When downloadable content first became a thing, it seemed like we’d all move to the digital model and the physical gaming purchases would disappear. Instead, we’re buying downloadable content with plastic toys.
Now, LEGO is jumping into the mix with the introduction of LEGO Dimensions. TT Games — the same team responsible for the other well-recieved LEGO franchises such as Star Wars and Batman — is at the helm of this one as well. There’s a pedigree for solid gameplay there, so going in you can at least feel confident that it will deliver a fun experience at its core.
But this is still a new venture for LEGO. And it’s a competitive one with games like Disney Infinity and Skylanders already multiple releases into their life-cycles. Disney Infinity 3.0 just released (our review), and while LEGO’s starter pack retails for $99, Disney’s offering is only $64.99. Activision’s latest, Skylanders Superchargers retails for the same price as LEGO Dimensions.
Considering that the LEGO games come with a decent amount of actual bricks to build, it’s understandable that it would sit on the higher end of the pricing spectrum. But of course, the game itself needs to deliver a quality experience, as just building a LEGO set isn’t enough to carry it through.
At the end of this review, we’re giving away a LEGO Dimensions starter set on a platform of your choice. Be sure to watch the whole video for some bonus entries!
LEGO Dimensions Initial Impressions
When you crack open the box for the first time, you quickly realize that the LEGO branding is quite serious, as the Starter Pack comes with three bags of plastic bricks that you will be using to build the portal that your characters use in-game.
There’s not quite as much to it as there would be with a standalone LEGO set, but the design is elaborate enough that LEGO clearly didn’t skimp, and the team designed something that would actually look cool sitting in front of any gamer’s console.
Of course, in addition to the case, the kit also comes with characters. In this case, you get Batman, Gandalf, and Wyldstyle (the lead female character from the LEGO movie, in case you’re wondering). Unlike other toys to life games, the characters aren’t assembled, so you’ll have a little building to do there as well.
It’s important to note that building the LEGO stuff in the real world is optional, though if you aren’t, you are missing out on some of the fun. With the characters, the blue discs on which they stand are the only part that actually tells the game they’re there, and the base works fine without the elaborate portal, so if you get the Starter Pack home and just want to play the game, you certainly can (though on-screen instructions will prompt you to build the portal and the Batmobile, you could safely ignore both).
A physical build guide is also included with instructions on how to build each of the characters (a painless process), and how to make the portal (quite a bit more elaborate, and a bit of a pain for someone who hasn’t played with LEGO in probably 15 years). The instructions for the Batmobile, though, are only available from within the game.
All in all, LEGO Dimensions makes a strong first impression. In fact, right out of the box it feels far more impressive than any of the other games in the genre. Actually getting your hands dirty in the real world gives the otherwise pointless pieces of plastic a reason to exist, and if you’re playing with kids (this is a game clearly made for families, after all), it’s a good chance for them to do something outside of the video game world for a bit.
Putting aside the toys, which are a huge part of the package, there’s an actual video game tucked inside of LEGO Dimensions. In terms of style, the gameplay is very similar to previous LEGO games. That is to say that it’s a beat-em-up where with plenty of environmental puzzles to solve.
While at their core, the LEGO games are made for kids, there’s enough depth to keep adults entertained while they play with their kids. As someone without children, I did find that the gameplay became tedious after just a few hours. The puzzles are engaging for the most part, but the combat is basic.
The toys come into the game in many different ways. The characters on the base are the ones you’ll be using in the world. You can have all of the starter characters on at one time (there’s room for more than those three and the Batmobile, as well), and you can switch between them with just a button press inside the game.
Different characters have different abilities, and there will be times where you’ll have to use certain ones in order to perform objectives and solve puzzles.
Using characters goes further than that, as LEGO Dimensions actually incorporates the base into the gameplay. Certain puzzles will have the player move characters off one of the pads on the base in order to break them out of a trap. For example, during an early boss fight with the Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz, she will bind certain one of your characters, causing their pad on the portal to turn red. You need to move them to a different pad in the real world base in order to free them in-game.
I appreciate these puzzles for the fact that they actually give the toys a reason to exists (outside of making the publishers piles of money). It makes the game a more tactile experience, as the stuff you’re doing in the real world actually matters. Some of the puzzles are tedious, and require frequent movement of the characters around on the base, but others are incredibly engaging. For the first game to really take a stab at using its figures in this way, LEGO does a pretty good job.
However, if you sit all the way across the room, this could mean you have to actually get up and walk to the base every time one of these puzzles occurs (and they’re quite frequent). If you sit within the range of the wired base, you won’t have a problem, but depending on your room configuration, this is something to consider. Of course, young ones playing the game probably won’t mind getting up and running to the base to engage with these puzzles, but the lazier among us will.
You can play through the whole story mode without spending a dollar on extra characters, but that doesn’t stop the game from reminding you that other characters exist whenever it gets the chance.
In a normal LEGO game, there are locations that can only be reached by certain characters, and that mechanic exists here. However, in older games, you’d buy those characters with in-game money. Here, if an area requires super strength, for example, you’ll need to run out to the store and drop your hard-earned cash on a character that has the ability.
For adults, this will be easy enough to ignore, but it’s easy to see kids immediately wanting the extra characters in order to get to these other areas, and that could get expensive quickly.
The real joy in LEGO Dimensions comes from mashing together all these beloved franchises. There’s a story justification as to why you’re jumping through portals into the worlds of The Wizard of Oz, Portal, The Simpsons, The LEGO Movie, Ninjago, and others. Basically, the evil Lord Vortech is attempting to destroy all of the various LEGO dimensions and combine them into one.
It’s not a deep story, but it gives everything that occurs a reason. When you beat a level, you never know where you’re going to end up next, and that’s truly exciting.
The only issue with all of the locations is that some of them are better realized that others. It seems like the team at TT took great care to create tons of detail in some, and others feel a little more nondescript. Still, the range of franchises touched upon is impressive, and there’s stuff to appeal to older fans and young ones at the same time.
Some locations don’t have the official soundtracks, but rather they rely on songs that have a similar feel. For example, when the intro to The Simpsons starts playing without the iconic song, it feels wrong. Presumably, this has something to do with licensing, but it’s still disappointing.
With these types of games, the value proposition is quite different than with a normal one. A game like the newly-release Assassin’s Creed Syndicate costs $60 and is just a game. You can look at how long the it is and how good the gameplay is a quickly asses if it’s a smart purchase.
You don’t need to think about the long haul, with the exception of the occasional piece of downloadable content. With games like LEGO Dimensions, things are different. The initial investment is $40 more than a standard video game, and there’s a lot of additional stuff to buy to round out the experience.
With a traditional game, most of the DLC is released after the initial experience, but in this case, hundreds of dollars worth of level packs and characters were available from the day of release. It wouldn’t be impossible to spend over $200 on the extras.
Parents looking to get this for their kids most definitely need to be aware of what they’re jumping into, because it’s a pretty safe assumption that kids are going to want more of the LEGO sets to go with the game.
All of that being said, you can play through the game without needing any extras. You can explore the open worlds of each of the three characters that come with the starter pack, and you can play through the whole story mode, which should take between 10 to 12 hours to complete. Add in a few hours to do the side quests and stuff in the open worlds, and you can safely assume you’ll get at least 20 hours of play here.
Side-by-side with a traditional game (I’ve put 70 hours into Metal Gear V, for example), it’s not the best deal. However, you do get some cool stuff to put on your shelf, and you get to spend some time building.
Should You Buy LEGO Dimensions?
In the end, LEGO Dimensions is a solid video game for families. It features all the charm we’ve come to expect from previous TT-developed LEGO games, but it adds in the twist of figures and play sets.
Of course, this means it also features a much higher cost, both out of the gate and over the long haul. It also creates a situation where content is no longer gated by in-game money, but rather by real cash.
While it lacks the depth of Disney Infinity in terms of the vast creation tools, it does stand out by using the base and figures in the game as a puzzle solving technique. As a package it’s worth getting if you’re looking for something to play with your kids, but be aware of the potential financial pitfalls that come with these physical toy-based games.
It’s a fun game to play with your kids, but be aware of the potential money-hole you’re getting into.
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