A little while ago, I took a look at one of the new LEGO City Missions sets, while sharing some insights from the development team. While I looked at the Mission to Mars set, it was unashamedly from the point of view of an AFOL who was also a Classic Space Tragic. However, I was not the target audience for the product and here at Rambling Brick Enterprises, we don’t have any of the 6+ target demographic on hand in the house, and are unlikely to for some years. Unless you consider 20 years old to be somewhat 6+. So I sought out Simon, himself a space tragic, as he also has a member of the Target Demographic around the house. What follows is their story…
Meet Simon and The Target Demographic
The Rambling Brick was kind enough to drop off a copy of the LEGO® City Water Police Detective Mission set for us to review as a family. The logic being we have a household member who is in the target demographic of these sets: a seven year old boy. The Rambling Brick wanted to know what we, and specifically the Target Demographic, made of the set and the app enabled story telling.
In our household, the Target Demographic is the resident KFOL (Kid Fan of LEGO), and the bulk of this review revolves around attempts to engage said Target Demographic. This KFOL’s stated aim is to become a member of the great ball contraption (GBC) community and as such he studies YouTube videos of GBCs and knows his Brickworld modules from his Akiyuki. Mostly he expresses his extreme disappointment when I have bought yet another LEGO Star Wars set and not more LEGO Technic to meet his future GBC needs. Despite this, he love Droids in LEGO form and we do collect them… unofficially. He also enjoys LEGO City, especially the Space sub-theme in recent years, as it aligns with his love of all things Space. When he received the 60227 Lunar Space Station for his fifth birthday, he would regularly sneak it into his bed at night to help him get to sleep. But I digress.
We started by removing the Target Demographic’s Minecraft privileges to get his attention and opening the fold-to box, a little like the way LEGO boxes were in the eighties. There were the usual numbered bags, one loose cockpit canopy piece, but no instructions. Instead we found a piece of paper indicating we should grab our device and scan the QR code to make a start.
Doing this opened the LEGO Instructions App and then we waited. Soon the App announced how pleased it was that we managed to scan a QR code. Little does it know we just had two years of practicing this multiple times a day, we are totally pros at QR code scanning. Then we waited some more. Soon… ish, about a minute and a half later, the App expressed its displeasure that something had gone wrong. A few more minutes of trying, scanning the QR code (like a pro, again) and we eventually got the City Police Mission to load.
The animation and characters have taken a leaf from the LEGO Movie with their zany and fun approach to the story. They could use a few more of those leaves, but the animation was fine and a had enough jokes to entertain the Target Demographic. The story involves a thief who is stealing stuff from the well heeled boat owning citizens of LEGO City. I was not sure why the thief was targeting boats, but that would become apparent, sort of. Soon we were opening Bag 1, building our first minifigures and kitting them out with stuff, well, a torch. Seemed like an underwhelming start but soon there were cooler things to build. Bigger torches.
Back to the story and the thief was up to more thieving, whilst casting suspicion on the good name of the Police Chief. We were instructed to open Bag two and build a boat. This part was thoroughly enjoyed by the Target Demographic. He loved turning the digital model around to see exactly where the next piece was supposed to go or perversely doing the opposite, obscuring the placement of the next piece and seeing if he could get it right for himself. Then we were encouraged to test out the boat, with a little bit if screen animation to swoosh to. Fun stuff.
Sadly yet another episode of thievery indicated that this boat was woefully under-powered to catch this master criminal. Never fear, Bag 2 had all sorts of cool pieces that we had yet to use and soon our humble little police boat had been upgraded to something more up to the task. This was the most engaged the target demographic got with the set. Trying out various parts, discarding the useless suggestions from me as unworthy of his attention. Another play session with added swoosh-ability and we were ready chase down this vile thief.
Except that’s not where the story went. Instead, for reasons that I still have not figured out, we were instructed to add wheels to our boat and build a small drum kit like structure, again for reasons that were not really apparent [Ed: I believe this is actually the furniture in Chief Wheeler’s office just why it looks like a cross between a drum kit and my old school chapel is anyone’s guess]. We dutifully did this and soon found ourselves driving our boat around LEGO City in another play session. For me, the story had really gone off the rails a this point but the target demographic declared that boats with wheels are cool, which is true, so I guess that is what matters.
The next build was an underwater lair for our thief, but as we did this, we hit a snag in the technology. We started the mission with a fully charged iPad, but this was not enough to last for the full set. The app is very power hungry and I was forced to plug the device in to mains power, lest our mission be cut short, allowing the thief a clean get away. This was a little frustrating and I could see this causing issues for parents and disappointment for children if the LEGO building has to be interrupted by charging.
Power restored we hit another glitch: The app seemed to give us the wrong instructions, or the right instructions at the wrong time. Perhaps it was the power outage, or perhaps my attention was drifting, but I was certain we were instructed to turn the boat into a submarine. The target demographic’s attention was definitely drifting. He like the souped up car boat and seemed underwhelmed by the though of pulling it partially apart and changing it for the third time. I really should have put it aside to pick up and finish another day, but my son told me “Daddy, you just do it.” Well I do not need to be told twice to build LEGO, so I did.
Submarinification done, the story then proceeded to have our minifigure swim down to inspect the thief’s lair whilst the not at all yet submarinified boat stayed very much on the surface. Also there was some sort of scanner that we had not built. A fun interactive play session got the attention of the target demographic again. He really liked this aspect of the app and the play.
A close shave with drowning later, we were told again to make our boat a submarine. Odd, given we had already done this. At least we were finally instructed to build the minifigure of the thief. This was my favorite minifigure in the set and not just because she sports a set of classic red air tanks, well maybe because of this. She also has a great face print with and excellent hair when not wearing her diving helmet. She also gets a neat underwater scooter build and jail cell that is unlikely to contain her for very long.
A final play session had us chasing our thief down in our submarine-boat-car with much enthusiasm. This was the best of these combined screen and LEGO play sessions. It showed how the screen can be used to add another dimension to playing with LEGO. This aspect of this format is definitely the strongest and is really worth exploring further by LEGO. It engaged the target demographic far more than the story elements, which were fine but nothing special.
The biggest weakness, apart from the technological glitches we experienced, was the story. Whilst there is humour, overall it is a little dull and takes some weird turns for no apparent reason. I still do not know why we built the drum kit or what that had to do with catching the thief. The middle part of the story lost focus and the build with it. It also took too long to get to the best minifigure, the thief. Why not have her to play with as we watch her sneak about from the beginning? Of course there is nothing to stop you from doing this, in fact I encourage you to if you build this set with your Target Demographic. There was one more baffling part of the story. The thief tried to frame the Police Chief by leaving things that belong to him at the scenes of her crimes, but none of these items were pieces in the set. In particular a green bicycle helmet was an important clue, yet none came in the set. This detracted from the ability to play along with the story, rather than than just play when you are told to.
Then there are the parts and this set is a great little parts pack, as long as you do not mind the new “hurts your eyes” vibrant yellow. My favourite part is the 10x4x3 Cockpit that has not appeared in many sets over the years and usually shows up heavily printed for Star Wars vehicles. It was fun using it to make a submarine, but something in me whispered spaceship. So I made one. [Editor: all parts can be space parts!]
A further digression: the Bits in the Box
It wouldn’t ne a ramblingbrick review without an attempt at knolling out the elements, and once again, I am thankfull to Ann for her knolling Expertise. Simon mentioned a few elements that were integral to the story, were not included, as well as a few fun pieces: I’ll have to admit, Vibrant Yellow does become a bit challenging to to stare at after a while.
The set comes with an awesome collection of random elements – including gold handcuffs, chains, a green camera, some red megaphones and flames! There are no stickers in this set – all decorations are printed.
Having a chat after their time playing with this set, Simon and the Target Demographic have awarded this set 3 out of 4 arbitrary praise units. When I played it through, I also felt that there was a bit of a stumble in the middle of the story, compared to the Mars Mission – and building the Furniture from Chief Wheeler’s Office just made no sense at the time.
I’d like to thank Simon, and the Target Demographic for looking at this set for me. You can read more about the goal that the designers set out to achieve with these sets in my previous review. I am concerned that failure of the app, either through power failure or lack of internet connection would interfere with the way that kids might play with this set. Time will tell whether the problem is real or perceived, with kids happy to go and do something else when the batteries are flat.
Have you tried playing with any of the City Mission sets, either with or without a child’s supervision? how did you find it? leave your comments below, and until next time…
This set was provided by the LEGO Goup’s AFOL Engagement team for review purposes. All opinions however, are my own.