LEGO’s Mission to Mars

It is the future, and on Mars, strange energy crystals have been discovered. A mining operation sent to tap their awesome power comes under attack by creepy aliens, and the miners scramble to turn their industrial equipment into a credible defense force.

So says LEGO magazine. None of that mattered to me when I decided to start building these. I was just happy to see a non-licensed space theme again. The favorite sets of my youth were the Space Police II sets, but for a long time there has been nothing but Star Wars from LEGO's space team. The Star Wars LEGO sets were good, too–minifigures and lightsabers and X-wings and so on–but LEGO is about building and playing with your own imagination, and Star Wars carries a lot of baggage. It's hard to build something from your own collection and integrate it into that universe. Your standard LEGO sets, however, are agnostic. They don't come with the description I just gave. They come with a name, and wordless building instructions. The rest is up to you.

Unfortunately, my imagination started to unearth some troubling notions when I put these together.

But first, the good:

  • Like most new LEGO themes, the large and medium size sets all come with pieces from both factions. That means you can play both sides even if you only get one set. The price of LEGO sets hasn't really inflated in the last ten years, but they're still not cheap, so it's nice to get some play value right away.
  • At least for the good guys, you get a variety of set types. There are two major aircraft, two or three ground vehicles, a little fighter, and a base.
  • There are some new tricks using technic parts that I hadn't seen before. I'm always happy to add a new tool to my LEGO building arsenal.

Some of the bad:

  • Humans vs. non-humans again — the Vikings would have been more interesting if they had been pitted against other people of that time instead of dragons, and what I liked best about the old space sets was that the good guys and the bad guys were both human factions. When there are two human factions, you can also play with neutral factions, smugglers, or whatever. But now it's humans vs. aliens, humans vs. robots, humans vs. sharks or dragons or wolves.
  • All of the alien ships are the same.
  • The aliens aren't standard minifigures. They can stand, but they can't sit, and their hands don't move or hold anything. This basically guarantees that they will never be used again once I take this apart.

The… creepy:

  • the new "expressive" faces on LEGO minifigures. It started with EXOForce, and I guess it continues on Mars. New LEGO minifigures have anime faces. I rock mine visors down.
  • The alien storage tubes. There's a whole undercurrent here of alien capture and experimentation that is totally creepy. The medical bed with restraints at the top of the main base, and the pneumatic tubes used to push the aliens around the base, makes this more sort of an "alien autopsy" than a heroic fight for freedom.
  • The crazy mix of alien subjugation and strip mining in this set makes me really not like the Mars Mission guys very much. LEGO provides so little background for these things that it's hard to say whether the "aliens" are Martians or something more exotic. The aliens certainly don't have helmets or other life support gear, which makes the whole drama seem to me like "humans go to mars and subjugate the local population to get access to their energy crystals." That isn't the game I want to play. Probably it will turn out that the energy crystals are the alien eggs or some such thing.

On the whole, I don't think my Mission to Mars collection will live very long before being relegated to the parts bin. The sets are clever, but the story isn't for me. Especially with the great stuff available as part of LEGO City. Mars just isn't that compelling.

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