The genius of Lego Dimensions is that it feels like the kind of game a kid would make up. The crazy, cross-franchise mashup from TT Games and Warner Bros. Interactive is built around one idea: making a video game about playing with Lego. You've got a Lego Batmobile, so why wouldn't your Gandalf minifig hop in it to fight Daleks? (This actually happens.)
Lego Dimensions is driven by this joyful, relentless kind of kitchen-sink logic, throwing together characters from fan-favourite universes and incorporating physical Lego bricks into gameplay. The fact that it revamps both the stale puzzle-platform style of the aging Lego game franchise and the "toys-to-life" formula popularised by Activision's Skylanders and Disney Infinity is just the icing on the cake.
The story begins with portals opening in various, wait for it, dimensions. The portals suck through sidekicks and compatriots, which leads to Batman, Wyldstyle (from "The Lego Movie") and Gandalf joining forces to rescue Robin, Frodo and Metalbeard. These are the three characters found in the starter set, and along with the Batmobile, they'll be enough to get you through the game's story mode.
Players first get control of the trio in Oz (as in flying monkeys, not state prison). Right off the starting blocks, the game is about worlds colliding. The story keeps you dimension-hopping through levels all based on the various universes included in the game, from following the Yellow Brick Road, to DC Comics' Metropolis, to surviving an attack by Doctor Who's Weeping Angels and solving GLaDOS' test chambers from the Portal game series.
There are no less than 14 of these different universes worth of characters to draw from. Expect to see characters from "Back to the Future," "Ghostbusters," "The Simpsons," DC Comics, "Doctor Who" and "Jurassic World," among others. In addition to the starter set, there are dozens of other characters and vehicles coming out in separate packs both at launch and in later planned releases.
Every character has a particular set of skills, like Gandalf's magic or Batman's grappling hook that you'll use to navigate around the various stages and solve puzzles. If you've ever played a Lego game, you'll be familiar with the initial setup. But Lego Dimensions shares far more of its DNA with Disney Infinity and Skylanders than it does the previous games in the Lego series.
The "toys-to-life" concept is all about bringing a physical and collectible aspect to video games, and it's a match made in heaven for Lego. The basic idea is that by placing figurines with an RFID chip in the base on the compatible reader device, players can use those characters in the game world. Stand your Lego Gandalf minifig on the Toy Pad, play as the wizard in the game.
The Toy Pad is where things get interesting. It's already central to the whole toys-to-life experience, but Lego Dimensions builds on the basic character-swapping idea by having the pad function as a kind of second controller.
In addition to the three minifigs and vehicle in the starter set, you'll also get the Toy Pad reader device. The Toy Pad needs to be pieced together out of Lego, naturally.
Placing the Lego minifigs or vehicles on the Toy Pad makes them usable in game, but you'll also need to get creative with the pad to solve puzzles in order to progress. One kind of puzzle spawns three portals, all different colours, and the three sections of the Toy Pad will light up in blue, yellow and red to match. Placing one of the real minifigs on the blue section of the pad will teleport that character through the blue portal in the game, letting you access previously unreachable areas.
In another section, I was caught out by the Wicked Witch of the West. She managed to ensnare Gandalf in a paralysing spell. Frantically mashing buttons (my usual solution to boss fights) was no good. Instead, I had to pick up the Gandalf minifig and pop him down on a different section of the Toy Pad to free him from the curse, helpfully marked by the sections of the Toy Pad lighting up to mark the danger zone and the safe spots.
You'll also need to piece together the Lego Batmobile found in the starter set. Problem is, unlike the Toy Pad, there aren't any assembly instructions in the box. You can find them in the game itself with Batman, and then place the finished vehicle on the pad to pair it with the included RFID tag base. It's the same story for every vehicle you can get for the game. They'll each come with a character who can be used to find the assembly instructions in game, and each can be built in one of three configurations with different abilities and upgrade trees in the game. It's a great way to hammer home how closely related the physical Lego kits and the game world are.
These are frequent occurrences, so make sure that the Toy Pad is kept within arm's reach as you're playing. It's not an occasional swapping of figures as it is with Infinity or Skylanders. You'll want to be able to interact at a moment's notice. It's not an ideal scenario if you're more likely to be sitting on the couch than in front of a table. I wound up playing on the floor with the Toy Pad to one side. Luckily, the included USB cable is quite long, so there shouldn't be too many issues if you can be a little flexible.