I think that's what Hasbro is banking on: line the shelves with box art that shows off stunning, seemingly transformable toys based on a ludicrously popular franchise, and rake in the dough.

And that's when things get dicey.

In small print...and I mean small, are those words that no one grabbing these sets off the shelf is going to see:


Like I said, at first glance I saw what I thought was a Transformers building toy that would change from robot mode to vehicle mode and back. The presence of so many hinged pieces and joints seemed to indicate as such, and the giant TRANSFORMERS branding on the box made me think, well, you know. That my new building set would be cool. I want a Starscream model to transform!

Kre-O Transformers Starscream (Vehicle)

In other, not-much-bigger writing, the box art quietly informs you that you can use the included instructions to build either the robot mode or the vehicle mode. Huh. Well, that's okay.. maybe? I guess? Maybe I just want to show Optimus in his robot mode. Two months down the line, I decide maybe he would look better in vehicle mode. So I take the whole model apart, all 500+ pieces of it, and rebuild it in truck form. A week goes by, I decide robot mode was better. Repeat the process.

Wouldn't that get tedious?

The regular Transformers figures transform quickly: most in seconds, a few in minutes. That's the appeal our beloved "Robots in Disguise": instantly convert from robot to vehicle to robot and back. But that's not what you get with Kre-O. It's not what you got with their previous building line attempt, "Built to Rule," either.

"What about the parts quality?" you ask. "I don't care if my Transformer doesn't transform, I just want to know if it has cool pieces that will hold together well!"

I can't speak to the clutch power of the new Kre-O line, since the sets we saw were glued, but I could see and touch the parts, and you can find the damning reviews of the BTR sets on Amazon and various TFormer and GI Joe fansites. Many of those reviews complained about a lack of clutch power. As for the plastic quality of the pieces, you can see it in these promo images. Some parts are waxy, and translucent in a few cases. The colors are swirly in many of the pieces, you know that marbled look. I had these same observations at the Toy Fair booth. You can look at the high res Optimus photo to really take it all in.

After you take that closer look, you'll notice some familar parts. Or remixed versions of familiar parts. The 4x6 car hood slope, but split into left and right halves. 1x1 cheese slopes with grilles. 1x2 grille tiles with extra grilles going the opposite direction. There are some freaking great pieces in these sets but there are also familiar parts, and some outright clones. I don't know when it became okay to just straight up copy the pieces made by other building toy companies, but Hasbro seems to think it's not a problem.


They also have cute little minifig-esque characters called Kreons (yes.. Kreons, sounds like Crayons) based on the G1 Transformers characters that have attachment points on their arms and legs for things like wheels and guns. These will be a big selling point for older fans, no doubt.

Let me temper this initial impression of Kre-O by saying yes, I'm biased. I volunteer at a Lego fan website, and you know what my day job is. I handle Lego bricks all day long. I spent so much time checking out these Hasbro sets the other day because I want to like them. I really do. I LOVE Transformers. I would be thrilled to have a Lego Transformers line. Unfortunately that can't happen, and Hasbro, bless their hearts, are giving it what appears to be a sincere attempt. They're promising Kre-O sets based on other popular franchises, so we could be seeing GI Joe and Marvel-based sets if this first wave proves successful. Will Kre-O be a legitimate threat to Lego's staggering billion dollar US sales or will it disappear as quickly as Built to Rule and countless other clones? "One shall stand and one shall fall" and all that jazz? We'll see. Let's just say I don't think you should be making plans to visit Kre-O-Land with your family anytime soon.

For now, enjoy these fantastic Transformers models built by Lego fans:
Version1 Optimus Prime 01 Optimus Prime Optimus V3 - 1

PS: Kreons??? Really?
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Re: KRE-O and the Elephant in the Room

Postby Jabba the Taff » Wed Feb 16, 2011 10:24 am

Kre-O is an awful, awful name. I can't believe they think that placing random holes in a few studs on a brick makes them so different. It's just bloody rude! At least Clik-Lock-Crock or whatever aren't so gorram cheeky. It might be a legal loophole but it sure wins a prize for shallowness and cynicism.

The idea is wonderful but the quality looks appalling.

Kre-O is STIll an awful name. It's not even so bad it's good.
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Re: KRE-O and the Elephant in the Room

Postby ranwanimator » Wed Feb 16, 2011 10:27 am

I'm guessing it's because Lego doesn't have an official Transformer's License, but seriously? Hasbro, your two faced-ness (feel free to use that word) knows no bounds. You dictate terms (indirectly) to LEGO that results in magnet figures being glued together because you don't want them infringing on your action figure base, yet you release an entire clone product that clearly infringes on parts and building methods developed by LEGO? I don't care if the Kre-o stuff is the coolest thing on the planet. I will. Not. Buy it. Come up with your own thing Hasbro or GTFO.
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Re: KRE-O and the Elephant in the Room

Postby Rook » Wed Feb 16, 2011 10:45 am

Ah how sad. I would have loved to had Lego do this a theme for many years. To se it put into a sub-standard brand is just sad. I would still probably buy them if it wasn’t for the awful looking minifigures.
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Re: KRE-O and the Elephant in the Room

Postby Chief » Wed Feb 16, 2011 10:49 am

Dang, ya'll just jumped right into the pool of haterade. :) And they're good points! I also think Kre-O is a weird name, but Nintendo's Wii was a weird name at first, too, and now it's accepted. Lego probably had a goofy sound to people when it debuted as well.

Can I just say how weird it was to write an article about a non-Lego brand on this site? It was a new experience for sure.

Hasbro and Transformers are inseparably connected. Lego can never have the license, and that's just a sad fact of life. Like I said, bless Hasbro's heart for trying, they have a nice market demanding the product but they just can't deliver a quality Lego substitute.
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Re: KRE-O and the Elephant in the Room

Postby onions » Wed Feb 16, 2011 11:00 am

My two cents:

The kreons representing humans are just terrible looking. I think i used the word "abomination" when the rep asked me for my opinion. They look more like miniaturized Kubrick figures than anything that resembles a LEGO minifigure. I can understand that to set their figures apart, they had to make some changes, such as ball jointed shoulders and hips. But the end result isn't something I'd ever want play with or even display. Using the kreon form for the robots is a little easier on the eyes as their robotic form is already different enough to have it stand alone.

The rep informed me that one of the goals of creating the kreon form was that you could attach weapons and armor to the figure on the arms, legs, and back. That's why you get the spindly upper arm but once you attach a weapon to it, like on Starscream, it looks a lot better. Unfortunately they use the same arm mold for the human kreons adding to the ugly effect.

They have a range of prices on their sets, starting at around $10 all the way up to 60 bucks for that Optimus Prime set. You get 568 pieces which is actually on par with what LEGO offers. Each set will come with at least one kreon of a G1 inspired Transformer with the larger sets coming with multiples. The actual building sets will be vehicles inspired mostly by the movie versions.

I, too, am a big transformers fan, since the days of G1. When we were at the press event, I made it a point to spend most of our time inside the Kre-o closet to drink in as much as possible. As weird as this sounds, I want this line to do well. Competition for LEGO can only make LEGO better right? But even if it does do well, I'm not so sure I can actually purchase a clone brand.

I also think not having the sets actually be able to transform is going to piss off a lot of people, kids and parents alike. Despite that, I think what's going to happen with these kreon sets is that they'll sell enough to transformers fans to keep making more. Assuming, of course, that their clutch power holds up enough to not have a towering robot fall apart. Ryan makes an excellent point about having to rebuild from scratch becoming tedious fast. This may drive people to buy two sets, one for robot mode and one for vehicle mode. And if that happens, that will just inflate their sales numbers without increasing marketshare. It'll be interesting to see how this all plays out.
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Re: Kre-O and the Elephant in the Room

Postby buriedbybricks » Wed Feb 16, 2011 11:24 am

Does anyone know if these images are still prelim or is this final and ready to roll? Looking at the hi res photos, I was offended to see so many obvious imperfections on the individual pieces. If these photos are what they are using to promote the line they obviously don't care about the pickier fanbase or appealing to the pre existing AFOL demographic. I find the fact that they couldn't be bothered even attemping to cover up the defects with some airbrushing in these pics as offensive as it is hilarious.
My business isn't even worth an attempt to bantha poodoo me... or my kid.

P.S. My 3 year old was excited to see the "LEGO" Transformers, but when I pulled up the hi res shot of Optimus he pointed out a defect and asked "what's that thingy". When I told him it was a defect he asked me if it was crap. I can't lie to the kid, so now he has no interest. Sad.

We really do pass our biases onto our children. Yay?
'Resistance is Futile. We will add your Bricks and Minifigures to our own. Your Bothans will adapt to service us."
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Re: Kre-O and the Elephant in the Room

Postby JediJeff » Wed Feb 16, 2011 11:44 am

I suppose made in China. None for me.
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Re: Kre-O and the Elephant in the Room

Postby mikado » Wed Feb 16, 2011 11:57 am

least it looks a lil bit better than the built to rumble crap they had for gi joe years ago....but they dont mind infringing on their own action figures if it makes them more money
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Re: Kre-O and the Elephant in the Room

Postby StoutFiles » Wed Feb 16, 2011 12:27 pm

These sets are obviously subpar compared to LEGO, but the competition is a good thing. The real elephant in the room is the rising cost of LEGO sets compared to just 5 years ago.
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Re: Kre-O and the Elephant in the Room

Postby Chief » Wed Feb 16, 2011 12:29 pm

StoutFiles wrote:The real elephant in the room is the rising cost of LEGO sets compared to just 5 years ago.

That elephant is in a different room :P
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Re: Kre-O and the Elephant in the Room

Postby that guy » Wed Feb 16, 2011 1:07 pm

Good, bad, or indifferent their naming is horrible. Kreon sounds too much like Peons, but then again maybe their minifigs ARE actually second class citizens with no rights??? :facepalm:
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Re: Kre-O and the Elephant in the Room

Postby Mr. Mandalorian » Wed Feb 16, 2011 1:51 pm

onions wrote:Competition for LEGO can only make LEGO better right? But even if it does do well, I'm not so sure I can actually purchase a clone brand.

I think there's a difference between competition and parasitism, onions.

I find the idea of a Transformers building set awesome. I really do. I don't care if it's Hasbro that makes it, and I don't even mind if they borrow one or two basic concepts from LEGO, such as the gripping system.

However, I find what they did appalling- they took a massive shortcut, and pretty much directly hacked off some of LEGO's pieces. Not just basic pieces, either, but specialized pieces that LEGO developed in the past few years. I want to see what LEGO's official reaction will be. My guess is that they're going to submit to Hasbro. They've folded before on the subject of the battle packs, and I think they're going to fold again. They just don't want to duke it out with Hasbro. Moreover, I'm not sure that they could win a case- while the plagiarism is obvious to us, I don't think a court is going to care enough, or Hasbro is going to pull the same stunt that MB pulled when LEGO challenged them over their line.

If this was an original line, I'd have full support. If they were quality plastic, I'd buy one or two. But as it is, all I can think of is just how much of a waste it was that Hasbro did these, and that Hasbro is a piece of hypocritical crap.
True happiness: looking inside the box to see a perfectly flat instruction manual.

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Re: Kre-O and the Elephant in the Room

Postby Mofo Jones » Wed Feb 16, 2011 1:52 pm

Where are they going with this...thing? My guess is post-xmas clearance this time next year, if not Ross/Marshall's by then. I'm not a big fan of Transformers (although I did like Grimlock) and I have a lot of pro-LEGO bias, but these still look like a poor man's substitute for the real thing.
Will Tactically Consult for money, food or LEGO.
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Re: Kre-O and the Elephant in the Room

Postby unmovedmover » Wed Feb 16, 2011 1:59 pm

For me, it will all come down to the quality of their plastic. If the quality is up to Lego standards I'll buy a few. But that doesn't appear true based on the pics, and is also unlikely based on Hasbro's actual decrease in Transformer plastic quality over the last 5 years or so.
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Re: Kre-O and the Elephant in the Room

Postby GIR3691 » Wed Feb 16, 2011 2:20 pm

My biggest question is that a lot of the elements they use are directly stolen from LEGO. Doesn't LEGO have a trademark on their newer pieces? I know they lost the lawsuit involving basic bricks and such, but these Transformers have stolen some very recent designs directly from LEGO (cheese slopes, the newer slopes, and so on...) Don't they have a lawsuit on their hands?

It is disappointing that they don't actually transform, but not entirely unexpected. Logistically it would be insanely difficult to make models that actually transform, especially if they do a lot of the different characters.

Overall I'm going to go against this line, as it blatantly rips off LEGO designs. I agree that it is totally unfair for Hasbro to restrict LEGO from selling individual Star Wars minifigures and yet steal LEGO part designs for their own Transformers line. It is totally shameless and hypocritical. Keep in mind it's Hasbro's fault the magnet sets are getting glued together now.

I feel the same about this as I do the Halo Megablocks. I'd love to have models of cool stuff, but LEGO has a vastly superior quality, and I'd rather take the design and make my own LEGO version, since I stand by quality over. Since Hasbro is ripping off LEGO's designs, it should be pretty easy for someone to make LEGO versions of these sets. *hint hint*
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Re: Kre-O and the Elephant in the Room

Postby Chief » Wed Feb 16, 2011 2:25 pm

GIR3691 wrote:Since Hasbro is ripping off LEGO's designs, it should be pretty easy for someone to make LEGO versions of these sets. *hint hint*

New community project? :)
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Re: Kre-O and the Elephant in the Room

Postby KarolRabalski » Wed Feb 16, 2011 2:55 pm

Nah, I'll stick with LEGO thanks.
----like spinning plates---------
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Re: Kre-O and the Elephant in the Room

Postby meeotch » Wed Feb 16, 2011 2:56 pm

Chief wrote:
GIR3691 wrote:Since Hasbro is ripping off LEGO's designs, it should be pretty easy for someone to make LEGO versions of these sets. *hint hint*

New community project? :)

Best. Idea. Ever.
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Re: Kre-O and the Elephant in the Room

Postby theJudeAbides » Wed Feb 16, 2011 3:04 pm

Wow. The only words that come to my mind are "Blatent. Ripoff." I mean, at least Mega Bloks has the common sense to create their own unique parts beyond the basic bricks and plates. It's clear that no such attempt was made here. I'd be really surprised if LEGO didn't at least throw a token lawsuit their way. I mean, when you consider how hard they've pursued all those crappy Chinese ripoffs and even the far more legitmate Mega Bloks, I just can't see LEGO taking this laying down. I mean, if LEGO allows this to go un-litigated, they're basically opening the floodgates to let any and every toy manufacturer copy them, and you know that's not going to help them.

And the hypocricy of Hasbro is staggering here. They won't allow LEGO to sell single minifig versions of characters they have action figures of (despite looking nothing like them), yet it's ok for them to come out with blatent ripoffs of LEGO's minifig designs? :facepalm: (Actually, the Picard double-facepalm would be far more appropriate.) I've never been that big of fan of Hasbro the way that some people are (my feelings were pretty neutral), but this 3-ring circus of idiocy, hypocrisy, and copyright infringement is just making me want to hate them.

If I were LEGO, I'd give Hasbro a call and say, "This unchecked aggression, like, will not stand, man, it will not stand!" But that's just me.
The beauty of a LEGO MOC is not the elements that go into it, but the way those elements are put together.
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