LEGO Dimensions - (Not a) Review

TL; DR(eview) - LEGO Dimensions is easily the most innovative take on the TT Games franchise. The physical element of the platform allows for the best puzzles the series has ever seen and the bizarre mash-up of so many different intellectual properties gives the most realistic interpretation of being a kid and putting all of your different toys together in the same universe.

First, a disclaimer. I'm treating this as one of my "(Not a) Reviews" rather than a proper review in my own bizarre little Trevor Trove hierarchy. I will still touch on all of the same stuff I would in a regular review but I'm also going to delve a bit into my personal history with the game, what it represents to me, and why it has taken me so long to play through it.

The Backstory

LEGO Dimenstions probably first came to my radar with one of its announcement trailers. I certainly don't remember what I felt at the time but it was probably a mix of enjoying other LEGO games and apprehension toward the "Toys to Life" genre as I've never really had interest in Skylanders or Disney Infinity. I probably figured I'd just stick with the standard games in the series like LEGO Jurassic World or LEGO Marvel's Avengers.

But then in they marketing tour, that stopped by the spare bedroom at Kinda Funny and did a stream with Greg Miller, showing off the same LEGO gameplay I adore in some of my favorite franchises like Back to the Future and The Simpsons. I was pretty much sold for at least part of the various packs they would release.

Then my ex-girlfriend Catherine and I started playing together with a run of LEGO Jurassic World and I wrote about out experiences in a series titled "Co-op with Catherine." It was a fun writing exercise for me and she seemed to really enjoy playing through the game. So I decided to go down the rabbit hole with LEGO Dimensions and pick up the game and a few extra packs for Catherine when it came out as an early birthday present. At first, I invested in the game, the three level packs at launch (Back to the FutureSimpsons, and Portal) and the Wizard of Oz pack (because we had seen the Broadway musical Wicked on tour and named our dog after the Wicked Witch - Elphaba in that interpretation). We also watched Doctor Who together so I was certain that I'd be picking those sets up for us eventually as well.

She loved the present and we had a ton of fun those first few nights building all of the little sets together. In fact, we spent far more time doing that than actually playing the game.  When we actually would attempt to play through a level together, Catherine was often falling asleep by the end of the level so I would have to maneuver my character and hers to finish it. But the building experience was so engrossing that we started getting other sets, just to build them and add them to the collection.

Eventually, she decided she wanted to display them as well so she found a YouTube video from an account called Talk Bricks that showed off how well a little display case from the Container Store worked. We just happened to have a Container Store open up near my work so we swung by and grabbed some rather than order online. We stopped playing the game as I moved into producing more regular daily content for the site and she lost interest but we'd still occasionally grab a new set and hop in long enough to build it

Eventually, Christmas rolled around and I let my family know which sets we didn't have because we all like going overboard and getting each other a lot of presents so these seemed like an ideal way to get the sets that I probably wouldn't have otherwise been interested in (e.g. Ninjago, Chima) and sure enough, Christmas pretty much filled out our collection with all of the sets that had been released to that point.

Then a month later, Catherine broke up with me. In the aftermath, the game and all the sets came with me since I was the one with the PlayStation 4 to play it but I'll also admit I had actually forgotten that I had technically given them to her as a birthday present until she brought it up in a post breakup-fight a couple months back. If she really wanted them, I'm a good enough guy to have given them to her, but I also was hurt enough that I wasn't going to offer them up freely or without her giving me some sort of indication she actually wanted them and not just to play with the new boyfriend. Shitty on my part? Sure. But sometimes life is messy.

Also in the aftermath, I couldn't bring myself to play it. LEGO Marvel's Avengers came out a couple weeks after the breakup and that was a tough one to push through because it was definitely something we would have played together.

So LEGO Dimensions sat dormant for a long time. Out of a compulsion to complete the set, I kept ordering the new Fun Packs and Level Packs that rounded out Year One. They began forming a nice stack against the wall.

Then a few weeks ago, Greg reached out to see if I had the limited edition Green Arrow figure that was given out at E3 and San Diego Comic-Con. I outbid him for a set of charity LEGO Dimensions figures painted in honor of Kinda Funny a couple months back and gave them to him at RTX last month. Perhaps it was because of this but more likely because he's just an outstanding guy and someone I'm humbled to have become friends with in this community, but he sent me one. (UPDATE: Or this.)

So I decided it was time to go back and finish the game.

And then he just happened to notice my name during the Trophy Time segment of PS I Love You XOXO this week and called me out on not having the LEGO Dimensions Platinum. So I definitely needed to get on it.

And Now the "Review"

LEGO Dimensions is an incredibly odd project on paper: a mash-up of characters from different franchises working together and crossing over into each others' worlds to fend off a new villain who want to rule over a single combined dimension. At it's core, you can play through the entire base game with only the three provided characters - Batman, Gandalf, and Wildstyle - and the provided vehicle - the Batmobile. Other characters from the various franchises will make their cameo appearances in the story but you'll never control them in the core gameplay.

But incentive to purchase the extra sets lurks around every corner. Minikits - a series of 10 hidden collectibles in every level and a standard feature of the LEGO games - are largely build around encouraging people to pick up and use other characters. At launch, this was the only was to get many of these extras but TT Games almost immediately patched in a "Hire-a-Hero" feature where you can use the in-game currency of LEGO studs to rent the character needed for 30 seconds. This doesn't allow players access to all of these extras as many puzzles require more than one extra character or specific objects that aren't available through this feature but it was a great middle ground for people who didn't want to spend hundreds of dollars on every set like I did.

Outside of the Minikits, every franchise featured in the series has its own hub world that is only accessible if you have a character from that series. And within each hub world are an almost overwhelming number of little sidequests, races, and Easter Eggs for that series. It's in these placed that the attention to detail and love and respect for these various franchises really shines through.

Also of note (though probably overlooked by 99% of the people who play the game) is the fact that every vehicle or object figure in the game as its base form and two alternate forms all designed from roughly the exact same set of LEGO bricks. The fact that there are LEGO Master Builders out there dedicated to designer a miniature Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters and then also designing an "Ecto-1 Blaster" and "Ecto-1 Water Diver" for the game using the same pieces is an incredibly subtle yet important factor that distinguishes LEGO Dimensions from its competition in the "Toys to Life" market.

The story of the game itself admittedly started out slow. Like I said, Catherine routinely fell asleep and while we were together we didn't play past the third level of the main story (though we did play the extra Back to the Future, Simpsons, and Doctor Who story levels that came with their respective sets). The game is front-loaded with some of the franchises that seem less relevant with The Wizard of Oz, The Simpsons (a series largely considered well past its heyday), and Ninjago being the dominant series up front. But as the game progresses and worlds really start colliding, the pacing picks up and becomes at the very least an enjoyable enough premise to bring all of these disparate pieces together.

The real highlight of the game comes in the form of the various puzzles. LEGO games have been somewhat notoriously simple in order to appeal to the family-friendly spirit. And while I won't say LEGO Dimensions really abandons that mentality here, the addition of the the Portal peripheral and the need to physically interact with and move figures around injects a much-appreciated new feel into the series. As you progress through the story, you will unlock different Keystones that open up new puzzle types. One Keystone will open up three portals in the world - some in otherwise inaccessible areas - and you have to physically move your figure to the corresponding color on the Portal to have the character moved in game.

These mechanics also change up the momentum in the various boss fights. An opponent like the Wicked Witch might be able to use her magic to bind you in place and the Portal will blink red indicating you need to move the character to another part of it in order to regain control. It's clever integration like this that takes it well above and beyond the standard "smash a few things and then build a structure" action of other games in the series.

All in all, LEGO Dimensions might just be my favorite of all the LEGO games for the sheer audacity of its existence. I certainly never thought I'd play a game that would bring so many seemingly random IPs together from television, movies, toys, and video games, let alone find a way to make it all work. The fact that the Year Two franchises just seem to be even more off the wall with stuff like Adventure Time or Harry Potter working in concert with Mission ImpossibleGoonies, or Gremlins has me incredibly excited for where this team plans to take the series.

For those who think the game is geared toward children are vastly overestimating the demand children have for games featuring characters from The A-Team and Knight Rider. This is absolutely a game for families. Kids can enjoy the "big" franchises like Lord of the RingsBatman/DC Comics, and The LEGO Movie (hence the leads) but the parents who play with them can relive their own youth through the franchises they grew up with. And that is pretty darn special.