I am gazing upon the classic Green Hills level from the 1991 classic Sonic the Hedgehog, with its unforgettable loop de loops and springs and treacherous spikes. As I drink it all in, the titular hedgehog gazes out of the screen at me and taps his foot impatiently. He’s eager to begin tearing through this timeless obstacle course one more time.
The scene is instantly familiar to gamers of a certain age. But look a little closer, and you can tell that it’s a simulacrum, a game-within-a-game. Sonic is squat and deformed, with a squared-off torso and fingerless hands that are locked in a C-shape, as if they are solely designed to grip cylindrical objects. Also, the lush grassy environment around him isn’t constructed from low-res Sega Genesis pixels – it seems to have been built from chunky Lego bricks.
What I’m actually looking at is the new Sonic the Hedgehog Level Pack for the Lego Dimensions franchise. The $30 pack contains all of the plastic bricks I need to build a physical version of Sonic, as well as a sports car and a biplane that the hedgehog can pilot. Once the toys are completed, I can place them on a special peripheral that came with the $60 Lego Dimensions Starter Pack, and the character suddenly pops into existence inside of the game on my TV screen.
Traveler’s Tales, the British developer that created Lego Dimensions, has taken great pains to make sure that its version of Sonicland faithfully recreates the frenetic platforming gameplay of the original. But to truly get a sense of the delirious brand mashup that the developer has created with the Dimensions franchise, you have to ditch Sonic and scan in Lego-fied characters from the other intellectual properties that have their own licensed Lego Dimension packs – Homer Simpson, or Scooby Doo, or Wonder Woman, or Chell from Portal, or Marty McFly from Back to the Future.