On paper, Lego Dimensions sounds really cool. A toys-to-life game like Skylanders or Disney Infinity, but featuring all of the brands Lego has at its disposal. A title that features characters from DC Comics, Lord of the Rings, Back to the Future, The Wizard of Oz, the Lego Movie, Scooby Doo, Simpsons, and Portal as its opening salvo. Dimensions even one-ups its rivals by featuring actual Lego Minifigures and vehicles.
What I was not prepared for is how amazingly complex Lego Dimensions is.
It's safe to say that the Lego games are all pretty similar. Family-friendly co-op play, a light sense of humor, and some easy puzzles. TT Games changes things up with each game, but they're not wild reinventions. Your enjoyment of a particular Lego game is based wholly on how you feel about the property being represented. I figured Lego Dimensions would be the same with more characters. It partially is, but the unique features of the game all stem from the Lego Toy Pad.
As you can see in the picture below, the Toy Pad is divided into three sections: two L-shaped sections and the center spot. Each L-shaped bit has three sensors in it. That means you can bring up to seven Minifigures or vehicles into the game are any time. Drop a figure on the base and they'll appear in the game. Filling up the Toy Pad is pretty cool in comparison to the two figures I can place on my Disney Infinity base - I had Batman, Wyldstyle, Gandalf, Scooby Doo, Chell, the DeLorean, the Batmobile, and a Ninjago Samurai Mech for my demo - but more figures doesn't really add much to the overall game.
What makes the Toy Pad so cool is the direct integration with the game's puzzles. Outside of simply summoning characters, the Pad has five functions denoted by the purple icons around the Portal part of the Pad: Shift, Scale, Chroma, Elemental, and Locate. When you're out in a level, you can find keystones that correspond to each function and temporarily give you the related abilities.
The easiest example is Shift. In certain levels, there will be colored portals. When you activate Shift, those colors will be mirrored on the Toy Pad itself; yes, there's a series of colored LEDs under each section of the Toy Pad, so they can change color on the fly. Is there a locked room you're trying to get into with a yellow portal inside? Put any Minifigure on the random yellow section of the Toy Pad and they'll warp through to that yellow portal.
With Scale active, one side of the Toy Pad will make you bigger, while the other makes you smaller. With Chroma, you'll find areas in-game that will paint your characters in certain colors. You'll also be given a colored key that mirrors the Toy Pad. Paint the each character and place them on the right section of Toy Pad to solve the puzzle. Elemental gives you various abilities like fire, lightning, and plant growth, but sadly I didn't get to mess with that function. Locate helps you find nearby keystones.
Solving a puzzle in Lego Dimension requires constantly moving your characters around the pad. As you move through each part of the puzzle, you'll have to use the different functions, so you'll move your Minifigures back and forth as needed. That lends Lego Dimensions a more tactile feel than previous Lego games and even games like Disney Infinity, where you mostly just leave your chosen character on the base. The Toy Pad is a major part of the game, not just the thing that scans in your toys.
There's additional complexity in the vehicles, too. Sure, each vehicle comes in a starting configuration, but each vehicle is still made of actual Lego bricks. Every vehicle has two alternate configurations with different abilities. To use these new abilities you have to find plans in-game. When I say "plans", I mean actual Lego instructions showing you how to rebuild each vehicle. Yep, page-by-page, step-by-step. You'll take the Batmobile apart and rebuild it in order to use its sonar function. Again, Lego Dimensions prizes holding the toys in your hands above all else. "Why have a toys-to-life game if you're not playing with the toys?" it asks.
I don't have a good answer for that.
I've reviewed nearly every Lego game that's come out since I started at USgamer. (We received Lego Jurassic World real late, so that's the only missing title.) I've also purchased Disney Infinity outside of work and have a solid collection of Amiibo. I had a certain set of expectations heading into my Lego Dimensions demo and if the game had simply delivered on them, we would've been best buds. Instead, the team behind Lego Dimensions asked, "What else can we do with this?" What they've come up with as a answer is rather compelling. I need to see how it all comes together in a final product, but based on my demo, the gauntlet has been thrown down.
Are Disney Infinity or Skylanders going to step up?