When I think of the LEGO games from developer TT Games, a few things come to mind; fun gameplay, laugh out loud humor, moments of nostalgia (depending on the IP), and hours of fun. One of the more admirable things about the LEGO games is the fact that the gameplay works wonderfully across all the different franchise that have been graced with the LEGO format. Whether it’s set in the Marvel, DC, Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings universe, all of these games have a unique visual flair and sense of humor that make the experience delightful from beginning to end.
A few years ago, the Toys-To-Life genre really took off with the Skylanders franchise. For those who don’t know what Skylanders is, these games are action/platformers that require a portal and actual toys to play. Gamers connect the portal to the console’s USB port and then place a particular figure on the device in order to transfer them to the game. Each figure features a different character with a unique play style, element (such as fire, water, earth, etc.), and personality. Certain areas require a specific type of character and if a player doesn’t have that kind of figure, one must be purchased at a store in order to enter those areas. This model may be upsetting to some, but the figures are cool and they expand on the experience so my collection is quite large.
In 2013, the Disney Infinity franchise launched and brought familiar faces along with it. It adopted the same model as the Skylanders games, but this time, play sets featured campaigns pertaining to some popular movies such as The Incredibles and Pirates of the Caribbean. After the first game, Disney Infinity 2.0 and Disney Infinity 3.0 expanded on the franchise by adding characters from the Marvel and Star Wars franchises respectively. Not only were players able to buy and control very likeable and well-known characters, the various play-sets featured campaigns set in the Guardians of the Galaxy universe and even the movie Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Each of these play sets were so fun and provided hours of fun.
What the Disney Infinity franchise featured that Skylanders didn’t was the Toy Box mode. In what is quite possibly the best mode in the Toys-To-Life genre, the Toybox mode allows players to create customizable gametypes and environments that can be uploaded online and played with a friend through Xbox Live and local co-op. This mode encouraged creativity and imagination among the fan-base. While I never utilized the toybox as much as the developers intended, the community thrived with various creations from other players. In fact, many of the community-made gametypes are more fun than the base game. Unfortunately, Disney cancelled the franchise after the latest game struggled to perform as well as the company hoped. Our very own Chris White wrote an excellent piece on the history of Disney Infinity and what it meant to him.
With this franchise no longer being developed, one other game is around that will make fans of the toys-to-life genre happy. TT Games released LEGO Dimensions last year to solid reviews from critics. The game currently has an 80% rating on Metacritic. LEGO Dimensions is a labor of love from the developers. It’s a game that not only provides the LEGO experience that fans have come to know and love, it also adds a cool gameplay mechanic that involves the portal. While the portal has caused some division in the Xbox Enthusiast staff, I honestly think that the inclusion of the device into the core gameplay adds immersion.
In the Toys-To-Life genre, players must places their figures on a portal for them to be useable in the game. This is still the case with LEGO Dimensions, but instead of it simply being used to pick a character, the portal is used in various puzzles found throughout the game. Sometimes, players must use specific quadrants on the portal to “warp” characters to other platforms. On certain occasions, the portal is used to create new pathways and open doors that would otherwise be locked. While most games in the genre just use the portal as a pathway between reality and the game itself, LEGO Dimensions aimed (and succeeded) to have players interact with the portal in a way that adds to the experience. While the cord that connects the device to the console could be longer, that is a problem that doesn’t really hinder the experience.
My favorite part of LEGO Dimensions is the fact that TT Games took many franchises (The Simpsons, The Lord of the Rings, Ghostbusters, the DC Universe, Doctor Who and even Portal among others) and mashed them together into one hysterical storyline. While you can use any characters that have been purchased, the campaign follows Batman, Wyldstyle, and Gandalf as they try to save the various dimensions from being destroyed. Every level can be completed with the base characters, but not every nook and cranny can be found unless you have the other characters. To remedy the need to buy all of the figures (which is still encouraged), you can “hire-a-hero” to help you reach new areas. With this feature, players can use studs (in game currency) to use a character that they don’t own for about 30 seconds which is more than enough time to use their ability in order to progress to hidden areas.
When the story mode is done, there are various hub worlds that can be explored. Players can take on side quests, repair the broken landmarks, participate in races, as well as find studs and bricks. It’s so cool to run around Springfield as Homer Simpson and visit the Jurassic World hub world. There is a lot of room to explore and it never gets old. Those looking for more adventures can buy level packs (Portal, Ghostbusters, Back To The Future, Doctor Who, and The Simpsons) to further expand their time with the game.
What I loved the most about LEGO Dimensions is the fact that it caters to both adults and kids alike. Sure, kids will know more about Ninjago and Chima than adults, but they may not know much about Back to the Future, Doctor Who, and The Wizard of Oz. Blending all of these IPs together helps bridge the age gap and broaden player’s horizons. In fact, I was never a fan of Doctor Who before playing LEGO Dimensions, but the level in the storyline that included the franchise was a welcome introduction that made me interested in watching the show.
It’s almost a year since LEGO Dimensions hit store shelves and TT Games is doing something quite different this year. Instead of making a brand new game, Year Two will feature more Level packs and characters from franchises such as The Goonies, The A-Team, Knight Rider, Adventure Time, Gremlins, Mission Impossible, Harry Potter, The Powerpuff Girls, and even Sonic The Hedgehog. Year Two will feature even more 80’s IPs that the younger crowd will probably be unaware of. It’s great to see some IPs that haven’t been seen in years take center stage.
To make Year Two even bigger, there will be multiple “Story Packs” that will feature the new Ghostbusters movie, the upcoming films Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them and The LEGO Batman Movie. Each of these packs will come with a character, vehicle, and multiple levels that will take you through each of the films respectively. While I loved Disney Infinity, I feel like the game was limited in terms of characters. Sure, there was a multitude of Disney characters, Marvel characters, and Star Wars characters, but everything was limited to what Disney had to offer.
Warner Bros and TT Games are not holding back when it comes to the franchises that have received the LEGO treatment. To think, an actual canon storyline that follows the Portal franchise is in a LEGO game. As someone who was born in the late 80’s, I can’t wait to play with characters from franchises that my parents and older relatives had the pleasure to see when they were younger. There is still room for the toys-to-life genre in this industry and LEGO Dimensions is the perfect game to fill the void that Disney Infinity left behind. Not only is the gameplay stellar, it’s also aiming to bridge a gap between the generations and introduce players to things that they may never have experienced.
I’ve put over 45 hours into LEGO Dimensions and I have no intention of slowing down. It has been years since a game has put a smile on my face for such a long period of time. It features some of my favorite cartoons and a storyline that had me hooked. It’s so refreshing to see a game that isn’t full of gloom and grittiness. TT Games has built a magical world that needs to be seen by all gamers. LEGO Dimensions is proof that the toys-to-life genre still has a lot of life left in it and I can’t wait to see what else the studio has in store for the fans.