Mega Bloks: The Rodney Dangerfield of Building Toys
Like many AFOLs (Adult Fans Of Lego, not to be confused A-holes), I spent the better part of the past three decades staring down my nose at Mega Bloks. They always seemed like Lego's cheap, dumpy little sister. They always had really simplistic builds. The minifigs were ok, but any time I would work with them I would always find myself wishing it was a Lego minifigure. The plastic quality and tolerances were often so poor the models would literally, not figuratively, blow up while assembling them. I decided to pick up a set of the Terminator Genesys Mega Bloks on clearance at Amazon (I love collecting childrens toys based on R rated properties). I was amazed by what I found. My friends, Lego's dumpy little sister has grown into one smokin' hot fox of a lady!
Where do I even begin? I guess I'll start with the best feature, the minifigs! Jeepers H. Crackers! Gone are the days of the cheap approximation of Lego minifigs. They made a really smart move by pulling a total 180 and making their minifigs micro-scale action figures. Mega Bloks minifigs articulation is on par with a 1980's GI Joe figure at a third the size. And the sculpts are reminiscent of some of the finest gaming miniatures on the market today. And speaking of gaming minis, if you have any painting skills you can customize these things to no end. This is a picture of a custom Micro Figure I made of my steampunk cosplay alter-ego The Magistrate.
They're like tiny Games Workshop minis only they can be posed and you don't have to sell a kidney to afford them.
The build quality on the models are also quite high. In this area I don't necessarily feel that one is better than the other... more like they are striving to achieve two different design philosohies, each equally valid. Lego tries to design their models utilizing a set library of generalized pieces. Assembling a Lego set is a joy as you gradually see the shape of the model develop from the pile of bricks in front of you. Using this philosophy the master builders at Lego are true artists in what they can create with mostly the same bricks from set to set. While a Lego set is full of joy and whimsy, at the end of the day it is very obviously a child's toy. There's nothing wrong with that, Pixar movies are ostensibly children's movies but are also great artistic achievements.
Mega Bloks on the other hand make more use of specialty bricks to achieve the shapes, lines and contours needed. The result is a set that looks very close to whatever it's supposed to be. While the sets feel like they lack the artistry of Lego, they certainly makeup for it in the quality of the engineering. The resulting experience is less like the zen, step by step process of assembling a Lego set and more like a puzzle where you're spending a good amount of time searching for just the right piece. It can be a little frustrating but the result is a stunning set that looks very much like the thing it's supposed to. This philosophy can go too far. McFarlane, the company that excels at (perhaps delights in?) sucking any joy from a toy just so they can have the most "X-TREME!!!!!" sculpt quality, is a good example of this. Their "Walking Dead" and "Game of Thrones" sets utilize highly specific pieces that can pretty much not be used in any other configuration aside from exactly what the instructions spell out for you. But I feel like Mega Bloks strike a nice balance here.
They also have some great licensed properties. While Lego dominates the family friendly properties like Star Wars, Marvel and DC, Mega Bloks focuses mainly on video game properties. "Assassin's Creed", "Call of Duty", "Halo"... all great, sort of PG-13 style properties that Lego couldn't touch in a million years. Also Mega Bloks is owned by Mattel so they have access to Mattel properties like "Barbie" and "Monster High". One year at SDCC they displayed a Mega Bloks Castle Grayskull as a possibility for a future set. As a lifelong "Masters of the Universe" fan, I would do terrible things for a Grayskull set.... TERRIBLE THINGS.
The other big area where I feel Mega Bloks excel is the same thing they have always excelled at... cost. While the per brick cost is roughly equivalent (between $.10 and $.13) the use of specialized bricks means Mega Bloks sets can achieve the same thing with fewer bricks.
The ship on the left is a Lego Justice League Javelin. The ship on the right is a Mega Bloks Halo Phaeton Gunship, both ships are the same approximate size. The Lego set cost me $75. The Mega Bloks ship cost me $45. I feel like I get more value out of a Mega Bloks set. Additionally, since people still give Mega Bloks no respect, they go on sale more frequently and for deeper discounts. I once got a box of Call of Duty zombies at Toys R' Us for $.03.
Lego will always be top dog in the building block world, and for good reason. But my point here is that they don't have to be the only game in town. These are well designed, well made sets that deserve our attention. The designs are innovative and the Micro Figures are a revelation. Mega Bloks is doing some fascinating things and we're definitely gonna see more of them in the future.