Kre-O HISS and ASP
While this pairing may require you to buy two sets, I was really impressed at how good the HISS Tank (from the Arashikage Dojo) set and the ASP (from the Ghoststriker X-16 set) looked when paired up. As such, I like keeping them together. Plus, on its own, I’ve never been impressed with the ASP just sitting alone, but if you can pair it with a cool vehicle to tow it, I’m all for it. That’s why I love the old Crimson Sabotage set so much. A Crimson HISS is cool, a Crimson ASP is okay, but when you pair them together, it’s just pure awesomeness. The same can be said for its Kre-O counterpart.
Both vehicles are the smaller part of a two piece set, yet Kre-O didn’t cheap out on the design. They really did an excellent job at recreating the original look of both pieces. The ASP has the same angular design of the original and looks good either as a towed item or a standalone gun emplacement. The guns look great and actually launch missiles through a relatively clever friction-based lever firing mechanism. The guns do look a little odd without the missiles in them, but considering they fire from friction rather than via a spring-loaded mechanism, you can leave them locked in so they look right without the risk of wearing out the spring by leaving it locked in place the entire time. Like the original ASP, the main body of the gun emplacement can turn on its base and you can change the guns’ elevation. The guns can’t tip any further down, but considering it’s supposed to be an anti-aircraft battery, that makes a lot of sense. The missiles don’t fire out that well, but considering that it looks better with the missiles in so it looks more like the original long barrels that the ASP had, I’m fine with that. My only real complaint about the design comes from the ASP’s cockpit. It does a great job of replicating the original’s open design but it’s incredibly delicate. I have yet to move raise the cockpit without one side or the other popping off in my hand. I realize that it’s kind of a nitpicky complaint, but I’ve built a lot of Lego sets over the years with cockpits like this and have never had that problem. It’s clear that Kre-O hasn’t quite worked out all the kinks in their design process. It’s not a deal breaker, but there are times you can still tell that you’re working with something more along the lines of the knock-off brands like Mega-Bloks than the big dog Lego itself.
Shifting gears a little, the HISS is easily my favorite Cobra vehicle they’ve created for the line thus far. It’s an amazing representation of the classic Cobra tank in building block form. The silhouette is classic HISS. It’s angular with a great gun turret on top and the treads are perfect. Much like the Pursuit of Cobra HISS, this version uses working rubber treads instead of wheels, but unfortunately it works about just as well. It looks incredible, but the functionality leaves a bit to be desired, especially since you don’t want to push down too hard on the vehicle for fear of popping some bricks loose. This HISS almost feels like a bit of an amalgamation of the first two versions of the HISS. While the silhouette is classic HISS, the front end feels a bit more like the wider, more imposing HISS v2 to me. I’m sure the wideness is just a function of needing a certain width of bricks to accommodate the Kre-O figures, but it’s just something I noticed while looking at it. Unlike most versions of the HISS tank, the Kre-O HISS has some storage space in the back end, which was another feature that made the HISS v2 so popular in the Joe collecting community. While I haven’t tried to put a figure inside, I’m pretty sure that at least one or two Cobra Kre-Os could fit in the back end without problem. However, so the space doesn’t go to waste if you’re not carrying around figures, there’s a small gun drone that’s in the back. I’m not sure why they decided to put it in there, but it is a pretty nice addition. It looks like something that Cobra would use but it’s not actually inspired by anything from the line. I’ll admit, I completely forgot it existed until I was taking photos for this review and was popping open the back end to get a shot of the storage space only to find two gun barrels pointed back out at me. I can see Cobra setting this somewhere and programming it to fire on anything that passes by as a nasty surprise for any pursuing Joes. The HISS’s turret guns operate using the same friction-powered lever system that the ASP’s guns have and fire much better than the ASP’s guns. I imagine it’s because the projectiles loaded in are quite a bit smaller so don’t require as much force to launch them. Like the ASP, however, I do have a couple of rather minor complaints. First off, for whatever reason, the seat for the turret doesn’t really work all that well. I’ve never been able to get Destro to sit securely in it…or any other figure for that matter. I’m not quite sure why that’s happening, but the other seats I’ve dealt with don’t have that problem, so I think there’s a little problem in the pegs somewhere in the seat. Secondly, the HISS’s canopy really doesn’t close all that well. When it’s viewed from profile, it’s pretty clear that the canopy isn’t sitting flush with the base of the cockpit and it looks like it’s because Baroness sits up just a little too high in the driver’s seat. Again, I think this is a function of the designers still needing to work out a few kinks in the building block universe. Neither of these is a major problem, but considering that Hasbro is now trying to run with the big dogs of the building block industry, these little flaws are kind of glaring compared to how well the other companies handle canopies and cockpits.
I’ve always liked the pairing of a HISS and an ASP, but what really sold it for me this time was the colors. The dark blues of both vehicles match perfectly. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but all of the big Cobra ground vehicles that Kre-O has done are in a very nice shade of dark blue. The original ASP was blue and the popular 1997 HISS tank was also molded in that color. It’s a great color for Cobra vehicles and it works really well here. I like that the Cobra vehicles all have a unifying color scheme, be it intentional or not, it was a good call. The stickers also help add some flair, but they’re just a little too transparent. The dark blue from the bricks bleeds through the colors on the stickers quite a bit. It’s not that bad on the ASP, but some of the stickers on the HISS are pretty badly obscured. That said, they do add a lot of classic details. What really makes me smile, though, are the displays. I’ve always liked pieces with displays and dials printed on them. Here, they look great and I love that Baroness is in touch with Cobra Commander via video conference while driving the HISS into battle. As much as I love the vehicles, to me, the Joe line has always been about the figures and the Kre-O figures that are involved here are all great. First off, we get a nice Cobra Trooper variation. Between his large machine gun, the bullet bandolier and the helmet with goggles, it’s clear that this is some sort of Cobra heavy weapons trooper. Pairing the heavy weapons expert with the ASP is a great call and he looks at home in either the cockpit of the ASP or bringing some heavy firepower to the battle on foot. The gun is the standard Kre-O rifle with a clip to allow a knife to be attached to it as well like a bayonet. It’s a good look and I appreciate that Kre-O has allowed us to army build Cobra Troopers while making them look sufficiently different enough that I don’t feel like I’m getting saddled with more and more of the same figures each time I buy a set.
Next up, we come to the First Lady of Cobra—Baroness. I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed that both Destro and Baroness were in a set (with the HISS) that had a lot of ninja stuff going on. I was definitely going to be buying the Arashikage Dojo set for the HISS more than the ninja temple and while the temple is better than I was expecting, I do think it’s a shame that two classic Cobras and a great Cobra vehicle were lumped in with a set that really doesn’t have much to do with them. Issues with set pairings aside, though, Baroness is a great addition to the Kre-O line. They really did a great job of translating her armored bodysuit to the basic Kre-O body and giving it some female detailing as well. Kre-O and Minimates have always been really good at making female block figures look good without straying too far from the standard block construction. It took a long time for Lego to find a good way to make decent looking female figures, but Kre-O has done nice work with the body detailing from the get-go. Her hairpiece is great and definitely has some Baroness flair to it without being permanently wind-swept like the first 25th Anniversary version. For accessories, Baroness has a digital map with the location of the Arashikage Dojo (with details provided by another nice sticker) and a large sniper rifle. I really love the rifle, but it does bring up one of the few limitations of Kre-O figures. Baroness’s gun is nearly twice her size. I understand you can only make accessories like that so small before they become breakable, but I’d almost prefer her just carrying a standard Kre-O rifle so things don’t look so unnatural. It’s like if 25th Anniversary Baroness decided to start using the Pursuit of Cobra Jungle Viper’s colossal gun as her own personal weapon. It just doesn’t quite fit with the character and looks a tad awkward. On the plus side, there is enough negative space in the back end of the HISS to store it nicely while she’s driving the HISS. Next, I felt the need to add Scrap Iron into the mix once I got him. Since the other figures in the set are Destro and Baroness, I think Scrap Iron is a natural fit since I’ve always associated him more with Destro than Cobra itself. Plus, his blue and red color scheme works very well with this HISS. Even since I got my first Scrap Iron in the Cobra Urban Assault set, I’ve been kind of obsessed with that character. There was just something cool that spoke to me. Between the cool helmet, the utilitarian garb, and his specialty, I just thought he was really cool. The Kre-O figure is no exception. The tampo work expertly recreates his original vest and I love that they took the scarred up face from the 25th Anniversary line (apparently based on the variant international card art from back in the day) and carried that over to the Kre-O figure as well. His helmet is the standard Kre-O helmet with a visor and while I wish it would have looked a little different from the standard Kre-O look, I’m okay with it. I love being able to raise the visor to show off his scarred visage. Scrap Iron also came with a pretty loaded bag in terms of accessories. The press photos only showed him armed with a pistol. That’s good and all, but I figured I was going to be a little let down by him because he lacked his signature missile battery. Imagine my surprise when I first felt the bag while I was opening it and it seemed really full. Inside there were a lot of pieces to build a missile battery. It’s a pretty simple piece, but it works so I’m fine with it. His final accessory is a remote trigger for the missile battery. Kre-O Scrap Iron really went above and beyond my hopes by including a missile launcher and it fits nicely in the back end of the HISS, though you do have to swap out the gun station that was originally in there to do it.
Finally, we come to the figure I was really looking forward to—Destro. This look is based around the first version of Destro, though I do hope someday we’ll get an Iron Grenadiers Destro sometime from the Kre-O line. It makes sense for this to be the classic Destro here, but I’d still like to see my preferred Destro somewhere in the Kre-O line. The painted on details are very well done, but since you can’t make a great 70s disco collar using paint alone, Destro gets an added on chest piece to create his big collar. The most impressive detailing, though, is found on his wrists. His left wrist has painted-on wrist rockets and the right wrist has painted on grenades, just like Destro wore on his gauntlet back in the day. Those are details that could have easily been omitted for the sake of ease, but they went and made them anyway. Of course, Destro wouldn’t be Destro without a shiny head. Destro gets a vac-metal head with painted on facial details. The details are surprisingly easy to see against the shiny surface. I’ll admit, I was a little uncertain how well it would work, but it really is a great representation of Destro’s face sculpt. Destro’s also got probably my favorite set of accessories. Scale issues aside, Destro’s submachine gun looks great and reminds me a lot of the gun that Destro hid in his briefcase. Destro also has his requisite briefcase with the M.A.R.S. logo on it. Everything here definitely says Destro and there are some great and appropriate references to his original design, only in tiny form.
I’ll admit, I would have preferred if Kre-O had released the HISS and ASP together. They clearly work exceptionally well together and the ASP is the first towable piece even though there have been other vehicles with tow point attachments. That said, I understand why Hasbro released them in separate sets. I’d imagine these two vehicles together would have been a price point similar to the Cobra Armored Assault set and I’m not sure that would have been a decent value. However, using them to add value to a pair of other sets does make me like them a bit more. Neither the Ghoststriker nor the Arashikage Dojo sets would have been worth their listed retail price on their own, but if you add in a small and medium-sized Cobra vehicle, I have a lot fewer misgivings about plopping down some cash for them. The HISS and ASP combo is a classic for a reason and while I never had the original versions of either of them growing up, I do get a nice nostalgic pull from pairing up their Kre-O counterparts on my shelves.