Remember how much fun Lego was as a kid? Now you can relive that fun while playing a video game. Just don’t do it while your wife is around, otherwise she’ll look at you wish a puzzled grin as you assemble pieces in both the real and virtual world.
Back when many of us were kids, video games weren’t nearly as common as they are now. Systems were expensive, and the games on them, while fun, weren’t nearly as immersive or long. In fact, this reviewer has been playing games longer than he should probably admit, and while there have been quite a few long games out there — Apogee’s Secret Agent, anyone? Or anything made by LucasArts? — they weren’t nearly as accessible.
Basically, the rules have changed, and we have it easy these days, kids especially so.
There are multiple ways to play games these days, and companies are making them better than before, no longer just investing heaps on improving the graphics, but going so far as to make them have more immersive stories, known voice actors, and unusual game mechanics that make them more interesting, not to mention extra content that the game doesn’t come with initially but can be added to the title later on, because, you know, it’ll be a longer title because of it.
Lego Dimensions epitomises those game changing efforts.
Back when we were kids, there was more to do than just play games. There was no internet, no social media, and chances are if you were connecting to anything like the internet, it was a bulletin board system where you could talk to others by text, and play games built using the same concept, possibly one built by Seth Robinson.
You had other physical toys to play with, and these took up most of your time. If you were into action, you had action figures. If you lived for solving things, there were puzzles. And if you were driven to build and engage that imagination of yours, there was Lego.
We’re not going to talk up the awesomeness that is Lego; we could write pages of why building stuff out of blocks is awesome, and every child has probably experienced this at least once. If you haven’t, go out and buy some and see why bringing to life an imagination through blocks is awesome. Hey, there’s even Lego for adults, with the advanced Lego Technics for building mechanical objects, the robotic Lego Mindstorms stuff with programmable systems, and classy Lego made to resemble famous architectural icons.
So we’re not here to talk about the excellence of Lego. What we are here to talk about, however, is what happens when a video game doesn’t just take the idea of Lego and digitises it, but rather finds a way for physical toy to coexist with the digital interpretation.
For that, we have Lego Dimensions, a game that sits in the “toys to life” category of the market whereby you end up buying physical figurines that let you play digital characters inside the game. Think of this as the new way for parents to spend money on their kids, or even for parents to spend on themselves.
But rather than just employ a figurine that can load up a character — which is how all of the other “toys to life” titles work — Warner Bros and TT Games have brought together the fun and the frustration that is building a Lego item together with the digital experience.
We need to say that at this point, Lego video games aren’t new. They first popped up in 1998, but the ones that have actually made a dent for the company have been based on popular franchises, starting with Lego Harry Potter back in 2001. These editions of Lego games have always been quirky, playful, and usually quite funny, and have gone across several universes, including Star Wars, Batman, Jurassic Park, and Lord of the Rings, and are probably one of the main reasons we saw “The Lego Movie” last year.
Developer TT Games has been responsible for most (if not all) of the popular Lego video games, and in Lego Dimensions, the company is trying to bring together all of its Lego digital worlds plus a few new ones to meet at a precipice where digital and physical connect.
You’ll find that very quickly, actually, because the first thing you realise when you pick up the Lego Dimensions box is just how big it is: seriously, it’s a bigger box than you’ve come to expect from the basic open-close DVD case boxes video games have been coming with for years, and inside this box is a special gamepad that reads NFC tags in controllers, the video game, a poster, and a bunch of Lego.
Yes, you get real Lego inside Lego Dimensions, and you even get an instruction manual, but you don’t have to worry so much about that in the beginning, just pop the game in and start there.
Once you’ve gone through the intro and discovered that Gary Oldman has been turned into some evil Lego villain hell bent on taking over the universe, it’s time to actually get to work and build your Lego for your character and vehicle gamepad, the very thing controlling the portal connecting you to Lego’s various dimensions where you’ll be travelling to stop that villain in his quest.
When you first get the gamepad out of the box, you’ll see the Lego placement bricks and assume you need to build on it, and once you get up to the section of the game (in the intro) that asks for it, you can either follow a paper manual found in the box, or one on the screen.
Here starts the physical Lego building fun, and truth be told, there’s a good hour of Lego building here, what with the emptying of Lego packets on the table, finding the right pieces, and then building the thing, which is actually a physical interpretation of the portal Lego Dimensions uses in-game to send you to destinations.
We do need to note that you don’t actually have to build it if you don’t want to, and you could easily play the game without so much as a portal on your game pad, but it’s fun, and is part and parcel of the Lego experience.
You’ll also need to build yourself some players to play with, and three of these arrive in the box: Batman, Gandalf, and The Lego Movie’s Wyldstyle. Each of these sits on a special blue token of their own, and the reason these are so special is that they are encoded with information to tell the game which character to load up when they’re sitting on the board.
Want to play with Gandalf? You have to move him to the board.
Wish to be Batman? Stick him on the board.
Keen to play as Homer Simpson? Buy an extra character and level pack, assemble him, and stick the donut-eating father of three on the board.
Lego Dimensions connects your physical minifigure characters to the game by way of this board, and with space for up to seven spots, you can have up to seven characters, though you’ll probably moreso be mixing it up with vehicles, because these can be built and put on the board, too.
Shortly into the introduction, you’ll find you’re asked to build yet another Lego toy, but this one takes much less time: the Batmobile.
Again, you don’t need to, and could probably put the token on the board without making the attempt, but that inclusion of the fun and frustration of building Lego is here, so playing without building feels like you’re only getting half of the experience, and playing with plastic discs instead of Lego. You want to go play with plastic discs, open up a box of Checkers. Seriously, you’re playing with Lego, and in the Lego world, you’re going to have to build stuff.
With the Batmobile built, you can get through the introduction and make your way to the first world: The Wizard of Oz.
It seems that The Wicked Witch is keen to steal the very items you need, and so it’s time to show her who’s boss, driving through the yellow bricked world and showing her a thing or two.
Gameplay in Dimensions is built upon team play, but you don’t need a secondary player to make your way through. Rather, you’ll find you can jump from player to player with the push of a button, with each character coming with their own special sets of traits. Batman has his Batarang to throw at far off enemies and can tether himself to objects and pull them down, while Wyldstyle can do large jumps and scan for secret entrances.
And Gandalf? He’s a magical wizard, so he can throw objects together using the power of his mind (and probably that stick he carries around).
So getting through the game as a single player isn’t terribly difficult, and the good news is that because this is a Lego game, there is no such thing as losing or dying.
As such, Lego games have always been great for kids because it doesn’t matter how often your character blinks out of existence, he or she will just return momentarily to keep fighting. Death doesn’t exist in Lego; you just break into pieces and start again.
That means fighting enemies isn’t difficult, and even if the kids are button mashing to the point where you fear they’ll break the controller, they’ll still have fun, getting lost in the anarchy happening on screen.
Two players can jump between the characters, too, and Lego Dimensions supports a maximum of two characters, with the cooperative play happening here, but you don’t have to have a friend around. We played by ourselves and it worked out just as well.
Playing Lego Dimensions will see you jumping through worlds like The Wizard of Oz, The Simpsons, Back to the Future, Portal, Doctor Who, and a whole bunch of other franchises Lego hasn’t tapped before, all trying to find ways of stopping that villain from taking over the Lego Universe.
Because these franchises are common, you’ll encounter familiar characters voiced by many of the original actors though with Lego actors.
And as you do, you might even have to arrange your Lego characters on a pad in a different way.
That’s sort of where Lego Dimensions gets a little complicated, because while it turns into a basic puzzle, it’s the sort that doesn’t give away much, asking you to guess and match your on-board players to various parts of the game world. Adults will probably be fine with this, though there were points we even felt a little frustration, almost as much as building the Lego bits and wondering why we had left over pieces (did we miss something?).
Fortunately, these bits aren’t long, and you can get back into basic button mashing, kicking the crap out of the enemy and trying to score as many Lego coins as you can in game to unlock other characters and parts of the game.
Worth noting, however, is that you kind of need to buy more Lego if you want to play as these characters.
And it’s specific Lego, by the way, with Lego Dimensions packs bringing new characters — Doctor Who, Homer Simpson, Marty McFly, Chell from Portal — as well as new vehicles for you to play with.
These cost real money and can be found in a real store, and while that’s not surprising, because other “toys to life” games like Disney Infinity and Skylanders do this, Lego’s Dimensions add-ons still require you to build things, just like the rest of the game, which means an add-on toy isn’t just a way of introducing a new character to the game (though it’s certainly that, too), but rather a potentially fun experience of building some Lego while you’re at it.
And you get a Lego minifig that Lego has never made before, which is quite cool, too.
It does need to be said that the bulk of the Dimensions game — which has quite a few hours of gameplay in it — is kind of like a demo for the rest of the add-on packs Lego is selling.
Essentially, you’re playing one long mission of each world that Dimensions sells a pack for, and while there’s a sandbox mode where you can unlock more things and find lots of secrets, you kind of need extra characters to do many of these things, such as using a Ghostbusters character to get rid of ghosts in The Wizard of Oz. It doesn’t make sense, but it does make the game more interesting, even if it means you’re probably going to spend a good $40 on a new pack every month because your child (or even your inner child) demands it.
Despite this, you don’t need to invest, you’ll just want to, and anyone can play the entirety of the game without spending on an extra level or character pack (you just get more out of the game if you do).
And regardless of if you spend, you still get a fun family oriented game that will expose you to numerous franchises that’ll have you reaching for the Blu-ray shelf (and possible the game shelf) to share with anyone who is sitting nearby to ask “who is that?”
Simply put, there is a load of fun to have in Lego Dimensions, but it seems especially made for people who play together, whether it’s family around the console or two consenting adults wanting to relive what it was like to be kids again.