It's probably an understatement to say we're quite fond of the LEGO games here at Everybody Plays. With their slapstick sense of humour, cutesy bricky aesthetic and easy-to-pick-up-and-play puzzley platforming - which you can play through in its entirety with a friend - we've played pretty much every title they've released to completion. We're also quite fond of Skylanders, the "toys-to-life" game where the figures you collect become your characters in a world-saving, magical adventure. So, when we first heard of LEGO Dimensions, the larger-than-life LEGO title coming this September, which mashes up the figure collecting of Skylanders with the traditional LEGO formula, we were more than a little intrigued. And a whole lot of excited.
Key to the whole experience is the LEGO Dimensions Toy Pad, the base on which you plonk the toys you want to play with in-game. But the difference between LEGO Dimensions and the likes of Skylanders and Disney Infinity lies in the way the portal is used, during the world-spanning adventure, which takes in everything from The Simpsons and Doctor Who to Jurassic World and The LEGO Movie. For starters, while Skylanders and Disney Infinity only let you place three figures on the base at once (or rather, two figures and an item/level), LEGO Dimensions allows you to play seven. And with good reason. Split into three sections, the way you move the pieces between the segments plays into the game's puzzles in ways we didn't really expect, as we found out when we went hands on at a recent games show in Cologne.
We kicked off our time with the game by follow, follow, following the yellow brick road on the Wizard of Oz themed level. Or at least, we did, after smashing up the caravans, fence panels and other such random bits and pieces that stood in our way. As is always the way with these sort of games, you'll need to place any characters you want to play as on the portal - and so it went that poor Batman was left standing around in a state of confusion at all the bright colours, as our killer team of Gandalf and Unikitty (naturally!) set to work punching our way through the road block, in traditional LEGO style, before building the newly smashed pieces into a grappling point, which Batman could hook onto to clear the rest away. So far, so good - but there was one problem. Hidden behind the now destroyed road block was a patch of strange flowers, which promptly sent the intrepid Shaggy to sleep as he tried to leg it through them. With no obvious way around, there was only one solution - plonking a vehicle onto the LEGO Dimensions Toy Pad portal to drive your way through. Because everyone knows sleepy flowers can't affect the Batmobile!
Everything seemed to be going fairly smoothly - we were winding our way down the yellow brick road, towards the Emerald City, in the Batmobile, with Shaggy and co in tow. Yet, as is always the way, things didn't stay smooth sailing for long, as we soon attracted the attention of the Wicked Witch and her flying monkey hordes...
Finding ourselves in a burning ring of fire, the flying monkeys came down, down down as the flames went higher - and we punched, punched, punched, the ring of primates, the ring of primates. But before long, the Wicked Witch had had enough of our antics and trapped our entire trio with her Chain Link spell, locking everyone in place - which is where one of the Toy Pad's more innovative functions came in. On screen, a little flashing miniature of the device popped up, with one segment marked out in red - the area where our figures were currently placed, now stuck in place by the spell. All we had to do to get going again was swap the figures to the opposite, safer side of the portal, freeing our team, and letting us get back to smacking that witch upside her strangely green face.
The boss fight done and dusted, it was on our way back to our base that we were introduced to one of the game's more unique features - the ability to build and rebuild your vehicles, into not one, not two, but three unique forms. Each vehicle you buy can be taken apart, and rebuilt into one of three different forms, effectively getting you three different toys (and in game vehicles) for the price of one. What was less clear up until now was quite how it worked. Was it lasers? A fancy camera? Cleverly placed chips in certain pieces of LEGO? No - as it turns out, it's a lot simpler than that.
In order to continue our little LEGO journey, we had to tweak the Batmobile slightly, upgrading it to its new 'Bat Blaster' form. Upon choosing to change our vehicle in the hub, a virtual instruction book opened up on the screen, providing us with brick-by-brick instructions that looked just like the kind you get tucked in the box of any real-life Lego set you pick up - genius! Of course, what this means is you don't actually have to rebuild anything - simply clicking through the virtual instructions and declaring yourself done allows the game to "save" onto the vehicle base that that vehicle is now in your newly chosen configuration, even if nothing else has changed. That's great news for those (like us) who were worried that losing a brick or two may leave us scuppered.
Of course, new vehicles mean new powers, and the Bat Blaster's new sonar canon turns out to be just the thing we need to shatter a glass cube, and let us carry on our journey across the multiverse to the next level. You'll also be able to exchange a portion of your collected Lego studs (the game's currency) to upgrade each of the three vehicle forms, upping their speed, power and weapons as well as investing in the tantalisingly-named 'colours' and extras' for more surprises!
Lured in by stories of cake, the trio of Batman, Wyldstyle and Gandalf (plus our band of hangers on, which consisted of everyone from Shaggy and Unikitty to Doctor Who and Marty McFly) soon found themselves teleported into everyone's favourite test facility, Portal's Aperture Science lab. And as you'd likely expect, the figure swapping toy pad ability comes in handy here too. Under the watchful, yet unnervingly psychotic eye of GLADOS, we're introduced to a few more functions of the Toy Pad, which it turns out are essentially to solving the puzzles the game throws at us.
While exploring the first room, a picture of the Toy Pad popped up, this time with one portion flashing pink. Switching Wyldstyle from her current location to the pink spot lets her uncover a hidden 'relic' - a conveniently placed jump pad for a car. Taking the hint, we leap into the Mystery Machine, and drive straight up the ramp, into the orange portal above, picking up an item that would allow us to unlock the Toy Pad's true potential on the way.
By the time we'd landed, three different coloured portals had appeared throughout the level, one blue, one yellow and one pink, while the real-life Toy Pad had lit up in the same combo of colours, one for each segment. This was called 'Shift' mode, and you can probably guess what you had to do here. By shifting figures to each of the coloured pad sections, your figure would warp to the appropriately coloured portal, letting you access previously locked rooms. A few button presses later, and the way to the next test chamber was open, breaking all of GLADOS' rules (and heart!) in the process.
Next came 'Scale', the ability to change the sizes of characters by moving them from one side of the Toy Pad to the other, letting you create an itty bitty little Gandalf to fit through a small crawl space - or a super-sized Scooby Doo to weigh down a pressure pad. Finally, there was also a colour swap mode called 'Chroma', where different coloured pads around the level required you to paint Gandalf, Batman and Wyldstyle in different colours by - you guessed it - moving them to the corresponding section of the Toy Pad.
As you can probably see, then, the Toy Pad plays an essentially role in LEGO Dimensions - and one that goes beyond simply acting as a place for you to plonk your figures - instead, it's one you have to move your figures around on in order to solve puzzles. However, the Toy Pad has a few more tricks up its sleeve too. A later puzzle asked us to search for invisible items in the level, with the Toy Pad glowing green when we got closer, and red when we went further away, hot and cold style. Of course, not every puzzle involves the Toy Pad though (thank God - it'd get pretty repetitive otherwise) - playing as Portal's own Chell, we managed to break down a wall and find ourselves a secret area, freeing everyone's favourite AI, Wheatley, before heading behind the scenes of the test chambers. However, our time with the Portal stage was soon brought to a bit of an abrupt end when Homer Simpson came crashing through the wall on a wrecking ball…
Which brings us on to our final stage of the day - Scooby Doo. Set in the grounds of a (presumably) haunted mansion, us meddling kids (with the help of the 12th Doctor, a couple of Ninjago characters and Portal's Chell) set about investigating the creepy house - or we would have, if we could have got anywhere near the house without the doors slamming closed in our face. Above the door sat our only clue to the puzzle - another diagram of the Toy Pad, with each portion coloured in a different colour - which meant we'd need to uncover the matching coloured pads hidden around the level, and then match the colours of the characters to them. Using a combo of Gandalf's glowing staff, and Batman's grappling hook, we force our way into a garden shed, and rebuild a hosepipe, which in turn fills up the fountain, spilling out a block that lets us control the other properties of the Toy Pad once more, building on what we learnt in the previous Portal level.
The only option available to us to begin with is 'Search' - which sees us running about the garden like a group of headless chickens, trying to locate the source of the Toy Pad's 'greenness'; a portal to another dimension which calls in a gardener of sorts to water a nearby flower patch, making the flowers grow and kicking out the first of the coloured pads in the process. The next option for the Toy Pad puzzles is 'Shift', opening up several coloured portals around the mansion grounds - leaping into the blue teleports us inside the greenhouse, where a bit of a smash reveals the second coloured pad. The final coloured pad for the chroma puzzle sits on the roof of the house, reachable via the yellow portal. Returning to the Toy Pad controller and switching it to 'Chroma' is the final step of the puzzle, and now all we need to do is move the characters around on the Toy Pad, changing them to the corresponding colours for each of the coloured pads to open the door, and proceed.
Unfortunately though, that was where our time with the game ended, as we needed to scoot off to our next gamescom appointment. While the Toy Pad mechanics do take a little getting used to, particularly if you're used to the old tried and tested LEGO formula, it's a nice way of putting a bit of a spin on the traditional "toys to life" games we've had in the past, incorporating it in various puzzles during the levels. And with LEGO Dimensions hitting the Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Wii U at the end of the month, on the 29th September, it's not long before you'll be able to try it out for yourselves either!