Enter the Jayster in LEGO Ninjago: Prime Empire

18 Jul

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Episodes 1-6 available through Cartoon Network app / on demand

North America – July 19, 2020
Other Territories – Repeat

TT Games can learn a lot from Prime Empire, the latest season of LEGO Ninjago finally airing in North America. I’ve played enough of their products to see their licenced products from this toy line have hardly ever changed. The platform puzzle solving coin gathering engine rarely includes concepts unique to each franchise. For the most part, players are blasting or punching enemies in a non-violent manner rather than fully reliving highlight moments—ranging from racing simulations to martial arts fighting—from their favourite movie.

The story for season twelve offers a lot of ideas I wish to see in a game and in a TRON: Legacy sequel. Unagami is essentially MCP. He’s a self-aware program created by Milton Dyer to deliver players the ultimate experience and he’s also feeling very confused. He wants to find his creator and go mono a mono.

The Mechanic (pictured right) helps this AI out. I’m curious about how he escaped. In season six (“Skybound”), he was locked up in Kryptarium Penitentiary. His new employer wants a motherboard containing the chip to allow the program to escape the digital world and trap anyone who gets in his way. The Masters of Spinjitzu intercept the mercenary and Jay, who loves his video games, is sent to the digital realm.

My favourite episode is “Ninjago Confidential” where Zane and PIXAL play detective. The story goes all out noir and even pokes fun at itself in hilarious meta moments. It’s rare to yuk this genre up, and writers Kevin Burke and Chris “Doc” Wyatt really nail the irony well when PIXAL joins the fore.

This season is a tribute to everything I love in video games. Although the Masters of Spinjitzu have dealt with electronic terrors before in Season 3 (“Rebooted”) this treatment is by far more exciting and engaging.

Lloyd’s deep affection for Harumi gets touched on in “Stop, Drop And Side Scroll.” He never closed his heart off to her and I hope more will be explored in later seasons. This former Princess must return.

I also hope Okino will return too. This Samurai takes some inspiration from Lone Wolf and Cub, but differs in the sense that he’s a guide, welcoming people kidnapped by Unagami and helping them through their quests Jumanji style, but always failing since they never succeed. Unagami tests him in “The Maze of the Red Dragon” and as for whether he can develop to be a hero himself–this is a side story I’d love to see developed!

Even in the self titled episode, “Racer Seven” is a mysterious driver who can’t seem to win. She glitches every time in the same location and never realizes it. It’s not until the Ninjas tell her that she does something different to break the code and succeed. The crazy racing sequences show that we can have a video game in the world of LEGO. First generation systems did have LEGO Racers, but I have seen none of the old classics revisited for newer systems.

I particularly loved “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” where the team has some fun in a Dance Dance Revolution style competition. Licencing rights may prevent seeing a version for the brick, but it was cool to see the synchronicity Jay and Nya have. Platform games get a full 3D treatment when Jay has to navigate a deadlier version of Donkey Kong in the style of Super Mario 64. The Street Fighter moments from “The Temple of Madness” are not even direct homages, but it was cool to see these classics reimagined for this chapter of the Ninjago saga.

Turning any of these moments to a video game is a must! Whether that’s through TT Games or some other company, It must be done. As for why this company’s LEGO based games continue to be limited is beyond me. Either their ideology doesn’t allow for expanding the possibilities or the coders are against developing from scratch every time they acquire a new franchise property.

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