REVIEW – Aliens have arrived, and their UFOs are the gravest threat that our planet has ever seen! Mankind’s answer? Convert the giant octopi of our oceans into half mollusk, half machine monstrosities and turn them loose against the flying saucers! The crazy thing is that it seems to be working. Join me for this review of the Mechanical Octopus, a new building block set from JMBricklayer, and we can save our planet together.
What is it?
The JMBricklayer Mechanical Octopus is a LEGO alternative brand building block set (model 70123) that features a mechanically altered octopus fighting a UFO near the surface of the ocean. This set contains 806 pieces, mostly in shades of gray and red along with a host of clear pieces for the water. It also has a sheet of stickers. Most of the pieces are small, and a handful are similar to LEGO Technic pieces. JMBricklayer’s motto is “Joy Makes Brilliance,” and their mission is to help builders “reap the rewards of their ideas.”
What’s in the box?
- 806 pieces
- A brick separator
- A 78-page manual
- A sheet of stickers
- Two small light bricks
- Various tubes
Design and features
When it comes to the design of LEGO alternatives, there are a handful of questions that always need to be answered:
Are they compatible with LEGO? Yes, the pieces in this set are compatible with LEGO.
Are they of the same build quality? They are very close. The pieces are solid and stiff, they don’t flex much. All the flat base pieces lay down completely on the table. These sets that are made by Top Toy—JMBricklayer is the distributor—are some of the best off-brand building blocks around.
Do they fit tightly, or do they come apart easily? They fit together tightly and do not have problems coming apart.
Are they cheaper in cost than LEGO? Surprisingly, it’s not. Most non-LEGO block sets are 30% cheaper, but the price of this set is comparable to some LEGO sets:
- The Insect Collection has 1111 pieces for $79.99, making it 7.2 cents/piece.
- The Child has 1075 pieces for $89.99, making it 8.4 cents/piece.
- The Vespa has 1107 pieces for $99.99, making it 9 cents/piece.
- BD-1, a Star Wars droid, has 1062 pieces for $99.99, making it 9.4 cents/piece.
In comparison, the Mechanical Octopus has 806 pieces for $59.99, 7.4 cents/piece, which is on the lower-end of the sets above. In the end, a cheaper price is not a reason to purchase this set.
How do the instructions compare? The manual is well done. It has a backstory for our critter and explains the various capabilities that it has for fighting with the UFOs, though it muddies this a bit (at first, I thought the octopus was a spaceship); reading the JMBricklayer webpage made things crystal clear. There are instructions for using the brick separator, measuring pieces like axles, and getting support from JMBricklayer. Previous steps are in white, making it easy to see where the new pieces go. There’s no problem discerning which color piece to select, even though many gray pieces are very similar in color. It’s a good manual, and builders won’t have any problems following along.
There are five major sections in the manual, and each of the included plastic bags was labeled accordingly; this made it easy to find the pieces needed. There were extra bags for the silver pieces and for the light blocks and tubes. The sticker sheet was slipped into the front page of the manual, which did a nice job protecting them. To help me with this review, I brought back my friend, Gabriel Coyle, who helped me build the medieval weapon and is now 12. He built the entire set himself with minimal help from me, even though JMBricklayer says that it’s designed for 14 years or older.
Section One builds the base and a few parts of the octopus. This section features a lot of clear pieces, mostly blue and colorless, as this battle takes place just over the surface of the ocean.
The first of the two light pieces are used here, though at this point it’s not obvious what it will light up. Overall, this base, which is 6.5 x 3.5 inches, feels very solid.
Section Two builds the UFO and a few more parts of the octopus. This section has the first difficulty, one that will show up again in other sections. In step 32, there are soft rubber tubes that thread through holes in some of the pieces. They are used as a ring around the UFO, as part of the mechanical arms of the octopus, and as part of the lighting. Pushing these tubes through the holes is impossible by hand (both for Gabriel and for me); the tubes are too soft and crumple before they can be pushed through. My solution was to find a super small screwdriver head and scrap them through. That’s a fail; no piece should require this kind of jury-rigging to complete. Another smaller problem was the stickers for steps 45 and following, which were longer than the bricks on which they go. This one was easy to solve with the snip of scissors.
The UFO ship itself is really, really cool. It has a dome that can open to reveal the cockpit and its controls within. It totally looks like a flying saucer.
To finish this section, Gabriel attached the ship to the base and finished more of the arms. The arms and ship itself all extend outside of the boundary of the base, which gives it an overflowing sort of look. I like it.
Section Three builds the remainder of the arms of the octopus. When I poured out the bag for this section, I almost laughed, as there’s an overwhelming number of small red pieces that will be used to build the octopus’ natural arms. I love how Top Toy designed the arms to be articulated so they can reach up from out of the water and grasp the alien ship. It looks pretty real.
The arms, both natural and mechanical, have suckers on the bottom, the better to grasp these evil UFOs.
Section Four builds the mechanical body of the octopus. This is the main engine of the octopus along with the mechanical additions that were supplied to make hunting spacecraft easier. It uses a lot of small grey pieces, including a few Technic-like pieces, and the overall look is similar to the body of the t-rex that I recently reviewed.
The other light, the blue one, finally made its appearance here, and it caused a problem for us. To turn on the lights, Top Toy typically super-glues a small lever on a round piece that sits on top of the rounded light brick. Rotate the lever slightly, and the light turns on. They forgot, however, to glue the blue one. So I solved the problem myself with a bit of super-glue; that, unfortunately, created another problem, as I did so at the wrong angle. This light brick gets buried inside the motor, and there’s only a very specific place where the handle can exit.
The solution to the problem is to build the entire engine (through section four), figure out where the lever needs to go, then take the engine apart to get to the light brick, super-glue it on, and then rebuild it. Yeah, that’s a pain, but at least the light brick would work properly that way. The two light bricks add a small touch of lighting to the tubes that are connected to the engine.
Section Five completes the final details and brings it all together. Most of the engine was built in section four, but this section adds the finishing touches. The engine mounts easily to the base, and it doesn’t really have any stability problems. At this point, it looks a bit off, simply because the engine appears to be completely disconnected from the arms. It was not until Gabriel added the large, red, molded plastic head to the engine did everything come together. Now it looks like a giant octopus!
I’m not a fan of these large molded pieces. Clearly the designers at Top Toy have a lot of skill, and I wish they would have used that skill to build out the rest of the octopus’ body instead of using a single piece. The good news, however, is that the design is very consistent with the body of the chameleon set that I reviewed previously. If you bought both sets, they would look great together on your shelf!
Stickers are placed throughout the surface of both the UFO and the octopus, and they add good color to the set.
What I like
- Half nature, half machine, all fighting octopus!
- A flying saucer about to be pulled under the waves
- Great design with lots of attention to details
- Stable build that is suitable for display
What I’d change
- Replace the soft rubber tubes with something easier to assemble
- Replace the large molded piece with building blocks
Gabriel and I had a blast building the JMBricklayer Mechanical Octopus. This is a good quality set that has a lot of small pieces and great attention to detail. Gabriel said that he really likes the set and had fun building it. He would be happy having this set, though he did admit he would prefer a set that he could play with over a set that is merely for display. That’s understandable! If you’re looking for a part mechanical, part living, all fantastical octopus to fight a UFO, we recommend that you pick up this great set.
Where to buy: Amazon (Save 15% with code: VIPJULIE15 expires 11/24/2023)
JMBricklayer’s online store (Save 15% with code: VIPGAD15 expires 12/31/2023)
Source: The sample for this review was provided by JMBricklayer.