Thursday, January 14th, 2021 at 10:35pm by Andrew, BZPower News Manager
I mentioned this morning that you could expect to see a full review of 71741 Ninjago City Gardens soon, but I wasn't quite expecting it this soon! Apparently instead of sleeping, BZPower Forum Assistant Nuju Metru (you might have seen him on LEGO Masters last year) has assembled the 5685-piece set, taken pictures, made a video, and written up all of his thoughts on it for you all! If you'd like to learn all about this set from the ground up, and see how it compares to the original Ninjago City, read on!
While we are grateful to The LEGO Group for providing BZPower with this set, the thoughts and opinions presented here are those of the reviewer's, and have not been influenced by LEGO.
Hey everyone, and welcome to BZPower's review of LEGO set 71741, Ninjago City Gardens! As always, I'd like to heartily thank The LEGO Group for giving us at BZP a copy of this set to review. Read on to see my thoughts - captured for you in both a video and a text/image format - on this Ninjago 10th anniversary model, the theme's biggest set to date. Will you achieve a zen state of mind in the peaceful gardens, or will your temper run higher than their 29 in. (73 cm) tower? Let's find out!
From the design of the box to the instruction manual, these are the first things you see before building the set.
As expected for a set of this size, the box is simply enormous. I've included a minifigure of Jay from the original Ninjago City there to help give a sense of scale. I think the cover art is quite appealing, with a dusky sky and a nicely populated backdrop scene. Along the bottom are arrayed the set's impressively large array of characters, with a special highlight for the Legacy Golden Wu figure.
The back of the box shows an exploded view of the Ninjago City Gardens (NCG) model, with many of its sublayers separated, arranged against a vibrant red-orange backdrop. Artfully rough black stripes background the myriad call-out boxes to the top right and bottom left. Notably, these images are computer renders, some of which are taken from camera angles that would be impossible to recreate within the small confines of the physical set.
But that's enough of the box. Let's have a look at what's inside!
Half the fun is had building the set. How fun is it to build and how easy or challenging is it?
Upon opening up the box, out pour a few things. In a second, smaller white cardboard box, we find the earlier half of the numbered bags, as well as three monster sticker sheets and three hefty instruction booklets. The later numbered bags, which aren't similarly insulated, pour out loosely.
Here's the deal: I'm not going to show you pictures of the build process. This is something I choose to omit in my reviews for a few reasons, the most important of which is that I - as an AFOL and LEGO builder - delight in the discoveries that come with building a LEGO set for the first time. Even a smaller set can sometimes surprise me in terms of how it achieves a particular function or look, and I'd hate to have all these surprises spoiled for me before I got to the set myself. So I practice the golden rule and keep these details from you, too.
Here's what you do need to know about the NCG assembly: it took me, a speed demon [Editor's Note: As someone who has lost to Aaron in several speed build competitions, I can verify this claim.], over ten hours total; it was architecturally varied; it employed modern and clever building styles; you apply bunches of stickers. And, just like its predecessors in the Ninjago City subtheme, NCG is a master-class in innovative construction, abnormal connection points, and zany techniques.
The instructions highlighted to-add parts in red outlines, which I found helpful, but they didn't keep up this practice all the way through the directions. In many of the steps, you attach numerous more parts than you'd normally do in a run-of-the-mill LEGO set, but this is to be expected in a set of this size, and I never felt overwhelmed by the quantities of bricks added per step.
After 26 numbered bags worth of bricks, we're left with a veritable mountain of extra parts.
Now that the set is complete, we can critique how it looks from every angle. New or interesting pieces can also be examined here.
Before we critique the set from every angle, let's take a look at the new and interesting elements included in NCG. As I opened each new set of bags, I took stock of the notable bricks which popped up, and took pictures of them. Disclaimer: some of the parts I've photographed here aren't new, strictly speaking, but might be ones I just like and are new to me. With this many amazing bricks, it was hard to keep track of what was technically new and what wasn't! There were tons; I've probably forgotten or missed a few in these pictures, for which I apologize.
Go ahead, feast your eyes on this sea of amazing bricks!
The variety of shapes and colors in the set's inventory comes together to create a city block that's inundated in variety and visual interest. Let's have a look at the completed model.
The first impression this set makes is one of huge size. With its towering antenna spire, NCG doesn't even fit against my biggest photo backdrop. And its footprint of 32x48 studs - 150% of a standard modular building - takes up a vast space, too. This model has a terrific presence... and I wonder if I'll ever have a spot big enough to display it!
The second remarkable thing about this build is the variety and vibrancy of the colors being employed. The turquoise tower and the keetorange museum grab the eye first, but quick on their heels are the lime-and-pale-green canopy of the tree, the green apartment, the dark azure ice cream shop, the red of the shrine... Somehow, despite the quantity of LEGO colors present, NCG somehow avoids looking discordant or distractingly busy. I credit the color blocking, as well as the frequent occurrence of brown and green, with keeping the set balanced and harmonious.
Something I love about this set is its ambitious silhouette. Height plays a role here, of course, but negative space does as well. Two-thirds of the city's levels are essentially hollow in the middle, creating a fascinating cut-out that frames the centerpiece tree really well. The other choice the designers of the set made in terms of shape that I want to applaud is their commitment to a 45-degree facet, most clearly captured by the keetorange wall facing front, but with ramifications throughout the design.
Like its preceding models, NCG is broken up into three main tiers: the lower city, the mid-city, and the upper city. Following the rules of other Ninjago City sets, as the block ascends, its architecture tends to become increasingly modern. The lower city is right above water level, and is constructed in mostly earth hues, with wood-paneled walls and a more traditional Japanese architecture style. The gardens section, with its bridges and little pagoda, fits right in with this. I love how the trunk of the tree forms a pillar to help support the next layer of the city.
Just like on the original Ninjago City, the mid-level of NCG is dedicated to shopping, food, and commercial spaces. Advertisements in "Ninjargon," the language of Ninjago City, cover the safety rails and other bright signage calls customers to eat. The top portion of the huge tree bursts through the ground at the corner, offering shade and serenity.
A floor above the pavement sits the Ninjago Museum, which happens to be the biggest contiguous interior space in a Ninjago City set ever, and a little green apartment. The upmost level contains a shrine and an arcade, and above these, the signature tower dominates.
As I mentioned before, the centerpiece tree spans across two levels of NCG. Its leaves come in beautiful light shades of green, and make use of techniques very similar to those seen on 2021's Botanical Collection Bonsai tree. I appreciate that the center/corner railing is decorated using minifigure body gear, in homage to the original Ninjago City set, but I do feel like it's a bit bulkier and more protruding than I would have liked.
The tower is one of the first things I noticed about the set when I saw the first images of it, and the real thing looks just as imposing and unique as its first impression. I'm obsessed with how well those Jedi Starfighter wings mesh with the polygonal faces of the Nexo Knights v-shaped parts, and the color combination of turquoise and trans-pink is one I've never seen done before.
The front wall of the Ninjago museum is one of the most attractive aspects of the whole set. It uses a technique first pioneered in the Corner Garage set to set a wall at a 45-degree angle by using 1x1 isosceles triangle slopes. Here, the angle is even better managed and more seamless than its debut appearance in a modular building. I dig the asymmetrical design of the dark-red-rimmed teal windows, and the use of a roller coaster track as decorative metal girder.
The gardens block (on its own, detachable 16x32 baseplate) integrates seamlessly with the rest of the NCG (aside, perhaps, from its relatively diminutive stature!). I feel like this portion of the set gives fresh meaning and revitalized energy to the waterside portions of all the prior Ninjago City blocks, turning them from mere canals to something a bit more artistic or spiritual.
Now that we've assessed the NCG as a whole, let's examine each of the component blocks in more depth.
The garden is simple and effective. I appreciate the way the designers layered up the landscape, one plate layer at a time and with constant consciousness around using rounded shapes and wedge plates. The foot bridges use some smart LEGO math to arrive at their angles. I like the statue shrine for Zane over to one end, though the roofs and the clever lily pads are probably my favorite parts of this section.
Unlike past Ninjago City models, NCG can strip all the way down to its barest foundation, revealing the basement spaces of its ground-level buildings. One of these just contains a bit of plumbing, while the other underground area features gold ingots and even a brightly-colored box that says "Easter egg" in Ninjargon. It's rather on-the-nose, and hilarious for that!
Over to the left on this image is a completely ingenious pillar that takes an obscure Technic functional element and makes it decorative. Ornamenting it up top are two of the new escalator bricks. The base of the tree is nicely done, and comes wrapped in a flexible cable, new in reddish brown, to represent a spiraling vine around its trunk. Finally, in the corner close to the plumbing is a cleverly wrought drain spout made from the base of a Technic linear actuator.
Ronin's shop is the first sub-structure we build and place on NCG. The combination of sand green and dark brown looks great. My favorite detail inside is the expertly wrought set of old-fashioned balancing scales. The bookcase in the back corner uses a technique first pioneered in the original Ninjago City set to hold items inside the window frames.
This is one of four modules that has an angled wall crafted with traditional LEGO hinge pieces. I wouldn't have guessed that the math would work out this way, but it's stable and well-integrated. Color me impressed by this technique.
On the other side of the tree trunk stands another small vendor's house. This one sells dumplings and other traditional food through a nifty takeout window on the side. The way the shelves with their ingredients are manifested is wonderful, as is the cleverly-built sink (which, based on placement & context clues, we can assume drains to that spout I mentioned earlier)
Above Ronin's shop is a tea drinking area, with walls papered in calming landscape drawings and a balcony overlooking the gardens outside. I enjoy that a little foyer is constructed in the angled section, I like the syringe-using pipework, and I'm thrilled with the usage of that Technic motorcycle's rim/brake pad(?) for a window covering.
The room over the food vendor is that of a Ninjago Super-Fan. Which is a cute nod for the theme's tenth anniversary! I think in my video review, I mistakenly thought this was a room for Young Lloyd, as the patterned bedspread, lava lamp, and toy boats inside do feel childlike. The gold-grated window makes excellent use of the fairytale fences, as well as inverted curved slopes for the pulled-back drapes.
As on other Ninjago City sets, the rails of the second level are covered in ads, some of which are references to old LEGO themes, though this time the lanterns are blue, not orange. Just like the foundation level of the city could be pared down to its barest surface, so too can the street level be stripped of all buildings atop it. The benefit to this is ease of access to the individual modules that comprise the shopping street level.
The downside, though, is that this whole piece - which is essentially made of one row of Technic bricks and some plates - is somewhat floppy and even, in one spot, breakable. With the slightest touch, a 2x4 plate comes falling out of the floor here! I was a bit shocked by this, as I've come to expect much more rigorous stability from LEGO sets, especially those at this price point. It seemed a little careless, and I'll admit it left me feeling disappointed. Once the street level platform sits sandwiched between the stuff below and the stuff above, it stops being a problem though.
Speaking of the "stuff above," the first thing we build in that vein is a cute "Ice Planet" ice cream shop. This pays homage to the Ice Planet theme of LEGO's days of yore; the kawaii penguin on the sign out front wears a traditional ice planet helmet. Other details like stacked cones inside and a dropped cone outside also endear this sub-model to me.
This is, in my mind, one of the more technically impressive sub-structures of the build. Not only does it flaunt NPU on one roof (made out of butcher's cleavers), but it goes for a second (made from blank video game controller parts)! Also, if we look at the floor structure, the way an angle is integrated into the build feels totally seamless. Connected 1x4 and 3x4 click-hinge plates essentially act as 4x5 plates for structural reasons, too, which I never would have thought to do.
Chen's Noodle House is another fantastically-built food spot that sits across from the ice cream shop. It too features a design built to accomplish a 45-degree section, but in its case, the angled part is easily openable, providing better play access to the inside of the noodle house. I love the marquis, which features a real minifigure - built on his own backwards legs! - as a mascot of Chen, and some gorgeous roof tiles angled by hotdogs.
When I first built this set, I had a complaint about this module and the previous one: they have no studs on their upper surfaces, meaning that the layer above them - one of the heftiest pieces of the set, which we'll look at next - had no connection with them, and no assurance that it would stay attached other than gravity and a puzzle-piece perfect fit.
My only guess as to why the designers opted against providing a more stable connection is that, if these surfaces were studded, maybe they would be too hard to align with the next layer on top? After all, the ice cream shop and noodle house are not guaranteed to be perfectly spaced from one another, given the gap and disconnect between them. I'm going to assume this was the case, and retract the complaint, but I thought this oddity in the realm of LEGO's modular structures was worth remarking upon.
Unlike all the buildings before it, the upper level is a solid piece which runs fully from one side of the block to the other. It consists of the Ninjago History Museum and a green-walled (and greens-filled) apartment. That 45-degree wall I mentioned earlier in the review turns out to be easily removable, providing a better internal view of the museum.
The Ninjago History Museum contains treasures of all types, from a special diamond underneath glass to a replica of the Destiny's Bounty, from a serpentine staff to a... picture on the wall. I can't place what it's meant to represent, I really need to solidify my Ninjago lore. A pair of security cameras dissuades would-be burglars... or, at least, hope to! That picture I mentioned is actually half of a secret entrance when it swings up. An advertisement on the outer side of the wall does the same thing.
On the inward face, this module has a little walkway, bordered by a wrought-iron fence that quite cleverly uses black handcuffs for decorative flair. I like the hanging planters, but the ones underneath the apartment's windows take the cake for best little gardens: they use a tiny skirt element for their planters.
Inside the apartment we get a relatively small space with just enough room for a short bed, a TV on a shelf, and an umbrella holder. The star of the show here is an easel, holding a canvas painted with a likeness of the NCG set. It's cute and meta all at once. This apartment's living space is a bit broader than the four walls though, given the spacious balcony and the telescope right outside.
On the far end of this module is the admissions booth and gift shop for the Ninjago History Museum. I think one of the best part uses in the whole set is the 3-pronged flower stem as the spokes of a turnstile. I also love the repurposed DOTS tiles as post cards for sale, and the reference to another great Ninjago set, the Temple of Airjitsu.
I mentioned that the 45-degree wall was removable, but didn't show you the inside yet! It bears some photographs, as well as a ceremonial sword hilt, which is guarded by the combination of a treasure chest base and a 1x4x3 window's glass. Incredible and ingenious technique!
The top portion of the tree detaches pretty easily from the street level, too. When you try to put it back on, however, the Technic peg inside will often slip further up, shortening or vanishing the attachment point by accident. You have to be deliberate about holding it by one of the branches when you slide it back on, which isn't ideal or intuitive.
Moving up to the final level, we have a small incongruously old-fashioned shrine. I don't mind the architecture being older, but it does run a bit counter to the "newer = higher" narrative of the city. I appreciate the roof, made out of treasure chest lids, and the lavender color looks gorgeous with the brown lattices. Below the shrine sits a nicely-made set of SNOT steps, and at its back, a little safe. Inside this you'll find a turquoise cheese wedge, which may be a Ninjago reference I don't fully get, too.
Unfortunately, this module isn't perfect. When it stands by itself, the thing tilts! This is because, on the underside, there is a set of four prongs that help guide this module into place and keep it situated where it needs to be. Which is a good thing! However, as there aren't any prongs elsewhere, the prong-less side has a tendency to dip. This feels like it could have been rectified so easily, and I don't understand why the designers opted not to include anything to give the module evenness.
Across the way is a hangout spot/arcade for the Ninja team. Inside are a well-designed armchair, a flat screen TV, and an arcade console with the set's best play feature: a "playable" videogame, where the ninja character onscreen responds to the motions of the outer lever. Check the video review to see this in action, it's totally insane! This is the kind of mind-blowing play feature I had hoped for from a Ninjago City set and, at least on one count, NCG delivered.
Two of the set's other "play features" are also on this module. Like on the original Ninjago City, we get an interchangeable poster (the extras are stored elsewhere). There's also a gear-driven ladder that can raise or lower by the turn of a knob. I like how the ladder doubles as a door when it's up.
On the outside of the module is a giant koi fish, which makes good use of the Mario character feet parts for its body scales. I guess it wouldn't be Ninjago City without an oversized animal someplace! Like the shrine module I just covered, this one also has an uneven bottom and tends to tilt if placed alone.
The Ninjago History Museum's roof comes off as its own piece, but to my surprise, a second piece of it is also removable! The inner glass is held in purely by gravity and its perfect fit with the rest of the roof, so comes right out, allowing ease of access to what I think is a model of Skull Sorcerer's dragon from the 2020 lineup of sets.
Also of note here is the pink-leaved tree which, gorgeous though it is, constitutes another point of instability on the model. Because of the unorthodox choice of trunk - which I have to admit, I really like regardless of any structural weakness it causes - the entire canopy only attaches by one stud. I think this may have been intentional to allow the aforementioned roof glass to be removed, but I would have preferred something that could swivel and still stay connected, because this feels almost accidental and is easy to jostle loose.
Finally, we have the pinnacle tower. This comes in three sections: antenna/roof, ninja command center, and "secret room." It turns out that the secrets this room contains are the extra signage for the interchangeable ad spot near the arcade, and an unannounced minifigure, which is a suit of ninja garb for Jay. Awesome!
While the tower's structure is aesthetically pleasing and highly original, it does leave a little to be desired in the stability department. When trying to separate the two main layers, you're just as likely to come off with half of the top layer as its entirety, due to the fact that the angled section of the tower sits on a clicking turntable and nothing else. This turntable also allows for the tower's top to turn ever so slightly from side to side even when attached, which jeopardizes the structural integrity a bit.
As a tiny side build, we're given this flying scooter. It's clever, very clever, and has a polished appearance. I like it, and I'm glad it came with a trans-clear stick included to "hover" it over the rest of the city.
The other half of the fun is in playing with the set. How well does the set function and is it enjoyable to play with?
Compared to the original Ninjago City, NCG is actually - and a little disappointingly - limited on the quantity of ingenious play features present. The only one that really stands out is the playable arcade game. Beyond actual tangible play features, that means that the set is designed largely for display or storytelling.
In terms of storytelling, here's the cast of characters we have to work with:
Jay suit / Kai / Zane
Misako / Hai / Clutch Powers
Mei / Kaito / Eileen
Young Lloyd / Christina / Tito & Dog
Ronin / The Mechanic / Cece
Urban Nya / Urban Jay / Urban Cole
The trash robot Scoop is a cute & wickedly clever design which makes use of a minifig baby carrier for its face. The more I look at Scoop, the more I'm reminded of the Exo-Force robot villains; the appearance is much the same. Scoop has good flexibility and looks ready to handle any trash emergency.
We also get a tenth anniversary collectible Wu figurine, which is really cool! It makes me want to collect the other Ninja figurines to have a complete set.
The other major "play feature" of NCG is that it's one of a series of modular Ninjago buildings - and, as such, it is connectible to them. Let's take a look at NCG alongside Ninjago City, the 2017 set that started it all!
On first glance, Ninjago City and NCG look fairly similar. They're both modular-sized cyberpunk cities with a corner orientation, three tiers, and a tall tower as a focal point. Both use a wide, nearly dizzying array of colors, have elements of foliage, feature genius and unexpected roof designs, have large sea creatures and neon signs hanging from their sides... the list goes on and on. The two feel very much like companion pieces, and in some ways NCG feels like a 3-years-later relaunch of Ninjago City as much as an expansion to the set.
(Unfortunately, I never acquired Ninjago City Docks, so it will not be included in this comparison.)
The primary breaking points between Ninjago City and NCG are in shape, color, and theming.
- Shape. NCG differentiates itself from its predecessor not just in terms of size (it's nearly 5" taller, and has the extra-large baseplate), but also structure: while Ninjago City is built almost entirely along rectangular lines, excepting its central tower, NCG is built in large part along a 45-degree angle, or in anticipation of a 45-degree angle, and its signature tower emerges rectilinearly at the corner.
- Color. NCG uses colors in ways that Ninjago City didn't (i.e., new combinations) but also in ways it couldn't, because certain parts or hues it goes for weren't introduced in 2017. The most notable of these is the color teal, which appeared first in 2018.
- Theming. While Ninjago City is like a Swiss army knife, and packs all the essential components of a city into one set, it doesn't allow any of them much weight over the others, ending up with pint-size versions of myriad "tools." NCG, on the other hand, can afford to be a little more focused. The titular "Gardens" have precedence in a few areas, and the set also gives lots of space to the Ninjago History Museum. It has made bigger choices and prioritized certain aspects over others.
The two sets integrate like a dream. Everything lines up, from the lower level to the upper level. The two sets look great together and create a truly magnificent display that leaves me pretty amazed. The two sets definitely complement one another, though I do wish now I had the Ninjago City Docks to space out the tall towers a bit more.
Full disclosure: the first Ninjago City set is my favorite LEGO product of all time. In my book, NCG had the biggest shoes to fill. Personally - and I can't say I'm surprised - I still prefer the original Ninjago City. While NCG is a gorgeous and well-wrought set in almost every way, it doesn't accomplish the same balance between function and form, nor does it make as many economical, smart or clear storytelling choices with its space. It feels almost as though the extra room that NCG got (more bricks, more baseplate, more height) led to the whole set being just 5-10% less clever, less polished, less finished than the first Ninjago City block was.
Once it's all said and done, how does the set stack up? Should I get it?
Well, that's my piece. Let's tally things up...
What's to like?
- A clever, surprising, and enjoyable build experience
- Biggest ever Ninjago set with an epic visual impression
- Harmonic appearance that juggles its diverse shapes, colors, and angles expertly
- Mind-boggling number of new or interesting bricks
- Skillful techniques used throughout
- Modularity makes for easy access to all interior spaces
- Truly awesome arcade game play feature
- Good, sizeable, bigger than expected lineup of minifigures
- 100% compatible with past Ninjago City sets
- Complements Ninjago City sets of the past and turns them to a real collection
- Terrific price-to-parts ratio
What's not to like?
- A few instances of flimsiness, minimal connection, and unintuitive attachments make parts of the set feel a little careless or rushed
- Some sub-models won't stand up straight when you remove them
- Limited play features compared to past sets
- Feels a little like a rehash of the original Ninjago City, with (very slightly) less magical results
71741 Ninjago City Gardens is a showstopper of a set. Huge, colorful, and striking, this set commands attention and leaves the viewer awestruck. It is a master class in advanced building techniques, and continues to associate the Ninjago City subtheme with the premiere in LEGO-building conceptualization and ingenuity. While Ninjago City Gardens is larger and newer than its predecessors, in some ways it feels a bit less polished and less interactive; but this is easily forgiven, as it's still an amazing build and the kind of set I want to see more of from LEGO!
There's lots of thanks to go around for this review. Thank you to LEGO for providing the set slightly early so we could have a review up on launch day. Thank you to Tufi Piyufi, BZPower's Ambassador, for facilitating us getting the set, and thank you to Aaron for his dedication to turn the review around in such a short period of time - gwt some rest! We hope you enjoyed the review and would love to hear your thoughts on it in the Talkback. And don't forget to keep checking back as we continue to celebrate Ninjago's tenth anniversary!
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