Title: LEGO Ninjago Shadow of Ronin
Developer: Traveler’s Tales, TT Games
Game Type: PlayStation Vita
Download: 1.2 GB
NA Availability: Digital Download | Retail
EU Availability: Digital Download | Retail
PSTV Support: Yes
There are many series that have recurring releases on most systems. There are many of these types of series and more to come. However, there are very few series that are like this that get regular releases throughout the year, every year. On the PlayStation Vita, I can think of one series that has caused a lot of debate: The LEGO series.
LEGO games have been a mixed bag on handhelds since the Vita/3DS generation began. You had older games like LEGO Lord of the Rings that played like the home console release but had content cut. Then you had games like Marvel Superheroes and LEGO Movie that had isometric gameplay that felt, to most, like watered down games.
The last LEGO game that was released, however, was LEGO Batman 3. It raised the bar huge amounts by getting rid of the isometric gameplay and offered an experience that was much closer to the home console releases. The big question gamers had was whether or not Traveler’s Tales and TT Games would continue this trend. Today is the day you will find out. Here is my official review of the handheld-exclusive game, LEGO Ninjago: Shadow of Ronin.
Unlike the previous Ninjago game that retold events from episodes of the series, Shadow of Ronin is a new, original story that takes place between Seasons 4 and 5 of the LEGO Ninjago TV Series. The plot showcases the ninjas undergoing a training session with the two Senseis Dareth and Wu when a mysterious man named Ronin appears and steals their memories with a weapon known as the Obsidian Glaive. The Ninjas must then travel to find their own Obsidian weapons to get their memories and powers back in order to stop Ronin from unleashing a great evil onto the world.
The story of the game isn’t overly deep, but will serve for a good few laughs. It is also worth noting that, even though this is an original story, it takes place in the timeline of the TV series. There are a lot of characters, terms, and enemies used that will be confusing if you don’t already know the source material. If you haven’t watched the show, it might not be a bad idea to do a little research before diving into Shadow of Ronin, especially on the Serpentine and Nindroids.
LEGO games have always been a mashup of a couple different genres, offering platforming, puzzle, and action elements in one little, and casual package. Like past games in the series, you will be moving around various environments to solve puzzles, traverse platforms, and destroy everything in sight. Just like those games, Shadow of Ronin is a puzzle platformer with action elements thrown into the mix.
Playing through the game will have you going between collections of levels and your base of operations in the form of Ninjago Island. The levels have platforming areas for you to go through as you solve puzzles and fight enemies. The Island, however, is a large open environment where you can fly an elemental dragon around to collect studs, attack objects to unlock characters, and find the next location to go into the next set of levels. The shop is also here, where you can use studs to buy characters, extras, and view artwork and scenes.
Actually playing through levels varies, depending on the kind of level you’re playing. Each chapter is separated into 3 different levels, some where you are on foot in environments and others where you’re piloting vehicles like bikes, planes, and dragons. These levels are different as they play more like tunnel-based flying game, like Entwined, but with combat elements thrown into the mix, as opposed to the free-roam aspect of the on-foot levels.
Your goal in these levels is to fight off waves of enemies and solve puzzles to get to the further areas of the environment and progress the story to the next section. Unlike previous games, the story almost never leaves you, even when you’re in the middle of a level. Dialogue happens almost every time you solve a puzzle and make a new way forward, almost like the entire game is just more of the storyline. This gives the sort of feel that you’re in episodes of the show, even though you’re playing the game by platforming and fighting rather than seeing constant scenes.
The biggest thing to note is how the game plays. Unlike the first LEGO Ninjago game, Shadow of Ronin ditches the isometric gameplay perspective and provides an experience that feels like a hybrid between the previous handheld games and the home console LEGO games. All of the gameplay elements, camera angles, re-spawning, and controls feel like a home console game, and the levels have the little challenges from the previous games for unlocking various character like avoiding damage or collecting a certain number of studs.
The puzzle elements work the same way as the previous games. There are certain mechanisms that only certain characters can use, so you need to be able to test around with your party to get things just right. You do always go into a stage with more than the 2 characters and are free to go between them, but sometimes it takes a bit to remember which character does what. Thankfully, there are tutorial areas all the way through the game for LEGO beginners to not have too much trouble figuring out how the puzzles work. There are also mechanisms that other characters can use, requiring replaying stages to unlock everything later on.
All in all, the game has 30 levels for you to play through. Each of these levels takes about 8-10 minutes to complete, so you should expect a single play through the game to only take you about 4-6 hours, and that doubling if you want to go back and unlock everything. All in all, though, it’s one of the shortest LEGO games available on the Vita.
The control options for Shadow of Ronin vary, as the game can be completely played with the touch screen, or a combination of buttons and the touch screen. There are some sections of the game that are touch-only, though, so you’ll need to know that when those times come. This is especially important to remember if you’re playing this game on a PlayStation TV. The game always lets you know, but you cannot play this game solely with the PS Vita’s buttons.
When you’re in a level, you will be using either the D-Pad or Left Analog Stick to move your characters around. The Right Analog stick doesn’t do anything in this game as the camera automatically moves depending on your position. The L and R triggers are used for stun attacks and switching characters when you have a party greater than 2 characters. As far as face buttons are concerned, the X button is used for jumping, Square is used for attacks and Spinjitsu tornados, Triangle is used to switch characters, and Circle is used to interact or use elemental powers.
The touch screen can also do all of this. You can tap or swipe your finger on the screen to have your characters follow where your finger is going. You can also tap on enemies or objects to attack or interact with them. The rest of the special moves like Spinjitsu have icons on the screen you can tap to you. I feel this sometimes isn’t as accurate as button controls, but it’s plenty playable in both ways. The game also does a nice job of explaining button controls as you play through the game.
The visual presentation of Shadow of Ronin is both good and bad at the same time. The good thing is the environments look practically flawless and the character renders are much higher in quality and detail than the previous Ninjago game, which had a good few jagged edges to be seen. However, the shading style they used makes the outer edges of the character models look a little blurred, which doesn’t look as good as crisp models with a few jagged edges.
The rest of the game is good, as the game doesn’t have any lag in areas and the load times are fairly short. You won’t be waiting any more than 8 or 9 seconds for a level to load and the transitions between areas is only a few seconds of waiting. However, it does take about 3-4 seconds for you to get to the pause screen once you try to pause in the middle of gameplay. This is longer than it was in previous LEGO games.
LEGO Ninjago: Shadow of Ronin is the Vita's newest LEGO game and second game in the Ninjago franchise. On the downside, the game isn’t very long, and there is some blurring in the character models. Past this is a handheld LEGO game that feels like a console game for any LEGO or Ninjago fan to enjoy be it on the go or on the big screen with the PlayStation TV.