AFOLs (Adult Fans Of LEGO) are a clannish bunch. Some focus on vignettes, miniature scenes that tell a story. There are microbuilders who craft amazingly intricate models the size of your hand. Not to mention minifig-scale builders, Castle aficionados, train fanatics, and so on.
Then there are manga builders. A Flickr search shows over 2,700 photos of LEGO manga creations. Internet rumor suggests this fanatical fan base, as well as LEGO bricks’ ability to readily depict the robotic form, drove the creation of the Exo-Force line. Imagine giant battle machines crewed by big-haired martial artists battling sinister foes who — needless to say, have their own fantastic vehicles.
But more than just robot models, Exo-Force sports an in-house mythology (much as Bionicle does) to provide a back story behind the bots:
In ancient times, humans and robots lived in harmony on Sentai Mountain. But the robots revolted, releasing uncontrollable forces that split the mountain in half! The robots were cast into the gorge, but they lived on while the humans built bridges between the two halves of the peak. Now, the robots have risen again to occupy half of the mountain. More powerful than ever, they have just one aim—to completely drive humanity from Sentai Mountain. But they’ll have to defeat the EXO-FORCE to do it! Entrenched in their fortress near the Tenchi Bridge, each of the four young martial artists is armed with a unique battle machine. When a member of the EXO-FORCE “powers up” his battle machine, he’s insulated in armor and ready to take on the evil robots with a unique range of weapons. The story of EXO-FORCE is a story about conflict … heroes … bravery in the face of overwhelming odds … mystery … and the ultimate battle of humans vs. machines. The showdown taking place on this mountain may well be the first spark in a firestorm that will engulf the world!
First introduced in 2006, there are already five chapter books (since discontinued by Scholastic) and nearly forty online comics featuring ten or so central characters. There are even a number of two-minute commercials that ran on Nickolodeon and can be viewed on the LEGO website.
In addition to the associated products, LEGO has upped the ante with some pretty sophisticated models. For example, the Hybrid Rescue Tank uses internal gearboxes to turn the gatling gun when the tank’s treads roll, and a small knob on the side rotates the turret. Many of the models carry transforming secondary craft like drones. Both the Storm Lasher and the Hybrid Rescue Tank have insectoid UAVs that launch from the vehicles dorsal area. In addition, the rescue tank’s turret even sprouts wings and becomes a fighter. The Dark Panther can launch three robot soldiers with jetpacks!
A lot of the Exo-Force bots resemble classic anthroform walkers. For instance, the River Dragon has the obligatory arms and legs and giant guns. However, LEGO mixes it up with a lot of interesting variants. The Dark Pather, true to its name, resembles a cat. There’s a six-legged Arachnoid Stalker whose cockpit launches as a mini fighter and has a robot drone as well. The Storm Lasher is a great dual-rotored helicopter with nasty dragonfly pinchers and a robot drone. Yes, Exo-Force does harken to the classic humanoid robot, but there’s a lot of variety as well.
And finally, in a tip of the hat to the genre’s long-standing tradition of transforming robots, LEGO provides downloadable PDF instructions on reconfiguring the robots into new models, either individually or as a combination of multiple Exo-Force sets.