My big question before checking out Dimensions at E3 was whether or not there’s room in my “fun budget” for another plastic addiction. I have a sizable LEGO parts collection taking up one room in my house, a Nerf collection occupying a closet in my bedroom, and two different toys-to-life collections growing on my family’s entertainment center.

My boys are just young enough to have missed out on the initial Skylanders craze, and early this year we started introducing them to console video games using Disney Infinity and Nintendo’s amiibo almost simultaneously. I was personally attracted to the idea of amiibo as a lifelong Nintendo diehard, but I also found the style of the Infinity figures appealing. My family picked up the Avengers playset on deep discount during Black Friday last Thanksgiving, and we cracked it open for one of the boys’ birthdays. We quickly found ourselves with all six of the MCU headlining Avengers figures, and I’m mulling over whether to add Falcon, Loki, and Nick Fury to the team. On the flip-side, I tentatively stepped into the amiibo craze with a purchase of a couple of figures timed to the release of the latest Super Smash Bros game, and even with a firm standing rule to never pay retail price for anything, I now find myself with 13 figures in hand and checking ebay, Amazon, and other online venues daily for hints of ways to get ahold of my other favorite fighters.

All this is to say that my family and I are by no means Infinity or amiibo completists, but we’ve spent a good chunk of fun money on “toys-to-life.” LEGO Dimensions had an uphill battle if it wanted a piece of the action.

While at E3, we visited the Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment booth and sat in the theater to watch their 20 minute demo of LEGO Dimensions. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures or record any video so this post will be a lot of text. LEGO Dimensions is a collaboration between WBIE and LEGO to enter the toys-to-life video game category. You may not be familiar with toys-to-life if you’ve never played Activision’s Skylanders, Disney Infinity, or bought one of Nintendo’s amiibo figures. In a nutshell, you can buy and collect game-specific figures, scan them with a reader, and play as those characters inside the game. amiibo functions a little differently as there is not one specific game you need to get; each amiibo figure can work in a variety of games depending on the compatibility. LEGO Dimensions works like Skylanders and Infinity in that there is a base, called the Toy Pad, and a variety of items that can be scanned to be used inside the game. The Starter Pack will cost $99.99 and it comes with Batman, Wildstyle, Gandalf, the Batmobile, and the Toy Pad; everything you need to get up and running. There are several different types of add-on packs: Fun Packs are $14.99 and have a single minifigure and some buildable gadget; Level Packs are $29.99 that include a single minifigure, two buildable gadgets, and add a level to the game; and Team Packs will cost you $24.99 and include two minifigures and two buildable gadgets.

We weren’t actually able to touch or see up-close any of the figures or the reader base though as the demonstration was being shown on their big screen. The animated cut scenes had a picture-in-picture overlay showing the actual physical toy mechanics as the action played out behind it with one of the producers narrating the entire time. It started off with Wildstyle, Batman, and Gandalf from the starter set exploring the Land of Oz. It looks and feels like every LEGO video game that TT Games has ever produced. This can be a good thing if you’re a fan of their games. The familiarity of it all will make you feel right at home. This can also work against them since it seemingly is just more of the same thing. Each character has it’s own set of abilities and you’ll need to switch between them to solve puzzles and progress from Point A to Point B. There are some puzzles that the characters won’t be able to solve, and that’s where vehicles come into play. They added the Batmobile into the game so the characters can cut a pathway through a field of poppies. They added Benny’s Spaceship to demonstrate flying. They also put Scooby-Doo in and had him fly Benny’s Spaceship to show that every character has the ability to use any vehicle. You can have a combination of up to 7 minifigs, vehicles, and items in the game at any given time, far more than what Skylanders and Infinity allows.

The demo went through a couple of more levels showing the Portal level and, briefly, a Haunted Mansion setting for Scooby Doo. If you haven’t watched the video they released yesterday you should go check it out right now. They spent a lot of time in the Aperture Science testing facility to demonstrate the functionality of the Toy Pad. The Toy Pad has three zones where you can place your figures. Each zone can light up in a different color depending on what is happening on the screen. You’ll have to physically move a figure from one colored zone to the other on the Toy Pad to perform some action to help solve a puzzle or free the character from a trap on the screen. Having to interact with the figures on the Toy Pad is a game mechanic permeated throughout Dimensions and helps to emphasize what they claim as “the first, true toys-to-life interactive game experience”. I’m paraphrasing there but the producer who presented the demo emphasized that idea a lot.

In addition to having to move the figures around, you can also rebuild the mini vehicles into alternate models. The Batmobile they showed was rebuilt into what looked like a Bat-tering ram using in-game instructions found in the central hub. Once the vehicle is rebuilt, that Toy Pad will save the new vehicle design onto the vehicle’s NFC chip so that the next time you place the vehicle on the Pad, whatever form of the vehicle you last built will appear in the game. Why rebuild? Rebuilding the vehicles gives it different stats to overcome different obstacles. The Bat-tering ram is stronger, whereas the Batmobile might be faster. Stats on the vehicles can be upgraded and in a sense leveled up much like Skylanders and Infinity characters. Unfortunately, minifigures cannot be leveled up. There’s no actual way for the Toy Pad to sense whether or not you rebuilt anything. It just assumes you did and based on the instructions you last used saves the vehicle design onto the chip. I think the game designers will want you to actually physically rebuild the mini model to support their claim of being a true toys-to-life game.

Like I said, they emphasized that point a lot. They want to bridge the gap between toys and games by making the gamer move the figures around on the Toy Pad and build mini models along the way. We’ve known for a while now that the minifigures will not be glued down to their bases, so you could just use a bunch of empty discs with no figures, but for easy identification and manipulation purposes you’ll want the minifigures on the base and the same goes for the mini vehicles. Whether or not you actually build and rebuild the mini models is up to you, but even if you want to cheat a little and not have to rebuild tiny models, there is still a fair bit of required interactivity with the Toy Pad and the figure bases. LEGO Dimensions offers a wholly unique experience in that regard.

We asked if the minifigures you get with the add-on packs were different enough for a non-gamer, minifig-collector to want to go out and buy and they claimed that all of the packs offered something unique in them that you can’t get anywhere else. So far, apart from the Portal and Ghostbusters level pack, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of unique minifigures that LEGO completists can’t pick up from existing sets. Some of the add-on packs have a mini model like the mini Mystery Van, that you can’t get anywhere else but may not be worth the USD$14.99 cost of the fun pack. If you’re not a gamer looking for a fresh toys-to-life experience, it doesn’t appear that Dimensions offers a whole lot of unique LEGO items, sparing your wallet and finances.


Post E3: am I sold? Mayyyybe.

On the positive side there’s charm oozing out of every seam in the bricks, there’s no denying it. The game mechanics and utilization of the Toy Pad were definitely pushing the boundaries of what the current category leaders are doing. I was most impressed with the Portal stuff we saw (as someone who played Portal 1 and 2 on a computer, and later completed the co-op missions over the course of a few awesome late night marathons) and not as thrilled with the Wizard of Oz level we saw demo’d. I really dug the replayability of the mini models that you rebuild over the course of the game. Another plus? So far, no exclusives.

On the negative side, less than a quarter of the currently-announced Fun Packs have sparked my fancy even the slightest, and I pessimistically see some of the lesser IPs warming the shelves while the desirable Portal, Ghostbusters, Scooby Doo, and maybe the DC figures disappear from stores. I either can’t see myself plunking down $15 for a figure and a few parts, or don’t think I’ll be able to pick up the ones I’m betting will be popular. Optimistically, however, I bet LEGO’s got their supply chain so keyed in that we may never see supply-vs-demand issues like Nintendo has suffered through nonstop since amiibo launched less than a year ago.

“Break the rules” seems to be one of the catch phrases that they borrowed from The LEGO Movie and keep using over and over as their slogan. What they mean by that is that you could play as Chell from Portal in Emerald City while driving the DeLorean Time Machine. That’s the kind of mash-up they want you to experience. The big question now is will that formula work? Is that a big enough of a twist to breathe new life into the same ol’ LEGO video game that we’ve all played a million times over? We shall see.