Lego Bricktales Review: Build Brick Better

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Lego games are not usually centered around their actual construction toy namesake. A massive library of Traveller’s Tales games have been built on crossovers with many licensed franchises, turning properties like Lord of the Rings and Marvel superheroes into slapstick action-platformers, and Lego A Builder’s Journey used the brick-building toys to tell a heartfelt story. Lego games don’t often capture the feeling of actually playing with Lego bricks, but Lego Bricktales actually does with incredible accuracy.

Bricktales is all about building, transporting you to five Lego-themed worlds and presenting you with a series of physics-based building puzzles. The physics system underlying the whole thing is impressive, as the Lego bricks actually perform the way any experienced brick-builder would expect. Whenever you finish a project that requires weight-bearing, you’ll need to test it with a falling object or a little robot crossing your construction to make sure it holds up. If you didn’t reinforce it with support struts, the pieces will just fall apart. Even elements like a step being one spacer too high could create enough fall momentum to break the structure.

Now Playing: LEGO Bricktales | 2022 | PC, PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo Switch

In that way, Lego Bricktales functions like a STEM toy, teaching some basic engineering principles in a fun and engaging way, just like actual Lego bricks. Putting it into a virtual space like this means you get to stress test the results of your hard work in a way that feels personal and tactile. You can sense the physicality of the interlocking brick system in a way that other games haven’t quite captured. It’s very satisfying to walk up a set of stairs that you designed yourself, recognizing your own patterns and even your mistakes. And once you’ve completed the building challenge, you unlock a free play mode that lets you use additional decorative elements to make the structures look great. As you progress through a biome, you’ll be surrounded by your own works of brick-built functional art, using them to traverse the environments.

Those puzzles can be tricky. I’m no engineer, but I fancied myself an old hand at Lego construction, and I would sometimes discover the limitations of my own skills. The difficulty curves up nicely, asking you to do increasingly complex builds with more limited tool sets. Learning to make do with an economy of bricks is skill-testing but all that much more satisfying when you piece it together. My most dreaded challenges revolved around pendulums, since those would actually take balance into account. Those often came down to trial-and-error, since I couldn’t feel the heft of the pieces in my hand, but they were also some of the most rewarding to successfully complete.

Lego Bricktales doesn’t use licensed properties like Batman or Lord of the Rings, mind you, though it does borrow the playful spirit that TT Games established in those games. The dialogue is often funny, clever, and lighthearted, with occasional little meta-joke nudges about Lego bricks themselves.

These are instead classic biomes you might find in a bin of assorted Lego bricks, with themes like Jungle or Desert. Each biome has its own villagers to attend to, with some simple environmental and navigational puzzles to round out the building challenges. Your ultimate goal is to make people happy, thereby collecting a special brick and taking it back home where it helps power your burgeoning amusement park. The amusement park serves as your reward for completing each biome, letting you create pieces of the various rides. These are often easier than the trickier building challenges, as they mostly just ask you to decorate elements like roller coaster cars.

The building tools can feel finicky, especially at first as you learn how to compensate for their intricacies. Pieces will often snap to locations you didn’t mean to put them, and even when trying to lightly finesse a piece into place, it would sometimes pop across the build area. And although there’s good variety to the construction challenges, from helicopters and drones to recreating a statue, some get repetitive. There’s only so many times you can be asked to build a bridge or a set of stairs.

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The virtual tools also run into some limitations of the medium itself, as even a very well-made virtual building tool can’t entirely replicate the dexterity and versatility of using your hands. For example, in real life it’s just second nature to hold a piece with one hand while attaching another to the bottom. In Bricktales, since you’re only manipulating one brick at a time, you need to build from the bottom up–or otherwise take gravity into account by attaching a temporary joiner piece to hold another in place. There is no option to hover a piece in midair while you grab another to secure it. It’s a small thing, but it just barely keeps the experience from feeling like a perfect imitation.

Being a slightly less-than-perfect approximation of building with Lego bricks still means it is almost perfect, though, and that’s remarkably impressive. While some of the build challenges feel repetitive and the controls can be fiddly, this is a great concept executed well, and pays respectful homage to the classic toy. Lego Bricktales sets a new template for what a Lego game can be, and I’d love to see developer Clockstone build on it even more.

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