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20 July 2021

LEGO® Creator review + alt builds: 31115 Space Mining Mech

Thorin Finch, who contributed to one of our parts festivals a couple of years back, returns with a guest review today of LEGO® Creator 3-in-1 31115 Space Mining Mech, as well as designing some alternate builds of his own. Buying this set? Consider using our affiliate links, New Elementary may get a commission: USA LEGO Shop | Australia LEGO Shop | UK LEGO Shop/for Europe 'Change region'. Products in this article were provided by LEGO; the author's opinions are their own.

With the recent success of NASA’s latest Mars exploration rover Perseverance (and the even more recent but less successful test of SpaceX’s SN10 rocket), the wonders and dangers of space exploration have been at the forefront of society’s collective consciousness. And, for anyone looking to extend their newfound interests in space exploration into LEGO®, a simple search for the keyword ‘space’ on the LEGO website produces, among other things, Creator 31115 Space Mining Mech. 

The box art depicts the titular mech, a beefy construction that towers over the token piece of planetary landscape and diminutive alien shown alongside it, who I dubbed Lizru. If this were any theme other than Creator, I would wonder how Lizru could possibly pose any threat to the mech, but since this is a Creator set I am secure in the knowledge that Lizru and the mech are not even remotely in conflict about the harvesting of his planet’s natural resources.

Opening the box, I discovered three small instruction booklets (one for each model), and a handful of unnumbered polybags. On larger sets, unnumbered bags can mean sifting through piles of parts with every step, but with only 327 pieces this set fit easily into my building tray and made finding the parts I needed easy. 

Parts of interest

Most of the 327 parts included in this set are useful but fairly standard: Mixel joints, tiles, wedge plates, clip hinges and the like. A few, however, immediately caught my eye. 


The set comes with three Windscreen 4 x 4 x 1 ⅔ Canopy Half Sphere with Bar Handle (18990); two in White (6323446) and one in Transparent/ Trans-Clear (6244781). This part is new in white, and it features prominently in the central model as the mining mech’s armoured shoulders, a use now made possible by its appearance in an opaque colour for the first time. 

Another part that stood out from the greys, whites and blacks that dominate this set’s colour scheme was Bracket 1 x 2 - 1 x 2 in Cool Yellow/ Bright Light Yellow (6296497 | 99781). Originally appearing in  Creator Expert 10271 Fiat 500, this elusive part has only been released in three other sets, one of which is a polybag. As the only Bright Light Yellow part to appear in this set (more on that later) it seems slightly out of place, but with a solid eight included they make a welcome addition to the growing repertoire of parts in this hue.

While neither new nor particularly rare, I also welcomed the inclusion of a pair of Cone 1 ½ x 1 ½ x ⅔ Truncated in Black (6199468 | 33492), used as engines on the back of the mining mech. These parts are invaluable as greebling and detail on large space models, and make excellent engines on microscale models. 

Build 1: Mining Mech

The construction of the mech begins with the hip joints and the first of a series of brackets that will hold the torso together and allow detailing on the front and back of the mech. Inverted 6 x 2 slopes w/ cutout help shape the widening torso above the waist, and a variety of slopes and tiles cover most of the mech’s body, giving it an angular, utilitarian look.

A nice detail on the front of the robot is the coloured bands on the sides of the chest, positioned about where one might expect to find some kind of identifying symbol. As it turns out, the horizontal bands of blue, red and white denote the mining mech as belonging to a West Slavic ethnic group, the Sorbs. The Sorbs are an officially recognised minority, with their approximately 70,000 people living mainly in Germany and the Czech Republic. Their population may be small but their extraterrestrial mining equipment is certainly not; when completed, the mech’s torso is ten studs wide at the shoulders, making it the robot equivalent of a bodybuilder. Despite being branded as a mining mech, it seems to have the structure of a mech meant for more violent pursuits. Real-life mining vehicles are built low to the ground, because mining usually involves digging into the ground [citation needed]. I can understand the designer’s desire to create a more ‘classic’ mech, but when so many LEGO themes are full of big ol’ robots smashing each other it is disappointing to see the battle-centric features of armoured shoulders and big weapons showing up in what is usually a more realistic theme. (Oh, hey, Lizru! Shouldn’t you be over in Mixels?)

The central cavity of the body is reserved for the pilot, and while it is large enough to fit a minifigure, none are included. Instead, a strange two-headed robot of some kind is placed in the pilot seat. 

The square blue boxes on either end are supposed to be heads, but the lack of any appendages (the lack of anything, really) leaves me to conclude that this is in fact a robotic accordion. Despite the inclusion of control levers in the cockpit, the accordion robot has no capability to manipulate them, so I can only assume it directs the mech through varying the pitch of its sound. 


The rest of the mech comes together by rote,  with the only variation between the left and right arms. The left arm makes excellent use of Medium Stone Grey/ Light Bluish Gray modified 1 x 1 plates with bar handle to provide articulation to the mech’s fingers, and a splash of orange gives suitable warning about the massive sawblade mounted on the right arm. 

The set’s title specifies that this is a mining mech, and while the sawblade is impressive it dwarfs the tiny crystals included for harvesting. It seems like rather than collect the crystals the mech would probably destroy them if it actually tried to use the sawblade on them. Even a dozen more parts devoted to landscaping could have drastically improved this aspect of the set and reinforced the story aspect of the mech harvesting the crystals, but as it is the sawblade feels clumsy and oversized for the task at hand. 


Speaking of clumsy, even if the mech manages to extract the crystals without breaking them into a thousand tiny shards, getting the valuable gems into the collection basket on its back is a whole other matter. The mech’s legs make use of Light Bluish Gray Technic Rotor Blade Plates to add clever kneepad-like details in between the upper and lower sections. I really like the effect this creates, as it seems to suggest the mech has been designed to kneel so that its sawblade can better reach the crystals. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

The Rotor Blade Plates make the knees inflexible, meaning the mech has to bend at the hips to bring the sawblade to bear and grab the crystals with its claw. Then, it has to make use of every last point of articulation its arm has to offer in order to deposit the crystals in the clearly marked yellow basket on its back.

And last but definitely not least, we have Lizru.

Considering he only uses 13 parts, Lizru has a lot of character. Unlike the space accordion, he does have both arms and legs, but his most distinctive feature is his head, which makes up a biologically improbable 60+ percent of his body (he is an alien, I suppose). The two White Eye Tiles give him a range of expressions, and his toothy maw is articulated to allow for a range of movement that a snake would envy. 

Given the prominence of his mouth, I would guess that Lizru’s main food source is the only other non-mech assembly in the set: the crystals, a nice storytelling detail. I can only hope he finishes his dinner before the Sorbian miners arrive; otherwise he will most likely meet an end he never saw coming.

Get it?

SAW coming! Because the mech has…

Never mind

Build 2: Crawler

The second of the three models is a much shorter and more straightforward build, with only two main assemblies to construct: the undercarriage and the chassis. Compared to the mech’s more sophisticated techniques, this build felt… basic. The cockpit makes only minimal use of SNOT techniques, with most of the build being a series of stacked plates and bricks. Things got slightly more interesting when I got to the legs, but even these are a simple though effective construction. 

The only technique of note is the Light Bluish Gray Technic Rotor Blade Plates, once again putting their unique geometry to use canting the crawler’s legs at satisfying angles. 

The completed model is a spin on the classic pickup truck, only a little more spacey. The wheels have been replaced with four stubby legs, and a pair of appendages very similar to the robot arms on real space rovers are mounted on the front of the crawler.  The concept of a rover-like vehicle for scientific research is solid, and this model feels a lot more like a scientific tool than a BattleBot, but the build looks unfinished, and for good reason.

A quick look at my sorting tray revealed exactly what was wrong: about half the parts are simply not used in the construction. Obviously it would be impossible for a Creator designer to use all the parts in their alternate builds, but there are places on the model where parts have been omitted for no good reason. 

The exposed studs on the front legs are left totally uncovered, even though in the remaining parts there are four white 2 x 2 tiles that could easily have covered them. This is, in my opinion, inexcusably lazy design, and a major detractor from the quality of the second build. Speaking of detractors from quality…

Lizru 2 must have grown up a little closer to the Sorbian space expedition’s nuclear reactors than his brother, because the slightly adorable large mouth and stubby appendages have been replaced with a pair of Yoda ears and what I fervently hope is not a metal grille bolted to his face. Again, the lack of a minifig impedes the playability of the set, as Lizru 2 possesses even less flexibility than his otolaryangally elastic relative, if minimally more than the accordion robot from build one. 

Lastly, we have the subjects of Lizru 2’s expedition. Despite my above criticisms, I can fully empathize with Lizru 2’s desire to collect and study what I can only assume are some kind of strange organisms. 

That or rocket-powered geta clogs.

Seriously, what ARE those things?

Build 3: Strider

No, not the Dunedain ranger who likes to frequent the Prancing Pony in Bree. This model is a futuristic conveyance that takes a page out of the instruction booklet of 70823 Emmet’s Thricycle. If the second model took the mining mech’s mix of futuristic and realistic and toned it down, then this model takes it in the other direction. The decision to make one model more plausible and one more sci-fi is a logical and respectable one, since it provides a variety of options to a child for which model to keep. 


Looking at the strider with the lens of fiction and not science, it is an unusual and distinctive concept that makes good use of the many joints and tiles included in the set. The build begins with the cockpit, which includes a pair of control joysticks, a radar dish, and a cleverly constructed reactor that turns the White Half Domes into a spherical pod at the back of the vehicle that contains two transparent green nuggets of radioactive fuel.

The limited clip selection means that extracting the transparent green 1 x 2 bricks is quite difficult. Then again, given how Lizru 2 turned out, maybe that’s a good thing.


Once the cockpit is complete, the two legs come together quickly, and there’s not much to say about them other than that they don’t repeat the mining mech’s mistakes. The joints give them plenty of poseability, which is necessary to ensure the strider stays balanced. 

The last and most clever part of the build is the feet, which utilise (you guessed it) Light Bluish Gray Technic Rotor Blade Plates, this time to construct a pair of three-toed feet that would look right at home on the Galactic Empire’s most imposing AT-AT. 

Rather than lie flat, the feet angle up, much like the feet of a dinosaur or ostrich. The two adjustable toes make sure the foot stays level, and the clips at the centre of each foot are a fun greebly detail. The construction of the feet transforms this model from a lumbering walker into an agile, fast-moving machine, hence why I named it ‘strider’. The model is a little rough around the edges, suffering from the limited colours of the parts, but its unique concept and clever execution are both points in its favour. 

And that brings us to Lizru 3.

Diminishing returns indeed. Lizru 3 is more metal than organic, which is honestly preferable to the amalgamation that was Lizru 2, but with the limited array of remaining parts it is impossible to create a character that can stand on its own merits.

Literally.

Were you wondering why the first photo of Lizru 3 had him bent over like that? The simplistic design of his feet means without careful positioning, he topples over at the slightest breeze. Again, even a single minifigure would have improved the quality of the set exponentially. Not only would it have improved the playability of the story but also freed up the parts used on Lizru’s family to be added to the models themselves.

No offence, Lizru, but a story needs more than one character, and rocket-powered geta clogs and accordions don’t count.

Thorin Finch’s Alternate Builds of 31115 Creator Space Mining Mech

After giving the part selection a brief look, I decided not to deviate from the theme of Space. Without a minifigure, microscale seemed a wise choice as I had no wish to be responsible for the monstrosity that Lizru 4 would surely be.

The Scarab-class sub orbital bombardment platform was the result of my decision to not use any of the large hinge joints as, well, joints. The male ends of the joints resembled large ball turrets, so I built a ship with ridiculously large ball turrets on the sides.

Scarab-class dreadnoughts are used by militaries and megacorporations all over the galaxy to almost instantly obliterate any problematic geography or settlements that stand in the way of their ruthless quest for dominion (this one belongs to the IKEA corporation, based on the paint job). Their six giant cannons can fire from extreme range, meaning that Scarab-class ships can remain safely removed from any troublesome ground fire. 

Usually, their silhouette on the horizon is enough to make any troublesome civilians surrender, though land masses have been known to be more stubborn.

As a compliment to the Scarab-class, I also built a small dropship/support craft belonging to the same fleet (hence the matching paint jobs).

The dropship’s main feature is its pair of adjustable engines, which rotate similar to those of the real life aircraft the Osprey helicopter, which, according to LEGO is definitely, 100 % unrelated to the military in any way. Sci-fi works best when based on real life. 

The engines face back when in flight… 

... then rotate downwards to slow the craft’s descent as it approaches the drop zone. The spotlights illuminate the landing zone… 

...and the engines slot into the wings as the dropship touches down. From there, the troops disembark from the open troop bay, and the forward ‘cheeks’ open up to release the armoured vehicles.

Just to complete the scene, I used a few of the remaining parts to build a couple of enemy vehicles, because it just didn’t feel like a proper LEGO set without some arbitrarily evil baddies to provide opposition to the benevolent occupying IKEA corporate commandos. 

Conclusion

The Space Mining Mech is a nice-looking central model with good styling but limited playability, and the two alternate models struggle on looks, logic and playability. The set would have been improved enormously by a minifigure or two, so Lizru wouldn’t have to carry the burden of storytelling alone.

READ MORE: TobyMac reviewed another Creator Space set – 31117 Space Shuttle Adventures – on our Instagram: Part 1, the build and Part 2, the new elements

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4 comments:

  1. Interesting review! Alternative models cool too

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  2. I believe the mech pilot robot brain thing is meant to be flippable to represent a "boy" or "girl" pilot, or perhaps two different emotions?

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    1. I assumed that it represented emotions or some similar positive/negative binary, like the classic sci-fi trope of a robot's eyes changing to red when it turns evil or goes berserk.

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  3. Possibly worth mentioning that this isn't technically the first time the 4 x 4 x 1 ⅔ windscreen has been done in a solid color, just the first time it's done so unprinted—it has also appeared printed in dark red and dark bluish grey as the visors for "Hulkbuster" armor in Marvel Super Heroes sets.

    Personally I feel like the lack of minifigures in this set creates some interesting creative constraints for alternative builds. It might seem counterintuitive to some extent (since having a minifigure gives you the option of using that OR a brick-built figure, or no figure at all), but sometimes having a simple "obvious" answer like a minifigure can close your mind to alternative possibilities, which could lead a kid to feel like anything else they built with the parts had to have a cockpit or similar space to fit the fig. By eliminating that option (at least with the contents of this set alone), it makes unorthodox solutions like brick-built figures or character heads a little easier to come up with. And it's nice that the A model at least is designed so that if you want to use a figure instead of the robot "brain", you can fit one in its place with controls even included.

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