Ten years ago, i walked into a comic shop and was casually browsing through the action figure aisle when something caught my eye. It was a well-sculpted, beautifully painted figure of Rowlf the dog from The Muppet Show, wearing a little tuxedo. Behind the figure was a scaled-down black grand piano, along with a little bust of Beethoven. i bought the figure and took it home, marveling at the three little plastic legs included to fit into the piano. The lid of the piano opened, and a strut pivoted upwards to prop it open. Inside, all of the hammers and strings were lovingly detailed and painted. It was the most remarkable action figure i had ever seen in all my life, and i knew right then and there that i had to collect every single one of them.
But spending inordinate amounts of money buying every action figure in a toy line is not something that a responsible adult would do. Luckily, i was not a responsible adult, and so i set about merrily collecting every singe Muppets figure by the brilliant toy company Palisades – every figure, every repaint and variation, and every Comic Con exclusive – until i had a complete, and horrifying, collection.
But i made a promise to myself: i would permit myself this one extravagance, this one utterly audacious indulgence, provided that i never buy out another toy line for the rest of my adult life.
Thankfully i remain, as ever, not an adult, but a big hairy child.
Putting Away Childish Things
Palisades Toys put so much love and care into their line that they eventually went out of business, despite my best efforts to single-handedly keep them afloat. But i was through, and every Muppet figure in existence (yes, even the original red version of Floyd Pepper) was in my sweaty little hands. i kept my promise to myself, as the neglected Muppets collected a luxuriant layer of dust, and had their delicate limbs snapped off one by one by my black-hearted children, through the intervening decade. i was satisfied. And then, Lego Dimensions came along.
Lego Dimensions is a “Toys to Life” game, further proving that only stupid people are allowed to name things. Toys to Life products are video games tied to physical toy lines. The toys are equipped with RFID tags, and when you place them on a scanner, the toy character “comes to life” inside your video game, if you are extremely dumb. If you’re a clever chap like me, you realize that the game disc you purchased already has every single character on it, and the toy company is just charging you extra money to buy the toy, which toggles a boolean in the game code to make the character playable. You literally just paid $14.95 to flip one single binary bit from a 0 to a 1. Congratulations, idiot.
i despise the Toys to Life market. i saw right through it when it was pioneered with the Spyro the Dragon spin-off Skylanders, and i scoffed when Disney introduced its own line of beautifully sculpted vinyl figures for its me-too product, Infinity. Then i re-scoffed when Disney released Infinity 2.0, rendering some of the initial figures inoperable with the new software, and then scoffed so hard that milk came out my scoff when Skylanders did the same thing with its sequel. Ha! It is to scoff.
When Lego Dimensions was announced, it was obviously Batman-shit insane. Traveller’s Tales had taken a bunch of rag-tag licenses that they couldn’t build a complete game around, and had obviously just thrown them into one hot mess of a title. So Wyldstyle (from the Lego Movie), Gandalf (from Lord of the Rings), and Batman (from the comic book – NOT to be confused with the Batman from the Lego Movie, who is apparently a completely different Batman) go traveling through wormholes to different dimensions that are all starting to blend together. A good early example is when the trio materializes in Oz, and Batman is convinced it’s all a gas-induced hallucination because someone mentions “Scarecrow.”
It’s an interesting idea, and i love Lego games and all, but wait – HOW much does it cost? 109 bucks here in Canada for the starter set, and then … $14.95 (a dollar cheaper at CostCo) for a figure with a vehicle, and FORTY bucks for a figure that unlocks a new level in the game?? And there are HOW many figures in the first wave??? So it costs exactly HOW much to collect them all?????
And it took me HOW long to amass the entire collection and display it in my living room??????
Gotta Refinance Your House to Catch ‘Em All
i … i honestly don’t know what came over me. i love Lego games and all, but damn – that’s a spicy meatball. And what a cash grab! And Toys to Life is so stupid. And you can make Scooby Doo drive a tiny DeLorean to fight GLaDOS from Portal while player 2 pilots Dr. Who in a mech suit oh my God give them to me NOW you Satanic toy pimp i must have them!!!
i was NOT interested in Lego Dimensions until i a) had a full-time job and b) saw those toy packages – those beautifully-branded, trapezoidal blue boxes all hanging from their pegs at Wal Mart, disgusting me with their audacious price tags, all the while beckoning to me with their promise of feeding a Scooby Snack to Batman while he drives the Ecto-1 past Moe’s Tavern in Springfield. “Ha!” i said to Nintendo’s Toys to Life Amiibos, which i shunned disdainfully (mostly because they were released before i had a full-time job). “You are a dumb toy, Amiibo! But Lego Dimensions …?” I gripped the 40 dollar Back to the Future level pack. “This … THIS is truly the Toys to Life brand of a champion. A champion who makes good life decisions, and whose birthday is coming up very shortly.”
Got a Cigarette?
“So was it worth the money?” a friend of mine who would never pay that kind of money, and would therefore never be as awesome as me, asked. “Shut up, Sean!” i wittily rejoined.
Briefly: my favourite Lego game of all time is, hands-down, the Wii U exclusive Lego City Undercover. If you’ve ever played a Lego video game, you’ll find that it’s in a league of its own. It’s one of the funniest games i’ve ever played, and i include the first two Monkey Island games on that list, so you know i’m not messing around. It feels like playing a PG-rated Airplane: The Video Game. The script is so sharp, and it has one of the most amazing climaxes i’ve ever seen in a game (but that’s likely because i don’t have the time or patience to finish video games any more). i would even go so far as to say that Lego City Undercover is worth the purchase of a Wii U for that one game alone.
Lego Dimensions is a close second to Undercover, and at times it threatens to take the top spot. Out of the box, you get 15 story-based levels and a cool trans-dimensional portal to build, along with three minifigs and the Batmobile. The levels are fun, and contain some truly thrilling boss battles that manage to be exciting even though there’s never really any “video game peril” (you never lose your progress when your character dies – you just reappear and risk losing a few studs, which are the game’s currency).
For each character that you own from a different brand, a very large exploration level opens up. These levels remind me of everything i found enjoyable about the first two Banjo Kazooie games, without the twitch-based challenge and the threat of losing everything if i fall off a cliff or expend too many honeycombs. The gigantic exploration levels have some amazing surprises in them, like when you send Gollum through the tiny trapdoor in Dorothy’s house in Munchkin City, or when you use Dr. Who’s special power in Springfield.
Are the figures worth the money? i bought them all sight-unseen, because i’m a moron. But as i play, i’m discovering just how fun it is to switch between the different minifigs. They all have unique animations and voice acting, and interact with each other in amusing ways. When you put Cyborg on the toy pad, the Wicked Witch of the West might say “Hope you don’t rust, Tin Man!” When you ride Shelob the Great as Scooby Doo, he covers his eyes and says “ruh roh – a spider!” It’s pretty baller.
Each figure has a separately-tagged vehicle or item that is shown in three configurations on the back of the box. This is actually the object’s upgrade tree; you have to pay in-game studs and hard-fought gold bricks in order to use the thing in all of its configurations.
My favourite moment so far has to be encountering surveillance cameras in the Emerald City, where the Cowardly Lion gets all prissed up in the beauty salon. Fresh off of the dreadful Lego Batman 3, i knew how to avoid the cameras: i’d switch Batman to his invisibility suit and batusi my way in there. But – crap. This was Lego Dimensions, and that suit didn’t exist in the game. That’s when i noticed the lightning bolt icons flashing above Scooby Doo’s head. Curious, i switched control to him, and pressed the circle button. Scooby whipped out a flowery pink dress with a bonnet and parasol and started sashaying around on his hind legs, and ridiculously, he was able to walk right past the surveillance cameras. It’s hysterical, faithful moments like these that make the game an absolute joy to play.
Amazingly, a number of the characters’ original voice actors recorded their dialogue for the game. Christopher Lloyd performs Doc Brown. Elizabeth Banks reprises her Lego Movie role as Wyldstyle. Sean Astin does Sam Gamgee. Liam Neeson does Bad Cop. Michael J. Motherlovin’ Fox does Marty McFly. Alison Brie voices Unikitty and is gorgeous and if she’s interested i’ll leave my wife and kids in a second for her so please give me a call any time Alison i’m here waiting for you. Gary Oldman is awesome as the game’s villain, Lord Vortech. Some characters are voiced by “archival” audio (read: taping lines of dialogue off the teevee with a Fisher Price recorder and then committing them to the game’s soundtrack using a Radio Shack microphone), which is a bit disappointing, but if Aykroyd couldn’t get Bill Murray to do Ghostbusters 3, i wasn’t expecting Traveller’s Tales to get him for Lego Dimensions. What’s more, a lot of the music you’d expect is also licensed, so you’ll hear the theatrical Lord of the Rings score, the Scooby Doo theme, a few good tunes from the Wizard of Oz, and – i was delighted to discover – the absolutely awesome ZZ Top tune Doubleback from Back to the Future III.
When i consider the amount of play time that a new character unlocks, the custom voice work, the vehicles and upgrades, the care and attention paid to characters’ interactions, the nostalgia value of each license and the work Traveller’s Tales spent in obtaining them, and the cash they paid to license the appropriate music and pay the original voice actor where possible, then i am proud to have paid what i did for these toys. It’s a lot different, to me, than forking out extra dough to unlock characters that are already on the game disc. When you own the Spyro/Skylanders license, and all the characters on the disc are yours, and your only costs are the modeling, animation, and whatever off-brand voice actor you hired, then Toys to Life looks exactly like the cynical cash grab it is. But when so much more time, money, and effort went into making these Dimensions figures possible, then i ask you: how could i NOT have taken food from my family’s table and spent it on toys and video games to amuse myself? Hunh? HOW??
Happy friggin’ birthday to me.