Review by EVA_Unit_4A
Keiken-sensei knew that the only way to win the war and beat back the robots for good would be to first rescue the untold thousands of humans being held prisoner on the robot-controlled side of the mountain. Where they were now, he could only guess. But an expedition would need to be sent to find the massed prison cells. And so, to ensure that Meca One would not learn this, he secretly used Golden City technology to build new Battle Machines specially designed and customized to the talents of Exo-Force’s finest pilots, which he would then personally lead down into the lowlands of Sentai Mountain. The responsibility of keeping the Golden City safe and Exo-Force functional in his absence would fall to his granddaughter, Hitomi- who had become an experienced and courageous pilot in her own right recently. But what hadn’t been expected was the treachery of the robots. Upon Hitomi taking command of the human resistance, the new Battle Machines were discovered, and a new mission drawn up: Hikari, Takeshi, Ryo, and Hayato would go alone into the deepening jungles and waterfalls of Sentai Mountain to find their leader and make sure that he is not harmed and interrogated by the robots! Hayato is less than thrilled with his new ride... While the River Dragon seems like a cool name, he was rather disappointed that it could not really fly. But Keiken-sensei had not built the River Dragon as a joyride to satisfy Hayato’s thrill of flying. He built it to fit into the confined spaces of the deep jungle and move quickly through it as a scout and light-support mecha. However, needing to operate far from base for an extended period of time, the River Dragon Battle Machine is nothing if not durable. Its external armored skin is composed of a new hybrid ‘dragon scale’ material quite reminiscent of its mythical namesake, but is surprisingly lightweight and tough. The power generator is on the smaller size, which allows it to blend in to its environment better by producing less waste-heat and a fainter EM signature. This is why it only has three weapons- a hand-held composite laser rifle which can be recharged directly or discarded, a smaller but deep-penetrating cutting laser mounted to the right arm, and two short-range fixed-yield grenades. Not being able to make use of his typical hit-and-run tactics, Hayato was encouraged instead by how versatile it was in all environments. This is due to the paired turbofan engines mounted to the River Dragon’s shoulders- which allow it to both swim in rivers, lakes, and waterfalls, and make short unassisted jumps to the tops of massive thousand-year-old trees, and rocks & cliffs! And it is also equipped with a new sensor and communication suite which can penetrate through the thick jungle to detect both friend and foe. To expand its detection range, Keiken-sensei equipped the small red & white Battle Machine with a new spy drone robot. Being that he was the one who created the robots before they all turned to evil (and for which he is ever-grieved and guilt-ridden nowadays), Keiken-sensei took the lessons learned from his mistakes, and created these new human-sized mini-robots with a simpler A.I. and less-independent thinking capabilities, making them more dependable in a fight and less-prone to corruption while in a hazardous encounter with their enemies. The one attached to the River Dragon is equipped with a smaller cutting laser and manipulator claws for hacking its way through underbrush or sabotaging enemy Battle Machines. To save space and weight, it forms the entire right arm, which means it is able to recharge and refuel directly while still serving as a cutting laser for the River Dragon; the only disadvantage to the arrangement being the Battle Machine loses a weapon. The River Dragon (back) is a bit of an odd ball, I don’t mind saying right off. For starters, its small design (only 114 parts) is influenced from the 2007-line’s Cyclone Defender in two ways:
- Ball-and-socket joints are used for the shoulders, hips, and ankles. The way the hip joints are attached to the upper legs, however, is slightly different even though they share the same parts.
- A small energy cannon accessory is held in place by the left hand (with four poseable fingers).
This time, Lego chose to go with a torso design which was more rounded and pod-like than previous human Battle Machine sets. Because of this, the torso is shorter and narrower from a front profile than before, and Hayato (Lego spells his name as “Ha-Ya-To”) is forced to sit in the cockpit- as opposed to minifig pilots usually standing- but he is behind a larger transparent-canopy part. This also exposes him quite a bit from the sides. (While ordinarily not a problem since most Exo-Force sets do this, in just the two months since it’s official pre-release in time for the 2007 Christmas shopping season, I’ve read an unusual number of complaints about this online- for a set whose description indicates that it is supposed to go underwater.) The shoulder and upper arm designs are symmetrical except for the antennae parts Each has a swiveling white cylindrical housing chamber with a free-turning black propeller- both of which spin through 360-degrees- and a thin black fixed elbow part. (From here on is where the arms differ, but I’ll get into that later.) The legs also share a similar design and pose in the same way as the Cyclone Defender, but some of the parts are different or rearranged to make them look thinner and lighter. I’ll interrupt here and say that I can feel a bit of that anime influence here- particularly the way the toes are spiked, and the elbows are the narrowest part of the arms. (Nice touches there, Lego!) Lego Set #8111 comes with a new version of the Hayato minifig. While he still has his red spiky hairdo and double-sided head (one face smirking, one a battle-cry expression), the chest print has been redesigned to incorporate new designs- including a camouflaged shirt beneath the techy fittings! (For whatever odd reason, the minifig’s hair doesn’t like staying on his head. Weird…)
Normally, when a Lego set needs specific details on a part, such as a control panel or flag, the image is printed or painted directly onto specific parts. Exo-Force continues for its third year by using stick-on decals; something that is becoming more commonplace in other lines of the Lego System. There is a small sticker sheet which provides allegiance markings, warning symbols & notices, and names- some of them written in Japanese text! Translations of the Japanese text are given on the sticker sheet, but do not go on the parts. This allows for a wider range of piece marking without Lego having to create a completely different piece each time, and merges the Exo-Force and Japanese toy influence closer together. Whereas in the debut 2006 line some sets had a few conflicts where decals would cover more than one part and would make it impossible to separate again unless they were cut (or not applied to begin with), this has not been a problem with since and was not present in the 2007 line. And so there are no conflicts in Set#8111 from the 2008 line.
The new common gimmick for all of the 2008 line is these new mini-robots. Each one attaches to a Battle Machine. These are not new minifigs, but small Lego parts put together to make unique designs for each set that stands roughly as tall as a minifig. On the human-operated Battle Machines, there is a decal showing the forward profile of its mini-robot as well as the term “Spy Drone”. (Yes, this term is in conflict with all promotional materials- where they are called “mini-robots” instead.) When attaching them to their parent Battle Machine, they fold up and collapse down into a smaller form, though nothing is removed to accomplish this. Be aware that the connection between mini-robot and Battle Machine is not always perfect compared to the instructions, so you’ll have to tinker around until you find an appropriate position for everything, though you won’t have to remove any parts to do so. (It’s really no big deal, and you’ll get used to it quickly enough.) For Set #8111, the mini-robot (back) forms the entire lower left arm. The long barrel of the laser cutter for the River Dragon sticks out the back quite a bit more than you would think, but if placed on a smooth flat surface, it has no problem standing up. The shiny-silver arms (taken from the Devastator robot minifigs) can flip all the way around; though they way they are built they can pitch up and down a little at the shoulder, but these other ‘joints’ are rather tight, so I would not recommend doing this too much. The legs, however, are more flexible in this regard. The right arm also carries a smaller Lego minifig instrument with a transparent-yellow sensor cover on it (though I’ve observed that mine tends to slip out of the hole easily). It’s small and fragile, but it works! And as mentioned earlier, removing the mini-robot also amputates the River Dragon of its right lower arm below the elbow.
For 2007, Exo-Force’s official website was upgraded with a new Code Brick Central section to accept specially-designated Exo-Codes which would be found in each set released. These alphanumeric Exo-Codes would grant access to special information and online goodies- wallpaper, screensavers, decals for your personal Lego profile, etc.- related to that one set from which the code had come. Apparently it was successful enough because the Exo-Codes are back for 2008. (Alas, they didn’t make new mini-movies of the Battle Machine’s in action like they did last year!) However, unlike the codes that were pre-printed onto flat 1x2 bricks in 2007, the new Exo-Codes are now printed onto decals which are then applied to the cockpit canopy of each set. Be aware that you must be signed up with a free Lego online profile in order to access the new information (of which they will also remind you). (I don’t know how common this is, but I encountered a problem when I entered in the River Dragon’s code- it did not give me access to it’s own, but it accidentally granted access to the Chameleon Hunter’s information instead. I was forced to contact Lego’s online tech support to get a different code. I suspect that this may be an error on the website, since I did not encounter problems with any of the 2007 sets, but did with a different 2008 set as well- the Assault Tiger.)
Something that a lot of people noticed was when none of the 2007 sets were used to make alternate and combined models on the box art and website like they were in the breakout 2006 line. Well, you asked for them, and you got them back! While the singular alternate models have not come back, each 2008 set has instructions which can be found in the somewhat-elusive Build It! section of the website to combine two or three Exo-Force sets into one! Set #8111- River Dragon can combine with Set #8114- Chameleon Hunter to form a quadruped Battle Machine. My interest in this set started slow when I first saw it on Lego’s Shop@Home page for Exo-Force, but quickly grew when I got it. Like all of the smaller Battle Machine sets these last few years, this is meant to be a small taste of what is to come, but stands shoulder-to-shoulder with all following sets just as easily. [Already owning several other ’08 sets] as I write this, I can see things like the new animal-influence in the designs such as scales and stripes on the decals and non-humanoid Battle Machines (so long as they don’t get too carried away, I’m fine with it), how the mini-robots will be played with (how many of those cute robots did I try to make when I was younger!?), and that continuing anime influence upon which the entire Exo-Force series is based (amen to that stroke of genius!). They also designed them so that they could all (theoretically) move in through the close-confines of a deep jungle as opposed to the open bridges and ledges higher up Sentai Mountain. And ya know what? If I didn’t like it, you wouldn’t be hearing about it directly from me because I wouldn’t own any of them! I will say that while this set is slightly more gimmicky than its predecessors, the quality doesn’t go down with it… which is good! The only things I can complain about I have already mentioned- Hayato is seated (like he was in the 2006 store-exclusive Bridge Walker and White Lighting set) in an open cockpit, and the mecha loses an arm to make the fragile mini-robot. Putting the propeller assemblies on the outside of the shoulders was a little odd, but honestly putting them anywhere else would have been tacky. Things to change? Yeah- that friggin’ decal I accidentally applied upside-down on the left foot! But hopefully when you get the River Dragon, you won’t make that same mistake… now will you?
|Posted 22 January, 2008 - 02:54 by EVA_Unit_4A|