Where do you start when reviewing a LEGO game? Everyone’s played one and knows what the main gameplay mechanics are, if you don’t then you must have been living under a rock as there have been 12 games this generation on the PS4 alone! However, the latest game from Travelers Tales/Warner Bros Entertainment, ‘The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game’ is not only a mouthful but also a breath of fresh air amongst all of the movie licences. The game, I imagine, is following the movie (the movie isn’t out yet over here so I’m unable to confirm if it is a 1:1 recreation or not), however, it’s a franchise I don’t know anything about so the whole story was new and refreshing for me.
The ‘LEGO Ninjago’ series has released 3 console games previously, ‘LEGO Battles: Ninjago’ (NDS), ‘Nindroids’ (3DS + Vita) and ‘Shadow of Ronin’ (3DS, Vita + iOS/Android) and was originally an animated TV show and line of LEGO toys. Upon playing the game for the first time I was hit with a striking similarity to a show I would watch all the time in my childhood – see if you can guess which show it was…. The game begins, after the tutorial, with a ‘mutant’ enemy in a giant robot rising from the ocean with a load of minions dressed in grey shark outfits. The game cuts to a high school where, after being alerted to the attack, a group of colour co-ordinated teenagers ask to be excused – they change into outfits, cover their faces, and take to the streets to face the enemy as ninjas on the ground and within giant robots in the air.
Did you guess what I couldn’t stop thinking of? Power Rangers. A group of colour-co-ordinated teenagers fighting the mutant bad guy whilst covering their faces and using martial arts. The game has nothing at all to do with Power Rangers, but it made me pick up on what was going on a lot quicker, and there is a lot going on, so much that it can get confusing at times, but I’ll come to that later.
Let’s pretend you don’t know anything about the LEGO games and I’ll give you a brief overview of what’s present in this game which is common among the previous entries. The game is broken down into eight areas, each one has its own distinctive look and feel, ranging from the jungle to downtown. Throughout each area, you will encounter puzzles, smash almost anything you see to collect studs (loose LEGO bricks) and fight bosses (which are much bigger and more satisfying to beat in this game). Because this game is launching along-side the movie, and it is based on the movie, all of the cut-scenes are actual clips from the film, however, I don’t think the voices in the clips are actually from the movie (I could be wrong though) as the film has big stars like Jackie Chan and Dave Franco yet in the cut scenes it didn’t actually sound like them.
The game has actually added some new mechanics into the mix as well which you will either love or hate, I’ll give my opinion as I go along. First of all, gone is the free-play of missions. This confused me at first until I realised what they had done, however, I actually enjoy this new style more than the usual free-play mode. Previously, you would have ‘hub areas’ (in this game’s case, it would be the eight areas) which you would complete multiple levels in, within story mode, then return to each level one-by-one once you have the relevant characters and collect all the special red and gold bricks as well as exploring the hub area for more gold bricks. In this game, the hub area is the level/chapter so you have the option of replaying the story or just exploring the area as a whole. This means you don’t need to keep replaying the story up to certain points to get to where bricks are hidden, you can just explore the open area and go treasure hunting – which I thought was a really good idea.
They have also changed the ‘cheat mode’ (red brick) mechanic. This is a removal of one aspect but an addition of 2 new mechanics. You only have 8 red bricks this time around (one for each area) with only a 2x stud multiplier – so no more 4096x stud multipliers for quick and easy money! However, they have added a combo meter, as you are a ninja, which is a massive part of the game – the higher your combo, the higher your multiplier. So without having any red bricks at all, you could get up to a 20x boost on the value of the studs you collect. It’s not a massive multiplier but all the characters are found, rather than bought, and the only thing you need to spend studs on in this game is certain missions where you have to pay to build things.
The second mechanic added, regarding red bricks, is the skill tree (as per the image above). You have 20 levels of collecting studs (each time you collect a certain amount you go up a level and gain a ‘Ninjanuity coin’ (one of the above skills) – these are enhancements which are locked to each attack you can perform. Each column is an attack so, for example, if you obtain the 2x stud multiplier then anyone you kill with that attack will give you double the number of studs. This was something I wasn’t too keen on, it does what it sets out to do, but I felt it didn’t add anything new to the game, it just gave more rewards if you remembered to do a certain move. I would have rather it have been unlocking new moves or an overall boost in the number of studs you obtain.
Each ninja character, throughout the story, learns their own ‘Spinjitsu’ which are related to the different elements (earth, wind, fire, water, air, electric and green) which are used throughout the game to reach new areas. Each character also has 2+ special move sets which are also used to bypass obstacles such as certain characters can turn wheels with their staff or walk under the water. This gets you to vary who you play as and learn their strengths (which are highlighted by an icon under their name).
The game really wants you to feel like a ninja as well, it has a lot of parkour, races (on foot), tight jumping (where it will lock you to the poles you jump on) and the combat feels weighty and satisfying compared to previous entries. It actually felt like you are playing as different characters, rather than the same one but reskinned like some games do.
There are two differences to the multiplayer firstly, the game doesn’t have the usual screen sharing when in two player mode, if you’re not aware, in older titles, if you are using two players then as one runs off screen, the screen with ‘tear’ at an angle and the split will move around the screen in relation to where you are to the other player. In this game, if you play as two players, you get a static split right down the middle, regardless of whether you are both on the same screen or not. This doesn’t affect me as I played it all in single player, but I know some people liked the way the older titles would split and follow in multiplayer.
The second change is that the game now supports up to four players in multiplayer! Okay, so not in usual multiplayer, but it has its own arena mode where up to four players can join in (any places not taken will be the CPU and the screen will always be split into four, or you can choose to have only your window full screen if you’re the only one playing). There are two modes – collect orbs to gain points within a set time, capture the flag off other players and spend the longest time holding the ‘Ultimate Ultimate weapon’. Within each mode, you can destroy the other players with power-ups (or your fists) and steal their points/flag/weapon. I found this quite enjoyable and had a few decent matches – the capture the flag one was my favourite as you can beat up the other players to steal their flags but the more flags you have, the slower you move.
Outside of the above though, you are looking at a standard LEGO game with similar mechanics and gameplay. I found it a lot more enjoyable than the movie franchises previously but that may be because I knew nothing about the Ninjago lore until I started to play it so everything was new to me. Graphically, the game is one of the few where all the buildings and the ‘man’-made items, such as roads and bridges, are created as if they have been built out of LEGO bricks. This is so pleasing to see as previously in LEGO games only the odd object was built out of the bricks and everything else was as if they were in our world, only they were human-sized LEGO figures! The only other games recently which have done this are ‘LEGO Worlds’ and ‘The LEGO Movie Videogame’ and it really adds to the immersion. The voice acting, although not the real actors (I think) was great and the humour was a surprise as I was literally laughing out loud in almost every cutscene. I won’t ruin the game/film for you, but when you use the Ultimate weapon and see the true enemy I couldn’t stop laughing!
The LEGO NINJAGO Movie Video Game is a really good addition to the series. The improved combat mechanics and additional features really help this game stand above the more popular licence based LEGO titles. The story started as a familiar one I’ve heard a million times yet evolved into one which had me hooked, wanting to watch the next cutscene for the humour and great voice acting. I would still recommend it to all LEGO lovers and parents, for their kids, even with the flaws it has – just remember to back up your saves and activate the satellite as soon as you get the chance too (if you are going for the platinum).
**The satellite issue has been resolved in a post-launch patch. There are no issues getting the Platinum now.**
The LEGO NINJAGO Movie Video Game
- Fast and fluid hand-to-hand combat which feels different among the various characters.
- The story is good and a nice change from popular licences (took me 25 hours to complete).
- The buildings are all built out of LEGO, this adds so much to playing the game!
- The new multiplayer arena modes are a fun addition and will prolong the enjoyment of the game.
- The dialogue in the game is really funny.
- The ending was a bit underwhelming (I imagine it’s based 1:1 with the movie).
- The skill tree was a good idea, and it ‘worked’, but I didn’t feel it added enough.
- The initial loading time is pretty bad – on a PS4 Pro it took over a minute to load on the first launch.