The ever growing collection of LEGO video games has become a mammoth in the industry. With over 50 titles to choose from, including both licensed and original properties, fans of the digital bricks have had a vast variety to explore. Showing no signs of slowing down, the latest game in the pantheon has made its way to the PlayStation Vita as LEGO Ninjago: Nindroids, providing plenty of ninja-based brick busting action.
Based on the Ninjago construction kits and TV series, the game follows a group of ninjas as they attempt to protect New Ninjago City from a villain known as The Overlord. In order to save their home, the ninjas must recover weapons called Technoblades and use them to protect the citizens from The Overlord's Nindroid army. As far as the original LEGO properties go, Ninjago isn't necessarily the most unique or entertaining, but the subject matter does lend itself well to an action-adventure game designed around its lore. As such, unlike previous LEGO games where puzzle solving and button mashing take precedence, this one has a stronger focus on combat and platforming, making for a truer adventure experience.
Jumping right into the action, most players familiar with the LEGO games will recognise that gameplay has remained almost entirely unchanged from previous titles that have appeared on the PlayStation Vita. Controls are tight, using the left stick and d-pad to control character movement and the handheld's geometric buttons to control the action. Special attacks and dodges are linked to the L and R shoulder buttons, making full use of the Vita’s physical inputs. The ability to jump has been added to this latest release, aiding the aforementioned emphasis on platforming rather than relying entirely on combat, but the majority of gameplay still sees you tapping the square button to no end in order to bust up baddies. The touchscreen is also used to complete some puzzles scattered throughout stages, adding an element of player interaction to the otherwise button-heavy experience, but the fact that this is still mostly a button mashing series with repetitive gameplay is becoming almost too apparent.
As with other recent portable LEGO titles, Ninjago: Nindroids employs the same isometric perspective that has apparently become the new standard. Each stage is mostly linear, allowing for a small amount of exploration in order to find hidden objects. Ten gold bricks can be earned in each stage for completing different tasks, some of which unlock new characters and enhancements that can then be purchased in the in-game shop, but collecting all of the gold bricks is not necessary to complete the game. Much like the level design, the stages advance in a straight fashion, unlocking in order as you complete the area before it. Playing through the campaign doesn’t take too long, easily completed in less than eight hours, but collectors and Trophy hunters will be sure to pour more time into this one on repeated plays through.
Despite linear level design, not every challenge can be completed with a single try in each stage. Completing certain objectives requires the use of different characters’ variant abilities – such as throwing projectiles or using a grapple – in order to collect every gold brick. Characters can easily be switched at will using the triangle button or via a virtual button on the console’s touchscreen, but not all characters and abilities are available right away. Collecting gold bricks allows you to unlock characters, but more characters are necessary to get every gold brick, so there is a required amount of replays, again, for the collectors and completionists among us.
LEGO Ninjago: Nindroids utilises the same art style that has consistently been used in previous LEGO games, opting for bright and colourful environments full of larger-than-life characters. The cinematic sequences look crisp on the Vita’s wide screen and gameplay looks impressive as well, managing to mostly stave off jagged edges for crisp lines and smooth animations. The game is also fully voice acted, further bringing life to yet another humorous and unique brick-based universe.
As fun and charming as the franchise has been, a big issue that these LEGO games face is that of consistency. It's not often that one would fault anything for identifying a winning formula and sticking to it, but this franchise churns out new entries so often that the games are becoming tedious. There's an undeniable amount of excitement when a new world receives the LEGO treatment, and there are plenty of classic properties that would be fun to explore (we're looking at you, Ghostbusters), but even with this appeal, the games don't make much of an effort to push forward. This is a fine game that plays well and is entertaining enough, but it does very little to move beyond what we've seen with the numerous previous LEGO titles.
LEGO Ninjago: Nindroids is the type of game that doesn’t reach above and beyond, but it does quite well with what it has. While other games in the illustrious LEGO catalogue can ride high on the backs of popular franchises, this one works on its own accord, and does it well. The gameplay has remained mostly unchanged from the titles that came before it – albeit with a slightly stronger emphasis on platforming than puzzle solving – but it fits well in the ninja themed universe where the story is set. Fans of the Ninjago construction sets and television series are sure to love being able to take control of their favourite heroes, but anyone simply looking for a new action adventure to play through may not be overly enchanted with this one.