It’s difficult to say when the magic of LEGO Dimensions really kicked in for me. Maybe it was when I was building a miniature DeLorean and seeing it pop-up on screen. Or when I put Gandalf into it and started cruising through Middle-Earth. Or perhaps it was the moment when Batman entered a technicoloured Land of Oz and is immediately disgusted by how colourful everything is. Pretty much every click of a brick into place, or press of a button feels like something special and unique in LEGO Dimensions.
Even your introduction to the game is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Usually when throwing a new disc into my console, I’m confronted with download screens while it retrieves the latest patch. LEGO Dimensions is no different with a sizable 5.4 GB update - but the difference here is that you can use this time to start building physical LEGO creations that are included with the Starter Pack.
You are given three minifigs with the game - Batman, Gandalf, and Wyldstyle - which you’ll need to put together before the game starts. But also around 270 LEGO pieces that are assembled into an impressive looking portal which adorns the stage, or base, which is also included and connects to your PS4 via the USB port. While the printed instructions book says to wait for an in-game prompt before building the portal, I recommend you make a start while you’re waiting for the download patch to install. The portal itself takes even a seasonal LEGO builder around 25 minutes to complete, and the in-game instructions simply mimic that of the printed booklet anyway (except with repetitive, dramatic music over the top).
It’s a shame that the game doesn’t include animated versions of the building instructions, but it also means that you don’t need to hold onto the printed booklets as they’re always available in-game. If you manage to finish building the portal before the game starts, don’t attach it to the base yet. It just means you have it on hand so that when you reach that moment in the game, you can continue with the action without a fairly tedious, half-hour build in-between. The Starter Pack also includes a miniature Batmobile, but this can certainly be built during the game when prompted as it’s a quick and fun process.
From here, the Story Mode of LEGO Dimensions builds the scene by introducing your three central heroes - with Batman patrolling the streets before his side-kick Robin is suddenly sucked into a wormhole that has opened up out of no-where. Diving in after him, Batman is suddenly transported to Middle-Earth, where he ends up on the back of a Balrog who is battling Gandalf as they fall into the depths of Moria. Another wormhole appearing randomly then transports them to Cloud Cuckoo Land, from the LEGO Movie, where they collide with Unikitty and our third main hero, Wyldstyle.
In the background, you learn that all of these portals are the evil work of a mysterious being called Lord Vortech, brilliantly voiced by Gary Oldman, who is ripping open the very fabric of time and space within the LEGO universe. It’s a perfect plot device to efficiently bring together the dozens of different LEGO worlds, mixing up characters and environments seamlessly - often with hilarious consequences. The excellent voice acting and script does most of the leg-work, all brought to life by the talents of Elizabeth Banks, Alison Brie, Michael J. Fox , Christopher Lloyd, Tara Strong, Peter Capaldi, and many more. It’s the little touches that add to the charm too, such as Gandalf calling the Batmobile a chariot, or the moment when Chris Pratt has a conversation with himself when Jurassic Park and the LEGO Movie worlds collide.
LEGO Dimensions pulls together a ridiculously rich goulash of franchises, jumbling them all up so that it feels like you’re in a psychedelic and nostalgic dream. There’s Batman, Marty McFly, Scooby Doo, Gandalf, Homer Simpson, Wonder Woman, Peter Venkman, and Doctor Who - who all seamlessly interact with each other as you cross into different worlds. There’s nothing quite as surreal as watching the Wicked Witch of the West stumble into New York where the Staypuft Marshmallow man and Superman are hanging out.
It pulls together a ridiculously rich goulash of franchises like a psychedelic and nostalgic dream
It’s interesting looking at the characters and expansion packs for LEGO Dimensions, as the inclusion of ‘80s classics Ghostbusters and Back to the Future makes you wonder exactly who they’re targeting. Obviously they acknowledge the massive audience that LEGO attracts, from those in their 30s and 40s through to kids. For the younger players though, LEGO Dimensions includes newer creations such as the brilliant LEGO Movie (with Emmett and Wyldstyle), as well as the Chima and Ninjago LEGO ranges.
With all of these franchises, you can’t help but notice the omission of Star Wars and Marvel - especially considering that the LEGO Star Wars range of sets basically pulled the company out of near bankruptcy in the ‘90s. Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to realise why when you look at it’s competition, Disney Infinity. Hopefully LEGO Dimensions can add Star Wars at a later date, as it is a gaping hole in their line-up. There’s also no sign yet of franchises that LEGO already have in their archives, such as Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Harry Potter - so it’s possible these are tied up in licensing red tape too.
There’s definitely no shortage of packs already on the market though, and they come in three different types: Fun Packs, Team Packs, and Level Packs. The Fun Packs are the cheaper of the three, retailing for around $35, and include a minifig and a related vehicle. For instance a LEGO Movie Fun Pack includes the lovable Benny with his pride and joy 1980s spaceship, re-created in miniature form. The Team Packs are similar, but at around $50 they include four items, usually two minifigs, a vehicle, and gadget. Level Packs are the most expensive at around $60 each, include a minifig, a vehicle, and a gadget,but also unlock areas and new missions that are accessible within the game.
It’s a lot to take in, and it sounds like a cash-grab, but considering a Level Pack can add an extra four or so hours of gameplay, not to mention that every character in the game has their own unique abilities, it does give LEGO Dimensions a huge amount of variety toward repeated gameplay. The Portal 2 Level Pack, for instance, feels like a completely different game, delivering the clever physics-based puzzles, the stark white testing facility rooms, and snarky wit of the original - complete with authentic voice work from Stephen Merchant and Ellen McLain.
With all of these packs, you can’t help but appreciate the effort that has gone into making such detailed and cutesy miniature renditions of recognisable vehicles and landmarks too. From the tiny Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters through to the Dalek from Doctor Who, or the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo and Wonder Woman’s invisible jet - they are adorable and small enough to fit seven different minifigs, vehicles or gadgets on the portal all at the same time.
They are also a lot of fun to build, unless you have banana fingers - where you might struggle with some of the finicky tiny pieces. I can imagine parents and their kids hanging out in the lounge making these little sets, and in many cases then going off on a tangent about how they used to watch Ghostbusters on VHS tape while the kids give them blank looks.
LEGO Dimensions plays just like previous LEGO titles, where most of the action involves jumping, bashing up objects to reveal bricks, and solving basic puzzles. Except now the game can incorporate the physical building of LEGO to help solve puzzles - as well as simply swapping characters in and out, or moving them around the portal base. It’s amazing just how playing with physical pieces, that perfectly match what you’re seeing on screen, makes them so much more engaging. Not to mention the tactile moments when you’re having to build new vehicles or machines out of actual LEGO bricks before proceeding to a new section of the game.
If we were going to point out some of the issues of LEGO Dimensions, you could comment on how a couple of interactive puzzles aren’t perfectly explained, leaving you to trial-and-error your way through them. Or perhaps that the well-used formula of LEGO games is wearing thin after 20+ games with the similar jump, build, and bash mechanic. However that will depend on how you feel about previous LEGO games... and whether this whole new level of interactivity with LEGO bricks at your fingertips compensates for that.
Either way, LEGO Dimensions is going to be around for a long time. Which means a pretty long-haul investment for people, especially parents leading up to the Silly Season. But there are a couple of things to bear in mind when weighing up the costs - for starters TT Games and Warner Bros. have stated that there is a three-year plan for LEGO Dimensions, with the portal and technology being future-proofed so that they can release add-ons and downloads for extended gameplay. Secondly, while rival "toys to life" videogames offer attractive figurines that gather dust, your LEGO add-ons and minifigs can be recycled and played with years after as part of your regular collection of bricks.
There are already plenty of add-on sets due for release in the coming months, including packs featuring Aquaman, Doc Brown, and Bart Simpson; and with LEGO’s brand presence and ability to attract franchises, there is no limit to what might be around the corner. So if your wallet is equally limitless, there is a lot of good old fashioned family fun to be had here.