What do boring old games journalists know about a game for kids? Who cares. Let's ask some children what they think of Lego Dimensions.
Okay, caveat: the children I've
exploited enlisted to help review Lego Dimensions are my own. We play a lot of games together. They usually include the word "Lego" in the title, but also Rocket League, FIFA, Minecraft, a little bit of Halo and others.
We have to wait 30 minutes while the games installs on the Xbox One and a 4GB update does its thing. The children build the minifigures while we wait. Mari puts Batman and Wyldstyle's faces together. "Look, they're snogging." Mari counts the available figures on the accompanying poster. "There's only six female girls. There's not even Lisa Simpson." Children notice these things. They really do.
The game starts and asks the children to start building the Lego portal. They are instantly hooked. Mesmerised is the right word. I mean this a real "holy blimey crikey" moment as the portal comes together in real-life and on-screen. There's no bickering. Only teamwork. I can have a gin and tonic and leave them to it.
They build the portal. "It's very sturdy," says Mari.
Lego Dimensions is similar to all Lego games in that you smash things for studs, duff-up a few enemies and move from room to room building and rebuilding stuff. Apart from this time you also assemble Lego toys in real life and spend a lot of time shifting the minifigures around the portal board to solve puzzles.
"You don't just play the game like Minecraft. It's good because we can both play even though we only have one controller. The portal is like another controller, really," says Dylan.
"We need to stop his head from running away! It's like a squid!" shouts Mari - the game is charmingly inventive as we work through The Wizard of Oz, Ninjago, DC Comics and Dr Who levels.
I notice the Ninjago level isn't going down as well as the others and it looks like it's becoming a slog. "This is getting a bit annoying," says Dylan. He's referring to a series of colour puzzles to get through a maze. Mari wants to switch it off and watch something on YouTube. I help them through the maze because it really does look tedious.
As well as the colour puzzles - "they're really hard" - there's other puzzle solving throughout, which goes down a lot better. Simple stuff like using electric, water and fire puzzles to progress. This is mixed with good old fashioned brawling and collecting, cute visual gags and a funny script. Weaken the boss, build the ramp, hit it with the Batmobile and win the level. The Lego games are the few consistently funny video games I've seen and played - because they're "just kids games" that isn't emphasised enough. They're as far from a cynical marketing tool as a video game based on a toy will ever get.
It's just like child's play
Undeterred by the boring maze I ask what they think of it so far. "Brilliant," says Dylan. "Because you can go to different levels but there's not always the same people. In Ninjago there's Lex Luthor. I didn't think you'd see the Joker robot." It's a true mash-up of characters, levels and lore. This is how children play in general, where everything gets pulled in by imagination, regardless of whether it's a toy or a hairbrush ("dinosaur!"). It's a perfect fit for Lego. Video games wrap themselves in so may rules it constrains them. Dimensions is closer to a comic book crossover, where team-ups happen because they have the potential to be fun. Everything else is secondary.
And with such a collection of different characters it's clearly a game aimed at all ages. "What's Back to the Future?" asks Dylan. Quite rightly he doesn't know who Marty McFly is. I tell him the truth: it's an overrated movie from the 80s.
He's not familiar with Portal yet, either, but he's asking questions about it and I suspect we'll come back to it in a couple of years' time. Scooby Doo on the other hand is universal, credible with 70s kids and my own. Interestingly, The Wizard of Oz stuff, which I felt would be shoehorned in because of the Warner Bros connection, works well here and is genuinely funny.
The Simpsons level on the other hand is flat and lacks the humour associated with the show. Neither Mari or Dylan know much about the characters other than it's supposed to be funny but isn't. And we've played a lot of superhero games but Dylan hasn't come across Cyborg before until we checked out the DC Comics section: "he's cool because if you hold B down you can turn into a big robot and he can shoot lasers out of his eyes." That's a solid definition of cool in my book.
How is it compared to other games?
"It's much better than Lego Marvel Super Heroes because it has other people, more characters. It's a good mixture of all sorts," reckons Dylan. This is saying something as we must have collectively put around 50 hours into Lego Marvel Super Heroes.
"Lego Dimensions are toys that you can build but in Disney Infinity they don't really do anything," says Mari. "And the portal, you build it like a Lego set. You've got to switch characters around. You're not just playing with the game, you're playing with the toys as well."
Would you save up your pocket money for the extra characters?
Lego Dimensions is expensive. £90 for the base game, £15 for Fun Packs and £30 for Character Packs. From a parent's perspective it doesn't seem that big a change from the general price of Lego sets anyway - they've always been pricey. That’s not to justify it, but I kind of know what I’m in for. There’s nothing cheap about Christmas.
"It's a bit too high. Two packets would be £30. They should be £10 each, then I could save up for them" says Dylan of the Fun Packs. "I don't think you should buy the level packs, just the characters, because there's loads of levels in the game anyway."
"It's worth it but it's expensive. I would save up my pocket money but I haven't got any at the moment," says Mari. I think that's a hint.
So according to Dylan and Mari it's better than Disney Infinity, Lego Jurassic Park ("we got stuck") Lego Batman and even Lego Marvel Super Heroes. It's fair to say they like it. I like that they like it. And not just because it keeps them quiet while I drink gin. I've heard that an early draft of Mari's letter to Santa includes Lego Dimensions stuff, and I would imagine we'll be playing a lot of it right into the new year. In conclusion, Lego Dimensions is pushing GOTY status in our house.
We played Lego Dimensions on Xbox One. The game and packs were kindly sent over by Warner Bros.