The Lego Ninjago Movie Video Game is unlike any other Lego game TT Games has made. Aside from their carbon copy of Minecraft, they have mostly stuck to a formula which has proceeded to breed recent hits like Lego Marvel Super Heroes and Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This formula involves toying with the major franchises and properties, which guarantee them absolute safety from financial failure, and creating games which mirror each other in design; simplicity over complexity. But this aforementioned safety net has been thrown to the side in order for TT Games to produce something that bends the meaning of a Lego game into something different, something that provides some variability in the developer’s portfolio. This game is The Lego Ninjago Movie Video Game.
What makes this new venture especially unique is the fact that TT Games is finally working on a game of a movie which is based on the original IP of The Lego Company. Though some might think this would constrain the gameplay value of such a title, The Lego Ninjago Movie Video Game does much to differentiate itself from the pack. The game seems like a normal Lego game only at the start, where a small introduction places us in a master’s dojo. The silly nature of the story kicks off when you’re tasked with fighting a “master chicken”. After this, I thought I’d be let loose to continuously tap square for combat in common Lego games fashion, but this wasn’t the case at all. Instead, I was taught the most new and innovative aspect of the game: its slightly more nuanced fighting system.
When I say nuanced, keep in mind I’m talking about a Lego game. It doesn’t take much for the combat to reach a higher level of detail than any game before. Still, in my early minutes of playing, I realized quickly that the same button-mashing technique I found in previous Lego games wasn’t going to quite work here. Yes, the AI is a little tougher, yes, your dodges have to be somewhat on key, but most of all the combination of attacks you must combine in order to excel, without losing much health, is the real heart of the combat system. These particular moves are also upgraded to do more damage or to gain more currency from enemies upon breaking them apart. These upgrade paths added a much needed diversity to the Lego games in which the player could be actively investing in, making choices that might matter to the way they play. Whether it be the normal light attack we’re all used to in Lego games, or the more fashionable flurry of attacks that rack up in a combo counter, they all made this new Lego adventure feel attuned to the martial arts culture that presides heavily with the Ninjago toys and movie alike. But that’s just it; they feel attuned to the culture of the Ninjago franchise.
When I actually dove deeper into the combat (which is heavily present in the moment to moment gameplay), I found that these maneuvers only gave the illusion of depth and didn’t actually possess it. I found more often than not that one move, the jump slam, was the most effective way of clearing out baddies. I stuck to this move throughout most of my experience and had little to no troubles. Part of me understands this game was made for children who are just getting in touch with complicated video game systems, but another part of me asks why this feature was such a defining aspect of the game if it would just be thrown to the side in honor of the Lego games tradition of simplicity.
Like this choice, much of the game retreads on things implemented in previous Lego games and didn’t yield any new tricks within the long-running franchise. You’ll find building and smashing the many Lego block creations throughout the world to feel novel at first as you notice the originality of the actual things being built and used (like the firework shooting dragon), but you’ll also find these same things slowing the pace and feeling monotonous after a while. Double builds, a semi-new aspect of Lego games, were the most annoying of these. Causing players to take double the time to build a progress-imperative item than it would’ve taken just to make one, this comes with no extra reward other than wasting time.
These halting gates weren’t the only things that slowed the pace down. There were bits of flight combat that aimed to give players some variance in the way they took down their enemies. Instead, this only showed how tonally inconsistent the game was as a whole and took players away from the classic Lego gameplay we all know and love. Lastly, these problems came to a head in the movie scenes played in the middle of the game’s own cutscenes. These beautiful pieces of cinema from the movie drove the game’s story in somewhat the same direction as the movie. This makes sense given the title of the game, but I felt as though it chopped the story up so much that I barely knew what was going on. There was very little explanation to the overarching plot, and I barely knew or had an attachment to any of the characters on-screen because of it.
With that being said, I’m sure very few people play Lego games for the story but rather for the goofy jokes, puzzle solving, and character collection attributes which have come to reign supreme in the franchise. Luckily, all of that is still here, and although the problems make these aspects a little rough to fully enjoy, Lego game fans will surely find that comfort food to be nothing less of what they expect. The usual art and sound design are done to the same level of expertise as always, the chicken and pig references are plenty, and most of all, the sheer amount of content will keep fans busy for a while. Other than the combat, that last point was actually something that I found The Lego Ninjago Movie Video Game did better than any other Lego game to date: It gave the player multiple avenues of fun.
There was the free play mode, which in itself had side quests and activities around several hub worlds. There were dojos to practice your moves and hone your skills. Then there were ways to replay each level to maximum efficiency, gaining all the golden bricks you could to reach 100% completion. These many ways to enjoy the brick breaking could keep a player busy well beyond the first play hrough of the story. This is especially useful for those who only purchase one or two games a year as The Lego Ninjago Movie Video Game could be one of those games that takes up just as much time as anything else. Best of all, playing is fairly casual, making sessions feel more like relaxing than solving challenging gameplay loops.
Developer: TT Games
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One and PC
Release Date: 22nd September 2017