Everyone knows the LEGO games by now. They are the ones which generally involve action and adventure, with characters from movies running around, smashing things up and collecting studs, right? Well, yes indeed. But there is also another type of LEGO game available on the DS – LEGO Battles.
The latest offering in this series is LEGO Ninjago: The Videogame which, for some reason, has dropped the word “Battles” from the title here in the UK. I am not sure why this has happened, although the more conspiratorial of you may suggest it having something to do with reducing the outward difference from the other type of LEGO game. Whatever the reason, the game has been launched alongside a new line of LEGO toys with the same name.
Although Ninjago is a real time strategy game, rather than action adventure, there are a number of similarities that carry through from the other games. The main similarity is the inclusion of collectibles, ensuring that the player keeps coming back for more. These include the famed mini-kits, the red bricks that unlock certain advantages and a huge cast of characters. Other common themes include the ability to smash most things up and collect the studs, which act as a form of game currency, and that the whole game is centered around a hub, which in this case is a Dojo.
It is from the Dojo that the player can access the different game modes, once they have worked through the short introductory tutorial. The player can enter the story mode area which gives access to both the Ninjago story and the opposing Skeleton campaign once it becomes unlocked. These story modes are set up in a recognisable format with the player passing through doors to gain access to the various chapters. Choosing the Battle Mode door will allow the player to compete in a number of different game types either against the AI or another player. Then there is the shop where the player can purchase the new characters they have unlocked, new maps for the Battle mode and various other bits and pieces.
The gameplay follows a similar pattern to pretty much every other real time strategy out there, from the earliest WarCraft title through to modern games, albeit on a very simple basis. Players use the d-pad to move the camera around the play area and select either individual units by tapping them or multiple by drawing a box around them. You construct buildings, collect resources, recruit units and send them off into battle, all with simple taps on the screen with the stylus. The gameplay is simple, aimed at maybe the younger gamer wanting to enjoy strategy on their handheld, but that doesn’t mean it is not fun for the more experienced player. It is actually quite enjoyable, offering a very old school feeling amongst a genre that has become more and more complex in recent years.
The story concerns two brothers, one good and one evil, who were left the four weapons of Spinjitzu by their father. Whilst one brother just wanted to protect the weapons, the other sought to possess them for his own evil gain. The resulting conflict ended with the evil brother being banished to the underworld and the good brother hiding the weapons. Now, complete with his Skeleton army, the evil brother is back and wants the weapons once more.
As a break from the story mode, the player can enjoy some of the skirmishes of the Battle mode, either alone or against another player. Within this mode there is plenty of variety and customisation choice, including creating an army from unlocked characters. There are six different types of skirmish available, including the basic Annihilation which involves wiping out your opponent, and Brick Race where players hurry to reach a target amount of resources.
So content-wise, there is a lot on offer here. But the game does have a few issues. Perhaps the most glaring of these is the graphical style. When I mentioned the original WarCraft game earlier as an example of the gameplay style, I should also have mentioned that the game doesn’t exactly look too dissimilar either. These are old-school graphics at their worst. Aside from being incredibly ugly, with the exception of the cut-scenes which offer the usual LEGO polish and humour, the unimpressive graphics have an effect on the gameplay. It can be difficult to select particular units on the screen, especially when in battle, which can lead to frustration.
So it may not be the action adventure game that you expect, and pretty it definitely is not. But look beyond all of this and you will find a solid, if simple, real time strategy experience with tons of unlockables and reasons to come back for more. With two decent length campaigns and a good variety of skirmish modes that can be played with a friend, if RTS is your thing then there is enough here to keep you going for hours. Looking past the unimpressive graphics may be difficult, but those that can will find a good game for their handheld.