One of the best things about being a grown up has to be getting to do what you want, and buy what you want, but if you’ve ever been told to put away toys, a new game on the way is all about not doing exactly that.
You can call this writer immature, but there’s nothing quite like playing with Lego. Maybe it’s the creativity one can get from time with a blank canvas and an instruction to build and only build, but Lego is one of those toys anyone can go back to.
Adults don’t always go back to toys, but sometimes, it’s worth it to go back into the toy chest and see what we can dig up.
A new title from WB Games may have you doing exactly that, with “Lego Dimensions” climbing quickly to the top of the list of games we really want to own this year after spending a couple of hours with the game only recently.
More than just blocks in a box — which is what Lego kind of is — Dimensions is about making those “blocks in a box” semi-interactive, and combining the sharp storytelling seen in previous Lego games as well as “The Lego Movie” with a game that connects everywhere, from the world of Lego to other worlds you may remember fondly, like “The Wizard of Oz” and “Scooby Doo”.
While it may well be a video game, Lego Dimensions falls under a fairly recent style of toys called “toys to life” whereby figurines are used with specialised hardware to make them come to life. Granted, they won’t become robots, nor do they animate in front of your eyes; rather, “toys to life” is about taking a figurine, setting it on a digital board capable of reading the chip built into the toy, and allowing a video game to talk to the toy.
Activision was one of the first companies to try this with its “Skylanders” games, and Disney has joined a year or so ago with the “Infinity” series, which blends characters from Marvel, Star Wars, and Disney’s and Pixar’s own franchises, creating a game that has all the characters you and your kids are familiar with.
But there has always been a catch with these titles, and that’s the figurines you were asked to buy: they didn’t do a thing.
You may as well call them “statues” rather than “figurines”, because while an action figure has posable parts and kids (and a few adults) will wave them about and make voices and actions for them in their own imaginary world, “statues” are less likely to elicit that sort of response.
For both Disney Infinity and Skylanders, your figurines are essentially just game pieces that start up a character. Put “Lilo and Stitch”’s Stitch on the board alongside “Toy Story”’s Woody, and Disney Infinity will throw up the characters from each of those movies in this game, allowing you to play with them.
That’s all that will happen, however, and with no moving parts, no actual joints, arm movements, head tilts, and so on, your child is less likely to be playing with a toy.
Instead, you’re just buying characters for a game, like downloadable content or add-on packs represented by statues you’re allowed to own.
It’s a great way for toy manufacturers to make money, but it’s not exactly fun to play with.
Lego has a different take on how this should work, and Lego Dimensions is a game all about challenging perceptions, taking the fun and creative concept of Lego brick- and story-building — a toy that never gets old and can be something even adults continue to have fun with — and mixes it with a tongue-in-cheek video game with a story that not only feels like it has come straight from the Aussie-made “Lego Movie”, but also from other stories that many of us have grown up with.
What Lego Dimensions appears to be, then, is a game made for both adults and kids to enjoy together, rather than for each to grumble and groan painfully while one sits back and watches.
Take the pad that you have to use to play the game, for starters.
Every “toys to life” game relies on one of these, and they’re all a little different. You need the Skylanders one to play that game on a console, and you need a Disney Infinity one to play Disney’s titles.
Lego’s is no different for Dimensions, and it uses the same Near-Field Communication reading technology inside to pick up on tags built inside the base of toys, loading the characters in the game as and when you play with them and put them on the panel.
But Lego also lets you decorate the pad yourself, keeping Lego’s circular block-building pattern on the panel and letting you make it into whatever you want. You could bring some Lego from home — maybe build yourself a full-on Technics portal or attach a few extra characters — and provided you don’t impact the pad space for Dimensions characters, you will literally be making the Dimensions pad well and truly yours.
Then there are the characters themselves, and these are actual Lego mini-figs.
Everyone has seen a mini-fig in the past, and the ones being used in Lego Dimensions can actually be taken off their little game pads and used in other Lego adventures, with your own imagination at play.
For now, we’ll leave our little mini-figs on their respective game pad and use them with the Dimensions main pad, because this will let the game bring them in.
The game itself arrives with three characters for you to start with, delivering Batman, The Hobbit’s Gandalf, and The Lego Movie’s Wyldstyle, which will give one or two players a few characters to start the adventure with. They’ll explore a Lego world being taken over by a bad guy, and this Lego world will include a few movies and places you might already be familiar with, such as the world of Hill Valley from “Back to the Future”, Oz from “The Wizard of Oz”, Springfield from “The Simpsons”, and even a strange two-dimensional version of Valve’s “Portal” video game, with Lego-based versions of characters.
These are all example Lego worlds that will have Lego characters for you to buy, if you so choose, and while each major themed Lego pack will come with extra missions based on these franchises, you don’t need to buy them to play some of the story.
Rather, with each extra pack, you get extra characters and extra missions, and that word “extra” is key simply because the base game — the one with Batman, Gandalf, and Wyldstyle — will arrive with hours of gameplay and a mission from each story already in the box, providing a demo world to play with.
Now if you go and buy a few other characters — maybe you want Homer Simpson or Marty McFly — you’ll find these can play along in the game levels as well as the originals, but purchase of these characters will unlock extra levels, too; essentially, purchase of these characters are just like the other “toys to life” games, with these activating downloadable content, except this extra stuff is already built into the game, with characters, levels, and voices just waiting to be unlocked.
But you don’t have to, and since the game and its base station starts at a good $170 with the packs ranging from $30 for just the characters to $60 for the characters and levels, Lego, developer TT Games, and its publisher WB Games have all come together to basically offer a middle ground starting area with both mission-based levels and neato open world sandbox versions, so you can explore each area until your heart is content (though some parts of the sandbox may only open up to extra characters later on).
The game pad you start with actually supports seven objects at one point, too, so if you have seven things, you can whack them down on the pad and they will all load, handy because this is a two player game, and while one person can play with up to seven little in-game toys, two will share it better.
It will even light up and encourage you to move characters and elements to different sides of the pad, making this game pad not just a place for you to activate characters, but also interact with them.
Beyond the characters and levels, however, Lego Dimensions aims to do something else, and this appears to be one of the major things that separates it from other “toys to life” titles out there.
We mentioned earlier on that games like Infinity tend to provide merely statues for you to play with, which aren’t really toys kids are going to get a lot of fun out of outside of the game. Dimensions aims to do this differently.
In the Dimensions game, you’ll actually have little vehicles to drive around with.
For instance, in the main pack you buy, you’ll find the Batmobile, because you can’t have Batman without the Batmobile (how would you expect Batman to get everywhere… walk?).
But rather than just make the Batmobile like a character toy that appears in the game, the Batmobile — and every other vehicle in the game — is something you’ll actually have to build, complete with Lego instructions appearing on the TV screen. Better, you won’t just be building one version of the vehicle, but will eventually be able to build two more versions of a vehicle, and these will unlock different parts of the game and allow you to do different things.
In fact, while you usually only get one character per pack, sometimes two, the rest of the little things are vehicles, making a Dalek a vehicle in the Doctor Who pack, while the Back to the Future DeLorean is a vehicle that will also be modifiable into a train (from the third movie).
This element serves to make Dimensions not only different from its competitors, but also about what the core of Lego is: building stuff, and it’s something anyone who has ever played with Lego will recall, because building Lego stuff is fun, even if you’re well past the minimum age requirement.
Playing the game recently at a hands-on with its developer, it was hard not to let our jaw drop a little, because between the cute Lego inspired graphics, the sharp and surprisingly mature writing, and the incredibly huge array of character voices TT Games and WB were able to grab for this title, there is a really great little title here, not just for kids but for adults, also.
“We’re just completely stretching the limits of what toys to life means,” said Doug Heder, Producer at WB Games.
“We’re evolving the category we’re bringing stuff in that none of our competitors have ever done before in their games.
“Honestly for us, we’re trying to create a new paradigm around what toys to life can be and what it can be down the road for years to come,” said Heder.
The moment Doctor Who appeared on screen, the sci-fi nerd in us — which we need to admit is actually much bigger than people realise (shock horror, we’re sure) — simply lighted up.
Already, at this point, from seeing the involvement of Valve’s “Portal” to the legendary “Back to the Future” movie franchise, we were thrilled, but bringing BBC’s good Doctor?
That’s something else. In fact, it’s something else to the nth level, because rather than just throw the current Doctor — Peter Capaldi — in and hope for the best, as well as the Tardis, Lego Dimensions won’t force you to play as this doctor if you don’t want.
Few franchises have had as many actors play one role as Doctor Who has, and with 13 versions, people have their favourites. Fortunately, you can play as whichever one you want, and TT Games has sampled voices from the TV shows to use as their character sounds, while also rebuilding the Tardis for each character.
Don’t want to play as Capaldi and prefer Tom Baker? Do it. Don’t want to be him anymore and prefer David Tennant? You can do that, too.
This is a game that plays to geeks of all kinds, from the sci-fi obsessed to the ones that love a good movie reference, too, because you’ll find Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Jurassic World, Lord of the Rings, and a few other things here and there, not to mention some in-jokes inside the various levels, such as a Gandalf jumping forward and backward in time when he’s in the time-travelling Tardis of Doctor Who.
In short, this is the game every geek will want to play with, and if you have forgotten about toys because you were too mature for them or someone you knew told you to grow up, this is the game you’ll want to get out to let you play with your inner child. If you have children already, better, because you can explore your favourite franchises together, and maybe inspire a little geek in them, too.
Lego Dimensions will be available from September 28 on the Sony PlayStation 3, Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox 360, Microsoft Xbox One, and Nintendo’s Wii U.