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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lego 6848

It is my pleasure to bring you another quaint entry from Futuron's exhaustive theme.  Today I bring you Strategic Pursuer, the only true mech in the Futuron lineup.

The Mech is by all accounts hunting rogue Black-tron miscreants, though during work hours I could see this little dude helping to load a certain space train at the depot given its arms and claws, or even doing dangerous repair work on damaged spacecraft.  If only taken at face value this set brings a welcome variety to the Futuron theme.  I kind of wish more Futuron sets had been built with a goal towards dockwork.  I mean, the train carries cargo, and the common theme of the series is carrying something smaller; albeit not in this instance.   The whole cargo carrying thing would be most prominent in the later theme M-Tron.  It certainly seems as though Futuron was presaging that immensely excellent play feature called crates.  Of course to be fair, even Classic space had crates aboard space ships from time to time; and in my opinion, a good crate and carrying combo will always win over flick fire missiles any day.  For one thing, crates don't vanish into thin air like missiles do if you're too enthusiastic with your flicking.

Of course packages do get lost in the mail, but who are we to kid ourselves, this is the future.  Nothing bad ever happened in the future.  Unless those Blacktron dudes showed up.

Strategic Pursuer is an intriguing design that pushed the limits of Lego building technology for the time.  It wanted to be a walker, but was restricted to a degree by the choice of hinges from the then current selection.  It was visually successful to a degree, but from a play perspective the footwork is just not quite there.  Tilting is no problem, but walking?  Not so much.

The other sophisticated building technique is in the arms.  The Lego designers swung the plates out at a 45 degree angle.  This added a bit more scope of movement to the reach and function for the mech.
This also serves to highlight the restraints still holding designs of the time back.

I'm one to fuss about new Lego not being what I grew up with, and that's my own personal nostalgia.  I think the sets of today have marvelous functionality, and looking at Strategic Pursuer certainly highlights just how well the newer mecha have turned out.  It's just that I grew up with Lego that looked a certain way, and they were beautiful, and they still are, whereas the back of Exoforce robots make me shudder at the hideously exposed rear ends.  There are some construction solutions I just can't get behind.

Here's a selection of unique to Futuron parts.

First we have this angle plate in black.  There are two of these in Strategic Pursuer, and while the theme contains several in the white color, this is the only set with black.

 Second we have this inverted slope in white.  The set has two of this piece, and the theme contains no other examples in any color.  It's too bad as this is sometimes a very handy piece.

The only other piece that might be notable is this octagonal window.  Of course you can get two of these in Stardefender 200, and with that set hovering between 30 and 50 dollars it'd be criminal not to.  But if you're that cash strapped, then this set is certainly a good way to add the window to your collection.  It is the solid top variant, as opposed to the cross axle variant introduced in Spyrius.

Overall the set is a decent mix of pieces, favoring plates over bricks as the Futuron theme is wont to do.  I get annoyed by the high plate count; but only because I have plans for building a purist mothership with the Futuron parts sometime in future, and all the plates with smatterings of bricks are making me wonder how well my plan will work.

But enough said about the set, lets see what else it can be.

For its size Strategic Pursuer feels quite varied in its part selection.  There are only nine unique parts (primarily from the yellow spaceman) but the variety of parts and their quantity are greater than the finished model would have you believe.  Broken down this set just feels big.

And here are some spacecraft.

All in all 6848 is a very nice set that brings a lot to the table, it doesn't quite hit a home run, but if anything its failings only serve to highlight just how close it was to perfection.

Final score A-
Pros: Excellent Part variety, octagon canopy, decent second hand prices
Cons: Yellow Spaceman, almost good articulation

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Futuron 6884 Aero Module

Hello again, everyone...returning to Futuron yet again I have found another classic construction toy to talk about from childhood memories of pictures in pamphlets.  Psych!

Today's Futuron vessel of choice is 6884 Aero Module, an elegant space ship reminiscent of its big brother Star Defender 200.  Whereas Aero Module's big sibling is a beautiful ship sporting excellent aesthetic, Aero Module is an example of ingenious engineering with simple bricks.  As Shakespeare was once misquoted, Simplicity is the heart of functionality.

Before I get into the parts, or the model itself, I want to talk about the hallmark of this set's design.  Right there for all of you to see is one of Lego's biggest windows, usually reserved for the rarefied airs of the big sets, yet here it is on a small set.

In an even stranger twist, this is one of the Lego company's most ingenious uses for the piece.  The window sits on hinges so it can be raised and lowered, nothing special, Star Defender 200 (see below) can do that as well.

But unlike with Stardefender 200's loose canopy, you can lock Aero Module's window in place by opening the wings, or airfoils,

All of this is done with two hinge plate assemblies, and two 1x3 plates above those bricks at the back of the wings.  No special jiggery poke was needed to get the job done, just good old fashioned part placement.

Ta Dah!

whichever you prefer.  It's amazing how perfectly the window's shape allows for this mechanism, there's not a millimeter of extra wiggle room betwwen the window and car console.

The window and the robot's seating placement combine to keep the tiny car firmly planted until you want to remove it.  This is some stellar planning.  The result is a swooshable spacecraft.


Hey this ain't sO?

It's time to find a new mineral on this little moon.

Next to its big brother Stardefender 200 the shape of Aero Module is not as expressive, sure it's got a robot, and a Blue Astronaut, but it's basically a window set over bricks and plates shaped solely to fit the window for the least amount of money.

The surprising thing is that the design succeeded in being clever, and elegant.  I would argue that this is one of the nicer looking Futuron sets; except that its copycat central fuselage has to stand in the shadows of Futuron's flagship 6932 Stardefender 200.

The headlights/lasers, under-body engines, and wings don't call attention to themselves, but provide just enough spacey goodness to boost the look, and ensure that kids won't be disappointed by the smorgasbord of plates come Christmas.

I wish this set had been in plenty for my Christmases, as the window ceased to be available to small budgets after it's initial arrival in 1987.  My guess is that after its initial release the Lego designers were baffled as to where else they could take this piece within the smaller sets, and so it remained exclusively a large ship/base window forever after; much to my childish chagrin.  Well till '96 anyway; when it was retired, never to be seen again.

Aside from the window, the Aero Module also contains the Blue Astronaut, which is personally, my favorite color among the four, Yellow (Overused), Red (Criminally underused), Black (Too much similarity with Space Police), and Blue (just right).  I drooled at the possibility of ever having any Futuron minifigs.

The single greatest incitement of this drooling was found within the pages of the 1990 Idea Book seen here.  Golly I loved this book, I didn't know what the futuron sets looked like, save 6990, but I had to have them.  Looking back on it now this idea book is actually pretty useless as I've exceeded its best ideas, but there's my childhood infatuation; make of it what you will.  I'll come back to this at some point in a future post.

In an analysis of parts 6884 is rather shabby, after the window it doesn't seem to offer much.  But I should remark upon the excellent cabin, the control scheme mix is among the best in theme.  Even Star Defender 200 has nothing on this...

Most of the Futuron Unique Parts are on the robot, and all of the robot parts are only unique by color.  For brevity's sake, here's the whole thing.

The blue Space Control panel only shows up in two space sets, Cosmic Charger holds the other one, and if you want my opinion...Cosmic Charger is just a friggin motorboat with wings that's only as good as its parts; Oh snap!  I just insulted a Classic Space set... pretty good parts though...

As for the robot arms, I like that you can get them in blue, it's just a great color for them, sure you could also get them in any of four classic space sets, but you probably won't find them in a cheaper model than 6884.



6884 Aero Module is Futuron's sole proprietor of the following plates:

One 6x8 white plate, completely unique to Aero Module, there are no others within the theme in any color.  Fairly vanilla piece all told.

The small wing, left and right, again in any color.  A bit less vanilla than the above 6x8...

Funny, I'd consider these wings a staple of any respectable space ship, if you want to build Futuron Purist creations, then definitely consider it for the wings; they can be handy, if under appreciated.  I hadn't even noticed, but now it's so obvious, Aero Module is the only Futuron set with actual wings.

Now that I've gone through all that preliminary blowhard stuff, how does the set do for construction possibilities.  I'm actually very curious because that window just begs to be used, but is it possible to use it in an alternate build without giving up the coolness factor?

The designers gave it a shot, and skipped it three out of the four times.

Overall the alternates reveal the heavy use of plates.  On the one hand the designs do look good, but they fail to excite me, they lack, that something extra that a better part mix might bring.  Maybe my tune will change when I've tried building them, but for now...

Here is my Slave 1 inspired take on the giant window.  I'm not especially impressed, though the landing gear holds it up rather well, and as a side note, I only had 7 pieces left over after finishing.

Upon updating this post I've made a new alternate, I'll leave the old alternate picture for your curiosity (Not worth rebuilding) , but I believe this one is a fair bit nicer.

From dead on you can see the very steep incline of the wings...I'm quite happy with the headlight cluster as minute I thought 'this will be stupid,' and then I looked at it and by gum it works!

Realize your ideas, and learn your lessons, from the many failures you will discover success...

This is much more to my liking, it doesn't stretch the set's limits quite as much, but by golly, it's swooshable.  And just because I bragged about 7 leftover bits last time...this only left out 1.

Upon revisiting this set I'm definitely smiling more about it, the bright jewel like colors pop in the pictures and I definitely am happier with both the set, and this blog post.  I won't change my rating, but it will be noted as a strongly recommended B+.

Fare thee well readers, until next time.

Final decision: B+
Pros: Still reasonably priced used, Giant Window, Blue Spaceman
Cons: Glorified Plates Pack

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Futuron 6925

Today's entry is 6925 Interplanetary Rover, an odd amalgamation of good ideas, cool spacey design and badly juniorized/mismatched construction.  I'm not sure what I think of this one offhand, so without further ado, I shall dig into the quirks that constitute this toy.

Up front I need to say that I love every idea that went into this toy; but having made with the niceties, I think the final product is a troubled example of excellent function over hobbled aesthetic.  The central problem of Interplanetary Rover derives from its chassis and a pair of half baked homages.

In the function department The plates work perfectly for keeping the truck from twisting too far to the right or left,   The wheels shift over rough terrain very well, and the garage fits the scooter with exacting precision, leaving no wiggle room.  There is nothing bad to be said about how this toy does what it does.  If play value is all you need from a set, then Interplanetary Rover can perform near the top of the heap in its price category.

Despite my adoration for nostalgic nods to the past I think Interplanetary Rover's design is too much a victim of classic space nostalgia without developing its own clear identity.  The upright cockpit is a nice nod to Walking Astro Grappler and, I believe, the last set that uses its canopy in this straight up position.  The suspension and the metal detectors with dishes recall to mind the Uranium Search Vehicle, an interesting rover from Classic Space that managed to look cool and odd all at the same time.  Interplanetary Rover failed to be as clever and interesting as either set.  It doesn't bring the homages together in a meaningful way. 

In a desperate bid to give the model the appearance of unity the designers chucked some uninteresting matching brick assemblies underneath and slapped four matching metal detectors with dishes at every corner.  More needed to be done with the chassis, and something needed to happen in the middle that didn't.  My best guess is is that the designers saw a good handhold here.  Too bad it didn't help the look.

Visually the model is the sort that needs to look heavy and truck-like, but instead it looks thin as a sheet.  There's plenty of room for the wheels to swing free and traverse lunar terrain, but somewhere along the way the desired function and allotted budget conspired to restrain the full potential of this set.  It could have been shorter and bulkier, or heftier; instead it got spindly and overextended.   The overall construction looks confused and unhinged.  The back is a garage, the front is a cabin, neither half uses the full plate it's on in an effective, visually arresting manner.   The two halves are mismatched and far too white to captivate the eye.  Between the main cockpit, and scooter garage there's a lot of empty stud and tube space doing nothing.  Underneath the plates; the bricks holding the wheels blend badly with the plates and feel disjunct and underdeveloped.  In my opinion more should be going on with the chassis structure.

The only portion of Interplanetary Rover that feels new and unique is the fence headlight cluster, which again lifts a visual aesthetic from Tri Star Voyager, and Star Patrol Launcher, but manages to make it look different by doubling up and changing out some parts.

As Futuron's largest ground based vehicle Interplanetary Rover pales by comparison with Battrax, Multi Core Magnetizer, Spectral Starguider, Solar Snooper, and even the comparatively puny Ice Sat V, and Spy Trak 1

Despite the poor mishmash of wildly divergent looks and bland stretches of white, the final model is a fun truck to play with.  The suspension works very well, the snug garage is a fun play feature which houses its small vehicle quite well; and is a major feature in all of the bigger Futuron sets.  The Interplanetary Rover carries an airborne scooter in keeping with the theme standard.  Ground transports carry scooters, while the space ships carry a tiny car.

Like the Space Patroller; Interplanetary Rover has two robots mounted on the back of the driver's cabin; they're cute bug eyed droids that help to break up the monotonous white tones of the model by being solid black.  Unlike the Space Patroller the robots do not serve a dual purpose.

Compared to the rest of the Futuron line this truck looks unedited.  For a theme with sets as beautiful as Stardefender 200 and Monorail Transport Base it's a disappointment.  The sets in Futuron pushed trends forward with new designs of good and odd quality, but Interplanetary Rover got saddled with the past and struggled for an identity.  Whether it's Futuron's worst set is something I will have to revisit in the final retrospective.  I can say only giving it the super ubiquitous yellow spacemen certainly did it no favors, a red spaceman, black spaceman, or even a blue one would have been a nice touch.

Whatever my thoughts on the model, the question remains, how good are the parts.
My favorite metric is of course, what's unique, or rare? 
Here's the unique part.
That's right, Interplanetary Rover has a unique variant of the downward arrow print on a 1x2 brick.  It is one of only two sets with the print, the other version is black and there is only one of each.  The black variant appears in Blacktron's Invader.  As a fan of older printed parts, I have a soft spot for the function alert arrows.  Lego was always inviting the minds of inquiring children to ponder the workings of the set from the box art, and like a laser, these arrows got right to the point.

Next up is a selection of Futuron unique parts, that is pieces which are perhaps not rare, nor unique, but are within Futuron, only available here.

These corner walls were commonly available in a sizeable selection of sets, Lego doesn't make them the same as they used to, but the part concept does continue to live on in an altered form.
They are of course white, much like most of the parts available in Futuron.  If you were to collect some classic space sets you could accumulate quite a few more in white, but otherwise, the two you get here are it.

The plates, aargh!  These plates, which don't help to bring out the Interplanetary Rover's better side are unique to the Futuron theme, but they are by no means rare.

These fins are unique in any color to Futuron, and they are once again white.  The color variant is not rare within the space theme, but if all you want is Futuron, well, there's two of them.

While there are plenty of these in white, Interplanetary Rover has the Futuron color lockdown on black.  You get two.  Outside the theme the supply is massive.

And again with the unique to Futuron, but not rare.  You get four of these in white.   Within space you can get an equal number between two of the Mars Mission sets, and they're plentiful in some Nasa space shuttles, but they're much more common outside of the space theme.

The Futuron theme contains six of this piece in total, but only two of them are black, and it being an awful piece to only get one of is about all you need to know to convince you why this set has both of them.

 Lastly, this light is fairly common in classic space and pretty much a given in many town and model team sets, even easy to get in quantity within the pirates theme, but it is unique to Interplanetary Rover within Futuron.  In an interesting side note, this is the only set in the Futuron line to contain trans yellow parts.  There are four of them and they go on the robots.

All told there are 19 pieces within Futuron that only come in 6925, one of those parts is a unique printed color variant.  Many of the parts come in quantity's of 2/4/6/8, and provide a sizeable selection of like pieces, but there is also a fair selection of individual parts.  Not bad, the Interplanetary Rover gets an approving nod from me for what it brings to Futuron Purist constructions.

Now we must get down to the brass tax, how well does 6925 do for an alternative option?

Here you can see my dandy little transport truck and trailer carrying, you guessed it, a scooter.  I had a few false starts, I kept trying to use those corner wall pieces, but they just wouldn't take. 
Once I got that grille on the model began to take shape, of course the limitations of the canopy hinge held me up for a moment, but once I got used to it, I was home free just having fun.  Fortunately the set had enough parts to assemble a workaround for the studs forward approach I was forced to take.
Drop a spare tire in the back and the trailer for a space hoverscooter, and there you have it.

I just love making the scooters fly :)

Final Decision: B
Pros: Secondary market prices, excellent parts selection, Unique part, fun play features
Cons: Mediocre Aesthetic, Ubiquitous Yellow Spaceman