Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Brick Miser: Lite Brix Fashion Kiosk & Lite Up Runway

Well, seeing as how I unintentionally reviewed something marketed to the female demographic in my last review (or to bronies who have convinced themselves they have to like EVERYTHING MLP-related), I guess it fits that I INTENTIONALLY review something aimed at the girls' market in terms of brick sets. So for the delight of all my lady fans, if they exist, here's the double feature of Lite Brix Fashion Kiosk and Lite Brix Lite Up Runway.
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Lite Brix Fashion Kiosk/Lite Brix Lite Up Runway
Cra-Z-Art
35710/35700
51/203 pcs

Yep, because I'm obligated to own every single building brick set out there, I also own these sets, which are a little bit out of my demographic. ...Just a bit.


















Still, I am glad that Lego and other building brick companies have recently ventured into making sets for their female audiences in what was originally mainly focused on a young male demographic.
















Now both boys and girls have the opportunity to go on grand, easily customizable adventures in faraway lands




















Or to just chill at home and do some yardwork. And with the high amount of quality and imagination put into these lines, both genders can have an equal amount of fun and creativity and customize their sets to be whatever they decide their future will hold.














It's a far cry from early attempts like Belville anyway. ...But we won't go into that set... because we're not talking about Belville. ...Or Lego. ...So this intro has been completely pointless. ...Oh well. Moving on.













So these sets come from the company Cra-Z-Art, which as you can guess by the name, is primarily an arts and crafts manufacturer.












In their store at www.cra-z-artshop.com, they offer generic art supplies such as brushes, pencils, chalk, crayons, modeling clay, etc., as well as their lines of Magna Doodles, Shimmer 'n Sparkles(beauty products aimed at young girls), and Cra-Z Loom, a wristband making kit.












Though if all this art is making you hungry, they also offer a line of treat makers known as, of course, Cra-Z-Cookn', which Snoopy was even nice enough to endorse! ...Or they were nice enough to endorse Snoopy, take your pick.

















And, of course, there's their section on Lite Brix... which strangely seems to be comprised almost entirely of Peanuts movie merchandise with no mention of any of the Lite Brix we're looking at today. There might be a good reason for this strange disappearance, but we'll get to that later.












But then again, how could you possibly even think of other Lite Brix when they're offering Olaf's Biplane as a set, which the description clearly states Olaf fans will really love?! ...You know? Snoopy's obscure relative that got maybe 5 seconds of screen time at the very end of the movie? I can't tell you the amount of fan pages I've seen dedicated to him! ...No, really, I can't. Mainly because I never looked.













So since the site won't show us any box art, here are the two sets I'm talking about today: Lite Up Runway and Fashion Kiosk. ...And yes, the box for Lite Up Runway is missing. As a collector, I do try to get boxed versions of the sets I own, especially for what I feature on this blog, but sometimes I end up buying second-hand sets without their original packaging and I don't feel like paying $30 for a boxed version of something I already own, which is the case here.













But if you really feel cheated that I'm showing off an incomplete set, then here you go! Both boxed versions together in their actual, realistic glory! ...I'm not fooling anyone, am I?













Looking at the boxed version, the packaging is... strange. Not necessarily in content, but mostly in the design of the box. Straight on, it looks like a normal box













But when turned on its side, we see the corners have been folded down into a sort of pentagon, which makes it look more like a makeup case of sorts.













And because of the shape, the box, which opens on the side for some reason, requires two flaps to open and shut! Give them credit for trying to put a spin on generic packaging, but all it does is lead me to wonder "Was this really necessary?"













And there's a glitter effect on the front, because girls like sparkly things about as much as boys like explody things.













 The box images themselves are pretty standard, just featuring the completed model and the characters interacting with their surroundings. I can't find any minifigs put into awkward positions by bored photographers, so moving on.













And yes, the box has the standard 0-3 symbol on the bottom













But displays 6+ on the front.













Anyone between those ages caught using this toy will have to answer to Beach Chair Betty and her army of the undead. ...Don't worry, it'll be a quick discussion.













And before I stop stalling and start assembling these, I just want to point out that, as is the case with most third-party brick sets, and even Lego at times, most of the exterior design is brought to us in the form of stickers. ...And I HATE stickers! Seriously, there is no greater waste of eBay labeling material than putting all of a product's design on sticker sheets! They never stick in the exact place they need to go, they look tacky, the illusion is ruined if you catch a fingernail on a corner and bend it, they either stick to everything BUT the item or they don't stick at all, they tear easily, they melt in heat, they only last a year or so before yellowing and falling off, and if so much as a hair gets caught on the sticky side, the entire thing is ruined. Seriously, just PAINT the decals on! It looks nicer, it doesn't fall off, and you can just repaint it if it gets scratched. I'd gladly pay the $2-3 extra to have a decently painted set as opposed to what you find in a toddler's coloring book you bought at the dollar store!













...And now that I've gotten that off my chest, for now anyway, let's put these things together.

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And with that handy string of hyphens breaking the laws of space and time, I have instantly constructed these two sets! Not too many pieces between these sets, but after the last set required me to continually assemble and disassemble 13 different models, it's a welcome break.













Now before we go into detail with each set, let's look at the main feature of the franchise, the aptly named "Lite Brix."













All sets under this line, obviously, have these transparent bricks that contain small lights













Which are powered by these battery-run monster power blocks. Put enough AA or AAA batteries in, flick the switch, and you have a light show on the same level as flashing light toys found in only the finest Dollar Trees.













Though a word of caution to anyone inserting batteries into these for the first time: they require 3 batteries, not two, and the third battery goes in a compartment under the other two. So don't be as idiotic as me and spend the better part of an hour messing with the block, trying to get it to run on 2 batteries and thinking every single one you own is somehow defective.













 And since the sets actually incorporate the battery blocks into their models, remember to put batteries in BEFORE popping it onto the base plates and stacking smaller bricks on top. I may sound condescending with this, but you'd be surprised how easy this is to miss.













So with that taken care of, what do these sets look like lit up?













...Glorious. Disney World fireworks have nothing on these...













So let's start with the set I actually bothered to buy new: the Fashion Kiosk, with included character "Kaylee."













As you can see, it's basically a mini-beauty salon/wig store, as evident by its alternate name "Wig Salon."














Here, Kaylee's more than happy to style your hair into whatever style is hip and new. ...As well as the styles that aren't.


























And to top off your new look, she also sells combs, hairpins, and lipstick, essential for both teenage girls













And internet personality OCs who don't know any better.













Though if you're going for a whole new style, she also offers wigs proudly displayed on these blank, transparent mannequin heads that, yes, can be switched out with the regular character heads.













Gaze into the void, and the void stares back...













Though to be fair, you'll probably see more in the void than in this non-reflective mirror...













 Also, there's a slight discrepancy with the box and manual images, which is so slight, you have to wonder how they even did it. On the box, the second wig is short, pig tailed, and brown, which is what you get in this set














While on the instruction manual, it's long and red, which is what you get with another character named Briella, not included in this set. ...How did they even make this mistake? It's the exact same model in the exact same pose, meaning they had to take the first picture, realize they put the wrong wig on, replace it, take it again, then send BOTH pictures to the design artists who somehow don't notice that both are different and who then consciously stick two different pictures on the box and the manual, with nobody noticing the mistake until the design has been finalized and printed. Either that or they took the picture with the red hair and printed the manuals with it before they realized it was wrong, then photoshopped the correct wig on there and printed the boxes with the corrected image. Either way, it makes me think they have the same people on quality control that they do over at Mega Bloks.













And yes, I might have given Kaylee the wrong wig while I was putting this together and never noticed it until I had finished making the video and taking the pictures for this blog. ...But I'm a no-budget blogger who makes stop motion animation in his bedroom. What's their excuse?













On a lesser note, they also kept the picture of what I'm guessing was the prototype or first run of the lipsticks on the back, as opposed to the smaller, more realistic model it actually came with













Which has the added benefit of actually fitting in the lipstick holder.













But for a store where everything's $12, how much can we complain?













Anyway, despite those minor nitpicks, the set itself is pretty well constructed and does what it's built for. How does the other one fare?













So after getting their hair permed(or permanently replaced) at the Fashion Kiosk, the girls are given the looks and confidence to perform on the Lite Up Runway













Or the "Radiant Runway" as it's now known after being purchased by Radiant Systems, Inc.













As I said before, I don't have the box for this, so just pretend the instruction manual is the box cover, I guess.


















Or here, here's a picture I grabbed off Google. ...Why didn't I just do that in the first place?













There were a few pieces missing as well, but most were superfluous or easily replaced, so no great loss.














However, set character Harper is missing, so Kaylee's being dual cast for this review.













Anyway, the design of the runway is pretty ambitious, at least compared to the Fashion Kiosk we just looked at.













In the back, we have the dressing room, where models get ready to show off the latest fashion trends, including this little number:






























However, their agents unfortunately skimped on arranging for any space, since this dressing room is cramped! So you have the closet across from the makeup table with about 4 studs between them, then the swivel chair which can't swivel very well since it's bolted down right next to the closet, and a microscopic mirror(seriously, the Fashion Kiosk had a bigger mirror), turned away from the makeup table and blocking what I guess is supposed to be a shoe rack, while another makeup table blocks what I think is supposed to be a makeup cupboard! Vanna White would take one look at this mess and burst the plastic holding her face together!













But the dressing room isn't the only thing the runway cut corners on, since the dresses, the show's whole reason for being, are stickers! ...When did this become a Barbie paper doll book from the 60s?













But yes, these are what the figures are meant to wear during the show. How do they fit?














...Not very well. ...I mean, WOW! They didn't even try!













For starters, in order to even get the clothes on, you need to tuck the side under the figurine's left arm, then take her head off and slide both of the neck holes over her neck! This results in clothing that is nowhere in sync with where her head, arms, and legs are, as well as making her right arm completely unusable.













Also, the stockings are too long for her legs and make it hard to stand the character up.













And to top it off, the other side has no way to close off, so it looks exactly like what it is: a cheap, flimsy sticker.













In fact, this set really exemplifies how much I hate stickers. The stickers on the last set weren't terrible and fit what they were applied to, but this sheet REALLY skimped on the adhesive and stickers that actually fit!













Some stickers need to fit over several bricks at once, so if one brick is out of alignment, it just looks like a mess when applied.













But the worst offenders are these strips that need to be applied across one side, down another, and across the next, as it's difficult to apply in this fashion without leaving air pockets, and that's if the adhesive sticks.













In fact, on the other side, I managed to tear one in half just trying to get it in position! And no, the fact this is second hand isn't an excuse, since the sticker sheet that came with it had new stickers.













And to top it off, the instructions don't even tell you where to put the stickers, saying to either refer to the box or customize it yourself... despite that it's obvious most of the stickers only fit in specific positions. So my advice: Forget the stickers. Just let your 5-year-old paint it. It'll look nicer and will do a better job of staying on!













Now the runway itself really isn't too bad. They did a good job of lining the light bricks(Lite Brix?) where they would shine the brightest and with the most effect and the tile surface really does give the impression of a smooth runway. I'm not a huge fan of completely smooth surfaces since it makes it hard to pose the characters, but it does look nice.













The stepping purple trim on the sides is also a nice touch, especially since it shows how to do trim without having to resort to stickers.















However, the position of the rotating platform at the very end of the runway seems strange, since it's out of the camera's perspective and nearly past the runway lights, so if this was an actual event, anyone watching on TV would only see half the runway if they were lucky, while only the very front of the audience would have enough light to see the models twirl. If I was designing this, I'd put the twirling platform in the middle right at the beginning of the second row of lights, or at least move the camera back so it's not aimed at only half of the stage. But then again, I'm not one of the geniuses at Radiant Systems, Inc., so what do I know?













Overall, delightfully ambitious, but with some major design flaws.













Finally, since this is the first time they have been featured, let's talk about the figurines themselves. ...And just what a problem I have with them.













 You'll notice I've called these "figurines" all throughout the review as opposed to minifigs. That's because I refuse to acknowledge these as anything similar to Lego or similar minifigs. For some reason, building sets made for a female demographic seem to go out of their way to hinder how the pieces can be used to build.















A standard minifig is just as compatible with building bricks as the brick set it interacts with. It has 3 sets of holes on its legs that allow it to stand or sit in several positions on studded bricks, its hands can either grasp thin enough pieces or allow bricks to rest on top of them, and a peg on top of the head can be used to place a hat, hair, or any other compatible brick.













Additionally, the neck piece and legs can join with other bricks to allow even greater customization, allowing minifig parts to be used with building brick creations.













In short, minifigs are, quite literally, one with their surroundings.













These figurines have little to no customization. They can hold rod-shaped objects, stand on studs, and change their hair... and that's the extent of it. It's basically Polly Pocket with holes on the bottom of her feet.













In fact, I'm not even sure they can hold things. As you can see, the plastic has warped slightly just from putting something in her hand, which is something I've noticed with a lot of cheap Lego-esque figures. The designers never thought of the characters actually holding something!













And the peg on top of the head is actually made too small to hold bricks, meaning the only way to get a brick to stay is to carefully balance a small, flat tile on her head!













Speaking of which, the peg can actually be removed, revealing a large hole in the top of the head. Purpose? Reason? None.













This does, however, allow me to insert bricks in the top of her head which stay a bit better than with the peg... but only in the sense any rod can fit snugly into a proper fitting hole.














 And as a final note, these figures have even LESS articulation than a minifig. These were an absolute PAIN to pose and move in the video. Their heads and arms still spin 360 degrees, but there is no wrist articulation, the legs are one piece, and they don't bend over backwards. ...I've never understood that.


















 Why is it that boys get the super posable action figures














While girls basically get a stick with a rotating head? In fact, isn't it ironic that, for a gender generally associated with image and constant change, girls' toys seem to have LESS variety than boys'?! ...But I'm getting off track.














They're not even given the attention to detail Mega Bloks gives its figurines. These are barely one step above those little collectables you get out of a vending machine for a quarter! ...And yet this is the design that seems to be universal among girls' building bricks franchises, since companies like

















 Mega Bloks














  Best Lock
















And Lego themselves all use the design as well! ...And this brings us to the reason why Cra-Z-Art has probably ceased production of these sets.












According to a certain article from Lego news site Brick Fan, last year, Lego threatened to sue Mega Bloks, Best Lock, and Cra-Z-Art for their sets' similarities to Lego Friends, including, but not limited to, the design of the characters. I haven't found any articles explaining what the company response or outcome was, but my best guess is that Cra-Z-Art decided to play it safe and remove the product from their catalog, since I've found no trace of these sets after I bought these in a clearance sale early this year. So it's likely they're out of print with no chance of being resurrected.


















And... I really don't blame them. I don't have a Lego Friends figurine to compare these to (and really, why should I?), but as you can see, while the claims on the other franchises are a little dubious, the Lite Brix figurines especially do look like the Lego Friends. Slightly different hand shape, but I don't think Lego would have had a problem with this case in court.

But... Maybe this was the best thing for Lite Brix. Since the designs of the figurines are so terrible across the board, maybe this is a wake up call for Cra-Z-Art. Maybe now, they'll rethink their lines marketed to girls and how they can fix the figurines to be just as custom and compatible as regular minifigures. Maybe they can come up with their own design, one that incorporates the fashion sense they're trying to push with this line but also imagination, giving them the ability to combine and coexist with other bricks, as well as other brands. And maybe, just maybe, they'll succeed in creating a whole new line of minifigures, one that will challenge Lego and win, creating a new future for girls' building toys and for the entire building brick market in general.













And maybe my avatar will learn that cross dressing at a girl-exclusive fashion show is a bad idea and running from machine guns is not a productive way to spend the day. Could happen... but probably won't.

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Quality: The plastic quality is ok and fairly solid, but some pieces feel a little brittle or overly soft and bendable. And I'd highly recommend keeping these on a flat surface since the bottom pieces can easily break off when picked up. Also, as I've stated throughout this review, the stickers are complete garbage. Still, it all fits together well enough and since it's a cheap set meant for little girls, I don't think keeping the set together for collection purposes was high on the list of traits they wanted these to have.







Design: For the most part, these sets are simple, yet effective. Only a handful of bricks went into the Fashion Kiosk, but it's still clear what it's meant to be and everything's placed where you'd expect a small kiosk in a mall to have its items, with wigs right next to the register and a small makeup area and mirror in the back. I do also like the blank heads used for the mannequins, which you don't even see Lego do much of. The Lite Up Runway is given the more ambitious design, but, as I pointed out, a lot of the items' placements don't make sense when viewed from a practical angle. It's like they wanted to make it even bigger, but they didn't have the budget for the amount of blocks they were aiming for, so they just shortened everything and squished the accessories in as much as they could to save on space. But again, for models that use a relatively small amount of bricks and are aimed at a young female demographic, they work just fine.







Creativity: I really do like Lite Brix's selling point. Having bricks that light up does add some sparkle and pizazz to a market where most companies seem indistinguishable from one another save for character design. And the fact that the battery block can be used and built on like regular building bricks really helps to hide what would otherwise be an ugly, illusion-ruining standout from the set. However, I'm also going to have to dock them a few points for their figurines, which barely have anything to do with building bricks and are blatant knockoffs of Lego Friends, who themselves are basically incompatible with the sets they're packaged with. So the lesson for today: If you want to make Polly Pocket knockoffs, make Polly Pocket knockoffs and keep them out of building brick sets.







Readability: The instructions come in booklets with each step carefully drawn and legible. I didn't have any problem following along with the steps and I didn't have to backtrack at any point to figure out what I did wrong. I don't like the bright pink color on the inside and some of the other colors inside can get a bit tacky, but for what it is, it's fine. Also, the inside cover has an introduction to the characters that is hilarious if taken out of context... but that's for another day and another look at this franchise.







Packaging: The box is basic and does its job. It's a unique design, I'll give them that, but was making a building brick set look like it's packaged in a makeup kit necessary to sell to its demographic? I personally believe anyone obsessed with makeup to that extent wouldn't be the kind to play with building bricks, but I digress. The two tabs do a good job keeping the pieces together and it is more portable than a regular cardboard box, so for packaging designed for a small set, it' really not bad. And I'll forever wonder how they managed to come up with two alternate versions of the exact same image, though I'm sure it'll be a fascinating story if I ever do find out.








Compatibility: Even though it has the standard "Compatible with other brands" label, some pieces don't click into place very well with other brands' blocks and are spaced too far apart on the bottom to work with minifigs. And, once again, the figurines have little to nothing to do with Lego or even Mega Bloks figurines and just look awkward when placed together in the same set. Still, the Lite Brix themselves are fully compatible with regular building bricks and I see no reason why they wouldn't fit in a regular building brick set. In fact, you have the beginnings of a Lego disco with these sets.







Overall:







They're simple, cheap brick sets for young girls, so obviously they're not meant for everyone, especially brick collectors looking for a little more meat in their sets. The figurines are horrible and the idea behind them is shallow, but I do like the gimmick and you get good quality for your money. So if you ever come across these sets still being sold somewhere, most likely in a clearance sale, and you want to get your kid something more intelligent than a Barbie, check these out. But if you just want them for the Lite Brix, I'd hold off until you found one of the Lite Brix sets for a more general audience.