I didn't pay much heed to the Atlantis theme when it first appeared in 2010 - I was far too focused on LEGO Star Wars and the modular buildings at that point - but the theme started to appear on my radar as it approached retirement and the price of Atlantis sets tumbled. Although I subsequently snapped up a bunch of Atlantis sets because they were heavily discounted and looked interesting, I never actually got around to building any of them, something I felt it was time I rectified. The set I chose to build was Set 8080 Undersea Explorer, for no other reason than the primary model looks decidedly mech-like and I have a thing about mechs (see, for instance, here, or here, or even here...). There are actually some other pretty neat-looking Atlantis sets to choose from as well, not least Set 7985 City of Atlantis, but as the Undersea Explorer is perhaps a lesser-known, lower profile set I figured I'd go with that one.
The front of the box (above - click to enlarge) shows an action shot of the Undersea Explorer mech attacking a sea serpent, while the back of the box (below) shows the mech transformed into its alternate form - a wheeled vehicle - and also features a series of pictures illustrating the transformation process.
The box is designed to be opened via thumb tabs, should you choose to use them. Inside the box are three numbered bags of elements, each of which contains an un-numbered bag of smaller parts, an instruction booklet, a DSS, and a couple of pearl light grey ribbed hoses.
The single glossy instruction booklet has a footprint of approximately 21 cm x 20 cm and it's 76 pages from cover to cover. The front cover imagery (above) is very similar to that of the front of the box, although the perspective is shifted slightly and there's more of the yellow Atlantis motif framing the image.
In addition to the building guide, which takes up around 60 pages of the booklet, there are a couple of pages (one of which can be seen above) explaining how to transform the Undersea Explorer from its primary mech form into its secondary wheeled form, a two page inventory of parts, four pages of advertising for other sets in the Atlantis theme, advertising for the Atlantis.LEGO.com microsite (now sadly defunct), a couple of pages of advertising for the LEGO Club, and a rather nice image of an Atlantis diver (below). The back cover of the booklet encourages you to complete an online survey for a chance to win "a cool LEGO product", although most potential participants would surely have been driven away by the accompanying image of a shouting child before they ever got to the survey.
The sticker sheet can be seen below. It contains a total of 13 stickers, to be applied to the sea serpent and Undersea Explorer. None of them, with the possible exception of the black triangular stickers at the bottom right of the sheet, turned out to be particularly problematic to neatly apply.
Most of the elements to be found in this set have appeared in many other sets as well, although there are a few which are less common. With the exception of the red 4 x 4 Technic cylinder, which has featured in a total of 11 sets including this one, all the elements that you can see in the picture below (click to enlarge) have to date appeared in ten sets or less. This set contains six of the red small hard plastic wheels; these have only appeared in 3 sets including this one, as has the red modified 2 x 3 brick with rotation joint half ball and socket. The variant of the lime Robot Body which appears in this set has also only ever appeared in three sets; you may recall having seen this element, which is a modified round 2 x 2 x 2 brick with a bottom axle holder, in my Ghostbusters MOC, where I used it for Slimer's body. The trans-red ring with centre triangle, gold bands and shark pattern, which can be seen at the top of the picture, is an example of an Atlantis Treasure Key. This one has appeared in 4 sets, and Treasure Keys in a variety of different colours, and featuring different designs, were distributed in sets across the Atlantis theme. The large, 7-blade pearl light gray propeller can be found in a total of 5 sets, as can the black curved Technic pin connector with fin and hole, while the trans-bright green bubble canopy has appeared in 6 sets, most recently the Alien Conquest Set 7051 Tripod Invader from 2011. The red Technic 2 x 2 modified brick with rotation joint half ball and socket, the small yellow barb and the 3-blade pearl light gray propeller, have appeared in eight, nine and nine sets respectively.
The set contains just one minifigure, who goes by the name of Atlantis Diver 2 - Bobby - Without Flippers on Bricklink. Given LEGO's propensity to stuff sets full of minifigures these days, just one minifig in a 364-piece System set seems almost inconceivable. Still, at least this version of Bobby is unique to the set, although only by virtue of the fact that unlike the version of Bobby included in other sets, he doesn't come complete with a set of flippers for some reason.
Although described by Bricklink as "Minifig, Headgear Helmet Underwater", Bobby's diving helmet has graced a number of sets which don't have an underwater theme; it appeared in white in some of the 2011 City Space sets, including Set 3367 Space Shuttle reviewed by me here. More recently, a sand blue version has appeared as part of Mr. Freeze's outfit in Set 76000 Arctic Batman vs. Mr Freeze : Aquaman on Ice.
Beneath Bobby's diving helmet is a dual-sided head with an open smile on one side and a surprised alternate expression on the other; the head looks fairly unremarkable at first glance, but its availability is actually restricted to just two minifigures including this one. Removing the bulky diving helmet also reveals a nice torso printed front (above) and back (below) with a cool design featuring air hoses and a weighted diving belt. The legs are adorned with what Bricklink describes as an "Atlantis Diver Pattern", part of which is a red and black trident logo the inverse of which appears on a sticker that attaches to the roof of the Undersea Explorer.
Once the mini figure has been assembled it's time to build the sea serpent (below, balanced on a perspex minifig case). The serpent is suitably intimidating and spiky, not unlike a cross between an angler fish and a dragon. It has a surprising number of moving parts and articulation points - the mouth opens, the fins flap, and the tail can be manipulated and rotated into a multitude of positions, although it unfortunately doesn't always stay put due to a lack of friction in some of the joints. The black and yellow colour scheme works well, and overall it's a nice little model, apart perhaps from the clunky section where the body joins to the tail.
I'm a big fan of the Undersea Explorer, at least in its mech form (below - click to enlarge). This isn't really much of a surprise, seeing as it brings to mind Set 6862 Superman Vs Power Armor Lex which was one of my favourite sets of 2012; look closely at the feet, arms, fingers and canopy of Lex's mech in that set and it's not hard to see the common DNA. I think the designers of the Undersea Explorer have done a nice job pimping the mech for deep sea exploration, loading it up with lights, and propellers to help it to manouevre. Armament comes in the form of a couple of trans green-tipped flick fire missiles and a Technic cannon complete with a spring-loaded Technic competition arrow. Rotation joints at the hips, shoulders and elbows permit a reasonable range of movement in two planes, and the ball and socket joints at the ankles facilitate a stable stance. I like the lime green canisters bolted to the inside of the legs, and the sparing use of lime green detailing elsewhere on the model.
The rear of the mech (below - click to enlarge) looks bare and unfinished, although in LEGO's defence it probably needed to be this way in order to permit the mech to transform into its alternate form. From the back you can get a clearer view of the various articulation points described above, and you can also see the insertion points of the pearl light grey ribbed hoses.
As previously mentioned, the Undersea Explorer mech can transform into a wheeled vehicle which you can see below (click to enlarge). The transformation process is very quick and straightforward - you simply straighten the legs and fold them back 90 degrees at the hips, whereupon the vehicle rests upon the previously-decorative wheels protruding from the sides of the mech's legs. You can then either fold the arms back against the body, as I've done in the pictures below, or leave them extended forwards per the picture on the back of the box. Credit to LEGO for designing this transforming feature into the set, and I thought that the wheeled vehicle looked quite cool in the promotional materials and on the back of the box, although if I'm hones it turned out to be a bit small and underwhelming "in the flesh". It also looks quite messy from behind. Even so, the alternate vehicular form is a neat play feature, especially given the simple and elegant transformation process which takes literally a couple of seconds.
You can see all of the elements of the set below (click to enlarge); Bobby's seated at the controls of the mech ready to rain Technic competition arrow death down on the unfortunate sea serpent and claim the prize - the trans-red Atlantis Treasure Key....
Set 8080 Undersea Explorer was released in 2010 and retailed for £39.99 in the UK and $39.99 in the US. This is expensive given that Atlantis wasn't a licensed theme and the set only included 364 parts and a single minifigure. Unlike many themes, the Atlantis theme hasn't in general increased in value much if at all since retirement, which is obviously good news if you're looking to pick up Atlantis sets; while Set 8080 Undersea Explorer is perhaps harder to find than many others in the theme - it appears that the set was only available at retail for around 6 months before being retired - there are nevertheless a number of new, sealed examples on Bricklink available for significantly less than the original RRP. I actually think it's an interesting set, with my only major reservation being the price, so if you stumble across a cheap copy then I can recommend it.