It’s no surprise that the recent LEGO Ninjago movie got a tie-in videogame release, appropriately titled The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game. Out for all current consoles and PC, we played the game on PS4 for this review.
I’ll readily admit that I’m too old to have grown up with LEGO Ninjago – I’m from the “Space LEGO” era before there were any movie tie-ins, which made the first big LEGO movie such a fond walk down memory lane. My LEGO Ninjago experience stems mostly from playing the two Vita titles that came out for the system – both of which I enjoyed. Formerly exclusive to handhelds, this is the first time the Ninjago franchise is playable on consoles. The end result is quite similar, both pleasantly and disappointingly so.
Last year’s LEGO version of The Force Awakens was a pleasant surprise in that it pushed the franchise forward a bit by introducing more diverse gameplay elements and pushing the envelope a little on the visual front as well. The new LEGO Ninjago game does a decent job at both, but doesn’t provide the step forward that The Force Awakens did – perhaps this is because of the previous games. The old LEGO Star Wars games were very much along the lines of the original LEGO series (Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, etc.) with their gameplay, whereas the first LEGO Ninjago titles already had some more diversity to them.
Each character in your Ninjago team of ninjas plays quite differently, with ranged as well as melee specialists. This ties into puzzles, combat and agility, which keeps the experience somewhat fresh throughout the course of the campaign. Other LEGO games also have their character groupings (small characters, strong characters, etc.), but the difference is bigger in these Ninjago titles. The biggest source of diversity lies in the changeups between different levels – and this was part of the reason the Vita games were so enjoyable. In some levels you’d be controlling a big robot and stomping around the city, while in others you’d stick close to the traditional formula.
The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game also lets you use the unique powers of your characters in addition to their regular combat moves. These “spinjitsu” moves are Ninjago’s version of “the force” or Skylanders’ magic types, and has characters performing feats that are in sync with the element they’re aligned with. That may sound a little vague, but if your character can control fire, this can come in handy for puzzles that require it. Alternatively, if you need to get through fire, your fire character will be able to do it but will leave others behind – you’ll need a water character to extinguish the fire first.
Visually, having been developed from the ground up for consoles, The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game is a definite step forward – though at times it’s plagued by less-than-ideal camera angles. This can make players feel lost, especially when playing cooperatively as you’ll be sharing the screen and have less room available to help you get your bearings – which also increases your chances of getting completely stuck in the environment. Aside from these camera glitches I also noticed, oddly enough, a bit of slowdown in busier scenes – which was surprising considering the fact that the game was running on a Playstation 4 Pro. No doubt this is something that a little optimizing can fix in a future patch, but it’s disappointing to see at launch nonetheless.
Looking beyond these issues, The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game still has all the charm and humor you’d expect from a LEGO title – even though the story plot is far from exciting and the writing isn’t great either. The actual gameplay is still solid though, with the Ninjago’s emphasis on fighting making for a better combat experience than in any other LEGO game.