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.
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