Review: LEGO Ninjago the Movie Videogame
Surprisingly, not a quick cash-in
Platform: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Switch (reviewed)
Developer: TT Games
Publisher: WB Games
If there's one thing that seems to be common among impressions and reviews for LEGO Ninjago the Movie Videogame, is that it's surprisingly good. Which in itself is somewhat surprising, as LEGO games tend to usually be quite fantastic, no matter the brand or franchise their representing. However, I would also agree that when comparing the standard games to the ones like LEGO the Movie Videogame, it was obvious that that particular game wasn't nearly as thought out, long or even fun as other LEGO games such as the LEGO Batman series, the LEGO Marvel games, and even other ones based on popular movie trilogies. With that preconception lingering in my mind, I wasn't too optimistic about LEGO Ninjago, which also is directly based on the movie that released the same day.
However, like many others, I too was surprised at just how much TT Games has changed up for the sake of keeping things fresh. Best of all, it only takes a few minutes to see one of the best improvements, and it just gets better from there.
Lots of small changes add up to a better experience
Upon starting up your game, you're greeted with a combat tutorial, something that previous games never really needed thanks to their overly simplistic combat. Truth be told, as much as I love the LEGO game franchise, combat was always its weakest point, as it usually boiled down to simply mashing the button, and either you or the enemy will die, and then you just rinse and repeat. There was never really much strategy to it. LEGO Ninjago switches that up with specific moves. Now you have combos, jumping attacks, and parries that enemies actually adapt to, meaning you can't just rely on a simple button combo to get you through the game.
Enemies don't just stand there or run at you full force anymore. Now they know how to block, which means you have to counter with an attack like a ground pound. Sometimes airborne enemies will be lined up in a way where you can perform a jumping homing attack. Enemies will also flash giving you the ability to follow up with a flurry of attacks to deal some insane damage. Compared to the earlier LEGO games, the combat stands on its own.
If you're one of those players who dread giving the second controller to your small child out of fear you'll never hit that stud completion in a given level, well, let me ease your fears. You can go ahead and pass on that controller worry-free, as TT Games has finally tweaked this feature so it's no longer an annoyance. Your stud meter at the top of your screen now accumulates across levels. Once you fill it, it starts over again and reaching that goal awards you with some new unlockables. This is fantastic because you're no longer stressing about breaking every last piece of scenery while having an active 4x bonus from combat, just to make sure you're getting as many studs as you can to complete that meter. Instead, you can simply focus on playing the story, or better yet, focus on the much-improved combat.
There are also helpful upgrades you start earning fairly early on using Tokens that are awarded on a fairly regular basis. These tokens will unlock useful passives like doubling your stud pickups, extending your dash, increasing your damage, or giving you the ability to be a stud magnet, which out of LEGO context, wouldn't really be a kid-friendly perk.
You also no longer have to buy characters after unlocking them. As soon as the game tells you they're unlocked, you're able to play as them which not only makes more sense, it's also a lot more accessible to kids who immediately want to play as a new character after unlocking them, and now don't have to mindlessly grind studs to do so.
The rest is familiar territory
As far as the mechanics go, it's still a LEGO game through and through. You're still going through the familiar motions you've been going through for the past 12 years or so. Some of the features that are relatively new like the multi-build return here, giving you the option to build various structures in different locations by holding the stick in the desired location. There's also the Battle Arenas which I didn't particularly enjoy in LEGO Dimensions, but given the new combat update, they're well worth checking out, especially if you have more players to duke it out against.
The story, however, is standard movie tie-in
While I'm sure the movie itself is fine and entertaining, playing through it just doesn't feel as good as other LEGO games do, and the same could be said for The LEGO Movie Videogame as well. It's short, meaning you'll be able to beat it in a single sitting if you have a few hours to spare, and not really all that rewarding. The fun then comes from being able to fully explore those levels after beating them, giving you access to a slew of new challenges and hidden Gold Bricks to find.
This is awesome because unlike previous games that have a hub that connects various levels inside it, in this game, the hubs are the levels. If this was the structure of all the LEGO games moving forward, I'd certainly welcome it.
While LEGO Ninjago is certainly more aimed at a younger crowd, if you're a middle-aged gamer like myself who have enjoyed the vast majority of LEGO titles up to this point, then the added combat complexity and small tweaks to gameplay mechanics make this one worth checking out. I played the Switch version which is certainly the graphically inferior version, running at a lower framerate in handheld mode, and suffering from dips during hectic situations, overall I still had fun with this version. It's going to be the age-old question of, do you prefer portability over graphics, and if the answer's yes, then you certainly can't go wrong with the Switch version.