Long rumoured, today finally brought official news on LEGO Dimensions, the toys-to-life project - the good news for Nintendo fans is that the late September release is confirmed for the Wii U. Admittedly LEGO games always do come to the Wii U, but in these tricky times it's always reassuring when one of the biggest releases of the year is confirmed for the system.
When we see the concept and trailer below, one thing springs to mind - profits. If Nintendo seemed to take its time bringing its IP into the toys-to-life phenomenon, then LEGO has taken an age. It's as much a slam dunk as seems possible: take one of the most popular toy-brands in the world, combine it with huge IP names and a beloved series of games and - almost without doubt - you have a winner.
We've embedded the Nintendo upload of the announcement trailer deliberately, with the big N planting a flag for this multi-platform title, yet the official PlayStation and Xbox channels did the exact same thing. That's standard practice for any major third-party release regardless of platforms, but we suspect all three major manufacturers will be scrabbling for exclusive DLC and features based on the sales potential we've highlighted above.
Put simply, Nintendo should be - and maybe already is - pushing to ensure the Wii U version is as good as possible, perhaps more feature-rich or expansive than on other platforms. This isn't always the case with LEGO games - the Wii U had the exclusive LEGO City: Undercover, but has been missing out on DLC in LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. In that respect, perhaps odds are tough for the big N.
Yet Nintendo has key strengths it can utilise in a bid to secure a strong version of LEGO Dimensions and, importantly, unique content. That partnership with LEGO City means, for one thing, that the core TT Games development studio is not only experienced with the hardware, but has some Nintendo-esque assets (mainly as Easter Eggs in the game) on file. Nintendo also has amiibo, and that could count for something.
Dimensions will have its own NFC scanning base, yet Nintendo is the only major system manufacturer with its own range of toys that utilise the technology. Despite troublesome stock issues Nintendo's been able to credit amiibo as a success, with a mix of customers picking them up as collectible toys, others to actually use in games, and a decent proportion doing a bit of both.
We already have an idea of what 'DLC' - in the form of toy packs that unlock content - will come early doors, with Back to the Future level content due, while 'Fun Packs' with characters and vehicles will include the likes of the DC universe, Ninjago and The Wizard of Oz. The Nintendo IP would be a wonderful addition, and with LEGO games often having some sort of GamePad 'functionality', some more-so than others, the possibility of bonuses for scanning amiibo on the controller are numerous. Special Nintendo-themed challenges with the LEGO characters, unlockable art and music, Easter Eggs, and in a dream world Nintendo LEGO characters. There's been talk for a long time of the potential power of LEGO combining with Nintendo franchises; here's a prime opportunity to make that a reality.
The power of exclusive content - just observe the scrabble for early or exclusive DLC between PS4 and Xbox One with various multi-platform games - is an important weapon with triple-A releases. Whether what we've suggested is likely is up for debate, and the pessimistic view is that it's a long shot; Nintendo had neat special character designs in Rayman Legends, for example, but other instances are pretty rare. It'd require Nintendo to be proactive in embracing third-party, and possibly - due to the Wii U's limited install base - putting up a lot of cash and some development assistance to make it happen.
Some will say it'd be a poor use of resources, an argument that's fair in the context that we don't know whether it would work in boosting sales of the Wii U version. There's also the consideration that the LEGO games don't typically set the charts alight in Japan, so it'd likely require petitioning from senior management in Nintendo of America and Europe to convince the Kyoto board of the merits in exploring these potential partnerships.
Though LEGO games don't burn up the charts as they once did - LEGO Batman 3 made no impact on the NPD US charts - their frequency and legacy maintains the power of the gaming brand. This Dimensions release is no doubt timed as a big-money move to push LEGO games back up to the charts, seeking an impact similar to Skylanders and Disney Infinity as evergreen hits.
The Wii U has, despite user-base issues, often faired reasonably in LEGO sales figures we have seen, too. Taking the admittedly limited scope of US NPD results, LEGO game sales in February, April, May and August of last year fared well on the whole for Wii U; in some cases the Nintendo home console out-performed PS4 and Xbox One, and in one instance came behind PS4 but ahead of Xbox One. The PS3 / Xbox 360 and 3DS often led, with the portable missing out on Dimensions possibly due to its scope - we'd suggest that we're surely at the point, with each passing year, where more players transition away from Sony and Microsoft's last-gen systems.
If LEGO Dimensions does become a powerful force in the toys-to-life market, it would be a welcome boost for the Wii U if it gets near the front of the queue in terms of marketing visibility and features. In the Wii era Nintendo enjoyed (and to an extent still does) leading sales on Ubisoft's lucrative Just Dance series; it could do with another winner on that scale for Wii U. A franchise where families and the huge market of older gamers (clearly targeted in that Dimensions ad above) see the Wii U as the most fun option for the game. Exclusive content, maybe even hardware bundles too, would help with that perception.
Maybe none of this will happen or is even feasible, but we certainly like to dream. Whether we like it or not LEGO Dimensions will be a slightly ludicrous money maker, with starter packs and lots of 'fun' packs emptying gamer's bank accounts. It's arguably even a threat to amiibo, it must be said, in terms of shelf space in stores. Nintendo's range offers enough of an alternative in how it operates - and generates sufficient demand - to still hold its own, though.
If LEGO Dimensions does prove to be one of the biggest money-makers of 2015, Nintendo should aim for a big slice of the pie. Bold moves could be well rewarded.
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