Our favourite bunch of ninjas return from the screen to the palm of our hands in LEGO Ninjago: Shadow of Ronin. Facing a new threat will our heroes save the day and bring peace to Ninjago? Will Jay find his pants? Read on to find out!
Based on the TV show LEGO Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu, the land of Ninjago is under attack from a new threat going by the name of Ronin. With his army of dark samurai Ronin has stolen the ninjas memories using an ancient weapon, the Obsidian Glaive. It is up to you to help the ninjas reclaim their elemental powers and memories by finding their own Obsidian weapons in order to defeat Ronin before evil befalls Ninjago. Unlike previous entries in the series, Shadow of Ronin is a new original story that takes place after series four of the TV show, serving as a prologue to series five where Ronin will make his first appearance this summer. For fans of the series you will find all the familiar faces here as well as iconic locations such as the Toxic Bogs, Ice Temple and Chen’s Island. As well as the new villain you will also encounter old enemies like the Serpentine and Nindroids. For those unfamiliar with the series you can jump straight into the action and enjoy what’s on offer, however there are no deep introductions to the characters and world around you. Whilst this is not a major distraction it is always nice to have a bit of history and I would encourage you to watch the series if you can.
Personally this was my first experience with a LEGO game and so for a first impression I was humbly impressed. As you would expect from a game based on ninjas the experience is graced with beautiful oriental folk music, utilising flutes and string instruments typical of this genre. A majority of the tracks are tranquil and soothing but pick up to a more action packed tone when the heat is on, literally sometimes! The visuals themselves lived up to my expectations considering the platform and the world being made out of LEGO. The world offers a variety of locations, from vibrant green jungles, blazing volcanic lairs and chilling ice peaks, the rendering is solid and frame rates are quick and smooth. Of course the surroundings also offer objects made from LEGO bricks which can satisfyingly be smashed to pieces, flying into their varying pieces. Sadly there were times where I felt quality had been let down. A majority of the cutscenes were beautifully animated like the TV show itself, however there were some scenes where quality dwindled and mouths were not animated to the characters speech. Whilst these instances only made up a small fraction of the game, for me it just came across as lazy and was a little disappointing. The gameplay offers only one view, which will automatically change as you move about. There were some frustrating instances where I would get stuck and die, and the lack of viewing angles meant that sometimes what should have been landing safely on a platform, left me falling through the air to my peril. For those of you who love design, some extras include concept art that can be unlocked throughout the game, showing off the beautiful illustrations behind some of the series locations. When it comes to visual representation the PlayStation Vita is vastly superior, providing more depth and a higher quality experience over the Nintendo 3DS version.
LEGO Ninjago: Shadow of Ronin is a real mixed bag in terms of gameplay. Overall this is an action-adventure title, with platforms and puzzles thrown in. LEGO as a whole is enjoyed by fans from a variety of ages with no discrimination. Ninjago can be enjoyed by anyone in regards to storyline and the series humour, which at times can be a little cheesy but you cant help but have a giggle. This being said Ninjago could be considered more targeted towards younger audiences and in regards to gameplay the difficulty bar is set quite low. Younger players may find the puzzles quite challenging compared to more veteran gamers and puzzle lovers. When it comes to play time this would be one of the shortest games I have personally played. There are ten chapters to play through, with each chapter offering three levels, thirty in total. Depending on how challenging you find the gameplay this can easily be completed in under ten hours. The controls are simple and can be performed in two ways. Characters can be controlled through the analogue sticks and control pads. Actions can be carried out with the touch or hold of a button to execute a combo of moves. The PlayStation Vita’s touch screen controls can also be utilised to move around and interact by simply swiping or tapping the screen. However for us veterans with larger fingers it can prove to be a hindrance and offers less control. You traverse from one location to another via the world map where you can soar around on the back of an elemental dragon. From here you can fly to each location, make purchases from the shop and watch your favourite cutscenes. The world map also has its own set of challenges similar to that of the levels that you can complete between your adventure. What I love about this game is how everything you do contributes to the story in one big playthrough, providing an immersive experience.
Each chapter encompasses different stages of gameplay. A majority of levels offer free roam, where you will travel on foot over platforms. On your adventures you take control firstly with the four main ninja who each offer their own unique abilities. Kai controls the element fire and as such can get through fire hazards with ease and is handy with switches. Cole controls the element earth and posses immense strength, handy for necessary (and often unnecessary) destruction. Jay controls lightening and is a whiz when it comes to repairing objects or building from blueprints. Zane deals with ice, and as a nindroid he can see through technical issues and venture underwater for long periods of time. Characters can be switched at any point and you will need to use all of them in order to get past obstacles in your way. As you travel you can collect studs and breaking everything in sight allows you to collect even more. (Not that you need an excuse right?). By collecting studs you can purchase new characters from the series as they are unlocked. This is not necessary to complete the game, but some locations will require their particular expertise to collect hidden tokens, whilst others offer variations to change your characters appearance. As you purchase these characters you can replay levels in order to reach places that were blocked to you previously. Combat is straightforward with three ways to attack. There is basic physical combat, elemental moves and the ninjas master move Spinjitzu where you can use your elemental tornado across everything in your path and send enemies flying. Spinjitzu has a variety of practical uses not only in combat but in spinning on switches to move and reveal platforms, to combining all characters together to create the Tornado of Creation. This can be used to build equipment from your surroundings to beat those big foes! Speaking of big foes, as you progress at certain points you will encounter the terrible Ronin, where you will need to use your wide pool of talents and your thinking cap in order to bring him down.
Even ninja can get tired from jumping across poles, running across walls and flying through the air. Every so often a different style of play is required which will see you controlling giant mechs to stomp through the town, driving bikes through a volcano or flying jets or a dragon in a tunnel directed level. These offer a new experience from the standard play and often prove more challenging, needing quick reflexes and good aim. Now where would a LEGO game be without some construction (and destruction?) You will often need to destroy items around you in order to construct a means to progress, such as ladders. This will often mean destroying one or multiple objects around a location to piece together a new creation. Most of this however is constructed automatically at the hold of a button which leaves you feeling a little robbed. There are however instances where you can construct from a blueprint once components are found. This is like a mini game where you must identify and drag missing parts using the touchscreen over to the semi constructed object to complete the design. This is of course the closest you will get to LEGO construction, then again this is a game and not actual LEGO which is what this is based on in the first place… Aside from this mini game the gameplay is quite linear. Each level contains optional Gold Brick challenges that can be completed for what seems to be personal gratification which is good for all you completionists out there! These often include simply completing the level, finding all collectables or destroying something in one go. Perhaps more sought after are the Red Bricks which are hidden away in various levels. Once acquired these can be used to unlock and purchase various upgrades, from infinite Spinjitzu power to double stud value which is handy to help you make those all important purchases.
Overall I have surprisingly been won over by LEGO Ninjago: Shadow of Ronin. Until this I had not heard of Ninjago but now I find myself captivated by the story and have grown quite affectionate towards the characters. I have even started watching the TV show! This proves that this game is a good hit. Okay it may not be the longest, most challenging and visually stunning game on the market and compared to other mainstream LEGO titles, but it just gets you hooked! The simple gameplay makes it a great game to spend some leisurely time on, and like a good book once you pick it up it can be hard to put down. Of course I may be on the wrong side of the target audience, and younger kids may have a more challenging time with this but it is something that anyone can enjoy, be it yourself or your children. There is also great replay value, with a plethora of characters to unlock, challenges to complete and not to mention trophies you will need to play it again and again to obtain them all. I will certainly be interested in playing future Ninjago titles and it has opened me up to the plethora of other LEGO titles available. So go on and embrace your inner child or grant your children a fun experience!