The LEGO Group has started to truly embrace its adults fans in the last year or so, with many sets now sporting an age rating of 18+. And so it seems about the right time for LEGO video games to evolve, too.
Enter Light Brick Studio, which with its first game, LEGO Builder’s Journey, already expands the boundaries of what a LEGO game can be. It’s a million miles away from what Traveller’s Tales delivers with its action-oriented LEGO-inspired adventures, and one that’s more of a celebration of the actual brick system itself. It doesn’t even feature minifigs, with Light Brick Studio stating that it feared their inclusion would detract from the focus of the game. Instead, the protagonists of LEGO Builder’s Journey – a father and his son – are each constructed with just a handful of bricks.
A boy and his father
At its core, LEGO Builder’s Journey is a puzzle game. Tying all of the game’s puzzles together, however, is a touching story about a relationship between a boy and his father. I won’t go into it too much, because it’s best if you discover the story for yourself. without any dialogue, it’s also a story that’s left up to your own interpretation. What’s irrefutable, though, is how it depicts both the father and son bonding over their LEGO sessions before life, and work, simply gets in the way.
Each puzzle is essentially its own little diorama, made up completely of LEGO bricks. Honestly, if you had the time, money and inclination, you could recreate any of the scenes found within. The result is a game that LEGO fans stare at in awe, while also appearing utterly unique to those unfamiliar with such LEGO creations. I played on Switch for the portability, and it’s one of the nicest-looking games available on the format. If you opt to play LEGO Builder’s Journey on PC, however, you’ll find that it also supports ray-tracing and some additional effects, making it look pretty much real.
Puzzles that get more complex
Easing you in gently, LEGO Builder’s Journey quickly gets newcomers familiar with the LEGO system. Meanwhile, those who have real-life building experience under their belt will be able to hit the ground running. Initially, puzzles simply require players to move from one point to another, and that’s achieved by using the bricks available to create paths, steps and bridges before using a duo of flat orange plates available to guide the young boy in their control. Eventually though, players will also find themselves in control of the father at times, and puzzles become much more complex.
Some sections task you with laying a track for the young boy to ride with a set of skates, for example, while others have you working with a robot who spews out magic bricks that duplicate in various ways when placed in the environment. As a LEGO fan, the latter threw me for six and actually detracted a little from the game; before that point, I greatly appreciated how it stayed true to LEGO’s system. Many will find it to be a nice late-game switch up to the mechanics though, keeping the puzzles fresh.
What’s really nice is that there’s no single solution to solving the puzzles presented to you. Just like LEGO itself, LEGO Builder’s Journey rewards creativity. You’ll know that you need to build a bridge, for example, but the bricks available to you will allow you to do so in a number of ways. Chances are you’ll complete a puzzle in a different way to a friend or family member.
Some frustrating issues
There are a couple of issues that may cause some frustration as you make your way through LEGO Builder’s Journey‘s 60-odd levels, however. One of them is the control system, which is just downright fiddly at times. On Switch you can either play using the touchscreen or with buttons via the Joy-Cons. I initially thought that using the touchscreen would be the best option as you can simply touch the brick you want to pick up before placing it. In the end though, I found my hands kept obscuring my view, and it’s tricky to correctly place bricks before seating them down. Using Joy-Cons presents its own unique issue – that of awkwardly cycling through bricks until you’ve finally highlighted the one you want to use – but ultimately I found it to be a much more enjoyable experience.
Also, as part of the game’s story, you’ll find yourself completing some repetitive and mundane tasks on numerous occasions. Needless to say, they successfully drive home that the father’s job is awfully monotonous and dull.
Previously available via Apple Arcade, this updated version of LEGO Builder’s Journey has been expanded with many new puzzles. Despite that, however, you’ll still likely make your way through it in just a couple of hours unless you truly get stumped at one point or another. Disappointingly, there’s also no reason to return to its afterwards. It would have been nice if there was some kind of sandbox mode included, allowing you to further express your creativity, or something like a score-based challenge mode to make replaying puzzles worthwhile. Ultimately though, it’s only you who can decide if it offers value for money.
Delight for all ages
As a LEGO fan, I appreciate LEGO Builder’s Journey for trying something different. You don’t need to be a fan of LEGO to enjoy it though; it’s a rewarding puzzler in its own right, with just a few frustrations marring its admittedly short running time. Its challenging puzzles and fiddly controls make it something more suited to older players, but those of all ages will find delight in its colourful and downright charming visuals. If nothing else, it makes me keen to see what Light Brick Studio develops in the future. Like being presented with a bag of actual LEGO bricks, there are many opportunities to be explored by a bunch of open-minded creatives.