Also On: Xbox One, Wii U, Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: TT Games
Truth be told, the "Toys to Life" category of videogames is huge business these days and we can thank Activision for that. A game that requires players to purchase and/or collect physical goods is surely a marketing department's dream project. With that being said, it's not a surprise that other companies have jumped into the mix to capitalize on the trend (fad?). For those not in the loop, that would be Disney Interactive with the Disney Infinity franchise, Nintendo and their amiibo figures, and now, Warner Bros. Interactive and TT Game's LEGO Dimensions. Is there room for all these big players in the genre? At the start of 2015, I honestly didn't think so. But after spending time with each company's own Toys to Life interpretation, I foresee these franchises playing well together for as long as the demand allows.
Skylanders, Disney Infinity and LEGO Dimensions each bring a unique take on the world of videogames with interactive toys and portal. Skylanders nails that polished co-op action RPG slice of the pie with colorful, high quality original figures and a fun story. Disney Infinity has cornered the open-world gameplay and customizable create/play/share aspects especially for fans of everything Disney, Marvel and Star Wars. And now LEGO Dimensions takes everything that fans love about LEGO sets and the popular LEGO games and smashes them together into a new interactive experience which uses the toy pad (portal) itself to solve puzzles and control the game world. With this being their first LEGO Dimensions game (though apparently they are looking to expand, not just release yearly updates) Warner Bros. and TT Games still have a few minor kinks to work out before fans will flock to the new franchise. Dimensions is a fantastic start, surely.
LEGO Dimensions has a story, and it's a surprising amount of fun. A bad guy by the name of Lord Vortech from the planet Vorton (which exists as part of the LEGO multiverse) devises a plan to gather up the "Foundational Elements" from many of the nearby LEGO universes in an effort to control everything LEGO. The familiar elements Vortech seeks originate from over a dozen different LEGO worlds, and as he creates vortices into each, the time/space barrier begins to degrade, thus allowing the LEGO properties to co-exist. This is where Batman (and his Batmobile), Gandalf and Wyldstyle team up in an attempt to put things back into order and disassemble Lord Vortech's plan of LEGO world domination. The adventure takes gamers across a wide variety of distinct LEGO properties which includes DC Comics, The Lord of the Rings, The LEGO Movie, Ninjago, Back to the Future, The Wizard of Oz, Scooby-Doo!, Legends of Chima, Doctor Who, Jurassic World, Ghostbusters, The Simpsons, Portal and Midway Arcade. The world and their respective figures are pretty diverse, but even those gamers who may be unfamiliar with a bunch of them will still enjoy what TT Games has crafted for each. Interacting with GLaDOS in the world of Dr. Who as Batman gets pretty interesting as you may imagine.
Since LEGO Dimensions is part LEGO set, part game, there is some LEGO brick building involved. Even though it isn't actually a requirement to play the game, the figures, the Batmobile and toy pad/portal needs to be built (ideally following along with the in-game instructions). So before getting too far into the gameplay, gamers should set aside around 30 minutes to do so. This can be good or bad, depending on your love and patience for building LEGO sets of course. Once that task is complete then gamers are introduced to the toy pad, which is more "interactive" than the competition's due to there being 3 different zones and color changing LEDs which are utilized for interacting with the game itself. The pad is used for solving puzzles throughout the adventure, from flicking simple switches and opening doors to more involved boss fights. When these puzzles present themselves there is usually some combination of an on-screen indicator and pulsing LEDs on the toy pad itself. Instructions on how to use the toy pad and figures to interact with the in-game puzzles are somewhat unclear at first (especially for kids), but it does eventually click. For instance, matching a color pattern by shifting figures around on the pad's zones like chess pieces, or knowing to have Wyldstyle stand on a purple circle (in the game), and then needing to move her figure to all three purple –colored pad zones to activate her master builder ability. There are a lot of interactions like these within LEGO Dimensions and it soon becomes second nature, even though there are a couple instances where they don't seem to function as one may expect.
TT Games really did a masterful job mashing up the different LEGO properties and there's no doubt that it's a lot of fun to travel through them all in a single game. LEGO Dimensions has sort of a The LEGO Movie Game vibe overall and there's a metric ton of collectables and secrets and seemingly millions of studs to pick up. Players can jump right back into story levels from the hub to track down 100% of the items or explore the open-world adventure levels which are unlocked by owning at least one character from each world. In the starter pack, there are 3 unlocked freeplay worlds to coincide with the trio of figures included. The drop in/drop out co-op gameplay and dynamic split screen work super well as they do in pretty much every other LEGO game available.
Sounds great so far, right? Well, with any Toys to Life game, there's balance between a company seemingly being greedy and locking a ton of content behind purchasing physical goods and being relatively generous. With a $99 starter pack, and the pricing structure for Level Packs, Fun Packs and Team Packs, I have to ding Warner Bros. Interactive for landing somewhat on the former side of the fence. LEGO sets are expensive, so there's a built in "tax" there, but still. Throughout the story and adventure levels there are a significant amount of collectables that need different figures or figure types to gain access to. That's pretty much the name of the game across the entire genre, but it doesn't mean I have to love it. If it were one or two instances per level I can live with that, but these artificial paywalls are seemingly everywhere. It's great if you like to collect minifigures, though the fact that you can remove them from their nearly identical bases and mix them up is both good and bad. The figures also aren't as flashy, both in-game and as LEGO minifigures, as those in other games. It is cool that you can reconfigure the vehicles (physically and in-game), which can grant additional abilities. It's not a requirement however, as you can just flash the new vehicle configuration onto the base without actually rebuilding the LEGO model.
A problem my family had with LEGO Dimensions is the lack of interest in wanting to run out and pick up figures or packs to unlock a couple of hours of content for LEGO worlds that they weren't fully invested in. My kids (ages 8 – 10) really did enjoy the bite-sized story levels for Dr. Who, The Wizard of Oz and The Simpsons for example, but they didn't seem especially interested in expanding on those. I can see adults who have fond memories of Ghostbusters, Back to the Future and whatnot picking up figures/packs for the sake of nostalgia though. I'm sure there would be some serious conflicts of interest going on, but some Marvel and Star Wars LEGO worlds and sets would have been amazing.
If you're a fan of the LEGO and of TT Games' line of LEGO videogames, then LEGO Dimensions is a solid purchase even for those who have never touched a Toys to Life style game. For those on the fence about dumping large sums of cash into Level and Figure packs and the like, the Starter Pack and story experience is still challenging and satisfying enough without doing so immediately. It's difficult to predict who's going to come out on top of this still relatively new game category but with 80 years of history behind them, definitely don't count LEGO out.