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Review: Hi-yah! Legoland ninja ride combines video-game fun with a cardio workout

Ninjago

Visitors use hand gestures on the Ninjago dark ride at Legoland California.

(Legoland)

A first-of-its-kind interactive dark ride at Legoland California that let riders use karate-chop hand gestures to shoot fireballs at ninja warriors combines kinetic video-game action with an unexpected upper-body workout.

I rode Ninjago four times during the soft opening of the attraction at the Carlsbad kiddie park and found the new high-tech ride to be easy to play and difficult to master.

Based on a line of ninja-inspired Lego toys and a spinoff television show, the ride is the centerpiece of a new Asian-inspired Ninjago-themed land featuring a food stand and a retail store set to officially debut on Thursday.

The new 3-D attraction adds a twist to the traditional shoot-em-up dark ride by utilizing rider hand movements rather than gunplay to interact with images on giant video screens.

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Inside the Ninjago queue, riders meet the ninja heroes of the story and learn how to make the game work. The ride vehicles feature sensors that register the hand movements of riders who zap color-coded fireballs on 13 video screens, some as big as 49 feet wide by 13 feet tall. The ideal hand movement is a jab similar to the Hokey Pokey: You put your left hand in, you take your left hand out, you put your right hand in, you take your right hand out. A constant stream of air emanating from the sensor area helps create the sense of breaking an invisible plane with each karate chop.

The new ride seems perfectly targeted at Legoland’s core audience: Grade-school boys. The game play could prove difficult for smaller kids, though. Ride operators advise players to keep their hands at least eight inches above the sensor console. While that might be elbow level for an adult, it could be shoulder level or higher for the youngest players in Legoland’s 2- to 12-year-old demographic.

Like many Legoland rides, Ninjago is much more interactive than your typical theme park attraction. The ride’s 3 1/2 minutes of near constant movement results in a pretty good upper-body workout, leaving your arms tired by the time you defeat the villainous Lord Garmadon and his underworld minions. The Lego villains satisfyingly break into pieces every time a fireball lands a direct hit.

Legoland worked on Ninjago with Montreal-based Triotech, which built the Voyage to the Iron Reef shoot-em-up dark ride at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park. Going forward, Triotech will need to develop a new seating configuration for Ninjago-style dark rides. The four-across side-by-side dark ride seats are too cramped for the amount of karate chopping required to play Ninjago. More often than not I found myself elbowing the 8-year-old boy next to me as we chopped wildly.

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I often found it difficult to find my color-coded fireballs as a rainbow of digital blasts exploded on every video screen. Unlike a laser gun, it was hard to correct my aim when I was launching fireballs with my hands. I racked up points with a rapid-fire approach that favored carpet bombing over pinpoint accuracy.

I scored 66,500 points on my first try and managed a high of 88,800 by my last trip, just below the 100,000 master ninja level. Ride operators who have ridden Ninjago dozens of times tell me they average more than 300,000 points per round.

And that is the point of the ride. You get better with each trip and you can’t wait to play again — which drives repeat visits to the park. 

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