Video game tie-ins for big budget films are often seen as a quick way to cash in on the hype and tend to lead to games which aren’t up to standard. After all, there’s no time to waste and it must be ready to coincide with the height of a film’s popularity.
LEGO games, developed by Traveller’s Tales, have previously had plenty of success by releasing games which pay homage to huge movies, albeit a while after their launches. When it comes to their own LEGO movies though, it’s a different time frame, and as such The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game – a genius title I’m sure you’ll agree – arrives with a lot of expectation to be able complement The LEGO Ninjago Movie just as it hits the cinema circuit. Can it take the best parts of the film and mesh it together with great gameplay for an exciting Ninjago experience?
Based on the LEGO Ninjago Movie, the story of the game follows the teenage ninja heroes of Ninjago – Lloyd, Kai, Jay, Cole, Zane and Nya – as they fend off the chaotic attacks of Lord Garmadon, who wants to take control of Ninjago City and the whole of Ninjago Island. If you haven’t seen the film, then all of the key plot points are present and actual clips from it are integrated into the game. What’s disappointing from the off is the fact that the voices are re-done for these parts, at a much lower standard of voice acting; it’s really noticeable that these aren’t the voices of Jackie Chan, Dave Franco, Zach Woods etc. That does help with continuity for the cutscenes though, which are rendered using the in-game models, but I would’ve preferred the authentic voices in truth.
The narrative runs with a tale that’s been seen many times over and the focus is on the protagonists working together to unleash their inner potential, to try and foil the villain’s plans, with a little help from a wise-old mentor (Master Wu). I’m not sure the plot is all that good, but it’s fun and, despite not hitting the mark with every attempt at a silly joke, a few laughs can still be expected thanks to the usual LEGO style of humour. It’s in the action side though where Ninjago thrives and this carries over into the gameplay.
With eight locations from the film, consisting of 14 story chapters, the general aim is to complete the levels by smashing stuff up, solving easy puzzles and defeating bosses. It’ll put you in control of one of the main characters in third-person view and you can switch between certain characters specific to each level. You’ll literally be thrown into environments like Ninjago City, the Docks and the Jungle, shown which way to go via an indicatory icon and the onus is on you to figure out how to overcome any obstacles in your path. It’s very child-friendly, so nothing is overly difficult to solve, with the trickiest part simply repeating patterns in a mini-game.
As for the bosses, I don’t think the end of chapter boss battles are anywhere near as enjoyable as those encountered in other LEGO games, nor are they as epic. That is all apart from a couple of battles which place you inside a cool as hell Mech as you pulverise the latest of Lord Garmadon’s chaos-bringing inventions. Granted the aiming and shooting isn’t the best, but the grand scale makes it a blast regardless; which is more than can be said for the bosses found on-foot, as they tend to lack the ‘big bad’ feel and blend in with the reams of minions coming your way.
Each ninja has the ability to perform a variety of combat manoeuvres; moves such as the running attack Rushing Boar, the Floating Butterfly for air-based combat, and the Skyward Dragon finisher. These help to keep the gameplay exciting whilst you addictively try to get a combo going by defeating enemies to build up a decent Stud bonus. After learning the basics of combat, you’ll be introduced to Ninjanuity tokens to upgrades these abilities for greater damage, Studs from using a specific move and more. Progression through the main missions will naturally garner the tokens and it’s quite refreshing to see a skill tree being implemented.
To bolster the action side further, the ninjas also possess elemental powers to enable you to activate switches, freeze water to form a climbable structure, break a cracked wall, and even power machines up with electricity. Movement plays a large part in providing the fun factor too. When you’re wall-running and platforming between places, you really do feel like a real ninja. The game can however often send you to your death by refusing to initiate the action of climbing and wall-running, which is pretty annoying.
Usually, LEGO games have a gauge to fill for each level by collecting Studs from all around the place; some uncovered when smashing up objects and others upon slaying enemies. In The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game however, the gauge is active across the entire game and hitting certain Stud target amounts increases your True Ninja Rank from 1 to 20. Rewards for levelling up include the always coveted Gold Bricks and additional customisation parts for use when creating a character. I much prefer this way of doing things because there’s zero pressure to get a ton of Studs before a mission is over.
Once the main story is over – which feels short for a LEGO game at around six hours for completion – it’s all about roaming around the locations you’ve already frequented in order to unlock additional playable characters, Gold Bricks and Ancient Scrolls (replacing Red Bricks). Gold Bricks can be earned by doing well in a foot race, taking on small quests or finding them by using specific characters to gain access a previously unreachable place. Ancient Scrolls and unlockable characters are also waiting to be found in all sorts of areas within the locations.
On a side note, I’m a tad underwhelmed by the character roster size, with it coming in at just over 100 – and that includes variations of the main ninjas. Maybe we’ve been spoilt by the humongous amount of characters in other LEGO games, but I expected more.
Other than scouring the world for bricks, scrolls and characters, there are the Dojos to get involved with. Here you’ll face three waves of enemies before coming up against a well-known villain of Ninjago lore such as General Cryptor or Pythor P. Chumsworth. The aim is to earn a ton of Studs and to take down the antagonist in each Dojo, with one available for each location. These are pretty cool, involving some well-designed little arenas to do battle upon.
As far as local options are concerned, the whole game is playable in two-player co-op, but there is a way for up to four people to play together in Battle Arenas. Four characters can go up against each other in three split-screen modes; flag carrying in Samurai Showdown, artefact collecting in Mystic Bounty, and Ultimate Ultimate Weapon where you carry a weapon crate. All three game modes feel very similar though and whether you’ve got A.I. or humans as the opposition, the boredom creeps in mid-way through the matches. The map selection is very limited and there’s no way to set the time limit, a score limit etc. It’s almost like it was an afterthought.
The main issue I have with The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game though is on the technical front and I’ve faced many problems that hinder the enjoyment. One of the worst was getting Nya stuck on a turret and I had to continue progressing through the level with just Zane, hoping that I didn’t need Nya’s manoeuvres. For some strange reason the game slows down on occasion for a good minute or so, like it’s struggling to cope with what’s on screen – which isn’t a lot in truth. Other weird bugs include invisible enemies and enemies who don’t move whatsoever. And don’t get me started on the horrendously long loading times!
Overall, The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game takes the plot of the film and does a decent job of rolling with it, interjecting its own cutscenes where possible and ensuring the action is a key component of the game. The greatness of the combat really shines, especially during the Dojos, but Story missions are over swiftly compared to most LEGO games and the lessened character roster shortens its longevity further. Technically it can be rather frustrating, with bugs making me wary that I might have to restart a level to rectify a problem and the slow-down can make it unplayable at random points, if only for a short while.
The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game isn’t the best Traveller’s Tales offering, but the great combat and the creative ideas to try something new are what prevents it from being a terrible game. Maybe buy it in the sale, but definitely don’t pay full price.