As a child I used to adore LEGO. Some kids were all about the Playmobile, but for me LEGO was king. I had a box full of pieces and I just used to build random stuff with it. None of it was particularly impressive, but I still had a lot of fun regardless.
It saddened me then when I played the LEGO videogames and found myself unable to click with them, There were exceptions, such as the recent-ish LEGO City Undercover but I found most titles to be lacking the LEGO magic. After all, LEGO is all about building stuff and not breaking things apart, Building in the modern titles amounts to simply holding down a button and feels incredibly unsatisfying.
LEGO Bricktales promises to offer a LEGO experience that doesn’t just use the iconic aesthetic, but actually encourages creativity too. And it achieves it. Almost.
Many thanks to Thunderful for the review code.
TALES FROM THE BRICK
Your unnamed avatar (who is fully customisable, thankfully) is called by their grandfather for help. He runs an amusement park which is in such a state of disrepair that the mayor has threatened to shut it down. Thankfully, not only does he have a little robot that has been inexplicably juiced up by Alien technology, but he also has a portal to other dimensions too!
If you fail to see the connection between a time-travelling interdimensional portal and repairing some amusement park rides, that’s because the little robot dude suggests that repairs are made in super-fast time via the use of happiness crystals that they can obtain by helping our various people in need in different time periods.
The story would be perplexing if it wasn’t for its incredible stupidity, and it offers a rather questionable setup for the game going in. My expectations for the narrative were understandably pretty low after this opening, but thankfully it is somewhat redeemed by the mini stories that occur in each world. Each biome contains its own story where you need to solve the underlying issue making people unhappy, and each one is surprisingly strong. There’s just enough of the LEGO humour contained within mixed with a solid story for each that will keep you entertained throughout the game’s 9 hour runtime.
Set over five different biomes that are themed after popular LEGO sets, your avatar will need to explore each world and get to the bottom of what is going on there. You do this by traversing mini dioramas that make up the world and interacting with the people and things there. The different areas are all beautifully done, and are just as authentic looking as anything you would find in the big budget LEGO releases; from smoke made from studs, to giant medieval castles, it’s all really impressive and runs pretty smoothly for the vast majority of the time. There are occasional framerate dips, particularly during one difficult construction puzzle, but otherwise it runs well for the most part.
Traversing around these biomes is also relatively simple at first, with your character lacking a jump and having access to an [incredibly underutilised] whip, but your moveset will gradually build up as your robot buddy gains special powers that allow you spray water, perform ground attacks, and so on. You’ll obtain these powers in a dungeon-of-sorts that acts as a tutorial by means of an extended puzzle diorama. It’s a nice touch and since there’s only five small ones in total, they never outstay their welcome. These moves are also used outside of the dungeon too for further puzzles and exploration, so expect to be switching between them with relative frequency.
The puzzles in the game are rarely tricky, but are also decent enough to provide a nice distraction from all the building you’ll be doing. The core part of the game revolves around constructing something in order to proceed or help someone out, and this is represented by a button prompt in the overworld. Pressing this will send you into build mode, where you are given a set number of pieces to create the required object. Usually you are given more than you need, allowing for a certain degree of creativity, but the limited pieces also require you to think about how to use what you’ve got to achieve the desired result.
Constructions include the predictable bridges and stairways, but those only amount to a small part of the game. Other requirements may be for something like a bird perch that needs to stay balanced with the bird attached, a mosaic of an Egyptian Pharoah, or even something as simple as a decorative wall. Some of these will be more puzzle based and require you to fulfil certain stress requirements to ensure they are functional, whereas others are more creative and allow you to effectively do what you want. Master builders can, of course, design something that is both structurally sound and visually appealing; whereas others can just botch together something that just about works. As for me? Well, I liked to create the ugliest eyesore that was still functional, so it looked ridiculous after it gets dumped into the real world for you to use. After you’ve finished, you can also re-enter build mode with more pieces at your disposal to create something more visually appealing – something that you may want to do in the postgame once you’ve bought more brick themes from the in-game shop.
Building is unfortunately where things falter just a little. You’ll be given a specific area in which to build your creation, and the pieces will be laid out in front. Selecting a piece, you can then rotate it as well as move up and down to place into position. There’s some slight assistance too, with the pieces all having shadows to help you navigate. Focusing on these shadows – especially that of your selected brick – is the key to mastering the build mode. This isn’t quite as easy as it sounds though, as the game likes to try and snap your cursor to where it thinks you want to be – which makes lining thinks up to where you actually want it to be a real pain. With the ability to rotate and zoom the camera, you can get it to the place you want your brick to be – but it certainly requires a fair bit of patience from the player.
But, …it is worth it. Creating something and seeing it in action never ceases to be incredibly satisfying, and the ability to return later to make it the best you can also gives players an incentive to come back for more. Not that the game necessarily needs it, since the game has pretty solid length due to the time it takes to make each creation. On top of that, there are plenty of collectibles to help incentivise you into returning to each world with your new powers. It’s not something that will appeal to everyone, but even blasting through the main story should be enough to satisfy most players.
LEGO Bricktales is my favourite LEGO game since LEGO Racers – precisely because it feels like a LEGO game should: a creative building game with enough freedom to do what you need to do, no matter how crap it looks. Control niggles aside, anyone with a creative mind and a love for LEGO will no doubt fall in love with this title. Hopefully ClockStone Studio are given the opportunity to make a sequel and build upon this great bricky foundation.