Reviewed by Xavier Cordeiro (SAFOLs Member)
The NINJAGO® City Gardens is the third in the NINJAGO® City Series, and its 5709 pieces make it the largest NINJAGO® set to-date, all while celebrating 10 years of the NINJAGO® theme. It’s an enormous build, so without further delay I’m going to jump right in.
Inside the main box is a smaller white box, a 32×32 baseplate, a bag of special elements, and the three Instruction manuals. I forget the exact number of bags, but it’s around 60.
The city is built on 4 levels, with much of it in a modular style, although as the levels go higher, the build comes in larger separable parts. Naturally I’ll start with the base. Light Bluish Grey plates form the majority of the ground floor, while the rest is covered in water. A small Island behind the city adds colour and life. As with the previous two sets, different coloured plates laid under hundreds of 1×2 Trans-Light Blue tiles creates a sense of depth in the water, a brilliant technique that elevates the visual experience of the entire set. The first half of an enormous tree dominates the first level. Without its other half it looks somewhat strange, but it does support the second level. Foliage scattered about also serves to break up the monotony, while the supporting beam comes together satisfyingly for a neon look.
A small basement with a few rare items lies under the first building, Ronin’s shop. Dark Brown and Sand Green combine for an antique feel, which is complemented by clever builds like a scale and a bookcase. A nice technique, repeated for all four buildings on the first level, uses hinges to create one diagonal wall. I like how one side looks out onto the water, making it far more accessible. Across from Ronin’s shop is a small restaurant, perhaps a Ramen shop. This building uses a brighter combination of white and Reddish Brown and features a small balcony facing frontward. The two parts of the newer Book piece are used brilliantly as an awning and a counter. Overall, it’s a small but delightful shop. The room of a NINJAGO® fan sits atop the Ramen shop. This is arguably my favourite build, with a colourful Cole and Kai themed bed along with what appears to be a few micro-scale NINJAGO® sets. I really like the windowsills and curtains for this segment, which work well with the tan colour scheme. 1×3 jumper plates make a lovely traditional awning to complete the building, and a few flower boxes bring some more nature into the build. The building on top of Ronin’s shop is divided into two parts. The larger is a sort of balcony, its walls decorated by paintings or pictures of NINJAGO®. Some teacups and a teapot are nice additions. The rest is separated by a door, and a large round window uses what I assume is an old Bionicle piece. Another great awning design is used, this time serving to cover the shop beneath.
Now, the base for the second floor is built. It’s basic, with some adverts and two intricate builds decorating the railing. A model of Jay’s Desert Storm is integrated into the base and hangs down into the NINJAGO® fan’s room. The next build is another favourite, the Ice cream shop. I believe it’s based on a Classic theme. The interior is simple, yet cheerful, with a few sundae glasses, cones, etc. A rounded window looks out onto the exterior walkway, and the design above takes the cake for the best awning in the set. Several cleaver pieces in Black give a fantastic, tiled effect. There’s a staircase rising to the third level, and a small walkway with some nice details. Next is Chen’s Noodle House, which featured in season 4 of the show. One table is situated inside, with one or two additional details. The kitchen compartment sits by the main window, and swings open for easier access. As always, the exterior is very detailed, and a Minifig is used for the sign. The awning is also a contender for best, this time using sausages with clips on them. Overall, I like the detail, but the colours on this building are my least favourite of the entire set. The upper section of the tree is now finished on level two, its details far larger and more natural than on its base.
The NINJAGO® museum demands most of the space on the third level, dividing into a gift shop, and the actual museum. The museum itself is fairly similar to the one in the show, with a portrait of Master Yang, a painting of Kai and Nya’s parents, a model of the Destiny’s Bounty, and much more. The centre wall can be easily removed. The exterior detail almost outdoes the interior. The different signs look nice, and the teal windows work well with the bright orange. Around the back, a railed walkway runs from the door of the museum to a small passage between the Museum and an apartment belonging to an artist, which is among my favourite builds. The combination of several shades of green makes it light and pleasant to look at. SNOT techniques build up the front and back walls, which are decorated with plants on either side. A tiny bed and TV occupy half the room, while the other half hosts an easel, upon which a portrait of the City is being painted. Another door opens onto a balcony that cleverly uses angled bar pieces to create a textured railing. So far this might be my favourite level.
The centre of the fourth and final level completes the Museum, with a rounded skylight. A bright, cheery cherry blossom arcs over it, adding to the ‘Gardens’ theme. On the left is a sort of sanctuary, built in lavender. I’m sure there’s a better term for it, but either way it’s lovely. I’ve spoken a lot about how good the colours throughout each build are and this is no different, with a refreshing mix of Reddish Brown and Lavender. Treasure chest lids make a traditional-looking roof that gradually slants inward. The final part of the city is an arcade for the Ninja along with a tower that serves as a secret control tower. The arcade is simple enough, with an armchair, a TV, a hatstand, and, fittingly, an arcade game. The arcade game is actually interactive, with a 1×2 tile that can be pushed upward as you press on the joystick. The design for it blew my mind. BrickHeadz glasses pieces work as rails, and a bright Koi fish build decorates the outside. There’s also a golden telescope stationed just outside the arcade. The tower above houses some spare posters, and Jay’s Ninja costume, a welcome inclusion. Above it is a small command centre with a central console. It’s not super easy to access, but accessibility is sacrificed for stability. Otherwise, it’s just a high-tech tower that increases the rather impressive height of the set.
The last, and final part of the set is a small island that connects to the left side. Upon it is a small temple. A minifig is used for the drastically downscaled Titanium Ninja statue. For those who don’t know, in season three, Zane, the Titanium or White Ninja, seemingly died while saving the city and this monument was erected in his honour. Overall, it supports the theme of nature with more water and foliage.
I’ll speak briefly about the nineteen Minifigs, making it simple by dividing them into those I really like and the others I don’t find particularly noteworthy. The five Ninja along with young Lloyd are great. Clutch Powers, Misako, Ronin, The Mechanic, Hai, Kaito, and Tito are some of the better minifigs. The Legacy version of Master Wu is also great. My favourite of the whole set is probably Christina, the NINJAGO® Superfan with a Green Ninja jersey. Mei, Cece and Eileen are still nice minifigs, although I’m not a particular fan. Some clever part uses make up one final character called Scoop, a cleaning robot.
Earlier, I mentioned my concern at the lack of ‘Gardens’ but having built it, foliage and plant-life scattered throughout really brings the set to life, while signs, pipes and ads mean almost no space is unused. It’s an extremely enjoyable build, the final product a bustling, colourful city. I’ve had it for over a month, and it still appeals just as much as when I first built it. In terms of build experience, few sets rival it in my opinion. I believe the build alone is worth paying for. So many ingenious techniques are scattered throughout every build. You simply can’t go wrong with it. I like rating the different aspects of a set, and I think the following scores are fair:
All-round it’s a lively and pleasant display. I’d say one of the few drawbacks is that the compact spaces can make it difficult to access and position Minifigures if desired, but at the same time, having most buildings closed means dusting this set is much easier than you might imagine. You don’t have to like NINJAGO® to enjoy the set, you don’t even really have to like LEGO®. It’s a truly awesome set and is certainly the highlight of my collection.