Bowser and his Gang – LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411) and Big Bad Island (71412)

I’m old enough to have lived through the video game era in the early 1990s and so I still have fond memories of many of the games we played on our Mega Drive/ Genesis or Super Nintento (or Super Nintendo Entertainment System, SNES, as it was called officially), which of course included the Super Mario World game that came bundled with the console, but also Mario Kart, Yoshi’s Island and a few others. As you can imagine, I was quite excited when LEGO announced sets around that subject, but like so many I was just as disappointed when they only announced a bunch of buildable characters and their weird game with those electronic Mario, Luigi and now Princess Peach characters. that didn’t stop me from buying some of this stuff, but it was never really worth turning it into an article.

Thankfully it seems someone at LEGO came to their senses earlier this year and wanted to give fans what they really wanted: Nice “sculptures” (or at least large enough buildable figures) that could be put in your showcase just to enjoy looking at them all day while getting carried away with memories of the good old times. I can’t tell you how happy I really was when The Mighty Bowser (71411) was announced and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. as usual, of course, it took a moment to actually make it happen, but now I finally can present it here.

LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411) and Big Bad Island (71412), Overview

Pricing and Contents

The Mighty Bowser (71411) comes in a mighty box containing 2807 pieces. Many of them are apparently relatively large and compact ones, so the package has quite a bit of weight. Is that worth a suggested price of 270 Euro? Despite this being a reasonably good price in the LEGO world considering the volume of stuff you get (He’s  a really big guy, after all!), I still tend to disagree with this. To me this feels more like 200 Euro would have been a better value proposition.

This would have made this set more relevant for kids in particular who may just want a Bowser on their shelf next to their other Super Mario paraphernalia. The other reason is that in the end of invisible structural assemblies made from standard pieces and I always feel that they are seriously overcharging people for those 2 x 4, 2 x 6 and so on plates and a few Technic beams. I know that things don’t work this way, but I certainly don’t believe that a blue pin is worth 10 Cent.

Lucky for everyone this set is broadly available through all regular retail channels, which means you can definitely get some discount somewhere. I bought mine during Black Week in November off Amazon. They were throwing it out for 172 Euro (and currently it sits at this price again because they’re matching another competitor’s price). I threw in a 20 Euro voucher I just had gotten the other day, so it effectively only cost me 152 Euro. That’s more than acceptable and more in line with what I think is acceptable.

LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411), Box

The smaller offering with Bowser‘s buddies is a different story. I had bought a few of those expansion sets in the past to get my hands on as many Yoshis, Koopas, Goombas and so on for my collection as well as a few other bits and pieces, so I wasn’t under any illusion how this would turn out. The typical formula for these packages seems to be one third to fifty percent of buildable figures, small houses and a few other things and the rest is just a whole lot of these platform pieces and some elongated plates to connect the individual sections. That is within the intention of actually building playable courses reasonable, but makes for a terribly bad value.

For the majority of sets this can be offset by the discounts because they’re available via regular retail channels, but unfortunately not for this one. The Big Bad Island (71412) is only available at LEGO stores or in their online shop, so there’s zero wiggle room on the price. If you want those 354 pieces, you better pony up those 45 Euro. It’s not that I wouldn’t be willing to pay this much, but the package really has very little content once you remove the platforms from the equation. It could definitely have done with a second large Goomba at least and perhaps an oversize Yoshi might have been nice as well.

Point in case: I got this set so Bowser would not be that alone and have some of his underlings keep him company and in my head this is what this set really should have been – an add-on figure pack that better matches the scale and proportions of the giant turtle and would look nice on the shelf next to him. In a way this therefore feels like a missed opportunity. I’m certain people would have swarmed to it.

LEGO Super Mario, Big Bad Island (71412), Box

The Mighty Bowser

Bowser is rather unique in its own right already and in addition he also represents an equally unique type of model. This type of complex and detailed “sculpture” is something that LEGO hasn’t done in ages. For me personally it was also a new experience, never having built something of that sort previously and of course quite generally I do not build this type of large set that often. That’s why the build also took me a while. I do not build every day, anyway, and those 22 bags in the package represented a lot of steps and sub-assemblies. I ultimately spread this out over several evening across five weeks or so. I’m not a fast builder to begin with, but I really had motivational problems with some of the sub-sections, knowing that I’d often repeat the same set of steps, if with swapped orientation where applicable. I really procrastinated a lot on this one!

LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411), Overview

The “Castle”

The pedestal depicts a piece of Bowser‘s castle, obviously. Funny enough said building has never been rendered consistently anywhere throughout the various games, so there’s no coherent design and layout. Only bits and pieces are ever visible and are re-arranged, shuffled around and adapted as needed. This would have given the designers lots of leeway and licence to let their creativity run wild, but somehow they opted for the smallest common denominator. It’s not necessarily the bare minimum, but not very inspired, either.

LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411), Pedestal, Front View

My biggest peeve is the lack of height. The thickness of the whole thing is only two bricks and that is already including the tiles on top. It just looks weird when you position Bowser on it. The proportions just feel whacked-out and you never quite believe that this is how he would present himself to intimidate his opponents. It also does not communicate the fact that his castle is built from large, roughly hewn rocks. Therefore I seriously think this should have been at least five bricks tall with some irregular edges and perhaps a stair step at the front.

LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411), Pedestal, Top View

This theme continues with the actual rock pattern. It’s created only from flat tiles with no variations in height or some sort of curvature. If you look closely, you can also see that the left and right halves are merely the same shapes rotated by 180 degrees. A bit too unimaginative for my taste. This is yet again something where an alternative, better design presents itself and you don’t need to think hard about it. Instead of grey mortar the gaps should be made from Trans Orange bricks or similar and in fact it should be taken one step further by having been built with “invisible” channels where one could simply thread through a cheap battery-powered LED light chain or strip to illuminate the whole thing. Imagine how awesome Bowser could look with a fiery shine from below!

LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411), Pedestal, Hidden CompartmentUnderneath the red carpet there’s a small hidden compartment with an action code if you use the electronic play figures for the series. This is of course slightly ridiculous for an expensive display model. You may do it a handful of times just to check how things go, but then not really bother anymore. You could replace the tile with a regular one and use the bar code elsewhere if you so desire.

LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411), Pedestal, SpireLeft and right on the platform you have some spires with flames/ torches and those also would benefit from having some LED lighting, naturally. They’re kind of okay, but not really much to write home about. Even the large flame element looks a bit out of place as the for instance this version of the same element would have “popped” more. The spires also contain the only printed element in this set aside from Bowser‘s eyes – his insignia. The small towers are constructed sufficiently stable, there are a few things that annoy me about them. The most important issue, and it really gets a bit on my nerves, is the weak fixation. Again pretending that this was a play set, the LEGO designers opted for a “soft” connection where the whole thing is merely held by two jumper plates and a bit of tension from the plates underneath so as to facilitate easy removal, but of course this has negative consequences. The damn towers come off way too easily, which can be a real pain when transporting the pedestal or moving it around. The slightest inclination or inertia can make them topple over and when they do, the flames come off, which is another of those nuisances.

All things considered, the pedestal/ presentation platform feels like an afterthought, not an integral part of the set. The point here is that technically it is not necessary to support the figure since they’re never actually connected in any form, so there would have been plenty of room to be creative to your hearts content. A wall with a large door, some battlements (even as ruins) or of course a huge throne (either from cushy red velvet or just the opposite plain rock) would have massively enhanced the scenery. Along with making this thicker and all those other things it would have had given this an actual reason to exist.

The way it is now, it feels a bit superfluous. The downside is of course that all my proposed enhancements would definitely have ramped up the parts count quite a bit, but I wouldn’t have minded paying another 50 Euro or so for a big bucket of Light/ Dark Bluish Grey and Trans Orange bricks to make my ideas a reality.

The Boss himself

The meat of the set is of course the turtle-shelled king himself, Bowser the mighty. My personal memory of him is a different one than how he is presented here, though. I’ll always remember him as a relatively small lump of pixels, i.e. a sprite in Super Mario World where he was barely twice the size of Mario. This was of course a technical limitation, but it really seems to me that over the years Nintendo have gone a bit batty on this and he has gotten bigger and bigger to the point of covering an entire planet. In my opinion this hasn’t always been a good idea as it doesn’t make him more threatening and in a way it also kills the clumsy charme and cuteness I remember him for. Since there are so many incarnations of him in different styles it’s also difficult to rate the exactness and realism. It’s probably best to see this model as an amalgam of all his best renditions.

Bowser always has had a very compact and stubby appearance with short legs and also short arms (those have elongated with every new iteration, too) and this certainly has been captured nicely here with his slightly forward leaning posture as if he’s really struggling with his heavy shell. You can really imagine him making short, heavy steps rather than sprinting to move around.

The model is not a rigid block and has been built from several sub-assemblies that can in part even be moved. However, in practice this is rather limited since not all joints can be moved on all axes. It would for instance be difficult to coordinate the arms in such a way that they could hold something believably. If you feel so inclined you could perhaps some coins in one of Bowser‘s hands, but that’s pretty much it. Putting in a scepter or magic staff would be difficult and would require to construct the hands in a different way.

LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411), TriggerSimilar to the hidden compartments on the pedestal the main figure has a “play” feature for shooting a “fireball” (arrow) from its mouth and this is done with a somewhat convoluted mechanism. The external triggers are positioned next to the shoulders so as to fire when the arms are raised into a certain position, but this doesn’t really work that well just like the overall thing. This isn’t a fundamental flaw with the construction, it’s just built at the verge of what’s possible with bricks. I didn’t feel like digging too deep and fixing my setup, but I think it mostly boils down to the head being too heavy and the slightest hitch in the transmission throwing things for a loop. If it’s important to you, you may of course want to spend some time optimizing it for smooth operation.

LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411), Foot

The feet are an interesting piece of engineering. I was initially skeptical, since they dangle loosely on some of those extra large Technic ball joint pieces, but it works quite well. Once you put down the big guy the legs bump against the rest of the body which will stiffen them up as if they were fixed. LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411), TailThe center of gravity is so well-balanced that nothing else is required and the figure stands firmly planted without any risk of falling over. This also means that the tail is not an actual support/ stopper, even if it may look this way. It’s just designed to be perfectly level with the soles of the feet.

The shell is constructed from the frame consisting of the white tubes and three strips representing the actual segments, which by themselves are are held at the correct angles using a clever mix of hinges, and axle connectors. This is then simply plugged onto the underlying Technic frames you build in an earlier step. The spikes are a new mold specifically created for this set and no doubt will reappear in the future as all manner of rocket tips and similar. The designers even gave this parabolic shape a specific name, but for the life of it I couldn’t find the article where I read it.

LEGO Super Mario, The Mighty Bowser (71411), Shell

Important people have big brains, so Bowser‘s head is huge compared to the rest of his body. This is an advantage because everything can be built from regular elements instead requiring any dedicated special molds like they might be necessary at smaller scales. It’s also beneficial that of course we’re talking about a fictional character that started out as a simple 2D sprite in a game and they opted to go for this simplified, slightly abstract style. This allows to use relatively large, solid pieces e.g. for the hair where otherwise they would have had to employ tons of smaller parts or cheat things with prints and stickers.

Big Bad Island

As powerful as Bowser himself is, he’s of course nothing without his minions that do his bidding and over the years his army of goons has evolved and changed quite a bit. His closest relatives, the Koopas have always been a stable of this and so have the Goombas. They’ve been there ever since the first games were conceived and over the years this has been complemented with mutated piranhas, killer penguins, spiky fuzzballs, guys on hovering clouds dropping stuff from above, all manner of mutated plants and so on.

As mentioned earlier I already had bought a bunch of these Expansion Sets containing some of the aforementioned characters, but inevitably there’s an issue with scale. While Bowser always has been bigger than his servants, the ratio has never really been twenty times as big. This may happen when he goes into berserk mode and blows himself up with a magic spell, but most of the time he should be about three to five times as large as a Koopa or for that matter Mario. I was already thinking of trying to design a few medium scale characters myself and this set came to the rescue, if at considerable extra cost.

LEGO Super Mario, Big Bad Island (71412), Overview

Unfortunately there’s really only two figures in here that match that criteria – a Goomba and a Koopa – whereas the remaining other two fit the scale of the regular series. The concept of course is in actuality the other way around in the games. It’s not necessarily that the enemies are too large, but rather that Mario is too small because he got shrunk by some spell cast by Iggy or has entered such a zone.

LEGO Super Mario, Big Bad Island (71412), Figures

LEGO Super Mario, Big Bad Island (71412), IggyIggy is the wacko wizard cousin of Bowser‘s and this has always worn this on his sleeve with his crazy eyes and the big mouth with the crooked teeth. Aside from these specifics he’s really just another Koopa, though the model uses a slightly different construction than some other ones in the series.

LEGO Super Mario, Big Bad Island (71412), Goomba, small

I have at least five or six of these small Goombas and they all follow the same build pattern. The only difference are the tiles with the face prints and that is the mean part about it. Most of them only appear in one specific set and you will have to collect them all or buy those tiles for a relatively high price on Bricklink and other such sites.

LEGO Super Mario, Big Bad Island (71412), Goomba, bigThe same can be said for the large version, but of course that’s expected. Thankfully someone at LEGO had the wits to use the newer perfectly smooth 6 x 6 tile instead of the older version with the injection point at the center. There’s another unprinted one at the back. The only thing missing is a larger version of the foot/ shoes element, but I guess that would have been too expensive. At the same time the set introduces two new elements in Dark Orange, the 2 x 3 curved slope and the 1 x 2 rounded “filler” brick, so there’s at least that.

The Koopa Trooper is one of only three sets that make use of the large turtle shell base and ironically enough in the other sets this is used as the basis for Bowser‘s armor, which should give you an idea about the scale. there’s not much else to it, as it’s literally just another SNOT block with most elements being plugged on sideways in different places. That’s also why it falls a bit short of making more use of rounded pieces.

Concluding Thoughts

For what it’s worth, The Mighty Bowser (71411) is what I would consider a near perfect set despite its quirks and a few inevitable shortcomings. I for instance could have totally gone without the Technic underpinnings and movable parts for posing, but luckily they don’t get in the way and don’t ruin the overall appearance because they’re well hidden. No blue pins to cause you an upset, if you get my meaning. In the end you have to admire the smart construction techniques, even though at times they also cause frustration and slowed down the build. Combined with other factors like me rarely building such large models and taking days off not doing any LEGO inbetween this caused a bit of drag. I don’t hold that against the designers, it’s just a combination of circumstances on my end. Generally, though, you should be prepared that this isn’t a quick and simple build for a short afternoon.

Another nice thing is that this set is a treasure trove of new and recolored pieces and even better yet, many of those come in considerable quantities. I’ve spared myself the trouble of putting them all in a long and boring list, but if you ever decide to dismantle and disassemble the model, you’ll have heaps of those “pancake” pieces in different colors, a similar pile of tubes, the spikes from the back and so on. This also makes the package a worthwhile subject for Bricklink dealers to rip it apart and sell of pieces individually at reasonable prices.

With that in mind and all that I said earlier I would highly recommend Bowser. It’s just too good a chance to pass up, given that it’s in broad distribution and there’s always a way to get a decent price somewhere. Whether you just enjoy building complex models, want to scalp the parts or really want to put him on display next to your game consoles there’s some fun to be had. You’d have to be living under a rock to never have heard of the Mario games or it’s completely not your genre to ignore this.

The Big Bad Island (71412) on the other hand is not an essential item, with the only reason to get it being the special printed items to build the large versions of Koopa and Goomba. Due to the set’s exclusivity those tiles would be hard to find on the secondary markets and will be expensive for the rest of eternity. Currently there isn’t even a single vendor offering them on Bricklink. Buying the whole package will no doubt cause you grinding teeth, but would be a more reliable method to obtain those parts.

V is Victory? – LEGO Star Wars Magazine, April 2021

WordPress are driving me crazy with their forced transition to the Blocks editor, so bear with me if some things look a bit wonky. As an old school WP user I’m still too much used to working within a theme’s design rules and this new-fangled stuff takes some getting used to. Anyway, here we go again with the LEGO Star Wars magazine, this time for April 2021.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, April 2021, Cover

Unlike the wildly fictional concoctions in the last few issues, the comic is a bit more relatable again this time, depicting several encounters Yoda had/ has while roaming the forests of Dagobah. This is very akin to Luke‘s training in The Empire Strikes Back with all sorts of dangerous creatures and a force representation of Darth Vader also making an appearance. Of course there are some liberties here, but at least I like to believe that’s how it could have happened. I’m not an advocate of strict canon, but familiarity and adherence to existing the lore and rules of the Star Wars universe is always a bonus.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, April 2021, Comic

The posters deserve praise this month. Not only are they stylistically similar to the Storm Trooper chart from last month, but also both of them are actually good. To top it off, they even tell a story with Luke and Vader facing each other as exploded minifigures. Of course the downside to that is that you will actually have to buy two magazines if you want to put up both posters in the way depicted here.

The extra is a V-Wing fighter. Don’t ask me too much, as I have yet to manage to actually consistently watch The Clone Wars and catch up with its story and details, but apparently these fighters appear quite a lot there and are kind of important. Otherwise LEGO might have glossed over them and not done several models, obviously. as far as I know this is the first time it has been done as such a mini-model, though, so it’s something new.

The build is not particularly elaborate, but seems to capture the shapes well enough. The highlight are of course the Dark Red shield tiles, which so far only have appeared in the UCS A-Wing Starfighter (75275) and the smaller LEGO Super Heroes Hulkbuster (76164) set, making them a bit of a rarity item. The same goes for the curved slope, though it isn’t quite as scarce. On top of it you get five (!) full left/ right pairs of the 2 x 4 wedge tiles in Light Bluish Grey. Not a bad yield for such a small model!

On a funny side note, I was immediately reminded of Nintendo‘s Starfox games when I accidentally whacked the vertical air foils out of alignment. The details would need some refinement, naturally, but it’s surprising how similar the fighters look.

On the whole this is a fantastic issue providing some good value. A decent comic, some superb posters and a model that despite its simplicity looks cool. what more can you ask for? The only thing where it falls short is the activities/ puzzles, which are few and far inbetween…