Building LEGO Sets without Instructions

Theme: City Missions
No: 60353; 60354; 60355
Release Year: 2022
Cost: $49.99 ea
Pieces: 246; 298; 278;

While I’ve not had a lot of time lately, I love going off book and building MOCs. An idea comes into my head and I just go with it. It’s a heap of fun, and I love seeing my kids do it too, but what would a set without instructions be like? Just an assortment of parts and a rough idea? Well, this is what LEGO did with the City Missions sets. There’s three to choose from:

  • 60353 Wild Animal Rescue Missions
  • 60354 Mars Spacecraft Exploration Missions
  • 60355 Water Police Detective Missions

They’ve been out for a few months now, and I finally got around to building them with my 5 year old daughter and nephew. The big difference with these sets is that there’s no standard print LEGO instructions, rather they use the LEGO Digital Building Instructions app. The app is filled with interactive videos, missions and problem solving through some free for all creation with a little bit of instructions along the way, to get them going. I decided to go about this in a few different ways – Wild Animals just built by me, Mars Spacecraft with Mr 5 and Water Police with Miss 5.

As each end result can be very different for everyone, this won’t be a normal review – rather more of a look into the experience itself, both our experiences with the app, and the set.

To kick it off, there’s some initial general thoughts on the app. I don’t know if it’s just my connection, but I experienced some problems with it. The main ones were images not loading. A number of times I got a blank white screen instead of the images we needed. It didn’t happen for the videos, although the load times were rather long, and I’ve got a decent internet connection at home. It was very annoying as the kids were waiting for it to appear, as was I. Across all of the sets we found that believe it or not they weren’t too intuitive for us, both me and the kids. Mainly around the “Play Your Mission” sections. You’ve got a partially built set in front of you, and the screen then displays with a scene – lure an animal to safety from a movie theatre for example. We all thought it was an interactive thing, so we were pressing the screen expecting something to happen, to prompt us to do something with the set. Alas, there was nothing. It just seemed a little forced, especially since the movie theatre was only on the screen, not in LEGO form.

There were a lot of other really good aspects though – the play prompts are great. Plenty of opportunities to play more outside with the builds, and the build ideas are easy enough to get. The bag opening animation is really cool, and the videos are great – well produced and entertaining. The small sections of build instructions are easy to figure out and give a good starting point for going off book.

The sets themselves are a solid selection of parts to get stuck into, and are also decent inclusions for rarer and fun parts too. There’s a good amount of opportunity to just get stuck in and play, but the one resounding big of feedback I got from both kids is that they didn’t want to break up the builds they had just built, in order to progress through the next mission. “But I just built that! I don’t want to break it…”. There’s a solid assortment of parts, but there’s not a lot of each type, so they’re forced to dismantle sections in order to complete the next mission. I feel that for a kid who’s just spent a good amount of time on a section of building – because it’s open ended and they can spend as long as they want on it – the last thing they want to do is break it up in order to use the parts somewhere else.

The Wild Animal Rescue Mission has the better assortment of parts out of the trio of sets. There are animals, minifigure accessories and fun vehicle attachments. Baby crocodiles (a first for my collection), a larger rabbit, an unprinted rabbit toy, baby panther, plus nets, cranes, and more make for a lot of fun options. This was the set I built by myself and even I was irritated that I had to dismantle a bit of a build to get the next mission done.  Much of the chassis of the vehicle is dictated by the instructions, so out of all three sets without instructions, this seems to be the one that has the most. The customisation options are more about the smaller accessories and side builds used to complete the missions. I was honestly expecting more overall vehicle customisation – different wheels, chassis sizes and types etc.

We decided to go down a different style of play with the Mars Spacecraft Missions set – mainly because it would have drained my battery (it was very resource heavy for my phone – draining the battery and left it very hot!), but also because Mr 5’s style was more free play based. We started with the app to get the main chassis done, then we went off book and ignored much of the app, preferring to just build and have a bit of fun seeing where it went. This was by far a better option for Mr 5 as he was much more suited to just spreading all the parts out on the table and going for it. We had a ball just building a crazy spaceship together, with him driving the design and direction for the ship. We ended up with something very cool and one that he was pretty proud of. We of course had a fair few parts left over so there was enough for a smaller spaceship to go with it. This Creator box approach, while still precisely what LEGO does well with the Creator theme, was much better for him, and we didn’t need to use most of the app at all, which not only saved my battery, but meant a screen wasn’t part of the experience. Yes, it defeats the purpose of the set in a way, but the beauty of LEGO is that it can be a unique experience and it meant that he was building something with a bit more of a direction and coherent parts. Children can sometimes get swamped with too many options and don’t know where to start when given a massive pile of LEGO, so saying we’re building a spaceship with these parts (which was still a great amount) was a definite win. It was also lots of fun for me as I rarely get to build with space style parts! Wings, radar dishes, engines, lasers, even solar panels was a great assortment.

Finally, Miss 5 and I tackled the Water Police set with the instructions over the course of a couple of days. Mixed in with a dead battery, some household chores and the LEGO set missions used as an incentive, Miss 5 liked the set but she found the missing images to be annoying – frequent cries of “Dad what do I do?” were heard. She loved being able to customise the minifigures – they’re always the drawcard in any set we build for her. “Dad I want to build the people again!”. I was a big fan of the neon bright yellow elements, especially the engine cowlings – I’ve not seen them for a while, and definitely not in that colour! She also liked the coral, but frequently wanted to pop over to her LEGO table to find a part she wanted that wasn’t in the set. While restricting LEGO parts selections is great for skill building and teaching unique parts usage, it’s a bit harder to a 5 year old to grasp that concept, when she’s surrounded by a plethora of parts right at her fingertips.

Overall, in my experience these sets have been a bit of a hit and miss. I love the ide of encouraging free building and creativity, but I think that’s pretty inherent in LEGO sets. I’ve never seen my kids look at a set and think that it’s the only thing they can build. For a set that’s sold as building with missions, not instructions, there seems to be a fair few instructions. I understand that it’s to get them started, but I felt they were too restricting.  It also comes down to the reliance on an app. While I know others that have not had issues with the app, we did, and it’s not like we’re on a bad internet connection. Plus there’s the fact that in order to build according to the intent of the set, a device is needed. If you’re wanting your child to have some off screen time, this is not the set for you as it relies heavily on a screen. There’s no getting away from it. I also found the device gets rather warm and it destroyed my battery. I’ve got a relatively new phone and it was hit pretty hard.

The beauty of the sets was the encouragement to just go with whatever. We felt the Mars Spacecraft set style of ignoring most of the app was good for Mr 5’s style of LEGO play, but Miss 5 was ok with the majority of it. Giving them different options and play ideas with restricted parts was a good learning tool, and they did both have a lot of fun building them, but the app was neither here nor there for them. They both would have rather just get stuck into the LEGO and leave the app alone. If the app was easier to understand then it’d be better. Navigation was pretty straight forward with only a couple of things to click on the screen, but it was maybe too minimalist for it’s own good. If anything, pick up these sets for parts, but I think the app needs more work.

A special thank you to LEGO for sending me a copy to review. All thoughts on this set are my own and are not influenced in any way, shape or form. The provision of sets for review does not guarantee a favourable review.