Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Build your own Cthulhu

For those of you unaware, I'm a huge LEGO fan (I recently tracked down pictures of my first two big sets. Ah, memories). When a friend of mine informed me recently that Toys 'R Us was having a 90% off clearance sale that included some oddball LEGO sets, I started hitting stores around town. The only stuff I found was a weird Technics/Hockey hybrid series and one very cool mini "Star Wars" set. And when the total bill for five sets was just over $2.00, you won't hear me complaining. After all, parts is parts.

One day last week, I found myself near a Toys 'R Us with time to kill. I stopped in and found the sale was still on, but all the LEGO was unfortunately gone. Then, at the bottom of one cart, I found a sort of knight-and-horse plastic kit called a Stikfas. The plain white box it came in had tapered edges and the very minimum of printing and graphics. The packaging is so basic and stark, it's positively European in design. Inside, the plastic parts all come attached in flat frames that are familiar to anyone who has ever put together model cars as a kid. with the help of twisting and a Xacto knife, you get the pieces out of the frames and can start putting it together with the picture-only instruction cards. There are more pieces than you can use in one creation, really, so you take you're pick of armor and weapons and then, Presto, you have a knight on horseback.

Now normally I would leave the toy reviews to these guys, but I felt a desire to comment on this odd little toy venture. Mega-toy corporation Hasbro created this series, and the blurb on the box proclaims it to be the next generation of action figures. This reminded me of some discussions I once had with my LEGO maniac friend Leonard. We discussed the whole Bionicle trend in LEGO and how the company was sacrificing the versatility of basic LEGO for a more marketable action figure line. If the proliferation of the Bionicle toys are any indication, then the shift in strategy was successful.

These figures are along the same trend, though these are going for both versatility in building as well as accurate anatomical movement. The legs and arms are designed so that limbs will bend only one way, just like knee and elbow joints. The ball and socket joints themselves, which is the kind used by Bionicle as well, were a little too loose. Posing became difficult as some joints wouldn't want to stay in the position I placed them. However, I do like the basic design and lack of features. There is a sheet of stickers that comes with it that you can apply at will to the shields, armor, face or whatever, but I've left my figure blank for now.

But the stickers, along with the uniform size ball and socket connections, encourage people to build whatever they like. One could see this as a positive thing to encourage creativity, but unlike Bionicle figures that will always resemble mechanical men, these parts will always resemble something that is flesh and bone. So although you can create mythical creatures and animals with it (this review suggests a centaur as an example), the more natural progression is to create models that resemble something out of Lovecraft.

This is not to say that this is a bad thing, but I think this toy will lend itself more to kids (and adults) with weirder than normal personalities. In the end, it's still a pretty cool model. And for 43 cents, I'm certainly not complaining.

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