Wednesday, 7 October 2015

LEGO Dimensions Review: It Really is Awesome for all the Family

LEGO Dimensions Review
We've been playing LEGO Dimensions. I say we, rather than just the kids quite deliberately. This is very much a game for the whole family.

We've been waiting for LEGO to enter the 'Toys to Life' market for a long time. It's going to be one of the contenders for the main gift on lots of children's Christmas lists this year and probably for the next few years.

So is it any good? Is it worth the money? Are kids just going to lose all the small pieces so you're left with a useless lump of plastic and electronics? We've put the game through its paces so we can answer all of these questions and more.

What is LEGO Dimensions?

The game uses an electronic Toy Base and real LEGO toys with tag bases that allow them to be identified. The game has its own storyline and weaves in lots of different brands. The evil Lord Vortech has imprisoned characters from the LEGO universe and taken their powerful objects like Kryptonite and the One Ring.

The initial game play is a level based adventure with puzzles to solve and bosses to defeat. There's also open world play which may be where kids spend their time in the longer term.

As you play LEGO characters are placed on the Toy Base and sometimes swapped and moved around. Additional toys can be purchased to open up new parts of the game. The toys are real minifigures and buildable vehicles and gadgets.

In the Starter Pack you get Wyldstyle, Batman and Gandalf, plus the Batmobile. So far there's no choice of different starter packs, there's just the one that's available for different consoles. The choice of characters in the starter pack worked pretty well in our house.

The LEGO Dimensions game comes from British software house Tt Games (was Traveller's Tales.) We have played loads of their LEGO games. My kids watched their Dad play lots of them when they were younger and then started playing themselves.

You can buy add-on packs with extra characters, gadgets and vehicles which then become playable in the game and give access to additional content.


I had several reservations about LEGO Dimensions:
  1. Is it worth the money? It's very expensive. It would need to be pretty amazing to justify that. I was nervous of spending the money and being disappointed.
  2. The list of franchises is weird. Midway arcade, Portal 2, the Simpsons. Along with Ninjago, Chima and the LEGO movie. And the Wizard of Oz. That's not all of them. Who is it for exactly?
  3. Won't we just lose all the bits and end up with an expensive portal that we can't play with because the important bits have disappeared into the general sea of plastic blocks that my kids own? 
  4. No LEGO Star Wars. Sniff. Presumably because Disney owns the franchise and has its own 'Toys to Life' range with Disney Infinity. But Star Wars needs to be in LEGO Dimensions too. 
  5. And the big one. You can't put Gandalf in the Batmobile, it's just not right. It's disrespectful. All this mixing up of franchises is just plain wrong. Right?
So, how did we get on?

Out of the Box Experience

Inside the box: Game, Toy Pad and cable, Instructions, Poster

Inside the Starter Pack is the game, the Toy Pad and cable and a proper printed box containing the LEGO parts and an instruction booklet. 

Internal box with portal, minifigures and vehicle to build

The internal printed LEGO box seems a bit unnecessary - I guess it bulks out the contents a bit and gives some more space to advertise the additional characters that are available.

You get three characters: Wildstyle from the LEGO Movie, Gandalf from Lord of the Rings and Batman from DC Comics. You also get a Batmobile buildable vehicle.

There's a portal model to build to go on top of the Toy Pad. The Toy Pad itself looks pretty dull when it comes out of the box - just a grey and white block.

While my son opened the box of LEGO and started following the instructions to build the portal we put the game in the console. It took about 15 minutes to download patches to the game. The LEGO portal took over half an hour for my 8 year old to build so there was a fair amount to do.

Then we realized that there were no instructions for the Batmobile. It dawned on us that maybe building the portal was supposed to happen during the game. And sure enough once we started playing, this was the case. The booklet does mention this, but my son didn't spot it, and continued with the instructions. It didn't matter too much and meant that we weren't sat around waiting while the updates downloaded (if this is a Christmas gift then plan to get the disc into the console as soon as possible.) My son built the Batmobile from the on screen instructions during the game.

Toy Pad in use, lit up with figures
Once the Toy Pad has the portal on and the game starts and it light up it different colours it looks much more impressive. The design means that when the LEDs light up it looks like bricks with studs.

There's quite a long intro to the game and it felt like we were watching a movie to start with. This brought us all into the game world. You can skip the intro when you play again but my kids shout 'don't skip it' when it comes on.

There are three figures in the starter pack so my two sons and I picked a character each - I got Wyldstyle. The game is two player cooperative, but we just took turns, swapping our characters in and out - some parts of the game need specific characters. I loved hearing my kids call each other Gandalf and Batman :-)

This worked really well and the game was entertaining enough for the third person to be quite happy to watch while they waited their turn. Eventually they stopped letting me have a go unless they got stuck!

If you've played other LEGO games by Tt Games then this will feel very familiar, but more polished. There are things to bash, challenges to overcome and lots of humour and great voice acting.
"There's bricks, build, build!" 

The characters often have to build contraptions from piles of bricks they find by tapping buttons on the controller. There is also some real world building to configure vehicles.

The Toy Pad is cleverly designed. It actually has different areas that toys can be placed and sometimes you need to move the toys around to solve a puzzle in the game. This is a nice feature and meant that the kids were interacting with the figures more than they do in other Toys to Life games. The puzzles can be quite tricky, parents may be required to help on occasion (fine by us!)

Weird List of Franchises

When I looked at the list of characters and expansion packs I wasn't sure quite who the game was targetting. Why include lots of franchises that seem to have more appeal to adults in a kids game?

The voice cast seems to have been hand picked for me: Gary Oldman, Peter Capaldi, Stephen Merchant and Liam Neeson!

The whole game seemed to have been created for me even more than for my kids: Portal 2, Jurassic World, Ghostbusters, Doctor Who, Midway Arcade and Back to the Future. But there's plenty there that we all love: Lord of the Rings, DC Comics and the Wizard of Oz. And lots for them too: Ninjago, Chima, Scooby Doo, the LEGO Movie. Plus more. It's a real mix. (Note that the release of the various franchises is staggered with not all packs available at first.)

Actually it's genius. It means that LEGO Dimensions appeals to the whole family. Parents are catered for here just as much as kids. That leads to quality family time. Parents (well parents like us at least!) will be more than happy to join in. (And will be very likely to carry on playing after the kids have gone to bed. You can have multiple saved games.)

There's not a franchise in the list that doesn't appeal to someone in the family and usually more than one of us.

Mixing Franchises

I was really nervous about playing. I was most disconcerted by the idea of mixing the franchises. Seriously. I almost couldn't cope with the idea.

Well, curiosity got the better of me. I was wrong. Tt games have done the most amazing job of making the franchises work together. The game shows deep knowledge of each of its brands and weaves them together in a very clever and funny way. Phew.

This is family-friendly fantasy, sci-fi and retro and modern popular geek culture mash-up heaven.

Of course the kids had no such reservations. This is how they play with LEGO. I've long since stopped trying to organise their collection by theme.

No LEGO Star Wars

There's no denying it. This is gutting. LEGO Star Wars really should be in Dimensions. Oh how I'd love to see C3PO in the Shire. Posturing between Darth Vader and Batman. Please, please Disney. We've already bought Disney Infinity Star Wars. It's not instead. 

Losing the Pieces

Toy Tag Bases
The game pieces in LEGO Dimensions are actual LEGO minifigures or models on a Toy Tag base. It's only the Toy Tag base that you need to place on the Toy Pad so in theory kids can play with the LEGO toys and then still be able to use the characters in the game. But the Toy Tags themselves are pretty small and could get lost if kids take them off to play. Plus there's lots of interaction with the figures on the Toy Pad and this wouldn't be as much fun without the actual figures or models.

For now my kids are under strict instructions that the characters must stay with the Toy Pad in the storage box that I've allocated for this purpose. This does somewhat detract from the value of the characters being actual LEGO and I may possibly be showing my control freak tendencies. I may ease up on this after a while. We'll see.

I would definitely recommend getting a storage box specifically to keep all the pieces together. The measurements of the portal are roughly 20cm x 20cm (allowing for the cable at the back to stay connected) x 18cm. 

I'm writing this bit a day later. I came down this morning and found that my eight year old has made a second LEGO portal (adapting the one from his Atlantis set) to get around my restrictions. He has also made a Lord Vortech (not yet available as a minifigure) and roped in other characters and vehicles on the good and bad sides. He has even created a pet called Void-o for Lord Vortech. He has taken the story from the game and brought it into his physical play world. Fantastic. This is what LEGO is all about.

My son's version of LEGO Dimensions
My 8 year old has also come home from school telling me that his friends' break-time game is now based on LEGO Dimensions.

It's Expensive

The starter pack isn't cheap. It does feel risky to spend such a lot of money in one go. Is it worth it?

You do get a LEGO portal and vehicle to build as well as three minifigures so you have to take that into account. 

LEGO have said that the portal won't need to be replaced every year and that we can expect several years of new content on this platform. That definitely helps. 

"It's Ninjago. We're in Ninjago!"

And you do get a lot of game. I was just expecting to be able to play in the worlds that the starter pack characters come from (LEGO Movie, Lord of the Rings and DC Comics.) But the game actually takes you through levels set in lots of other worlds too - you just play with your starter pack characters.

If you have a character from a particular world then you also get access to that world or dimension for free play. You will also get access to additional small sections of game play that are not available when you play with the starter pack characters. 

You might be concerned about having to buy extra packs. These allow you to play as different character with different abilities and to access new game content and the worlds that the characters are from. The level packs are pretty much new mini games. And of course you're getting minifigures and small models to build (and rebuild as the game requires.)

Be warned that the game does heavily tease / advertise the availability of more characters. I now feel like I must get the Wizard of Oz Fun Pack. There's also a poster included that shows all the sets - my kids have already picked their favourites.

With so much content in the main pack I'm actually more concerned about value for money for the add-on packs. 

Is it good value for money? I think it depends on how your family feels about LEGO and the list of franchises that are included. If your floor is constantly covered in plastic bricks and your family has a multi-generational love of sci-fi and fantasy, then yes, it's worth it.

If you're looking at it as just a toy for the children then it's could still be good value as they will get lots of hours entertainment from it. But the best value is when you see it as whole family entertainment. As a family we would far rather have LEGO Dimensions than a few takeaway meals. 

Age Ratings

If you're trying to work out whether LEGO Dimensions is suitable for your young children you might get a bit confused. 

There are separate ratings for the LEGO packs themselves and for the game content and the ratings in the UK and US are very different. 

The LEGO packs are all rated 7-14 as far as we can tell. In the US the starter pack has an ESRB Rating of Everyone 10+. Most of the add-on packs are also Everyone 10+. In the UK the starter pack has a rating of PEGI 7 and so do most of the add-on packs. This might just be because there isn't an equivalent to PEGI 7 in the ESRB system. 

I'm happy for my 7 and 8 year olds to play, especially as it's something we can do as a family so I know what they are seeing and hearing. 

The game does get quite challenging as you progress, especially working out what you need to do with the figures on the portal. As parents we like this. It means we get called in to help occasionally and actually get to have a go!

Review Summary

It is expensive, but if it's a good fit for your family then it's worth it. It's very funny - if you're familiar with the characters and stories it's based on. It has a fantastic list of franchises that will appeal to parents and children (the Star Wars omission notwithstanding.) The portal works well. The whole thing is very well executed - the music and voice acting really add to the overall excitement of the game. 

The add-on packs mean that birthday and Christmas presents will be easy to choose for the next few years for everyone in the family.

Key points:
  • It uses real LEGO minifigures and bricks
  • The game involves interaction with the figures as you play
  • The starter pack is expensive but does have a lot of content and you won't need a new version of the toy base each year
  • Get a storage box to keep all the bits in, you don't want to lose the toy tags
  • Best value is for families where everyone will get involved

For our family, LEGO Dimensions is awesome.

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