LEGO Dimensions Starter Kit
- Street Date:
- September 27th, 2015
- Reviewed by:
- Brian Hoss
- Review Date:1
- November 2nd, 2015
- Game Release Year:
- Warner Brothers
- Traveller's Tales
PS4 Starter Kit reviewed without any add-on packs.
The toys to life genre started with 'Skylanders,' and now has spread to toy-shifting titans from companies like Disney and Nintendo. Into this arena comes Warner Bros. swinging the not simply the mighty LEGO bat, but with an arsenal of proven Traveller's Tales gameplay and a smorgasbord of licenses (like 'Back to the Future,' 'Dr Who,' 'The Simpsons,' 'Portal,' DC Comis, etc.).
Even better, 'LEGO Dimensions' has the success of the 'LEGO Movie' to build from as well as real LEGO kits and minifigs to power the real-life toy side.
The starter kit includes the game (on disc), the LEGO Gateway, three figures and one vehicle. Real LEGOs are used to the tune of 269 pieces.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Before getting into the review proper. It's important to note how this toys to life to thing works on a basic level, at least in terms of 'LEGO Dimensions.' The PS4 starter kit includes a USB cabled portal (which is meekly called the LEGO Gateway, but it's hard not to think of it as a portal). On this gateway/portal are three separate sensor regions. Two in the front, plus one in the center back. The gateway also has a large region towards the back where a LEGO baseplate attaches. On the baseplate is where players assemble the cosmetic stargate looking hoop, which consumes the bulk of the kit's included LEGO pieces. This stargate thing is featured in the game with indications to detach and attach certain pieces, but it's purely classic LEGO bits and there are no sensors.
Likewise, the minifig characters and vechicle, which for the starter kit are Batman, Gandalf, WyldStyle, and the Batmobile, are also pure LEGO pieces but with one important exception. The blue discs that attach to the figures base (attach just like any other LEGO piece) contain the NFC information necessary to be read by the game. These bases are specific to each character, and could be used without bothering to assemble the figure. For example, I have a normal Bilbo minifig that I could attach to the blue NFC sensor base in place of Gandalf, but the game would always just read it as Gandalf.
The Batmobile vehicle is a little different. It is meant to be put together in three different variations, with the second two being unlocked in game. Again, in terms of the PS4, it's just the sensor base that matters.
Here's a look at what the unboxing is like. One key to know is that the Batmobile assembly instructions are shown on-screen while playing. The stargate thing is shown both on-screen and in the included instruction book.
The portal can hold and read seven different figures, three in each of the two front regions and one in the round center sensor. The most important aspect about this for the starter kit, which only has four things to read in, is that the three different regions are a major part of the gameplay. Various puzzles and abilities require that characters get moved around to the different regions, and each region can light up in an array of solid colors. I'll come back to how this all feels when playing, but it's important to know that while playing the PS4 game, the actual LEGO building could be ignored, keeping the portal/gateway thing nearby is an absolute must even with just the starter kit. Although all three characters and the vehicle can be on the pad and accessed in game basically all the time, the figures constantly need to be moved to different sensor regions during the course of play.
The Magic of the LEGO Games
Playing 'LEGO Dimensions' has been a bit of a struggle for me. Ultimately, there's two very different ways to approach the game. After a decade of Traveller's Tales games redefined what a LEGO game is, 'LEGO Dimensions' might be seen as the most ambitious with its apparent goal to "break the rules" and incorporate all kinds of geeky properties. The other way to approach the game is from the perspective of a real-life 'LEGO' collector. Instead of LEGO just announcing and releasing various brick kits for properties like 'Back to the Future,' which are in turn bought, assembled, are showcased, such properties can have a kit that is part real-life LEGO (especially if you think the mini-figs are the best part of licensed kits) and part PS4 game.
Unfortunately, for me, I fall in the former camp. I've had a blast in games like 'The LEGO Movie Videogame' and 'LEGO The Hobbit.' The levels, the puzzles, the co-op, the stories, the collecting, the humor, etc. it's all been a kind of magic. Going into 'LEGO Dimensions' with actual minifigs seemed to have such promise, but the resulting gameplay comes off as stilted. The games have always asked players to play through levels multiple times. The first time through yields the story, the main puzzles, and (a big key) a sense of unlocking characters and abilities. Future level playthroughs then benefit from having the new characters and abilities. In 'Dimensions,' the formula has been shifted to encourage buying figure packs. Levels feel like corridors packed with closed doors and very expensive locks. (If I were buying LEGO kits on a regular basis, then these locked doors might feel like a bonus to buying the kits.)
A toys to life game pushing buying more figures is nothing new, but it's important to balance out what comes in the starter kit with what doesn't. Here again, my experience has been beset by shortcomings. Number one, the Batmobile or vehicle aspect falls somewhere between worthless and superfluous. Based how poorly the Batmobile is suited to just about everything , you would think that no 'LEGO' game had ever had a vehicle in it before. It's upgradable and available at nearly all times, but really it's just used as key for certain interactable objects. A special platform or ramp will appear, and that means use the vehicle for a second.
There's no co-op aspect at all, and for the most part, getting in the vehicle (which initially seems like great fun) is a way of telling the game to install try to kill you in any major fight. I poured studs into upgrading my Batmobile to the point that it was supposed to drive and shoot enemies autonomously. In reality, what it did was constantly get stuck and squeal its tires off screen or alternatively, stick too close and get in my characters away.
I could go on, but suffice to say that the vehicle aspect seems completely tacked on. Annoyingly, pressing Triangle when standing near the vehicle is supposed to be the command to hop in, but it's also one of the commands to switch characters, and no amount of standing close to the vehicle sorts out this command conflict. It's a complete crapshoot.
LEGO Gateway Gameplay
Number two, the game's portal gameplay mechanics, which involve shuffling the characters around the gateway, are a mixed bag. This is for a multitude of reasons. For example, activating the keystone that lets you shrink or make characters large, usually translates to a tiny door and set of ladders. Move the character over to the region on the pad that makes them shrink and then guide them to the switch behind the grate. Of course, you can't press the switch while small (or big), so you need to move the character back on the gateway. Once you hit the switch, they whole thing collapses and disappears.
Other variations include moving WyldStyle around to pink regions to make her execute a master build, or picking up color blobs to match a pattern visible in the level.
One of the earliest keystones opens up different color portals, but it's usually pointless to move any character besides the one being immediately controlled as they'll tend to fall off/warp back or do something else bad after teleporting when not being directly controlled. Going through a whole level of the same keystone puzzles (go to the pink portal then yellow portal then done) only to face a boss and do it again means a lot of setting the controller down and moving the figures. I'd hope this would be better in co-op but no. There's no penalty for dying aside from losing studs and blowing the level stud goal, but having to move the characters around the portal is oddly better in solo play than co-op.
Many of these puzzles/puzzles disguised as boss fights feel like they need more polish and fewer incidental issues. This hurts, but there is an even greater fundamental issue to the substandard (for a LEGO game) design. The campaign's core path caters to the three included characters. That means every room has a Gandalf magic thing, a Bat switch, or WyldStyle build. Often these things come in sequence. This restriction can be so vanilla, it seems like the farthest thing possible from breaking the rules.
If the level mechanics are rinse and recycle with the three characters and their portal movements, the multi-level story is disjointed. Despite being pushed as an ultimate crossover and mash-up explosion, 'Dimensions' is far too imitative of 'The Lego Movie,' while not achieving the same effect. Gandalf is mostly just a stand-in for Vitruvius. The game's initial humor victories quickly get buried under repeating sound cues for each attack, hit, loading into the game and so on. The overall story runs out of steam so quick that the per level story stories ought to stand out. Well, there is a reason that 'Portal' is such a vocally important port of this game, since it's one of only levels that comes together well. (I can't say I had high hopes for 'Ninjago,' but how can 'The Simpsons' play out like an animatronic stage show?) Why is fighting Sauron represented by a spinning UFO above Metropolis?
The non-campaign levels are open, but feel threadbare. (LEGO Arkham is in Metropolis! Oh wait, it's just another box with a few "only this kind of add-on character can open this door" puzzles. ) I would just wander around seeing if there were any puzzles I could actually complete (not really) and wondering if one or two gameplay passes had been omitted.
So what I have missed? Well there are several properties mashed together. For me this is like the recent 2014 crossover episodes of 'The Simpsons' 'Futurama' & 'Family Guy,' it much more novel than effective. The game has portals opening all over the story levels and boss fights, which drop in villains, heroes, or props from other dimensions (those dimensions being other properties). Again, while Wyldstyle, Batman, & Gandalf are great characters, having them hop from 'Dr. Who' to 'Portal' without any real changes, such as gravity or superpowers or playable allies feels like a misfire. 'The LEGO Movie' seemed to handle all the crossing over much more deftly. Entering 'Back to Future III's Hill Valley would have been great in a dedicated LEGO game, but in 'Dimensions' it's just a quick Doc Brown cameo, and then back to the games' one note villains. Fighting, say Lex Luther in his giant mech or Lord Business in a different level/world at first seems very cool, but always devolves into the same keystone gateway (move the figures around) gameplay.
I do like the figures. Grabbing their heads and hats feels like moving chess pieces. The portal, on the other hand, scares me. I keep thinking it's one hard fall away from sending LEGOs everywhere. Still, it is open to being customized with all those boxes of LEGOs I already own. An update to the game added a warning about not using the gateway on a metal surface. In terms of the gateway and figures, I never had a single problem. The game only ever writes to the vehicle tag when doing upgrades at the in-game computer. The characters appear to be read-only.
While 'Dimensions' under delivered for me, this is a game that will fascinate very young players. I have hopes for the next version.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Again, 'LEGO Dimensions' flirts with quality. There is a gamut of visual styles that have been recreated using the LEGO game style, and the results are mixed in more ways than one. Playable areas in the campaign are kept small, and for better or for worse, all of the property adapting has still left the game full of city/factory/underground settings. Levels like 'The Wizard of Oz' are nice because they haven't been done before in other games. Metropolis/Gotham, on the other hand, is a mess as a stand-alone level, and very pedestrian as a campaign level.
Many of the cinematics are impressive and the lighting on the PS4 is a nice bump to go along overall cleaner look compared with past games.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
I have big issues with the audio. In addition to the repeating sound cues (I shall pass…this on.. to someone else), there is way too much canned audio. The Burns/Homer exchanges seem to be sourced from VHS, and come off worse than an early 2000s sound board. The original voice-acting is world's better, and having GlaDOS on-hand for real (not canned) is a pleasure.
The audio presentation overall vacillates between chaotic furor and tumble weeds. Other LEGO games have managed to find a middle-ground between an empty level and full-on boss fight, but that tempo is missing here.
In theory, with waves of figures and packs still to be released, the Replay level could be considered very high, but at the $100 level, it's the worst of any 'LEGO' game I've played. $15 two figure packs can potentially open up a new level and new abilities for use in old levels. One of the first areas in the game in 'Follow the LEGO Brick Road' has a vehicle specific section (drive through the drowsy flowers and then through the meadows), but for the most part the vehicles just aren't a meaningful part of the game.
Without being to unlock figures and character abilities in-game, replaying levels is bound to be frustrating. The co-op is a departure what with the gateway being so important, and with there being just the three characters.
'LEGO Dimensions' pulls from a lot of fantastic licenses and even gets the player to use actual LEGOs. At the same time, the game strays too far from the proven LEGO formulae for a series veteran, pulling out the meat of the game design without providing enough balance or sense of progression. There are bright things in the future for 'LEGO Dimensions' I'm sure, but the growing pains of early adoption are too harsh for me.
- Offline Co-op
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