For the past decade, Lego has been expanding their brand (and probably moving more toys) by releasing a series of video games based on some big-name properties: Lego Star Wars, Lego Indiana Jones, Lego Harry Potter, etc. The basic concept hasn't changed much since the first game, offering a whimsical, family-friendly mix of puzzle solving, platforming, and collectible hunting, but each one usually adds a new concept that will carry over to the next one. Lego Batman 2 was the first to feature talking characters (pantomime sufficed for the earlier ones), Lego Marvel introduced the idea of "Big-figs", for characters like Hulk and Thing, using their size/strength to solve problems that the puny regulars couldn't handle, etc. But after a dozen or so games, the formula has grown a bit stale. At first, the games were spaced out enough that the minor additions were enough, but now with two to three games coming along a year, it was clearly time for something vastly different to keep franchise fatigue away.
Enter Lego Dimensions. Taking a cue from Skylanders and Disney Infinity, the game isn't just a game - it's a budding toy collection waiting to happen. The "starter kit" gets you the game, three characters (Batman, Gandalf, and The Lego Movie's original character of Wildstyle), the Batmobile, and a wired pad, which has an 180-brick assembly to go along with it. Whether you actually build the giant portal that adorns the otherwise featureless base is up to you; the game doesn't know if it's there or not, but there is a pretty clever moment involving what seemed like extraneous pieces around the game's halfway point. However, I should note that the majority of its pieces are very tiny, so if you're a fellow adult with a grabby toddler, it might be best to keep that part aside for the time being (or do like I do, and wait til he's in bed). But the pad itself needs to be kept close - unlike other toys-to-life games, your interactions with the device are not limited to taking the characters off and putting different ones on.
Now, if you're totally in the dark about the game, you might wonder why Batman is hanging out with Gandalf from Middle Earth. The plot of Dimensions finds an all-new villain - Lord Vortech (voiced by Gary Oldman, clearly enjoying himself) using magic and mumbo jumbo to cause chaos wherever he goes, as he attempts to collect "Foundation Elements" - the flux capacitor, the One Ring, etc. His actions are causing the walls between all these previously unrelated worlds to break down (it's sort of Dark Tower-y in that regard), and so Orcs attack Metropolis, Doc Brown's DeLorean appears in Middle Earth, and comic Batman finds himself bickering with Lego Movie Batman (I guess they're different guys). Anyway, your mission for the next 10-12 hours is to restore order, stop Lord Vortech, and smash every goddamn thing in sight. Throughout your campaign you will occasionally find a door or collectible that cannot be accessed with the characters you have at your disposal, and that's where things get tricky.
In all existing Lego games, getting into these areas and collecting these objects was a simple matter of finding out who you'd need to get them and unlocking him/her with the studs (currency) you've collected. For example, in Lego Marvel, you will find objects on fire that require a blast of ice to extinguish - obviously you need Iceman, so you go to the in-game store and buy him for a big chunk of your studs. In Lego Dimensions, when you find you need a character for this same reason, you have to go to a real toy store and buy Superman with real world studs, commonly known as money. For Skylanders/Infinity fans this is par for the course, but for Dimensions it feels a bit strange - the basic game is the same as it always is (smash, rebuild, proceed), but this giant element has been changed into something far more costly. To be fair, I love the fact that I'm not being asked to unlock multiple versions of the same character (in Lego Harry Potter, there are 11 Harry characters - at one point you have to pay for, I shit you not, Harry with a sweater on) and scroll around through 140 or more character icons looking for the one I want, but I also feel like I'm getting swindled a bit in order to enjoy my usual Lego game experience. The add-on packs are rather expensive; granted, you get a regular Lego kit to build (as opposed to an Infinity character that does nothing), but a new character/vehicle combo (called a "Fun Pack") is $14.99 and the kit is roughly the same size as one that would normally cost 5 or 6 bucks. Spending an additional $10 (and taking a trip to the store) to do something that usually takes little more than smashing up a few boxes and barrels isn't an easy pill to swallow; I suspect the game will play a bit better to those who haven't played the other games in the series.
Luckily, there are two other types of add-on packs that get a little more bang for your buck (thankfully, the packs are not console specific), thanks to the "Adventure Worlds" that are available in the game alongside the main campaign. These areas have no boss to beat or anything - just lots of collectibles, races, mini-quests, and other open world-y activities, serving the same function as hub worlds do in the other games. To enter an Adventure World, you need someone who belongs to that world - i.e. Batman for DC Comics, or Homer for Springfield. The Lego Movie, LOTR, and DC Comics Adventure Worlds are already opened up to you thanks to their respective characters coming with the game, so buying additional characters for those three worlds is even less enticing. However, for 25 bucks you can buy a "Team Pack", which is the same thing as a Fun Pack but with an extra character and vehicle, so you "save" 5 bucks, I guess, and the existing ones (Jurassic World and Scooby-Doo) are the only way to unlock those respective Adventure Worlds, so unlike, say, Gollum or Wonder Woman, you're also buying the right to enter a new gameplay area. Finally, there are the "Level Packs", which run for $29.99 and give you one character, one vehicle, and an accessory - plus an additional level (separate from the "Adventure World") to complete with that character. For example, the Portal 2 Level Pack gives you Chell (yes!), a companion cube, and a turret, plus a full level that's essentially a mini Portal 3 and - since this is the only Portal-themed add-on available - access to the Portal Adventure World. So even though it costs twice as much as someone like Legolas, I'm getting probably ten times as much to do in return.
But don't let Portal's relative bargain cost fool you - the game never lets you forget that you're missing out on content. You're not two minutes into the first level before confronted with a swarm of ghosts, and a message saying that you need Peter Venkman to trap them. Venkman isn't even out until March, and he's part of a "Level Pack" so he'll cost you thirty bucks. Move up to the next area and you're informed that you need Scooby-Doo to get to that area off to the side, and more than once during the rest of the level you are encouraged to get other Lego Movie characters besides Wildstyle (Emmet, for example, can drill into cracked walls that yield untold treasures). So in the first fifteen minutes after loading up the game you spent a hundred dollars on, you're reminded that you have to drop another $70 to fully engage with it. I knew going in that there would be plenty of content locked off to me (I've only bought a quarter of the available add-ons), but was unprepared for how in your face they were about it. I assumed I'd have to go poking around to find the things I couldn't ultimately access, instead of having them right there on the main path every few steps. Again, this is not new to the toy-to-life games, but it IS very new to Lego game fans such as myself - and the game you CAN access is more or less no different than the others.
That is, with the exception of the toy pad puzzles. A few times per level (probably to make up for the fact that Batman, Gandalf, and Wildstyle have a limited set of inherent abilities between them), you will interact with your pad in order to proceed. Sometimes it's as simple as making sure each character is on their color-coded part of the pad, others ask you to shrink or expand the in-game character by moving their physical counterpart around, and sometimes the game will even "trap" a character until you physically move them to another part of the board. The cord is pretty long, thankfully, but I can see this making the game frustrating for those used to playing far from their console, as you are never more than a few minutes away from needing to interact with it again - more if you've bought other characters and find yourself needing them to unlock something.
Everything else is status quo, for better or worse. The levels are about the same length (20-30 minutes); you are still tasked with finding ten minikits and an imperiled character on every level; and boss fights usually come down to solving three puzzles (the solution giving you one of the three "hits" it'll take to kill the boss). And alas, it's as glitchy as ever, and the combat sections are still mind-numbing button mashing affairs. There's no penalty for death in these games (aside from some lost studs), so there's no real reason to make an effort to fight defensively - just smash the attack button until all of the nuisances are dead and you can proceed with the actual game. The trademark humor is also intact, and in some ways even more impressive since they are offering an original story. Most of the games just follow the plot of whatever movie they were adapting*, earning humor that way (non violent recreations of scary moments from the usually PG-13 movies they're covering are traditionally how they earn the best laughs), but despite having no such safety net here, the devs keep the humor intact even as the game's plot gets into some weird, Matrix-y territory. Batman encountering the Oz Scarecrow and assuming it's HIS Scarecrow had me giggling, and the Portal level has GLaDOS mocking you the entire time (Portal fans will also have a good reason to watch the end credits). The crossover element loses its luster after a while, and some levels are more fun than others (the Ghostbusters one is particularly half-assed, at least until you get to the firehouse), but Vortech is a fun villain and unlike usual, you can be surprised with where the story goes instead of playing through a plastic remake of a movie you've seen. In fact, I kind of wish I didn't know as much about the game beforehand as I did - it might have been fun to be surprised with who else popped up in the narrative.
For series fans who pride themselves on "100%-ing" these games, I have some bad news for you - there's no such element in this one. There are 480 gold bricks scattered around (mostly in the Adventure Worlds), the ten-part minikits in each campaign level, eleven red bricks, etc - but nothing to tell you how close you are, percentage-wise, to seeing everything in the game. I am used to the equal parts joy/sadness of playing for hours and then seeing that I've only completed 4% of what the game has to offer, but since the game is designed to last forever (supposedly, there won't be a Lego Dimensions 2 - they'll just keep expanding on this one**) it makes sense that they wouldn't want to track such a thing. So for your own pride you can find everything that's hidden away, but you won't hear have that satisfying Achievement/Trophy pop when you do. On that note, the game's 1000 points are possible to obtain with the three characters you bought with it, and thus if the only reason you play these things is for the relatively easy virtual rewards, you'll be happy to know that getting them all won't be nearly as time-consuming as it usually is - they can't ask you to find every minikit when it would require additional purchases to do so.
Long story short, your enjoyment will be largely determined by your budget, and I hope like hell Lego follows Infinity and Skylanders in another tradition - frequent sales (B2G1 types seem common for those). I originally planned to play the game only with the three characters that came with it, but found myself getting lured by all the puzzles I knew I could solve if I just forked over a few bucks to get the character(s) I needed to work through them. Would I rather just spend sixty bucks for a very similar experience and not have to worry about dropping a piece on the floor for my seventeen month old son to eat? Of course. But I can't deny that it's fun to goof around building a little Batmobile and then drop it into a game. Despite spending a bite more than I planned to (and more to come), I feel mostly satisfied with the experience, and if Lego's three year plan works out, I like the idea that by the time it's done, my son will be almost five years old - perfect age to inherit a bunch of his man-child father's toys and play the game if he wants. If that happens, the game will be worth every penny.
* The first game, covering the Star Wars prequels, actually hit stores before Revenge of the Sith was released in theaters - thanks to the frequent cut-scenes, you could "watch" a pretty faithful Lego version of the movie a few weeks early if you so desired.
** I assume more properties will be added, though I wouldn't hold my breath for many of the previous Lego game movie franchises - nearly all of them are Disney (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Marvel) and thus conflict with their Infinity series. However, Harry Potter seems a given, and there are plenty of other major Lego-centric series to add alongside Chima and Ninjago. That said, I would be far more excited by full-length, non-toy driven games of properties debuting in Lego game form here, specifically The Simpsons. THAT'S a roster of 140 characters I wouldn't mind unlocking.
Game was purchased (not provided for review) for Xbox One. I played through the campaign (earning all but 6 Achievements), explored two of the adventure worlds (Lego Movie and Portal), and completed the Portal standalone level.