LEGO Battles: Ninjago Review

Taking an introductory class in real-time strategy gaming 101 is the best way to describe LEGO Battles: Ninjago, the new Nintendo DS game to compliment LEGO’s latest original theme that already supports a toy line, television show and more.

It is important to understand before firing up LEGO Battles: Ninjago is that aside from Traveller’s Tales’ trademark mini-figure humor, there’s no similarity between the developer’s button-mashing LEGO adventure games and the now two-game deep LEGO: Battles franchise developed by Hellbent Games and produced by Traveller’s Tales. Slow and steady wins this race, so if you or your child is seeking instant satisfaction in a gaming experience, you better check out LEGO Star Wars, Batman, Pirates of the Caribbean or the other Traveller’s Tales LEGO action games instead.

Campaign and Battle modes operate similarly in which you get to control the Spinjitzu heroes against the nefarious and quite bony Skulkin foes. The term “control,” however, does not refer to using the D-Pad to move your warriors around. Instead, you draw a box around the characters you want to move with a stylus, tap where you want them to move to on the map, and watch them slowly traverse a partially hidden landscape to reach their goal. Aside from using the D-Pad to scroll around the Map, Ninjago is played entirely with a stylus.

When Skulkin and Spinjitzu warriors come together they automatically brawl with the winner being determined by whose is more powerful and less injured at the time of conflict. The loser, of course, vanishes off the map. This is where the strategy comes in. There are many different types of soldiers and steeds to popular a battlefield. Players send off one of them to collect gold and store in a bank, which in turn can be used to purchase more warriors or build fort defenses. That’s the gist of the game in a nutshell; build more defense structures and add more warriors at a faster clip than your opponent. It truly is real-time strategy gaming 101.

Ninjago’s lure beyond eliminating your opponent, whether it be the CPU or playing against a friend on another DS device, are numerous unlockables and character customizations that come from playing through the story mode. There are even all the hero characters from the original LEGO: Battles game to find. The simplistic gameplay can be grating after awhile for more seasoned gamers, but if collecting new items, unlocking new characters and customizing digital LEGO mini-figures is your cup of tea, Ninjago brings that functionality in spades.

LEGO’s Ninjago brand hasn’t been around that long so there’s a sense while looking at LEGO Battles: Ninjago that they were rushed to get the game out in a timely fashion. The graphics are basic — cell phone basic — and the nondescript icons will require adults to coach youngsters what actions they perform. I would have expected producer Traveller’s Tales to help usher forth even a more slightly polished game.

In a time crunch due to Ninjago’s newness, it made sense for Traveller’s Tales and Hellbent Games to slap a Ninjago skin on the LEGO Battles engine they had already built and run with it. The idea of spinning ninjas battling skeleton warriors is best suited for Traveller’s Tales action engine, a game they’re hopefully working on and will deliver down the road at some point.

LEGO Battles: Ninjago is basic enough young or old newbies to get a feel for the real-time strategy genre, but a little too shallow and simplistic to offer any sort of extended gaming experience unless collectibles can be considered a primary driving force to play.

– Dan Bradley

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