Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Struxx your stuff

The Struxx robot is a sad old thing, really.

You see, he's much bigger than the other construction toy robots. Bigger than any Bionicle. Larger than many a Meccano. Taller than a Transformer. (OK, that last one isn't actually a construction toy...). And K'nex... let's just forget K'nex.

He's a bit left out, ol' Struxx 'bot is.

Much better to think of him as a kind of kiddie Terminator, a T0.5, silently wishing he could grow up to be, at the very least, a human smushing composite steel T800 Model 101.

Sorry to say, it's never going to happen. His 29-inch wibbly-wobbly frame is just too weak for such aspirations. Not to mention the propensity for joints to pop out of their sockets at inappropriate moments. At least his eyes light up, giving him a freakish orange stare.

And it's a shame, really, because at it's root, the Struxx construction system verges on the actually-quite-good.

Struxx is a product from the 'brick-compatible' non-Lego Mega Bloks. Now, to any fan of Lego like myself, inviting a Mega Bloks product into your home is the equivalent of inviting Dracula himself over the threshold. Once he's in, he's welcome any time.

In it's favour is the fact that it doesn't directly compete with anything on offer from Lego. It doesn't particularly look like anything from Lego. The parts don't have studs. There aren't many right angles. The colour palette is limited to silver, charcoal and green. And as the name suggests, constructions are largely built from struts connected mainly by ball-sockets.

By and large, it's a well made toy. Attention has been given to the important interlocking pieces. The ball-socket joints are reassuringly snug, with sufficient friction to hold parts in place. There's even a larger, green ball joint part that makes possible a stronger joint like the hip and shoulder joints.

There are many types of joint in this kit. Single, bi, tri and quad ball joints. Fixed angle joints. Buttress style joints. It's all very bewildering, coming from the comforts of Lego's established brick system. But the parts go together easily and I imagine a fairly large construction could be built rapidly.

On completion of Spindly here, the end result, despite being a bit unsteady, is quite a pleasing articulated space-frame type thing.

Now for the not-so-good bits.

A construction toy is only as good as the instructions accompanying it. Here, Struxx robot is a little let down. To start with, there a a couple of addendum sheets that need careful studying. Mainly because they're a bit wrong. Some pieces, the angle joints, have a handedness to them. That is to say, the illustration in the manual is of the piece in a particular orientation. Except that in the addendum, the piece can never look like how it's pictured, because someone has flipped the piece image in the vertical and then had it printed. It's not that much of a problem really, but it's annoying and confusing.

Confusing, also, are the bits in the manual that are correct. It's sometimes not clear how the socket parts should be aligned in the strut - the octagonal socket and pins allow for four possible angles (for symmetrical parts - eight for asymmetrical) and only after an assembly has been built and joints start a-poppin' do you have to go back and revise the alignment of the part. Even harder is making sure that tri-pieces are lined up properly.

I also found it difficult to get my completed assemblies to look exactly like the ones in the manual, mainly down to the lack of perspective used in the illustrations and the large amount of freedom of movement in 3D some of the assemblies have.

Having said all that, getting the parts right and put together is ultimately quite rewarding.

The Struxx Gears block is a bit disappointing. Lego Technic it is not. Looking like it might be a differential, it tries to allow some sort of mechanised articulation but its function is quite limited. You can't transmit the rotation to other parts of the model because other parts don't allow it. So the robot has a limp left arm that turns the head when swung. That's why he's a bit sad. As a mechanism, it's a bit rubbish, particularly when compared to this.

I was also a bit disappointed that there were no secondary model instructions. There are plenty of pictures of them on the box and in the manual - but no step by step guide on how to build them. The Struxxworld website - well it doesn't really exist. You are re-directed to the Mega Bloks product pages where Flash abounds and the only remotely informative alternate build instructions take the form of 360-degree images of lots of models.

Be prepared to have your laptop handy (and a magnifying glass)when your child demands you build the Range Rover lookee-likee.

Overall though, I like this toy - it's sufficiently different to make it interesting, but doesn't quite have the appeal (or compactness) of Lego's Bionicles, or the technical detail to meet the Technic range.

Finally, the Struxx robots inability to self-terminate, means a slow death by dismantling, or maybe being chucked in to a vat of molten... chocolate.


Anonymous said...

My 10 year old just got a set with only 2 to build how can we find more instructions????

Steven said...

Hi, there aren't that many instructions - even online - I just checked again. If you follow the link at the top of my post, you'll get to the main Struxx webpages. There's a 3-segment circular icon representing the different sets. Click on the colour of your set - green if you have the robot.

You'll see a flash animation of the other models that can be made with the set. Use the big arrows to locate a model, then click on it - you'll get a detailed 360 degree view of the model. If the model has step-by-step instructions, a button will appear marked 'Instructions'. This takes you to a PDF which you can print off.

Sadly, most models don't have instructions. The ones that do are Hovercraft, Helicopter and Flying Reptile. The others you'll need to attempt by looking at the picture.