Review: 70503 The Golden Dragon

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Honestly, if you’d told me when the first wave of Ninjago sets appeared in 2011 that I’d be looking forward to building and reviewing two Ninjago sets in the space of just over a week then I’d have laughed in your face. It took me a while to warm to the Ninjago theme, but I’m now well and truly on board, with a growing pile of Ninjago sets to prove it….

My first encounter with the 2013 Ninjago line-up was extremely positive, as you can read for yourself in my review of Set 70500 Kai’s Fire Mech. The question was whether Set 70503 The Golden Dragon would impress me as much…

Once again LEGO have made good on their promise to keep the size of the boxes down; the box is the same size and thickness as the 2012 City Traffic sets such as the Dirt Bike Transporter and Garbage Truck despite having almost 50 more pieces than some of those sets. You can see a picture of the front of the box above, replete with the green Ninjago 2013 branding and featuring the fearsome Golden Dragon attacking a couple of Garmadon’s hapless minions. The front of the box also informs us that the set includes the Golden Ninja, a.k.a. Lloyd, although you’d hope that prospective purchasers would have already figured that out from the box art…

The back of the box (above) reveals a number of the set’s play features; the dragon’s wings and tail can open and close, while the dragon’s head contains a mechanism to enable it to fire a bright green Bionicle Zamor Sphere which is included with the set. There’s also a rudimentary catapult to launch Garmadon’s Scout towards the dragon, although what he hopes to achieve by such recklessness beats me. As you’d expect with a set of this size, access to the box is via thumb tabs rather than tape seals, but it was just as easy and considerably neater to slip a craft knife under the box flaps and open it that way, so that’s as usual what I did.

The box contains three large bags of parts numbered 1 to 3 plus a smaller bag made out of softer plastic within which the two parts making up the dragon’s head can be found. There was also an instruction booklet, but thankfully no sticker sheet.

The 72-page instruction booklet (above) dropped out of the box in a pleasingly nice, flat condition. The front cover imagery is almost identical to that found on the front of the box. Almost all of the booklet is taken up with building instructions, with unusually little in the way of advertising apart from the usual encouragement to take the ubiquitous LEGO survey. We do thankfully get an inventory of parts, however, and this spans two pages.

Having inspected the instruction booklet it was time to see what pieces we’re provided with. The build is broken up into 3 sections, each of which has its own bag of parts. At 252 parts this isn’t a particularly large set, however so I decided to just open all the bags at once and pool the pieces, and you can see a selection of interesting, unusual and/or rare parts in the photograph below (click to enlarge). Similar to Set 70500 Kai’s Fire Mech there are a lot of pearl gold parts in this set, well over 50 in fact. Some of them are pretty rare as well – the 4 x 4 triple wedge near the middle of the picture can only be found in this and one other set, while the 10L and 16L propeller blades, the curved 3 x 1 slope and round 2 x 2 tile are all at present restricted to fewer than 10 sets in total. The dark green parts in the picture are also fairly uncommon, with pride of place going to the 2 x 4 wedge plate which is unique to this set. The black scimitar has appeared in 5 sets to date, all within the Ninjago theme.

Talking of interesting and/or rare parts, the two elements making up the Gold Dragon’s head (below) are worth a closer look. I was surprised to discover that both of these parts are soft and rubbery rather than hard plastic. The upper part of the head is printed and nicely detailed, while the jaw features what is presumably the latest in dragon fashion, a dark green goatee…. Both these parts only appear in this set.

The set contains three minifigures – Golden Ninja Lloyd, a Warrior and a Scout. Lloyd has previously appeared in various guises but this pearl gold version (below – click to enlarge) is new for 2013, appearing both in this set and also Set 70505 Temple of Light. The print on his torso and legs is very similar to that last seen adorning Kai in the Fire Mech set I reviewed last time out, albeit in gold and dark green as opposed to red and black, and it’s topped off by some seriously huge epaulettes. Lloyd’s head isn’t printed at the back; I’ve just rotated it and removed his Ninja wrap in the second picture below so that you can see his face. His facial features are printed in brown and have a strange, slightly faded appearance, presumably because they’re printed on a pearl gold minifigure head; the facial printing would probably have looked better in black I think.

The Warrior is seriously imposing thanks to his impressive 3-piece winged helmet. The wings are actually attached to the removable face guard, which also features some cool silver detailing. His torso is intricately detailed front and back, and his legs also feature some detailed printing on the front. Shoulder pads must be all the rage in the land of Ninjago as similar to Lloyd, the Warrior has industrial-sized epaulettes. The Warrior’s head isn’t back-printed, although once again I’ve rotated it in the second picture below and removed his helmet so that you can get a good look at his detailed facial printing.

The Scout (below) appears in three of the 2013 Ninjago sets. His torso print is subtly different to that of the Warrior both front and back, but it shares the same lime green symbol on the front. At first glance his head print appears the same as that of the Warrior, albeit in yellow rather than red, but a closer look reveals that the pattern is different. The Scout is supplied with a number of accessories – a red conical hat, a pearl dark grey crossbow and a red quiver for his arrows.

As previously stated, the build is broken into 3 stages, each of which gets its own numbered bag. Bag 1 contains the parts for the minifigures, a small structure comprising a rudimentary catapult and a weapons rack, and the torso of the Golden Dragon. The catapult/weapons rack is, to be honest, pretty inconsequential and takes less than 60 seconds to construct. While it is capable of launching the Scout into the air, I doubt you’ll be able to get him very far – I managed barely a metre, and he was only actually in the air for about half that distance….

Bags 2 and 3 contain everything you need to finish building the dragon, apart from the head of course which comes in its own little bag. I got a distinct feeling of déjà vu while building the dragon – it felt like building Set 9455 Fangpyre Mech (reviewed by me here) all over again, albeit with wings instead of arms. The sets are actually quite similar – both feature a moveable head, plus upper limbs, legs and a tail, some of which articulate via ball and socket joints, plus a cage on the back in which the ‘driver’ sits. The dragon was a quick, simple build; I didn’t time myself, but it can’t have taken much more than 15 minutes, and given how slow a builder I am, that’s fast....

The dragon’s head attaches to the body via a ball and socket joint which confers a good range of movement, and the same goes for the tail. The legs are however attached via rotation joints which only allow extremely limited movement and don’t provide much freedom to pose the legs. The wings can tilt, rotate and spread, but although the claws on the wings can flex, the lack of a joint at the “wrists” once again limits your options when it comes to posing the beast.

A further feature of the dragon is its ability to fire a Zamor sphere from its mouth. Inside the head are a couple of fearsome jaws which look remarkably like something from the Alien movies; the sphere fits snugly between the jaws, until such time as you give the dragon’s head a fairly vigorous squeeze, at which point the sphere goes shooting across the room. Unlike the fairly insipid catapult, this mechanism is genuinely able to generate some force, and for once the familiar LEGO icon warning buliders not to fire the mechanism towards anyone’s face is actually justified….

I really thought I’d like this set, but I was left strangely unmoved. It’s partly I think because the dragon isn't very substantial - the torso in particular is really quite small and puny. Furthermore, I found that I couldn’t pose the model as readily as I’d hoped due to the choice of joints used for the hips and wings and the fixed wrists. My levels of expectation are also partly to blame – the idea of a golden dragon seemed really cool in principle, and some of the publicity shots make the model look quite vibrant, but in reality the pearl gold and dark green colour scheme confer an unexpectedly dark, muted appearance.

Although I can’t unreservedly recommend this set, it’s certainly not bad, and given all the large parts it contains plus the interesting Golden Ninja and Warrior minifigures in particular it’s not terribly priced at £24.99/$29.99. The set should certainly please those who are already fans of the Ninjago theme, but I'm not sure it'd win over the undecided.

12 comments on this article

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By in United Kingdom,

Another cracking review Dave. I'm not a big fan of pearl gold, as you say, visually it's just comes across as dull and lifeless. Still, it is a Dragon, and who can resist those!

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By in Australia,

The dragons were my favourite part of the Ninjago line-up (although I was really unimpressed with the four-headed dragon last year, so I just didn't worry about that). But I was gonna get the Gold Dragon no matter what. And I really quite like this one. I don't think it's as good as the first four (I definitely preferred the wings in the first line, as opposed to this one with the big golden blades), but it's still pretty good. I enjoyed this one a lot.

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By in Italy,

After having seen Chima, i still ask myself why lego didn't create brickbuild dragon heads instead of those horrible big moulds.
The dragon is unposable and the worst ninjago set so far.

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By in Indonesia,

When I first saw the pieces of interest, I thought the dark green was black...

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By in United Kingdom,

Judging by the looks of the Dragon, I don't think I'll be buying this one. The only ninja go sets I want in 2013 so far is the fire mech and possibly garatron and the temple. Could someone please review the temple to see whether its better.

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By in United States,

This is a cool set. The Golden Dragon definitely has some flaws compared to his 2011 brethren-- his legs are less posable than those of the Ice and Lightning Dragons, and his claws are placed so that they point inward rather than forward when the wings are spread out-- but overall it's a nice design with some clever techniques, such as the sturdy way the feet are attached. Some of my favorite features of this dragon's design are the saddle and the split tail.

The Golden Ninja Lloyd minifigure is an interesting design, that's for sure. It's hard to tell why the shape of his eyebrows has changed. Perhaps it's to disguise his identity (which doesn't really work at all, given how many places outright identify him as Lloyd), perhaps it's to make him seem supercharged with power like the NRG Ninja minifigures from last year (in which case it's honestly not quite as dynamic as those), or perhaps it's just because now that he's older in the show the designers wanted to revamp the face he's had since he was a bratty half-pint.

Incidentally, he has a new emblem now-- an ornate gold dragon head. While I have nothing against this emblem, there's something decidedly bizarre about the fact that every character but him has maintained the same emblem since the beginning (well, except Sensei Wu, whose lotus flower emblem in his original appearance hasn't appeared on any of his subsequent minifigures, which instead use a dragon motif). Whereas Lloyd has had THREE emblems since becoming a ninja-- first a snake coiled around its own tail (Lloyd ZX/Epic Dragon Battle), then a snake head from front view which was a bit more consistent with the other Ninja emblems (Character Encyclopedia), and finally this dragon head (Golden Dragon/Temple of Light).

My younger brother has expressed a desire to get this set, and I don't think I'll have a problem with that. My twin brother and I got all the other dragon sets (though my younger brother got an Epic Dragon Battle of his own) and this one stands alone somewhat from the other elemental dragons. Plus, we hope to get the other sets, since this is technically the only set in the 2013 wave that is not essential for getting all the minifigures (Lloyd shows up in 70505 Temple of Light, the scout shows up in 70500 Kai's Fire Mech and the Temple of Light, and the warrior shows up in 70501 Warrior Bike).

Given the difficulty of assembling a full collection of figs from the 2013 sets, I wouldn't be surprised if many people Bricklink them or even get them through service.LEGO.com-- in past years you'd have had to get the same number of sets to get all the figs most likely, but you'd have been able to pick and choose a bit since only a few figs were limited to one set.

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By in United Kingdom,

This sets should have been a bright/shiny yellow gold mixed with black. I know Lloyd was a green ninja, but black and gold works better together. Seeing the set in standard photos now makes it look lifeless =(

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By in United States,

@Lego K: I think black would have looked even more lifeless than Earth Green does... the current set has no shortage of black parts, but I think without those green accents it would start to look even more bland.

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By in Canada,

I think this set looks great! I love the dragon's head and jaw pieces, and gold and dark green mix very well! I love all of the figs that are included in the set, especially the warrior. The helmet and armour are amazing! My only concern is that Lloyd's face is golden. Does that make any sense to you? Anyway, it looks excellent, and thanks for the review!

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By in United States,

Very helpful review!

I was seriously thinking about picking this set up after being so impressed with the fire mech. Fortunately (for my wallet) after this review, I've decided to pass. Probably a no-brainer to pick it up for Ninjago fans and those who want a lot of nice golden pieces, but for those of us who are already heavily invested in numerous other themes, it's quite a bit easier to say no. Thanks DrDave!

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By in United States,

Thanks for the review, DrDave, great writing! My only request is that in the future, could you stick to the light colored/neutral background instead of the very dark black in your photos? It's a bit hard to see the detail in a lot of the dark pieces in the dragon. Otherwise, I enjoy the large close-up views of the minifigures and the different angles of the finished dragon. I might have to pick this one up.

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By in United Kingdom,

^ Cheers for the comments, Micano. While I acknowledge that the use of darker backgrounds inevitably means that some detail is lost, I nevertheless much prefer using them in my reviews as they bring a distinctly different feel and atmosphere to the pictures compared wth the more 'clinical' pics that others favour. I'm aware that the style is not to everybody's taste, but to be honest you can get all the photographic detail you need and more from the official pics and reviews elsewhere if that's what you're looking for; my aim isn't to provide a precise photographic record, just an illustration of the points I'm making.

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