On unboxing the LEGO Dimensions Starter Pack, it’s clear you’re about to experience something a little different. For starters, it’s not the video game that I’m first prizing out of its shrink-wrapping, but a box full of lovely LEGO bits.
As the latest franchise to enter the “toys-to-life” genre, LEGO Dimensions follows in the golden boots of Skylanders and Disney Infinity, where physical characters and items are transported into the game world via a portal, and part of the fun here is building those characters and objects before you begin.
The Starter Pack comes complete with a USB-connected toy box (a platform/portal for your characters and objects), three characters (Wyldstyle, Batman and Gandalf), a Batmobile vehicle, and additional LEGO pieces to build on top of your portal.
Apart from the actual PS4 game and USB toy box, you have to build everything from scratch so it’s just like buying an actual LEGO set, only this time you’re building stuff that will appear in-game when you place them on the portal.
That marriage between the enjoying pursuit of LEGO brick-building and a game world where your creations come to life works extremely well. Even before the game begins, there’s an air of anticipation and excitement as I build the three characters with my young daughter before plugging in the toy box portal for the first time.
The portal itself is about the same size as a mini iPad and sports a rather plain white and grey colour scheme, but it soon bursts into life when it starts flashing all the colours of the rainbow and you’re asked to place your characters onto various areas of the portal, which is split up into seven different platforms.
The intro to LEGO Dimensions sets up an interesting and fascinating concept where you’re told that universes will collide. Sure enough, there’s a Batman and Robin car chase which ends with the dynamic duo hurting through a portal into the Lord of The Rings universe to an iconic scene in the movie where Gandalf, Frodo and his chums cross the bridge of Khazad-Dum.
Gandalf falls off the cliff, but in this scenario Batman flies down and rescues him with his grappling hook, before they cross through another portal into Wyldstyle’s colourful world of The LEGO Movie. It’s a cracking introduction that highlights Travellers Tales’ creative side superbly. This is a developer who has consistently taken major movie and comic book franchises and offered a unique take on them by injecting them with a heavy dose of humour and fun, as well as familiar scenes that instantly remind us of those franchises. In LEGO Dimensions, the script-writing, voice work and game worlds collide magnificently to produce a clever, witty and often ingenious backdrop to the core LEGO gameplay we’ve become accustomed to.
Predictably, the quests and objectives in LEGO Dimensions play out like most LEGO games, where you smash up stuff to collect studs, and switch between characters to use their various powers to solve environment-based puzzles. So, you might use Gandalf’s staff to light up dark places, Batman’s batarang to activate switches, and Wyldstyle’s acrobatics to wall jump up to a high ledge.
There’s a fair amount of juggling between characters with the triangle button, and the occasionally frustrating trial-and-error approach to working your way out of an area, but there’s also plenty of hand-holding and tips along the way to ensure you don’t get too lost. Despite its familiarity and occasional repetitiveness, it’s the game worlds and unique scenarios that keep the action feeling fresh, not to mention the new physical and interactive element of using the portal and building your creations.
Indeed, that connection between the physical items on your portal and the game serves to add a new dimension to the tried-and-trusted LEGO formula, with puzzle solving elements often requiring you to shift characters around the portal onto one of the seven platforms – you even have to stop playing after the first brief chapter when your portal explodes in-game to re-build it physically with the LEGO bits in your box. This new level of immersion and fun has become synonymous with the ‘toys-to-life’ brand, and in LEGO Dimensions it’s the familiarity of these well-known characters and game worlds that helps to elevate that experience over the other ‘toys-to-life’ games that I’ve played.
The characters and universes in LEGO Dimensions ooze personality, with a campaign that takes you across many familiar universes, such as the Land of Oz, Back To The Future’s Wild West and Springfield from The Simpsons. Fusing together some unlikely alliances, it’s great fun to see the likes of Batman heading up the Yellow Brick Road and mistaking the Scarecrow for the supervillain from the comic books, and watching Gandalf help Homer Simpson save a power plant in Springfield. Of course, your enjoyment of each character and game world depends on your familiarity with each franchise, but by and large the brands chosen and the witty scripts that accompany each chapter kept me thoroughly entertained.
The campaign is surprisingly long too, lasting around 10-12 hours, taking you through 14 different game worlds inspired by the likes of Portal, Doctor Who and Scooby-Doo. With plenty of funny scenarios and familiar puzzles to get your teeth sunk into, there’s also the chance to hop in the Batmobile (after you’ve built it with LEGO!), which opens up new powers, such as the ability to drive straight over flowers in the Land of the Oz which would otherwise send you to sleep.
In terms of gameplay, LEGO Dimensions largely hits all the right notes with impressive level design, a good mix of puzzles and the glowing satisfaction you get from collecting studs. There’s a few frustrating moments where I was scouring the environment for the umpteenth time trying to work out what to do, but level and puzzle design is largely impressive with a good variety of abilities and stages to keep the action feeling fresh. The interaction with the portal can get a little confusing at the start, with it forcing you to switch the positions of your characters between the seven platforms to solve puzzles and avoid the fire from the Wicked Witch of the West, but it serves its purpose well and it’s good fun having to switch between playing the game with the DS4 and having some physical interaction with the items you’ve built.
In typical LEGO game fashion, there’s also golden bricks to find, and studs to collect that can be spent on a variety of items, including power and weapon upgrades for the Batmobile, as well as new abilities to unlock new areas. Indeed, the replay value is vast if you’re a completionist, and beyond the main story mode there’s plenty of extra content to get stuck into.
Though you can play through the entire LEGO Dimensions campaign with three characters in the Starter set, you can pay more to unlock other content by buying more LEGO packs. This can be frustrating when you come across a locked area that you can’t enter, but it’s totally optional – plus the base game is large enough in its own right, and offers plenty of replay value beyond its already lengthy campaign.
Nevertheless, the draw of buying additional sets will be extremely strong, especially if you’re a fan of a particular franchise. These pack aren’t cheap either, costing up to £30 to buy the likes of the Back to The Future, Portal or Jurassic World packs. There’s also level expansion packs that open up new campaigns beyond the main adventure, so buying everything that’s currently available for LEGO Dimensions could cost you around £300.
Overall, LEGO Dimensions is an excellent game in its own right with brilliant game worlds, a good storyline, plenty of humour, and satisfyingly familiar brick-breaking gameplay. The fact that you now build LEGO characters that interact with the portal is bound to cause panic amongst parents who may have to shell out a small fortune for the additional LEGO sets, but it’s an ingenious move because it adds a whole new, enjoyable dimension to the LEGO formula. If, like me, you’ve got a job and some spare cash in your pocket then you’ll probably start ordering additional packs before you’ve even completed the game to experience more of the game worlds you most enjoy. Despite some frustrating sections of gameplay, due to some elaborate puzzles that require character switching on the portal’s platforms, LEGO Dimensions is an addictive, charming and fun evolution of the much-loved franchise.