You have to feel sorry for the development team in charge of Activision’s Skylanders franchise.
When Skylanders first made its way into the world in 2011 it looked like lightning in a bottle. Here was a game that not only had cross-generational appeal, it had its crosshairs firmly on the wallets of parents. If the kids it attracted wanted in on the action, they’d have to pester their ma and pa to buy them a collection of toys to allow them to unlock content that would be off-limits otherwise.
And they did. Oh Goodness, they did. Skylanders was a license to print money.
Six years later and the playing field for Skylanders looks a little more crowded. Disney Infinity rolled up to the party two years ago, bringing with it characters from the House Of Mouse, Marvel, Pixar and – most recently – Star Wars. Not only are its characters better known than the likes of Spyro, they’re bolstered by a steady stream of movies and television shows. The fact that Disney Infinity offers a mode that Activision’s developers never even thought of – Toy Box – only added fuel to the fire.
Now, here comes Lego Dimensions to spoil Activision’s party even further.
Lego Dimensions, at first glance, looks like a Skylanders clone. Like Activision’s peripheral-based game it involves players plonking real-world figurines on a ‘portal’ so they appear in the game and – yes, sorry if you’re a parent – there are a bunch of game-related toys to buy. Since Warner Bros. publishes Lego Dimensions – and recently brokered a deal with Valve and the BBC – the game has a large range of Intellectual Properties to draw from, such as Lord Of The Rings, Dr Who, The Lego Movie, Portal, The Wizard Of Oz and anything owned by DC Comics.
There are a ton of characters (read: toys) that players can port into the game. Furthermore, up to six figurines can be placed on the ‘portal’ peripheral of Lego Dimensions at any given point, including vehicles – like the DeLorean from Back To The Future or the Batmobile – and here’s the clever part; players can change the in-game structure of some of their toys.
Characters are set – you can’t switch the top half of Dr Who with the bottom half of Batman and expect to your creation represented in the game. Sorry about that! However, if you chuck one of the vehicles onto the game’s ‘portal’ peripheral, you’ll be greeted with a set of instructions on how to transform it into an iteration of its former self. You can then break apart the toy peripheral and reassemble it, gifting the vehicle new abilities.
Tell us that doesn’t sound cool.
Furthermore, the ‘portal’ peripheral isn’t just a way to port characters into Lego Dimensions – it’s an integral part of the game’s puzzle solving requirement to boot. In one instance, set in a Portal-themed level, placing Gandalf on the centre of the game’s porting peripheral allowed the player access to an area that made solving the exit conundrum all the more easy – even while G.L.A.D.O.S. complained bitterly about it. Developer Traveller’s Tales hasn’t just borrowed Skylanders’ game structure – it’s taken it widescreen.
It’s also kept the core experience that made the Lego series of game such a hit in the first place; Lego Dimensions involves smashing things, building things, collecting things and occasionally using a deft touch while navigating your route through the game. It’s still the gaming equivalent of a Pixar movie – players of all ages can enjoy it because it’s easy to pick up and play but it doesn’t insult veteran players in the slightest.
That’s not to say that Lego Dimensions is in the slightest bit challenging. It’s not. But consider this: in Lego Dimensions you can select any one of the iterations of Dr Who. Any last one of them. If you’re a fan of David Tennant or Christopher Ecclestone or Sean Pertwee you can pick them out and strut around as them. And here’s the kicker: their movements mirror those of the actors’.
It’s that kind of meticulous attention to detail that has made the Lego series of games popular with players of all ages. It’s also why Lego Dimensions is going to be a hit.
Yes, we’re glad we’re not involved in developing Skylanders right now. Very glad indeed…