The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Nintendo Switch and Microsoft Xbox One
Over the years, many well-known franchises such as Harry Potter and Star Wars have had the LEGO video game makeover, giving fans the chance to take control of a LEGO version of their best-loved fictional heroes and play through an alternate version of their favourite films. The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game is the latest installment in the LEGO gaming series, and while it’s based on an actual LEGO movie, rather than being a LEGO adaptation, the game still boasts the same charm that fans of LEGO have grown to love and enjoy over the years, although it’s not without some noticeable flaws.
As in the LEGO Ninjago Movie, the game follows the story of seven ninjas as they battle to save their home island of Ninjago from the evil Lord Garmadon and his Shark Army. While the premise is interesting, for the most part, the story is forgettable, often very confusing and hard to keep track of. Following the prologue, where you’re taught the basic combat skills you’ll need throughout your journey, each level is bookended by a cutscene straight from the movie with little to no context so it’s difficult to focus on what’s happening; add in the fact that the dialogue between characters borders on awful, and that the storyline throws in some strange curveballs throughout, and you’ll soon find yourself scratching your head trying to figure out what’s going on. Thankfully, the story is saved by some noticeably memorable characters, with the evil Garmadon proving a constant source of enjoyment the whole time.
During your journey to save Ninjago, you’ll traverse many different locations, including Ninjago city, dark jungles, snow-capped mountains, and deadly volcanoes. Ninjago city, colourful, alive and filled with treasures, is the standout location here, but all the areas look gorgeous, and the bright range of colours really help the game pop - it’s definitely one of the best-looking LEGO titles to date. However, level design is surprisingly poor when compared to previous games; bar the first few stages, which are brilliantly action-packed, most levels feel the same as the one that came before, just with a different backdrop. It’s a shame that the developers didn’t incorporate the ninja’s mechs during the story more, and levels where they are used are let down by clumsy, unresponsive controls.
Like the level design, the feeling of rinse and repeat is also common in the puzzles you need to complete in order to progress. On the whole, the puzzles involve breaking something and rebuilding it as something else, or using a certain ninja’s weapon to interact with an object. Later on in the story, each ninja learns a special elemental Spinjitzu power, of which our favourite is definitely ice, which offers an alternative, occasionally ingenious, way to solve puzzles and progress, but sadly, by the end, they too felt overused.
Combat has never been the strongest aspect of a LEGO game, but here it’s been reworked well, and is a welcome surprise. While the traditional hack ‘n’ slash that’s associated with every action-adventure title is present and correct, Ninjago supplements this with a number of interesting combos that allow you to soar through the sky and take down your foes in style. The combo and chaining system takes a lot from Rocksteady’s Arkham series, and this makes fighting the waves of enemies an enjoyable experience, although, once you’ve learnt the combos at the start, there’s sadly no additional moves to master later on, which would have helped freshen up combat for the later levels, when it begins to feel annoyingly stale. For the most part, combat is fluid, quick and responsive, until the game’s framerate drops significantly (we experienced fewer than ten frames per second at one point). Considering LEGO games have been released on the PS4 without issue on an annual basis as of late, the drops in framerate are inexcusable, and really hamper what is a rather enjoyable experience. Hopefully, a patch will be available after launch, but for now, larger areas are uncomfortable to play as a result of the framerate drops. Sadly, framerate issues aren’t the only technical gremlins to be found as the game crashed on us a number of times, again, in large areas, and when combat became hectic.
While the game’s story takes roughly six to eight hours to complete, finishing the game to 100% is considerably more time consuming, and this is where The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game really shines. Once complete, each level can be revisited as an open-world environment, giving you the chance to collect all the 200+ gold bricks, ancient scrolls, and characters and costumes. Each area also includes a number of unique side quests, races, buildings and landmarks to rebuild. This new open-world approach means the free play of past LEGO games isn’t necessary, and it really makes collecting everything a far more streamlined and enjoyable experience.
Also included in each location is a Challenge Dojo where you put your combat skills to the test against increasingly tougher waves of enemies, including a Dojo master; some of these Dojos are particularly difficult and offer a much sterner challenge to that found in the main game. If that wasn’t enough, the game offers a battle arena mode where you can team up with friends in split-screen local co-op to compete in matches such as capture the flag, although these modes are limited and quickly get repetitive.
On balance, the LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game is an enjoyable action-adventure romp, but ultimately it never quite reaches the standards set by some of the previous LEGO titles. The framerate issues are a constant nuisance, and other technical issues such as crashes and excessive loading screens make the game feel unfinished, as if rushed to launch alongside the film. Thankfully, fans of the LEGO Ninjago Movie will definitely enjoy playing through the story as their favourite ninjas, while LEGO enthusiasts will find enjoyment in the variety and depth of collectables on offer.