LEGO and Sonic the Hedgehog. Now there’s two things we never thought we’d see officially put together in the same product. Sure, maybe it’s not as earth-shattering a crossover as the Mario & Sonic series (I mean, who’d have ever seen that one coming, and at the Olympic Games no less?!), but it’s just as mind-bogglingly unthinkable. But, then again, almost anything is possible in the crazy world of TT Games’ LEGO Dimensions. You know what’s even crazier though? This bonkers mash-up of blue blurs and bricks is arguably the best thing to come out of Sonic’s 25th anniversary celebrations this year.
As was widely expected, Sonic’s involvement in this toys-to-life phenomenon comes in the form of his very own Level Pack. Setting you back between £25-£30 (or equivalent), these are some of the meatier add-on packs for LEGO Dimensions which means you get a decent amount of bang for your buck. In addition to Sonic himself, the box also includes two vehicles: the Sonic Speedster (Sonic’s trusty car from All-Stars Racing) and, of course, the classic Tornado bi-plane. Both of these vehicles can be enhanced and upgraded in-game – for instance, you can unlock a Tornado 2 paint job – and there’s even the option of transforming them into entirely unique builds, such as a Crabmeat or Motobug (which can be physically constructed in real life too using the same parts).
They’re hugely versatile within the game – and purely as LEGO mini-figs, they look really impressive despite their small scale. Sonic comes with a gold ring to hold, but in true LEGO fashion, you can swap that out for whatever you like – relive the glory days of Sonic Underground by giving him Marty McFly’s guitar, or play out an extended joke by making him hold The Doctor’s sonic screwdriver. While it doesn’t have any in-game effect, it’s an opportunity to let your imagination go crazy and put your favourite hedgehog into all manner of weird and wonderful situations.
The real reason you’ll be picking up the Sonic Level Pack though (unless you’re just a die-hard collector) – and the reason you’re reading this review – is for the Sonic level itself, knowingly titled “Sonic Dimensions”. This degree of self-awareness is consistent throughout the stage, which on first playthrough provides a solid hour’s worth of content.
Compare that to some of the other Level Packs available (for example Back to the Future, which lasts only around 20-30 minutes) and you’re getting some of the best value that LEGO Dimensions has to offer. Even better, the level itself consists entirely of new content (again, compared to something like Back to the Future, which was just an abridged retelling of the first movie). Well, alright, maybe that statement needs a bit of adjustment. The Sonic level’s structure is a whirlwind tour of iconic stages from the series’ past (à la Sonic Generations), but it’s all neatly tied together as part of an original story – even if it does boil down to the usual “stop Dr. Eggman!” narrative (boiled egg pun fully intended: and that’s something players should get used to). From Green Hill to Emerald Coast, Marble Zone to Metropolis, all the way to a final showdown on the Death Egg, it’s full of nostalgic nods, each broken up by a visit to a Sonic 2 inspired special stage.
In fact, it might be said that LEGO Dimensions actually does a better job at weaving Sonic’s past into a cohesive whole than SEGA’s own attempt five years ago. The game’s dimension-hopping premise certainly lends itself perfectly to the idea.
So, that’s the set-up, but how does it work? If you’ve ever played a LEGO game before, you know that they use a hugely different play style to what we’re accustomed to in Sonic’s own adventures. Thankfully, Sonic hasn’t been slowed down to compromise for the experience – he handles pretty much how you’d expect, which in itself goes to show the amount of effort that’s gone into this content. The homing attack, the spin dash, the wheel o’ feet – they’re all here and accounted for. Sonic even flexes his combat muscles with a few moves most recently seen in Super Smash Bros., meaning he’s quite capable of fighting off enemies whichever method you choose.
A fair chunk of the content (particularly boss battles) is played in 3D, but some sections will instead have you fixed on a 2D plane, and these stages feel the most like the traditional Sonic gameplay, with loop-de-loops and corkscrews aplenty. If you choose to play as any other character in these sections, they also temporarily gain Sonic’s running abilities, so if you’ve ever fancied seeing Homer Simpson or Mr. T rolling around at the speed of sound, prepare to have your dreams come true. On the flipside though, Sonic doesn’t get nerfed if you do the reverse – place Sonic in any other level that isn’t his own and his moveset can actually all but break the game. The blue blur can cover some serious distance with his ground and aerial speed, and it certainly changes the way you might choose to approach older stages from now on.
The absolute highlight of the Sonic level pack though is its presentation. In addition to a collection of CG cutscenes filled to the brim with visual gags (Shadow the Hedgehog fans, pay special attention), the writing and voice acting here is simply the best it’s ever been. Some of the voice cast have more to do here than they have done in any of the ‘proper’ Sonic games so far, and Roger Craig Smith and Mike Pollock shine in particular thanks to Sonic and Eggman continually bantering back and forth. If this doesn’t convince you that these current cast are right for their roles, then nothing will – it’s truly as if all the wit of the Sonic Boom cartoon has been injected into the main series, and it’s side-splittingly good. Couple that with all the references to games of old and you’ve got the most tongue-in-cheek and fan-pleasing Sonic experience since… well, possibly ever. The only tiny criticism is that some music tracks aren’t the original compositions, which jars slightly with the otherwise familiar soundtrack. Also, if you’re not a huge fan of in-jokes or the meme-based route that Sonic has been going down recently, you might not be so won over (there’s certainly no dark and edgy stuff here) – but, then again, this is a LEGO game. If you’re not going in expecting some amount of playful charm, then you’re entirely missing the point.
As easy as it is to gush over everything though, it’s important to note that Sonic in LEGO Dimensions isn’t perfect. The whistle-stop nature of the story means that you only get a fleeting glimpse of each area, and that the pacing between different zones can sometimes feel unbalanced. The repeated use of Sonic 2 special stages as a means of transition also grows a little predictable before long. But the real niggling issues start to manifest themselves when you reach the Sonic Adventure World (by which we mean an Adventure World themed around Sonic, not a world inspired by Sonic Adventure).
This is a fully open playground, and for the most part, you can expect more of the same – an even more varied range of zones to explore (particularly if you’re a Sonic 2 or Sonic 3 & Knuckles fan) and the chance to interact with other characters (you’ve not lived until you’ve heard Knuckles busting out the lyrics to his own theme song). So far, so good – but where the problems lie is in the missions available. A majority of these involve exploring the Adventure World for specific spots on the map (be it finding Froggy or collecting chilli dogs), and while that’s great for encouraging exploration, a little more variety wouldn’t have gone amiss. The other form of mission you’ll encounter most often are the Sonic races: timed challenges in which you need to run through a series of rings before the clock hits zero.
On paper, this works wonders, but in practice it can be frustratingly clunky. The physics and hit detection aren’t as precise as they ought to be (on too many occasions has a homing attack or loop not worked how you’d expect it to), and at least on the less powerful consoles (this review is based on the Wii U version) Sonic is simply too fast for his own good – framerate drops, zooming off edges, unexpectedly wonky camera angles… they’re all small but significant buffers to the enjoyment and make seemingly easy (and fun) tasks into something more of a chore. Which is a shame, because everything else about the Sonic content in LEGO Dimensions is so darn good. Perhaps we just need to convince ourselves that these pitfalls make the experience even more authentically Sonic, warts and all.
As an additional point, it’s also worth noting that, as with every other LEGO Dimensions pack out there, you can’t 100% the level or Adventure World with Sonic alone. Picking up the Level Pack grants you access to all of the Sonic themed content in the game, but if you want to get the full experience then you’re going to need to buy into the toys-to-life model and pick up a few more figures (or make use of the pricey “Hire a Hero” function that uses up your LEGO studs). But, really, that’s half the fun – seeing Sonic cross over and interact with the plethora of other characters is a huge joy. The attention to detail is spot on, and the lines are delivered with razor sharp hilarity. You’re almost doing the game a disservice if you only pick it up for Sonic himself.
In conclusion, the Sonic Level Pack for LEGO Dimensions is an absolute treat and something any devoted fan should check out if they get the chance. It’s positively overflowing with jokes and nostalgia, every facet lavished with love and serving as a brilliant culmination of Sonic’s first quarter-century. Not everything translates seamlessly into the LEGO universe, but considering the amount of effort that’s clearly on display, it’s easy to forgive a few technical shortcomings. Perhaps the biggest obstacle though for many players will be the game’s daunting price tag. It’s an expensive investment, there’s no doubt about it – but if you can afford the entry fee to this virtual world of whimsical mayhem, you’re in for one heck of a wild ride. Gotta LEGO fast!
- Top notch writing and performances
- Incredible attention to detail that hits you right in the nostalgia
- Infinite possibilities for crossover madness
- Game mechanics not always working how you want them to
- Repetition in story progression and Adventure World missions
- The price tag for 100% completion