It was the whimsical medieval fantasy of the LEGO Castle set that captivated my imagination many moons ago, Saturday morning children’s programmes interspersed with adverts that saw saintly knights leading the charge against an admittedly timid-looking dragon.
LEGO has been inspiring generations for decades and while delving into licensed properties such as Star Wars, Batman, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Toy Story, they’ve also looked to conjure their own ideas with Bionicle, Hero Factory, City and, more recently, Legends of Chima. Ninjago is another string to their bow, a feudal Japan-inspired creation that has now sprung itself into more modern territory with weaponised technology and robotic enemies. The line’s success has been spearheaded by accompanying animated series LEGO Ninjago Rebooted, and with the steady appeal of the family-friendly brick-by-brick video game conversions have now spawned a second outing.
With TT Games wrapping up their work on LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham, it falls to Canadian studio Hellbent Games to build handheld adventure LEGO Ninjago: Nindroids. Having cut their teeth on LEGO Battles, LEGO Battles Ninjago and LEGO Friends, this is a realm not entirely unfamiliar to them, although still results in an experience that doesn’t quite strike with ninja precision.
Tracing the early episodes of LEGO Ninjago Rebooted, players are tasked with flip kicking their way through thirty-something levels as the Masters of Spinjitzu. New Ninjago City has fallen under threat from the Overlord, who had unknowingly survived his fateful encounter with the Golden Ninja. Now reborn as the Digital Overlord, the city is swarmed by his Nindroid army and their robotic leader General Cryptor. Garbed in new ninja attire, honed with their elemental affinities, and wielding the new Technoblades, it falls to Lloyd, Kai, Jay, Cole and Zane to regain control and save its citizens.
Fans will appreciate just how faithful LEGO Ninjago: Nindroids is to the source material with animated cutscenes helping to bring the narrative to life, while additional characters such as Nya, Sensei Garmadon, Samurai X and PIXAL round out the somewhat concise roster. As you work through the Story mode, you will flit between each character with the usual promise of returning in Free Play to dominate enemy Nindroids as your preferred Spinjitzu warrior.
Expectedly aimed toward a younger audience it is unsurprising to discover that LEGO Ninjago: Nindroids presents minimal challenge throughout its entirety. Combat is rudimentary, sometimes calling on you to clamber on the back of mechs to rip out their circuitry, while puzzle elements are simplistic and don’t recall the formula concocted for the mainstay titles.
Levels themselves are bite-sized owing to the game’s portable nature, and each challenge you to earn 10 Gold Bricks. The parameters for clinching these range from simply finishing the level, destroying certain enemies, or collecting the elusive Red Brick. That each level also has a Gold Brick tied to completion within a specified time limit, usually a three-minute countdown, only raises awareness of how short the experience lasts.
Vehicular levels are LEGO Ninjago: Nindroids‘ only saving grace, sitting you behind the Ninjitzu’s Ninjacopter, Earth Mech, Kai Fighter, Thunder Raider, and Golden Cycle. But even these fail to produce enough spark to elevate what otherwise feels like a bland and rather lifeless adventure. It will only be those dedicated enough to unlock every Gold Brick that will fight through this limited lifespan, with little need to replay levels.
We can savour the humour, but this is ultimately a game that will only find appreciation among the young fans that pour their enthusiasm behind the Ninjago brand. Too simplistic for older players and lacking enough complexity to sufficiently challenge young minds, it falls far short of expectation – failing to meet the lofty standards that the LEGO games have now reached.