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The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game

Score: 82%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Traveller's Tales
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 4 (Local)
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ Platformer (3D)

Graphics & Sound:

The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game is another well-orchestrated LEGO title from TT Games as they take the plot of the third LEGO Movie and put players in the middle of the action. The tried and true formula TT Games has used in their titles is present in Ninjago, but there are enough new details that not only help to make this Ninjago-specific, but could easily help to improve future games in the franchise.

The graphics of the game look good, but there are several different visual qualities noticeable throughout the game. For one, there are many clips taken directly from the movie. These are highly-detailed and almost look like actual LEGO pieces. The next level down is cutscenes made specifically for this game in order to fill in some of the gaps between the game's more detailed story and that of the movie. While these don't look as good as the feature film's clips, they still look pretty good, but there is a distinct difference between both the higher-quality video and the slightly lower-quality gameplay graphics.

That's not to say that the in-game graphics aren't good. On the contrary, they really do a solid job of conveying a massive LEGO world, it just doesn't come off quite as well as the cutscenes. Unfortunately, I did notice several instances where the game seemed to chug when there was too much happening on-screen. This was rare, but it happened, and typically only when there were a lot of studs lying around with several enemies running about and even some extra effects in the background like a building on fire.

Ninjago's sound department definitely gets the job done. It's not clear if the actors from the movie were able to reprise their roles for the extra dialogue in the game, but if not, then the voice actors that are standing in for their big-screen counterparts sound right, which is really important given how frequently the game shifts between actual clips from the movie and game-specific clips. A sudden change in voices between the two segments would be jarringly apparent, even to my untrained ears.

The game's music is also very fitting. The background tunes have the appropriate feel that seems to resonate with the odd East-Meets-West world that is Ninjago Island, while environmental sound effects set the mood appropriately. Everything from city sounds to jungle noises do their part to make each level feel unique and right.


Gameplay:

The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game follows the secret ninja force whose purpose is to stop the evil lord Garmadon as he tries time and time again to take over Ninjago City. Led by Master Wu, the team of Lloyd, Cole, Kai, Nya, Jay, and Zane have many skills and tools at their disposal, the least of which is a set of massive mechs that come in handy when Garmadon pulls out all the stops with a giant mech of his own.

Lloyd, embarrassed by his father's repeated attempts to take over the city, decides to use Master Wu's "Ultimate Weapon" to stop Garmadon once and for all. Unfortunately, the laser pointer summons a giant house cat that not only tears apart the mechs, but also starts destroying Ninjago City itself. The main bulk of the game's story involves the six ninja going on a quest in order to obtain the "Ultimate Ultimate Weapon" and learn inner peace so that they can unlock their elemental powers and Spinjitzu.

The game's story is spread across eight large levels that, when unlocked in Free Play Mode, become massive parts of the growing open world that the game takes place across. Unlike many past LEGO titles, the levels are not separated from the hub world, but are instead the next piece in the sprawling environment that is slowly unlocked. Of course, you can still replay the levels themselves with the set list of characters that the original story play used, but once Free Play is available for an area, any of minifigures can be used to reach odd locations or complete side quests in order to collect gold bricks or the various collectibles scattered across the island.

The Free Play areas also provide foot races as well as dojos where the ninjas will have to fight wave after wave of enemies in the hopes of beating high scores in order to unlock new characters.

The blended open-world and story level structure that The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game uses really adds an interesting dynamic. In past games, the hub world and the levels were very discreet and different areas, but having them overlap like they do makes the world feel more intertwined and as character abilities become unlocked, you can open doors and passageways in the open world to better connect parts of the levels to make it easier to traverse the massive environment.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game also offers a new feature in its four player battle maps. This is the first LEGO game of this style to support four players, though it only does so in several competitive matches. The main game itself is still the classic drop-in/drop-out two-player format.


Difficulty:

The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game is a casual hack-and-slash game that isn't all that hard to get to the end of the story. But, like most LEGO games, the story is only half the battle... like literally, when I completed the last story mission, the game told me I was 49.9% through the game. As Free Play areas are unlocked, so is the ability to access a plethora of collectibles that are often tricky to get and getting that final 50% leads to some tough situations where you can see your goal, but have to figure out exactly how you are supposed to get to it, especially when it's something like a gold brick just stuck in a nook on a wall several stories up.

One good thing about completing the story, though, is that you should have unlocked your characters' full fighting potential. When the game starts, Master Wu teaches you about several fighting combos that can deal massive amounts of damage. As you play through the levels, you will be awarded tokens that can be used to enhance these moves and add enhancements like more damage, longer after-effects, more studs or higher combos. While you can choose how you want to spend your tokens as the story progresses, by the time you've settled the score with Garmadon, all of those skills should be maxed out and your characters should be at the peak of the fighting abilities, thus making the waves of enemies you will face both easier to take down, and more fun to hack through.


Game Mechanics:

The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game offers many of the mechanics that past LEGO titles have boasted, but there are several additions this time around that I found made some subtle but pivotal changes to the overall gameplay experience. For one, the ability to open or interact with certain areas wasn't completely reliant on having a certain character on-hand, but instead it was based a lot on how far into the story you had progressed.

Early on, you gain access to all six of the ninjas, but until they learn how to use their elemental powers in the story, you can't use them in Free Play. This is a small difference, but it did help to regulate how quickly you get into all of the nooks and crannies of the world until you actually completed the entire story. Even then though, you don't gain access to all of the abilities you need to get through every locked door the game presents. Skills like being able to dive underwater, possess objects as a ghost, hack into computers, or blow up silver blocks could be left inaccessible for quite a while after completing the story unless you figure out who you need and how to unlock that character.

As is always the case with TT Games' LEGO titles, The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game is a fun but casual experience that provides a ton of gameplay time, especially if you work to explore everything the wide open world has to offer and you 100% the game. If you've had any experience with this series of games or any interest in the Ninjago franchise, then you will find this an entertaining experience for both the young and young-at-heart.


-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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