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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…