It's been a couple of months since Lego released the Stranger Things-themed set 'The Upside Down', featuring what it probably Lego's most mature-oriented licensing deal yet. It's a set that features two different version of the Byers' house from the show, one in the real world and one in the dark parallel dimension of the Upside Down. And the Upside Down is literally upside down, attached to the bottom of its real world counterpart.
It certainly looks impressive, but what is the set like once you get your hands on it? With the third season of the show hitting Netflix on 4th July, we thought it would be a good idea to find out.
The main issue with 'The Upside Down' is that it's so remarkably tedious to build thanks to it being essentially the same set that has to be built twice. Both houses are mirrored, but otherwise almost completely identical, so once you get past the 'real' Byers house the whole thing becomes a chore. A chore worsened by the fact the Upside Down version is almost completely devoid of any colour beyond black and blue, which is annoyingly difficult to sift through and see properly on the instructions.
It's the same problem people will experience with the Taj Mahal or the Saturn V, in that there is so much repetition it's an absolute pain to do it all. You have to take big long breaks to get back into the mindset – and by that I mean take a break to sleep. Stopping for a few hours to eat a burger and get some other stuff done wasn't enough to make building the Upside Down house any more interesting. Sadly I had to get through the build quickly so I could finish writing before I go on holiday, and before season 3 hits Netflix. My advice is not to do this. Maybe watch a couple of episodes between building phases, and for god's sake take a break if you start feeling resentful of the whole process.
Building the trees was also kind of a bind, because the instructions tell you to empty out the bags for sections 10 and 11 at the same time. So you have about five bags-worth of pieces to sift through, because someone didn't bother to separate the two sections properly. Would it have been so difficult to put one set of tree pieces in bag 10 and the other in bag 11? It honestly would have made life so much easier than dumping them all out together.
At the very least I would have had more desk space to work with.
The stickers weren't so bad though. There are quite a lot of them, thanks to the duplicates in the Upside Down, but it could have been a lot worse. The good news is that the newspapered-up windows are printed elements, so you don't have to worry about fiddling around with the already-fiddly pieces.
The instruction books (there are two of them) also go beyond what you'd normally expect from a regular set that didn't come from Lego ideas. Each one has an introduction discussing various parts of the show and the set itself, and scattered throughout the instructions are little facts about where Stranger Things got some of its inspiration from. Like how Hopper's uniform is based on the police in Jaws or how Eleven's dress-and-wig get-up was based on ET on Halloween. So as tedious as the build can feel at times, you do get to spice things up with some behind the scenes trivia. A nice touch for fans, but it's going to be lost on people who just aren't into it.
Lego didn't miss a trick with Eleven's placement, however, and she can be found in one of the '11' bags. As she should be.
Obviously the main thing about this set is that it's almost identical whichever way you orient it - just with a few stylistic changes to note the difference between the real world and the Upside Down. While that proves tedious, the set itself is full of things fans of Stranger Things will get a chuckle out of. There are a lot of D&D references scattered throughout, including a rule book, a wizard's hat, and more, plus Lego has done a lot to try and recreate things we've seen inside the Byers household from the series. Mainly the first season, but also some bits from Season 2, like Will's sketches of the Mind Flayer or Hopper's pumpkin.
Sadly the Mind Flayer does not make an appearance, because why would it? It's far too big for a set like this.
There's also a light up brick that helps represent the lights Will uses to communicate with his mother from across dimensions, which is a nice touch. Not perfect, but nice. As is the string of Christmas lights in both versions of the set.
While the roof of the Byers' house is feels rather weak, and moves a bit every time I flip the set, the whole thing has been deliberately designed to allow the flip-flopping around that lets you play and display the set in any orientation you choose. There are zero loose pieces, and everything is fixed down to account for the fact gravity is going to get in the way - including Sheriff Hopper's car which has its own special pedestal of sorts. Even the bike, which initially seems like the one one out, had the little bar at the bottom fixing it to the ground.
And the gravity problem has clearly had a lot of thought spent on it, because each set hasn't been put together with the usual back-to-back bricks. Instead Lego physically clipped them together, as you can see above, in 12 different places. Four on the front, four on the back, and two on each side - the latter four having the added bonus of clipping the houses to the tree stands fairly securely. It's a shame we had to get the three-pronged pieces in the attachments, but at least it works. And the brown leaves spinning round as the set changes orientation is a nice bonus. Albeit one that may be totally accidental.
Sadly there isn't a whole lot of space to play, making this more of a display piece than anything else. It's not that surprising when you think about it, though, because Stranger Things is very much an adult-themed property, and it's completely unheard of for Lego to release something with these sorts of kid-unfriendly themes. In other words, it feels like a deliberate attempt to stop this from appealing to kids, and target the larger adult audience that can watch the show and actually afford a set that costs this much.
One of the most impressive things about the set, beyond the whole defying-gravity thing, are the minifigs. Or more specifically, the attention that's been put in them. Sadly Sheriff Hopper doesn't dance around in a way that only a dad can, but there are still a few touches that I can appreciate. For one, Will and Dustin's hairpieces that look as though they've been moulded specifically for this set. Also Dustin has the privilege of getting a not-generic face design, no doubt helped by actor Gaten Matarazzo's own unique look.
Oh and Eleven is the only character with hair that doesn't have two different expressions, which means you can let her rock the bald look without her looking like Professor Quirrell. Hopper and Lucas don't have dual-faces either, but that's because they have hats instead of hair.
Last, but not least, is the Demogorgon, which has two unique looks. The main one uses the a moulded piece to represent the flaps of its mouth while open and on the attack, but remove that and you can see a printed head showing the beast with those flaps folded up. It's a clever little touch that means you could display the monster either way, but without having to deal with multiple moulded pieces in the process. Plus to complete the monstery feel, it has the special legs that look like they have backwards-bending knees - like we've seen on the Oz flying monkeys in The Lego Batman Movie.
This is certainly a set fit for any serious Stranger Things fan, like any licensed set really. If you don't like the show then this set is going to be completely lost on you, unless you're obsessively into interesting and clever design. The design is clever, and the way the set has been put together is pretty spectacular - even if it actually seems rather simple when you get down to building it yourself. The only thing worse than having a badly designed set that's supposed to hang upside down is a broken upside down set because gravity got the better of it.
There's not a whole lot of room for playing, which means this set might not be quite as appealing to kids - though that's probably for the best given Stranger Things' more adult subject matter. Still, the design is good enough that it makes a great display piece, which makes it similar to the Ultron Edition Hulkbuster in a lot of ways.
You just have to get through the build process first, which may be a bit of a slog depending on how you do it. My advice is, for the love of god, spread it out. Otherwise you're just going to be pissed off long before the end.
The Upside Down is a Lego Store exclusive, and will set you back £179.99. The first two seasons of Stranger Things are available to watch on Netflix, with the third season debuting on 4th July.