A week or so ago, I heard word that Meccano UK were holding a press event down in London to launch three new ranges of their popular construction toys, inspired by the Sonic The Hedgehog, Raving Rabbids and Gears Of War video game universes.
To say I was more than a little excited by this branding crossover is an understatement – As a child I adored making all sorts of things with my big box of random Meccano and Lego pieces, from tower-blocks to cars and fully functioning winch operated cranes. I loved it.
I’d been playing video games for a couple of years, but Christmas 1992 brought a Super Nintendo into my life, and that box of assorted blocks and bolts moved from the bedroom floor to the cupboard, only to be lifted out ever so occasionally. At the age of eight, it was starting to lose it’s appeal for me.
Interestingly, that’s the age this newly licensed Gears Of War Meccano range is targeting. (The Rabbids are recommended for ages 7+, whilst the Sonic The Hedgehog sets are aimed at a slightly younger 5+ audience.)
I was super-excited to see how Meccano was going to pitch itself as relevant to the 8 year olds of today. Those who are wired on the pre-imagined worlds and instant gratification of some of the most loved console game franchises available.
After speaking to the guys at Meccano, they invited Teflon from TheSixthAxis down to the press launch, and he ever so kindly got his hands on a Gears Of War Armadillo APC Construction Set for me to have a tinker with.
My immediate thoughts were mostly positive. The kit comes in a sizable box, with plenty of familiar Gears Of War branding and a slightly larger that scale picture of the model itself. Inside there are “80+ parts and pieces”, including fully pose-able 2” figures of Dominic Santiago and a Locust Drone, along with all the expected fixings of nuts & bolts. What’s missing amongst the 13 clear bags this kit contains is most surprising though – there are very few metal pieces, only 4 in fact.
Ironically, my Gears Of War branded vehicle is missing any actual gears, and the traditional metal plates of old I was expecting. The majority of this new look Meccano is moulded plastic. Of course, the sculpted plastic bodywork allows for far more complex and precise shapes than flat panels or rods ever could back when I was playing with Meccano in the early 90s, but nonetheless, my inner child felt massively disappointed by the omission.
Looking briefly at the items in Meccano’s other video game ranges, the Sonic sets are much the same. Thankfully, for those who want a bit of that classic engineering feel with their new toys, the Rabbids have all sorts of projects available, including a battery powered washing-come-time machine and a miniature shopping trolley racing kit which instantly wheeled it’s way onto my Christmas list.
Anyway, I cracked on to my build. Hopeful that the finished piece, marketed not only at children but collectors like myself too, would be more than simply the sum of its parts.
In the box there’s an A4 glossy full-colour instruction booklet, with plenty of easy to understand diagrams. Strangely, although these are numbered, the pieces corresponding to that part of the build could be in any of the included bags, seemingly at random.
I tore them all open, and carefully worked my way into connecting the bland looking grey plastic together, using the tools provided where required. Again, the instruction manual came in useful, with 1:1 scale images of the bolts to help easily identify the correct fixings for each section. I did have a little difficulty with the fiddly nature of the nuts and bolts at times, but this was almost definitely down to the fact that I don’t have very childlike fingers nowadays.
For the most part, the reassuringly lengthy bolts tightened with a couple of satisfying twists of the Allen key, and the nuts sat nestled in handy little guides to stop them slipping out of place. This is a nicely thought out touch which eliminates one of the biggest problems I had with my Meccano as a child.
Midway through the 23 step build I had to undo an earlier fixing as it was impossible to move on until I did so, but aside from that the step-by-step process was extremely easy to follow.
After clipping this and screwing that, before finally applying the assortment of Gears related stickers to make the bland grey shell look a little more exciting, my Armadillo APC was complete.
With regards to both the vehicle itself, and the character figures, the kit looks great and will certainly attract fans of the Gears series. Unfortunately, it all feels much less appealing.
Now don’t get me wrong, It’s a solid toy featuring rotating gun turrets and fully working wheels that seem rugged enough for even the most hyperactive child to play with; The figurines however are a different story. Whilst wonderfully detailed, Dominic Santiago literally fell apart in my hand when I tried to manipulate him into a threatening Lancer wielding pose. This, combined with the smaller pieces of the APC bodywork simply clipping together like an over sized Kinder toy, mean that if your child is of an age where they like to pull things apart and see how they taste, or even just a bit inquisitive, you’re best to steer clear.
There are more toys planned to coincide with the launch of Gears Of War: Judgement in March 2013, including a series of blind-bag mini figures which have proved to be a massive money spinner for Lego and Megabloks with their licensed models in the past.
In my opinion, this is a wonderful selection of toys and a brilliant first attempt to get kids and their dads building real things again, rather than blowing virtual things up. There’s some way to go with the Gears kit, but if Meccano can improve upon their production values and polish up their pieces, there’s no reason these new ranges can’t hit mainstream and sell millions in the same way that Star Wars Lego or Halo Megabloks has. The Gears Of War models are a little misplaced for the market currently too – The toys, although aimed at 8+ year olds, without any real moving parts or electronics, feel more like something I’d have enjoyed at 5 or 6. There’s nothing going on here to appeal to the higher age range, aside from the branding of an 18 rated video game. It’s all a well meaning but badly implemented brand juxtaposition that I sadly don’t think will be enjoyed by many this Christmas.
The Armadillo APC Construction Set is well priced for the market at £24.99 (RRP) and took me roughly an hour to complete (including making notes, I’d expect half that for a competent child or collector), but from what I’ve seen, and what I’ve experienced during this build, I fully expect the Sonic sets and the rather more traditional Rabbids range to do a lot more business in the long run.
Unfortunately, it’s a Mecca-no from me.
For more information on the Armadillo APC, please visit Meccano online by clicking here.