The LEGO games have earned themselves a place in the hearts of gamers with their unique takes on the Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Harry Potter franchises. Their signature humor is something that has kept players coming back along with strong loyalties to their respective franchises.
LEGO Battles: Ninjago tries to capture that same humor on a smaller scale with the Nintendo DS while introducing new gameplay elements different from those in the previously mentioned titles.
This time though, it uses one of LEGO’s latest series Ninjago and bringing it to the Nintendo DS.
Very surprisingly, LEGO Battles: Ninjago plays less like LEGO: Star Wars as a simple platforming action title and more like Warcraft 3. Players take the stylus and control groups of characters in various missions defeating the Skeleton minions, helping various villagers, collecting special items or defeating large LEGO bosses. These levels are quick little bursts of gameplay that fit well with the portable platform.
At the end of each chapter, players also encounter a level similar in style to most standard RTS games. Players collect resources, build various structures and amass a tiny army to attack their opponent’s base. Due to the limitations of the platform, the resource management is limited to only one item and the army size isn’t very high.
Using the RTS system is an interesting approach to the LEGO franchise and seems more ideally suited for the DS than other platforms. There are issues with the simplicity of the controls however. Some times by clicking a target or having characters clumped together on screen will result in deselecting units. Map navigation becomes an issue as well since it can quickly become hard to reunite separated units in a timely manner. Luckily the game creates a Group option to quick select multiple units, though this doesn’t get explained anywhere in the game itself. It is refreshing to see a company still utilizing the game’s instruction manual.
One interesting piece of note is that the audience of LEGO Battles: Ninjago is younger than that of those who would purchase LEGO: Star Wars or LEGO: Indiana Jones as the Ninjago theme is something only people who play with LEGOs (i.e. America’s youth) or the parents of children who play with LEGOs. The gameplay of LEGO Battles: Ninjago is not exactly geared towards kids. It will be interesting to see if the game is able to find a cross-section of players who fit in to the appropriate age group for the property and are also skilled enough gamers to progress through it.
Story and Presentation
The story of LEGO Battles: Ninjago is a simple one. A sensei traverses the land with four ninja students to collect four mythical weapons to defeat the leader of the skeleton army. There isn’t much more to it. Don’t expect any big twists here. Because of how young the consumers who would be familiar with Ninjago are, the game is written much on the level of a Saturday morning cartoon and will quickly take a back seat for more mature players.
LEGO Battles: Ninjago still contains the signature LEGO humor people have loved from the previous games. As with other titles, it still takes place in cut scenes in between levels. These scenes depend on physical violence since the LEGO characters have no voices. They end up lacking the weight of jokes from other titles as players don’t have the same connection with the ninjas as they do with LEGO Han Solo or LEGO Batman.
The visuals of LEGO Battles: Ninjago rely on a classic sprite style, looking much like old school Final Fantasy characters, obviously with a LEGO twist. There isn’t much room for detail as the characters are small on screen which ends up giving the game a dated look. When compared alongside the game’s cutscenes which are beautifully rendered in 3D, the gameplay looks even weaker by comparison. The cutscenes look fantastic and play great on the DS with surprisingly great visuals for a system not known for its power.
The sound of LEGO Battles: Ninjago is basically a nonfactor in the game. Much like the graphics, the sound design is so simple, it feels dated and doesn’t match the complexity of the game’s gameplay efforts. Many times, there will be no sound effect at all to various attacks the players make.
LEGO Battles: Ninjago is not a bad game by any means, but it seems to lack direction. Having a complicated playstyle for a younger audience seems like a risky decision. Finding its audience will be the greatest trial for the title. On the same token, the graphics and story don’t bring much to the table to entice players either, resulting on a title reliant on gameplay. A word of warning to parents, if you have younger kids it is likely you are going to be helping them through the RTS based levels. Any players looking for a new title for their Nintendo DS before the 3DS takes full control of the portable platform market, this game is still worth checking out.
Developers: Hellbent Games, Travelers Tales
Publishers: TT Games, LEGO Group, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment