I hinted a couple of weeks ago about my fondness for the intrinsic ‘spirit’ of series such as Ninjago and Monkie Kid – they are both sci-fi fantasy themes and, as such, bring us the closest thing to Classic Space and Castle themes that we are likely to see on an ongoing basis for the time being.
We have seen the first half year present a ‘Core’ Range for Ninjago, while the second half of last year tied in closely with the animated series.
Earlier in the year, I joined several other Fan Media in a conversation with Niek van Slagmaat and Markus Rollbühler, both part of the Ninjago team, about the ‘Core’ Series – the sets we saw released in January, with seemingly no connection to the series, beyond the presence of those Core Ninjago values: Mechs, Vehicles, Dragons, Dojos and of course, Ninja.
I asked the team what it meant to be ‘Core’?
Essentially, it comes down to two areas:
One – for the kids playing with the sets – Over the last 12 years it has become apparent that Ninjago has had a magic recipe for appealing to children: Mechs, Fast Cars, Dragons and of course Ninja. But also over that time, we have seen around 15 seasons of the animated series in various forms, with engaging stories, characterizations and, of course, Lore.
If you are approaching a series with a back catalogue of close to 225 episodes, some kids might not be keen to get into it, as there is so much to catch up on. This is the beauty of the Core series: by existing outside of the series’ narrative you can just enjoy playing with the set, rather than getting caught up in the where and why of what’s happening in the context of the set. Varying screening schedules have also played a role here: the second half year sets will continue to engage kids with the animated series, while the first half releases exist independently of the show.
This also provides the designers with an opportunity to visit concepts, and create builds outside the constraints of the show and its storytelling.
As well as designing the larger mech this year, Niek is also responsible for the sets aimed at younger builders. These kids are not necessarily fully immersed in the notion of LEGO play yet, and are requiring a little more guidance in the development of their toys, and this is where the EVO concept comes in – often associated with panels of comics incorporated in the instruction books: showing the ninja heading out on their dragon or mech, facing a challenging opponent, and then powering up, or upgrading their armour and weapons, resulting in a bigger, stronger capability.
These sets occupy a variety of price points and provide some great opportunities for younger builders to hone their skills.
71781 Lloyd’s Mech Battle Evo
This set has 213 parts and a RRP of $AUD32.99/$USD19.99. It comes with 2 minifigures: Lloyd and a Bone Warrior. This is Lloyd in his Golden Form and is the only one of the central Ninja with an updated print since last year’s Core range. The bone warrior has a similar body to the Bone Knight and Bone Hunter seen with Jay’s Titan Mech, with the exception of the chains printed on the other. Instead of a hat or helmet, it wears a horned headpiece. He comes equipped with a collection of bone weapons, which are also involved in constructing the mech.
First up, we build Lloyd’s Mech small mech: the first step is in a similar style seen last year with the first wave of Evo sets. – the core is based around some plates, clips and a compound element that forms the front of his mech. I have to admit, it feels pretty bare in the first instance, but it is functional. The limbs are formed from the (new for 2022) 2×2 plates joined by an elbow. This is used for the arms and legs. The Mech construction is simple, albeit relatively inflexible. There are printed tiles on the chest of the mech and on the upper arms. The Green and Gold Colour scheme is in keeping with Lloyd’s normal appearance, and I feel the gold trim works well here, but I feel something might be missing…!
During the second phase, we build up the mech for the Bone Warrior: it is keeping with the colouring of the figure, in Black, white, red and titanium metallic. The mech has two bone scythes coming up over the shoulders, while the chest is a brick-built affair, in distinction with those seen with the ninja. This represents an introduction to the builder of a new way to approach a mech’s construction, when the builder is ready to move beyond the larger, compound elements.
The dish over his head acts as a roof to the cabin, but also resembles the broader had worn by the Bone Hunter. The weapon is fashioned from bars and a combination of bone weapons.
Of course, at this stage, when confronting the enemy, it is apparent that Lloyd needs to level up, and so his mech undergoes the EVO Transformation: gaining additional armour (shell elements around the legs) as well as additional blades to carry, along with a printed banner, showing Lloyd sheltered from the blast of an incoming Dragon.
It goes without saying that the odds might be tilted somewhat in Lloyd’s favour after the upgrade…
The mechs are dynamic and very stable. While they are terrific to play with – being about the right size to put in your hands and bash together while making enthusiastic ‘Bam…Bammmm, Thud’ noises, I do find it a bit of a challenge to take an appropriately dramatic photo of them!
71783 Kai’s Mech Rider EVO
With 4 Minifigures, and 279 pieces, this set is priced at AUD69.99/USD44.99. We have Kai and Nya – Brother and Sister, as well as the Bone King and Bone Hunter. In the best traditions of Ninjago’s sense of fun for the younger builders, this set answers the question ‘Why would a Mech ride on a Motorcycle?’ – Because it can!
Here are the elements for the set, laid out once again by the Knoller-In-Chief:
As you would expect from a build associated with Kai, there is a lot of red and gold. We see the angled plates used for the limbs with Lloyd and the Bone Warrion’s mechs. We have plenty of golden elements, including a number of blades of vindictive size.
A number of brackets and technic elements complete the pack.
We have seen most of these figures already in this wave:
We start off by building Kai, the Bone King, and the Basic Form of Kai’s Mech.
The mech has a similar starting structure to Lloyd’s mech, although there are a couple of modified plates with bars across what is, for all intents and purposes, his bottom. I’m sure we will learn of its purpose in due course. Compared to the other mechs of this scale, Kai’s has much bulkier shoulders, made up using some of the shell elements introduced last year. Some stickers provide a break in the blackness of the pauldrons. The palms of his hands incorporate plates with holes for connector pins included: I suspect this will help the Mech to hold onto his weapons later. I do like how the mech’s hands have been realised: rather than a simple 1×2 plate with 2 clips on the side, we have 3 mobile fingers on each hand: a clip on one end, while the edge of the ‘claw’ element has a bar element incorporated in it.
The Motorcycle starts off being built around a central core, 4×13 studs in size, and around 9 bricks tall. We add rails to hold the large wheels, and there it is. On the seat of the cycle is a pair of vertical clips, which look perfectly placed to bind to the ‘bum bar’ of the mech.
In our final EVO Phase, Nya appears and adds a variety of attachments to the bike: Jet exhausts, as well as large, forward-facing blades; Kai is given a large bladed weapon, built around the same blade used in Jays Titan Mech, but it is overall less substantial than that particular sword. Finally, Kai is presented with a banner, which flies from the back of the mech.
Each significant step in the manual (end of each bag, in particular) there is a page or two dedicated to a small comic: showing the advantages to Kai, as the Bike gains the EVO Power. This little touch really adds to the adventure and story telling in the set.
On the whole, this is one of my favourite small-scale EVO Mechs that I have had the chance to assemble to date: the pauldrons add a sense of bulkiness and strength, while the fingers give the hands a feeling of greater functionality. The Clip/Bar arrangement between the seat and the mech works quite well, on the whole. The motorcycle is extremely stable, even when carrying the Mech. The front wheel does not steer, but I do not feel this detracts from the playability. None of the included figures is exclusive in this wave.
For the AFOL, there are some interesting golden elements to experiment with, to say nothing of a chance to build up your Bone Warrior army. For a child, the motorcycle-riding ninja almost feels like a jousting night, is very stable and feels very cartoonish to zoom around the living room floor.
71787 Creative Ninja Playbox
This set has been sitting on theNinjago team’s back burner for a couple of years:and finally the time is right. This box comes with 507 pieces, 6 minifigures and has a RRP of AUD99.99/USD59.99.
There are 7 numbered bags in the box, an unnumbered bag of bone accessories and a 6×16 plate. There is a cardboard pouch of instructions and a total of 7 books: each dealing with the contents of a bag.
There are six minifigures included: Core Kai and Nya, Sensei Wu, as well as 2 ninja apprentices and a bone hunters.
Here are the elements laid out:
As you can see, we have a collection of Red plates and curved slopes; some dark azure wedges (new for this set), and lots of plates: dark tan and reddish brown 6×8; multiple dark green 4×6 plates( for the first time since 2004) . We also have 24 1×3 slopes with inverted cutouts – relatively new, and relatively rare…until now!
Each Bag brings us a specific module. There are no specific comics to be seen in the construction here, although the first book does present us with some inspirational builds for the playbox.
1 Kai’s Sportscar
this is a quick and easy to assemble race car, equipped with a couple of stud shooters . I like the layered design of the front fender, while the rear brings us a big engine, as well as an aerofoil.
2 The Forge
We gain our male apprentice – one of two touchstone characters in the set – and I love the expression, which instantly makes me think ‘7-year old boy saying “Raaaaahhh”‘
There is a small gable-roofed hut, with a printed tile demonstrating the hammer striking an anvil – a golden sword is on mounted on the anvil. We also build a small weapons rack, loaded with weapons. It feels like a Star Wars Advent Calendar… We also had a 2×2 round tile with a golden dragon print.
3 Nya’s Motorcycle
In this bag, we have the Bone Hunter, a small motorcycle and a rack for a spanner and hammer. The bike is small and stable. I am intrigued by the bull bar element used as handlebars/ windscreen, but it feels like a fun, small build.
4 Tea Pavillion
Next, we build a small tea-house with golden fences. It has a similar form to the fire, although it is on a small rocky plinth, and the uprights are also a little closer. Another weapons rack gives us a spear, axe, scythe and sword with decorated hilt. On the table is a tea-pot, and there are also a couple of small bowls.
5 The Training Ground
No life at the dojo would be complete without a few training obstacles and challenges for the apprentices to hone their skills. As such, we get a female apprentice, dodging flames as she jumps between poles of varying heights. There is also a rotating training mannequin, as well as wooden weights on a spindle, ready to knock any unwary apprentices off their feet.
6 The Dojo: Ground floor
This bag brings us to the gound floor of a small dojo, with Master Woo presiding. The Printed tiles say ‘Ninja Dojo’ in Ninjago script. Construction is simple, with simple wall modules: white bricks, with a window in the middle. There are a few of these walls used in this part of the build (as well as the upper floor).
7 The Dojo: Upper Floor
The upper floor brings us a small room, as well as the ornate roofs that feature throughout the buildings in this build. We have another golden dragon, as well some golden frogs at the top of the build. It slots nicely on top of the ground floor, bringing a more substantial building together.
Overall, we have an extended complex, perhaps missing the wall of other Dojo sets, but giving us a fun collection of activities:
The first instruction book provides a few inspirational builds using the set, but no instructions are provided. I particularly enjoy the larger building in the first variation, and the super sports car, along with the skull cave in the second. Unfortunately, I feel the images are a little grainy, even when blown up, to get a close enough view to easily reverse engineer them, as we might have done back in the day (to say nothing of the increase in the number of relatively advanced building techniques to make them work.
MOC: Mech Garage
There is however a building that I am surprised has received relatively little love from the Ninjago designers over the last few years:With the exception of 70596 Samurai X Cave Chaos, we have not really seen anywhere for all of the mechs to be garaged, and tuned up by Nya. As such, it felt like an obvious choice for an afternoon building activity – so I aimed to keep the ‘standard’ roofline ued on the different buildings in this set, and build up another gable in the middle. There is another feature raised up above the roof.
The garage itself is open at the front, with grooves between tiles and bricks to guide the feet, while there is a narrow ledge around the halfway point.
There are some chains, which I attached to the forearms – I imagine them to be refuelling lines, or transferring data to the control systems.
There are some things lacking here: perhaps an adequate wall at the back, on the upper right, perhaps a design desk and a control room. Perhaps I should consider repurposing some of the elements that I have used here. Of course, It would be too easy to simply add in some extra bricks from the home collection. So I avoided that for the time being. I might consider adding to it in the future.
I do appreciate that Creative Ninja Brick Box does set out to encourage building and rebuilding. Particularly in a set aimed at children aged 5 and older, it encourages experimentation with the elements that will become commonplace as they grow. The limited colour palette also means that you might find it easier to build a model with more coordinated colour blocking.
I feel it provides a good mixture of normal blocks and plates, along with enough wheels, clips and slopes to be able to create a variety of interesting Ninjago-related models. I love the idea of the touchstone characters – whom children might relate to slightly better than the Ninjas themselves. It is also satisfying to receive Master Wu in this set.
I feel the set is a little expensive at RRP, but have already been found discounted at a number of retailers around the place. It strikes me as a great introductory set for kids who might have a couple of 4+ sets, and love the idea of Ninjas to play with.
Overall, I found each of these sets to be quite fun in their own way: the Mechs were fun for the one on one battle. The Motorcycle mech was a bit of fun and had an enjoyable minifigure selection, and, finally, the Creative box brings a great selection of figures (including touchstone characters, along with Master Wu. The suggested builds are simple, as befits a 5+ set, but there is quite a bit of variety in the build techniques used, withing the constraints of the 5+ part selection.
They are all on sale now, from both LEGO.com, as well as your favorite retailers.
You can purchase them from LEGO.com now, unless sold out (using affiliate links to purchase LEGO sets may earn the Rambling Brick a small Commission).
What do you think of this year’s Core sets – I hope to get to review the Dragons soon, and in the mean time…
These sets were provided by The LEGO Group for review purposes. All opinions are my own.