Over the past 5 years, Lego games have settled into a safe formula. Destructible environments, collectathons and a huge roster of playable characters, preferably well-known ones. So does the latest Lego movie tie in video game The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game, next in the long list of satisfactory LEGO adventures, or does it do something new and stir stuff up.
The Lego Ninjago Movie Videogame (or TLNMV) is a Lego-themed action-adventure video game developed by Traveler’s Tales and published by Warner Bros. Interactive. The game is based on The LEGO Ninjago Movie and was released on the PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Windows PC on 20 October 2017.
The Lego Ninjago Movie Videogame
Story & Narrative
Ninjago is an original toy line by LEGO. This means its their property and isn’t a license shared with say Marvel or Disney. That also means that if you aren’t a LEGO enthusiast, and missed out on the 4 seasons of the TV show which aired from 2009, chance are you haven’t heard of Ninjago. So you would be forgiven if you haven’t trotted over to the cinema to catch the movie either. What all of this leads to, is the fact that when you power up TLNMV for the first time, you know nothing (Jon Snow!).
All of that changes 15 minutes into the game. Ninjago is a funny but predictable amalgamation of TMNT and Power Rangers. Consisting of a group of teenagers lead/trained by a wise master, the Ninjas command different elements and some really sweet looking LEGO mechs to combat the evil 4 handed Garmaddon from taking over Ninjago city. The twist Garmaddon is also the father of the Teenage ninja leader Lloyd. Pretty standard Sunday morning cartoon right.
The game’s own story almost mimics the one in the motion picture, going to the extent that some cut-scenes are picked up from the movie itself. The plot follows the Monster of The week formula with a story of self discovery and teen angst thrown in. Topping that of course is the staple LEGO humor, which is tongue in cheek, breaks the fourth wall frequently and never takes itself too seriously.
Gameplay & Mechanics
Perhaps the lack of spotlight and the hype that TLNMV brings in, the team behind the game have taken the opportunity to spice the gameplay up a bit, deviating from the standard LEGO games formula. Out goes the bonus that you get for collecting a certain amount of studs in a single level, and in comes a global stud collection meter which grants you bonus Gold Bricks and other collectibles as you reach various limits across your gameplay. The combat too has been mixed up replacing the bland and skull numbing easy Square button mash to a more spread out combo attack system which involves, dashing jumping and finisher. It’s not exactly street-fighter yet, but its way more variety than say LEGO STAR WARS.
In addition there is also an upgrade tree for your skills, another novelty for a Lego game. As you play, you’re awarded tokens to select new additions to you moves, such as greater damage, a bigger area of effect or more studs. Again, it’s hardly a new concept, but somewhat surprising to see in a Lego title.
Having said that this is still a LEGO game. So the difficulty remains kiddish and the loot drops generous. Exploration is rewarded, and studs drop out of literally everything. This coupled with the fact that breakable objects spawn back after some time, and it can become one vicious collectathon circle. Backtracking is also a mechanic that LEGO games rely on heavily and that does not change with TLNMV. Every level that you finish the campaign for (which amounts to 6 in total) unlocks that level for free-roam later on. Free-roam on the other hand offers races, challenges, and other side quests that the players can undertake to unlock even more gold bricks, costumes and characters. It’s not as vast as say LEGO dimensions, but the smaller scope made it feel more possible.
The adventure genre is interspersed with on rail shooting cameos, where you control your mech shooting away at enemies. I thought these could have been done better, especially since most of the times, it was hard to spot the enemy from the background. But once again the generous difficulty curve comes to the rescue, and you would rarely find yourself failing in such sections, even though you perform poorly.
Of course all modes in the game can be completed solo or with a partner in couch co-op, which as easy as pressing a button the other controller. In fact some races and brawl matches offer an option to play with 3 other players. I have always enjoyed this couch co-op capabilities in LEGO games, and I wish to see it more games in the future.
Sound, Graphics & Performance
TLNMV falls into familiar traps you would expect from a LEGO game, and a movie tie-in when it comes to performance. There are multiple visual bugs, transition bugs and gameplay moments which can stop you from moving forward in the game. They are game breaking in the sense, that you would find yourself stuck sometimes and a restart is the only option, but none of them were repetitive (at-least for me). But its apparent lack of Quality control is troubling because of its obvious smaller scope than your normal LEGO affair. Now I think it’s the testing team at Traveler’s Tale which is lazy.
The load times too are a bit on the longer side, so plan your activities in a particular section well, and try to move between locations as little as possible. On the flip side, long loading times let you take a satisfactory bathroom/drinking break. SAID NO GAMER EVER.
Graphically, the game does not do poorly, and maintained stable rates, even when there was a lot of stuff happening on the screen. The on-rail shooting could have done with better color selection and maybe less background noise, and boss fights could have looked better, but I was not overtly concerned with my LEGO game running at smooth 60 fps (which it did not, that was a joke).
Soundtrack wise there is not a lot to talk about. Though there are some patches where the game would go mute and then just come back after a while, making you think its your headphones. The voice-acting is decent, and I sincerely believe that just like the cut-scenes they would have re-used some of the lines from the movie too.
Free from the bonds of an external license, The Lego Ninjago Movie Videogame tries out some new mechanics and for most part they work out well. The game both benefits and is hurt by the trademark LEGO game development, but it is an acceptable middle ground between photo-realistic AAA and pixel shaded indie.