I have two abiding memories of LEGO from my childhood (we’re talking the early 1980s here).
The first is of trying to build a garage for a huge toy truck, and discovering that I just didn’t have enough LEGO to complete the job. I searched around the house over and over again, checked my toy box to see if I’d missed any bricks, but it’s kind of hard to build a wall using those plastic pine trees.
The second childhood memory is of trying to build space shuttles and aeroplanes… both of which are intrinsically aerodynamic objects. The thing is, the standard LEGO sets at that time were pretty much all boxes and angles – no curves (except on the wheels) and certainly not aerodynamic. So I did the best I could… the body of the shuttles and planes were green base pieces, more suited to building a house on, and the wings were long rectangular blocks. I did have a propellor, for some reason, even though I didn’t have the rest of a plane, so I added that for good measure.
The thing is, even though the sets were pretty simple, they were excellent fun and my childhood enjoyment of LEGO is something that’s continued right up to adulthood. As I sit in my home office I can turn round and see an array of LEGO men on my bookshelves (I make it that there are almost 180 of them), and the top of my filing cabinet plays host to an X-Wing and Tie Fighter.
LEGO these days is much more suited to complex builds, with custom-moulded pieces for speciality items like the X-Wing’s guns and engines, or the Tie Fighter’s cockpit. Part of me misses the simplicity of the old sets, and the imagination required, but I have to admit modern LEGO does look much better than it used to.
So I was very interested to see LEGO’s new series – Galaxy Squad. Think Halo, or perhaps Starship Troopers, and you’re on the right track with this one as the sets pit marine-like humans against space bugs. LEGO very kindly sent me two sets to try out, the Space Swarmer and the Hive Crawler. Both of these major on the bugs, but it’s worth pointing out that there are also sets where you build up the human forces. So, what are they like?
The Space Swarmer is a great little project – it took about half an hour to put together (with my children ‘helping’). It’s a cool insect-like spaceship, with pilot, and a ‘marine’ opponent. The Hive Crawler on the other hand, while still great, is not what you would call a little project!
I’m pretty adept at building LEGO, and the Hive Crawler took over two hours. I opened the box to find several bags of pieces, and two instruction books… which was an indication straight away that this was going to take a while. After an hour or so I had something that looked nothing like the picture on the box… it was built out of ‘standard’ LEGO pieces and, while it looked interesting, I was struggling to see how it would turn into the insectoid beast I was expecting. It did all look very clever though, with Technic style pivots and pulleys hinting that this was going to be more than a simple model.
Once the Hive Crawler was built up, it was amazing. The legs move in an insect-like way, the spring-loaded egg launcher does exactly what you would expect, and the whole thing looks really impressive. It’s a fair size too – not far off a foot in length and width. Given the length of time it took me to build the Hive Crawler, I’d say that a set like this would last a child (it’s aimed at children aged 8 and up) days, if not weeks. It’s the sort of thing someone of the right frame of mind could keep coming back to for a long period of time to do little bits and pieces and, I would imagine, the sense of achievement after completing a long build would be a great feeling.
What I really enjoyed was the engineering and though that’s gone into the Hive Crawler. It must be someone’s job to sit down and think about how these models are going to come together, and how they’re going to work, and whoever that is is a genius.
One comment someone made to me when I showed them the Galaxy Squad LEGO was that it doesn’t look like ‘real LEGO’. I guess that’s true. There are so many custom pieces that it would be difficult to rake around in a box of bits and build these things, but I don’t mind.
I’ve loved building these two sets and, if you like the whole Humans vs Aliens thing, I think you will too.