Review by EVA_Unit_4A
Short on parts, and needing a new variety of Battle Machines for the Golden City’s defense, Ryo salvaged parts from his own Cyclone Defender, used advanced technology he learned from the city computers’ memory banks, and created the Blazing Falcon. However, it was more of a flight-capable close-range-oriented Battle Machine than usually employed by Exo-Force. So Ryo delved deeper, and discovered the plans for an advanced thermonuclear rocket backpack which could be fitted to a Battle Machine. While the standard-sized ones were all in use and could not be spared or did not fit the parameters needed for the backpack, he took, instead, another unused Cyclone Defender model and altered it to become half of the newly-designated Aero Booster unit. It was worth it… Hayato was quite anxious to get his hands on the Aero Booster when Ryo was finished with it. And, wow! did this Battle Machine deliver. In trial runs, it proved to be the fastest unit on the battlefield- even outstripping the Sky Guardian; though due to its powerful generators, it didn’t have the same lack of energy as the latter. Indeed, it had an impressive surplus even when at top speed. To compensate for the slipstream of supersonic air around it, and yet not jar the pilot around or zoom out of control, the Aero Booster is equipped with no less than five elegant air brakes merged along the sides and top that can gently press into the wind to slow and steer it. The three thermonuclear engines themselves can also be used directly for steering- the two external engines being able to pitch both up-and-down and extend outwards for fast evasive maneuvers or Vertical Take-Off and Landing (V-TOL). The Aero Booster is designed for long-range assaults that keep it out of targeting range of fixed emplacements or even other Battle Machines. In addition to the specialized long-range missile on top, it is equipped with two outrigger arms which carry both paired heavy laser cannons on the right and a focused plasma cannon on the left. The modified Cyclone Defender was not entirely stripped of its own armament even though it was stripped of its name during the modifications. The spinning shield on its left arm was removed and replaced with a four-fingered hand manipulator, as was the right side one. The three grenade launchers were left intact on the shoulders. However, being that the Aero Booster was meant to be an oversized upgrade rather than a permanent fixture, it can separate from the smaller Battle Machine, but this leaves it under-defended. And so, the plasma cannon can be removed from the left outrigger arm, and equipped on the smaller Battle Machine itself; though not be as powerful because of the smaller generator, it can still do heavier-than-usual damage. As an added bonus, the Aero Booster’s backpack unit can fly under limited remote control from the smaller Battle Machine as a large decoy, heavy support drone, or kept in storage until called upon. Like Exo-Force’s Battle Machines, the Aero Booster uses a similar control system which mimics the movements of its pilot, so it was easy for Hayato to adapt to the advanced design. The Aero Booster set is composed of two parts: the small Battle Machine, and the rocket backpack… The unnamed Battle Machine (back) could be considered one of LEGO’s super-rare repaints… even though it’s not paint that is changed since it’s all about the plastic. (I may not be fully up on the history of all things LEGO, but I can’t remember the last time that any set was re-released as a ‘repaint’ before the mass-production sets from the second line of “Bionicle™” in 2002…) It is based on the Cyclone Defender Battle Machine from earlier in the 2007 line, but with a few modifications. The most obvious would be the change in color pallet from dark green, white, and dark gray to mostly blue, dark gray, and a little white. The torso and cockpit have undergone some modifications, though is still roughly resembles the one on the Cyclone Defender. The shoulders and back of the torso have been rebuilt with new parts. The arms are the same, but the weapons have been swapped out. The hand-held pulse laser cannon and attached spinning shield were both removed, the right hand changed from three fingers to four, and the same four-finger hand attached to the left arm where previously there was none. Also, LEGO Technic cables now snake their way out from the waist to be held in both hands like control sticks; they utilize the same peg-in-the-palm attachment. The legs remain unchanged structurally, with only color changes. Flexibility for the set remains unchanged, through use of ball-and-socket joints at the shoulders, hips, and ankles. This mirrors their frequent and popular use in the “Bionicle” line which continues successfully to this day. This also becomes a well-known, if little-advertised, problem as LEGO’s ball-&-socket joints are known for wearing out quickly when used a lot and aren’t the greatest for supporting heavy loads. (I’ve become aware of this over time since I used to collect “Bionicle” sets too, and so I’ve become somewhat paranoid of ball-&-socket joints in new LEGO sets.) One brand new item, though, is a Technic connector which replaces the minifig wrench alongside of the three yellow ‘grenade’ parts on the shoulders. This connector will come in use later…
The rocket backpack is the real treat of the Aero Booster set. As this set is fairly unique for a LEGO set, and is filled with its own features, I’m gonna attack this a little differently than I usually do and break this section down into three parts…
With the previous year’s Sonic Phantom, the two-of-four large thermonuclear engines mounted to the front of it were quite disappointing. They had these huge turbine intakes on the front and nice streamlined panels along the outsides, but once you turned it upside down, the effect was completely spoiled, and- in my opinion- dragged the set down as a whole [in addition to others which I covered in my review of it]. That is not as bad a problem with the backpack rocket pods. It has three of these turbine blade intakes used as compressors for the rocket nozzles themselves, though now molded in a swirled combination of blue and light gray ABS. Right off the bat, I’ll tell you that the center rocket is built pretty much the same way as the outside two, but just turned on its side, attached to the backpack, and then added to in that position to make it look different. But each rocket pod has a matching curved piece along the top and bottom, leaving the center and internal support structure exposed. What sets it apart from the Sonic Phantom is that it attempts to cover the gaps up with 1) the large airbrakes; and 2) the center pod’s opening faces downward, and so is not seen as you hold onto the grip from below. Now, when the two side pods are pulled away from the center one (more on this later), this is the only time that the center section is exposed from the inside view. But, again- IMO- this is a better, cleaner, and more stylized an arrangement and effort than the Sonic Phantom was.
Air brakes are a fairly unique feature in a LEGO set, and so the ones on the Aero Booster deserve a little more recognition than usual. There are two kinds, and they all move independently of each other. The three larger, longer white air brakes each occupy a single rocket pod, and serve two purposes. First, not since LEGO “Star Wars™” Snowspeeder (Set #7130) has it been as cool to be able to extend and contract air brakes. (They act as very minor blast deflectors along the sides as well, if you wish to think of them that way too…) The other is that they help significantly in covering the gaps in the sides of the pods; some would say that if this were a real vehicle- the way they move through the air might help with engine performance, as indeed some real supersonic aircraft do today. The two smaller red ones cover the gaps between the center and side booster pods on top. But due to how they are built, you can actually twist them side-to-side a bit if you want to in addition to raising and lowering them. (I don’t, but that’s just me…) The length and narrowness of the five airbrakes helps give the backpack an overall streamlined look and helps to cover the gaps (from above and the sides, at least) between the round-yet-bulky booster pods.
What’s the point of having a really big rocket pack strapped to your back if you don’t have some awesome weapons to go with it? What seems to be turning into a standard feature on larger “Exo-Force” sets above 150-parts-per is the spring-loaded missile launcher. How you fire that missile is the interesting part here. Again, mirroring the one found on the Sonic Phantom, the missile launcher is mounted on top… but the trigger is located below by a grip handle. If I had one thing to complain about in Set #8106, it would be the set up for the grip and trigger. The grip is rather flexible and twists uncomfortably (whereas the Sonic Phantom’s was more solid), and- for larger collectors’ hands- is placed too far forwards to grip well because your fingers bump into the small Battle Machine in front. Therefore, the one modification from the instructions that I made was to shift the entire grip assembly one hole backwards. The change is so minor that only eagle-eyed Lego-Maniacs would be able to spot it… unless someone told you about it beforehand. [This also had the rather unexpected effect of allowing my index finger to stretch a little more to reach the trigger rather than curling it back uncomfortably. I can also grip the handle with my entire hand and not have to worry about gripping the trigger and firing off the missile all the time. (*whew*)] The trigger itself- a round ABS piece at the end of a black Technic shaft- is quite sensitive, and will indeed fire off at the slightest movement. The outrigger weapon arms are built the same way, extending out from just in front of the rocket pods’ movement joint. The right arm carries two long-barrel laser cannons with four ‘targeting sensors’ surrounding it. The left arm, however, has a more stout-looking single-barrel plasma cannon mounted to it. They both have the same shoulder and elbow joint system used by all of the larger “Exo-Force” sets for their leg [and most arm] joints, so they can each snap-rotate along two axis easily and will hold poses with no problems. (Whether-or-not the arms move in the continuity of the story or are fixed-position weapons, I do not know.) So as not to leave the separated Battle Machine under-armed when they are separated, the plasma cannon can be disconnected from its arm mounting and affixed to the peg inside either of the blue mecha’s palms- via that yellow connector piece to the left of the cockpit mentioned earlier- though it is typically portrayed in the left hand. Nice touch! When the plasma cannon is affixed, the associated under-the-arm Technic cable is simply removed from both the hand peg and the peg in the torso and put aside. (Not as satisfying a solution to that problem, IMO.)
Connecting the backpack to the Battle Machine is, literally, a snap. Because of the minor redesign of the back of it’s torso from the Cyclone Defender, there is a hole made available right between its shoulders. On the very front of the backpack unit is a long dark gray Technic peg which just slides into that hole and snugly holds in place via friction; it can just as easily be removed with no hassle. One thing to mention about joining them, though- it’s not a perfect fit. That lone white brick just below the missile launcher barrel gets pressed up against the shoulders of the Battle Machine, and if pressed together all the way, that brick will pop off. (With any other kind of similar part there, it would have pressed up against the launcher instead.) So, you just have to live with leaving that millimeter space exposed; but don’t worry, it’ll still hold very well, and it’s barely noticeable. I’ve already gone over the poseability in the Battle Machine and the air brakes in the backpack, but now you can start thinking about really playing with it once the two halves are together. The missile launcher will easily clear the top of Hayato’s head when it fires, don’t worry! If you just set the Aero Booster on the ground, obviously the backpack is way too big and way too back-heavy for the Battle Machine’s little legs to hold it upright, so it just leans back against the rocket pods at an uncomfortable angle. This can be solved with the rocket pods themselves. As hinted at earlier, the two outside pods are hinged at their bases by another of those ratcheting joints used throughout most of the larger “Exo-Force” Battle Machine sets. And so, the outside rocket pods can be positioned upwards 90-degrees or downwards 90-degrees- snapping at every few degrees in-between too. Also, they can be extended away from the backpack 90-degrees as well from the normal. Though it doesn’t say this next part in the instructions, I’ve found a way to make the Aero Booster stand up on its own without modification. All that you do is rotate the pods downwards as far as they go, make sure that they are angled slightly outwards (one snap in the joints ought to do), and then extend the two white air brakes out as far as they will go. Then you can stand the completed Aero Booster (back) up all by itself. The weapon arms cannot be pointed straight ahead, and must be angled outwards in order to clear the Battle Machine’s arms; but, otherwise, they are still fully poseable. (If you want to put the plasma cannon in its hand again, there’s certainly nothing against that, but it’s always shown with it still attached to the backpack’s arm when they’re combined.) Lego Set #8106 comes with a new version of the Hayato minifig (LEGO spells it as “Ha-Ya-To”) different from the previous year’s: a new ‘flight suit’ which adds gold to the original white and blue, and he has the same two separate facial expressions (one painted on either side of his head) and red spiky hairstyle piece introduced in the “Exo-Force” line, which adds to the Japanese anime style of the series. When the head and hair are flipped around, Hayato either displays a determined face, or a battle-cry expression, both with his confident, quirky smile. (This double-face design originated in the LEGO “Spider-Man™” minifigs from 2001 and 2003, but is now becoming more commonplace in themed lines like “City”, “Star Wars™” and “Batman™”.) 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 on by using stick-on decals; something that was rarely ever used in the past. 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. It does, however, have a small downside- because of the design of the decals, some of them cover places where other Lego pieces can go, which limits how a decal-applied piece can be used or taken apart. There are no conflicts in Set#8106. The decals for the small Battle Machine have been remade for this new incarnation, and are completely different from the ones on the Cyclone Defender. But there are also new decals for the backpack as well on the same sheet. The common gimmick of the debut 2006 line was- aside from them all being giant robots (!)- the introduction of the LEGO light brick with clear fiber-optic cable, though this was seen through almost all of the sets. They also had instructions for building an alternate set with the same parts on their homepage. Alas, neither of these returns in 2007. Instead, LEGO brings us a pivotal part of the storyline: the EXO Codes. When entered into the computer in the Golden Tower, they allow the refugees inside the Golden City to access a special feature within the ancient technological fortress. Each 2007 “Exo-Force” sets has at least one exclusive EXO Code located on a flat 1x2 plate placed somewhere on the Battle Machine’s body. When entered into the Code Brick Central area of Exo-Force’s homepage, it gives you special access to new things online like exclusive background info on the set, stickers & wallpaper for your computer’s desktop, images to be used for real shirt iron-ons, IM avatars, and more! (Not to spoil anything, but the only really unique thing for each set you get access to is a 10-sec silent video clip of your set in action on the site!) Oddly, the Aero Booster has no video for it in Code Brick Central! Now this is the anime influence at its best-! One of the reasons I liked the Cyclone Defender was because it was small but still fun; this was something that pretty much all of the larger sets could not accomplish. While the shield and pulse cannon were very nice extras, they were only part of that overall package and served only to enhance what was already there. Now, this set takes that to a whole new level without sacrificing what was already there in the previous one. While those cables under the blue Battle Machine’s arms are a bit on the odd side even though they look cool, everything else about it flows just fine. Now, though larger, the rocket backpack itself is pretty sweet as well. Those two large weapon arms show that this is a powerful machine. But the rocket pods themselves were very well designed even though they are hollow. Being able to pose them at different angles just made them that much more awesome. The air brakes were an awesome idea, and they fit the sleek, streamlined-yet-overpowered look of the whole shebang. This set very much reminds me of the METEOR support system from the anime series “Mobile Suit Gundam SEED” (2005) or the earlier G-Falcon unit from “After War Gundam-X” (1996) and larger Gundam Dendrobium Orchis system from “Mobile Suit Gundam 0083- Stardust Memory” (1992) OVA- all being oversized backpacks with incredible weapons attached to a smaller humanoid-shaped giant robot. I would liked to have seen a stronger design for the handle grip and trigger assemblies underneath, but it was a good idea to put them there in the first place so that- God, this sounds so clichéd!- you can “feel like you’re really flying it”, and that you have more control over it than just holding something big in your hand and flyin’ it around the room. It’s a whole other experience with these toys. That the backpack was not permanently attached to the Battle Machine (believe me, I looked for a proper name but I guess they didn’t give it one) was a very nice touch too. I was instantly sold when I saw this set, and you should be too. Plus, it’s only like $30, so you’re getting a great deal here for as much as is packed into it; better, I’d say, than any of the other “Exo-Force” sets released this year. While I still certainly love the Cyclone Defender, I give my highest recommendations for the Aero Booster!
(Not all of the available pictures are in this review, so be sure to look at the full gallery to see even more details and step-by-step views!)
|Posted 17 December, 2007 - 14:24 by EVA_Unit_4A|