Ever since Sonic's last brush with the world's most famous Danish plastic (as a Level Pack set for Lego Dimensions) fans have been clamouring for a 'proper' Sonic Lego set. The release of the Super Mario line of knobbly bricks gave Nintendo aficionados plenty to spend their money on — with the excellent Lego Super Mario 64 Question Mark Block and the Nintendo Entertainment System sets offering more traditional (and intricately impressive) builds alongside the play-focused sets — but Team Sonic has had to resort to fan builds... until now.
As recovering Sega fanboys, the announcement of an official Sonic set as part of the Lego Ideas line had our inner fans a-squealing, and our wallets a-groaning, but there was no way we were going to miss out on building the hedgehog's old Green Hill stomping ground. When it came to justifying the purchase, we reasoned that this set isn't quite as substantial an outlay as the Mario question block; the Green Hill Zone set comes in at a relatively reasonable $69.99 / £59.99, which is 100 currency units less than the Mario block. For that you get a whopping 1125 pieces in the box, too, although you'll perhaps wish that total was lower as you start construction. More on that later.
On opening up the box, you'll find six plastic bags (seven actually, although the single small bag has a '6' written on it and should probably be inside the final one) which will take you through the entire build, from badnik to 'botnik. In a neat nod to gamified progression, you'll first construct a plinth on which to pose Sonic — utilising a handy little clear piece that plugs into his leg and lets you to put him in a running pose — and at the end of each stage of construction you'll collect a Chaos Emerald. No, there's no Super Sonic minifig, unfortunately.
The first thing you'll note as you tear open the bags, and the bags within bags, is that there are A LOT of small pieces here. You'll need plenty of clear space and plenty of time to build this, and in stark contrast to the Mario sets — at least the course-based ones — Green Hill Zone is geared more towards adults, if only for the huge number of fiddly 1x1 studs you'll be connecting. Small children or pets in your vicinity could result in calamity; clicking the tiny bricks together and making sure they're flush can also get tiresome (and even a little painful) if you're not in the right frame of mind.
Small children or pets in your vicinity could result in calamity; clicking the tiny 1x1 bricks together and making sure they're flush can also get tiresome (and even a little painful)
That said, these specific little bricks are needed to create the earthy checkered pattern of Green Hill without using stickers, so while they're not the most pleasurable components to build with, they're worth it for the overall effect it the end. In fact, given the choice, we would actually have preferred more of them if it meant removing our second minor criticism of this set: the stickers.
Longtime Lego fans invariably prefer proper bespoke bricks with printed details over having to peel off a sticker and line it up on the corresponding brick, and then have to deal with fraying edges and curling over time (or worse, peeling off a misaligned sticker and having one corner fudged and wrinkled thanks to fingernail contact — nobody deserves to feel that sort of shame).
We have to say that the stickers in this kit generally go unnoticed once applied and they add pixel art details that 'pop' quite nicely, including the neat life counter at the bottom left, the icons on the monitors, and moto bug's face(s). The least likeable ones adorn the side of the loop-the-loop, but assuming you align and affix them properly, they don't look bad at all on the finished product. As we mentioned, the loop stickers could have been all but eliminated had more 1x1 pieces been used, although by our count it would have taken another 76 of them, so we understand why the creators went with stickers for that section. Thankfully, all the grass edges are printed on 1x4 plates and look great.
Small pieces make the build long and fiddly, then — it took us several hours over several evenings — but it's pleasant seeing the terrain gradually take shape. Just be aware that you'll likely get frustrated if you're the impatient type who's gotta build fast.
Each section of the level has connecting pieces either end, presumably allowing you to rearrange the course to your liking, although once you've attached the black 'trim' along the bottom edge (to which you attach the life counter and the ring stems), mixing and matching becomes more difficult. Perhaps an expansion set further down the line could introduce a couple more badniks, some spikes, an animal-filled end-of-level tank, and a flicky or two. There's nothing stopping you buying multiple sets if you wanted to build a bigger Green Hill, of course.
Once you've run through the level and added a red spring (which functions via a lever on the back), you'll meet Dr. Robotnik in his Egg-O-Matic at the end, sans big red swinging ball, unfortunately, although that would have required some serious transparent plastic rigging. Eggman's glasses are printed on the domed head piece, and while his nose and facial features are a little Cubist up close, we very much enjoyed his appropriately spindly legs and feet, visible when he's not piloting his craft.
It's once you've finished building and can admire the set as a whole that the effect really comes across and the sheer power of nostalgia hits you. Individual elements — Robotnik's odd face, the surprisingly fragile lamppost, and even the disappointing rings with their ugly grooves — become less important when viewed as part of the whole. It had this writer grinning from ear to ear, more so than the Mario sets, even — possibly something to do with formative 16-bit years spent looping through this game and its sequels.
if you've got any affection for the Sonic series whatsoever, this is arguably more of a nostalgia trip than Mario's modular play sets
It got us imagining a Marble Zone set, or Chemical Plant and Casino Night sets. This blocky interpretation of one of video gaming's icons is admittedly less imaginative and far more limited in scope for actual play than the Nintendo-branded ones, but if you've got any affection for the Sonic series whatsoever — especially the early games — Green Hill Zone is arguably more of a nostalgia trip than Mario's modular play sets.
So, to recap: building it is fiddly and a tad laborious, and several individual elements are mildly disappointing. However, the cumulative effect of the finished article makes this set irresistible to anyone who first encountered Sega's blue mascot on the 16-bit grassy knolls of Green Hill. It's a beautiful thing and we can't help but grin every time we glance over and see it on the shelf.
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What's this? A Nintendo site covering Sega-themed Lego!? Yep, that's right. If that doesn't sit well, it's worth remembering that Sonic has now been appearing on Nintendo consoles twice as long as he ever appeared on Sega platforms. Yikes!