Earlier this month, I had a semi-planned “staycation” with the kids before they went back to school. Their babysitter was spending the last week of her summer break at camp which meant I needed to stay home with the girls for a week and a half. I was looking for things we could do when I noticed that the Lego Dimensions Starter Pack was on sale for roughly half price. Who could pass that up? Certainly not me. It was a life saver during some of those rainy days at the tail end of summer vacation.
Those of you without little ones may be wondering what the heck a Lego Dimension is. If you’re familiar with the product, maybe you’re wondering about the specifics. Either way, I’ve got you covered.
Lego video games are nothing new. The first one, Lego Fun to Build, came out in 1995! I first took notice of the series with Lego Star Wars which was released over a decade ago. As a guy who likes to play video games but isn’t remotely skilled at doing so, the Lego games are right up my alley. They are designed to be playable by young children which is just about my level of aptitude.
The core gameplay of Lego Dimensions is the same as dozens of others of Lego games. Up to two players control a variety of characters who inhabit a world made of plastic bricks. The game includes a story mode in which players solve puzzles. The puzzles themselves aren’t terribly challenging. The game provides ample clues if you get stuck trying to figure out which character’s abilities are needed in order to move on. When in doubt, the answer is usually to smash some bricks until the solution becomes apparent.
At a very basic level, it’s fun to break stuff. The Lego games allow players to indulge in mischievous destruction without hurting anything. Every now and then, when you smash the right collection of bricks, they start hopping around to inform you that there is something you can build. As much fun as it is to destroy everything in your path, it’s even more fun to have your character quickly assemble something that will get you out of a jam or reward you with some clever joke.
That’s another hallmark of the Lego series. The games are very pop culture savvy. Lego games have made excellent uses of their licensed properties from Star Wars to super heroes to Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. The series recreates familiar scenes with sly pop culture references and a silly sense of humor that even non-fans can enjoy.
Where Lego Dimensions differs from the previous games is the addition of the toy pad. Other game series like Skylanders and Disney Infinity have allowed players to collect figurines which they can use to unlock playable characters in digital world. Lego Dimensions does essentially the same thing but with a Lego twist.
Instead of a plastic figure, you get actual Lego bricks. As the player advances through the video game, they are given instructions to assemble different Lego creations. The Starter Pack comes with a portal which serves mostly as decoration for the toy pad device. It also includes three characters; Batman, Gandalf and Wildstyle (from the Lego Movie). Batman also gets a miniature Batmobile.
The toy pad is more interactive than the devices used in similar games. It is divided into three distinct zones. Where you place your characters on the pad matters. For example, at certain points in the game, placing your character in the Orange Zone will cause them to shrink in the gameworld whereas placing them in the Green Zone will cause them to grow. The zones on the toy pad change depending on your actions during the game.
Within the game, there are several devices called keystones. The keystones determine the effects that will be triggered by the different zones on the toy pad. If you activate a chroma keystone, then the three zones on the keypads will light up in primary colors. When you place a character in the blue zone on the pad, they will turn blue in the game. Move the same character to the red zone and they will turn purple. These kinds of interactions will be used to solve various puzzles throughout the game. As you advance through the story mode, the puzzles become more complicated requiring the use of multiple keystones.
If that all sounds confusing, trust me, it’s not. The game’s story mode walks the player through each new wrinkle progressively getting more complicated.
The fact that Dimensions involves physical bricks as opposed to just the digital variety makes it different from other Lego games. Typically, players spend a lot of time in Lego games unlocking other playable characters. Here, you have to buy them. That might feel like a cash grab, but remember you are getting actual toys that would cost real money if they were purchased in the toy aisle rather than the electronics department.
If you’re on a budget, the game does include a feature for those who don’t want to invest a lot of money in collectible Lego figures. If solving a puzzle requires a character that you don’t have, you can rent them via the Hire-A-Hero option. In exchange for the in-game currency of Lego studs, the player is allowed to use the required character for three minutes. This strikes me as a fair bargain for players who aren’t interested in buying a bunch of toys in order to enjoy all the features of the game.
However, purchasing the toys does have an added benefit. Outside of the game’s story mode, there are several environments to explore. The game calls these Adventure Worlds. The only way to access them is to use a character from that world. Since the Starter Pack includes characters from the DC Universe, The Lord of the Rings and The Lego Movie, everyone will have access to these three worlds. But if you want to explore Springfield outside of the story mode, you’re going to have to buy a character from The Simpsons.
Currently, there are four different levels of product available for purchase. The cheapest is a Fun Pack which includes a single character and a vehicle or gadget for them to use. These typically cost $12-15, but I have found them on sale for much less than that. The next level up is the Team Pack which doubles the number of characters and vehicles. Then there are Level Packs which are the same as the Team Packs only they also unlock a new playable level. Finally, you can buy Story Packs which are just like Level Packs except with more content. Level and Story Packs go for $25-$50, but it’s not all that hard to find them on sale for much less.
Beyond the physical toys, the nature of Lego Dimensions comes with another big benefit. In other Lego games, there are a lot of characters to choose from. But they all have to be from the same franchise. The Avengers don’t mix with Harry Potter who will never been seen with the dinosaurs of Jurassic World. But in Lego Dimensions, you can mix and match as much as your budget will allow. The Ghostbusters can team with Dr. Who and Scooby Doo. The possibilities are not quite limitless, but they are definitely cool.
Perhaps realizing the Lego games are popular with kids and their parents, the properties included in Lego dimensions were chosen to appeal equally to both groups. Kids can pick cartoon characters from Adventure Time and Lego series like Ninjago and Chima. Adults can wax nostalgic with Back to the Future and E.T. Some licensed properties like The Simpsons and The Wizard of Oz are likely to appeal to both groups. In our house, no one was familiar with the characters from the Portal game series, but it didn’t matter much. The game plays well to non-fans. But obviously those with an affection for these properties is going to get a little something extra out of seeing them rendered in Lego form.
At the end of the day, Lego Dimensions is a lot of fun and pretty much anyone can play it. If you’re not planning to pick up the add-ons, you might be better served by one of the traditional Lego games. There are literally dozens of them to choose from. But if you have a kid in the house who is going to need Christmas presents in a few months anyway or you happen to be a collector yourself, Lego Dimensions combines the best of both the toy and gaming worlds.