When people think of LEGO video games they think of TT Games Studio and licensed IP from pre-existing brands. Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Marvel, there’s a torrent of similar LEGO games using the same charming formula. I understand some people can’t wait to play these cute leisurely games, but I find myself turned off whenever I see yet another LEGO game coming out. While technically a licensed IP of LEGO, this game looks to do something different.
An arthouse, puzzle game that doubles as a visual showcase is a wonderful palate cleanser from some of the tentpole shooter releases of the last few months. Developed out of Denmark by Light Brick Studio, this small team sought to capture the flow and imagination that happened when you were younger and lost track of time while playing with LEGOs. Originally launching on the Apple Arcade in 2019 it is now available on everything except for the PlayStation platform. This review will cover the Xbox Series X|S versions.
The game design of Lego Builder’s Journey is simple and clear. Within a few seconds, you’ll confidently be solving LEGO-based puzzles of getting one character from “A” to “B.” With only a couple of buttons, it’s obvious that this started as a mobile game ported to the console. Don’t let that turn you off. It’s the charm, atmosphere, and story that stays with you as much as the clever puzzles.
As you begin to solve puzzles you’ll see a story begin to unfold of a father and son going camping. Laying the ground to follow in your father’s footsteps, you can take your time fiddling with different pieces and permutations. There’s no penalty for getting it wrong and the game encourages you to take your time. Eventually, the parent has to go to work and you feel the disappointment of a promise broken as the child is left to make their miniature castle. Left to their own devices, the child finds their way to the basement and sets out on an adventure of his own. It’s remarkable how much story is told without using any spoken or written mediums. It’s a solid reminder of why good stories can be told, but great stories need to be shown.
The showcase of this storytelling is evident through the impressive fidelity of the visuals. Taylor-made for 3D recreation, the blocks look incredibly lifelike as you construct and reconstruct various paths to navigate through. It seems like every bell and whistle that could be turned on for the Series X stood out as something that enhanced the experience to make it feel real. At times, it could be considered a tech demo especially when you consider the length of the game. This leads me to a few criticisms.
There are really only two shortcomings of this game and one is how short the game is. The current asking price is $20 on Xbox (on sale for $14.99). The game is excellent but I just don’t think it’s an attractive time to price ratio. Without much of an incentive to replay, that price will be up for each individual to decide. As a gamer with very little time to play, I personally don’t mind the length but I do think a $10 per. Hour is a lot to ask. It’s not just the game’s length that pulled me out of the experience.
I have a fairly high tolerance for clunky control schemes, but I was disappointed that so much TLC went into the visuals, but not into the controls. Given the geometric view, You’re looking sideways at a 3D object. Your task is to move around pieces on the LEGO grid. What’s frustrating is that you do not have a clear depth of field or view of where you’re about to place your next piece. Furthermore, the reflections are beautiful as the water mirrors light, but using white as the outline color to designate what piece I have selected is too similar to the reflections. At times the game asks you to select and movie pieces within a set amount of time, but it’s frustrating when you can’t clearly see which piece you have selected and where you’re about to place it. When this wasn’t a problem you are lulled into a relaxing and atmospheric paradise, but when you’re struggling to solve a puzzle, it’s an unforced error. Luckily, this only happened a handful of times and it isn’t so severe that it detracts from the overall experience.
The intersection of a heartfelt story, excellent visuals, outstanding soundtrack, and approachable challenges is a beautiful couple of hours spent relaxing. All too often I find myself feeling a bit tired after the competitive twitch shooters I usually play. Furthermore, one more licensed LEGO game from TT is the definition of unimaginative. (I know people love them, but I’d argue that you’re playing the same game reskinned.) It’s a shame that there weren’t more options to make selecting the appropriate piece easier or controls that were a bit more intuitive. All that to say, amid the onslaught of action RPGs and competitive shooters, this is such a refreshing way to spend a couple of hours. LEGO Builder’s Journey was an endearing reminder that now and again I should slow down and lose track of time with a slower-paced game.