Video Games Review: Lego Dimensions (Xbox One, 2015)

TT Games’ franchise of Lego video games has become a powerhouse since its experimental beginnings in Lego Star Wars back in 2005, but despite the many sequels across many different properties, not a huge amount has changed mechanically since then. Lego Dimensions feels like TT Games’ vehement answer to that criticism. “Fine, you want different? How’s this for different?!”

Lego Dimensions is the latest contender in the highly lucrative toys-to-life genre but, determined to set itself apart, it offers a number of things that its competitors do not. The game takes a lot of its inspiration from the wildly popular The Lego Movie, featuring a dimension hopping story that crosses over a number of Warner Bros. properties with others licensed from other content owners. Among the launch lineup are properties like Back to the Future), The Simpsons, Jurassic World, Doctor Who and even Valve’s comedic puzzle game Portal 2, along with Warner-backed properties like Wonder Woman and Cyborg from the DC Comics Universe, Scooby-Doo and The Lego Movie itself (all of which are voiced by either their real-world actors or very talented sound-alikes, meaning TT Games got double the Chris Pratt bang for their buck). Similarly to Disney Infinity’s playsets, each of these packs comes with a level set in that world. They’re sold separately though, and each individual pack is, as with everything to do with Lego, hilariously overpriced and will be a real pain in the wallet for parents of enthusiastic kids.

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Functionally, this is similar to the way that Disney Infinity and Skylanders works. You start with a base pack that gets you the game, a bunch of toys and a specialised pad for the toys to interact with. Beyond that, TT Games have started experimenting again and the results are mixed but still very engaging. True to Lego form, before you can actually use any of the toys or vehicles in a pack, even the base kit, you have to actually build them. Out of actual Legos(!!). I went into this review not knowing about the physical construction part and was delighted by the prospect of putting the little models together, something I hadn’t done since I was a kid.

The game starts you off with the building of the Lego Dimensions portal, easily the most complex structure released so far, and three minifigs – Batman, WyldStyle and Gandalf. Also included is the Batmobile, building instructions for which are not included in the box. This may initially confuse and upset some parents but understand that the reason it isn’t there is because the game itself contains many of the construction blueprints required to put vehicles together when the time comes. There are two other things parents should be aware of: 1) there are a lot of tiny pieces in these sets which could be a choking hazard so keep any very young children away and build this stuff yourself and 2) Legos are not designed for gigantic, clumsy adult hands so you may struggle to get some of the finer elements of these designs to snap together. It comes with a Brick Separator tool, however, which I furiously wished I’d had when I was kid. You wanted to get those bricks apart back then, it was teeth or nothing, you guys.

Once your minifigs and vehicles are assembled, they can be used in the game by placing them on the portal pad. This drops them into the game and makes them playable at any time. Unlike the Disney Infinity pad which only offers places for two toys and a playable mission, Lego Dimensions has room for a whopping seven minifigs and vehicles, all of which can be used at once. Moreover, the portal pad becomes instrumental in playing the game, requiring the player to physically move minifigs around on the pad to solve various spatial or colour-coded puzzles in the game. This mechanic is, in my opinion, both one of the game’s smartest and most original moves and one of its most annoying.

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Often during a boss fight, your character will be stunned and held in place by the enemy requiring you to move their minifig to another part of the portal pad. This means stopping what you’re doing, grabbing the figure, moving it elsewhere and then returning to the game. The thing is, the game doesn’t stop while you’re doing this so your character may just be getting ganked by Lego goons while you muck around. Other puzzles require you to do things like turn particular parts of the portal pad (which lights up) into different colours, again by moving the figures around. These puzzles were less frustrating because you weren’t usually under any pressure from enemies while trying to solve them. It’s the having to shift your attention from the game to the board and back again without the game doing anything to help you out while that’s going on that really bugs me. Despite my own personal gripes, it’s a cool mechanic and does offer a truly new and interactive way to play the game. For kids with younger brothers or sisters, this will no doubt become a kind of ad-hoc cooperative mode where one player controls the game and the other is on figure-shuffling duty.

Aside from these new physical puzzles, much of the main game remains the same as the other Lego games that have preceded it. I say this every time I review one of these games but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s a reason these games have lasted as long as they have with only minimal changes – the collect-em-up game loop is a fun one, especially when paired with two-player couch co-op. Lego Dimensions continues that tradition, moving its campaign through various worlds that will be featured in separate play packs later on. There’s a level for each – the wild west from Back to the Future Part III, the Battle of Minas Tirith from The Return of the King – and though each plays very similarly, the change of environment helps keep things feeling fresh.

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With 20 of these games under their belt, TT Games knows exactly what they’re doing and it shows. Lego Dimensions is the most accomplished, polished and creative game in the series. It’s a blast from the past for adults and a crazy amount of fun for kids, especially those who love building Lego models. It’s this sort of creative thinking that is going to take the Lego franchise into the future.

Review Score: 8.0 out of 10
Highlights: Charming; Great choice of licensed worlds; Portal!
Lowlights: Physical puzzles may frustrate some
Developer: TT Games
Publisher: Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment
Released: September 27, 2015
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U

Reviewed on Xbox One

David Smith

Games and technology editor, Dungeons and Dragons fanboy and your new best friend. You can reach me at david.smith@theaureview.com with news tips, pitches, press releases, invites, review content and more.