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LEGO Dimensions and the promise of toys, toys, toys

“At some point we’re gonna have to get on the floor.”

A puddle of LEGOs grew in the middle of our too-small IKEA coffee table; with each plastic bag of bricks my girlfriend and I tore open and poured into it, the puddle’s edge neared the table’s.

With LEGO Dimensions in our possession, we’d decided to do Saturday morning as God intended. If you’re a human with a heart and you saw The LEGO Movie, it probably made you want to return to childhood real badso we jumped at the opportunity presented by the LEGO pieces included with the game and spent the morning building the big blue portal that drives much of the game’s plot. Your physical replica then clicks into place at the front of your game pad, looming over your LEGO figurines as you move them around to activate their powers. You don’t need to build it to play the game, but who would skip snapping together all those pieces?

Like that movie (and unlike the game based on it), Dimensions is all about mixing things up. See: Gandalf, Batman and The LEGO Movie‘s Wyldstyle doing a Simpsons couch gag.

I had to stop myself for a second there; any writeup you read about this game will mention a juxtaposition like that at some point.

It’s understandable on one level: mashups are exciting. Hence the sustained hubbub over Fire Emblem x Shin Megami Tensei, not unlike Phoenix Wright Vs. Professor Layton before it. It’s bigger than that, though. Dimensions is more akin to Kingdom Heartsit’s a jacked-up-on-sugar “It’s a Small World After All” tour through several universes. But it’s bigger than that, too; the DC Comics universe fits inside of Dimensions‘ universe, alongside several others, with the potential for more in the coming years, which geographically would make Kingdom Hearts‘ universe roughly 1/14 the size of Dimensions’.

It’s understandable on one level: mashups are exciting.

That’s a hell of a lot of ground to cover, so Dimensions doesn’t try and do it all in one go; you get a starter pack, with the aforementioned trio of characters, a standard Batmobile, a game pad and one big blue portal. The introductory game whisks you from universe to universeMetropolis, Aperture Laboratories, the worlds of The LEGO Movie and that stupid Ninjago thing kids must likethrough a fairly rudimentary plot about universes colliding and finding the magic keystones (or crystals or elements or whatever) necessary to defeat the villain behind it all.

By necessity, the starter pack story breezes through some worlds faster than others. Which in my playthrough led to a bit of disappointment. While the Doctor Who portion of the game featured three drawn-out, detailed set pieceswith Cybermen, Weeping Angels and Daleks all showing up in cool ways, along with day-saving spacetime-scoffing turns from the Fourth Doctorthe Back to the Future portion (which I was looking forward to most) first finds you trudging through a line of strangers on the street and doing chores for them, like some passive-roommate Jesus doing stations of the cross. Afterwards, you chase the game’s Big Bad in a large-scale set piece that, while impressive, would’ve been WAY cooler if it involved a hoverboard.

you’re bound to disappoint someone 

The worst part, though: it all takes place in the Old West of the third movie. No hoverboard, no clock tower ticking its way to 10:04 p.m.and no Biff, which… come on. Doesn’t the Darkest Timeline of the second movie make for a perfect supervillain team-up scenario?

When you aim to please everyone, as a game with such a large cast implicitly does, you’re bound to disappoint someone. On a more personal level, it’s like being invited to another kid’s house: you’re that kid’s guest, which means that kid gets to decide which game you’re gonna play. So you’ll end up playing Doctor Who for an hour, all the while staring at the toy DeLorean laying on the nightstandand when the kid finally decides it’s time to play Back to the Future, your parents show up to take you home.

Looking over the back of the game box, which mapped out all the different Fun Packs that were available for the game, my girlfriend pointed out the Simpsons section and frowned. “Where’s Lisa? Why’s it just Bart and Homer?” She and her brother had grown up with the show and, naturally, had projected themselves onto the Simpson kids to some degree. “What about Margewhat about his wife?” We were on the floor by this point, halfway through constructing that portal. I didn’t have a good answer. When she pointed out the (pretty glaring) male-to-female ratio, all I could offer in its defense was: “Lookit’s Chell! She’s awesome!”

Alas: she didn’t know Portal.

It’s hard to watch the other kids having fun playing a game you don’t know, and indeed, within Dimensions it shows when the game’s director, Jon Burton, was having the most fun. When I spoke to him at a launch event last week, he shared with me the joy of sharing his favorite series with his children. “Probably hands down my favorite game of all time is Portal 2. And my kids’ favorite game. ” To his credit—the Portal level is preeetty sweet. A certain “what if?” fan fantasy from back in the game’s early days plays out, and it’s awesome.

Who’s to say the game I played today will be the game I play in three years? 

But stillbeyond that first couch gag, the Simpsons portion of the game is a pretty stock-videogame run through a perilous, collapsing Springfield Nuclear Plant. Doesn’t sound like any of the classic episodes I know and love. “[Certain characters] have more opportunities to put more attention into them,” Burton remarked when I asked him how deep the deep cuts go. “Whereas other characters just don’t have the same opportunities. But we’ve tried to add stuffHomer Simpson, when he gets angry he’ll grow bigger, sort of‘arrgh!’and he’ll be able to do more things. He’ll drink soda, he can burp, his burp’ll smash glass.” Elsewhere, Homer’s pink car can turn into a submarine and a robot mech. I haven’t seen a new episode in years, but does any of that ever happen in the show?

Meanwhile, in the Doctor Who pack, you can play as all 14 Doctors across the series’ 26-season run, and each of them gets their own Tardis. Hmph.

But the thing is, Dimensions isas mentioneddifferent. What I got, with the starter pack, isn’t all there is; they’ve got a three-year plan for this thing. Who’s to say the game I played today will be the game I play in three years? Dimensions isn’t a game so much as a playroomand when 8 o’clock rolls around and it’s time to go home, there’s that parental reassurance: “You can play Back to the Future next time.” Sure enough, Burton unwittingly made me a promise as our conversation went on last week: “It’s really exciting, we’ve got Michael J. Fox reprising Marty after 20 yearshe doesn’t just do Marty’s voice, he does his sister’s voice, he does his son.”

In my head: Ding ding ding! Marty Jr.? His son in the future? So that means we’re going to the future, right? And the hoverboard’ll be there? And we’ll go back to 1955, and then it’ll be likeoh no! Biff’s in charge! Ohand he can team up with the Penguin! Or Bizzarro!

Andmaybe Sideshow Bob, too?

Man, next Friday’s gonna rule. (Fingers crossed.)