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Fun and Quirky Train
on May 22, 2012
*Does not include motors or track. Not immediately compatible with other Lego trains*
**Update: Lego delisted this set in the U.S. in October, 2013. Prices will rise as supplies become scarce. Check my Lego train guide (click through my name) to see what is currently available and forthcoming.**
I am the nut-job parent that you'll see in some of the other train reviews. I grew up with Lego and returned to it when I had kids. Obviously I am terribly partial to Lego, but I'll give you the best review I can so that you can make the decision that is right for your kids. I do not receive free sets or compensation for my Lego reviews.
This set arrived in May of 2012 as part of Lego's in-house Monster Fighters theme. The train itself is not immediately compatible with Lego's other trains, but it is a train and, with some amount of retrofitting, could be made to run on track. More on that below. Overall, I very much like this set because it is just good fun for the kids. It is has really quirky styling that makes it a design stand-out.
The set includes a black 4-4-0 steam engine (with white and gray detailing) without a tender. The roof of the engine lifts off for easy mini-figure access. The train has three cars, two with bat wings that flap as they roll, and a small cage car. The cars use technic wheels (pulley wheels, actually) with o-rings while the engine uses four standard train wheels and four larger steam engine drivers (the set also includes two extra flangeless drivers). The connections between the cars are hitches rather than the usual magnetic couplers. The train makes extensive use of bone and spike pieces, many of which glow in the dark. There is also a red and gray radial-engine aircraft with four flick-fire missiles and an unusual ghost vacuum. There are five mini-figures: Frank Rock, Ann Lee, and three ghosts.
The train and airplane combo has very good playability. Lego has a storyline for the Monster Fighters (involving a Vampire and his evil moonstone device) but I find that kids already know what to do with a scary train and ghosts. The train is not a difficult build, but it does have a lot of small detail parts. It operates well on different surfaces (e.g., wood, tile, low-carpets). The individual train cars can operate independently, though younger children (below the recommended age range) may have some difficulty undoing the hitches. As with most Lego toys, this train may return to the repair-shop after pieces fall off. I have not seen a single train escape a staged crash, and this one is prone to chasing down mini-figures. Damage will ensue, but that is part and parcel of Lego.
There is no track, nor would this set be able to use Lego track without modification. It is also not motorized. If you wish to place it on track, you will need to purchase train wheels (x12, part 55423), and train buffers (x6, so the cars can follow a curve). For the engine bogies to swivel independently, you merely need to remove two of the four vertical pin plates that are already part of the bogie assemblies (thank you to M. Norin for the tip). These extra pieces are sometimes available through Lego's Pick-a-brick shop and usually available through Bricklink. Converting this train will require a bit of tinkering. Motorization is a tougher conversion and would really require the building of a tender to hold the battery unit. To learn what is typically required for motorization, go to my Amazon guide, "Get a Lego train for your kids." Tracks and motorization really aren't necessary, and kids will likely have the most fun using this simply as a push train.
The last time Lego had such an unconventional train was in 1997 with the Twisted Time Train (#6497). The set was similarly incompatible with Lego train tracks, and though it does not command an extraordinary price on the used market, 6497 is still regarded affectionately.
Addendum: Lego just announced (June '12) a large and very detailed Haunted House (#10228) that is part of the Monster Fighter's line but is also sufficiently complex and design-oriented that it could sit aside, but not connect to, Lego's other modular buildings (e.g., #10224). It will be pricey, but it will also greatly expand the depth of the Monster Fighter line. The Haunted House arrives in September of 2012.