The Lego Ninjago Movie Video Game is tethered to the third big budget Lego movie, and after years of Lego games being released in swift fashion, you would be forgiven if you thought at first glance that the formula was starting to go stale. Mercifully it’s not, and although the platforming nature of play remains very much the same, TT Games’ have an astonishing talent for keeping the aforementioned formula feeling fresh and exhilarating. Ninjago does of course come with a select band of faults and flaws, but rest assured, much of this fast paced adventure is remarkably well rounded and magnificently executed. So much so that I dare say that The Lego Ninjago Movie Video Game is one of the best Lego games in recent years.
With the movie fresh on-screen and the game barely a week old, we’ll dance around the plot as much as we can to avoid handing out any spoilers. The premise of the story is quite a straight forward one that channels that Luke/Vader vibe from the onset. Ninjago City is being overrun and tormented by the devastating powers of Lord Garmadon, and it’s up to his determined yet kind son Lloyd to save the day. However after an unfortunate series of events, Green Ninja Lloyd and friends find themselves messing everything up and must now embark on an adventure for Lloyd to gain the powers of Spinjitsu and put an end to his fathers madness once and for all.
If one thing felt tedious to me in previous Lego games, it was the button mashing combat system that saw my mini-figures sluggishly attacking the onslaught of foes. That was also my chief concern about this game prior to getting hands on with it, but instead I was pleasantly surprised within the first hour of play by how fast paced and energetic the combat feels. There’s much more emphasis on tactical play too, being that you’ll need to utilise specific abilities to break an enemies guard. You have a wide selection of moves and skills to take to, all of which can (and should) be used to take advantage of your opponents weak spots. Special abilities all come with Ninja-themed names and dish up some pretty harsh damage output depending on when and where you use them.
No longer can you simply punch and kick your way via senselessly slamming your thumbs on the attack buttons. The AI is much more robust and rapidly become aware of your techniques, often blocking and counter-attacking you if you stick to a singular attack pattern. Safe to say that combat is better in this game than any other Lego game I’ve played, and I’ve nearly played them all. Alongside the new combat mechanics is a combo system that will reward you with more currency (studs) if you maintain longer chains of attack. It’s small implementations like this that make The Lego Ninjago Movie Video Game stand out in comparison to other games in the Lego series, and certainly something you feel adequately compensated for, for being more adventurous.
The fact that this game heavily draws from the movie has allowed the developers to toy with character progression and engagement. Not only will you be picking up new techniques on your way through, but your characters will also adapt with the plot as you get further into the experience. I have to admit that when I first started playing Lego games, I couldn’t wait to complete them so that I could go back through all of the previous stages via quick-play and unlock all those secret passageways. This is something that slowly became less appealing to me over the years, but in The Lego Ninjago Movie Video Game, that notion is back in full swing. Despite that combat and movement feels so fresh at the beginning of the game, once you reach the end-game and have unlocked and increased your powers, you truly feel like a Chuck Norris wannabe. The incentive to go back and discover more secrets and passageways, as well as beating down previous foes with ease, is all too tempting to overlook.
Another engaging aspect of play in any given Lego game is the stud meter, which is another system that’s been reworked for this installation. If you’ve played even just one Lego game, you’ll remember that stud meter positioned at the top of the screen that you need to fill up on each level. Well, not anymore because now you can fill it up multiple times per-level. Instead you’ll be filling it up to collect a gold brick and some extra goodies thrown in for good measure, which adds more weight to the combo system in the process. Speaking of studs, you no longer need to spend your studs on unlocking new characters. Once they unlock in-game, you can play with them straight away without the added barrier of needing to pay for them. Sure this is hardly a game changer but it’s a noticeable change nevertheless.
When you’re not beating down enemies or breaking objects for studs, you’ll be leaning on the puzzle sections of the game, and it’s here that one of my only gripes becomes apparent. The puzzles are far too easy to even be considered as puzzles. I understand that this game needs to cater for a wide age range and audience, but there could have been some more intricate brain twisters thrown into the mix. Instead the puzzles just feel like inconvenient barriers that serve no purpose other than to slow down the pace of play. Multi-builds are back which provide several builds for one pile of Lego but again, these sections are that simplistic they feel boring. Something that makes up for this slack however is the inclusion of Dojos. These are combat-only sections of the game that sees you taking on waves of enemies that are proceeded by boss battle.
Outside of the problem I have with the easy puzzles, my second (and final) issue rests with the campaign length. The campaign only lasts for about four hours and although there’s plenty of longevity to be found in the end-game content, the other modes, the replay value and the secrets, I was a little disappointed at the length of the story. I appreciate that this game cuts sections from the movie to ensure that it’s not giving everything away, but there’s so much history to Lego Ninjago that it feels really diluted to have such a short story to chase. You can indeed go through the entire game with a second player via co-op, but you can also take to the arena battles with up to four players which is spread across a selection of modes and maps. What I will say is that TT Games have put a lot of effort into the open world stages, offering up some gorgeous varying and well detailed environments throughout. This not only helps to prevent the game from feeling stale, but the clever well hidden secrets sit brilliantly with the design, which will surely encourage players to go far and wide and high and low to seek out what’s hidden from sight.
The Lego Ninjago Movie Video Game is easily one of the best Lego games in the series so far. The small yet noticeable tweaks to the long-running functions is much appreciated and the refined combat mechanics ensure that this doesn’t feel like a bog-standard installation. Unfortunately the puzzles are far too easy, so much so that they feel boring and nothing more than pace-breaking. The story is charming, funny and energetic, but it doesn’t have a great deal of length to it, which is a big shame. On the flip side there’s still a great deal of content to work through. Whether you’re in this for the Dojos, the battle arenas, the replay value or the countless secrets that are scattered across the beautifully well designed worlds, there’s no denying that you’re getting enough content to justify the price point. When all is said and done, TT Games have served yet another brilliant adventure that demonstrates their capability to grab your attention and hold onto it.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.