LEGO: The Ninjago Movie Videogame (Xbox One Review)
Since the days of my youth, LEGO games have besieged the games market with their formulaic gameplay, cheery demeanour and simplistic style. Chances are if you’ve had a child within the past ten years, you’ve played a LEGO game. And it doesn’t look like LEGO have any intention of stopping with their latest entry, LEGO: The Ninjago Movie Videogame.
As the name suggests, LEGO: The Ninjago Movie Videogame works as a tie-in for the movie, a new licensed property, and a neat way to promote the actual LEGO sets. It’d seem unlikely that LEGO would choose a title like this to make changes with, but perhaps they saw the movie tie-in as a perfect chance to change gameplay to some degree.
Thanks to my 6-year-old son, I am uniquely knowledgeable about the LEGO Ninjago franchise. We’ve sat together all through the adventures of Kai, Jay, Zane, and Cole and I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve actually really enjoyed it. It’s weird how good it is. Maybe I have Dad brain.
But this isn’t quite the LEGO Ninjago we know. Instead of sticking with the established Ninjago lore, LEGO has decided to make some pretty significant changes to the setup. This includes stripping out the existing voice actors for more well-known names, switching up the roles within the known characters and, most confusingly, turning Garmadon from a conniving evildoer to a goofy and whimsical one.
Then again, it’s not so fair to criticise the game based on decisions made in the film that it’s merely following the lead of.
Just like the other LEGO Movie videogame, LEGO: The Ninjago Movie Videogame loosely traces the story of the film with gameplay interspersed with clips from the movie. The basics of the gameplay are mostly intact, you move from arena to arena fighting and solving puzzles to move forward, but there has been a switch in focus. The game is tilted in favour of combat over puzzles with a whole new combat system with special moves, combinations, and finishers. This new focus is complemented by the addition of a reasonably beefy upgrade system that lets you improve your moves to give more pegs or do more damage.
The puzzles aren’t gone for good though, just simplified. Whereas in previous LEGO games you may have 3 or 4 steps to complete before you can proceed, LEGO: The Ninjago Movie Videogame typically has 1 or 2. And they seem to be a lot more clearly marked out. Put it this way: I’ve had to closely monitor my kid playing LEGO so I can jump in and do puzzles for him in the past. LEGO Ninjago really doesn’t need me to do that. So, the gameplay is laid out fairly clearly at this point, let’s move on to presentation.
Let’s face it, LEGO games have never been particularly beautiful in terms of their visuals. The sense of style is consistent but the tech just isn’t there, and that’s only been slightly improved for LEGO: The Ninjago Movie Videogame. The visuals are crisp and the characters and environments have convincing miniature scratches and marks on them, but there’s still something missing in detail. One moment the characters look crisp and believable, the next they look like a relic from the 360 days.
It’s fine though, this is a LEGO game after all. All the characters are little plastic toys with stickers on them who run around stiffly punching each other. What’s less fine is the performance issues involved. LEGO Ninjago has some bizarre problems with framerate, in that the frame rate will plummet into single digits for extended periods of time for seemingly no reason ever now and then. These bouts eventually smooth out, but it kills the experience and they normally last for a good few minutes.
On top of that the framerate is generally not very good on Xbox One. It mostly hovers somewhere between 20fps and 30fps, making gameplay feel juddery and sometimes unresponsive. Although this is something that could potentially be fixed with a patch.
Furthermore, there are also issues in the playback of the movie scenes which occasionally suffer from stuttering. Although these cutscenes are otherwise crisp, clear and smooth in playback–completely lacking the horribly poorly mixed audio of the previous LEGO Movie game.
The music and voice acting are solid, featuring performances from the cast of the movie for the most part, including Jackie Chan, who does a fantastic job impersonating Sensei Wu from the TV series. Although, it does make you wonder why they went to the trouble of getting Jackie Chan to pretend to be the original voice actor instead of just hiring the original voice actor.
But the real test of all this is not how a 30-year-old man experiences LEGO Ninjago but how the game and film’s core audience does. I’ve played a lot of this with the help of my son and can confirm from his own words that is a great game by the standards of a 6-year-old. Since we first booted it up, he’s been asking to play it in every spare moment of his life and getting worryingly animated about his enthusiasm when we eventually say yes.
It’s barely worth mentioning but there is also competitive multiplayer in LEGO Ninjago, although I found it far too baffling to really be able to play properly. Dominic and I certainly had fun playing with bots or with 4 players, although, again, I wasn’t sure how or why I won or lost. The primary issue with this is that the combat system, updated though it may be, is not very well suited for PvP combat. But it doesn’t take away from the joy you can get from the main game and adds some extra playability.
It’s still held back by the formulaic nature of the LEGO franchise, but LEGO: The Ninjago Movie Videogame is a great addition to the franchise that changes just enough to make it feel fresh. It’s excellent news for kids and even fun for old men like me. It comes highly recommended, unless you really hate fun.