Legoland reinvents interactive gameplay with Ninjago The Ride

April 28, 2016, 4:47 PM · Legoland California this morning previewed its new controller-free interactive dark ride, for reporters and invited guests.

Themed to Lego's popular Ninja franchise, Ninjago The Ride challenges visitors to train to become ninjas by learning "Spinjitzu." The first time I walked through the dojo queue to sit in my ride vehicle, I caught myself reaching for a gun that wasn't there. Instead of using a controller to shoot at targets, on Ninjago, you use your hands like a ninja — to launch a variety of blasts at your enemies.

This "Maestro" technology, developed by Triotech, gives Ninjago a different feel than other theme park shooters. There's a gentle flow of air up from the lap bar that helps you to feel the "hot zone" through which you must push your hand forward to launch your blasts. It takes some practice to coordinate your hand motion with the results on the screen, and frankly, for my first couple of rides, my target strategy was pretty much "spray and pray." That won me a score of 185,000 on my first go — along with two burning forearms.

You wave your arms in front you nonstop for four minutes and then tell me if you don't end up with enough lactic acid to burn through the floor. I went to a theme park, and ended up in the gym.

But if it's the unique gameplay that gets the headlines, it will be the imagery that keeps people talking about Ninjago after they exit. As Pixar discovered two decades ago, plastic toys make for the most realistic computer-animation subjects, and Lego's ninja minifigs work beautifully on screen here, complemented by well-decorated practical sets framing the screens. Beyond that, though, Ninjago The Ride employs what might be the best installation of 3D imagery in an interactive ride to date.

Heck, this might be the best use of 3D in any theme park attraction. Using fog blasts and curved screens, Ninjago appears to free its targets from the confines of any two-dimensional "box," floating them in the visual space away from the screen backgrounds where you expected the targets to be.

Pay good attention to those spiders dropping off the screen, for example — not only are they an amazing sight, a couple of them delivered ridiculously high scores for me when I blasted them away.

A ride-through POV video can't replicate Ninjago's 3D effects, but it can show you how lively and engaging this ride can be.

Ninjago: The Ride takes the next step for Triotech, delivering an experience even more impressive that its Voyage to the Iron Reef, which debuted last year at Knott's Berry Farm. While Ninjago can't match the story and doesn't try to deliver the animatronics of Six Flags' Justice League: Battle for Metropolis, the hand-motion gameplay and outstanding use of 3D clearly place Legoland's Ninjago The Ride among the world's best interactive theme park attractions.

Ninjago The Ride is part of a new Ninjago World land that also includes four other, smaller play experiences themed to ninja training: Zane’s Temple Build, Kai’s Spinners, Cole’s Rock Climb, and Jay’s Lightning Drill. Ninjago World opens officially to the public on May 5.

Replies (10)

April 28, 2016 at 6:54 PM · 'This might be the best use of 3D in any theme park attraction' - is this better than Spiderman or Transformers? All I see is screens, I don't see the practical sets, unless it's too dark to see them. Also there are some parts where the movement on the screen is forward through space, does the movement of the vehicles match?
April 28, 2016 at 7:36 PM · The screen is very much like Iron Reef down to the snake in the end. I was expecting it to be more like Fruit Ninja where you fight hand combat, but I guess not. You're shooting Ninja Stars, which you should actually be throwing them. While good effort, the action doesn't change much to give it extra dimension.
April 28, 2016 at 8:16 PM · Looks fun. I'd like to see what those four smaller play experiences are like. Legoland has often done a nice job with family interactive experiences like Fun Town Fire Academy so I wonder if these new ones contain any hidden gems.
April 28, 2016 at 10:38 PM · This looks like a good ride, but it does not look good enough for a special trip to the park. I'm a little disappointed that the hand motions appear to be more of a gimmick to replace a gun rather than something that truly alters the experience (i.e. different motions produce different effects), but it definitely adds a unique aspect to the ride. It's hard to say without riding it, but this looks to be a step up from Voyage to the Iron Reef, but still a couple steps behind Toy Story Midway Mania (at least in the game department...Ninjago looks like the best overall dark ride of the three). Regardless, Ninjago should be a lot of fun for kids, and even if it isn't the most groundbreaking attraction out there it is an excellent addition to Legoland.
April 28, 2016 at 10:14 PM · I think Toy Story has the best Easter eggs of any theme park interactive ride, but as far as the attraction overall... meh. It's a play-at-home screen game, with minimal physical decoration, a back-and-forth ride and no sense of adventure. You're literally just playing a game in a box.

I think with each iteration, the Triotech games have gotten better - from Wonder Mountain's Guardian to Voyage to the Iron Reef to Ninjago. Once you abandon "spray and pray" and learn how to aim with your hands, there are some fun targeting opportunities here. At least the Triotech games try to take you someplace exotic, with a narrative that goes beyond the game.

Ninjago is much more engaging, and makes more sense as an adventure, than Lost Kingdom Adventure, the physical Sally shooter in Legoland California. (Why are we shooting in a tomb again?) The 3D animation is better than Voyage to the Iron Reef, and I'd even vote it better than Justice League. Creating engaging 3D in a game environment is far, far more challenging than creating a "static" 3D render for attractions such as Spider-Man and Transformers. But the 3D here is actually visually interesting, even if you're not playing the game.

Justice League, to me, remains the standard for screen-based interactive attractions. But I'd rank Ninjago one spot below that, ahead of Iron Reef. No, it's not enough to justify a trip to the park, but my heavens, Legoland is STACKED with attractions - I'd count Fairy Tale Brook, Fun Town Academy, Driving School, the Power Towers, Splash Battle, Hideaways, The Dragon, Knight's Tournament, Miniland (including the large Star Wars section), the Coast Cruise, Lost Kingdom Adventure, and Ninjago all as "must do" attractions at the park. And that's not counting any of the building opportunities in the park. So if have elementary-aged kids, you don't need Ninjago to justify a trip to the park. There's plenty here already to do that.

Finally, let me give a shout-out to the food in the park. The Bahn Mi that Legoland served from the new Ninja Kitchen restaurant in Ninjago World was on point. Bahn Mi in a theme park, people... let's get on board with that!

April 29, 2016 at 7:06 AM · Interactive attractions have a lot of unexplored elements. We've seen shooting rides, pick your music rides, and customization rides. Soon these will combine. The experience we can deliver when we combine interactive elements can add layers of depth we've not seen. The trick will be accommodating guests who desire high and low interactive features at the same time. For every person who wants to get a high score, complete a quest, or learn they whole story... there will be a guest who just wants to sit and be entertained.
April 29, 2016 at 8:41 AM · @192.5,
I would be in that last demographic you mentioned! I can't help but blame Castle Wolfenstein 3D for starting the revolution of 1st person shooters that have now overflowed into theme parks. My local park, HersheyPark, opened The Reese's Xtreme Cup Challenge in 2006 and it was the first shooter ride I experienced. While it was more like Buzz Lightyear using physical targets instead of video screens, I was amused and openly admit I giggled a few times. But now this seems to be the growing trend and I miss the days of mindless entertainment (looking at you EPCOT Center)! These attractions certainly have a target audience and I'm not it. Regardless, I greatly appreciate the technology, mechanics and show control that bring these attractions to life. That doesn't mean I ever have to ride them!
April 29, 2016 at 1:07 PM · If you were at the Media day did you see Pat McKade/The Legend?
April 30, 2016 at 10:27 AM · I agree with Robert Niles about Toy Story Mania, it's basically a video game that you can play at home, just with 3D glasses, which they will also eventually have at home. I don't understand the long lines and need for a third track at Hollywood Studios, except for the fact that it makes sense given the lack of rides there.

I also agree that Legoland is a great park with lots to do, and Ninjago just complements it perfectly. But shouldn't you explain that bahn mi are the Vietnamese sandwiches on french bread? Very good and a nice change from the usual fast food.

May 3, 2016 at 12:40 AM · Just to set the record right, Triotech hasn't "invented" the gesture controller but is using the "Leap Motion" sensor... It is a little bit like a technological hijacking... The issue with deviceless systems is that they somehow limit your abilities to achieve a certain level of "Maestria" as much as a tool or a device would.

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