The January 2022 Ninjago EVO theme has some very targeted “6+” age range offerings. LEGO designer Niek van Slagmaat shared on Twitter how that age range is a group that’s currently under-represented in Ninjago fans, and now LEGO aims to change that. Among the lures is LEGO Ninjago 71762 Kai’s Fire Dragon EVO, which will be available January 1st from the LEGO Shop Online for US $29.99 | CAN $39.99 | UK £24.99. This 204 piece set includes an upgradeable Fire Dragon, a drone, and three minifigures. Is this a set that will evolve to be a fan favorite? Read on and see what you think!
The LEGO Group provided The Brothers Brick with an early copy of this set for review. Providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.
Unboxing the parts and instructions
This set comes packaged in a thumb-punch box. The product image on the front is very clear, with a background that is much more subdued than previous Ninjago waves. It’s more “comic book” than “animated cartoon,” but it does bring the toy front-and-center in a welcome way. The age range is set at 6+, which is fair for the complexity level of the set’s build.
The back of the box has a plain white background, possibly an attempt to more clearly explain the “EVO” concept that unites these early 2022 sets. Each set has a creature or vehicle that goes from a basic state to a more combat-ready mode, sometimes over multiple stages. In this case, it’s Kai’s Fire Dragon that goes from “Companion” to “Flight Ready” to “Battle Ready”. Next to the LEGO logo, there’s a small inset shot of Kai holding a banner made from a 2×3 printed tile. This is part of a “gotta catch ’em all” idea that LEGO hopes will inspire fans to pick up the full-wave. Each of the sets in the EVO theme has a unique “wisdom banner” that is meant to be awarded after completing the set’s “mission” – an ill-defined concept that seems to mostly be “defeat the bad guys”. The only problem is that it’s not super clear that the tiles are unique without looking closely at all the packages – this feels like something that fans (and causal shoppers) are likely to overlook.
Inside the box are four numbered parts bags and a 92 page, perfect-bound instruction booklet. There are no stickers this time around. The bags correspond to the different EVO stages. Bags 1 and 2 are the base “companion” mode, with bag 3 upgrading to “flight ready” and bag four finishing things up with “battle-ready” status.
We’ll highlight interesting parts and colors as we go along, but to whet your appetite, here’s a close-up of the unique 2×3 banner tile for this set. I really like this design, even if the head shape doesn’t actually look like the Fire Dragon in this set. But as a general-use bit of printed art, it’s pretty swanky.
The first form of the Fire Dragon is listed on the box as “Companion”. The first two numbered bags will be consumed in putting the little fellow together, and they contain a few new and interesting pieces. Both halves of the dragon’s head are unique to this set, and both look pretty good. The top jaw’s mold is the same as the one that appears in 71746 Jungle Dragon, although it lacks the dual-molded teeth here. The set also includes a new 1×3 dual-clip plate and 1×2 clip plates in medium nougat. There are also four of the new “locked hinge” plates in orange, the same color available in the 71767 Ninja Dojo Temple. Also interesting are the new 1×1 round tile shooter, a somewhat common printed control panel, and two teal 1×4 offset plates. (The teal plates were previously only available in that color in 80106 Story of Nian)
The dragon has a modular construction that is very similar to 71760 Jay’s Thunder Dragon EVO. The main body comes in two halves that are connected by Technic bricks. The tail is articulated with Mixel joints, and the head sits on a click hinge. The jaw on the head is hinged using those 1×3 clip plates, and the dragon’s horns are made from two golden minifigure weapons.
Put together, you get a long and lean base body. The limbs have ball joints at the shoulder/hips and ankles. In Companion mode, they’re pretty skimpy looking, with the light grey of the Mixel plate standing out like a sore thumb. LEGO really should start releasing those in different colors. The fixed-hinge plates give the legs a bit of bend at the knees, trading mobility for stability. I’m still torn if the assumed cost-savings for this part is a fair trade for the play feature of a click-hinge joint.
Assembled, the Companion form fits the bill as a not-ready-for-battle critter. The tail is too stubby, and the head is almost comically oversized for the body. But it’s sort of chibi and “cute” is a plus when it comes to companions.
The ball-jointed limbs and tail, combined with the posable jaw, do give you a lot of options for charismatic stances, at least. I have to note, though, that the bar on the long ankle joint on the front legs feels ripe for a sports-related sprain or break.
The instruction manual tells a bit of a story as you go through the EVO timeline. Here’s the Companion form out for a walk with Kai, who’s enjoying a bit of a snack. It does look like they’re having a good time together.
But all is not sunshine and roses. The Companion section of the set also comes with a Snake-themed bad guy: Cobra Mechanic. CM has a remote control that uses the 1×2 printed tile to pilot a tile-shooting drone. The use of minifigure frying pans for thrusters is pretty funny to me, as I’m more than willing to imagine this is actually a new tech start-up that delivers freshly-cooked omelets right to your door. Snake-egg omelets, naturally.
The “Flight Ready” mode is the next step towards a battle-ready dragon. This step consumes bag three and adds in a torso-extender, a bit of tail, and two dual-molded wings in red and transparent orange. Kai also gets an upgrade with the addition of a bit of shoulder armor and a color-coded red sword.
The torso extension works just like the one in Jay’s Thunder Dragon, and the wings attach in much the same way, too. Overall it’s not much of an upgrade, and those wings really don’t look big enough to make this dragon “flight ready”. But I suppose you have to start somewhere.
I suppose it does look a bit more fierce now. The colors in the dragon are matched by Kai’s outfit, right down to the brown “boots” on both.
On the enemy side, the stakes are raised a bit by the addition of a snake foe who is also clearly “flight ready”: Boa Destructor. This villain comes with a removable flight pack with great-looking teal wings and a grappling hook/chain gun.
Our review set contained two of the chain elements, which was a nice bit of “overfill” as it let us double the useful length. That was necessary to recreate the battle scene from the instructions: One chain wasn’t quite long enough to reach around the dragon’s jaw without putting the Boa Destructor right next to it.
The final upgrade to the Fire Dragon takes it to “Battle Ready” mode. There are a lot of extras added in this step, including gold armor, another set of wings, and a saddle. The saddle has a clip that lets you attach the Wisdom Banner, but lacks any sort of reins to help Kai guide his mount. Kai gets a final upgrade as well, with a new cowl element to replace his hairpiece.
The dragon also gets a flame element to finish off the tail. I kidded the Thunder Dragon that it just missed going “full Charmander” with its tail topper, but I suppose there’s no escaping that comparison this time.
Unfortunately, I’m not overly fond of the final look of the Fire Dragon. My main complaint is the wings – the extensions are locked in place, with the only pivot being at the shoulders. The extreme forward arc on them doesn’t seem very “in-flight” to me, either. Combined with the lanky legs, the completed dragon just doesn’t seem balanced for air or land adventures.
But look at the underside of the dragon. Surely LEGO could have done a little more here to smooth things out, particularly for a dragon likely to be seen from this angle. I guess being very flat makes it feel streamlined?
Seen side-by-side with the Thunder Dragon, you can see that the Fire Dragon is at a higher price-point judging by the bulkier feel and bigger wings. Will the allure of a flaming red dragon wins the hearts of unconvinced six-year-olds? Will it tempt the possibly more important demographic of their elders who will likely be paying for the LEGO set? I’m not really qualified to answer either of those questions, but it seems like a pretty safe bet to me.
Of course, given the option, I think I’d rather take home the “top of the line” 71766 Llyod’s Legendary Dragon. As a return to “Core” Ninjago concepts, the EVO wave has done a great job of adding three new dragons into the lore. Admittedly, the 6+ models aren’t as complex (or expensive) as the dragon aimed squarely at the older fans. But they hold their own quite nicely and add some interesting variations into the Ninjago Draconomicon.
Kai’s Fire Dragon EVO comes with three minifigures: heroic ninja Kai, and two snake-themed foes. If you count the accessories, then the snakes are both unique to this set, but the base Boa Destructor and Cobra Mechanic figures do appear in other sets in the theme. Kai also has unique detailing for the theme, but can also be acquired in the 71765 Ninja Ultra Combo Mech and 71767 Ninja Dojo Temple.
Without accessories, you can see that all three figures have new dual-sided torsos and printed legs. The snakehead design first appeared in the 2019 Pyro Whipper and Char figures, but get two new dual-molded recolors here.
Conclusion and recommendation
Kai’s Fire Dragon Evo is designed to tempt the imaginations and parents of six-year-olds. Does it do that? Probably. Will it also temp older collectors? Also, yes, probably. While the design of the dragon isn’t the strongest in the Ninjago line, it’s still a colorful and intricate beast. The three-stage EVO gimmick is a little weak – there’s not much to justify the middle “flight ready” step, but if you take it directly from “Companion” to “Battle ready” there is a dramatic change and feeling that the dragon has indeed been upgraded. The three minifigures are interesting, and having two snake foes does make the fight seem a little less one-sided, even if they are up against a dragon and a highly skilled ninja. The set is a little expensive at $30US for 204 parts – nearly 15 cents per element. That’s offset by the unique prints and parts and the three theme-specific minifigures, but is still pretty steep for a set without licensing fees involved. Personally, I’d wait for a sale on this one unless fire-themed dragons are your thing. Or, you know, you’re a six-year-old who is ready to step into the world of Ninjago. Or a parent who, thanks to a slight familiarity with Pokémon, mistakes this set for Charizard.
LEGO Ninjago 71762 Kai’s Fire Dragon EVO will be available January 1st from the LEGO Shop Online for US $29.99 | CAN $39.99 | UK £24.99. It may also be available via third-party sellers on Amazon and eBay.
The LEGO Group sent The Brothers Brick an early copy of this set for review. Providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.
Check out our full gallery of images