Sure, we’ve seen our fair share of games in the toys-to-life genre. Heck, this year alone, we’ve gotten our hands on Disney Infinity 3.0, Skylanders Super Chargers (which we reviewed) and tons of new Nintendo Amiibo. But, when Traveller’s Tales and Warner Bros. revealed that they’d be throwing their hat into the ring with LEGO Dimensions, people lost their minds—and rightly so. Most of us grew up playing with LEGO (and trying not to step on them), so combining the ability to physically build characters, vehicles, and more with the LEGO gameplay TT has mastered over the years, was a brilliant move.
As someone who always saw the genre as nothing more than a gimmick, I’m impressed by how much focus has been placed on the toys themselves. LEGO Dimensions utilizes its brilliant toy-pad NFC technology, access to 14 different franchises, and witty writing to add a unique layer to the LEGO series’ gameplay, making it not only the best LEGO game the developer has ever created, but the top of the line when it comes to the toys-to-life genre.
Before even putting the disc in, one of the first things I did when I got my hands on LEGO Dimensions was build the gateway itself. As I’m sure my pal and resident Nerdist Gaming Editor Malik Forté will tell you, unboxing and constructing the portal was a ton of fun, but absolutely no joke. 269 bricks and roughly 45 minutes to an hour later, the game pad was ready to go. Though this was my approach, it’s important to point out that you don’t need to do it before playing—or at all—because all that matters are the bases for the characters and vehicles, which you’ll be constantly moving around as you play. Since the NFC chips for the toys are in the base, you’re free to let your imagination run wild by doing silly things like giving Batman Gandalf’s beard, or dressing him up with Wildstyle’s fabulous hair.
The cool thing, however, is that once you build something using the in-game instruction manual, it doesn’t mean the item has reached its final form. The portal itself is changed throughout the game, giving players the opportunity to physically make their own toy pad look like the virtual one. As you unlock special items called keystones–which are originally stored on the back–you’ll be prompted to remove them and place them on the front of the gateway. The same thing goes for vehicles. As you progress, you’ll be able to use the studs you collected to upgrade and rebuild vehicles. As I already mentioned, you don’t need to do any of this to continue, but it definitely serves as a refreshing break from having a controller in your hand.
The act of physically building definitely serves as a refreshing break from having a controller in your hand.
Once the game begins, the main story is laid out with an introductory cutscene. In short, a villain named Vortech (Gary Oldman) is on a mission to find the foundational elements which when combined will give him the power to control the multiverse. After the baddie abducts Robin, Frodo, and Metalbeard at the beginning of the game, Batman, Gandalf and Wildstyle build their own portal to go in and get them all back and save the multiverse. Because Vortech is destroying universes in an attempt to merge them all, characters, villains, and more make hilarious cameos in each other’s franchises.
While this sounds like the typical villain taking over the world set-up, seeing the trio of main characters kicking butt and solving puzzles in the worlds of The Wizard of Oz, Doctor Who, Ghostbusters, Scooby-Doo, Back to the Future, Lord of the Rings and more shakes things up. Aside from the creative gameplay–which I’ll get to in a minute–one the coolest things about the game is seeing how all of the franchises are woven together. It would have been enough to simply include worlds inspired by famous films, comics, and television shows, but TT Games takes it a step further, tossing bosses, enemies and items from other franchises into the one you’re in. That means you’ll be fighting Sauron in Metropolis, the Riddler in Middle Earth, and Lord Business in Springfield.
Though the script had me laughing for most of the game, there was a lot of repetition when it came to things the characters said aloud or to each other when they weren’t in a cutscene. Sure, hearing Gandalf tell Gollum about his search for the ring was funny the first time, but after hearing it multiple times throughout the game, I often wished that either more variety was thrown in, or that it hadn’t been uttered at all. The same went for when characters were trying to tell you that they’d be able to solve the puzzle at hand or that somebody else would be better equipped. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice to be prompted, but the repetition was annoying.
That means you’ll be fighting Sauron in Metropolis, the Riddler in Middle Earth, and Lord Business in Springfield.
Luckily, the gameplay was creative enough to excuse how bothered I was about the repetitive script. As with most games in this genre, the NFC chips in the base brought each character and vehicle to life in the game. What sets this apart from Disney Infinity and the like is the fact that interaction with the toys themselves is an integral part of the game. Once the toys are on the gamepad, your virtual puzzle solving will prompt you to save them from being hurt, use a special ability, send them tumbling through a particular portal, and more by simply moving them to a different spot on the gamepad. As you progress through the game and add more vehicles/characters to the gamepad (which can hold 7 in total), the physical gameplay becomes fast, furious, and most importantly, a hell of a good time. Adding a co-op buddy–who depending on age–to the madness can either help or hinder your ability to move on.
While the level design in the first few levels wasn’t anything special, deviating only slightly from LEGO gameplay we’ve been used to for years, things started to pick up once all of the keystones–which bring new modes into the game–were introduced. There are five in total, including: Shift, Chroma, Scale, Locate and Elemental, which all utilize the gamepad in completely different ways. Chroma–which requires the player to move characters to specific colored areas on the toy pad to match an onscreen model–was by far my favorite, especially once the ability to mix colors was introduced. For example, if Batman was placed on the yellow spot on the left hand side of the toypad, and Gandalf was on the red spot in the middle, placing Gandalf next to Batman on the gamepad would create the color orange. It sounds complicated, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a lot of fun, and a great way for kids to learn about mixing colors.
None of the other modes are given additional things to do, but requiring the player to figure out which one they need to activate first added enough variety to keep me intrigued. As for the levels themselves, Doctor Who, Scooby Doo, Ghostbusters, and Midway Arcade were among some of my favorites, with the latter being the most surprising. I won’t give anything away, but the creativity in the last few levels (Midway in particular) blew my mind. There are also throwbacks to the source material peppered throughout, which again, I won’t spoil because they’re best discovered on your own.
The asking price is high, but not as bad as you’d think, at least where level packs are concerned.
Now, I guess we should talk about the elephant in the room. The additional sets you can purchase for the game are ridiculously expensive. The level packs–which consisted of The Simpsons, Back to the Future and Portal 2 for the first wave–cost $30. Granted, they do come with an additional level, but $90 dollars for three more levels is a bit much. I suppose what redeems the price is the fact that the packs come with actual LEGO that you’ll be able to build and play with outside of the game. Also, the vehicles included, like the Batmobile, can be rebuilt up to three times. Again, the asking price is high, but not as bad as you’d think, at least where level packs are concerned. The issue becomes more apparent when you get to the Team and Fun packs which merely add characters and new abilities to the game, which brings me to my next point.
Aside from the main campaign, there are a bunch of open worlds you can run around in by navigating to the level select area of the Vorton Hub World. There are quests within each, and it is fun to see our favorite worlds come to life in LEGO form, but there is a catch. To enter the individual worlds, you’ll need to have a character from that franchise in your possession. So, if you want to navigate Springfield, Jurassic World, or Portal 2, you’ll need to purchase the appropriate pack to do so. With that being said, there are a few of the 14 franchises that don’t appear in the game at all, unless you spend your hard earned dinero on one of the add-ons.
LEGO Dimensions is the first toys-to-life game to actually make the toys themselves the star of the game.
All in all, despite the pricy packs, LEGO Dimensions featured some of the most refreshing gameplay I’ve seen in a long time. It is the first toys-to-life game to actually make the toys themselves the star of the game. The thing that TT has over it’s competitors is the fact that they’ve had years to perfect their unique style of gameplay. With a sturdy base in place, they were able to be more innovative with how the physical characters, vehicles and the gamepad itself interacted with virtual gameplay.
-Building the vortex, characters, and later rebuilding/tweaking things is a refreshing break from holding a controller in your hands.
-Bosses, enemies and characters making cameos in other worlds makes for a hilarious crossover
-Unique gameplay modes that constantly force you to move characters around the gamepad.
-Level design that gets more complicated over time
-Dialogue is repetitive at times
-Not every franchise is present in the main campaign
RATING: 4 out of 5 Burritos
This review was completed using a PS4 copy of LEGO Dimensions provided by Warner Bros. Interactive. The game hit stores on September 27, 2015 on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Wii U.