Mega Blok Pyrates

L stops by tonight with a look at the new pirate ship from Mega Bloks - what's the scoop, L!

The Mega Bloks line is a bit of an odd duck -- not quite as creatively complex as Lego, the line has grown steadily in appeal over the years due to the imaginative ideas behind each line. "Dragons" was a huge success for them, leading to a DVD and a sequel in the works, and they've since gotten the Spiderman license, a line of medieval action figures with magnetic joints (a la Microman) is on the way, and now a pirate-themed line called "Pyrates" has started showing up in stores. The line features smaller island-themed sets that come packaged in skulls, some very small sets with little more than figures in them, and larger ships and an island fort. The minifigs are a new approach to these sorts of figures, borrowing a little more from the Kubrick-inspired block figure trend -- as each new variation gives more detail and articulation to these tiny figs, MB has gone with the trend and made fully detailed, sculpted, articulated mini pirates, sailors, and skeletons. 

I'm going to be reviewing "Captain Cutlass' Stormstalker," the smaller of the two ships currently on shelves. According to Bobbi and Rob over at Raving Toy Maniac, a third ship shown at Toyfair (a red ship around three feet long) will be out next year, unless retailers get cold feet.

Packaging - ***
Not bad, not all that great. Your opinion on this may have a lot to do with your opinion of the product inside, as the package is dominated by a photo. Still, they did a neat job of making it appropriately piratical -- there is a treasure map as the backdrop, the ship bursting through, the logo is slightly embossed at the top with an eye-patched skull replacing the "A" in "PYRATES" Best of all, the entire front of the box is an opening flap, revealing a massive photo inside of the ship, highlighting its various features. It's not the best packaging ever, but it's colorful and dramatic, and works well.

Sculpting - */****
As I mentioned in my previous review of a Mega Bloks product, there are really two factors here. First is the sculpt as a construction toy, its practical dimension, and second there's the sculpt in terms of more traditional aesthetic considerations. As a construction toy, sadly, this rates somewhat poorly, as it has comparatively few pieces, there is not much that can be built other than the main model, and in general it is not as well done as a Lego product. Of course, being a construction toy at all, there is the option of adding other bricks from one's collection, modifying the ship with other MB, or even Lego, components. For that, there is a decent amount that can be done, placement of accessories and so forth, but nothing too impressive. I have to give MB some credit, though -- while in many respects they make simpler sets than Lego, with fewer opportunities for re-building and re-imagining, in this case Lego doesn't fare much better. Ships are ships, they tend to include large plastic pieces that can't be assembled in many different ways, hulls, masts, and sails, and so forth. You get the idea -- ships don't really lend themselves well to construction sets anyway.

In other respects, the sculpt on this set is fantastic. The wood grain on the ship's hull is well-detailed, there's even a ragged hole in the floor near the wheel, the railings are carved with ornate features, there are fully-detailed hatches inside (two different sorts), there's a shark masthead at the bow, and a crest on the stern, and it comes with ornately detailed cannons, a gibbet to hang unhappy pirates from the masts, a ship's wheel designed to look like carved wood, and even a fluttering flag. Plus, the sails are cloth, pinstriped, and extremely well done -- right down to the ragged holes in two of the sails, just the size of what we have to assume was recent cannon fire. The combination of quality sails and detailed wood grain go a long way to making a positive impression -- this is one of the nicer pirate ship toys out there. Perhaps best of all, it's simply a great design -- the windows and railings on the back, the bowsprint, the giant central mast, the crow's nest -- it is a nicely designed ship.

A word about the figures should be mentioned -- they are well detailed, with bushy bears and big straps, and the captain sports a hook for a hand, an eyepatch and a big funky hat. There's also a skeleton -- with a particularly well-done skull (and some extra skulls for random placement around the ship) Cute little pirate figures, though I have to admit I prefer the Lego versions.

Paint - ****
All the sculpt details wouldn't work if MB cheaped out on the paint. They didn't. The sails are a great light brown color, with black scorches around the rims of the battle damage. The ship is mostly dark brown wood (darker than in the pics, the lighting I used made it look lighter), with copper highlights around the windows, on some of the raised decorative elements, and on the crest. But best of all, MB opted not to cast this in a simple dark brown plastic -- there's a lighter brown swirl, almost unnoticeable unless the lighting is just right, that suggests a polished, expensive wood. It almost looks like marble, and it keeps those areas where there is no detail in the sculpt from looking cheap and plastic-y. There aren't many of these areas, of course, but where they are it's great to see such attention to detail in the paint job - it keeps the toy from looking like a toy, and it makes the ship look like it was once a really expensive vessel, fallen on somewhat hard times.

Some people might complain about the lack of color, but the near-monochrome looks great to me. This ship is pretty much two shades of brown, with some copper highlights here and there -- it looks fantastic. 

Action Feature - ****
I'm leaving out "articulation" since this is not a figure, though I'll note the articulation on the figures -- ball jointed necks, shoulders, and hips, hinged elbows and knees, and swivel wrists. 

No, for this toy what really counts is action features, and as always MB does not disappoint. The sails, of course, can be furled or unfurled, and repositioned "according to the direction of the wind" I suppose. There are two sorts of hatches in the deck, one a trap door and one a cargo hatch that allows viewing "below decks." (I know there's a proper nautical name for this sort of hatch, but I don't know what it is) Both are deep enough to store treasure, figures, or what have you. There are two firing cannons, one of which shoots a "ball" (on a stick) and one of which shoots a harpoon. There is an anchor on a chain that can be lowered, an opening gibbet that figures can hang in. There's an opening treasure chest and "treasure" for it -- various colored gems and piles of gold (done, to be honest, somewhat cheaply). There's a shovel, two barrels, two lanterns, an eyeglass, pistols and swords, a rat, and a treasure map. There's an extra rope with some hooks so pirates can swash their buckles, or whatever it's called when they swing like Luke Skywalker across a chasm in the Death Star. And there's, of course, a plank (of rotting wood, no less) for captives to be made to take a short walk....

But best of all, it features a special hatch in the bow -- place two figures in two different compartments, and they "turn" into one another with a move of a wheel. Pirates become skeletons, skeletons become pirates. MB has provided a back story to explain what's "really happening," but to me, it's just a great prison to lock pirates in...and forget about until the hot Carribean sun has rotted away most of their horrid flesh....

Of course, the construction element is a bit of an action feature -- there aren't any other models that can be built (the hull is one piece, and can't be assembled any smaller or larger) but you can reposition the cannons, the stairs to the upper deck, the sails, and so on. 

Fun Factor - ****
A natural conclusion to everything mentioned above, this ship looks like a ton of fun. The action features, the space on the deck, there's just lots to do. Kids who like pirates or ships are going to be even more excited about it, just because there are so many places for them to play out their piratical imaginings. Almost nothing is left out, with the treasure map, the chest, the hatches, the sails, the crow's nest, the anchor, the gibbet.... 

Value - ****
MB tends to shine in this area. This is a $35 ship, easily as big as Lego's old $100 pirate ships. The $35 Lego ships are half the size of this. There's no getting around the fact that this is a detailed, elaborate, huge toy, with tons of accessories and action features, for an incredibly low price. Sometimes MB goes a bit overboard, producing huge sets with tons of the same piece and charging upwards of $50-75 for it. This is not one of those -- this is a truly unique set, a spectacular value.

Overall - ****
There's really very little to dislike. Construction set fans might be frustrated to see something that looks like Lego yet plays like a toy that barely needs assembling, but like I said, Lego can't do all that much more with a toy like this. For anyone not bothered by the lack of Lego-like inventiveness, this is a pretty outstanding set. There's no accessory left out, no detail missing from the ship, no flaws with the sculpt or paint job. I suppose I would prefer it if the crow's nest sat at the top of the main mast, higher than the highest sail, but beyond that, I have no complaints. At $35, it's tempting to buy a whole fleet.

Oh, and before I forget to mention it -- arrrrrgh.

Packaging - ***
Sculpting - */ ****
Painting - ****
Action Feature - ****
Fun Factor - ****
Value - ****
Overall - ****

Figure from the collection of L.

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