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Lego Ninjago The Game DS Review

16/07/2012 Thinking Story Gamer Review
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Lego Ninjago The Game DS

Lego Ninjago The Game




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Lego Ninjago The Game DS is a very light adventure that features some of the cutest ninjas ever, but delivers little in terms of ninja action.

Remember the 1980s, and all those problems with ninjas? Ninja related crimes were on the increase, to the point where ninja gangs kidnapped President Ronnie.

OK, that only actually happened in middling arcade game Bad Dudes vs Dragon Ninja, but nonetheless there was a big craze for all things ninja in the late 80s: useless American movies about ninjas, gamebooks about one-eyed ninjas, far too many ninjas in the GI Joe comics and, of course, videogames full of ninjas. Reader, I enjoyed all of them.

The appeal of these black-clad assassins for a pre-teen boy back then was in their mercilessness and their wide array of you-could-take-your-eye-out-with-that weapons.

They were amoral and violent, a suitably transgressive interest for a child, hence the BBFC banning certain ninja weapons from films rated for children, and the mutant turtles being re-branded as Heroes rather than Ninjas for sensitive UK audiences.

Over a quarter of a century later, and Lego have their own ninja-themed sub-range, Ninjago. Lego, the ultimate in wholesome, creative toys, having a ninja range. My childhood mind would boggle.

Lego Ninjago: The Game is the game of the toy of the historical assassin. Well, assasin is a bit strong. As is historical. Ninjago's child-friendly nature comes from the fact that it's rooted in pure, heroic fantasy rather than murderous reality.

These ninjas don't sneak into a Shogun's bedroom and knife them in their sleep, instead they go on heroic quests to retrieve sacred weapons to defeat a nasty skeleton army.

OK, in spite of the taming down of the ninja idea the skeleton army is actually pretty cool.

Warrior skeletons aside, Lego Ninjago keeps its ninja action at, if not arm's length, then the length of a stylus away - rather than giving the player direct control over sword and shuriken wielding ninjas, instead characters and units are selected with a stroke of the stylus, either individually or as a group, and set to a task through pop-up menu options.

Player involvement in combat is restricted to highlighting party members.

Menus? Doesn't sound like the usual Lego games, does it?

Well, it isn't. Although it's cosmetically similar to the more famous movie/comic tie-in Lego games developed by Traveller's Tales, and has the high quality of art and cutesy cut-scenes that you'd expect from that stable, beneath the surface Lego Ninjago belongs to a different genre than the action platformers the Lego brand is usually associated with.

Instead, developer Hellbent Games have delivered an RPG/strategy hybrid, involving a lot of steady exploration and the occasional level of realtime strategy.

The former sections are fairly insipid, unfortunately, with your party exploring small maps to harvest bricks, find objects and have the occasional hands-off fight with some skeletons. Player involvement in combat is restricted to highlighting party members and setting them either to offensive or defensive, and maybe setting them on a specific enemy.

Combat aside, negotiating the levels isn't much fun. Visibility is limited to an area around your characters, with a higher level of fog covering areas that have yet to be explored, which makes sense for a game where the camera can be dragged so far away from the characters, but which nonetheless feels like a stifling annoyance.

As for the realtime battle sections, I have to admit to staring at the screen, and the child friendly instructions, and back again. Blankly. This isn't a genre for me.

It's beautifully presented, but it just didn't deliver what I'd want from a ninja game.

Even leaving aside the Real Time Strategy element, I didn't find Lego Ninjago much fun. It's beautifully - and cutely - presented, as you would expect from a Lego game, but it just didn't deliver what I'd want from a ninja game - there's no sense of agility, of stealth, of awesome ninja awesomeness.

Now admittedly I'm thirty(mumblemumble) years old, and therefore a bit outside the target demographic for this game. For young Ninjago fans, this game might provide some fun, and a straightforward introduction to the RPG and RTS genres.

Older gamers looking for some serious ninja action will find Lego Ninjago too light and too dry.

Written by Mark Clapham

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Mark Clapham writes the Story Gamer column.

"I love a good story. Games tell many different stories: the stories told through cut scenes and dialogue, but also the stories that emerge through gameplay, the stories players make for themselves."

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