Lego is expensive. That's an unavoidable truth whether you're picking up Lego sets, visiting Legoland, or now buying Lego Dimensions. There's no escaping it, and there's no point putting this fundamental factor to the back of the review. Going on Amazon's prices (they're currently selling starter packs £20 cheaper than the RRP of £100), Dimensions is almost twice the price of Disney Infinity 3.0, and over £30 more expensive than Skylanders Superchargers. This is the competition that Dimensions is up against, and both alternative toy-to-life options have the new contender beat when it comes to price.
The other two have additional advantages. Skylanders was there first and has the established audience, a group of young gamers that have grown with the series through multiple iterations and evolutions. Disney Infinity has the weight of Star Wars and Marvel and a huge range of Disney properties to fall back on. Both come with decent quality figurines, and solid, child-friendly gameplay. Dimensions, on the other hand, has Lego, probably the most popular toy on the planet. With that comes a wealth of cross-over licenses, and the ongoing association with TT Games that has served the franchise so well in recent times. There's some stiff competition, but you know what, we like Lego Dimensions, we like it a lot.
If you don't baulk at the price, Lego Dimensions offers up a really interesting alternative to Skylanders and Disney Infinity. For the purposes of this review we focussed most of our efforts on looking at the starter pack and the experience that's available to be had with that straight out of the box. There's more to consider, which we'll get to later, but the basic kit seems the right place to start.
You begin with a couple of Lego sets: a gateway portal, a Batmobile, Batman, Gandalf, and Wildstyle. It's a strange combination, but the trio of characters are pulled from three of the most popular Lego franchises. You can experience the main storyline with just these three, although there's plenty of side content partitioned off, perhaps too much, and it can only be accessed by buying additional characters with new abilities. There's still a lot to get through - as you might expect when paying a premium price - and while an adult might blast through the main story without too much hassle, the younger audience will certainly take much more time, while completionists will obviously get even more bang for their buck.
Each level in the story takes you through a different scene based somewhere in the Lego universe (although there's some absentees - Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Marvel because of the Disney connection, plus Harry Potter and Lego City), and these themed episodes are often also filled with characters from other IPs. As the title implies there's a story at play here that involves dimensional rifts, so there's plenty of crossover, with TT drawing on the strength of almost the entire Lego family. At times it can feel like you're tripping out, when Daleks appear atop Sauron's tower in the centre of Gotham City, or when Lex Luthor clashes with ninjas.
Each story mission is mostly light platforming and logic puzzles, a tried and tested formula. There's different "keystones" that, when activated, initiate certain types of challenges. Each of these puzzles involves not only controlling your characters on the screen, but also a tactile intervention with the Lego figures placed on the Toy Pad. Meanwhile, each Lego character has their own particular set of skills that determines who needs to do what in the game.
Here's an example of how a puzzle might work. You activate a keystone. The puzzle opens three colourful portals in the level, locations where you can place either Gandalf, Wildstyle, or Batman. One location has an item in it that can only be affected by Gandalf's magic (as signposted by the different visual effects on screen coming from said item). The Toy Pad has three sections, each mapped to a different colour, representing the three different portals on the screen. Gandalf needs to go through the pink portal, so you move the wizardly figurine to the corresponding tile on the Toy Pad, and he appears where required. The puzzles can be a bit disorientating at times, and we scratched our noggin more than once, but the logic is generally pretty straightforward and it won't take long for players to get past a puzzle if they look carefully at all their options.
The puzzles gently increase in complexity, and the initially simple challenges become more and more intricate, and often multiple keystones can be found in the same areas and you're required to do different tasks in sequence. Boss battles also lean heavily on puzzles, they're a fundamental part of the experience, but they work really well.
There's a tactile interaction between game, figurine, and player, and it sets Dimensions apart from other TT Games. We've explored similar ideas in other toy-to-life games, but there's also an interaction between player and Lego that gives this its own identity. We had just as much fun assembling the characters and their vehicles as we did playing the game. The instructions needed to build the vehicles are found in the menus, and you're guided through each construction step-by-step. They even change as you upgrade them, and require reassembly with some additional bricks included in the pack (here's a chance to moan about a longstanding gripe with Lego: there's no resealable bags provided for spare parts, and these would have been really useful here).
Between building blocks and playing the game, there's fun for all the family. Kids - and parents - will enjoy making the Lego sets, and younglings will play with them once the computer has been shut down. Meanwhile the game itself is suitable for grown-ups and youngsters alike, and there's the option to play co-op. Very young players won't be able to progress through the story missions very well due to the relative complexity of the puzzles, but there's more to Dimensions than just the story missions.
As soon as you own a new Lego character beyond the three included in the starter set - you can buy a new character and vehicle for £15, two sets for £30, or you can get one character, two vehicles and an extra mission for £30 - you can integrate those characters into your main story adventures, even uncovering the previously inaccessible areas (the same trick that we've seen in other toys-to-life games). Every franchise also has its own small open-world sandbox to play in, themed around the intellectual property in question and peppered with a selection of challenges for players to amuse themselves with (such as rebuilding structures or competing in race events). You can visit these with any characters you like, but they remain locked unless you enter them equipped with a character from that setting, so for example, you won't get into the Scooby Doo world without owning - buying - Shaggy or Scooby.
With so many different IPs included in the roll call, we're looking at multiple sandboxes to play in. While we weren't blown away by the content in the worlds that we explored, we were still pleased that they were included, because they're more relaxing than the main game, and thus younger Lego fans will be able to explore and have fun in them without having the tackle the progression-blocking puzzles found in the main story. There's three unlocked as part of the starter kit, but if you want more you're going to have to pay.
In terms of controls, this is very much a Traveller's Tales game, and the formula that they've been perfecting over the years is very much in evidence here. Some of it's a little fiddly, like getting into a vehicle (often you inadvertently cycle through characters instead of jumping in your car because the functions are mapped to the same face button), and from time to time things happened and we weren't sure exactly what caused them (chances are the fault there lies with us). If you're able to afford the luxury of multiple Lego sets, when there's lots of characters on screen at the same time, it can get very confusing.
But the presentation is generally very high, and it's full of fan service, with experiences ranging from Portal through to Back to the Future, via DC, Lord of the Rings, Ninjago, and The Simpsons (with more to come, a selection of new Lego packs are planned well into next year, including Ghostbusters, Midway Arcade, and Doctor Who). The representation of each IP is also very good, and as you'd expect from such a well-oiled series, there's referential nods galore, decent audio, music and voice work, the writing is top class as per usual and offers something for all ages groups (like good family entertainment always should), and of course you can expect the crisp visuals we've long enjoyed from the series thanks to shifting art styles that reflect the different worlds you visit.
But of course of this comes at a cost. If you already enjoy Lego, you'll be used to paying a premium, but given the tech that's involved here, the investment required has never been higher. That said, we're still happy to recommend it, and this feels like a step forward for the toy-to-life genre. It's hard to give the highest marks with so much content partitioned off behind the paywall, and similarly with so many characters locked away (we miss the old days when we could unlock them in-game). The Lego factor means that the toys are more hands-on than they are anywhere else, and the interaction between Toy Pad and game world adds an extra dimension that will also keep players of all ages engaged. There's so many classic IPs included in the package (which we'll explore in a separate article next week) that it's not going to be hard to find something for everyone to enjoy.
Lego Dimensions has entered into a competitive genre, with two well-established franchises already enjoying plenty of success, but it brings something new to the table and comes well supported by a back-catalogue of appealing properties. It might be the most expensive option on the market, but for our money it's also the best. It's also the finest game in the series since Lego City Undercover, and one we're looking forward to revisiting again as more content drops.