Car Triple – LEGO Ninjago, Lloyd’s Race Car EVO (71763), LEGO Creator, Street Racer (31127) and LEGO Super Heroes, Batmobile: The Penguin Chase (76181)

As a LEGO user on a limited budget it’s sometimes not easy to find something to buy, strange as this may sound. Some sets don’t interest me right out of the gate, others I may actually want are out of my league and then there’s this weird thing where you have downright lulls when you have ticked off your “Must have” list and newer sets aren’t released yet or there’s no worthwhile discounts that deter you from buying something. In those situations, especially when the drought becomes too long and I get this nervous itch, I like to resort to my alternate “Would be nice, but only if…” list. This is sort of a random collection of sets that I might buy, after all, to scalp them for parts. This inevitably requires them to be cheap or offset the cost by being able to sell minifigures for a good price. The three sets featured in this article are exactly that. None of that means that they would be bad on their own merits, it’s just not the main focus of this review.

LEGO Ninjago, Lloyd's Race Car EVO (71763), Box

LEGO Creator, Street Racer (31127), Box

LEGO Super Heroes, Batmobile: The Penguin Chase (76181), Box

Pricing and Contents

Not being much of an actual diesel head or any other kind of car aficionado, the underlying logic for these purchases has always been the potential long-term usefulness of the parts vs. the price and the short-lived fun I might derive while building. As it is, I never got too worked up over the specifics of Ninjago lore or the The Batman movie’s details and the accuracy of the model. With that in mind, the motto of the day always has been “It needs to be cheap!” and so I was biting my time on each of the sets until my gut feeling told me to buy them at what logically seemed to be the lowest price realistically feasible.

That mostly worked except for the Street Racer (31127) where I missed my window of opportunity and had to buy it at slightly higher cost. This one was 15 Euro, which is not too bad, given that a 20 Euro set would not be discounted as much proportionally compared to others. Interestingly, this set seems reasonably popular, so the price is pretty stable and it more or less never was “dumped” anywhere for 10 Euro during a promotion or something like that. The lowest I’ve seen is 13.50 Euro, which really isn’t that significant compared to what I spent.

The other two sets have a regular asking price of 30 Euro, which quite frankly is ridiculous, especially for the Ninjago car. Sure, the number of pieces is there that would fit the usual piece count x 10 Cent per piece = price, but there just is not enough volume of stuff. LEGO are even giving away their game with the marketing photos. One can’t shake the feeling that only half the parts are actually being used anywhere. That said, of course you can rely on discounts, which kind of is the point when you want things cheap, so I ultimately got both packages for around 18 Euro. That’s so much more tolerable and feels more in line with what you would pay for a comparable Speed Champions car for instance.

LEGO Ninjago, Lloyd’s Race Car EVO (71763)

Perhaps the most disappointing of the three, Lloyd’s Race Car will be the first to get a look. It comes with 279 pieces, which on paper sounds good enough, but as mentioned before it just doesn’t feel that way. This isn’t unexpected or even untypical for a lot of Ninjago sets, as a good chunk of the elements are always swords, blades and other appendages/ decorations as well as side builds and minifigure add-ons. Once you strip them down and put them on their own pile, you sometimes already have 50 pieces that don’t contribute much to the bulk. In this case this is further reinforced by the EVO concept where you are supposed to upgrade a barebones base build to a fully decked out maximum version or vice versa. More on that later.

LEGO Ninjago, Lloyd's Race Car EVO (71763), Overview

The minifigures in this set are very colorful with Lloyd having multiple shades of green and the snake warriors heavily featuring orange. This makes them almost look a bit too friendly compared to other iterations of these characters. Still love the snake head piece as much as back then, though. If LEGO were to produce Light Bluish Grey or Tan versions, they’d make for wonderful decorations of some similarly themed temple.

LEGO Ninjago, Lloyd's Race Car EVO (71763), Figures

There’s a small buggy for the bad guys, but it’s basically one of those lazy lackluster designs I’ve criticized a million times in my LEGO magazines reviews. It’s an utter waste of pieces and simply not worthy of even being there.

The main vehicle as depicted here is the maxed out and leveled up version. Not only was I simply too lazy to take photos of the lesser variants with some pieces removed, but in my opinion this EVO stuff also just doesn’t really work that well. The base version looks rather underwhelming and a bit weird and one can’t help but shake the feeling that this was fundamentally designed the wrong way. By that I mean that my overall impression is that the car was designed as the complete version and only then they started thinking about which parts could be removed when in fact it should have been the other way around.

This isn’t helped by the modular concept not having been thought through. Whenever you try to remove the sub-assemblies there’s a good chance you also pull off other parts that are supposed to stay on or at least you loosen up some connections. This isn’t the end of the world, just sloppy design and it feels utterly unnecessary.

The car itself is just fine and has a few things going for it in terms of useful pieces. For instance the green wedges haven’t been in any set in ages and could be interesting to some. Similarly, the relatively new golden “motorcycle style” wheel hubs haven’t been in too many sets yet. This package is also one of the few to have the 2 x 2 corner tile in Green. The most important item however, if you wanna call it that, is the transparent windshield element. It’s rather common in Trans Black, but outside this set it has only been once done in Trans Clear. That means it has been rather expensive (though not particularly rare) and increased availability will help to bring down that cost. Personalyl I can see that piece being useful if e.g. you want to convert a Speed Champions car to a different version and are tired of the shaded windows.

LEGO Ninjago, Lloyd's Race Car EVO (71763), Front ViewOn a somewhat broader note, I really hate LEGO for doctoring their promotional images the wrong way. I was under the impression that the Green would actually be Bright Green, which would have made the car look a bit more aggressive but would also have been cooler overall. You can imagine that I was mildly disappointed when I realized that. As a Photoshop user myself I find it baffling that they don’t put much emphasis on a reasonably correct rendition of their own colors. It really cannot be that difficult, considering that no doubt they can easily afford all the bells and whistles of expensive photographic equipment and high-end calibrated computer screens.

LEGO Ninjago, Lloyd's Race Car EVO (71763), CockpitThe play value of this model is acceptable. The car is pretty robust and the cockpit is large and accessible. However, there’s not much else to do. Unlike some other Ninjago offerings this one doesn’t have some hinge-based transformation features or hidden functions that can be triggered with some lever. Even the stud shooters feel less than ideal, considering that the round 1 x 1 studs more often than not tend to be consumed by the carpet monster and are harder to retrieve compared to arrow shooters.

LEGO Creator, Street Racer (31127)

I got this set somewhat reluctantly. It’s not that I totally disliked it, it just didn’t strike me as essential when viewed from the angle I was treating the whole operation. Arguably one could say that this is a bit of an acquired taste and my interest only grew when studying the digital building instructions and realizing that it would offer some unique Dark Turquoise parts and a few useful ones in Light Aqua as well.

LEGO Creator, Street Racer (31127), Front Left View

The set comes with 258 pieces and they are put to good use, at least for the primary model. Apparently I haven’t built the Formula X racer and the custom dragster, which use less elements. I might have if the set had a different color scheme, which is a bit of a qualm I have with this. I don’t mind the Dark Turquoise, but I feel that other contrast colors would have served the set better. The Light Aqua could have been substituted for Yellowish Green or Dark Azure and if nothing else, at least the Red decorations should be Bright Light Orange. That and of course the exhaust pipes and the compressor intake would look way cooler if they were in a metallic color.

Building the model is pretty straightforward as unlike some other cars this one use mostly conventional building techniques and not fancy sideways or upside-down construction as often found on Speed Champions these days. This makes for a rather relaxing time and a quick turnaround. I’m a slow builder at the best of times due to often being distracted with other stuff like watching TV, but this was a pleasant build that didn’t drag on for a whole evening.

One thing you’ll notice right away is that this car is rather big and has a lot of usable volume. The downside to that is that it’s definitely not minifigure scale and any of the little guys you put in the cockpit and behind the wheel will look like an elementary school kid having hijacked his parents’ ride. The available space is really huge as evidenced by the images below. There’s even a well worked out stowage area, it’s just that in order to actually use any of that and make sense scale-wise you may need to find some dolls/ puppets/ figures from an alternate manufacturer like Playmobil.

LEGO Super Heroes, Batmobile: The Penguin Chase (76181)

The The Batman movie came and went without much fanfare. It was barely marketed and then it felt like it was in cinemas for two weeks only. The short window of opportunity certainly hasn’t helped to compel me to drag my lazy ass to the movies, but I won’t use it as an excuse. I haven’t seen the whole thing and only know bits and pieces from trailers and isolated clips. Based on that, the model appears to be an adequate rendition.

LEGO Super Heroes, Batmobile: The Penguin Chase (76181), Overview

LEGO Super Heroes, Batmobile: The Penguin Chase (76181), FiguresThe set comes with minifigures of Batman himself and his nemesis The Penguin. The decapitated head isn’t some unfortunate victim, it’s a replacement for Batman without the cowl. I guess for the realistic look of the film they’re okay, it’s just that they don’t look very spectacular, either. Bats doesn’t even have any weapons and for Mr. Cobblepot  you can build a small rocket launcher (forgot to include it in the images), but that’s pretty much it.

The set officially has 392 pieces and they’re are used well. as you can see on the photos, it has a certain fine granularity with many individual details breaking up what otherwise would just be a sea of black. It even has the flames from the nitro charger to make things look more intimidating. They get a bit tiresome to look at, so if you want to keep the model around for your showcase, it’s likely better to remove those transparent blue parts.

The car in the movie is a custom build, though it has clear references to a Mustang, a Pontiac and some others, depending on which details you look at. Within reason that has been translated well enough to the smaller scale version, though of course some of the straight surfaces would be curved on the original. In terms of size this feels like an oversized Speed Champions car and it even builds similarly. You start out with a 8 wide chassis element which is considerably extended front and rear and then add the other elements.

One of the things I found slightly problematic is how fragile some assemblies are. It is inevitable that some of the flames will come off occasionally, but there’s also several other locations where pieces are only attached by two studs and you can break them off just by handling the model wrongly. The overhang of the front hood is the most annoying of those, but also some of the 1 x 2  slopes used for the sharp ridges tend to dislocate. Another weak spot is the “forked” suspension of the motor. With all that in mind you should handle the model carefully.

The interior details are sufficient. Personally I’m a bit irked by the shooter mechanism. It requires you to have the arrows in the model at all times or else the hinged mechanism will just drop down and stay at an angle, ruining the illusion of a solid surface on the hood. If I were to build this a second time I’d just forego the arrow shooters entirely and close up the gaps with regular bricks and tiles.

The motor is an interesting little assembly and sells the illusion nicely. Most importantly it does so by using some Flat Silver elements that have only been introduced in this color this year such as the 90 degree clip/ bar and the Fez cone. Definitely interesting pieces for anyone building machinery or designing Steampunk stuff.

Concluding Thoughts

Given that I bought all the sets under the premise that I would harvest their pieces and derive a little distraction from them rather than looking at them too critically for their originality, realism and other factors, I’m not that disappointed. Yes, they all have notable shortcomings, but I don’t find them too bothersome within my reasoning.

Of course my opinion would be most definitely different if I was more serious about the matter. I might criticize the lack of more minifigures on the Batman set and its less than robust handling and I might simply write off the Ninjago set as lame and unpolished in relation to the official retail price. In reverse this however also means that I really would not necessarily have bought those sets if they hadn’t been discounted massively. Such is the logic forced upon us by LEGO‘s crazy pricing.

To my surprise I really liked the Creator 3in1 race car and if you’re on a budget and can get over the slightly weird color scheme I would recommend picking this over the others. It’s just as robust as the Ninjago car while looking a lot better and at the same time it’s as big and reasonably detailed as both its alternative offerings. The Batman car would be last on my imaginary list due to its stability issues and boring black look. There simply are way too many other black cars out there.

Shallow Tournament – LEGO Ninjago, Tournament of Elements (71735)

With ten years under its belt, LEGO Ninjago is certainly that one big hit series every toy maker is hoping for and has become a staple of their product portfolio. The success is going so far that they introduced the Legacy sub-theme two years ago where modernized versions of older kits are re-issued to celebrate the memories and nostalgia. A good example for this is the Boulder Blaster (71736) from earlier this year.

LEGO Ninjago, Tournament of Elements (71735), Box

The Tournament of Elements (71735) falls in that category as well, though more in a hypothetical sense as technically this is not a remake of a previous set, but rather a completely new one based on the central theme of season 4 of Ninjago. There are temple-like sets for this season that represent individual bits and scenarios, but not this exact one.

Contents and Pricing

The Ninjago sets are, with a few exceptions that feel hugely overpriced every now and then, usually very reasonably priced and thus rather affordable even on a shoe string budget. With a recommended price of 30 Euro for 283 this one fits the pattern nicely. At first glance the average price per piece is of course slightly above 10 Cent, but the saving grace here is that you get seven (!) minifigures that already make up a huge chunk of the value. The rest comes down to what the pieces are worth to you for building your own “real” temple or expanding another model. More on that later.

LEGO Ninjago, Tournament of Elements (71735), Overview

Despite the already not too crazy price I took my time and did not rush to buy it. I had it somewhere in the middle of my virtual “Sets I might consider buying one day” list, but this was not an urgent case of “must have” and more an optional “would be nice”. That’s why I only picked it up now for 20 Euro. To me this simply felt more adequate in relation to the overall contents.

The Minifigures

Unusually for me, the minifigures were a big driver for this purchase. I’m still not a minifig collector and likely will never be, so they have to appeal to me with special features and a certain underlying charme. This is definitely the case for the for elemental masters with the guitar-playing Elvis-wannabee Jacob and and the stick-wielding “wild man” Bolobo taking the cake. Gravis is also not bad, be it just for the fact that turbans are extremely scarce and having this headgear piece alone would open up a few possibilities for customizing your little guys.

LEGO Ninjago, Tournament of Elements (71735), Minifigures

All of the minifigs also offer nice production value with some very complex and detailed prints, even the more ordinary Jay and Kai ones. this may not be up to the insane level some recent more exclusive Collectible Minifigures have reached, but is more than sufficient for characters bundled with buildable sets.

LEGO Ninjago, Tournament of Elements (71735), Minifigures

This being a tenth anniversary thing there is also another golden ninja, this time Lloyd. I guess if you really were a completionist and wanted to collect them all this would be a good thing, but by themselves I find that these don’t do much for me and chasing for them seems unnecessarily stressful. You’re probably better off just buying them as a complete lot from Bricklink.

LEGO Ninjago, Tournament of Elements (71735), Minifigure

The Temple

The temple isn’t really much of a temple, but it’s more being alluded to by representing its balconies/ gallery as some sort of panoramic stand for the minifigures and some of the iconic accessories. Stylistically it captures the overall appearance and mood, but it seems that this isn’t rooted in any concrete details from the actual animated series. I never actually watched it, but what trailers and snippets you can find on the internet suggest that this is all much more elaborate and more detailed.

LEGO Ninjago, Tournament of Elements (71735), Front View

The build follows pretty much the same design pattern for each of the three panels and thus the whole process is rather repetitive and boring. By the time you build the third segment you don’t even need to look at the instructions any more. For what it’s supposed to represent this is serviceable, but really not more than that.

Sprinkled throughout are the various elements from the standard Ninjago weapons pack, only this time they are done in Bright Green for the first time after previously only being available in Pearl Gold, Flat Silver and oddly enough most often in Trans Neon green. The green of course is supposed to represent some form Jade. The more interesting aspect to this is that the pieces could come in handy to represent body parts of insects such as mandibles and wings or perhaps could even be used to add some plant-like stuff.

LEGO Ninjago, Tournament of Elements (71735), Front View, Top Section

Unfortunately the temple does not have an actual yard or arena where the contestants could battle it out and that is easily my biggest gripe here. Given how the layout is built already it should have been easy enough to add some more plates, a bit of fencing and perhaps one or two stone benches as seating for the audiences.

On that same note, the back sides could have had preparation areas for the various protagonists or at least some random storage or other facilities like a toilet. I get that they may not have wanted to inflate the parts count unnecessarily, but c’mon! This simply feels a bit too lazy.

In the same vein I completely miss some relation to the actual elemental powers. In the trailers you can see the temple area being transformed into a lava pit and some stuff with water/ ice, so integrating a few of those things certainly would have been a good thing. Ideally each minifigure would even have its own separate little island demonstrating its individual powers where appropriate.

Concluding Thoughts

If you don’t warm up to the minifigures, then this set isn’t really for you. Around 70 percent of the ideological value just come from the characters while the building itself is nothing special. It fits with the underlying story and certainly your could turn it into something if you have another Ninjago temple floating around or a willing to buy this set multiple times and complement it with lots of extra parts from your collection, but on its own merits it’s one of the most basic LEGO builds I’ve seen in a while.

For me it had some minor extra value due to some of the pieces that I didn’t have in my portfolio yet like the modified plate with two studs in Dark Blue or even something as trivial as the ten Black 1 x 2 x 2 slopes, an otherwise common part, but outside that there is very little of value to be had here. At the end of the day they could likely have sold the figures in a different kind of package with even less buildable elements and it would have been just as good or bad.

For my taste there’s simply not enough here and all things considered it would have been preferable to have a “real” building even if the set then would have cost 50 Euro or something like that…

Another Pistol Jet – LEGO Ninjago, Boulder Blaster (71736)

Right after I had finished my review of Red Son’s Inferno Jet (800019) another not quite dissimilar model found its way in my home. The Boulder Blaster (71736) is a remake of the 2015 model of same name (70747) which apparently was prominently featured in series 4 of the LEGO Ninjago animated TV series. That’s why this modernized and optimized re-issue appears under the Ninjago Legacy sub-theme.

LEGO Ninjago, Boulder Blaster (71736), Box

Before you think I have gone completely OCD over those pistol-like planes I have to clarify something: No, I haven’t. The only reason you even get to see a review of this set is because I won it in a raffle in the run-up to the Easter holidays. Aside from this super-weird coincidence, both in the timing and subject, there’s really not much more than that to it.

Contents and Pricing

As just mentioned, I got this set for free, so the pertinent question becomes whether I would actually ever have bought it and if so, at what price. The set officially retails for 40 Euro. Within the Ninjago universe that is not a bad price for 450 pieces, but not exactly a bargain, either. There have been sets with a better price-to-part-ratio when you break it down to each individual element. In addition you have to consider that it’s just a remake of an older set that people who may be interested in also purchasing this new variant may still have floating about.

That’s why right off the bat I think 35 Euro would have been a better price. With discounts that could have brought the cost further down to around 25-ish Euro as opposed to the 29 Euro which at this point appear the best discount you can get anywhere. As usual this is of course quibbling over something that you can’t control, anyway, and all things considered 40 Euro plus whatever rebate you get that is still not really terrible in the weird world of LEGO. Still, the plane may not be attractive to many people and aside from the totem pole there is not much else except for the four minifigures. It’s the old gag of the set missing that little bit extra that would make you feel okay or good over what you pay for it.

LEGO Ninjago, Boulder Blaster (71736), Overview

The Minifigures

While four minifigures isn’t a bad deal for such a relatively small set at first glance, the not so great news is that none of them are particularly special. If the Kai figure wasn’t golden and thus coveted by collectors looking for a complete set the metrics would be even worse. Lloyd, Cole and Eyezor have either been featured in other sets or don’t deviate much from their standard appearance if you don’t count the specific vest prints. far be it for me to complain too much, but maybe they could at least have included some exclusive weapons or another little gimmick. On the bright side their ordinary nature means that the minifigures will be available in abundance on Bricklink and similar sites for minimum cost – except for the golden boy, of course. On the merits of the figures alone this set would not be worth buying even for a die-hard collector.

LEGO Ninjago, Boulder Blaster (71736), MinifiguresLEGO Ninjago, Boulder Blaster (71736), Minifigures

The Totem Pole

The only extra build is a basic totem pole/ cage contraption. The black disk is supposed to have a sticker with a shield pattern, which obviously I did not use. You are supposed to “shoot” at the shield/ snip you finger at at, so it tips over and unlocks the bars. this works well enough and you can place a minifigure behind the ladder in the closed position, but it does not have any studs for fixation.

The Jet

The bulk of the set is of course the model of the eponymous Boulder Blaster jet. in terms of design it is based on a Canard style plane, with smaller fins, the actual canards, in the front and the wing moved far aft. There are advantages to this design, but equally as many disadvantages, so it never made huge inroads on actual aircraft (like so many other things) if you don’t count super-sonic planes with delta wings like the Eurofighter and a few others. For sub-sonic planes I more or less only remember the MiG Utka and some experimental Italian  Piaggio planes. I’m sure if you research it a bit you could come up with a few more examples, scarce as they may be overall.

LEGO Ninjago, Boulder Blaster (71736), Jet, Front Left View

The proportions are credible and the whole layout even makes some crude sense from an engineering point of view, though the plane would probably be terrible to fly in the real world. The pistol-like nature of the thing is disguised a bit better, not least of all because the large main wings obscure some areas that otherwise would be more visible and also visually distract by themselves.

The grip handle and the extra bits for the firing mechanism of the arrow shooter array only become noticeable at certain angles and otherwise blend in more or less nicely. Of course there’s still room for improvement and LEGO could easily have substituted the few grey pieces for black ones as well. Still, within reason perfectly acceptable the way they are.

LEGO Ninjago, Boulder Blaster (71736), Jet, Aft Left View

One of the areas lacking a pinch of finesse is once more the main jet exhaust on the tail. At least its in Pearl Gold and being a proper wheel hub/ rim element it has some structure, so it doesn’t entirely come across as a non-effort like the one on on the White Dragon Horse Jet (80020), but there could definitely be some more details to spice things up.

LEGO Ninjago, Boulder Blaster (71736), Jet, Aft Right View

The front section is extremely bulky, which only in part feels like it’s owing to the design. It’s just as much a limitation of the mechanism and the gearbox having to fit in there and the way the shooter array is constructed. In that regard Red Son‘s jet offers the better solution, though with not nearly as many shooters. Admittedly even if they had opted for a similar approach the likely could only have squeezed in four shooters, not eight. There would only be so much room even in the largest cowling.

LEGO Ninjago, Boulder Blaster (71736), Jet, Front Right View

LEGO Ninjago, Boulder Blaster (71736), Jet, Front View

The wings are built surprisingly simple, yet effective by using the relatively large 4 x 10 plates on the undersides and the large curved slopes on the top. In addition with the Orange trim line this provides a nice “frame” for the whole area and a believable structure. After all, the smooth sections could be ailerons, air breaks or some other type of the many flaps you find on an airplane. The wings are plugged into the fuselage using pins and locked in place using two 4 x 4 plates on each side, with the new pauldron-like wedge element behind the cockpit sealing everything off. 

LEGO Ninjago, Boulder Blaster (71736), Jet, Top View

The underside view once more underline the odd decision to use grey elements on an otherwise almost completely black model. Swapping out those bits for Black versions would not be much of a problem if you have the parts and most likely I would take it one step further even and get rid of the T-shaped Technic liftarm that is part of the wings’ socket construction. I’m confident I could come up with something that’s a bit less obvious and would allow me to create something smoother, including also removing the 16 units long Technic bricks. I know why they did it this way for strength, but I would gladly sacrifice the shooter functionality and some stability for a better look.

LEGO Ninjago, Boulder Blaster (71736), Jet, Bottom View

On that matter: I found the arrow shooter rather unsatisfying, not only because it makes the front section look so bulky. The mechanism is a case of “It works sort of, but not very well.” the rear ends of the arrow are supposed to “ding” against the small wheel hub piece underneath the big golden one so they are released from the spring-loaded bricks, but this doesn’t really work to a degree where you would feel happy. There is too much resistance and overcoming it comes at the cost of poor targeting. This is yet another area that would need major rethinking and re-engineering.

LEGO Ninjago, Boulder Blaster (71736), Jet, Detail Arrow Shooters

The cockpit is a minimalist affair, but serviceable for what it’s supposed to represent, but not more than that. And now for the big one: For the time being the new canopy piece is exclusive for this set. Before you get too excited, however, here’s some news for you: According to leaks of the upcoming next summer wave of Ninjago sets it will be used prominently there. The series has an underwater theme and on the images I have seen, this canopy/ windshield piece is literally in every set, be that on a small submarine or another vehicle. So certainly there is no rush to get this set just to get the cockpit element. Still, it’s a nice one with its integrated, dual-molded golden frames and should proof popular (among other things like an actual black & white Manta Ray based on the new mold from last year).

LEGO Ninjago, Boulder Blaster (71736), Jet, Detail CockpitLEGO Ninjago, Boulder Blaster (71736), Jet, Detail Engine

Concluding Thoughts

If I hadn’t been lucky enough to win it, would I have bought this set? It’s still a tough question to answer. This is by no means a bad model, but at the same time it doesn’t get me excited enough that I would have lost sleep over it. This one is more or less “for fans” who actually watch the animated series and may get a kick out of seeing the vehicles shown there as real counterparts on their shelves.

For most others it will be too much of a “your mileage may vary” thing as once you strip out the shooting functionality, you have a nice, but imperfect model that could use some work to bring it up to code. I might have only picked this up during a really good sale if nothing else was around and/ or I really wanted to scalp it for parts, but even in that department it doesn’t do much for me. It relies mostly on established standard pieces and does not include highly desirable exotic new parts or color alternates. At least it netted me 17 more of those sexy 1 x 2 ingot pieces in Pearl Dark Grey and some Dark Bluish Grey minifigure pirate pistols.

From where I’m sitting this is not an essential model and unless you want to relive the nostalgia of the old Ninjago days you could easily ignore it and save your money for what’s coming now that you’ve been told about it…

Snake or Lizard? – Fire Fang (70674)

Ever since I bought those sets for The LEGO Ninjago Movie (e.g. the big shark sub, of course) I’m kind of in love with the Sand Blue color. I sometimes tend to think of it as “the better grey” and that notwithstanding, it is of course a nice complimentary color for many other colors, including greys and the various light blues. A single piece of this color thrown in as an off-color panel or the like can add a lot of interest to a model.

Unfortunately LEGO are not using this color nearly enough, so whenever it pops up in reasonable quantities in a set a purchase decision becomes a matter of much pondering on whether it would be worth it for expanding my parts stock. That’s why it took a while until I committed to the Fire Fang (70674) set from the LEGO Ninjago line of products.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Box

As usual the decision was made easier when the price dropped below a certain critical point, which in this case means 30 Euro or less. The original asking price of 45 Euro isn’t that outrageous to begin with, but following my own logic of course the math has to add up. There are a few pieces with limited reusability in future projects and I also don’t exactly collect minifigures, so I at least have to feel like I’m not paying for these extraneous things.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Overview

Ninjago sets surprise me again and again with their wealth of contents and this one is no exception. In a time where many much more expensive Star Wars sets only have two minifigures getting four of them in a relatively affordable box in another series is almost something worth pointing out particularly. You also get the spinner and the main model along with some extras.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Figures

The figures for the evil-doers are interesting in that they follow the Egyptian style of a human body with a stylized animal head. For apparent reasons in a set with a giant serpent those would be snake-like, too. This is even more interesting due to the fact that these are dual-molded and if you place them right the internal transparencies catch the light in a way that gives the illusion of an actual glow. It’s unfortunately very difficult to capture on a photo, so you have to take my word for it.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Rider

The main baddie, called Aspheera, represents some sort of military commander that is riding the snake into battle. The two bronze/ copper colored guards can be used to hold the chains/ reigns or simply placed beside the head-honcho in a suitable formation. Interestingly the curvature of the serpent’s neck didn’t allow for the strap-on seat to be placed at the very top and at first this looks a bit awkward, but once you get used to it it actually looks pretty realistic. The seat even has provision to somewhat compensate for the incline by the seating area being built at an angle itself.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Top View

The chair or portable throne, if you will, is itself pretty basic and relies and tried and true clichées like you see them so often in films like the back made from swords or spears and of course those extra large battle banners. In the LEGO world this of course suffers a little from the flimsy single point attachments using hinges and I messed it up a couple of times even in those photos. The flag staffs’ horizontal bars also come of quite easily at the slightest touch, so if you let your kids play with this set you might want to leave them off for safety and not losing those parts.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Back View

The top-down and back views reveal the one thing that bothered me the most: The whole model looks kinda short and stumpy due to the tail only having three movable segments. Considering how long the tails on some of the dragons are (most notably this one) this is definitely odd. Point in case: It’s not quite an actual Cobra, neither really a Dragon Lizard (with those large collars) nor fully something like a Skink with very short legs. If there were more tail sections it might at least pass as a genuine snake of sorts, but this “neither here nor there” hybrid just feels incomplete. It’s even ironic that you can’t really put the tip of the tail in an up position to make use of the rattle mechanism (a bunch of 1 x 1 round tiles enclosed in the dishes).

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Aft Right View

My beloved Sand Blue pieces are used on the front/ underside/ belly. Most of them are slopes of different types but there’s also those flag elements. Don’t mind that I didn’t pay attention and some of them are completely whacked out and not aligned correctly. The construction of this S-shaped segment has some interesting build ideas, but ultimately still feels inadequate even if you spend time to e.g. position the black wings in an arced formation. Subdividing this into more segments would have allowed a better approximation of the overall curvature.

The way it’s build also feels useless since basically there is only this one pose. Several parts use hinges, but whenever you are trying to change the angles and positioning, they will give in to their own weight and snap back into the same position where they are stopped/ blocked by another part. I feel that this hasn’t really been thought through, even more so when you attach the printed foil pieces for the collar. There’s only so many ways to actually get them attached and once in place they will act like springs pulling everything into place.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Front Right View

On that note: As an adult builder I would have much preferred some more effort to blend the collar in, meaning there should be transitional concave regions built from transparent orange bricks to give the “flames” some volume. that might also have allowed for some different fixation of the foil pieces, which due to their tension tend to slip of the ball joint heads at the slightest touch. I would imagine that putting them back in place over and over again would even be frustrating for kids.

LEGO Ninjago, Fire Fang (70674), Mouth Open

On a positive note, the model is more complex than I anticipated and it took longer to build than I had anticipated, which always helps with the perceived value. Nothing worse than a boring model lumped together using uninteresting basic building techniques, if you get my meaning. That is to say the model is better than I expected, but it’s not without shortcomings.

The most apparent problem is that it doesn’t quite seem to know what it wants to be. For a display model it feels a bit undercooked and lacking in details, for a playable model there are not that many options because it’s basically a solid, static block. This is yet again one of those sets where buying two packages and doing a bunch of simple modifications could enhance the look and feel quite a bit by breaking up the segments into smaller sections, extending the tail and so on…

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.