I was initially attracted to LEGO Dimensions for one reason: you could play as the Doctor and fly the T.A.R.D.I.S. I expected it would be a fun little side thing in the game, but that’s all. What I did not expect was for TT Games and Warner Bros to incorporate all the best bits of so many intellectual properties into one cohesive form while rekindling my love of building with LEGOs.
A quick note on how all of the different pieces and packs of LEGO Dimensions break down before going too much further. There are three different kinds of packs for sale: fun, team, and level. The fun packs include one LEGO character (such as Doc Brown or Superman) and an associated vehicle or gadget. The vehicles and gadgets essentially serve the same purpose, i.e., provide some additional in-game ability like cutting through gold LEGOs or deflect laser beams, and only differ in the fact that in-game characters can ride vehicles.
The team packs are the next step up and include two LEGO figures and either two vehicles or a vehicle and a gadget. Finally, there are the level packs. These include one LEGO figure, a vehicle, and either another vehicle or a gadget. The level packs also unlock a new fully playable level, which usually just serves as a way to familiarize the player with the abilities of the figure, vehicle, and gadget.
No matter what you buy, all of it can be used anywhere in the game. Some figures/vehicles/gadgets may have certain abilities that are required to open up new, optional, areas in a level or be able to solve a puzzle in order to acquire a gold LEGO brick, but all story content is available to you simply by purchasing the base game that comes with Gandalf, Wyldstyle, Gandalf, and the Batmobile. Best of all, with LEGO Dimensions’ “Hero-for-Hire” system, you can spend LEGO studs to temporarily use a character with the special ability you need if you absolutely need to 100% everything. With that sorted, let’s talk about the game itself.
For me, the greatest feature of LEGO Dimensions is how well all of these disparate franchises have been integrated. When playing as the Doctor, “dying” causes you to regenerate into a previous form, each of whom has his own unique idle animations, theme music, and voice (mostly taken from archived sound). The Portal level has little easter eggs from both of the previous titles scattered throughout along with new dialogue from GLaDOS and Wheatley. The Lord of the Rings Adventure World lets you freely roam around from the Shire, Rivendell, the Mines of Moria, and Minas Tirith.
There is so much packed in from all of these different properties that I can’t help but be reminded of the days when, as a kid, I would dump out my bucket of toys and make them all play together. I didn’t care if Batman and G.I. Joe didn’t exist in the same universe together, they were going to solve a crime. LEGO Dimensions captures the nostalgia and fondness we have for all of these favorite franchises and then turns us loose to play with them, both in-game and out of it, too.
Granted, the way we interact and play with them in-game has to happen within the confines of a TT Games LEGO title. There are story levels that progress the overall narrative of the game and there are themed Adventure Worlds where players are free to roam around and gather up as many studs, gold and red bricks, and other collectibles as they can. Each story level is a mixture of attacking foes and solving puzzles. On your way to the final encounter of the stage, you’ll destroy everything you can to collect LEGO studs, use the special abilities of certain characters to earn collectibles, and be treated to the occasional amusing bit of dialogue. Boss battles serve to either reinforce mechanics you learned in the level, or introduce new ones that will be used in the next level.
All of this is the same regardless if you’re playing by yourself or with another person. The biggest benefit to playing the game with a friend or loved one - aside from the general camaraderie such activities engender - is being able to solve the game’s puzzles just a little bit faster. Rather than switching back and forth between characters, each player can control one and assist in working on some piece of the solution. This expediency does have its drawbacks, however. While the person sitting next to you on the couch is probably someone you would consider a friend (or more), the camera in the game is not.
The dynamic split-screen works well enough in the story missions, but it is for the story missions only. All of the Adventure Worlds force a vertical split-screen that cannot be changed. This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if it weren’t for the fact that you’re often trying to look all around you as much as possible to see what’s there. In some cases, the object with which you need to interact is located just at the top or bottom of the screen and you have no way of panning the camera up enough to easily lock on and interact with it unless your partner is standing right next to you. This isn’t a huge inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, but nothing sucks you out of the fun more than fighting with the game to achieve what it wants you to do.
Outside of the game, LEGO Dimensions provides players with some new ways to interact with the figures and the Portal Pad itself. In previous LEGO games, most of the puzzles either entailed manipulating things in the environment to create a new path, or using the special abilities of a particular character. While the latter still exists, the former takes on a new twist thanks to the Portal Pad and “keystones.”
In your quest to bring order to the LEGO universe, you’ll acquire five keystones. Each of these has a special function, such as creating portals on the screen allowing you to access otherwise impossible to reach area, or granting you elemental (fire, lightning, earth, or water) powers, that can be activated at certain nodes scattered throughout the game. While the nodes themselves are activated in-game by hitting them, accessing the powers they grant you involves moving your LEGO figures around on the Portal Pad.
For instance, in one particular level, you come across what looks like a plexiglass tunnel that connects to a switch. In order to proceed, you have to get a character through that tunnel to push the switch. There’s a nearby node you activate that results in the size changing keystone to take effect. Upon doing so, the different sections of the Portal Pad will flash different colors (orange, green, and clear) to indicate which special effect will occur if you place your LEGO figure on one of those sections (orange makes them shrink, green makes them grow, and clear return them to normal size). In this example, you place your figure in the orange section so they shrink down, go through the tunnel, and then go about your way. Later puzzles may have pieces of the tunnel broken off so you first have to place your figure on the green section to make them grow, pick up the broken section, repair the tunnel, and then place the figure on the orange panel to shrink down.
This mechanic is a novel idea within the genre of “toys-to-life”, though it can be troublesome once your collection of LEGO grows. There are only seven spaces on the Portal Pad and if all of those get filled up, you’ll be quickly trying to swap figures around to ensure they stay in the game and to do accomplish whatever the game is asking you to do at that time. For the keystone puzzles, this usually isn’t too bad as you can always swap to a particular character that’s already in the right section. Some character abilities, like Wyldstyle’s “Master Builder” power, and boss encounters, however, require you to move figures around more frequently. While I wanted to freely play as anyone and use any vehicle during the story missions, I eventually got to the point where I only had Batman, Wyldstyle, and Gandalf on the pad to makes things easy for myself.
Finally, there are the figures, vehicles, and gadgets themselves. Every vehicle/gadget has three forms. Instructions on how to assemble it into it’s default form are provided from within the game (there are no physical instructions). Gaining access to the alternative forms requires upgrading via the portal located in the hub world (Vorton).
Once the new forms are unlocked, you are provided a new set of instructions that walk you through how to reassemble the gadget/vehicle. I quickly found myself blowing through all of the studs and gold LEGO bricks I had acquired just to unlock the next form of a particular vehicle just so I could assemble it in a different way. What’s more, those different forms changes aren’t purely cosmetic either. Each form has its own set of abilities, such as being able to dive underwater or pull down walls with tow cables, that are needed to acquire all of those collectibles scattered throughout.
There’s an underlying idea to LEGOs that has inspired so many throughout the years: if you can dream it, build it. People will look at a pile of LEGO bricks and then think of way to make them into something more, like a dinosaur, or the Empire State Building. I feel that that same idea has translated over into LEGO Dimensions. TT Games looked at the idea of “toys-to-life” and the rote gameplay mechanics of their previous titles and merged them in a way that is not only greater than its parts, but so very true to the LEGO spirit.