LEGO Ninjago has been sandwiched between LEGO Worlds, which released on the Nintendo Switch in early September, and Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2, which is scheduled to arrive in November. Knowing this, I kind of figured that Ninjago might be a quick cash-in; taking advantage of the hype surrounding the theatrical release of the movie it’s based on. Thankfully the game brings its own unique set of new elements to the Lego series, despite being dreadfully short.
If you’ve ever played a traditional Lego game before, you’ll be right at home here, since the overall structure of the game is similar. You play as a character from the Ninjago universe and are able to switch between the two “good guy” characters on the screen at any time. Of course a second player can drop in and join in on the fun at any time. There are puzzles to solve and combat to be had. However, the way these levels progress is a little different than recent past games. Instead of something along the lines of a hub world with completely linear levels to go through, each level is it’s own open world within the game. This really opens up the game world, but not to the extent of something like Grand Theft Auto or Breath of the Wild. It’s a refreshing change from the standard go from point A to point B level design seen in its predecessors.
The new open world nature changes some of the staples that we have come to expect from LEGO games. There is no longer a goal of getting a certain amount of LEGO studs in each level. Instead, an ongoing meter that allows you to upgrade your combat skills as you level up replaces this. You also no longer need these studs as payment to unlock characters either. Instead you will mainly find hidden ones throughout the worlds, which you can then unlock for free play mode. This adds some replayability to the areas, as you’ll have access to a different set of skills to reach areas you couldn’t before.
All of these minor changes give the game a fresh feel when compared to prior LEGO games. Perhaps the biggest change is the combat. It’s been revamped for more exquisite moves, and in fact in many ways reminded me a bit of the Batman Arkham series. You begin with a basic set of skills at the start, but as you take on challenges in the various dojos throughout the game you’ll learn new techniques. Most of the game you can mindlessly button mash, but there are some enemies that will block your punches or have equipment on, which will force you to use at least some minor strategy. Nothing was too complicated or deep, but it did add some fun variety to the combat.
Typically some of the best parts of the LEGO games are their humorous stories. While there are some comical scenes, the story itself is just really lacking. The game paints a very black and white picture of “these are the good guys and these are the bad guys”, but it never really went deeper than that. The story sort of jumped all over the place, making me wonder if the holes are filled in by the movie. This could be one of those games that are better played after seeing the movie it’s based on. To make things worse, the game has a very short story mode, meaning the real meat of the game comes in replaying the stages with different characters in free play. Most people will be able to see the ending in about four hours or so.
LEGO Ninjago is a little tricky for me to recommend at full price. The length of the game and content just doesn’t seem as deep as many other games including most previous LEGO games. However, I did find it to be a very fun game with some new variety that really made the game feel fresh. Assuming you see the movie and enjoy it and you can find a good deal on the game’s price, then it’s totally worth a purchase. I’d like to see some of these new combat mechanics placed into future LEGO games and despite the game’s flaws I really had a great time.