Enjoyment of the Lego games generally seems driven by how much you like the franchise in question. The actual mechanics are so simple that it’s the trapping of the series which provides the real entertainment value and so in that regard Lego Dimensions is possibly the most entertaining Lego game ever. It’s also the most expensive. During the story of Lego Dimensions you’ll encounter the worlds and characters of DC Comics, Lord of the Rings, The Lego Movie, The Simpsons, The Wizard of Oz, Scooby Doo, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Doctor Who and, strangest of all, Portal.
Lego Dimensions is a mash up of over a dozen different franchises in a simplistic but enjoyable storyline. The evil Gary Oldman voiced Lord Vortech seeks to combine all dimensions into one under his control and part of his plan sees the kidnapping of Robin, Frodo Baggins and Metalbeard from their respective DC, Lord of the Rings and Lego Movie dimensions. Batman, Gandalf and Wyldstyle leap into action to rescue their friends and protect the multiverse from Vortech’s machinations.
It’s kind of impossible to work out whether the writing for Lego Dimensions is actually good or if the fan service-y crossover stuff is making me so gloriously happy that I’ve lost my critical faculties. At the beginning each level is fairly self contained; for example, the first level is set in Oz and is played relatively straight, although with the obvious twist that the Wicked Witch of the West is encountering Batman. As the game goes on things begin to cross over and merge to a greater extent with a glorious sense of unpredictability. Lego Dimensions makes brilliant use of most of its properties, particularly DC, Doctor Who and Portal which come out best of all. There are dozens of gloriously funny and charming moments, but I won’t mention any of them because they’re frankly the main thing that makes this game worth playing.
The first thing you’re asked to do when you boot up Lego Dimensions is to build the ‘portal’ out of real life Lego. The toys-to-life experience is fundamentally an illusion; you’re buying physical DLC which unlocks things on disk. Lego Dimensions does a pretty fantastic job of masking this, making the actual construction of the component parts immerse you into the experience and boost the illusion of the toys coming to life inside your TV. The Dimensional Portal and Lego builds look amazing, with the portal itself being a wonder. It’s split into three parts and can hold up to seven different builds, with the three parts being able to light up independently. This functionality is actually integral to the gameplay, which I’ll come to later.
The core mechanics of Lego Dimensions are pretty much the same as they were back in the original Lego Star Wars. If that’s a deal breaker you may as well stop right here and I wouldn’t necessarily blame you. They’re solid, but unspectacular with simple puzzles. That said, I do find a certain satisfaction in putting all the pieces into place and watching things unfold. I would compare the feeling of playing these games to following Lego kit instructions. Sure, using the blocks to create something unique is more pure, but there is an undeniable satisfaction in following the instructions and watching things come together. In some ways Lego Dimensions is more limited than the regular games as there are only three characters in the starter pack, with all other characters only available by purchasing the minifigures. This means that the variety of a game like Lego Marvel Super Heroes is missing as we only ever get to use Batman, Gandalf and Wyldstyle’s abilities. The biggest flaw lies in the vehicle controls; the starter pack comes with the Batmobile and it plays horribly, meaning that I only used it when the game demanded it of me.
The most interesting new mechanic lies in the nifty use of the portal itself. Throughout the game you gain five different portal abilities and the interplay between them can get quite complicated, at least by Lego game standards. The first sees a series of blue, yellow and pink coloured wormholes open up on the screen. On the physical portal in front of you, the three sections light up in those colours and you teleport the characters around the screen by physically moving their minifigure onto the necessary colour. There are loads of other nifty applications which I won’t get into so you can discover them yourself. Once again, your enjoyment of this comes from your ability to suspend your disbelief and immerse yourself in the illusion. The fun you’re experiencing is literally just moving a Lego minifigure from one space to another, which doesn’t sound fun. In practice though, it really is and I massively appreciate that Lego didn’t go the lazy route and mindlessly imitate Skylanders or Disney Infinity.
The main story of Lego Dimensions is actually pretty lengthy by the standards of the series, with the franchise hopping creating a natural sense of variety as you go through. A lot of the value comes from the ‘adventure worlds’ which are accessed separately from the main campaign. These are small open worlds set within each franchise, where you can gather collectibles, rebuild the world using studs and complete missions. You access these by placing a character from that franchise on the Dimensional Portal, so with the Starter Pack you have access to the DC, Lord of the Rings and Lego Movie worlds. These are simple but fun little additions, although exploring them is a bit frustrating as over half of each world’s puzzles require characters I don’t own and never intend to own. It would have been nice if each adventure world was self contained for powers from the characters from that franchise as ultimately I was only able to scratch the surface. Although I’ll review it separately, at time I writing I have played the Portal Expansion and found this to be less of a problem here, so maybe this is primarily an issue with the Starter Pack.
I don’t really know how Lego were able to acquire all of these rights, with voice actors and music intact, but they did. The fact that it’s actually Peter Capaldi playing the Doctor, or Christopher Lloyd as Emmet Brown or Elizabeth Banks as Wyldstyle really helps to build the epic crossover feel that this game is going for. For me though, the Portal cast steal the show, with Ellen McClain and Stephen Merchant back on fine form as GLaDOS and Wheatley. I forgot how much I love these characters and Lego Dimensions captures them perfectly. The use of franchise music is good too, from the lovely Lord of the Rings Shire tune to Ray Parker Jr’s Ghostbusters to the iconic Back to the Future theme when the DeLorean shows up. It’s all capped of with a new Jonathan Coulton GLaDOS song. The only franchise that really let me down was The Simpsons, which had no new voice recordings or even the rights to the theme music. I love The Simpsons and this was pretty disappointing; there’s pretty much zero chance I’ll ever buy any of The Simpson’s expansions now.
The question of Lego Dimensions is one of value. Can I confidently claim that there is £70 worth of game here? I’m not so sure; I got this game as a very generous Christmas present so I’m not sure how I’d feel if I’d plonked down that much money myself for this experience. All I can say is that I had a lovely time with it. At present, I only plan on playing the Portal and Doctor Who expansions, although I may go for Ghostbusters too if reviews are good.