Combining the real-life toy collecting of Skylanders with the inimitable light-hearted LEGO game style, some would say LEGO Dimensions pushed the Toys To Life genre to new heights. Mashing up all your favourite characters, from The LEGO Movie to Batman to The Simpsons, it crafted a pretty solid world-spanning adventure, whilst scratching that 'gotta collect 'em all' itch of the other collectable toy games. But with its first year now behind it, LEGO Dimensions has decided not to go down the sequel route, and rather than releasing a fully fledged LEGO Dimensions 2, we're instead being treated to a second wave of expansions - and it's these we got to go hands-on with in Cologne.
With more superstar properties planned, from Harry Potter to Adventure Time to Sonic the Hedgehog, there's certainly plenty to be going on with in the next few 'waves' of toys, but perhaps the biggest addition is one you've probably also heard the least about - four player, split-screen multiplayer. Before you get excited, no, you won't be able to tackle the latest Ghostbusters story pack as the feisty female foursome in co-op, which is a bit disappointing - but you will be able to settle your differences the old-fashioned way, with some everyone-for-themselves brawling across the LEGO Dimensions Battle Arenas.
Each of the new franchises that are being added for Year 2 will come packing their own unique themed arenas and modes, unlocked by placing a character with a gold base on the LEGO Dimensions portal. Dutifully following the instructions, we plonked our character(s) onto the portal (remember, as it's four player split-screen, you each have to place a character on the portal), and activated a special machine in game, found at the side of the in-game portal in the hub, where we could choose our battle arena, and we got stuck in with the A-Team.
Each arena is themed around the property it came from - so the A-Team one is set in the desert, the Adventure Time battle arena takes place on a cel-shaded pillow fort, whilst the Harry Potter battle arena is actually a Quidditch pitch. Starting out with the first mode the game offered us - 'Objective' mode - we were soon plunged into a mad-cap brawl that sees players competing for points over a number of quick-fire missions. Each player has their own challenge to complete within a time limit, with points awarded for each one you finish - and whoever solves the most challenges, and therefore ends up with the most points at the end is declared the winner. Challenges included collecting a number of studs, defeating all the 'invaders' and dodging the twister-y vortex that sucks up everything in it's path - as well as a slightly confusing 'hunt Batman' challenge, which tasks you with hunting down a computer controlled Batman, and giving him a whack - something made all the more confusing as one of us was playing as the Bat.
To add a bit more mania to the proceedings, much like with Mario Kart, there's also a whole raft of pick ups and power ups to let you get the edge over your opponents. Some give you a boost, such as a higher jump or super speed, both handy for getting you out of the way of a particularly chuffed off friend, while others mess with your opponents instead, confusing their controls or slowing them down considerably. Great for giving you the edge over your friends, they crop up all across LEGO Dimensions' new Battle Arenas and modes, not just the aforementioned 'Objective'.
'Tick, Tag, Boom' came next, which, as it's name might suggests, was essentially a more explosive take on playground-favourite, tag. To kick things off, one unlucky player gets lumbered with a bomb, and they need to pass it on to another player as quickly as they can, as the person left holding the bomb when its wick runs out will be in for an explosive surprise - docking one of their three lives to boot. From there, it's basically a match of attrition, with frantic bomb swapping, tagging and adrenaline-pumping last-gasp chases, until there's but one mini-figure left standing to be declared the winner. Simple, yes - but a lot of fun none-the-less.
And last, but not least, comes an old favourite of online multiplayer games - 'Capture The Flag'. Each player has their own coloured flag in a fort at each corner of the map, and the aim of the game is to pinch your opponent's flags whilst defending yours, earning points for every few seconds you manage to keep hold of the enemies' flag. But, unlike your average game of Call of Duty, LEGO Dimensions doesn't chain you to defending your flag - as long as you manage to get an enemy flag back to your base, you'll score points, even if someone else is currently legging it with yours. In a nice touch, you can even grab as many enemy flags as your little plasticky arms can carry, before hotfooting it back to your base - at one point we had all three of our opponent's flags at once, briefly. But as is the case with most of our gaming exploits, things soon went south from there.
Playing Capture The Flag on the brightly-coloured 'Pillow Fort' stage from Cartoon Network favourite Adventure Time, we were introduced to an interesting extra layer of strategy too. Using the studs you collected from around the map, you could exchange some of them for placing turrets and other such defence mechanisms in and around your fort, in an effort to deter, or at least slow down, your opponents. Of course, it's in no way compulsory, and you can just as easily win by going on an all out defensive and neglecting your own flag too.
While it may not be the truly multiplayer LEGO experience we've been pining for all these years - a true four player LEGO story would be the bomb - LEGO Dimensions' four player split-screen battle arenas are shaping up it's a nice little diversion for when you have a handful of friends round, or when your kids are arguing over whose turn it is on the console next. In a particularly nice touch, it appears that national treasure Brian Blessed has been tapped to do the voice-overs, too, providing a suitably bombastic compère for the contests. LEGO Dimensions' Battle Arenas will be accessible through any of the new figures and packs that hit the game this year - essentially, any characters that have an orange base - with wave 7 getting the ball rolling later this month, on the 30th September, kicking off with the (girl) Ghostbusters story pack.