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Lego Battles: Ninjago
Played on: DS
Publisher: Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment, TT Games
Genre: Adventure/puzzle/real-time strategy
Lego's quirky series of video games has a strong legacy; Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean have all been converted under the format and are challenging and fun no matter what age you are.
Unfortunately Lego Battles: Ninjago, while getting the franchise's inherent charm and humour bang-on, offers very little in the way of compelling gameplay.
The game attempts to blend elements of adventure and puzzle-solving with real-time strategy, yet excels at neither.
The follow-up to 2009's Lego Battles and a cash-in on Lego's successful Ninjago range of toys, the story follows Sensei Wu and his group of ninjas, along with blacksmith-turned-ninja Kai, as they attempt to defeat Lord Garmadon and rescue Kai's sister Nya.
The game consists of two modes, story and battle, with the former providing two main campaigns, one for Sensei Wu and his ninjas and one for Lord Garmadon and his skeleton army.
Both campaigns are divided into acts, each of which has six missions, usually consisting of five adventure and puzzle missions, followed by a final battle mission.
The battle missions are the more enjoyable of the two; so much so that you begin to wonder why developer Hellbent Games has even bothered to include the adventure missions and didn't just focus on getting the real-time strategy aspect of the game right.
Adventure missions are over-simplistic and usually consist of wandering around searching for item 'a' and using it to get past barrier 'b', while nailing a few enemies along the way.
Although more enjoyable, battle missions also offer very little in the way of engaging gameplay. Only a handful of units and structures can be built and the game's technology tree is basically non-existent.
The graphics are dull and very little thought seems to have been put into the layout of the mission maps. The AI is poor and unit path finding seems to be a particular issue; click beyond an obstacle and your group of ninja will walk into it and get stuck rather than search for a way round.
Luckily, the game has managed to retain the excellent cut-scenes that the Lego franchise has become famous for. These are used throughout the game and are funny and well-animated and help progress the story well. The game's music is also brilliant and creates a great ambience.
Outside of the story campaigns, things get a little better, as various battle modes such as capture the flag and king of the hill offer a more fun and open experience, but don't really make up for the game's other failures.
Overall, Lego Battles: Ninjago is a surprising let-down in the Lego franchise that could have easily been improved by focussing on one genre, rather than offering a confused mish-mash that fails to hit both spots.
Read the published review at: http://www.bristol247.com/2011/05/23/richard-foote-lego-battles-ninjago-is-a-surprising-let-down/
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