Monday, July 21, 2014

Mega Bloks Barbie's "Pet Shop" vs. Lego Friends' "Heartlake Pet Salon"...a Comparison Review!

My kids have always loved Legos.  My youngest son is particularly passionate about these toys, and has built some impressive models over the years.  We've also owned a certain number of Mega Bloks sets--the most memorable ones being from the Dragons series.  While my kids were never as happy with the design of Mega Bloks' actual building blocks, we were all amazed by the realism of the dragon figures, and my eldest son played with his Mega Bloks dragon hoard for years.  Despite my family's passion for building, I rarely talk about this kind of toy here on the blog.  I did a short post way back when the Lego Friends were first introduced, but nothing since then.

Despite the atypical subject of this review, it was actually inspired by a doll.  I was browsing the aisles of Walmart when I came across a display of Mega Bloks Barbie mini figures.  These tiny 2.5 inch dolls are packaged in single lipstick-sized boxes and cost under $3 each.  I've seen these Barbie figures before--or at least seen the place on the shelf where they should be--but usually the display is mostly empty and not very appealing.  On this particular day, the display was almost completely full, with six different varieties of doll in stock.  I was struck by how fun the range of dolls was: there were several versions of Barbie, two Ken dolls, and a Nikki.  There was even a Barbie with pink hair!  Since the aisles were packed with out-of-school kids begging their reluctant parents for a new toy, I was also struck by how clever this individual packaging is.  For kids over four, these mini figures offer a cute, articulated Barbie figure that costs less than than a latte.

I scooped up a few of these mini dolls, thinking that they would offer a fun, quick, mid-week review of what seemed like a nice, detailed, portable little Barbie doll:

Mega Bloks Barbie
Mega Bloks Barbie figure.
However, I can't seem to write a quick, simple review...so here we are.

After I selected a few of the Barbie mini figures, I took a passing glance at the Mega Bloks building sets that go with them.  They looked pretty fun.  Then, I browsed the Lego Friends sets that were shelved right next to the Barbie Mega Bloks...and then I began to notice that both companies offer similarly-themed sets: each has a beach house, a pool, a clothing store, an ice cream stand...and a pet salon.  That's when it occurred to me that a comparison review of these two toys might be a lot of fun.  I would even be able to enlist the help of my son, who isn't usually too excited about the things I review.

Before I tell you more about the building sets I chose to compare, though, let me quickly show you a few of the mini figures I found.  The individually packaged figures are like candy--it's hard to buy just one of them.  In addition, the larger sets that include a figure and some small accessories were on clearance, and so they cost the same as the lone figures.  I got a few of each.  The Barbie in the cover shot was from one of the larger sets ("Movie Star Barbie," 80206), and I also got these:

"Vacation Time Summer " (80203), and two of the 80260 boxed minis.
I haven't opened all of these toys yet, but here's a closer look at the two mini figures in their cute pink cardboard window boxes:

Mega Bloks Barbie figures

The pink-haired Barbie is my favorite:

Mega Bloks Barbie

I did open both of the larger sets so that I could get a sense for what the different styles of outfit and hair are like on these dolls.  The blonde Barbie dressed in blue came with both a long and a short skirt.  These skirts are made out of rubbery soft vinyl and are removable.  The doll's hair is styled in a side ponytail and is also bendy and removable:

Mega Bloks Barbie

In fact, the hair is too removable.  Right away, I noticed that the hair on these dolls falls off way too easily.  It doesn't stay on for any kind of manipulation--you can't pick up the doll, turn her head, change her skirt, or lift her arms without having the hair fall off.  For kids who aren't that excited about changing the hair, I'd say just glue it on right out of the box and save a lot of hassle.

Many of the dolls have painted shorts underneath their removable skirts, but this particular doll just has pink underwear:


She has four points of articulation: her neck, her hips and both shoulders.  Her legs move together and her arms move independently of one another.

All of the dolls come with a small pink glittery stand.  This provides support when the doll isn't attached to a Mega Bloks (or Lego) brick.  Some of the dolls can balance without these stands, but the stands make them much more solid.   Most of the dolls have a minor paint defect or two, and in this case, the doll's pink glittery high-heeled shoes are a little sloppy:


The other doll I opened is a redhead with green eyes and a less formal outfit:

Mega Bloks Barbie
She has a very different leg mold than the first doll I showed you.
Underneath her removable skirt, this doll has pink capri pants:


She has a small paint defect on her left hand:


This doll's hair is molded to look like it's pulled back into a simple ponytail, and while I love the color, the rounded shape of her hair looks funny.

Mega Bloks Barbie
Helmet head.
All of the mini dolls I bought have great facial screening...especially given that their heads are only slightly bigger than a cooked pea.

Ah...are you calling me a pea head?
Here's a picture of a full-scale Barbie doll (Midge) with one of these minis.  The Mega Bloks figure is almost the right size to be a Barbie doll for Barbie dolls...she's just a little too big:

Mega Bloks Barbie

The Mega Bloks Barbie figures are about an inch taller than traditional Lego minifigures, and seem to get mixed reactions from this classic crowd:


My only problem with these mini dolls is that their hair falls off too easily--and that's a pretty big problem.  The options are to glue to hair down (eliminating the fun of swapping hairstyles) or deal with the frustration of constantly missing hair.  Ignoring the hair problem is hard, but if I do, the dolls are appealing, affordable miniatures that can actually be played with.  The range of characters and outfits makes the series tempting to collect, and the size and cost of these toys enables kids to accumulate a large assortment of dolls for big, elaborate games.  

I wanted to compare these Barbie figures to equivalently-packaged Lego Friends figures, but Lego doesn't sell the Friends figures on their own.  There are little bagged Lego Friends sets available for about $4, but the ones I found didn't include a mini figure--just accessories and sometimes a pet.  Other than that, the smallest Friends sets that are available from Lego cost around $10, which wouldn't make for a fair comparison to the $3 Barbie toys I bought. 

So, with that introduction, let me show you the two building sets I purchased for the rest of this review:


These are the Barbie Pet Shop (80224) which retails for $24.99, and the Lego Friends Heartlake Pet Salon (41007), which costs $29.99.  I chose these sets because I like that they come with pets (poodles!) and they are equivalent in price and in content.  Each set cost under $30 and comes with a figure, at least one pet, and a building with a pet grooming theme.

I shopped around a little and found the Mega Bloks set on clearance for $14.99 (Amazon), and the Lego set on sale for $24.99 (Target).  As an aside, this particular Lego Friends set costs $34.99 at Toys R Us.  How do they get away with that, I wonder?  Anyway, it was much easier to find discounted Barbie sets, but because the MSRP is so similar on these toys, I figured it was still a fair comparison.

First I will de-box each set and compare the building experience, and then I will show you some of the details.  Here's the Mega Bloks Pet Shop:


The box is a rhombus with a pink twine handle at the top.  It is visually appealing with a bright pink sparkly theme.  The set looks fairly complex and fun to play with.  The mini laptop and the aquarium in the background stand out to me as potentially neat features.

The set has a respectable 98 pieces and is recommended for children four and older.  It weighs 377 grams in the box, which doesn't feel very heavy. 


The Barbie figure that comes with this set is called "Pretty Pets Barbie."  She is generic compared to some of the figures that are sold separately, but she has three adorable-looking pet friends: a poodle, a Chihuahua, and a cat.


Each of the sloping edges of this box are decorated differently:


One side has three small pictures of the set's details:


And the other has a cartoon version of Barbie holding the cat:


The back of the box shows more detail from the set:


The pieces are arranged differently in these pictures than they are on the front of the box.  This configuration is actually what the directions help you build:


Some of the other sets in this collection are pictured on the bottom of the box.  I thought that the pet shop and the clothing store looked the most fun:


I asked my youngest son to build these sets, and he agreed.  He has a lot of experience with block sets, and I figured he could offer some good insights.  He took a pretty casual approach--eating his lunch and chatting with me while he put the sets together.  This means that the build times don't represent any kind of minimum, but just a rough comparison.

All of the pieces came in 7 plastic bags of various sizes:


Among the bags was this six-compartment container for holding the Barbie figure parts:


This bag had an oily residue on the outside.  The oil got on my hands and had to be washed off with lots of soap.  Very unpleasant.

Here are all of the pieces in the set:

Underwhelming.
...and also this bag of tiny pieces that was stuck inside the box and almost got thrown away:


My son and I were surprised and disappointed by the meager-looking collection of pieces.  The box declares a piece count close to 100, but this includes every single tiny piece in the set, even the 2 sticker sheets.  Many of the stickers are logos for Barbie or Mega Bloks that don't really need to be added.  The sticker for the laptop screen is funny--it's another picture of Barbie with her cat, but most of the image is left behind when the sticker is removed:


The direction booklet has 19 pages and it took my son just under 20 minutes to work his way through at a relaxed pace.  He thought that three of the building steps were slightly unclear.  He also noted that the base plates are warped, and that there weren't very many building pieces.  The majority of the pieces are small and decorative.  The main structure stays together well after it is built, though.  We both carried it around a certain amount, and none of the larger pieces fell apart.  

Here's the completed set--my son commented that there are no extra pieces included in the set.  It contains exactly what you need for the build and nothing more (the black piece in front is Barbie's extra skirt):

He also noted that there's a lot of pink. 
The Lego Friends set comes in a square box with beveled edges:



It suggests a slightly higher age minimum than the Mega Bloks set and lists a piece count of 242.  This set is noticeably heavier than the Barbie set and weighs 565 grams in the box.


The set comes with two human figures, Emma and Joanna, but has only one pet (a poodle):


Emma seems to be the featured character in this set, and her picture appears in the upper right hand corner of the back of the box.  


Like the Barbie box, there's also a large, clear picture of the completed set:


On the very bottom, there's a graphic showing several of the named Lego Friend girls, but there's no Joanna.  She must not be one of the main characters.

Cute picture.
This set comes in two numbered bags with a few smaller bags inside.  Here are the instructions and the contents of bag #1:


One thing my son noticed right away is that this set is not completely pink.  Most of the pieces are white or grey, and there's a fair amount of blue.  There are just a few pink accent pieces. 

Here are the same pieces again, after we organized them:


There are significantly more building pieces here than there were in the Mega Bloks set...and this is just the first of two bags.  In fact, the piece count seemed so much higher than we expected, that we went back and looked carefully at both of the direction booklets to see exactly how the pieces are counted.  

It turns out that Lego counts almost all of the non-building pieces as one piece.  If they had used the Mega Bloks counting technique, the actual piece count would be 23 pieces higher at 265.  That's a piece difference of 167.  The Lego set has almost three times as many pieces as the Mega Bloks set, and most of these are versatile building pieces--not decorations.

Here's how the set looked after the pieces in bag #1 were assembled:


Bag #2 had fewer pieces in it.  This is where most of the smaller decorative pieces were stored:


The Lego instruction booklet has 67 pages and it took my son 37 minutes to work his way through--again, at a pretty relaxed pace.  He only noted one ambiguous step in the directions.

Another interesting comment my son made is that the Lego pieces snap together and come apart much more smoothly than the Mega Bloks pieces.  He said his fingers were sore after building the Barbie set, but felt fine after he finished the Lego set.  I challenged him with a blind comparison where I gave him two pieces from each set, had him put them together and take them apart a few times, and then guess which was which.  He could easily and instantly pick out the Lego pieces.  Not only do they slide together more smoothly, but they come apart better, too.  Some of the Mega Bloks pieces are really hard to separate (I almost had to use my teeth at one point).

Mega Bloks (L), Lego (R).
The pieces look very similar, but the Lego blocks are made out of a heavier, higher quality plastic.  Also, the Lego pieces have additional ridges along the inside of the blocks that grip the connecting pegs and must improve the fit:

Mega Bloks (L), Lego (R).
The Lego set also includes a few extras of the smallest pieces, which is nice if you're prone to losing things.  Here's a picture of the completed set:


At this point, I let my son off the hook and took the two sets into my workroom for some closer pictures.  I'll start by showing you some of the details of the Barbie Pet Shop:


First, here's the Barbie figure that comes with the set:

Mega Bloks Barbie

Her black skirt is removable (it slides off if you separate the doll's torso from her legs), and she has painted pink shorts underneath.  


She also comes with an extra pink skirt.  The interchangeable skirts are a fun feature, and they're easy to get on and off.

Mega Bloks Barbie

She's not as exciting as some of the other Barbie figures, but she has a nice hairstyle (that falls off) and great facial screening.

Here you can see how her body comes apart into three pieces:





Her hair has two holes--one on the back and one on the side.  These are so that little decorative shapes can be attached to make it look like she has a bow or a flower in her hair:


Here she is with a pink flower in her hair:

These decorations also fall out very easily.
Her articulated hips allow her to sit on the ground in a natural pose:

Mega Bloks Barbie

But this pose highlights this doll's paint defect: a string of black running up her legs:


This set comes with three pets--two dogs and a cat.  My favorite is this little brown Chihuahua-type dog:


He's super-tiny (only 2.5 centimeters high) but has a really cute little expression and several painted features, including a pink collar with a molded "B" on it.



He can attach to any of the building block pegs, but also stands perfectly well on his own.


I love his lopsided ears and his happy, open mouth.  If you like this dog but don't want to buy the big Pet Shop set, he is included in one of the smaller figure sets called "Puppy Pals" (set #80202, $5.99).


Here's the long-haired white cat figure:


She's about the same size as the brown dog, but doesn't have as much detail.  She has a beaded collar that is unpainted, and a pink tag on her collar with another "B."  She also has a pink tiara that looks like it's made of a few interconnected hearts.  She has a cute pink nose and a happy face, but her features are tough to see against the white vinyl.


The third figure is a pink and white poodle.  Given the realistic coloring of the other two pets, I was surprised by the poodle.  Not that people don't paint their poodles pink...but they certainly aren't born this way:  

My poodle figure is a little dirty or smudged in several places.
This figure has a painted pink collar (with a "B") and also a silver and pink bow in her hair.  Opposite the bow, there's also a hole for inserting small plastic hair decorations.


Here's the poodle wearing two different ornaments--a purple flower and a pink heart:



The poodle attaches to two building block pegs and so she can't stand on a diagonal when she's attached to the floor of the shop.



Now, let's take a closer look at the Pet Shop itself:

Mega Bloks Barbie

From the front, you can see that a lot of the main structure of the shop is composed of larger single building pieces.  The bay window, for example, is all one piece.  The shop has clear doors that actually open and close.  These work really well and look great.  The topiary trees on either side of the door are pretty flimsy and fall out easily.

The base plates are warped.


The sign above the door seems backwards to me (with the Barbie logo facing out) but this is how it's shown in the directions.  The other side of the sign shows a picture of the three pets, which strikes me as a better indication of what kind of shop this is and should probably be facing the street:


Moving around to the left side of the shop, there's an aquarium window and a little patch of green "grass:"


The grass is decorated with two different kinds of flowers--tulips and something with carnation-type petals.  These flowers have exactly the same stem design as Lego flowers, but the blooms are decorative and can't be used for building.  Some Lego flowers actually have pegs and behave like other single-peg pieces.


In the little grassy area, there's a dog bowl with a bone in it, and also a small display shelf.  At least I assumed that this was a display shelf (which is why I put a bone on it).  After re-examining the pictures on the box, though, I think this is meant to be a cat climbing structure.  Whatever it is, it's not very sturdy.  The blue part of the top shelf falls off if it is bumped, and the other two shelves are easy to knock out of place.


The "aquarium" is just a sticker applied to a large window.  This was a bit of a disappointment since it's completely two dimensional and the fish colors don't even show from inside the shop.  It does look neat from the outside, though:


At the back of the yard, there's a swinging pink gate that opens into the shop:




One of the accessories in this set is a purple purse that is molded in a permanently open position to accommodate the smaller pets:


The Barbie figure can hold this purse in one hand, and the dog peeks out in an adorable way:




The purse is decorated with a small molded bow.  The base has two holes and can attach to any of the building pieces.


On the inside of the shop, Barbie has a narrow desk with a laptop computer and two countertop tiles:


The tiles have stickers of random pet products and the laptop can open and close:


In the picture above, notice the two tiles on the floor with paw prints.  These seem out of place to me.  Other than the tiles under the gate to the yard, these are the only two tiles on the floor.  The paw prints are stickers...and they just make it look like Barbie needs to wash her floor.

The laptop is one of the better accessories.  It has a sticker screen and a molded keyboard:



The bottom of the laptop is shaped like a regular tile building piece and can be attached to any surface:


A white version of this laptop can also be purchased in the "Vacation Time Summer" figure set (#80203, $5.99)--the one with the redheaded Barbie that I showed you in the beginning.

On the left side of the shop, there's a lot going on.  There's a window seat, a pet bed, a grooming table, and another aquarium...or what I think is an aquarium:


The pet bed is hidden away at the back, but it looks comfy and it just the right size for the two smaller pets:


The aquarium might be a display cabinet showing off ocean-themed clips...I can't be completely sure.  There are no clues on the box.  This brings me to one of my issues with this set in general: is it a pet shop or a pet salon?  Despite the name, it looks like grooming is the primary focus here, with all of the hair decorations and the styling table. 


In any case, the aquarium decoration is one of the focal points of this set--it's big, colorful, and the sea creatures can be rotated around by turning the jewel-shaped knob on the top of the structure:


The spinning mechanism is not very well-designed.  The top tends to pop off every time I try to spin the fish, unless I am pushing firmly down on the top the whole time.

I think the three fish are a purple angel fish, a blue seahorse, and a yellow damsel fish.

There are nine holes punched into the transparent sides of this aquarium:

You know, so the fish can breathe.
In the middle of the shop is the grooming table.  This table is pretty small, but it's surrounded by handles holding different grooming tools.  There's a blow dryer, a brush, and a mirror (to show the pets how they look after they're done.  Because they care).




My son and I were amused by the fact that the top of the grooming table has a sticker with fake pink sparkles, while some of the other pieces are made with real pink sparkles molded into them:

Why not just make the table with the real glittery plastic?
I think the mirror is actually for Barbie, although the white sticker doesn't offer much of a reflection...

She's a vampire.
Moving back to the exterior of the shop, the right side doesn't have a yard or many pieces--just the impressive bay window and another trio of tulips:




Overall, I'd say that the main structure of the shop is sturdier than I expected, but there are some flimsy pieces like the trees in front, the climbing structure in the yard, and the spinning aquarium.  The interior of the shop is too cramped to be played with easily.  However, it would be simple to move the grooming table and the aquarium out of the shop to open up more room for manipulating the small figures and accessories.  I like the working front doors and the opening gate, and the addition of an outside yard adds some realism to this pet-friendly environment.  However, the contrasting green base plate makes it harder to change the layout of the shop in a realistic way.  I wish the set was more clearly a pet shop or a grooming salon...this boutique-sized store can't do both very convincingly.  The small number of versatile structural pieces limits this set's use for creative re-building.

Mega Bloks Barbie

Now, let's contrast this Barbie set with the Lego Friends Heartlake Pet Salon:

Lego Friends Pet Salon

As I did with the Pet Shop, I'll start by showing you the dolls and pet that come with this set, and then I'll show you the salon itself.  

Joanna has an articulated neck, arms and legs.  Her legs move as one piece.  She can balance securely on her own without a Lego brick or a stand:


She has dark skin and large brown eyes.  Her pale pink lips and visible teeth look strange up close, but are a bit more natural-looking from a distance.


Her hair is worn in a single braid down the back of her neck. There's a hole at the top of the braid that fits the pegs on the various hair accessories.  The hairstyle also has some tendrils hanging down on either side of Joanna's face, which hides the fact that she doesn't have ears.  The hair is made out of a slightly bendable vinyl.



She comes apart into three pieces: her hair, her torso and her feet.  The hair is easy to remove, but it also stays on much better than the Barbie hair.


I was interested try and figure out why the Lego hair attachment is so much better than the Mega Bloks version.  Each figure has a peg on the top of her head that secures the hair, and these pegs are exactly the same size and shape:


The overall head size is larger on the Lego figure, though, and this might contribute to the hair's security.

The attachment sites on the hair are also different: the Lego hair has a circular hole like a traditional Lego piece, but the Mega Bloks hair has a slightly octagonal hole with rounded edges: 


The underside of Joanna's feet are hollow so that they can attach to Lego pegs:


The two halves of her body connect with an elongated oval peg and hole:


Joanna sits up nicely on her own:


She has a cute outfit with an orange print tank top and bright pink capri pants.  The pants even have a buttoned cuff detail:


Here's the other figure, Emma:


She has a close-mouthed smile and emerald green eyes:


Her hair is molded to be loose around her shoulders.  It can also hold any of the hair decorations:


Emma and Joanna can trade hair, which is fun:


Emma is wearing a flower-printed tank top and a ruffled pink skirt.  She also has a painted lavender bead necklace:


The Lego Friends are just under an inch shorter than the Barbie figure (measured when Barbie wasn't on her stand):


And just slightly taller than most traditional Lego minifigures:


The Friends characters are sweet and childlike.  My husband remarked that they remind him of the Mii avatars that you can create on a Wii gaming console, and I definitely see the resemblance.  They're far more realistic than the classic yellow-faced Lego minifigures, but they're not realistic in an absolute sense.

The Lego poodle figure is white, and doesn't have any pink fur:


She has a painted pink collar with a detailed silver buckle that is only visible between her ears on the front of her body:


She has holes under her front and back feet that allow her to attach to other Lego pieces:


And she has a hole on the very top of her head so she can share hair decorations with the girls:



She has blue eyes, which is rare in poodles and also considered a breed fault.

Looks cute to me.
The Lego poodle is slightly bigger than the smaller Barbie pets:


And quite a bit shorter than the Barbie pink poodle:


The Barbie figures and the Lego figures look so different, it's hard to compare them.  The Barbies are tall and look like fashionable adults, while the Friends are shorter and look like kids.  The Barbie figures are more realistic, while the Friends have a cartoon-like appearance.  I like both styles of figure, but the Lego Friends are easier to play with--both because they are sturdier on their feet, and also because their hair stays put and is fun to trade between dolls.

The pets are a mixed bag.  My favorite pet is the small brown Mega Bloks dog.  He has the most personality of the whole bunch.  However, the Lego poodle is my second favorite.  She is solid and easy to manipulate, and I like how her painted features match the style of the Lego Friend girls.  I wish that the Lego Friends set had come with a better variety of pets.

Now, let's take a tour of the Lego Friends Pet Salon:

Lego Friends Pet Salon

This building has an open roof, but there's a lot of roof facade detail along the front of the salon:


The sign has the same picture on each side--a dog and a cat with silver hearts and a purple paw print:


This building has a single clear door in the front that opens and closes:


It also has some decorations on either side of the front door:

Lego Friends Pet Salon

To the right of the door is a cluster of flowers and two structures that look like bird houses:

Or maybe this is another kind of cat climbing structure??
To the left of the door is another cluster of flowers and a water bowl:

Lego Friends Pet Salon

I like how the transparent blue pieces are used for water!
So creative.
These flowers do not look as realistic as the Barbie flowers, but they can be stacked with other Lego blocks:


The yellow flowers act like regular building pieces, but the pink flowers can only have things attached on top of them:


Around towards the back of the building, there's a water tap with a grate underneath it.  This is the kind of small, unexpected detail that I think makes Lego sets so special:


Looking at the shop from the back, there are two accessories that do not attach to the blue base plates at all:

Lego Friends Pet Salon

There's a small shelf displaying hair decorations and bones for sale:

All of the hair decorations in this set are purple.

And there's a bathtub:


Notice the red and blue pieces underneath the two taps--marking hot and cold water:

So clever.
The tub fits the poodle perfectly:


In the picture below, Joanna is holding a Lego piece that's usually meant to be feathers, but for this set it's been cast in metallic grey to act as a pair of grooming scissors:

Lego Friends Pet Salon
Yet another creative use of pieces!
Inside the shop, there's a small sales counter with a cash register:



To the right of the cash register, there's a red angled brick (a price scanner, maybe?) and a bin with two green twigs in it (Greenies chew toys, perhaps?):


Underneath the cash register, there's a pink drawer that actually opens.  This drawer contains a single $100 bill:

Exact change only, please.
Behind the cash register, there are some tiles hanging on the wall. These have stickers to make them look like boxes with pet-related products inside:


On the top is a dog collar, and under that is a cat toy assortment:


Behind the cash register is a small display of various pet food items:


There's a bag of dog food, a bag of cat food, and several smaller cans, one of them with a printed design on it:

Bones are not actually a good diet for dogs....
On the opposite side of the salon, there's a shelf holding three of the grooming tools, and a few grips on the wall that can hold the remaining salon items:


The shelf holds up to four things--here I have it holding a brush, a comb, and a mirror.  The part of the shelf that is supporting the mirror can spin around:


The grips on the wall are holding a blow dryer and the feather scissors:



There's also a yellow bin on this side of the store that holds all of the extra purple hair accessories:



Here's a sampling of those hair decorations:


The Lego Pet Salon is what I would expect from Lego after many years of experience with this company.  It is sturdy, attractive, and filled with clever little details.  The Lego set has the same base plate surface area as the Mega Bloks set, but it uses that space differently.  Almost the entire surface is taken up by the salon building, and there are just a few small details outside the salon's walls.  This means that the salon itself is larger than Barbie's shop, and it's easier to move things around and play inside the building.  The Lego set also encourages play outside the confines of the salon by including two large accessories (the bathtub and the shelf) that are independent from the main structure.  However, these two items could be traded with the cash register or the grooming tool display for a variety of furniture arrangements.  The high piece count and the versatility of the pieces give this set the potential to transform into a number of other structures.

The pieces are interchangeable between the Mega Bloks set and the Lego set, so Barbie could visit the Friends Pet Salon....

She'll need to duck her head to get in the door, though!
Or the adorable Barbie dog could be groomed here:


And of course Emma and Joanna could bring their poodle to Barbie's pet store, too:


Bottom line?  Despite their wayward hair, I find the miniature Barbie figures appealing--especially the figures that are sold on their own in little pink cardboard boxes.  It's neat that Barbie dolls can be successfully translated into this tiny scale.  If you don't mind gluing the hair down, these are charming, inexpensive little figures and could be great for portable play, or even to be used as dolls for your larger dolls.  They are compatible with Lego building sets as well as Mega Bloks sets, so there's huge potential for building houses, shops, castles or boats for them--whole towns if you have the pieces and the time.  I also like the pet figures, particularly the charismatic little brown Chihuahua. 

As far as the building sets go, however, I unequivocally prefer the Lego set...particularly since the suggested retail price is just a few dollars more than the Mega Bloks set.  I have always thought of Mega Bloks as the less expensive (and therefore not quite as nice) alternative to Lego.  However, at least with the two sets I reviewed here, Mega Bloks aren't significantly less expensive, but they are noticeably different in quality.

The main quality differences fall into three areas: construction, design and versatility.

Construction: the Lego set has almost three times as many pieces as the Mega Bloks set, and far more basic, structural pieces.  For those who like to build, this makes the Lego set the superior choice.  Furthermore, the Lego pieces go together and come apart much more smoothly than the Mega Bloks pieces, so the building process is less frustrating and doesn't cause sore fingers (or teeth!).

Design: This Mega Bloks set relies on stickers to complete several of the design ideas.  The window has an aquarium sticker, most of the pet accessories are stickers, and there's even a sticker to change the appearance of a table surface.  In contrast, the Lego set has creatively built-in details like the bird houses in front of the salon, the faucet at the side of the building, and the hot and cold indicators on the bathtub taps.  Also, the Lego set's floor plan is arranged in a way that makes it more accessible for play.

Versatility: The Lego pieces are much more versatile.  The majority of the piece count is composed of traditional building blocks that could be re-used to construct something from a child's imagination.  The Mega Bloks set has a lot of tiny decorative pieces that can't be used for building.  These are all counted as individual pieces, making the set appear more complex than it is.  The coloring of the Lego pieces is also refreshingly versatile.  We know that this is a toy designed for girls, but the pieces are mostly neutral colors, with a fair amount of blue in the mix, too.  

As an avid builder in a house full of builders, I highly recommend the Lego set, and would certainly choose it over the Mega Bloks set.  However, when it comes to the little figures, I like both the Lego Friend girls and the miniature Barbies.  I applaud Mega Bloks for their brilliant idea of selling these little Barbie dolls on their own...and that's exactly how I would recommend buying them.


38 comments:

  1. My family has loved LEGO for years, including Mr. BTEG. I'm glad they're still putting out quality sets for kids.

    If it makes you feel better, pretend the bones are just bone-shaped dog treats. :)

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    1. Good idea, Barb! The thought of a dog eating a bowl full of bones makes my teeth hurt! The pretend bag of cat food has pictures of little fish, so I actually think you're right that these are meant to be novelty-shaped kibble...not actual bones and fish. Or that's what I'm going with, anyway. ;)

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  2. Though I have not played with either of these sets, it seems that the Mega block set is more of a "playset" and the Lego set is more of a "building set". I can't imagine most of the Megablock pieces being used as anything but the pet salon, but I can picture the lego pieces getting transformed into other things. I do find the themes of Lego Friends sets that I have seen to be a little disappointing- a lot of shops and things, but not a lot of spaceships or castles or the gender neutral toys I had come to respect Lego for producing.

    A wonderful review as always.

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    1. There won't be many spaceships or castles because the setting is a town but the town does have a marina with boats. Also there is a Jungle Rescue side theme on the way that is pretty exciting.

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    2. Well said, RLC! It's very true that the building options are more limited with the Mega Blok set, making it seem much more like a playset.

      I also hear what you're saying about the themes, and have thought about this a lot. I've convinced myself that Lego's strategy with this line must have been to draw in a group of kids who were not interested in the castles and spaceships that they were already making. I think there are probably a lot of girls (like me!) who are buying the gender neutral traditional sets, but the Friends are purposefully embracing more domestic themes in order to attract a new crowd. I've also heard the argument that the regular Lego lineup is skewed towards boys, so the Friends even the balance a little.

      What I think would be a real shame is if consumers begin to assume that girls will only be interested in the Friends sets. Or worse...if girls feel out-of-place if they wander away from the Disney/Friends Lego section to admire the awesome castles. So...I definitely share some of your unease about the gender segregation of the sets, but am also happy to see that the creativity, complexity and quality seem to hold steady across all of the different themes.

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    3. Let me first say that my husband is an avid LEGO enthusiast; he has about 100,000 pieces. My two daughters literally grew up with LEGO; first they had the Primo sets, then the Duplo, then the regular LEGO. They also were allowed to play with different kinds of toys; my eldest loved Brio trains when she was little. They're now 18 and 15.

      Having said that, not every girl likes playing with spaceships or castles or even just plain old building with LEGO. My girls liked having building time with Daddy, but never did much building on their own. This way girls can have the building aspect of LEGO, but also creatively act out stories, as many girls like to do with regular dolls. Girls and boys don't always have to act in a stereotyped way, but all kids aren't alike either. I don't blame LEGO for trying to get more kids interested in buying their products. There were obviously girls who weren't interested in traditional LEGO, and having seen this in my own daughters, it just doesn't give me any unease about gender issues.

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    4. That's a lot of Lego pieces, Barb!! Whoa. It is really interesting how people respond so differently to Lego, isn't it? My boys grew up with Lego, too, and their approaches to it could not have been more different. My younger son builds because he loves to build...the bigger the set, the better. My older son always bought figures (robots, Bionicles) and grudgingly built them so that he could play these massive imaginary games! I think in general, the more themes Lego produces, the more kids (and adults!) can find the perfect set for whatever style of play they enjoy. My unease comes when I wonder if some kids--despite their personal preferences--might feel that certain sets are more acceptable for them to like than others? Not sure if this happens, but I do wonder.

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    5. It might happen, because we definitely don't live in a perfect world. And I'm not saying you're putting this on LEGO, but it seems to be a common theme among more than one review of the LEGO Friends line that I've read, that LEGO is giving in to generic stereotypes. But many other toy companies make toys where some will appeal to more boys, and some will appeal to more girls. I wonder if part of this is because these LEGO sets are basically the same across the different lines, except with different colors and themes. I just wanted to point out that there were girls out there who didn't play with traditional LEGO, but who might be interested in the Friends line. It's not LEGO's fault for expanding its base.

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    6. That’s an interesting point about how most Lego sets are, at their core, the same...just with different colors, pieces and themes. Maybe this is what causes people to focus on the packaging and marketing more than they might for other toys? Hm. I certainly find the aisle placement to be an unusually interesting detail (putting the Friends with the dolls, not the other Legos).

      Even though I can’t help but wonder about how kids react to this marketing, for every boy who avoids the Friends aisle now, or every girl who might think she needs to stick to the “girl” Legos, I’ll happily concede that there could easily have been twice as many kids who avoided Lego completely before the Friends were introduced because they couldn't find a set that appealed to them in the traditional line.

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  3. Oh my! I'm so so happy that you did this comparison post! You see, last Christmas I received a miniature barbie with extras as a secret santa gift, and I've been DYING to see the comparison between Lego friends and her with my own eyes! However, I wasn't a very big fan of miniature dolls back then (although I loved the mini Lalaloopsies), and Barbie's tendency of her hair falling off and that her accessories is everywhere made me dislike her at the first day. More ever, after seeing your post, I think I still like the Lego friends more because... I don't really know, but the "chunky" body size seemed more sturdier (and cute to look at) instead of Barbie's. I do like my mini Barbie a bit more though, but I still need to find a Lego friend for her! :) Thank you so much for writing this awesome review that made my day!

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    1. Hi Jenny! I am so glad that you enjoyed this review! I don't often get a chance to chat about Lego and mini dolls, but it's a real passion of mine. :) I agree with you about the sturdiness of the Friends. They are so much easier to play with than the mini Barbies, and I like that they don't need a stand or a building block to keep them from tipping over! I also think they have very sweet faces and are refreshingly ageless. It would be really fun to have a whole mini town full of them! Maybe a Lego Friend could be Barbie's little sister or something?

      Check out Annabelle's excellent suggestion, below, about using some kind of blu tack for Barbie's hair. I hadn't thought of this--but it would help with the hair loss problem, and yet you'd still be able to swap hair between dolls if you want! Brilliant!

      Thank you so much for your nice comment--it made MY day! :D

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  4. This was a great comparison! I loved how you also involved your son into this, since we also get another perspective on both sets and from someone who has played with them before. Anyways, I liked the Lego set better, since it has more creative details and the blocks are of higher quality. However, there are 2 things I noticed about the Mega Bloks set:
    1. The pink brush has a hole in the bristle part. How are you supposed to use that?
    2. The paw print tiles near Barbie's desk could be a mat where the pups cleaned their paws! Or maybe the pawprints are decoration?
    Overall, you did a great review! :) I loved it!

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    1. Thank you! I'm really glad you enjoyed this comparison--it's an unusual type of review for me, but I love seeing all of the keen observations here in the comments!

      You have sharp eyes! Good call about the brush. There is a huge hole in it, isn't there? Maybe it's supposed to be a special kind of pet grooming brush--almost like a horse's curry comb? It could also just be a manufacturing shortcut! I also like your idea to think of the tiles as special mats for cleaning the pet's feet. I need one of those in my own house, actually! ;)

      What surprised me most about my son's involvement was that he seemed to have a really good time building the Lego Friends set. I think he'd happily help me build another some day. The fact that Lego created a set "for girls" that doesn't scare away a teenaged boy is quite impressive!

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  5. I've been eying the Lego girls off for some time, and I find the Mega barbies intriguing, mainly because I love all things small and dollhousey. I've been waiting for the Legos to go on sale as the prices in Australia are a bit over inflated (much like Toys R us). Have you seen the Disney Lego sets? I really want the Rapunzel and Brave sets, but the prices on these are even more over inflated. (On the plus side we're actually getting Ever after High in Australia now, so that's where all my money is going..)

    My daughter hasn't been interested in the Lego sets, she prefers the older figures, but being an animal lover I think she will like the Lego pet salon. And I would have one of the other sets for myself of course, just so we can play together ;)

    Also Emily, I've just posted the first entry on my new blog which is all about my doll related craft projects. I'd love for you to have a look at it. moondolly.blogspot.com.au (Suzy from Australia)

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    1. Hi Suzy! Your blog is gorgeous. I love Hazel. Her expression is wonderful--what a character! The house and clothes you have created for her are so warm and cozy, they make me wish I was 20cm tall, too! Thank you so much for sharing the link. When I was a child, I used to knit my own plush toy horses to play with, so reading about Hazel and your love for knitting and crocheting brought back many fond memories. What fun you must have with your daughter!

      I have been meaning to review the Rapunzel Lego set, too, but it keeps getting bumped by other ideas. I wonder if my son would help me build that?? Might be pushing it, although he did love the movie... ;D

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    2. Thanks Emily. I was making a few dolls for gifts and as often happens with me I fell in love with Hazel and kept her. It's amazing what 2 lines of yarn can do to a doll's expression. My daughter and I do have lots of fun together. She's very good at knitting and sewing but it's usually her placing an order with me for something she wants ;)

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  6. This was a really nice review, thanks for such a thorough comparison!

    I think when it comes to Mega Bloks vs. Lego friends you find yourself with Substance vs. Style. The Barbie sets/dolls have always been prettier but the playsets seem iffy while the lego sets seem to be a lot more dedicated to versatility (their school, for instance, can be constructed in 4 different formations). Both figurines represent their big brands well but I do think Lego Friends, despite the price (or maybe because of it) are the far superior choice.

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    1. I could not agree more! This is an excellent summary of the contrast between these two toys. It's especially exciting that some of the bigger Lego Friends sets come with instructions for several different formations--like the Creator line, it seems. In contrast, I picked up a large Barbie Mega Bloks house set at Walmart, and it was so light, I was convinced that there must have been pieces missing. After this review, I know that it's just lacking substance--exactly like you said. I guess I am a sucker for the thrill and promise of a big, heavy new Lego set. It represents hours or even days of fun. :)

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  7. Personally from a kid's point of view I like CL ( Classic Lego ) and LF ( Lego Friends ) best, because CL is more realistic but LF is more " imaginary " if you know what I mean. Barbie is a more distant third, it's like barbie is trying to steal all of Lego's customer, next thing you know they'll be making pink hotwheel'ish cars.
    Attack of the Barbie anyone?

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    1. LOL! "Attack of the Barbie!" :D It's fantastic to hear a kid's perspective on this, Alice. Thank you! And I like your analysis of the differences. I hadn't thought of the Lego Friends from that angle--but you're right. The Friends products present a wonderful framework for a versatile, open, imaginary mini-world that is very inviting. I can see myself getting lost in that world!

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  8. (I'm sorry if this is extremely similar to another comment, I couldn't tell if it was posted or eaten by your website... :P)

    "You know, so the fish can breathe" Is the best thing I've heard in the past 6 months.
    Also, the little brown dog reminds me of Monkeypants. Maybe that's why you like him so much. ;)

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    1. Hi Muzzy! Is my website eating comments again? Sorry about that! Naughty website.

      That little dog does look like Pants! You're right!! There's no doubt that I have a soft spot for little Chihuahua-type dogs.

      I'll admit that the fish breathing was my son's joke. I laughed for about five minutes and then told him I had to steal it for the blog. ;)

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  9. Hi Emily,
    What a great review - this time for my daughter who is almost four. On my husband's next business trip to the USA the leggo set is definitly going on his shopping list. Thanks for a great review
    Tali from Israel.

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    1. Hi Tali, thank you! I grew up with Lego toys and so did both of my boys. I cannot recommend them enough! Four seems like a great age to get started--you will have so much fun together. :)

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    2. Always fun! The fact that this is a 2-figure set makes it even better because she'll start off with 2 characters to play with!

      Plus, Lego is set to release wee little female scientist sets this fall, so she can have the pretty, animal-loving "girly" girls, plus some STEM enthusiasts. :)

      I mostly cannibalize the Friends sets for pieces I can share with my standard Lego sets, but I'm not the target demographic anymore. I can certainly see little ones loving these sets, especially since they represent so many interests (one of Olivia's sets is a science lab, complete with a robot and his "remote control")!

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  10. Great review, thanks for sharing all the little details! Throughout the review I also came to think that the LF set seemed like the better product. Personally, I also find the LF dolls cuter, too - they seem to have less painting errors compared to the Barbies, is that what you've found?

    I had a thought about the Barbie's hair though. How about putting a thin layer of blu tack on their head? It might require a bit of molding each time you change the hair, but at least the hair would stay put while someone was playing with it.

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    1. Hi Annabelle--that's an outstanding idea! Why didn't I think of that? Blu tack would allow hair swapping between dolls, but could reduce or even eliminate the hair loss hassles! I will definitely try it. Great suggestion!

      I did notice more paint defects on the Barbies, yes. The thing is, the defects are so small, I often didn't even see them until I was staring at enlarged photographs. But you're right--the Lego figures are higher quality in general. There's just something about the boxed single Barbies that's super-appealing to me. It's partly the guilt-free price, but also the fact that I adore miniatures, and these figures are pretty accurate mini Barbies. If I had to pick one over the other, though, I'd go with the Friends.

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    2. This is what I do with my Friends characters, since the hair on mine just WILL NOT stay on otherwise.

      The stickiness is just enough to keep the hair from falling off unless you take it off deliberately.

      I just wish Lego and MB would use their regular hard plastic to make the hairpieces for these, like they do with their regular minifigures. It's not like the softer texture adds any benefits at all.

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    3. No worries, sounds like it worked for goth-is-not-emo, so I hope it worked for you, too! I wonder if they'll make any changes to the hair design in the future.

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  11. Hi! I've always loved Legos, and have quite a few Friends sets. (Alongside Hogwarts castle, Bilbo's hobbit hole, and a Star Wars landspeeder) ;) The Barbie sets came out after the Friends, so everything about them to me screamed "Hi! I'm a blatant rip off!" The mini figure packs look interesting though. I'll have to check them out. Great review as always! -Minty
    P.S. Am I the only one who thinks Mattel and Google are fighting for world domination?

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    1. Hi Minty! Oooh! You have Hogwarts? All of the versions of Hogwarts have looked amazing to me--talk about clever details! I am very tempted by some of the other Lego Friends sets after this review experience. I'd love to know which is your favorite so far!

      I have definitely noticed Mattel taking over entire aisles at the toy store. At TRU the other day I was amazed by how many brands were clearing out (La Dee Da, Cutie Pops, Bratz, Pinkie Cooper, Bandai Dorothy...) to make room for Monster High and Ever After High.

      Today the toy aisles, tomorrow the world?? ;)

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    2. Bratz is coming back tho. MGA decided to take a hiatus to refresh the Bratz brand.

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    3. Hi Emily! I agree, Hogwarts is amazing! I love all the little details, like Mrs. Noris, the little cat, and "locked" sliding panels in front of the forbidden section of the library.
      As for the Friends sets, the bakery is one of my favorites. The mini food is great, the baker minifig is adorable,(and has red hair!) and the shop is very realistic. Plus, we all know how much you love miniature kitchens!

      Ha! Yes, I agree! It's sad to see so many smaller companies blown out of the water by big, behemoth companies like Mattel. Nothing against Mattel, but they need to let other companies takes stand as well.
      Thanks for being awesome about people like me writing novels in your comments!
      -Minty

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  12. Really nice review! Ive been hoping that some one would do the barbie mega blocks, they seemed so interesting online. I've never seen them in stores, I see the lego friends all the tome though. Have you seen the Disney princess ones? They're so cute, I especially like the Merida set and the Ariel, Eric boat ride. I also believe I've seen a Cinderella one as well, Maybe that can be a future review topic.

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    1. Thank you, Amber! I have seen the Disney Princess sets, yes! They look wonderful, and are an excellent review suggestion. I actually own one of the sets, and had planned to review it even before this, but it got bumped for other things. I think it will make a great follow-up...and my son has already agreed to help again! :)

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  13. I've never tried Mega Bloks before, but I'm not surprised about the quality difference. A couple of years ago I tried some clearanced Kre-O transformers, and they weren't as high quality as Lego. Their pieces didn't seem to fit together well in some of the sets. There may have been some warped pieces. Some of the robot mode designs were a bit gangly and the scale was inconsistent. I've also read reviews where certain sets would be missing pieces. The Kreon figures have a little extra movement, but I prefer how Lego minifigs look. The transformer Kreons were fine, but the humans look goofy to me. Now I wonder how Mega Bloks compares to Kre-O.

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  14. Excellent detailed review as always! I just love these tiny little Barbie figures...I snagged two at Walmart this morning :) There is something so addicting about miniatures!

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  15. Great comparative review! I don't have any of the Mega Bloks Barbies, but I do own one Friends figure (Stephanie).

    Regarding your husband's comment, I just wanted to let you know that that the Nintendo Wii Mii avatars are actually patterned after traditional Japanese Kokeshi dolls.

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I value and welcome all opinions, but comments with abusive or offensive language will be deleted.