It is almost a daily ritual on the walk home from school. “I’m Kai and you’re Lloyd” my son will call out before running ahead to swing his imaginary sword into imaginary Serpentine warriors, often falling over in his attempt to take down the imaginary Overlord. Ninjago, the LEGO figures and TV shows about elemental ninjas is a family favourite in the Davies household. LEGO Ninjago Nindroids was the reason that my son asked for a PSVita and even with the games inherent flaws, he loved it. Now, the follow up, LEGO Ninjago: Shadow of Ronin, has arrived and not only is it the best Ninjago game to date, it is one of the best portable LEGO games too. Our Review;

Shadow of Ronin features a new, original storyline set between the events of the 4th and 5th series of the Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu TV show. The game starts with Jay, Zane, Kai and Cole reminiscing about the events of the island tournament when a new villain, Ronin, attacks their dojo. The Ninjago warriors do their best to repel this new foe but Ronin uses an Obsidian weapon to steal their memories and with them, their elemental powers. With the Ninjago team out of action, Ronin sets out to resurrect one of the famous big bad’s from the TV show, using the Nindroids, Serpentine and the Dark Samurai to crush anyone in his way. In order to stop him, the Ninjago team have to set out on a quest to find and recover their own Obsidian weapons to regain their memories & powers.

If the above paragraph reads like an ancient long-forgotten dialect to you, Shadow of Ronin may not be the game for you. The game is full of fan service but it fails to explain any of the series’ stalwart features to newcomers. Not knowing the difference between the Titanium Ninja and the Green Ninja means you will likely be pulling an occasional bemused face at Shadow of Ronin’s more obscure references but it only takes a basic knowledge of Ninjago to get the most out of this game.

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Shadow of Ronin resembles a feature length episode of the TV show with the vast majority of the plot played out in cut-scenes at the beginning and end of the levels and through the chatter between the characters. The linear levels have simple objectives that are little more than to get to an end point by solving basic puzzles, jumping over dangers and beating down on enemies. Added to the mix are driving and flying levels – sliding down an erupting volcano and piloting a dragon through an elemental vortex prime which on rails but offer a variety from the usual platforming. Then, of course, Samurai X makes an appearance for her obligatory mech-stomping mission which no Ninjago game would be complete without.

All of the trademark LEGO game aspects make a return in Shadow of Ronin. The obligatory Red Bricks are here but a change from tradition means that they are now found within the games levels rather than a HUD. Speaking of the HUD, unlike most LEGO games that have an area that you run around with your Mini-fig, this game replaces that with a flying level where you control a LEGO Dragon. Yes, that is as cool as it sounds. As was the case in LEGO Ninjago: Nindroids, the Gold Bricks in Shadow of Ronin are unlocked by completing challenges. These range from finishing a level within a set time limit to defeating a number of enemies with a specific character. None of these are particularly taxing but do offer added replay value for those perfectionists out there. Lastly, those dastardly Mini-kits are littered around each level which build little LEGO kits at the end of the level. Collecting all of this booty will mean replaying the vast majority of the games levels on the “Free Play” mode where you can choose from any of the characters you have unlocked in order to use their unique abilities.

Shadow of Ronin combines some of the best aspects of other LEGO games into its portable adventure. The Master Builder ability from the LEGO Movie Game has been retooled into the Tornado of Creation. A simplified version of the set building mechanic from LEGO Hobbit is included which tests you to choose the right pieces in order to create something. Wall running makes the horizontal sprint from LEGO Chima into LEGO Ninajgo. The feature list is impressive and rivals that of the games home console brothers and sisters like LEGO Batman and LEGO Star Wars.

Props have to be handed to TT Fusion for making what I consider to be the most accessible LEGO game to date. In almost every other LEGO game, wordy hints have floated along the bottom of the screen when ever the game deemed them necessary. In Shadow of Ronin, there are Gongs which can be hit which bring up simple hints when ever a player feels they need a hand. This means that my Son, who has always asked for my assistance with LEGO games in the past, can figure things out at his own pace. The persistent button prompts and simplistic level design really help make this an enjoyable experience without the younger gamers getting too frustrated.

Being about Ninjas, Shadow of Ronin places a heavy emphasis on combat and this really pays off. The combat has been completely overhauled since Nindroids and features the most fluid, enjoyable combat of any LEGO game to date. Beating the studs out of wave after wave of approaching enemies is actually quite exhilarating, switching between the Ninjago warriors each of which have a different weapon and fighting style. Then there is the Spinjitzu move which sweeps all of the surrounding enemies up into a tornado and tosses them around the screen. Hold down Square on the PSVita and you can unleash this power on the villains.

The biggest and most disappointing issue with Shadow of Ronin is its length. The game has 15 levels which each last between 7 (Me) and 15 (My son) minutes on a “Story Mode” play through. While this length is perfectly suited for a portable game built for short, sharp blasts of game play on the bus or train, for a LEGO game this feels drastically short. Even unlocking everything the game has to offer in terms of locked characters, mini-kits et al only adds several hours to the games replayability.

Of course, my opinion is of little importance as I am about 20 years outside of the target demographic for LEGO Ninjago: Shadow of Ronin so here is what my son has to say about the game, verbatim;

Shadow of Ronin is the besterest. It’s better than the Nindroids game. You get to play as Lloyd more this time and he is *punches the air and doesn’t finish sentence*. I like this game because it is funny. Jay makes me laugh. And Cole does as well. With Cole you can smash the ground and Kai can run through fires and Zane can freeze the baddies. I got stuck a few times ‘cus I didn’t know what to do but then I found out and *mumbles* made a snow man and went though some doors with clocks on ’em. I was in one of the Ninja cars and then was on a dragon shooting my fire at the baddies. It’s good.

When I asked him to give a review score out of 10 to the game, he had this to say;

10 out of 10. No. 11 out of 10. One HUNDRED *stretches out arms and does jazz hands* out of 10.

So I think it is safe to say that LEGO Ninjago: Shadow of Ronin is a hit with my kids.

LEGO Ninjago: Shadow of Ronin is available now on the PSVita (Version reviewed) and the Nintendo 3DS. In order to complete this review, we were provided with a copy of the game by the publishers.

Developers: TT Fusion
Publishers: Warner Brothers