Curtains of gray ash and blasted soot stirred in the air...air that made one's lungs feel brittle. Flex grabbed an outcropping with a rugged fist, his cracked fingernails securing the cracks in the granite crevice. In his other hand he held the orb. Yes, he would find the origin of that strange device that had turned the local toy store's denizens into bone-white, comatose vegetables in a puff of green gas.
Flex felt the shadow before he saw it and smelled sheared air and cheap rocket fuel. He looked up and the angular arrow of a manned rocket shrieked through the sulfurous air, turning downwards and diving to the right, disappearing. Either it had flown straight into the ground or—a gap in the rocks. Flex hooked his elbow around a dead shrub and hoisted himself over. In the darkness of the gap, he saw the engine trails of the rocket heading towards the end of the once-hidden valley, where a scatter of lights shone maliciously.
With a sudden movement, the agent grabbed his radio. "Flex to Alpha Team, do you copy. That rocket... I found its HQ."
My first experience with juniorization was when I bought the Rock Raiders Chrome Crusher. I admit (with digital blurring applied to the face) that I was lured by the theme's "laser" gimmick. When I assembled the model I felt that I could find more piece substance in a Tonka toy. But when Alpha Team came out this year, I was amused by the retro superhero theme and the Ogel's Command Centre soon found its way into my shopping bag.
When I opened the box, I was surprised to find that the set came in three separate boxes: the rocket, the lower base, and the tower. Something in the back of my head whispered, "Juniorization!", but I saved any judgements for the final product. Nevertheless, I was surprised I didn't notice such a structure earlier. Maybe it was the color scheme, which I must say is one of the most appealing and delightfully malevolent schemes Lego has come up with. Translucent orange may seem gaudy on other sets but here it just fits right in. The skull logo stickers are pretty goofy though.
Yes, the set is juniorized. Pretty thoroughly, in fact. But strangely, though I brave the wrath of an opposition outnumbering Ogel's skeleton hordes, I say in this case I don’t mind it. More on that later, let's start with the baseplate. It has the end of a river, a shallow pit and a slightly deeper one, and molded-on steps. The steps augment the 1950's B-Movie feel just right. I can't count how many times I've marched Ogel down those steps as I voiced my creative interpretation of an evil laugh. Speaking of Ogel, the figure's pretty plain for an evildoer. His torso and legs are jet black (haven't had those for a while), wears a UFO-style shoulderpad, and has a normal helmet with an astronaut visor. He also sports a cliched infrared eye. (Leave it to Lego.) His skeleton drones wear mailman hats and admiral shoulderpads, nothing too special.
The first floor of the base is a small corridor, above it is a platform with an odd helicopter contraption, parked on nothing but studs. The corridor leads into a small command gazebo equipped with Stingray control panel. It's walled by a red rampart with a translucent red window. The whole floor can be pulled out to reveal an empty pit.
The second story is completely bare, but houses the only thing of real detail in the set: a skull façade that's similar to those found in pirate sets except with trans-orange fangs. The skull is used to activate a trap door on the third floor, which drops skull orbs onto a simple loading machine mounted on a track beside the tower. The trap door doesn't really work very well. The way the instructions tell you, you'll end up with the priming axle protruding out of the skull's centre like a Pinocchio caricature. The skull orbs only fall when they're lying on their side, too.
The last level is an open watchtower. The level is hinged and supported by two pillars which tilt down, hitting the pillars makes the watchtower collapse and the floor plummet in dramatic villain-falls-to-his-death fashion.
Finally we have Ogel's rocket. Its retro design blends in with the base as it sits on its vertical launch pad. This position allows its bomb-bay to form a sort of bridge linking the rocket to the loading brace, allowing the loading machine to dump skull orbs into the cargo bay. A nice playablity touch. Alternatively the bay doors themselves open and you can deliver the orbs straight from your itchy fingers. A small 2x1 brick on a hinge keeps the bomb-bay door in place when the rocket is horizontal. Flip the brick and the orbs come tumbling down to create more mindless Ogel drones. (First it was Lego revolvers; then it was impaling sword traps; now zombification? Weep for the loss of innocence!) The rocket also has a sturdy modular design and has a pair of mailbox pieces with trans-red lids and a skull in each. Three wide-based tailfins and thrusters deck out the aircraft.
The base contains some common pieces in colours they haven't been done in before: clicky-hinge cockpit and 4 bay doors in clear dark red, a pair of opaque red hexagon canopies, double translucent orange Star Wars laser cannons, two mailbox lids in dark red. There's also four pairs of grooved tracks from the loading brace and quite a number of dark gray 4x1 smooth pieces, and that's about it.
So why don't I mind this juniorization? In this case, I don't mind it because it sort of complements the cheesy 1950s sci-fi feel the base emulates. In fact, this set should have been in Lego Studios instead of Alpha Team. Still, the stated price is more than a little steep, but around here you can get it for considerably lower. If you're looking for lots of good pieces and great detail, it's a guaranteed disappointment. If what you want is something unique to put in the dimly-lighted part of your display shelf or a base to terrorize your town without getting too out of this world, Ogel's abode will deliver.