The Lego series has almost always disarmed every criticism thrown at it thanks to its family friendly gameplay and sense of humour, and its well-observed treatment of the movies that (nearly) all the games are built upon. How could you not like the combination of Lego and well-known film series like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Indiana Jones - even if the films take a back seat and instead the Lego figures and the worlds in which they exist are the main attractions?
The Lego collection contains an impressive number of titles and they appear with a frequency that would be criticised were it practically any other series or franchise. Presumably, there are only a few players who are dedicated enough to buy each and every game. In most cases the urge to dip back into the series usually grabs you when you're a fan of a particular film, the kinds of movies that could be considered classics, ones that you would want to watch every now and then anyway. The Lego games provide a remix so we can once again experience everything, albeit a little differently, and also with the well-observed humour that developer TT Games has established as a cornerstone for the series over the years.
But all that is now somewhat different. Lego Dimensions is almost akin to a clearing of the decks for the series. The developers are allowed to finally break away from their own self-imposed guidelines and ditch the well-worn movie templates, and all without neglecting the successful formula of the games. The basic concept is something straight from your child's playroom, where all kind of toys can and are used at the same time. The change is facilitated by the following fiction: the nasty Lord Vortek has shaken up the Lego Multiverse, but he has not reckoned with the Lego heroes who, in Lego Dimensions, spawn from different universes and provide probably the greatest mash-up of pop culture in recent times (or, at least, since The Lego Movie).
Lord Vortek fights with Batman, Gandalf, Dr. Who, the Ghostbusters, Scooby-Doo and Marty McFly. Of course there's others, but these are just some of the names that were briefly displayed during Warner's presentation in Santa Monica. The panel looked like an advertising wall at a major sporting event: also included are the robots from Portal 2, the Simpsons, a bunch of DC Comics heroes, Legos own Ninjagos, and the recently blockified Jurassic World. Only Star Wars is missing, of course, for obvious reasons.
The gameplay is largely as we know it from our previous excursions into games from the Lego series. Little surprises us (other than the eclectic mix of characters) when, during our introduction to the game, we boost down The Yellow Brick Road with Gandalf driving the Batmobile. Lego-made items are broken down into their component parts in order to release coins or new blocks for building elsewhere. A quick change of character and Batman fires his grappling hook to an obstacle to move it out of the way. Suddenly the evil witch with her army of flying monkeys attack and stuns the Dark Knight - and the new big feature of Lego Dimensions comes into play: the Lego Portal.
The Lego Toypad is connected via USB to the console. Characters and vehicles are placed on its seven lit areas, and thus they appear in the game world. After the attack of the witch the spot where Batman is placed lights up bright red. We have to physically move him to another field, to free him from the spell of the witch. The Lego pad hosts a large portal built out of Lego bricks, and it exists in a similar form on the home planet of Lord Vortek in the game. From this portal you can tour the various dimensions.
Another physical and interactive element are the vehicles. Consisting of small Lego bricks they need to be rebuilt as the game progresses. That way the Batmobile becomes a Batblaster that's able to destroy formerly indestructible Lego bricks. A little riddle unlocks the relevant instructions, and soon we can transform the Batmobile into the Batblaster and put it back on the Lego Portal.
At first glance, it's a little disappointing that our building skills are not really that important, and actually a single click on the blueprint also unlocks the Batblaster. But, if you think about it, it quickly becomes clear that a single lost Lego brick could potentially kill the action if our reconstruction was accurately measured against the in-game model. Also you might prefer to simply keep the Batmobile intact rather than constantly disassembling it.
The biggest problem, however, is a different one: the whole thing is rather expensive. The starter pack includes the game on any given platform, the Lego Toypad with the bricks to make the portal, as well as the figures of Batman, Gandalf, Wyldstyle (from The Lego Movie) and the Batmobile. For this Warner wants £89.99, but at least it's possible to experience the entire game and you can travel through all dimensions - not just the three of the included heroes.
Unlike with the other Lego games, there won't be hundreds of playable characters to unlock in the game. So anyone who wants to play with Marty McFly, Wonder Woman or Scooby-Doo, who or wants to to race through Middle-earth in the iconic DeLorean, has to pay for the pleasure.
A Level Pack includes an additional mission, a Lego minifigure, a Lego car and a Lego gun, and costs the same as the Team Pack (£29.99).
The Team-Pack contains two figures and two vehicles or weapons. Then there's the Fun Packs, which include a Lego figure and a vehicle, and costs £14.99. It should therefore be clear it's not simply a case of buying a starter pack and being done with your investment.
Ultimately, for most people, it's going to come down to finances. Lego Dimensions certainly has the potential to be a hit when it appears in autumn, albeit one that could prove costly for many parents. The mix of the various Lego universes certainly has spiked our curiosity, so let's hope that there's enough quality in that part of the package so as to offset the inevitable pain that's going to be felt in our wallets later this year.