from Dorling Kindersley (DK)
Name: Fight the Power of the Snakes
Set Number: 520522 (?)
Price: $29.99 US from DK ($19.79 from Amazon, $19.54 from Walmart, $14.99 at Costco); 13.29 GBP (UK)
Themes: Ninjago, Brickmaster
Year of Release: 2012
Links: Dorling Kindersley; BrickLink
I'm usually so cheap that I don't buy sets until they're heavily on sale, at which point they've already been reviewed twenty times or so on EB. So I had given up all hope of ever doing a review, until I stumbled across this new Brickmaster book set at Costco the other day. I admit, I don't have a lot of experience with Ninjago; I'm more of a Castle guy. But we received Kai's Blade Cycle as a present, and my son likes it a lot. So in the store, my son went nuts for this set, and it didn't look too bad, so we bought it. It was a weak moment. I was trying to get away from the toys and get to the real reason to shop at Costco: buying wine. Those of you with five year old children will understand. Anyway, intense googling determined that there is no EB review for this set yet -- so here's my chance!
Let's read what the marketing department at DK has to say. I'm sure they can be trusted to give an honest, even-handed opinion.
The Masters of Spinjitzu are at it again — this time in an all new LEGO® Ninjago Brickmaster from DK.
Children everywhere are encouraged to create even more of their own LEGO Ninjago adventures with this second amazing set. LEGO Ninjago: Fight the Power of the Snakes Brickmaster will include a set of bricks, two minifigures, and an exciting adventure storybook packed with building instructions to help children to build fun models with hidden features and transformations! Join the ninjas on their most exciting adventure yet as they battle Lord Garmadon and his fearless army in DK's all new LEGO Ninjago: Fight the Power of the Snakes Brickmaster!
Well, an exciting adventure storybook might be overselling it a wee bit. This is no Treasure Island. And unfortunately, Lord Garmadon is nowhere to be seen in this set; neither is any army.
(All pictures click through to larger versions on Flickr)
Alright, it's a Brickmaster. For those of you who haven't encountered these items, they're a hardbound book (sort of), with a built in box inside the front cover that holds the LEGO pieces. The book contains a few pages describing the sets and giving background, and then the rest of the book is the instructions. My experience with Brickmasters had so far been limited to seeing them forlorn in the clearance bins at discount stores like TJ Maxx, and thinking, "That's still not discounted enough!" But several friends with small children had raved about them: easy to travel with, can keep the pieces with the instructions, have multiple builds, they're quickly discounted, etc.
Anyway, the front is OK. It sort of shows what you can build, although certainly not all the builds included inside. It's not totally clear what a 'Brickmaster' is, but that's easily solved by opening the book (only the pieces section is sealed). Here you can see the two minifigures included: Cole and Lasha. Plus you can see the pieces through the window in the front, although not in this photo. You didn't think that when we got home my son would let me have two minutes to take a photo before he ripped the thing open and emptied all the pieces out, did you?
Here you get a pretty good overview of what's inside. It shows the four builds, which each have several things to build, so it's more like nine total possible items. We get a blurb. And we're encouraged to "Read the story, Build the model set, Play the adventure", as if any kid needed to be told what to do. But I guess that's there so Mom and Dad know that it's not just a set or book. Plus their kid actually gets to play with the sets after they build them! Imagine! Revolutionary idea! What will those people at DK think of next? Well, I thought the back is a bit blah. What is that background anyway? And there's certainly room for bigger pictures of the sets. But who cares about the back anyway? I know, you really want to get to...
Why do we include all these useless pictures? Because we care. No, actually, it's to build suspense before we get to the build and the parts. The spine isn't bad; I think it would look quite good on our bookshelves in the library in the east wing, perhaps sandwiched in between the Dostoyevskys and the Tale of Genji. But where are the snakes? We're fighting the power of the snakes, and they forget to put a snake on the spine?
The Sticker Sheet
Oops, there is no sticker sheet! Yay!
Here's what you see when you open it up. The pieces are stored on the left, behind the parts list, in a reasonably sturdy built-in box. If you buy one of these at retail, make sure this part is sealed; the first one I saw at Costco had a broken seal. And look at the right -- more than 45 pages of stuff! Actually, most of it is instructions, but you do get about ten pages of background and introduction. This looks reasonably nice; I think they did a good job with this. I especially like the snake skin background.
Read the Story!
First we get a page introducing Cole and Lasha. Looks OK. Who you gonna pick in this fight? A snake guy with a missing eye? Or the highly trained ninja with armor and two swords? I'm thinking they should have included another snakey to make it a fair fight.
Next there are two pages telling us why Cole isn't going to turn Lasha into diced snake on toast in about three seconds.
And then we get two pages telling us all about the ninjas. I didn't know that Cole's dad wanted him to be a singer. Funny, my daughter's voice coach is an opera singer named Cole... Although really, Zane should be the singer, because then he could do one of those Disney-on-Ice shows.
Well, I'll skip the rest of the book up to the instructions. There are two pages labeled the Serpentines which describes the various Serpentine tribes. Then there are two pages on ninja training regimens. It's all very nice, and pretty well done, but tell me honestly, what kid is going to read this stuff first? Naw, they're going to empty all the pieces out on the floor and then go straight to the instructions. So why not just put them first?
The Instructions and Builds
Each of the four builds is described in turn. I only have pictures of the second scene built (my son won't let me tear it down to build the others yet). So we'll just have to look at the pictures in the book, as well as DK's marketing pictures. The first scene is the Raid on the Snake Temple.
Raid on the Snake Temple
First up there is a photo of the models included in this build, and a quick description of what's going on and why we should care. This actually looks pretty good. Then the instructions for that build start. They are fairly clear, and usually only involve one to four pieces per step, which fits the suggested age range of the set. My son found the instructions clear and easy to follow, even though he is, horrors!, below the minimum age! By the way, I like the hissing snakes on the background here. The Snake Temple is actually fairly well done -- the part with the snake staff rotates around, showing just a blank wall to hide the staff. The large snake head on top folds up and out, and of course has a snake-headed flick fire missile. Cole's motorcycle is small but reasonably well designed too. Here's another picture below from DK's website.
Second Scene: Serpentine Trap
Here, the large snake head covers up a small cavity that can be used to hold important stuff that you want to keep away from ninjas. It's really not that cool. Cole is driving his Samurai Speeder, which is actually a bit better than this photo suggests. I managed to get a picture of this one, and DK also has a marketing picture of the trap.
Third Scene: Battle in the Skies
We haven't built this one, so we'll have to rely on the pictures in the book. Cole's Ninjacopter looks cool, but I fail to see how it resembles anything 'copter'-like. If those two big gold blades are the rotors, Cole's going to be cole-slaw if they rotate. And doesn't Lasha's Venom Fighter sort of remind you of the little alien scooter in 7049 Alien Striker? To me, these models look OK but not great.
Fourth Scene: Snake Pit Peril
Once again, Cole has a fairly nice little motorcycle. He sure likes his toys. The snake pit looks a bit uninspired, but hey, it's the fourth build! Here's a picture of the motorcycle from DK's website:
Would you let your daughter date that guy?
Lasha is pretty well designed; he has great torso and leg printing. The bags on his cheststrap hold extra snake venom. Handle with care; you don't want to get that stuff in your eyes. His face is well-done too, although it's hard to see the extra set of eyes on these snakes. Love the tongue and fangs. The cowl over the head looks good too. Cole looks pretty good too, although his printing isn't as interesting as Lasha's. But the printed armor is good, the shoulder armor is nicely done, and the headwrap with the silver emblem looks nice.
From the rear, both minifigures have some obscured torso printing. Lasha's cowl has a nice shape, although I wish they had printed some snakeskin patterns on the back. Cole's shoulder armor has a holder on his back for two katanas. I like the way you can see the golden lion (?) on his torso when the katanas are removed. It's a nice touch to position that so that it lines up with the katana holder properly.
Without the cowl, katana holder, and headgear, you can see the backs more easily. Lasha's is just mediocre. At least they remembered to continue the strap from the front. Cole's back is outstanding. But what is that emblem?
Here are some of the more interesting parts in this set (at least to me). I can always use more long golden blades and swords and stuff. Two of the new, smaller brackets are welcome. The seven dark tan brick-bricks are a nice addition to my collection. The lime and dark green snake tail plate is rare, only appearing recently in Fangpyre Mech and Snake Battle. The dark green part is rigid ABS, the lime part is flexible and can be easily bent and snaps back to position. Hopefully the bond between the two parts is solid and won't come apart with play. And the various curved bricks are always usable. I really like the snakes. I know they're not that rare (actually the trans-purple one is, being only available in the 850445 Card Shrine). But they're so cute! I mean vicious, totally vicious. I think this is a very well-designed piece, and I'm glad to get a few more!
Well, should all run out and load up on Brickmasters? Depends on what you want I suppose. I'm pretty happy with this set -- so much so that I bought another one today from Costco for ourselves, and a few more to give to my son's friends as birthday presents. It's certainly a good set for kids: Ninjago appears to still be all the rage, the four builds keep them busy for a while, it's interesting but not too hard, and there's a bit of fun stuff in the book. Plus it travels well -- the hardback cover of the book is pretty solid, and the built in box makes it very convenient to pack up the parts and bring on trips. For AFOLs, you get two good minifigures (although there are cheaper ways to get them probably), and a pretty good selection of parts. I don't think too many AFOLs are going to be overwhelmed by the builds, although the first build is fairly nice, and who doesn't like building nice little motorcycles?
Value: 8/10 - Depends on how much you paid, I suppose. At $29.99 from DK, it's a 6, maybe. At $20 from Amazon, it's a 7, as the price-per-piece ratio is $0.128. But if you can pick it up for $15, which seems to be fairly easy, you're looking at just under ten cents per piece, which isn't bad at all in a small set. Especially when you consider that you're getting instructions for four builds, a nice hard-bound box, plus some extra content in the book. At $15, it's probably a 9.
Design: 8 - A few of the builds are nicely designed, but some of them really look like filler. Hey, but you try designing four complete models from the same small set of parts. It couldn't have been an easy job. None of them are complex, but then again, that's not this set's target audience.
Playability: 8 - Flick-fire missiles, a hidden space or two, zoomable motorcycles, snakes that fold out. Not bad for a small set like this, but nothing that really stands out. That said, my five year old seems well occupied with it.
Parts: 8 - A few rare pieces, and a good assortment of somewhat uncommon pieces. Very few pieces that won't be usable for other MOCs.
Minifigures: 9 - At last! We broke the string of 8s! I think these are good minifigures. TLG has really upped their game in this department in the past few years, and these are no exception.
Overall: 8 - If the price is right, and you like the parts and/or minifigs, go for it!
Thanks for reading! Wow, this reviewing stuff is hard work, and takes forever. I'm going back to building!
Edited by NiceMarmot, 07 September 2012 - 04:55 PM.