Build for families
I’ve been a lifelong LEGO fan for as long as I can remember. From the physical bricks to their admittedly mixed outings in video games, LEGO has survived for decades by being inventive and using strategic licenses. LEGO Builder’s Journey released last year and was a great little puzzle game that used the mechanics of LEGO pieces themselves to tell a simple and creative story. LEGO Bricktales is mechanically more complex, but feels like a close approximation of the inventiveness that LEGO is known for. For adults it might be a tad too repetitive, but if played alongside a younger family member, this game is just delightful.
In LEGO Bricktales, you control your custom made avatar who has visited his inventor grandpa. Due to several hijinks, he’s lost power to his theme park. It’s up to you to travel through his portal and visit several different worlds to obtain happiness crystals by helping out people in need. As you traverse various locations like a jungle and a desert, you come across people who need your creative building skills to help them out. Gameplay transitions between exploration segments, which are similar in design to Builder’s Journey, where you control the character through little LEGO dioramas. You can explore little caves or walk behind structures to find secrets and additional puzzles. Then there’s the puzzle segments, where you have to build structures from LEGO in any way you imagine.
Each structure you build in the puzzle segments is completely open to your own design. You start out a puzzle with a specific selection of bricks, but are free to stack, rotate or place them however you want as long as it is within the allocated building space. It could be as simple as recreating a statue, rebuilding a bridge or market stand, or even designing a colorful theme park attraction. In order to solve the puzzle, it needs to withstand a simulation test. A robot will attempt to cross the gaps using the bridge you created and that will provide feedback whether you need to tweak the design to withstand the weight or movement. A simple 2x4 bridge needs support in order to help the robot cross the gaps for instance; a zipline needs both to be in balance and have a little roof for the connection as well. Each puzzle builds, pun intended, on top of previous designs you’ve created. After the completion of a puzzle, you’re free to move on to creatively enhance your build by using any bricks you like. You can swap colors, add more creative components or fully design the puzzle however you want.
What I especially like about LEGO Bricktales is that it always makes you think of the physicality of the bricks themselves. You can stack on top of or underneath the bricks by positioning them most effectively. It’s a hard transition from a physical act, like connecting LEGO bricks, to a digital environment, but the folks over at ClockStone Software have done a marvelous job at recreating what it’s like to build to your heart's content as well as accounting for the way weight and movement would impact a build. This makes each puzzle feel quite unique, even though you will be designing quite a few bridges and connecting places.
I did find some of the toolkit a bit disorienting. While the controls work great most of the time, positioning a brick within the three-dimensional space can be quite a challenge. This is especially true if you start out with an easy build and have to redo certain parts because of the physics that impact it. Moving around bricks is easy enough and you can use the D-pad to connect bricks above or below a piece that’s already placed, but oftentimes, moving back and forth from the available pieces to the construction zone did get a bit tedious. I also felt that because the game doesn’t reward creativity, I found myself quickly making the fastest and easiest buildings, just to get from point A to B faster. The puzzles here can sometimes feel like a harsh break from the exploration segments in the game and made me want to breeze through them to go back to exploration. If you’re in a relaxed mood, the game accommodates this fairly well, but if you want to rush through the puzzles the pacing can work a bit against you.
Ultimately, while the core mechanics are as solid as the plastic the bricks are made of, the general presentation leaves a bit to be desired. From the surprisingly large number of textboxes to explain the dialogue, to the very boring UI and graphical interface, it feels like the game lacks a bit of polish. The LEGO aspect is absolutely on point with the dioramas using studs and flat pieces for some gorgeous designs in the various worlds, but this makes the UI stick out all the more. On Switch especially, it’s almost like you’re playing a game that’s designed for tablets and while the game runs great on the system, that makes the end product feel a little bit cheap and inconsistent at times. This goes for the music as well, which does a fine enough job to complement the settings and worlds, but leaves little impact on the overall experience.
That said, LEGO Bricktales is probably a fantastic game to play alongside younger players. For kids, the whimsical style of the characters and worlds would be a great introduction to puzzle games that encourage creativity, especially with a child’s excitement over going back to earlier builds and re-designing them to their heart’s content. While the normal LEGO games are all about action and cooperation, Bricktales’s focus on creativity and puzzle solving makes it feel more grounded than the fantastical LEGO Star Wars and Marvel games. This is a game anyone with an understanding of the toy can pick up and enjoy. While a more mature single player will probably not stick around too long, this is one that families will definitely appreciate on whatever platform they choose to play.