I'll keep this brief because I know, this being VICE, that a lot of you don't have kids, won't have them soon, and frankly, the very idea of pushing another living thing out of your body, or purposefully playing a part in making that happen, is as far away from your immediate concerns as can be. But it's something that I, as a dad, want to get out there: Lego Dimensions has helped me bond with my boys.
In a small way, but a significant one, this game, this "toy-to-life" experience, has improved how my sons, both of them (one just turned three and the other coming up for six), interact with me as I'm doing what is, basically, my job. But it's a favourite hobby, too: before I barely covered the costs of living doing this, and these breathing, boisterous, feed-me-right-now things showed up, I (obviously) played plenty of video games, including titles from the Lego series. The "Original Trilogy" Star Wars one, the Indiana Jones and Batman releases of 2008: great little games, all of them, genuinely. And now Dimensions, where real Lego meets its digital counterpart, has allowed me to share the joy of a terrific video game with eager players whose skills with a pad aren't yet conducive for successful co-op play.
Because, as elementary as the Lego games are – break stuff and build new stuff, A is always jump, smack baddies about and sometimes solve a simple puzzle – they're nevertheless a challenge for smaller players, kids content to just make Batman run into walls, or explode passing cars with a proton pack. They're not bothered about personally progressing the story, about seeing the next cutscene under their own steam – but they do want that to happen, which is where dad takes over to ensure we see that Robin makes it out with cape intact, and The Joker gets his comeuppance.
But playing together – trying to play together, dynamic-split screen, as these games encourage – so quickly leads to frustration for son number one and myself (son number two can barely get his thumbs around an Xbox pad). I'm a pretty patient guy – I'm British, we invented queues – but if I'm pressed for game time, which I always am, I don't want to have to spend 30 minutes in a single room because Player Two can't reach a switch by themselves and outright refuses any help. Likewise, not being able to manoeuvre Gandalf or Unikitty or Homer Simpson or Scooby-Doo or Sensei Wu from point A to B with the efficiency the game requires has that inexperienced user switching from emitting a little drool to actively spitting feathers.
Dimensions is the answer to the poser of how to best play these games together: daddy has the pad, for the most part, and the kids have the bricks. They work together on the bigger things: older son letting his younger brother press larger pieces into place and keeping the more fiddly bits for himself. Watching them collaborate on the new Ecto-1, as featured in the (2016) Ghostbusters story pack, was a delight – all I needed to do was press A to flip to the next page of the on-screen instructions and they performed a merry dance of synchronised construction. And then "we" played – with the new vehicle now in the game, which son number two still thinks is some sort of witchcraft, I steered it to where they said it needed to be. When back in the hub area, a condensed Manhattan, a level freshly completed, I passed the controller and they messed about for a while, just smashing into things, laughing at the natural slapstick potential of destructible NPCs meeting comparably fragile environmental assets.
I read VICE Gaming contributor and general top person Kate Gray's piece on Dimensions for The Telegraph recently, in which she addresses the series' nostalgia for the 1980s: alongside the new Ghostbusters set, as part of the Year Two additions to the licensed packs available, are characters and vehicles from Gremlins, The A-Team, E.T., The Goonies and Knight Rider – following Back to the Future in Year One. That's some throwback fare, right there – and it's okay to be a little cynical of the why behind it. Parents buy this stuff in the main, after all. But there are also Harry Potter and Adventure Time packs available in 2016, absolutely child-friendly franchises of the here and now but ones that you'd argue, successfully so, have cross-generational appeal.
Forgetting the age of the IPs for a moment, compare these recognisable-to-all stars of screens silver and small to the line-up of Activision's competing-in-the-same-market Skylanders. Yes, there's now Crash Bandicoot for the misty-eyed parents and the Is This A Fox Or Something kids alike, coming not so long after Spyro, but who the hell is Pop Fizz, or Wrecking Ball, or Slam Bam, or Eyebrawl? To a guy creaking into his late 30s, this cast of blobs and boulders and brawlers has zero appeal when set against the prospect of taking Gizmo for a midnight feast and drinking in all the fun that follows. (Presumably, anyway: Dimensions' Gremlins set isn't out until November.) Which isn't to say Skylanders is an inferior game, before you go there – merely that, in my house, it doesn't stand a chance.
And because I'm that kind of dad – and I know I'm not alone – my kids have watched (the original; we missed out on the new one at the pictures) Ghostbusters and The Goonies, have an understanding of Who the Doctor is, and why E.T. wanted to phone home. They know these characters too, and that means we have this fantastic shared experience of anticipating what we're going to witness, and how, while playing different roles in getting to that point. So while some might view Dimensions' roster as backwards looking, leaning on a decade that so many gamers of today never significantly lived through, and dismiss it as so much old hat, I see a calculated combination of relatable personalities and complementary activities. Kids will always want to build Lego, whatever the model, and mums and dads – girls and boys, because you're never as old inside as out – will forever feel a warmth when returning to childhood favourites.
Dimensions has allowed my kids and me to share a passion of mine, which coincidentally doubles as my occupation, like football, devouring pizza and hitting the park on a weekend afternoon hasn't, yet. It's an all-weather activity that fills a half-hour perfectly, the before-dinner distraction that keeps us all occupied as something's in the oven. Looking back, this reads like some sort of evangelising for what is an incredibly expensive product, factoring in all you need to "100 percent it" (and there's a guide for that) – but truly, this game, both corporeal and console-based, has lit up my home life for a year and more now, and I couldn't be happier to have it around. The same goes for him, and for him – and I know that whenever the final sets roll out, as nothing in video gaming lasts forever, we'll all look back at our shared Dimensions sessions with the kind of fondness I have for the '80s films that have inspired so much of them.
Thanks for hanging in there. It wasn't all that brief, apologies, but sometimes it's a treat to share a little happiness, and how it comes about. Now, since you're on VICE already, you can click away to read about artisan sex toys, shit New York bars and cream pie porn. Y'know, all the stuff I'm never sharing with my kids. Because that would be weird.
New sets for Lego Dimensions roll out across the remainder of 2016 and early 2017.