There is no shortage of LEGO games for the PlayStation Vita. In just a few years they have managed to push out no fewer than ten separate titles. In order to crank out that many games, there needs to be a formula in place. The problem is that after tweaking this formula with every game, some would turn out good and some would be… well, let’s just leave them in the bargain bin where they belong.
Now I don’t know what they’ve put in the water over at TT Fusion, but they struck gold with their last outing in LEGO Batman 3. I’m now happy to say that things have only improved with LEGO Ninjago: Shadow of Ronin. They’ve created a fun adventure that has something which is incredibly rare in any LEGO game: a story that you can actually understand. It’s truly amazing.The land of Ninjago is once again in danger and now a new threat has surfaced. A mysterious and dark samurai called Ronin has appeared to challenge the Ninjas. During their first battle, Ronin is able to steal the memories from our heroes: Jay, Kai, Zane, and Cole. Not only do they lose their memories, but they have also been sapped of their special elemental powers. They must now journey out on a quest to collect the magical obsidian weapons which will restore their memories and help them to finally defeat Ronin.
Along the way you’ll be able to take control of a giant samurai warrior, fly a dragon, and race bikes through all sorts of different environments. New friends will join the party and together you fight off an increasing array of different enemies. To all the LEGO fans out there, this will all seem very familiar. It’s the tried and true LEGO formula.
Shadow of Ronin follows the same structure as most other LEGO games. You smash objects, collect LEGO studs, and try to find all the collectibles. What this game gets right however are all the fine details that have been changed in the last few outings. Gone is the perma-death which results in you failing the level and having to start from the beginning. Gone is the need to collect Gold Bricks to advance the story. Gone is the isometric view. What remains is a frustration-free experience that provides fun combat alongside minor puzzles for a “best of both worlds” approach.
The island of Ninjago acts as the game’s hub world which you access by flying a mechanical dragon. Each of the game’s chapters are represented as buildings you fly to and additional areas are added as you progress through the game. Once in the hub you have free reign to travel where ever you wish and after beating a chapter, you can always return to try it again in free play mode.
Inside each chapter you get to visit a number of different locales that vary from fire worlds to ice temples to bogs made of toxic sludge. Each new environment presents different challenges that change up the way the game is played and as you unlock the Ninjas’ elemental powers, new ways to attack will open up.
Unlike some of the other LEGO games that tend to be collect-athons, Shadow of Ronin is grounded in combat. There is still the occasional collectible to find of course, but the missions are mainly focused on defeating waves of enemies. It’s very fitting for the Ninjago series. And whether you’re using Kai’s fire attack or Zane’s freeze ray (or the trademark spinjitzu move) there are plenty of different ways to take out Ronin’s forces.
The controls are very intuitive and work well. Triangle will switch the player you control. Square attacks (or hold it for the spinjitzu maneuver). Cross will jump and Circle initiates an elemental attack. But of course since this is a Vita game, you can also use the touchscreen to pretty do everything. I wouldn’t recommend relying solely on touch controls, but it is an option.
Very early in Shadow of Ronin I noticed something special and it really stood out to me through the rest of the game. The visuals in this LEGO game are about as good as they get. It became obvious in an early level when you’re in a prison and the level of detail in the environment was simply stunning. These great visuals become even more evident every time something explodes and a cel-shaded style smoke cloud goes up. It just looks so good. Add to this the fantastic character animations with a buttery smooth frame-rate and the result is a colorful feast of LEGO goodness.
To compliment the exceptional visuals, Shadow of Ronin also boasts fantastic audio work as well. The music is mostly slow and haunting (depending on the situation) but always with an Asian undertone that makes it fit in the world of Ninjago. The characters are all fully voice acted and are all done very well. There’s a good level of humor with jokes for young and old alike. Best of all, even if you know little (or nothing) about the Ninjago series, the story does a great job of easing you into things.
So what’s not to like? Honestly, there isn’t much. The only gripe I really have is that the hub world can be really difficult to navigate. The locations for where the different chapters can be accessed are not marked, and the only real way to find them is to fly around, hoping you stumble across it. It can be a bit frustrating, but it is offset with the fun of flying a fire-breathing mechanical dragon.
TT Fusion has once again knocked it out of the park with LEGO Ninjago: Shadow of Ronin. Fans of the series will find plenty to love in this new entry, and players who might have been turned off by some prior LEGO games (yes, I’m talking about LEGO Marvel for Vita. It was horrible) should come back to see how much better things have gotten.