Rider on the Storm – Stormbringer Dragon (70652)

Within my limited options I’m trying to live as environmentally and socially conscious as I can and part of that is not ordering every bit of toilet paper online and having underpaid people deliver my stuff. On the other hand of course I have to be cost aware out of necessity, so I can’t entirely avoid making a good catch on Amazon every now and then. Naturally, last week was Prime Day and the offer they had on the Stormbringer Dragon (70652) was ultimately too good to pass up.

LEGO Ninjago, Stormbringer Dragon (70652), Box

As you know from this article, I’m a bit wary of dragon models due to the many hinge and joint parts left over after disassembling the models and using the rest of the pieces for other builds. That’s why I had this set somewhere on my virtual wishlist, but not very high at the top. When the price dropped to 24 Euro on that magical day the math started to add up, though – it was the threshold where I would effectively only pay for the “good” parts and would not regret ditching the rest and burying it deep in one of my storage boxes later. Or in other words: In my mind this was the point where the joints and hinges were included “free”. With that said, the original 40 Euro price just doesn’t feel right and had this special offer not come my way, I’d simply let it be.

LEGO Ninjago, Stormbringer Dragon (70652), Overview

The set itself was released last year already and reflects the dragon hunter/ diesel gang theme that was current back then. Somehow this never fully took off and unlike other themes that had a longer lifespan it was already superseded by Forbidden Spinjitsu and Legacy this year. You can still buy the sets, yes, but I’d wager by the end of the year most of them will be pulled. Anyway, the one thing I particularly liked about this were the pale-faced gang members. The set includes two of them plus the usual color-themed figure associated with each dragon, i.e. Jay, the blue ninja and his companion Zane.

LEGO Ninjago, Stormbringer Dragon (70652), Figures

As a gimmick and sort of a cheap marketing ploy to get people to buy more sets there was also this golden armor thing with separate pieces in each box. This one contains the shoulder harness and a dragon hilt for the bone sword. The harness is nicely presented on an anvil-like pedestal with a piece of rock underneath, making for a lovely little side build and an interesting little eye catcher for presenting the stuff on your shelf or showcase.

LEGO Ninjago, Stormbringer Dragon (70652), Golden Armor

To my surprise the dragon turned out larger than I had estimated based on photos and videos. It’s by no means as long as the green dragon from the movie, but still a sizable beast. I blame the misleading perception mostly on two factors: One, the dragon is overall very thin/ slender or even scrawny and two, the head is relatively tiny. If it wasn’t for the various spikes and protrusions, it could almost pass as a normal lizard. Photographing it from certain angles furthers this impression even more.

LEGO Ninjago, Stormbringer Dragon (70652), Left, Side View

The skinny nature of the creature can of course be attributed to its somewhat barebones design. Only a minimum number of pieces have been used to cover up the various joint and hinge elements and most of them are flat pieces that don’t add volume like curved slopes and wedges would. Even the central trunk/ spine element is more or less just two studs wide all the way with some decorative bits attached to the sides to give the idea of scales. I like that they shaped it like a cat’s back, though, giving it a nice aggressive stance.

LEGO Ninjago, Stormbringer Dragon (70652), Front Left View

The head and neck part are a bit of a weird thing. The front looks very bird-like and with some printed 1 x 4 bricks used to represent the eyes is quite interesting, but then you stare at this gaping stair-stepped area at the back of the head. Even if you give credit to the fact that they may just have wanted to keep the neck thin by not adding further slopes for a gradual transition it just looks weird. It’s like someone carved out a perfectly rectangular piece with a chainsaw.

The decorative bits don’t really do much to disguise this. Arguably the head has been constructed upside down even, as of course the spine transitions into the upper skull, not the lower jaw, the need to integrate the arrow shooters notwithstanding. Dunno, it’s one of those things where I understand the limitations and it’s actually also cool on some level that for once the arrows really do come out of the mouth, but at the same time I can’t shake the feeling of possibly a better solution having been feasible.

LEGO Ninjago, Stormbringer Dragon (70652), Rear Left View, Seat and Head

The reason I ultimately decided to take the plunge are of course the many Dark Blue and Blue pieces one can never have enough of. The duck beak wedges are perhaps not the most useful, but the many curved slopes and even the shield-shaped tiles definitely are. I also think I might have an idea for the wings/ flaps one day. interestingly, I also didn’t realize I don’t have any of those small horns in Bright Light Orange yet and only ones in regular Yellow. Funny how one stumbles upon new discoveries even in the most mundane sets sometimes.

LEGO Ninjago, Stormbringer Dragon (70652), Rear Left View

With the design aspects talked about sufficiently, we need to have a word about the play value. As I wrote in that other article, I don’t think these long and slinky dragons are particularly safe for children under a specific age ore more specific a certain size where they would have sufficiently long enough arms and larger hands to actually hold the moving parts in check without gouging their eyes. Conversely some force is required to overcome the resistance and friction of the joints to be able to pose the model. The latter is very limited due to the rigid construction of the legs without knee joints, so basically the only way to get a stable position is to always move the legs in pairs and have the dragon stand flat.

LEGO Ninjago, Stormbringer Dragon (70652), Rear Right View

I wouldn’t say this is a particularly outstanding model, but overall it’s okay. For the price I got it it’s perfectly acceptable, though likely that in itself is a statement. Amazon aren’t known for having the lowest LEGO prices here in Germany (thankfully there’s some good alternatives) and them firing this out as Prime bait likely means they were sitting on a large stockpile that didn’t sell that well. With that in mind you likely only will truly enjoy it if you are a Ninjago nerd, generally have a thing for dragons or like me are always on the lookout for good parts sources that don’t break the bank…

Choppy Chop Chopper – Shuricopter (70673)

While funny enough Ninjago is easily LEGO‘s most successful original product line (next to City perhaps), I never quite hooked on it. I like some of the stylistic elements in the models, but even today struggle to keep the names of the protagonists straight for instance. So buying one of those sets remains the exception rather than the norm and the Shuricopter (70673) from the latest Forbidden Spinjitzu sub-series is and will likely be for a while one of the few sets I bought.

LEGO Ninjago, Shuricopter (70673), Box

Looking at the box art you might guess why I even bought it – yes, it’s a helicopter. Now that in and of itself is nothing unusual, as helos are a recurring theme in many of LEGO’s series, but this particular one attracted me for specific reasons.

First and foremost I was taken in by the somewhat aggressive stance and appearance that with its sharp angles and corners immediately reminded me of the first modern stealthy helicopter design from the 1990s, the Comanche, that never made it int series production. In particular the canted down tail section reinforces this impression. At least to me it seems pretty obvious where the LEGO designers were drawing inspiration from.

Second, and that’s always a good thing, the model would be reasonably large. I didn’t realize this at first, but after having a long hard look at the official marketing photos and the digital instructions before buying It dawned on me that this would be more around the 30 cm mark than the small variants that you typically find e.g. in Creator 3in1 sets. The 16 units long wedge panel used for the tail alone contributes to that length quite a bit.

LEGO Ninjago, Shuricopter (70673), Overview

The contents of the set are pretty rich, which is a pleasant, yet puzzling surprise. I’ll be the first to complain about LEGO‘s irrational and often outrageous pricing policy, but getting that much stuff for 17 Euro? This had me really stumped, given that there are three minifigures, several large pieces and a Spinjitzu top included. The cynical interpretation of this would be that indeed many sets out there are massively overpriced out of the gate, or in this case out of LEGO‘s factories.

Admittedly those 17 Euro aren’t the original price, but even those 30 Euro MSRP seem okay on some level if you only take 5 Euro discounts into account and were to get it for 25 Euro or bucks, respectively. At the same time I’m wondering, though, why exactly it is so cheap. Doesn’t it sell well? The eternal mysteries of the LEGO world… in any case, I’m not complaining.

LEGO Ninjago, Shuricopter (70673), Figures

Despite me not being an actual collector, the minifigures warrant a second look this time around. Not only do the overall designs for the main heroes and their evil counterparts appear generally modernized, but there is some interesting design work going on by ways of using dual molded parts with transparent sections. This is prevalent in all sets throughout this new series and offers some interesting visual clues to tie things to the themes of the respective protagonists such as fire and ice. That and of course it just looks cool to see different colors and patterns against light sources. Now LEGO only need to complement it with some parts using the same technology to put onto vehicles like ice-encrusted plates or icicles.

There’s a minor shadow looming over this in that the older style blend molding as it was used extensively in Bionicle for instance, meaning two colors are injected at the same time and mix directly to form gradated or swirly patterns, doesn’t always work reliably. So I ended up with my ice spear on General Vex not having an icy blue blade at all, but rather just a slightly more transparent Dark Pearl Grey tip. I wish they would find a way to use the newer two-step process where one color after another is applied in different sub-steps to get sharp demarcation lines also for the softer materials of the weapons to avoid such foul-ups. I haven’t ordered replacements, though, since it’s not that critical to me and likely I would have had to order not just a single piece but multiple ones to find one with a perfect blue blade.

The different elemental flags on the vinyl sheet are the same in every set, so if you buy multiple sets you can actually outfit more figures according to their factions. Of course they used transparent plastic to avoid alignment issues with double-sided printing, but I tend to think that printing on white or at least frosted transparency would have helped a lot with the colors looking more pristine.

LEGO Ninjago, Shuricopter (70673), Left Front View

From the outside the model very much is just a collection of larger panels and there’s not much of visible structure. The real magic happens on the inside using a bunch of Technic bricks, liftarms and pins. There are pros and cons to this approach with the main advantage being that this core is rock solid and makes for a very stable model. The downside is that unless you really extensively use every pin hole and outfit it with adapter pins your options for attaching conventional brick-based stuff are limited. Unfortunately this shows in several places with large gaps where the frame construction peeks through. Likewise, some panels are attached using just a single pin, which allows them way too much movement.

LEGO Ninjago, Shuricopter (70673), Left Aft View

Oddly enough there is a simple perpendicular gear mechanism that connects the main rotor rotation to the main exhaust tube. This makes little sense since you can’t actually discern much of a difference on the jet pipe, so it seems to me that somewhere along the way this was meant to be a propeller instead and they kept the mechanism, regardless, when they changed their minds. Mind you, I’m not saying it’s bad, just odd and a bit useless.

One of the biggest shortcomings is the absence of a genuine landing gear. The whole model basically just sits on its engine nacelles and the tip of the tail. My storage boxes are overflowing with those tiny rubber wheels and I don’t need more of them, but they could at least have included some struts and skids for the main gear and an inverted slope for the tail to have a hint of an undercarriage.

This would also very likely would have allowed to stabilize the outriggers with the Shuriken blades and wings. In their current form they are – you guessed it – only attached using single point connections and thus every thing tilts and swivels whenever you touch it. This also defeats one of the main play features – the Shurikens are on axle pins that have bushings with tires on them that are supposed to be perfectly level with the floor.

The idea here is of course that the tires touch the ground just enough to let the blades rotate by themselves as you push the model forward, plowing through hordes of enemies. Sadly with the flimsy connection this doesn’t really hold up as the outriggers bent out of contact way too easily. It would have been cool and given the word “Chopper” a whole different meaning, but it just doesn’t work as intended.

LEGO Ninjago, Shuricopter (70673), Right View

The front section has me torn as well. I like the idea of using the minifigure cleavers as some sort of grille/ wind splitters/ antenna array, but at the same time it frustrates me that they did not bother to create a “real” tip for the fuselage by including what maybe amounts to five or seven pieces more – some adapter bricks and a bunch of wedges/ slopes. This wouldn’t even have interfered with the rest of the cockpit design as apparently the canopy is opening towards the front. Merely using those flag elements as shim panels looks cheap.

LEGO Ninjago, Shuricopter (70673), Front View

All in all I’m kinda split in the middle on this set. The funny thing is that you can literally smell the good ideas everywhere and feel that the designers were considerate of some things, but then totally blew it with other stuff. In particular the flimsy attachments are a point of concern. Otherwise it would have made for a nice, large playable model for your kids. Naturally those issues are fixable, but will require some re-engineering and therefore this becomes a case of “Why should I even have to?”. It may be over some less experienced people’s heads, anyway. Be prepared to hear a lot of complaints from children when they manage to accidentally pull off parts! It’s really a pity! At its more than reasonable price this could have been a sleeper hit otherwise…

Ninjago Luke

Due to the placement of the Christmas holidays on the calendar this year, this month’s LEGO magazines only rolled out with some delay, but now that the festive season is over will hit in short succession one after another.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, January 2019, Cover

The January Star Wars mag comes with a Tatooine Luke Skywalker minifigure. Not that I would need one of those in my life, but for the more inclined collector of the Star Wars series this would be a simple way to obtain one of those to fancy up vignettes and dioramas without breaking the bank. You could even buy this multiple times and still save money in the process, considering that even the more basic Luke minifigures still seem to cost around three Euros at least on Bricklink (I’m no minifigure expert since I don’t collect them explicitly). The rest is pretty much standard fare, though at least the new style of the comics is much more appealing compared to older issues. Now if only LEGO actually had that golden 1×1 brick in their range… 😉

LEGO Magazine, Ninjago, January 2019, Cover

When I was browsing the newsstand the Ninjago magazine also piqued my interest this time around. Again not so much for the minifigure (though for me it at least solves the mystery of what Master Wu looked like when he was younger), but the fold & glue cutout figures brought back some fond memories when we used to build paper castles and the like at a very young age.

LEGO Magazine, Ninjago, January 2019, Extra

I spent an evening trying my hand at this, but it was more difficult than anticipated. The pages being so crammed full with add-on bits makes it difficult to navigate around with the scissors while at the same time the dark background makes it hard to discern the black outlines. It’s really a bit of an exercise to get clean lines. I also found the cardboard slightly too thick/ heavy, so folding things neatly and gluing them together is yet another matter of patience because this stuff has a mind of its own. Since it’s printed on glossy stock the ink on the fold lines also tends to “break” and show white cracks. You may need to have a black pen handy to darken them again.

LEGO Magazine, Ninjago, January 2019, Extra

In light of the aforementioned complications that could be challenging even for a ten-year-old, so you might need to get a second issue if something goes wrong. The idea is nice, though, and ramps up the value of the mag notably.

 

Lotso Green! – Green Ninja Mech Dragon from The LEGO Ninjago Movie (70612)

Do you know this weird situation when you want a specific LEGO set for a number of reasons, yet it never becomes a top priority or you even dislike it for certain other reasons? This weird dichotomy happened to me with the Green Ninja Mech Dragon (70612) from The LEGO Ninjago Movie and it always prevented me from buying the set. Fortunately I got a lucky break with a discounted price I couldn’t resist, so things worked out, after all.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Green Ninja Mech Dragon (70612), Box

To clarify this mystery, allow me to delve into the details a bit. First let’s look at why I possibly wanted this set. In my case the answer should be pretty predictable by now if you have read some of my other articles – it’s about the parts and their potential to be re-used in other projects. In that regard the set is almost a dream.

It’s overflowing with elements in Sand Green. Somehow I have that weird image in my head that on day I might build something where I’m going to need a ton of these pieces, be that a building with a green patinated copper roof, some ginormous sculpture or a vehicle and that’s why I can’t stop myself collecting sets with parts in this color, even if it may not be of any particular immediate relevance. In case of this mechanical dragon those inner urges are amplified by the inclusion of a large number of golden elements and some further ones in Dark Green. If you will, it’s the perfect bait in the sense that procuring those parts separately would be a lot more difficult and costly.

The reasons I was hesitant and that kept me away from buying this set for a long time are equally numerous and complicated, yet still somehow have to do with the parts. Correct, this creature is what I’d like to call a “Joints and Hinges Monstrosity” with half the mass and volume of the set being spent on those bulky large ball joints and 2D pin joints. If I was into building robots and other mechanical creatures all the time I might welcome this opportunity, but since i don’t, those parts are mostly wasted on me (they may come in handy in some form one day, though, I’m sure).

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Green Ninja Mech Dragon (70612), Overview

Further contributing to this “I don’t care much!” feeling was/ is the overall blandness and dullness of the set. Indeed I simply do not care for getting the 500th Master Wu or Lord Garmadon and there is little to nothing else to sink your teeth into in terms of details. It’s really just one big-ass dragon. That in itself represents a bit of a problem, as effectively the thing is way too large for kids to actually be able to decently play with it.

Basically you always have to be careful to not whip the tail in your face and hold it with two hands, making it nearly impossible to intuitively pose the model. If you put up the dragon straight in its fully stretched out form, this becomes even more apparent because the actual range of motion of the individual body segments is rather limited, i.e. they can partially move left or right, but not necessarily a lot up and down and vice versa. Ironically this is necessary because otherwise it would be completely unstable. You couldn’t put it on its feet and it would curl up like a snake all the time.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Green Ninja Mech Dragon (70612), Length

Despite its already huge size the model in no way captures the style and elegance of the version used in the movie. Mostly it simply looks too skeletal with the joints being too exposed. In the film the model is about twice as large, allowing each segment to be shaped with much more elements and looking much more organic. Something has definitely been lost scaling it down, as to my eyes it looks neither here nor there. In fact it would have been fine with me if they had made the best of the situation and actually played with the idea of exposing more of the inner parts, giving it a more mechanical look and feel.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Green Ninja Mech Dragon (70612), Engine Detail closed

A lot of the odd “caught between a rock and a hard place” feeling in my opinion also has to do with the inconsistent use of color and some crude, simplified parts. Had they run with my idea of a more mechanical creature, they would have had to use more gold and possibly tons of tiny elements in silver as well to represent some inner structure.

Just the same I feel that having a single molded part for the feet is not ideal. It may add stability, but it simply doesn’t look very pretty. They should have used some of the techniques that are commonly employed on LEGO Elves dragons where the feet typically are assembled from curved slopes and other parts and are just as stable while at the same time looking more convincing. That argument BTW also would apply for a larger, more organic version of the beast.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Green Ninja Mech Dragon (70612), Engine Detail closed

Color usage rubs me the wrong way in that they seemed to be unable to make up their minds about when to use black and dark grey vs. the greens. As a minor I would have expected that they settle on just black or just grey for the joints and not a wild mix of both, but ideally of course those parts would have been in Dark Green or Sand Green as well. Some additional covering up of exposed areas with plates and slopes also wouldn’t have hurt.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Green Ninja Mech Dragon (70612), Engine Detail open

The inconsistent colorization makes the various openable/ poseable appendages a lot less attractive than it would seem at first, too. It’s literally like you open up a hood and something ugly that totally doesn’t match in style is staring back at you. In particular the engine section really makes you go *eek*. Not that I think using an L-shaped Technic element is a good idea to begin with, but at least they could have made it black. This would have also made the silver “exhaust nozzles” stand out more and overall simply looked cooler.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Green Ninja Mech Dragon (70612), Engine Detail open

There’s a first time for everything and so after having had to get a replacement part for a set a while ago, I now had to request extra parts from LEGO service because they were actually missing. Under the two levers in the cockpit where I inserted some 1×1 round tiles there should actually be golden 1×1 square plates with clips to act as temporary weapons holders while the dragon is being operated.

The parts have arrived ever since I took the photos, but still – I’ll never quite understand why LEGO insist on their bean counting and you even have to use your spares sometimes instead of just throwing in enough elements to begin with. The padded envelope and mailing cost from Billund to Germany definitely cost them more than those two extra parts worth fractions of a Cent. It’s even more ridiculous when you consider that overall there are supposed to be ten of these golden clips on this model, so the jump from those seven to a generic pre-sorted mini bag with ten of these items seems trivial – in my mind at least.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Green Ninja Mech Dragon (70612), Cockpit Detail

Luckily nothing else was missing, so decorating the head with golden parts proceeded as planned. All of them are movable one way or another, so it’s entirely up to your taste how aggressive you make it look by spreading them out or conforming them more to the streamlines. the same applies to the black spikes which in contrast to the original design I added in their perpendicular position, not flat. The blades not being actually symmetrical kinda teed off my orderly tendencies.

An interesting detail are the golden bananas for the tear bags, which made me grin when I first saw photos of this set and realized what they actually were. Similarly, using a magenta flag for the tongue is an interesting solution. The rest is a mix of some minifigure accessories, Bionicle parts and the already mentioned regular recolored hinges and plates.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Green Ninja Mech Dragon (70612), Head closed

Similar to the Elves dragons I’m not friends with the jaws and nose being specifically molded parts, as they end up in the “useless” bin once you disassemble these models and use their parts elsewhere, but in this scale and in light of the absence of some specific curved elements I guess it is the simpler solution than trying to create the from individual parts.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Green Ninja Mech Dragon (70612), Head open

After so much criticism, why did I end up with the set, after all? As written earlier, this was a case of mere chance and the price was simply so ridiculously irresistible, it alone made up for all the shortcomings.

This is going to turn some of your faces blue and green from jealousy, but honest to God, I got it sealed and unused with a 45 percent discount in a regular store. Yupp, hard as it is to believe, I got this set, which is still current and retails for 50 Euros regular price for a mere 27 Euros. The crazy story behind this is that it had been lying unnoticed in a drugstore chain’s toys shelf for a while and when I first noticed it, it already had been reduced to 35 Euros. Because it wasn’t a high priority, I didn’t pick it up, hoping to get it even cheaper one day, most likely in some online clearance sale.

Two months later I stopped by in the same store and lo and behold – the box was still there, now for a lowered price of 30 Euros. I once again abstained from a purchase, still not thinking much of it, though admittedly afterwards I had regrets not having jumped the chance when telling my mom about it. Fast forward another two months and the exact same set was still there and I got this gut feeling of “If I don’t take it home now, it will be gone.”. Still somewhat reluctant i finally got over it and snatched it. This was simply too good a chance to pass up. Things then got even better when I got a further ten percent discount due to an ongoing special promo in this exact week when I buying it. So there you have it – that’s how I arrived at 27 Euros.

I wouldn’t call it a sign from a higher power, but the box having sat there unscathed for half a year in the end must have meant something, considering that despite everyone ignoring it and walking by this is a large and busy store, regardless. I guess sometimes even I get lucky.


In conclusion, my points stick: This isn’t really a must-have model. Similar to the Garmadon shark sub it isn’t in any way representative of the version used in the movie, so in no way is everything awesome in Ninjago City. It also is simply too unwieldy to play with it and due to its size you will be hard-pressed to find a place to store it. Display model collectors will also likely scoff at the simplifications and lack of some details as well as the color usage.

Don’t get me wrong – I feel that I got what I wanted, but I never had plans to keep the assembled model around for long to begin with and primarily had my eye on the parts. That being the case, getting the whole package for 27 Euros certainly is a good deal, but I wouldn’t have gotten it at much more than that, anyway, as essentially in this case I only paid for the useful parts (slopes, plates and details) and got the ‘”useless” ones (figures, joints and integrally molded one-offs like the head) for “free”. Talk about the economics of LEGO

Mega Shark – garmadon, Garmadon, GARMADON from The LEGO Ninjago Movie (70656)

Coming full circle on this subject, it’s time to have a look at the garmadon, Garmadon, GARMADON (70656) from The LEGO Ninjago Movie.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, garmadon, Garmadon, GARMADON (70656), Box

I have a soft spot for many aquatic creatures and certain shark species in particular. I love their elegance, some of them even look cute to me (try to stare a shovelhead in the eye and tell me it isn’t a cute lovely critter) and quite generally I think sharks are one of the most misunderstood animals on the planet due to their historically bad reputation based on many false facts and myths. In any case, to me it was almost a no-brainer that I would get this set one day.

Making it happen was another matter entirely, however. This is an “exclusive” set that you can only get from LEGO directly or whatever remnants of Toys’R’Us are left (here in Germany they operated independently, so thankfully they’re still around). This eliminated any discussion about price or the need to wait forever to get a discount. You would have to pay full price eventually and the best you could hope for were a few percent off during a TRU sale. This opportunity presented itself when I got a refund from my health insurance after years of legal battle and I jumped the chance.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, garmadon, Garmadon, GARMADON (70656), Overview 

As can be seen in the overview image, the shark is quite large. After all, it’s supposed to be Garmadon‘s walking attack submarine. Comparing it directly with snippets from the trailer or the movie itself reveals however that it’s nowhere near as big as it’s used in there. It’s more like one-third of the actual size by my estimate. As a matter of reducing the cost it almost inevitably had to be shrunk down, though. Building it at the original size would likely have ended up as a 3000 pieces set with a near impossible price. Therefore the downscaling is okay, even if I would argue that it still could have been bigger, even if only by a tiny amount. It simply looks nowhere near as impressive and aggressive as the movie version to the point of feeling completely harmless.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, garmadon, Garmadon, GARMADON (70656), Figures

For an exclusive set the selection of figures isn’t much to write home about, as basically you already have them all if you bought a few other sets from The LEGO Ninjago Movie or for that matter even the regular Ninjago line. Having the umpteenth version of the Green Ninja or Lord Garmadon certainly isn’t particularly attractive. I know, on the surface of it they seem logical and inevitable, but you know what? I could have perfectly lived with this being a diorama from the secret volcano dock compound and instead would have loved to see more variations of the Fish Gang.

Therefore to me the only truly original figures are the girl with the exterior braces and the hot dog guy (along with his little cart/ stand). The latter is a bit of a tired trope as well, though, since by now I have seen so many variations on the theme in any series from City to Friends that you could make some really bad jokes about LEGO being a hot dog stand company. Perhaps they should have opted for a fresher, less clichéed subject?

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, garmadon, Garmadon, GARMADON (70656), Top

As is evident in the photos, the reduced scale both has benefits as well as disadvantages. One of the positive effects is that a bunch of pre-existing large standard wedge pieces could be used to shape the contours efficiently, which also nicely serves as a reminiscence to the smooth skin of a shark (which of course actually is rough and coarse and only looks silky smooth).

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, garmadon, Garmadon, GARMADON (70656), Aft

The downside is that in particular the tail fins look overly thick. These also represent a bit of a weak spot, as they come off rather easily. The large back fin on the other hand still feels too thin, as on the movie model it is used as the submarine’s command tower. So in a way the overall proportions look okay, but the details are factually a bit wrong, at least as far as I can tell, still not having seen the movie in full.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, garmadon, Garmadon, GARMADON (70656), Right

Naturally, many of the details suffer from the scaling just as well and they have been simplified considerably. Most notably the lift props are way too small to have anyone believe that this thing could make even a tiny assisted jump. Similarly this would crawl like a snail with those small drive propellers. At least the gills are kinda there and the idea with using the car spoiler wings is actually pretty nice. Still, they do not adequately cover up the somewhat barren interior, so when viewed from specific angles the whole illusion falls apart.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, garmadon, Garmadon, GARMADON (70656), Compartments

Good news: There are two compartments to put your figures in. Bad news: They kinda suck because they come off all too easily. Both of them are effectively only held by two studs each, so this isn’t much of a surprise. It will be okay if you put up the model as a static display item, but for actually playing not so much. And that’s where things get really ugly.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, garmadon, Garmadon, GARMADON (70656), Bottom

Yupp, my friends, you basically can’t really play with this set. All the virtues it may have in terms of its aesthetics on the upper side are betrayed by the awful mechanics on the underside. First there’s that thing with the exterior (!) liftarm and gears that drive the opening of the mouth. How could they? Not only does it look ugly, but it’s also utterly superfluous.

Kids wouldn’t care for this stuff and simply move the lower jaw with their hands as would anyone who poses it in his showcase. And what if you actually care? then the mechanism still belongs hidden inside the body, as clearly in the move it’s built as an inverse hinge/ lever mechanism. The way it’s implemented here is even more frustrating, as not using this approach would have allowed to use more bricks for shaping the underside.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, garmadon, Garmadon, GARMADON (70656), Front closed

Restructuring the underside likely also would have allowed for a better solution with the legs. Don’t get me wrong – the model is heavy and you have to applaud the designers for making it so that the model actually stands straight on just two chicken feet. Balancing these things can be delicate, after all. However, as far as I’m concerned there was no reason to over-engineer this. Yes, using two of these large ratcheted Technic joints on either side in connected form is way, way too much.

I as a grown-up man can barely move them without grabbing the model so hard that something comes off or at least moves out of place, so imagine how unhappy children will be if they cannot move it at all. Just using one of those joints on each leg and stabilizing it with a different construction like e.g. using a linear actuator or a trapeze construction with liftarms would have made this much better. Incidentally they also could have left out the large arrow shooters.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, garmadon, Garmadon, GARMADON (70656), Front open

Overall I have very mixed feelings about this model. I kinda like it a lot despite it not being in the least representative of the movie version. It still looks the part and if you don’t know anything about the film, it still works as a nice, large shark model with a few shortcomings. What I don’t like are the “playable” features. Those once more feel like they were thrown on like an afterthought and are to a good extent unworkable and useless.

It was more than obvious from the outset that this model likely should be first and foremost a nice-looking display model, not a play set for kids. So in that regard LEGO got it wrong and judging from how few people actually seem to have bought this set (based on the low number of actual reviews you can find on the Internet compared to other sets) messing with this stuff hasn’t done much for them.

If there was any hope of that I’d advise you to get it as cheap as possible, but alas, that isn’t meant to be. So your options are limited to either swallow the bitter pill of buying it directly from LEGO or you just completely ignore this set. I can only hope that my short little review makes that tough decision a bit easier.

No-Fly Wing-y-Thingy – The Manta Ray Bomber from The LEGO Ninjago Movie (70609)

Sand Blue is a nice color and I love myself vehicles that are shaped after underwater creatures. It’s one of those awesome things about my favorite Sci-Fi series Babylon 5 and if you know your way around it, you know that the Centauri cruise ships very much look like Manta Rays. Therefore it was nearly unavoidable that I also would have to get the Manta Ray Bomber (70609) after the Piranha Chase (70629) an Flying Jelly Sub (70610).

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Manta Ray Bomber (70609), Box

First let’s get a fundamental flaw/ shortcoming of this set out of the way. The ascribed capabilities as “flying” are a total misnomer. As someone who is into military aviation and all kinds of scientific nerdery I could go on in endless detail about the why and how, but suffice it to say that it would never take flight in the real world. Not in this universe and not under this set of physical rules.

At best this would be some ground effect vehicle hovering slightly above the water or a hydrofoil ship, but actually my preferred and by far simplest interpretation is to see the oversized engine nacelles as floating bodies and the whole thing conventionally floating on the water surface with the small-ish wings allowing an occasional jump when speed is sufficient.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Manta Ray Bomber (70609), Overview

Of the three sets in this series I have reviewed this is the least spectacular and in a way also least original. For the most part it’s a relatively simple build using a lot of large parts and the minifigures don’t really stand out, either, nor is there any specific complementary side-build of some scenery item or other small vehicle.

Interestingly enough it’s also the one model in the group that appears to be most readily available in retail stores, which thankfully is reflected in the pricing. Only recently I saw it again for around 17 Euros during a clearance sale, but you can get it for 20 Euros in most stores. Funny enough that’s one of the few cases where being patient and going on the hunt in physical stores is cheaper than ordering it online.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Manta Ray Bomber (70609), Front

The design captures the overall shape of a Manta in an okay-ish fashion, but is overall not particularly accurate. Basically everything would have needed to be proportionally a lot larger, with the way too short tail sticking out particularly much. A larger, longer wedge/ hinge element would have been nice. Normally I would consider this a non-issue, but the use of the rubber dinghy dictates a certain scale and for that the rest of the ship looks too small.

This yellow monstrosity generally bothers me somehow. It comes off way too easily as a whole and due to its lack of studs on the floor the elements attached to it come off extremely easily as well. The rear machine gun barely sticks, even less so when you add a minifigure that operates it. The bee-striped bombs don’t make too much sense, either, though at least they adhere reasonably well by ways of their hinge clips.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Manta Ray Bomber (70609), Aft

Unfortunately the float isn’t the only part that comes off. The same is true for the sideways turned mudgards and oar elements that represent the outer mouth parts and front fins (the ones that look like floppy mandibles on the real creature). The model simply doesn’t have the most stable superstructure in this area and handling is delicate.

On the other hand, the main trunk is extremely robust and the propeller parts are also attached using pins, so breaking them off accidentally is nearly impossible. It makes you wish they had used a similar approach for the little boat on the top.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Manta Ray Bomber (70609), Bottom

Overall this is a somewhat unsatisfying set. Its concept and premise are squandered by design issues one can’t ignore, even more so since they also affect the playability or for that matter simply holding it in your hand. Also technically very little about the construction makes sense. Bombs rolling down on top of the wings? Tell that to an Air Force safety officer and see his reaction!

I feel that for the most part all the issues could have been resolved by simply making it larger – considerably. It would have allowed different construction techniques and a more cohesive design. It also would have brought out the elegance of a Manta much better. In its current state it remains a bit of an oddity and fails to deliver on both fronts. It’s neither elaborate and pretty enough for a display model and playing with it is not free of issues as well. The only consolation is if you get it dirt cheap and can fill a rainy afternoon with building it.

Piranha with no Bite – The Piranha Chase from The LEGO Ninjago Movie (70629)

Once more a matter of trying to be complete within a specific subset of a themed series, of course I couldn’t let the Flying Jelly Sub stand on its own. In fact things were the other way around and while the sub was just the conclusion (after much hesitation due to its relatively high price), the Piranha Chase (70629) had been the first of the lot. It’s also the cheapest/ most affordable one, so there’s your explanation.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Piranha Chase (70629), Box

I won’t pretend that this is the best of the series, but for the around 13 Euros it is being sold in most places, you actually get some quite acceptable value. There are four minifigures and a number of larger parts, after all. The main build is also bolstered by the little rickshaw, which perhaps isn’t the most useful item unless you really build your own version of Ninjago City, but regardless is cleverly put together and doesn’t look all too shabby. The lanterns could also easily be reused on buildings and the large wheels might come in handy as round windows or decorative gratings somewhere.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Piranha Chase (70629), Overview

The figures are your basic run-off-the-mill Ninjago stuff that you’ve seen a million times with only the scared unnamed extra guy providing a bit of comic relief and surprise.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Piranha Chase (70629), Figures

The actual “piranha” vehicle doesn’t look particularly threatening and if it wasn’t for the name, you’d probably not even come close to thinking of a piranha’s frontal face. To me at least it looks more like a cute, googly-eyed monster of sorts. That’s not bad in any way, I just feel that it would have taken a lot more for it to count as one of those little annoying sharp-toothed buggers, including possibly a completely different color.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Piranha Chase (70629), Front closed

Thanks to the use of pre-formed large hollow parts, there’s plenty of room inside for a cockpit. While what’s there is certainly adequate and sufficient, this could have been quite a bit more elaborate. There’s clearly enough space for a chair/ back rest plus some overhead instrumentation attached to the hood. Not that anyone would get to see it much when in the lowered position, but it would just give this satisfying feeling of knowing it is there. Perhaps it could even have been designed in a way that the front part was open to show all the detail.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Piranha Chase (70629), Front open

The exterior parts, including the rear section mostly suffer from the sub-assemblies just being plugged on with single pin connections. This makes it dangerously simple to whack everything out of alignment just by handling the model. This could very likely have been done better, though of course the extra parts/ different parts would have slightly increased the price.

LEGO The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Piranha Chase (70629), Rear

Within the limitations of its price, this is a nice set despite my niggles. You get a pretty decent return value and in its simplicity it looks elegant and convincing enough. If it wasn’t for the flimsy attachment of the add-on items, this would even be reasonably playable and safe as a regular vehicle replacement for your kids – opening the hood, placing a driver in it and all that. You can still do that of course, but a bit of caution is required. Otherwise you get an okay-ish model that will fit into the overall theme, but doesn’t stand out particularly.