Thinking back to holidays gone by, I can still remember how I used to agonise about which books to throw into my suitcase while I was packing. Given the lack of space, and the dire consequences of making the wrong choices and being left without suitable reading matter, such decisions were not to be taken lightly. The advent of the Kindle and the iPad has thankfully rendered such trials and tribulations largely obsolete, with a lifetime's reading material now available at my fingertips on a device weighing less than just one of the Stephen King novels that used to sustain me for a couple of days of leisure, but I now have a different choice to make. Rather than books it's now shelves full of unopened LEGO sets I stare at, waiting for inspiration to strike....
Every family holiday I try to take at least one LEGO set with me to build while I'm away, particularly if we're holidaying in the UK and space isn't at a premium. Last year a holiday we took in the UK just so happened to coincide with a 3-for-2 promotion at a prominent UK LEGO retailer, so on that occasion I left home with one set and returned with thirteen.... Good holiday, that, even though I did spend a good part of it in the doghouse as far as my wife was concerned. Usually I have just one set to build, however, so it's a decision that merits some deliberation. A pity then that on my most recent holiday I was in a rush and pretty much grabbed the last set I saw before I ran out the door. So would I regret my choice....?
My last-minute selection was Ninjago Set 9448 Samurai Mech, not an altogether left-field selection given my recent dalliances with the Ninjago theme (here) and mechs (here). The front of the box (above - click to enlarge) features the now-familiar green Season 2 Ninjago branding and is dominated by an image of the titular Samurai Mech brandishing an unfeasibly large sword in the direction of a rather weedy trebuchet and a couple of odd-looking non-human minifigures, one of whom has been catapulted through the air. Despite my ownership of a number of Ninjago sets, I have to confess that the words "Samurai X included" on the box really didn't mean anything to me at all, but I assume that they carry deep significance for the considerably younger target demographic. The back of the box (below) highlights a number of play features of the set which we'll get on to later.
Inside the box are three large numbered bags of parts, each of which contains a couple of smaller bags. There are also two instruction booklets and a modestly-sized sticker sheet; while the sticker sheet contains a total of 11 stickers, all are thankfully small. I'm not a fan of stickers, but if I do have to apply them, please let them be small like these ones.... The covers of both instruction booklets are pretty much identical to the front of the box, and both booklets weigh in at 48 pages in length. The first booklet walks the builder through construction of the minifigures, the trebuchet and the torso and legs of the mech. The second wraps up the build and also contains an inventory of parts, pictures of a number of the 2012 Ninjago sets and spinners, advertising for the Ninjago.com website and the LEGO Club, and the now-obligatory picture of a kid shouting "WIN !" on the back cover which is supposed to encourage us to take an online survey. There's also a two page centre spread (below - click to enlarge) showcasing what looks like all of the weapons which appear in the Summer wave of Ninjago sets. This looks very similar to the weapons listing that I highlighted in my review of Set 9455 Fangpyre Mech, albeit a Summer 2012 version.
Set 9448 Samurai Mech contains lots of interesting parts, some of which can be seen in the picture below. Pride of place goes to a brand new and potentially really useful part - an inverted 2 x 2 tile - which makes its debut in this set in dark bluish grey. While it hasn't appeared in any other sets yet, it's pretty likely that it'll start cropping up all over the place before long I reckon. The dark red slope curved 4 x 1 double with no studs and dark red window are also unique to this set, as is the flat silver propeller blade 2 x 16 with axle. Other noteworthy parts are the pearl gold mechanical arm and Ninjago Spinner Crown, both of which only appear in one set apart from this one, and there's a generous supply of pearl gold round 1 x 1 tiles, four of which are extras. The handful of dark red cheese slopes are also welcome, as are the red round 2 x 2 bricks with grille.
The set contains three minifigures. Given the shout-out on the box, I'm assuming that Samurai X (below) is supposed to be the star of the show. According to Brickipedia, Samurai X is the alter ego of Nya, another Ninjago character; Nya is one of the few female Ninjago characters, and younger sister of the fire ninja Kai. Apparently. The Samurai X minifigure features printed legs and a back-printed torso, although the detail is unfortunately hidden by her somewhat clunky armour which covers her torso front and back. She has a reversible head and a pretty neat 3-part helmet featuring a removable red face guard and pearl gold decoration on top. Apart from this set, Samurai X appears in Set 9566 Samurai X, a spinner set.
Nya's adversaries in this set are a couple of seriously ugly dudes called Aytar and Snike. Short and squat with an elongatated face and snake-like teeth, Aytar has half-height minifigure legs and a torso printed front and back. His headpiece is really the highlight, curving backwards and downwards to meet his back, and covered with bright orange lumps. I think he looks excellent !
Aytar is tooled up with a wicked cuved blade; spot the lightsaber which forms the handle. There's a trans orange printed 1 x 1 round tile on the hilt printed with a Constrictai symbol which only appears in this set and one other, Set 9443 Rattlecopter.
Snike is another creative variation on the snake theme, more humanoid than Aytar but still squat and seriously ugly, with yellow eyes and slightly protruding fangs. His torso is printed front and back with a scaly pattern and he too has a spectacular textured headpiece which curves downwards and backwards from the top of his serpentine face. Snike only appears in this set.
Samurai X is a perfectly fine minifigure with some neat headgear, but for me it's the baddies that steal the show; overall the minifigures get a big thumbs up from me.
Minifigures constructed, there's the small matter of a trebuchet to build before getting cracking on the mech. And small it is, albeit perfectly functional. I think the majority of buyers would probably be quite happy for LEGO to refrain from throwing bits and pieces like this into the sets if it brought the prices down a bit, but there's no sign of LEGO doing this so we'll just have to learn to love this stuff. Just about the best thing about it is that it heralds the first apearance of the inverted 2 x 2 tile in any set ever, which is something to celebrate for me at least. There are also a few dark tan parts, which are nice to have, including a couple of modified 1 x 2 bricks with brick pattern. The trebuchet seems designed to fire Aytar and Snike through the air at high speed, and this it accomplishes with some aplomb, although how effective this strategy is likely to be against the Samurai Mech is in some considerable doubt....
And so on to the mech. After guiding the builder through construction of the minifigures and the trebuchet, the remainder of booklet 1 is dedicated to the construction of the mech's torso, feet and legs. Booklet 2 then takes up the mantle, leading the builder through construction of the arms, shoulders and head. It's an interesting and quite fiddly build at times, and you can see the finished mech below in all its glory.
You'd expect the mech to be readily posed into an almost infinite number of positions on account of a generous number of articulation points - the torso rotates 360 degrees on the hips, rotation joints permit both forwards/backwards and outward movement of the legs, there's a ball and socket joint at the ankle, and there are also ball and socket joints at the shoulder and elbow. And yet I unexpectedly struggled to pose the mech into many good poses. This was partly I think because the ball and socket joints in the ankles are quite weak and therefore the positions often didn't hold for long, and also because movement of the arms is significantly restricted by the epaulets on the shoulders. You can lift the the epaulets in order to allow more arm movement, but the guns which are mounted on top of them then bump against the mech's helmet (which is actually the hatch to get into the cockpit), so it's far from ideal.
Similar to Exo Force Set 7714 Golden Guardian which I reviewed a few weeks ago, the Samurai Mech isn't short of weaponry.... The primary weapon is obviously the huge silver sword, but if Samurai X grows tired of using her exo-suit for close quarters combat, the two shoulder-mounted guns offer some ranged options. One of these guns is a good old-fashioned cannon, capable of firing a trans blue and gold projectile via a spring-mounted firing pin at the back. The other is a blue-tipped laser or somesuch. Both guns can be rotated and elevated or lowered to secure the perfect shot.
Too many LEGO mechs have a distinctly unfinished look when viewed from behind. This one is better than many, with gold detailing on the backs of the feet, part-tiling on the rear of the torso, and a pair of red tanks mounted on the upper back. The exposed red 2 x 3 brick looks incongruous, however, as do some of the exposed grey areas. Just a little additional effort here would definitely have lent a more polished air to proceedings.
Samurai X fits snugly into the cockpit on top of the mech's torso (below). When the mech's hatch is closed she's barely visible, but the black fan-shaped 'windscreen' is hinged at its base and can be dropped down to provide Samurai X with an unobstructed forward view.
The finished mech certainly assaults the eyes, with the garish red and gold colour scheme making it look decidedly bling... It's a brave, bold design, perhaps a little too fussy and ornate for my tastes, but undoubtedly pretty spectacular. There's commendable attention to detail in the design and it's certainly anything but boring....
At an RRP of £29.99 / $39.99 for 452 pieces, I think this set offers reasonable value for money. It's an interesting build, offers a selection of interesting pieces, and I like the three minifigures it comes with, particularly the baddies. I do have some concerns about play value, though - it's trickier than expected to pose, and unless I'm unknowingly heavy-handed, it feels a bit too fragile to cope with robust handling. Even so, if you're a fan of mechs, Ninjago or both and don't plan on giving the completed model too much abuse it's easy to recommend. Amazon are currently selling the set at 20% off RRP in the UK (click here to buy), while our American cousins can get it here, albeit at only 5 cents under RRP....