Meet Lord Garmadon. Impatient, impulsive, and completely self-absorbed, the evil warlord won’t stop attacking Ninjago City until he manages to take it over with his Shark Army – even if none of his attempts have ever been successful. And then there’s Lloyd (“La-loyd”) Garmadon, his son. Shunned by the citizens of Ninjago City thanks to his dad’s ruinous behaviour, little do they know that he is part of a secret ninja force mentored by Master Wu that works tirelessly to protect the city when it is in danger.
It is the estranged relationship between these two characters that drives the big-screen animated adventure, which TT Games has once again rebuilt one brick at a time in The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game. With Nya, Jay, Kai, Cole, Zane, and Master Wu pummeling the Shark Army into submission at your side, the ninja must once more rush to defend Ninjago Island.
Those that have played The LEGO Movie Video Game will partly know what to expect, the developer producing an adventure packed with high-flying kicks, brick-building, and puzzles that treads as closely as it can to the script – throwing in clips snipped from the movie for good measure. As always, it will be worth heading to your local cinema to watch the movie before playing the game – unless you aren’t worried about spoilers.
If there’s one way in which this coming of age tale has immediately improved the standard LEGO experience, it is in character growth. That sprouts from the ninja’s naivety early on – a mistake soon leading to their defeat at Lord Garmadon’s (four) hands after which Master Wu sends them on a journey to discover their inner balance so that they can unlock their elemental Spinjitzu powers.
This quest lends TT Games enough scope for the characters to evolve over time, no longer being a roster with static abilities that we have seen up until now. That comes in the Spinjitzu powers – elemental-based abilities that each character can draw upon, whether used for burning chains, electrifying switches, or filling containers with water. These aren’t available from the get-go and the journey to unlock them, as with the film, is a meaningful one that’s filled with heartwarming life lessons – especially for younger players. It’s a clear step in the right direction, as is the camaraderie between characters as they pool their new abilities to overcome the challenges before them.
That evolution also comes into play with combat. Where LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens had introduced cover-based Blaster Battles, The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game throws in several ninja arts for players to master: The Art of the Striking Rabbit is your standard fisticuff kerfuffle; The Art of the Rushing Boar will let you slam directly into an enemy; The Art of the Floating Butterfly will let you dive kick at them from the air; The Art of the Swooping Hawk see you slam the ground to hurt multiple enemies; The Art of the Stinging Bee lets you mercilessly whack a dazed enemy multiple times; The Art of the Skyward Dragon launches an enemy into the air to pummel; and The Art of the Thinking Elder lets you stun your opponents.
These combat techniques can be upgraded, with players regularly rewarded with Ninjanuity tokens for their wise and courageous acts. The tokens are used on the Wall of Ninjanuity, on which scrolls hang that have upgrades for each technique. Unlock all upgrades for a particular technique, and you will become a Master of that art and be rewarded with new parts to use in the Character Creator.
The fluidity in battling the Shark Army carries across the to how you traverse the wide, open-world environments in Ninjago Island. Whether running along and up walls, swinging across chasms with a grapple, or leaping between narrow beams, The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game makes you feel like a ninja, and it’s all the better for it.
Gone, too, is the stud count in each level. It is replaced with a True Ninja Level that ranks up with every stud that you collect in the game, and, once a new rank is reached, will reward players with a Gold Brick and new character parts. Collectables are still up for grabs, with players free to hunt out Gold Bricks, Ancient Scrolls, and LEGO Minifigure packets on their journey.
There’s more content to keep players occupied away from the story, too. Completing a story level will unlock new Races and Quests, Challenge Dojos provide a chance to hone your combat skills and reward players who can take down their classic Ninjago villains, Gold Bricks will let you open Mystical Doors to reveal new areas, and Battle Maps present a competitive split-screen local multiplayer mode for up to four players.
There are three modes in Battle Maps: stealing each other’s flags in Samurai Showdown; collecting artefacts in Mystic Bounty; and hunting down and keeping hold of the Ultimate Ultimate Weapon in, well, Ultimate Ultimate Weapon. With power-ups thrown in to allow for more unpredictable moments, these are borrowed from LEGO Dimensions but are a welcome chance to get more players in on the brick-busting action.
If there’s one area where The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game suffers on Nintendo Switch, it’s in presentation. Ninjago Island has been built with a colourful and distinct style, but performance issues can hamper your enjoyment – whether that be long load times, an inconsistent frame rate, or wayward animation. I’m not sure whether we’re still at the point where TT Games are working out what limitations there are with the hardware, but it’s rough around its blocky edges and a little more optimisation is needed.
There’s plenty of promise on display in The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game‘s heroics, easily amounting to the ninja’s best adventure after some, admittedly, painfully average handheld escapades. Fans of the movie won’t want to give it a miss, but technical hiccups keep it from achieving a greater sense of inner peace. Ninja, go!
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment