What’s this? Another LEGO game coming out for the Vita? It seems as though the folks over at TT Games and Warner Bros. Interactive have started to hit their stride with these games and are really starting to crank them out. It feels like I just finished LEGO Marvel Super Heroes and LEGO The Hobbit when suddenly I discover that LEGO Ninjago: Nindroids has come out.
It’s becoming quite clear that the developers for these games have stumbled upon a formula for how all the LEGO games are going to play out, and they’re sticking to it. So how does LEGO Ninjago: Nindroids fare? Where does the formula work and where does it not? Let’s take a closer look.
The Overlord is back, and he has his eyes set on conquering New Ninjago City. Or rather, he has his electronic/digital sensors fully trained on the city since he has been digitized and is trapped in a computer world. Therefore he has brought forth an army of robot ninjas to do his fighting for him (plus a few other tricks up his sleeve).
To stop him, the city calls upon its heroes, the Spinjitsu Masters, who are four highly skilled ninja warriors who each possess a unique set of skills. Together with their sensei Garmadon and a robotic assistant named PIXAL, they will fight across rooftops and into ancient forests to uncover the Overlord’s secret plan.
And then there’s something about technoblades and a kid who is known as the Golden Child and then… suddenly there’s a giant mechanical dragon trying to kill you, but it’s cool because you eventually find yourself in a spaceship blowing up enemy helicopters as you race through the city. Oh, and then in one level you have this huge mech suit to fight other giant mechs. Wait, what? How did I get here?
Ok, so the story here is kind of a mess. It follows the plot of the TV series, but if you don’t know what’s going on before you start the game, then you’re going to have no idea what is happening while you are in the game. It does very little to ease you into the story. Much like the other LEGO games, you get snippets of the story, but unless you’re familiar with the source material, you’ll feel completely lost. The good part is that understanding the story isn’t all that necessary to enjoy the game.
The gameplay is the standard LEGO affair and features an isometric view of the world and numerous objects to smash. Navigating the world revolves around the Ninjago Hub. This is the central area where you can choose to progress through the different levels, visit the shop to unlock special items and characters, or take a trip to the dojo to engage in a series of combat challenges.
The main story of the game is structured like most of the other recent LEGO games. You play through a level, which lasts just a few minutes, and as you’re beating up evil ninja-droids you’re also trying to complete a series of tasks to earn gold bricks. Each level will have ten challenges. They range from completing the level in a certain amount of time to finding hidden objects. After you earn these gold bricks you will then be able to unlock special items that can be found in the store.
After you finish through your play through of the campaign, you unlock the free play mode which allows you to go back and pick up any of the gold bricks you were not able to get the first time. Here you get to choose which hero you play as and can then swap between a number of them throughout the level. One downside to free play in Nindroids is that you get to pick only one character who is guaranteed to be in the group you can choose from, the others are randomly assigned. So if you needed to play through a level with a certain set of characters, there’s a good chance that some of them might not get be available.
Also sticking with a change that the LEGO games have seen recently, you will only have one character on the screen at a time. Unlike the older LEGO games which gave you two heroes to constantly swap between, here you are on the screen all by yourself. There is still the option to switch to another character every so often, but that nice feeling of having a team mate with you at all times is gone. One nice fix they made was that the levels are not littered with various puzzles which require you to constantly swap between characters. That was one of my biggest complaints about LEGO The Hobbit, and fortunately it is no longer an issue here.
The problem that is does raise is that it makes each level feel very empty. The opponents will come at you one or two at a time, but the world just seems very lonely. Sometimes it’s hard to notice as you’re busy smashing up barrels and garbage bins searching for hidden LEGO studs, but most levels feel abandoned.
Controlling your character is fun, if not a little sluggish. Some characters are a bit quicker than others with their punches and dives, but you never have the greatest control over your ninja (and one level in particular intentionally makes the controls next to impossible to use). The imprecision in controls is also evident while traversing walls as it’s difficult to accurately choose the next handhold you want. They have also removed the use of the touchscreen to control your character.
One nice welcome return in Nindroids is that characters can once again jump (which is an ability that has been strangely absent in the last few LEGO games). It would be hard to imagine a game about ninjas without them being able to make master leaps, but stranger things have happened.
Visually the game is very similar to the other LEGO games that have come before it (are you detecting a pattern here?). The characters are faithful representations of their real life mini-figs and the world around them is full of charm. The game also runs very smooth with no noticeable slow downs or frame dips.
And while the visuals are charming, I really can’t say the same about the voice acting. For the most part, it’s all pretty bad, though I did get a few chuckles since the voice of Zane is a dead ringer for Zoolander. The music however is pretty decent. It features a mainly electronic and techno inspired score that is very fitting when smashing ninja robots to pieces.
So the controls are sluggish, the story is impossible to follow, and the voice acting is horrendous, but is LEGO Ninjago: Nindroids any good? Oddly enough, the answer is yes. If you’ve played and enjoyed any of the other LEGO games on the Vita (and liked them) then you will find a lot to enjoy here. A lot of this is due to the fact that so many of the levels do change the way the game is played. Some levels will have you fighting waves of oncoming robots while others will have you behind the wheel of a motorcycle screaming through a wooded forest. There are also levels where you control a giant mech or flying through the city in a tricked out starfighter. This level of variation helps to keep things fresh, and while it is extremely unclear as to why you’re suddenly in a mech suit, the act of playing it out is rather enjoyable.
LEGO Ninjago: Nindroids continues the tradition of LEGO games that provide fun and light gameplay in short bursts. If you’re a fan of the LEGO Ninjago series, this game offers a lot to enjoy. And if you’ve never heard of Ninjago, but still enjoy a easy-going romp through a world made of LEGOs, then there’s something here for you too (just don’t expect to understand what is going on). It does start to feel as though all the LEGO games are beginning to blend together and have a feel of sameness, but on it’s own, Nindroids kicks some robot ninja butt.