Lego Ultra Agents review (Wired UK)

Lego’s new Ultra Agents line has been on the shelves for a
couple of weeks now and — barring a few high-end,
collector-oriented abstractions — is proving to be one of the most
forward thinking lines the Danish company has ever created.

Loosely updating the Lego Agents
line first launched in 2008, Ultra Agents isn’t just a
bunch of spy-themed Lego kits. It also offers a free companion app
that not only delivers the story background but also unlocks a
series of secret build instructions for the toys. It’s a great
concept, taking the idea of high-tech subterfuge that sits at the
heart of the range and making it tangible. If nothing else, it adds
a bit more of a hook for tech-savvy 21st century kids who are
loathe to put their tablets down.

The kits

First the kits. Wired.co.uk tested out one from each of the size
tiers, and we were pleased to find there’s some clever engineering
and great play features at each price point, plus some seriously
elaborate Minifigs. The line as a whole is perhaps best described
as ‘James Bond vs Cobra‘, with
a series of colourful villains using their uniquely themed vehicles
or weapons to attack Astor City, with the Agents standing in their
way.

Tremor Track Infiltration (kit ref: 70161) is one of
the smaller sets, but still packs in a decent sized tank that opts
for two giant fists rather than a more familiar gun turret. Once
constructed, twisting a cog activates a fun double-punch action,
while the fists can also be used to grasp the objects or
minifigures in their clutches. Rubber tank treads are a nice touch,
the added grip making the tank feel hefty and sturdy as you push it
over carpet or tabletop surfaces, while resistance-based flick
missiles give it some long-range play capabilities. Its desert camo
colour scheme and sticker detailing make it stand out visually too,
halfway between realistic vehicle and super-science monstrosity.
The included villain, Tremor, is a nicely accessorised character
figure, with armour and giant claws clipping onto his hands to add
a nice amount of detail and better match his vehicle. His Agent
opponent only comes with a large shield and a small, nondescript
‘data centre’ to protect though, feeling more like a throw-in
offering.

Infearno Interception (kit ref: 70162) sits around the
mid-point of the range, packing in a high-tech spy car that’s taken
more than a few cues from Tron and one of the most
impressive Minifig characters of the line, the eponymous Infearno.
Ugly portmanteau of a name aside, he boasts a great look: a
fire-spewing supervillain with armour, hip-mounted flamethrowers
and a backpack of fuel canisters, a fiery head, and a rocket
powered hover board. The vehicle looks and feels super high-tech,
even though its chunky front wheels lend it some traits of an
off-road buggy. Intricate piping adds to the detailing, while
rotating axles let you put the car into hover mode. It packs in a
few hidden spring-loaded missiles (which have some ridiculous range
for tiny plastic projectiles — three metres with ease) and an
ejector seat for the included agent. Oddly though, the front and
rear wheels rotate into hover mode in opposite directions, so it
never quite looks right.

Ultra Agents Mission HQ (kit ref: 70165) is the pièce
de résistance of the line, but entering the kind of price territory
(£79.99 RRP) that makes it more likely to be a collector’s item
than find its way into too many kids’ hands. That’s something of a
shame, as unlike some other high-end Lego kits, such as the Milano
from the Guardians of the Galaxy range, this is packed
with play features. The main truck cab is a solid vehicle in its
own right, with lots of clever detailing and chunky rubber wheels,
and hides a mini-jet behind its smokestacks. The cab can house two
Minifigs, with a third in the mini-jet. The trailer is plain
amazing, unfolding into a multi-featured base for the Agents. A
mobile lab, it hides a communications centre, an analysis chamber
large enough to fit most Minifigs, experimental robot arm, and a
pressure-launched ATV. There’s just tons to be fiddling around
with, and even static elements such as monitor screens add plenty
of environmental detail. The trailer can either be free-standing or
effortlessly dock with the cab, to be pulled around in vehicle
mode.

Arguably even better is the villain the HQ set comes with, the
hacker Terabyte. Like all good hackers, he doesn’t just commit
crimes from afar — he has a giant neon green mech he terrorises
the city with. Like Groot in the aforementioned Guardians
line, the robot could make a decent kit in its own right. It stands
about 10cm tall, is ridiculously posable, and fires ‘energy balls’
from the pincers on one arm while brandishing a threatening set of
claws on the other. Terabyte himself sits atop it, wearing a
headset that wouldn’t look out of place in Ghost in the
Shell
. It’s a great piece, and an excellent addition to the
Ultra Agents line’s ultimate set. While £80 might be a bit
of an ask, you certainly get a lot packed in for your money.

The app

The app itself (available on Android and iOS) is a nice mix of
interactive comic book, animation, and mini-games. The voice acting
veers from flat to just bad though, and while it allows players to
create their own Agent, the creation options are terribly limited
— you can’t even enter a name of your choosing, just select from a
list.

Each chapter aligns with one of the Ultra Agents kits,
giving the background to the conflict. As players progress through
the story, they can use virtual tools — an x-ray scanner,
telescopic lenses, and a chemical analyser — to unlock extra
information within the scenes. Sometimes these are humorous aside
(the Agents’ robotic dog P.U.P. having metallic bones on the
brain), other times pivotal clues necessary to proceed. Once you’ve
found everything in a chapter, you’re awarded with one of the
secret builds, utilising pieces from the associated kit to
construct new vehicles or mini-robots. We flat-out love this –
digital unlockables impacting real-world goods is a fantastic idea,
and it works really well here. It also shows the incredible lengths
the designers went to in putting the line together.

Throughout the range, there’s a nice aesthetic juxtaposition
between the good guys and bad guys. Where the enemy vehicles have a
lot of individuality to them, there’s a gorgeous visual consistency
to the Agents’ kit; all black, silver and translucent blue. The
unified colour scheme gives them a sleekness that will please the
more design-conscious adult Lego collector, and just looks plain
cool to the 8-14 year-old target demographic.

However, few of the Agents themselves have personality or even
names on the toys. Everything is “Ultra Agents vs. [villain name
here]”. Playing through the app reveals their names — the
brilliantly cheesy likes of Solomon Blaze or Agent Phoenix — but
as far as the toys themselves go, they’re blank slates. It seems a
bit of a misfire to make one half of a character-focussed line be
essentially unidentified. On the plus side, between the villainess
Toxikita and a couple of Agent characters, it’s got a bit more
female presence than would perhaps be expected.

Another small downside is that the bonus builds are on the
simplistic side — it’d be great to see more ambitious alternate
constructions offered in later waves. The thought of being able to
re-build the kits into vehicles of equal size and complexity is
tantalising, and not out of the realms of possibility — the Lego Creator line
already offers multiple complex builds with each set, so adding
that concept to what can be done with the Ultra Agents app
seems like a neat fit.

Conclusion

Despite the strange lack of identity for the heroes and the poor
voice acting in the app, the physical/digital crossover is largely
well realised, and at the very least sets the stage for more
intricate hidden features as the range evolves. Most excitingly,
the toys themselves are all incredibly fun builds with great levels
of detail and intricacy to their construction. A strong start for
the Ultra Agents line.

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Source: wired.co.uk
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