By Jonathon Dornbush
Updated October 12, 2015 at 12:00 PM EDT

TT Games has developed over 20 Lego games since Lego Star Wars first hit in 2005. And while many of them have delivered fun if increasingly familiar, journeys through some of pop culture’s biggest franchises — Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, DC and Marvel have all gotten the Lego game treatment — it took mashing them all together to deliver one of the most enjoyable Lego experiences yet with Lego Dimensions.

The latest entry in the growing toys-to-life genre, Lego Dimensions is not without its concerns. The asking price alone, along with the additional Lego packs to buy, could make any parent quiver as they open up their wallet. But a smart spin on the genre, along with a fresh take on the familiar formula makes Dimensions a journey across the multiverse worth taking. Even if your bank account won’t be thanking you for it afterward.

Lord Vortech (voiced by Gary Oldman) wants to take control of every dimension he can get his hands on, and many of them just so happen to star a list of the most recognizable faces in film, TV, comics, and gamin. And when Gandalf, Wyldstyle, and Batman’s friends are all kidnapped in the process, the trio teams up to traverse the universe and put a stop to Vortech’s plan.

That adventure takes them everywhere from Oz, where the Wicked Witch is ready to do battle, to Ghostbusters­-era New York, which has been occupied by General Zod. Players will hop around from Springfield to Middle-earth, to a Scooby-Doo haunted mansion. The game is played with a real-world portal, that incorporates a player-built Lego aspect, and on it players place characters and vehicles to use them in game. If it doesn’t quite sound write in words, check it out in practice:

This portal aspect will feel familiar to anyone who’s played Disney Infinity or Skylanders, but Dimensions integrates the portal into the actual gameplay, and is all the better for it. The portal has three separate areas, and different powers gained throughout the game incorporate these different sections. One power makes half the board shrink characters while the other side increases their size, and another mechanic grants elemental powers to the three sections.

The use of these gameplay ideas is smartly ramped up, as the game at first only tasks players with using one power to progress, though eventually three or four will be needed to properly advance. They’re never brain-bending puzzles — this is a game intended for all ages, after all — but the scaled complexity is fun and rewarding as the game trusts you to understand its rules.

Other than the portal, the game boils down to the standard “smash everything and collect Lego studs” gameplay of Lego games past, but the quiltwork aesthetic injects some life into the familiar gameplay loop. The Tower of Sauron will come crashing into Metropolis, Doc Brown will ride in with the DeLorean to lend a hand — the experience feels new even when the base of it is something Lego players already have come to know.

And thankfully all of those familiar characters and worlds come to life with original voice work or the return of original actors. Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox return for Back to the Future, Peter Capaldi brings the Doctor to life, Troy Baker continues to have fun as Lego Batman — even when the writing is purposefully cheesy and lame, the cast sells it with an endearing authenticity.

There’s also a wonderful attention to detail when it comes to mashing these various worlds together. Wyldstyle moves with that stilted stop-motion style featured in The Lego Movie, the librarian ghosts cameos in Ghostbusters, and Portal’s Glad0s is as insultingly amusing as ever. Lego Dimensions may not surpass its source material, but is rather a devoted, fun love letter in an original package.

(ASIDE: The base game comes with the portal, Gandalf, Wyldstyle, Batman, and the Batmobile to play. There are plenty of other packs that will give you new levels, new characters, and new ways to unlock everything in the game. There are already several smart buyer’s guides online to help you determine what you want and how much you’re willing to spend. You do not in any way need to purchase these extra packs to beat the game, but for completists and simply Lego fans, are are some tempting packs available. END ASIDE.)

Going into Lego Dimensions, I expected another fun if slightly more expensive Lego journey. But the mishmash of beloved properties, coupled with a smart use of the game’s real world element makes Dimensions one of the most enjoyable Lego adventures in years, and the most engaging use of the toys-to-life genre yet.

Lego Dimensions is now available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and Wii U.