LEGO Bricktales Review
There’s a wonderfully tranquil joy to building LEGO; a feeling that LEGO Bricktales goes a long way to replicate. As someone whose interest in the Danish-born building blocks has been piqued over the past few years, I found that building LEGO models in a videogame works better than I ever imagined. However, much like the real thing, the new puzzle game from developer ClockStone Studio can also be incredibly frustrating when things don’t quite click into place.
A very different LEGO game to those that players have become accustomed to over the years, LEGO Bricktales is based around building and augmenting LEGO structures to solve specific puzzles. Ranging from building a bridge in order to cross a simple gap, to perfectly rearranging the items on a merchants’ stall, to something far more elaborate as you come to the rescue of one of the game’s charmingly empty-headed characters. Players often have free reign to solve each brick-built brainteaser, although strict rule sets do come into play every so often. At its best, Bricktales allows solutions to be as simple or ornate as you wish — provided you use the pieces provided and creations pass all tests with flying colours. My larger builds were often some kind of ramshackle, cobbled together, mess but they got the job done, and I always got a kick out of seeing my ‘masterpieces’ form parts of the world afterward.
Early on in the game, I found myself getting lost in Bricktales’ building modes. I couldn’t simply build a bridge, I wanted to add barriers to stop characters from falling, empty studs needed covering with the right amount of plates, and I did my best to use every last piece available. This is Bricktales at its strongest, and yet it isn't without its flaws.
The subtle ‘click’ of LEGO bricks interlocking is sure to please anyone remotely susceptible to ASMR, and such simple sound cues are incredibly important to the whole chilled-out experience. Combining this satisfying sound design with the brilliantly rendered LEGO levels, made these digital building blocks feel almost analog at times. However, after only a few hours of fiddling and fighting with the controls, I was ready to call it quits. Sure, constructing simple structures, replicating other models or solving logic puzzles to progress through each level was often wonderfully gratifying. However, much like with LEGO in real life, it can get a little frustrating when precision is required and there are too many rules to follow.
As much as I wanted to build monstrous masterpieces using every last piece at my disposal, the controls and camera often foiled my plans. Despite its simple concept and a handful of tutorial levels, getting comfortable with construction in LEGO Bricktales took longer than I’d like to admit. Even later in the game, I found myself battling against a control system that, despite its best efforts, often felt like it wasn't built for use on a console. Dragging a mouse pointer around the screen with the left analog stick to manually move and select tiny pieces and attempting to place them somewhat accurately whilst fiddling with the perspective rarely felt good. There are some additional controls to zoom in, shift pieces up and down and a modifier button to help with precise placement, but it was never quite intuitive enough.
The resounding thud to alert me of a misplaced brick would often break the otherwise zen experience of building and I was surprised at how much such a simple sound cue felt like a harsh scolding in an otherwise playful, carefree, environment. Rather than fight the controls and my issues with the perspective, I sadly often opted for the path of least resistance: brute forcing my way through puzzles rather than approaching them with the creativity and finesse that I felt they deserved. Granted, this led to some wonderfully wacky-looking contraptions, but the vast majority of the puzzles just had me going through the motions and looking for the easiest route towards the next step within any particular level.
The levels themselves are gorgeous to look at with each individual LEGO piece standing out as its own object, and ray-traced lighting giving them a perfect plastic sheen. Relying on generic settings like the jungle, an Egyptian desert, and even a medieval castle, these themed dioramas are layered LEGO sets for your player character to explore. Each comes with its own simple story, characters to meet, abilities to learn and obstacles to overcome. Building is always at the core of the experience though.
There’s also a loose plot to tie everything together involving your eccentric inventor grandfather, his robot assistant, a broken-down old theme park, and the search for alien technology known as ‘Happiness Crystals’. Each themed level is presented in a linear order and clearing all of the puzzles in a given world earns a crystal to help you rebuild (brick by brick) and populate the theme park. It’s charming enough in its own way, filled with deliberately bad jokes and silly sight gags, but it’s hardly something Bricktales is hanging its hat on either. Same goes for the myriad collectibles, shop items, and other side activities which are merely an additional time sink within each level that can bolster your options in Sandbox Mode should you wish to revisit a creation.
The toyetic style of LEGO Bricktales is the thing that stands out most about the game. Not only does it capture the playful personality and innate creativity of LEGO really well — even down to the way your character stiffly walks and uses the handful of additional abilities as they navigate each map — differentiating Bricktales from other LEGO games. I just wish that I enjoyed the game more than I do.
The surprising level of visual fidelity, variety and complexity of the puzzles and the way each of the worlds has been put together go a long way, but I can't help feeling that it's still a little hollow. Balancing simplicity with creativity makes sense for Bricktales and its focus on play, it’s just unfortunate that the controls meant I could never properly embrace the creative side of the game in the way I know other players will.
When everything works smoothly, building and actually playing with LEGO in LEGO Bricktales is one of the simplest pleasures I’ve found in a video game this year. Mastering the controls could well lead to some incredibly relaxing and fun gameplay sessions, and with the Sandbox Mode and its almost limitless options for creativity I can’t wait to see what other players manage to create with this digital LEGO set. However, I feel like trying to achieve these things with anything other than a mouse is going to take more patience than I've got.
LEGO Bricktales does LEGO justice better than any other game to bear the name of the world’s most famous plastic building block. But despite the huge potential it shows initially, the fun quickly turned into frustration for me after only a few hours leaving behind a puzzle game that’s little more than brick deep.
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