LEGO Dimensions [Updated]

Update (11/6/2015): TT Games put out an update for LEGO Dimensions that significantly changes one of the core components of the game--namely, the act of purchasing Fun and Team packs in order to complete character-specific puzzles. The update now lets you spend 50,000 studs to unlock a character for 30 seconds, which is long enough to activate a switch or panel that opens reveals hidden secrets, such as mini build kits and secret characters. This effectively (and surprisingly) cancels out the financial barriers to some of the game's content. 

Everything is awesome! Traveler’s Tales has gotten so much mileage out of the LEGO license since the debut of LEGO Star Wars that they’ve effectively created their own cottage industry. From DC to Marvel to Lord of the Rings, there remains only a handful of pop culture franchises that have yet to be bricked. Sensing an opportunity and taking LEGO video games to their next evolutionary step, LEGO Dimensions is an opportunity to gamify films and television shows that might not stand on their own as a fully fleshed out $60 venture. Travelers Tales channels The LEGO Movie and Kingdom Hearts, utilizing both properties' skill in fourth wall breaking and franchise hopping to, ahem, build a memorable and hilarious adventure with all the LEGO game trimmings.

The game's story uses the “shared universe” structure established by The LEGO Movie: different LEGO realms (read: properties) coexist but have no direct way to contact each other until the evil Lord Vortech opens up portals in each to acquire unique objects called Foundational Elements. These items range from the One Ring, an Inanimate Carbon Rod, Metalbeard's treasure chest, and a diamond scarab. Through Vortech’s meddling, Wyldstyle, Batman, and Gandalf find themselves unlikely heroes set upon a quest to prevent evil from ruling the LEGO universe. Jumping from realm to realm, the trio interact with a myriad familiar heroes and villains, resulting in a slew of hilarious mismatched encounters.

LEGO Dimensions has all the sights, sounds, charm, and humor of a Traveler’s Tales joint. It’s almost hard to believe the studio has been with the LEGO game since 2005. In that time, they've honed development down to a science, focusing in on the elements that make up a fun LEGO romp. There’s a fantastic level detail and personality in every brick, building, and character (right down to Wyldstyle’s herky, jerky stop motion movement). Unlike previous LEGO adventures, Dimensions’ source material has no predefined story to build upon. This lets TT shoot for the moon and deliver a constant stream of surprises. The game is very good at holding its cards close to the chest, not dropping any hints as to which realms you’ll visit. The thrill of not knowing what level came next was the cause for many late nights. The game itself plays no differently from any other title. You’re still collecting studs, solving puzzles by building a hodge podge of devices, platforms, and switches and tagging characters in and out to make use of their special abilities. Minikits, game changing red bricks, and hidden characters are tucked behind special bricks and puzzles that can only be reached with specific characters and perseverance. But unlike before where you could just spend studs to unlock characters, in LEGO Dimensions you’ll spend real money to purchase them instead.

Don’t go grabbing those torches and pitchforks just yet. As devious as LEGO Dimensions may seem, the pleasant truth is that you don’t have to purchase every single character and vehicle. You could play through the entire story with the characters that come with the base game, if you want. Additional minifigs are available through the Fun, Team, and Level packs (with more on the way next year). Abilities are shared across numerous minifigs. For example, both Superman and the Wicked Witch of the West can burn through solid gold bricks. Computer terminals can be accessed using a Cyberman acquired from the $15 Doctor Who Fun Pack (which includes one minifig and a vehicle) or spend $30 for the Doctor Who Level pack (one minifig, two builds, and a playable level). There are also $20 Team packs that offer additional minifigs. After Skylanders, it's refreshing to see a Toys To Life game that won't break the bank. The extra characters are mostly for earning a 100% completion score on every level and that’s totally optional.

Tying into the philosophy of the LEGO toys, the characters and vehicles need to be assembled. Interestingly, the included instructions only tell you how to put the minifigs together. For vehicles, you’ll have to wait until that object is needed for a level before an on screen instruction booklet tells you what you need to do. This may rankle those who want the sets for their own LEGO collections, though I’m sure it won’t be long until those instructions make their way online. The figures are attached to blue RFID pads and tagged via the LEGO portal--just like Skylanders. Vehicles can be upgraded to move faster, shoot projectiles, and take on different builds. The Batmobile, for example, can be constructed in three different ways, each with its own special features.

One of the most interesting components of LEGO Dimensions is the portal itself. The game bases in Disney Infinity and Skylanders are static pieces of technology that simply read the RFID tags embedded in the toys. For this game, you’re going to want to keep the portal close because puzzles require you to shift the minifigs to and from different quadrants. Tasks like mixing colors, calling up special elements, and even shrinking and enlarging the characters doesn't leave room for passive play. I really love that Traveller’s Tales created a deeper connection between the game and its peripheral. The story even calls for you to pull apart special pieces of the portal and turn them into something new.

I don't know if LEGO Dimensions will reach the financial heights and dazzling “wow” factor Skylanders achieved in its first outing, but it exists as a really cool thing. It's also fun for all ages! My brother in law's daughter really gets a kick out it for the interactivity and I love the creativity of the game's levels and themes. The game also boasts an impressive roster of voice actors. Just to name a few: Alison Brie, Chris Pratt, Charlie Day, Christopher Lloyd, Nolan North and Troy Baker, Elizabeth Banks, Stephen Merchant, Peter Capaldi, Michael J. Fox (whose performance is wonderful), Tom Kenny, and Gary Oldman. Some dialog pieces are lifted from their sources, but the new performances are really well done. Especially Gary Oldman. Fanservice oozes out of the TV and there's a lot of fun to see the LEGO interpretations of pop culture phenomenons. Some properties work better than others (the level that comes with the Back to the Future pack is way too short) and there are some noticeable absences (Star Wars, Marvel, and Harry Potter) that were either planned omissions or material for future add-ons.

LEGO Dimensions has a lot mote going for it than I initially expected. A friendly and accommodating attitude towards purchasing extra characters, fantastic integration of the game portal, and a really clever use of properties makes for a lot of creative and crazy mashups. The journey of LEGO Dimensions is a enjoyable but when all's said and done, the portal and minifigs will just be toys; plastic pieces of joy that’ll sit on the shelf after the game ends. Hopefully Traveler’s Tales has plans for future content. This could be a great platform for delivering short bursts of LEGO fun in between tentpole property releases. Sure to be a fun, good natured under the tree gift this Christmas for kids and kids at heart.

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.