It doesn’t take a genius to see how perfectly matched Lego and the Toys to Life genre are. It’s always been something of a dream to bring those to, well, life in videogames, films and more, but actually combining the real and digital world hadn’t been possible until last year.
“We started thinking of Lego Dimensions right after we finished the original Lego: Star Wars,” producer Mark Warburton explained as he demoed some of the second year’s content. “So, you know, eight or nine years ago. We started thinking about what would be the ultimate Lego game?”
Lego Dimensions was the result of that dream, and it set the bar high, pushing the Toys to Life genre in some new and interesting ways. As the sixth wave releases this week, year two looks to go even further.
Since its inception, Toys to Life has always had a yearly cadence to its releases, with almost obligatory new starter kits and tweaked base stations coming out a few months before Christmas. Warner and TT Games took a notable step away from that with Lego Dimensions, announcing well before launch that there would not be a Lego Dimensions 2 in 2016.
Mark said, “That was a very important message for us and one we really wanted to get across. This is primarily aimed at kids – well, I say kids, but it’s not, is it? – and people get this for Christmas and holidays and birthdays, and I think if next year comes around and you’ve got to buy the same thing again, it does get a bit tiresome.
“So here you go, here’s your starter set, and if you want to add something to it, you can do that. […] It may be that year two comes along and it has the first character that you want to dive in with, because something really catches your eye, and something in year one didn’t as much.”
There always needs to be something new and invigorating to keep people interested and coming back for more. For some, it’s being able to grab minifigs and content for a new crop of their favourite brands, but for me, what’s striking about year two are the new Story Packs. They get to be quite a bit more ambitious than Level Packs, with six levels to play through and not just the one. That point alone lets these licenses breathe a little and get much closer in size to the steady stream of Lego games we see released each year.
Ghostbusters (2016), Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and The Lego Batman Movie have all been announced so far, with Ghostbusters coming out today in the US and on Friday in the UK. What helps to make these sets stand out, is that they also include construction kits to build a new backdrop for the toypad, such as the front of Zhu’s Chinese Restaurant for Ghostbusters, or the Bat Computer for The Lego Batman Movie.
“The stories tell themselves,” Mark said. “Ghostbusters has plenty of content there, Fantastic Beasts is going to be amazing – so it does feel like the Story Packs are giving you a traditional Lego game experience within the Dimensions world, which is kind of fun to play around with. You have that entry point [into the films], but it’s within our bubble, so you can play the new Ghostbusters film with Superman… or with Peter Venkman as well!”
Each Story Pack also starts to play with the toy pad in new ways. The original game had a handful of puzzles that needed you to move the physical minifigs around the three sections of the toy pad – I often had to clear away all the figures I’d let accumulate at these points – matching the colours on screen with the LED lights on the pad. The Ghostbusters story does a similar thing, but in a new way, with the toy pad puzzle sucking characters through wormholes or portals to parallel dimensions in order to solve different kinds of environmental puzzles.
The Story Packs get to be the real highlight of each wave – and at £32, they’re actually pretty good value, given Lego’s typical premium – but they’re far from alone in each wave. Level Packs are smaller in scale, with just the one narrative level, but these and the Fun Packs always grant you a new Adventure World, just as with the first year.
Mark said, “It’s always that [a pack] has to be as good, if not better than anything that’s come before it. It’s as simple as that. We don’t know who’s going to buy what or want what, so we have to make sure that every character has an incredible amount of digital value – that’s why everyone can open an Adventure World and Battle Arena – and it has to feel like that character coming to life. That’s very important, so we can’t start getting into a Story Pack taking priority over a Fun Pack.”
There’s a whole new area in the Vorton hub world dedicated to all of the new portals that will transport you to a mashup of the sights from each series. The Adventure Time pack tries to find some semblance of geography to the cartoon’s madcap world, adopting a very fitting cel shaded style in the process – Jake’s minifig looks very odd, though. Meanwhile, Mission: Impossible’s level is dedicated to the original film, letting you run around as a little Ethan Hunt minifig, but its Adventure World features Prague, Shanghai, Sydney and more in close proximity.
And then there’s the quite unexpected addition of competitive multiplayer to the game. Lego has always been about co-op, and adding this new string to the game’s bow is another statement of intent from TT Games that they’re not just resting on their laurels.
“It’s just one of those things you look at and think we want to do something different, something new that we hadn’t done before,” Mark explained. “Dimensions has always been about that, doing something new, whether it’s new brands we hadn’t touched before or new ways to play.
“Year two came along and we said, ‘Let’s do it. There’s two player, let’s go for four and see if we can do this.’ It was literally within 48 hours that we had a prototype of it up and running on the screen with a couple of us crowded round the TV using the most horrific language that should ever come out of a company that develops kids games!”
Truth be told, playing competitive four player split screen is barely possible to follow, even with (or perhaps because of) Brian Blessed’s booming voice as the announced. Each set in Wave 6 has an associated Battle Arena, and each of these can be played in four modes – CTF, Base Bash, Objective, and Tick, Tag, Boom.
Dotted around the map are power ups that can make you super size, invisible, really fast, make everyone else tiny, and so on, and that adds a Mario Kart-esque layer of mischief alongside being able to set up traps and interact with certain parts of the environment. As four players all ran around an A-Team themed map trying to steal each other’s flags, it was a bit too chaotic to make sense of. Then again, there’s a kind of childlike charm to that kind of loose nonsense.
This week is starting a new chapter in Lego Dimensions’ growth. Fun packs, team packs and level packs were good during the first year, but not exactly meaty expansions. With story packs able to be much larger, be more ambitious and add new ideas into the mix, it looks like year two is getting off to a great start.
- Developer:Traveller's Tales
- Publisher:Warner Bros.
- Platforms:PS4, XBO, PS3, X360, Wii U
- Release Date:29/09/15