The LEGO franchise has been a dominant presence in the video game realm for a while now, but only recently has it begun dipping its toes into movies. The LEGO NINJAGO Movie Video Game combines both worlds, simultaneously debuting its ninja franchise on the big screen as well as the PlayStation 4.
With well over a dozen games based on licensed properties now, the gameplay of LEGO games has almost been boiled down to a science for developer Traveller's Tales. However, with the Ninjago franchise it's taken a slight departure from most of its other games. While most LEGO titles have a combination of puzzle solving and combat, with more emphasis on the former, Ninjago flips this around to take full adventure of the characters' ninja skills. Most of the game will see you fighting through hordes of the evil Lord Garmadon's minions or traversing environments parkour style.
This increased focus on combat has also brought with it a much more enjoyable combat system. No matter which one of the 101 characters you're controlling you're able to move fluidly from enemy to enemy and chain a multitude of attacks together. It's quite reminiscent of the Batman Arkham series' free flowing combat, and it shares the exact same focus on building up large combos as you jump from enemy to enemy. These combos also bring with them the added advantage of applying a multiplier to the studs you collect for a brief time, which is handy for players who are into collecting every single gold brick and achieving the True Ninja ranking.
There are also a surprising amount of moves in every character's arsenal, with each one getting at least one or two techniques to help them feel unique. Traveller's Tales even shepherd players towards these fleshed-out move sets by introducing enemies that can't be defeated by spamming one type of attack, forcing you to explore the moveset and experience different approaches.
Similarly, the parkour traversal throughout levels controls much better than many other games that try to implement the same thing. Here you'll find that when making jumps onto ledges and to the top of poles. your character will snap into place if you jump close enough to the spot. This completely prevents those finicky deaths where you feel like the game wants you to be far too precise, and allows you to put together fluid sequences where you'll combine these jumps with wall running and swinging from grappling hooks. Moving throughout levels makes you truly feel like a ninja.
Despite more of a focus on combat, the classic building mechanic and puzzles are still present throughout Ninjago. The puzzles definitely take a backseat though, both in terms of frequency and difficulty. Most of the puzzles you come across in the second half of the game merely require you to select the correct character and use their special Spinjitzu power to remove a roadblock. This change will undoubtedly frustrate some fans of the LEGO games, but the aforementioned quality of the combat more than makes up for the lack of challenge in the puzzles.
Collectible and unlockable staples of the series like gold bricks and a plethora of characters are present, while there are also Challenge Dojos for each of the game's eight levels. These dojos are designed to fully test your grasp on the combat and are a great addition, giving the game more life after the end credits roll.
Unfortunately, Ninjago isn't without a few problems. Firstly, we ran into a couple of technical issues, the most glaring of which is the load time when starting the game up. It takes over a minute to load into the overworld, and then you have to enter the next level where, again, it takes well over a minute for the level to load. Fortunately, while you're actually playing, the load times are much quicker, although we did see significant framerate drops in a couple of areas. Lastly, the final level and game's ending are extremely anti-climatic, so much so that we initially thought the game had somehow glitched and we'd skipped over the last portion. Sadly that wasn't the case.
The LEGO NINJAGO Movie Video Game is another good entry in the LEGO series of games. The increased focus on combat pays off with a fleshed out system that makes each character feel unique, while the free-running provides enough safety nets to keep you from getting frustrated. Despite a couple of technical hiccups and a poorly thought out ending, LEGO NINJAGO has so much going for it that the overall experience isn't dampened.