There's something about Lego that has stolen peoples' hearts the world over, from the bricks, to the games and even the recent movie. With the Lego Dimensions interactive game, publisher Warner is looking to steal something more: the space occupied by Disney Infinity and Activision's Skylanders.
While the concept of Dimensions is built around a familiar physical portal concept to "teleport" characters into the game world - this Lego one, however, can accommodate up to seven physical characters (minifigs and vehicles) - the Dimensions concept goes a few steps further.
In addition to the seven available character positions, the portal is also divided into three zones, which light-up in different colours that correspond to in-game cues. Placement relative to these colours is critical to solving puzzles in a physical and interactive fashion, which makes for a more complex and mature gaming experience than we were expecting - and in a very positive way.
For example, in the Portal-style level we played (mimicking the classic puzzler title) it was necessary to get characters to jump through portals; say from a red one to a yellow one. But the command for this doesn't happen on screen, as such, instead you'll need to interact with the physical Dimensions portal and move characters accordingly to corresponding portal colours. It adds a physical element of play that lacks from the competition, at least to this degree.
If anything, as staunch gamepad-style gamers, this took us a while to accommodate in our brains. There's a lot going on. But we really love the idea of it. And kids being kids, they'll be clever enough to quickly snap up the variety of interactive features. Or, at least, we hope so, as Lego Dimensions is an altogether more complex experience than, say, Skylanders, so the age of players should be thought about in that context.
Let's also not forget this is real Lego, which is fun! Vehicles need to be constructed by following on-screen instructions, for example, which is even more practical than thumbing through a paper manual. Special build upgrades may be constructed too, such as building the Batblaster for Batman.
Now Batman in a Lego game may come as no surprise considering his comical role in the movie, but the other utterly brilliant thing about Lego is how it can pay homage to so many fan favourites. With licence for Lord of the Rings, Back to the Future, Marvel, and much more - even Homer Simpson made a cameo appearance in our game - the options are approaching limitless. Our favourite, though, had to be Scooby Doo. Seeing him driving the Batmobile was sheer comedy. Yoiks!
It's not cheap, mind, with the Starter Pack - including the game plus the Dimensions portal and a base set of figures - costing between £85-100 depending on platform (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360) when it launches 29 September. Buy more vehicle packs for £30 a piece, or "fun packs" of minifigs for £15. It'll all add up quickly, but it adds up to a fun and valuable experience.
We think Lego Dimensions will bring a lot of value to viewers in addition to its players too. If parents like to watch their kids then the array of characters, their comedy dialogue and the sophisticated ideas shine through with the same wit of the Lego Movie. Whether aged 10 or 100, there's something here for all (although hardcore gamers will find it all too easy).
As far as interactive portal games go we think Lego Dimensions is onto something special. Yes we've seen similar concepts in Skylanders and Disney Infinity, but we suspect those publishers will now be bricking it, as Lego has managed to bring its own brick-built freshness to the format.