Video Game Review: LEGO Dimensions on the Xbox 360

WB Games’ addition to the toys-to-life video game genre is expensive but should keep LEGO-loving kids entertained.

By , Columnist

All images are courtesy of LEGO Group/WB Games.

With LEGO’s essentially limitless potential for creativity, you might expect LEGO Dimensions to take the toys-to-life video game concept to a whole new level. After all, LEGO itself makes a virtue out of its creation’s versatility and its own self-titled movie promoted imagination over conforming to instructions.

If you are expecting to break out your box of bricks and bring your own contraptions to life in LEGO Dimensions’ virtual world, though, you will be disappointed. To all intents and purposes, LEGO Dimensions doesn’t do anything significantly differently from its two main rivals, Skylanders and Disney Infinity. That's not to say that it’s a bad game; it’s just not a great one.

LD_GameplayScreen_01 (Custom).jpgLike most other LEGO games, LEGO Dimensions revolves around an adventure involving digital versions of TV and movie characters that the toymaker is licensed to use. What’s different here is the diversity of brands included. The developer, Traveller’s Tales (in conjunction with LEGO and Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment), has created a story with nods to several of LEGO’s most popular showbiz-branded construction set lines, including Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of Oz, DC Comics, Doctor Who, Scooby Doo, Ghostbusters, Ninjago, Back to the Future, Jurassic World and The LEGO Movie (don’t expect to find Star Wars or Minecraft, however).

ChimaFunPack (Custom).jpgA benefit of this approach is that should have broad appeal (although 'Friends' and 'Elves', two of its brand lines specifically targeted at girls, are not represented). As Activision has shown with the franchise, it also makes commercial sense because you can build incentives for players to buy into expansion options into the gameplay. Just as with its rivals, therefore, predictably comes as a Starter Pack with a range of add-ons you are encouraged to buy.

That Starter Pack includes Batman, Gandalf and Wyldstyle minifgures. Each of these characters contributes unique skills in the game that allow one or two players to complete challenges and solve puzzles. Once you get past the first chapter, they can also enter themed Adventure Worlds that are explorable open world landscapes with in-built mini-games based on the brand line that each character comes from. By purchasing other characters and mini-models in what LEGO has called Level Packs, Team Packs and Fun Packs, you can open up additional Adventure Worlds.

In the case of the Level Packs, you also get another tangential mini-game based on the character included in the pack. At launch there are three such additional levels available based on Back to the Future, The Simpsons and Portal. A Doctor Who Level Pack will be released in early November. To LEGO’s credit, expansion packs come in a range of prices so you don’t necessarily have to shell out big bucks to add a new character and toy to the game.

ld-product-71205 (Custom).jpgWhat is disappointing, but perhaps unavoidable due to limitations in near-field technology, is that you can’t use characters you already own from sets outside the LEGO Dimensions universe. That’s because each compatible character is associated with a base that sends a signal to the portal device, here called the LEGO Gateway. This is how toys ‘come to life’ in the LEGO Dimensions video game.

Yet, herein lies the LEGO Dimensions paradox: even though the idea of unconstrained creativity is at the core of LEGO’s appeal, the game can only work within the confines of what it tells you to build. Unavoidably, perhaps, there is no opportunity to express what makes LEGO great and as a result the underlying design adds nothing new to the toys-to-life genre.

Back to the Future DeLorean Time Machine Rebuilds (Custom).jpgTo compensate somewhat for LEGO Dimensions’ limitations the game’s designers have built some variety into the vehicles and other toys that accompany the LEGO figures in each expansion pack. These models can be built to a few different designs that do different things in the game. The construction directions come during gameplay, which tends to disrupt the flow, but they do make building an integral part of the game.

The most complicated model is the LEGO Gateway itself, which looks like a fancy version of the titular device from the TV series Stargate. It should be buildable by anyone in the 10-or-over target audience and looks cool when set up on its illuminated base. The models that come in expansion packs are much smaller and are simple to make.

LEGOGateway (Custom).jpgAs in Skylanders, the plot of what is called Story Level revolves around an attempt by a diverse group of heroes to stop a megalomaniac villain. Accordingly, gameplay is the conventional mix of fighting and puzzle solving. One-line instructions are shown while the game is loading but even with these it could take players unfamiliar with LEGO video games some time to figure out the key actions and what each character can do.

Once that hump has been overcome gameplay becomes significantly less challenging. Sharper players might even find it repetitive because the steps are largely the same regardless of whether you are on the Yellow Brick Road, in Springfield’s nuclear power station or in one of the other branded locations that the story takes you to. For most children in the target age range, though, Story Level and the various Adventure Worlds should be colorful and challenging enough to provide an entertaining, non-addictive distraction.

ld-screen-137 (Custom).jpgUltimately, although LEGO Dimensions isn’t awesome, it is a promising start to what will surely become a multi-generation franchise. The game is bright, humorous and testing enough to never be dull. Unfortunately, at the current stage in its life cycle, though, you have no option but to buy the Starter Pack, which, at around $100, makes LEGO Dimensions the most expensive toys-to-life game currently on the market.

Moreover, you will have to spend more money if you want to get the most out of the game. On the bright side the expansion packs are ready-made gift suggestions for birthdays and the upcoming holiday season. If you already have a LEGO fan in your life, therefore, your money will be well spent.

LEGO Dimensions is also available for Microsoft’s Xbox One, Sony’s PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 and the Nintendo Wii U.

TMR Rating: 3/5

NOTE: A review copy of LEGO Dimensions was provided to The Morton Report by Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment upon request.

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Michael Simpson is a freelance writer, editor, presenter, researcher, instructor, gadget freak and sci-tech consultant based in British Columbia’s beautiful Okanagan Valley. Formerly from the UK, he’s converted from tea to coffee and written and presented on film, TV, science, nature, technology,…

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