The Lego Ninjago Movie Game Review

By Blair Nokes on October 2, 2017

Traveler's Tales have been doing a tremendous job lately with the Lego Franchise for video games. Their own unique installments like Lego City Undercover, Lego Batman 2, and Lego Marvel Superheroes, all tend to be several notches above the level of quality that coincides with Movie-to-Game tie-ins like the Lego Movie game, or Lego Marvel Avengers. The biggest difference tends to be the shift from grandiose, open-world sandbox styled games into more linear structures to emulate the course of the movie, or in Avengers' case, the sequence of movies tying the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Lego Ninjago is a property I'm not all to familiar with, however the recent movie trailer seemed to be as hilarious as last year's Lego Batman movie. Naturally, a movie-tie-in would follow, and to be perfectly honest I went in expecting to find something along the lines of past Lego Movie Tie-ins. I was pleasantly proven wrong. The Lego Ninjago Movie Game, purely from a core gameplay standpoint, is one of the better Lego games to come out.

The central plotline is a rather fragmented retelling of the film, with a focus on Lloyed (the Green Ninja) and his connection to the game's (and movie's) main antagonist - Lord Garmadon. In a very Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers kind-of way, six teenagers are "hired" by Master Wu to become ninja heroes at night, defeating monsters and riding dragons to protect the far-away land of Ninjago.

I'll be frank here, and say the story is on par with the other Lego Movie Tie-Ins, which is unfortunate. It certainly doesn't stray into the mess that Avengers was, but it still doesn't quite do the actual movie justice. Instead, it's very loosely told to establish the context of where certain levels begin. That being said, if you haven't checked out the movie before playing the game, you won't notice the inconsistencies, though I wouldn't exactly recommend playing it before seeing the film. The main story is incredibly short, taking up about 6 hours worth of playtime.

The real reason why Lego Ninjago stood out to me was the tremendous core gameplay. Most Lego games, at their core, have been mindless button-mashers. Some games have elevated the concept - introducing finishers and quick-time events. With Ninjago, Traveler's Tales have borrowed ever so slightly from hack-n-slash games, by incorporating some directional-input-based combos.

These are extremely simplistic, since at its core, it's designed for everyone in mind, and was never meant to be the next Ninja Gaiden. That being said, it certainly didn't go unnoticed that there is at the very least, a level of depth that hasn't been found in Lego games before, and it is quite enjoyable. The basic Y-Y-Y combo string became quite boring for me, and I found myself wanting to focus more on the air attacks, and flashy finishers. On top of that, but you earn items that allow you to upgrade each type of attack; that basic combo-chain for example can be upgraded to improve the number of studs enemies drop, while other attacks can boost their range.

I really liked the attention to detail Traveler's Tales gave to the overall combat in Lego Ninjago, especially since this is a game dealing with Ninjas. The game also adds on-rails segments where you get to pilot Lloyd's green dragon mech.

These were certainly fun portions of the game that were nicely spaced between the typical Lego formula of going to places that need building, or certain characters' abilities to get to the next part. One unfortunate drawback regarding the on-rails segments was that there seems to be a noticeable slowdown in the game's framerate during these parts. As the game stutters, you may miss your shot at a certain enemy, or you may not be able to dodge an attack in time as a result.

This is purely based on my experience with the Nintendo Switch, though I hear there are similar instances of framerate issues with the other platforms. I wasn't planning on writing it off as due to any technical limitations that the Switch may have, especially when Lego City Undercover - a much, much larger game in comparison, ran near seamlessly.

The rest of the game's visuals are fairly well done, and are at the level one can expect from any given Lego game at this point. Since the critically acclaimed Lego Movie hit theaters, Traveler's Tales have done a great job emulating the stop-motion feel with regards to how the Lego people move and act. As expected, the building portions in Lego Ninjago are nicely done, with a fair amount of unique creations they have you do. The fighting animations were spectacular at times, giving a great sense of choreography, while still retaining its Lego-essence.

Final Thoughts

The Lego Ninjago Movie Game may not stand tall as one of the best Lego games as a whole, but its innovations with regards to its core gameplay and combat are definitely its selling points as a game. It chose to adopt from other hack-n-slash formulae rather than reusing their tried-and-true button-mashing found in previous Lego entries, and thoughtfully included additional combo material that, while elementary at its core, still provided a different experience from past Lego games. Unfortunately the game has some notable slowdown in action-heavy portions, and in larger environments, which is a shame given the level of fidelity other sandbox Lego Games were able to achieve. That being said, I had a genuinely pleasant experience with Lego Ninjago, and it's a fun, albeit short experience with Ninjas and awesome Mech Dragons.

The Lego Ninjago Movie Game was reviewed using a Switch Digital Copy provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
Great combat system.
Traveler's Tales have really nailed the "stop-motion" feel to character movement.
The whole experience is rather short.
Noticeable framerate hiccups during action-heavy portions and larger environments.
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