*Disclaimer: LEGO Builder’s Journey review code was provided by Light Brick Studio for the purposes of this review. That being said, all opinions expressed in this review are entirely that of the author.
Everyone has a connection to LEGO. Whether you’ve collected the physical sets and pieces themselves or played any of the vast array of TT’s games, you’ll most definitely have some memories related to those little plastic bricks. The LEGO Group knows this better than anyone, harnessing that nostalgia to deliver surprisingly entertaining but thematically-rich products like The Lego Movie. LEGO Builder’s Journey is the latest brick-based game from the company, offering a unique puzzler that packs some genuinely nuanced emotional themes into its criminally short run-time.
LEGO Builder’s Journey is a very simple game in almost every regard. Your objective and the general gameplay is always the same, the controls are extremely easy to pick up, and the puzzles themselves will only take you around two minutes each, even at their most difficult. This simplicity extends to the character models of your two protagonists, a young child and their father. I mean… I presume its his father. They’re only made of three LEGO bricks each. But this minimalist approach to gameplay and character design allows the technical aspects of Builder’s Journey to take centre stage, and that spotlight is a bright one.
The visuals of Builder’s Journey are delightful. Each puzzle takes place in a new environment that is teeming with LEGO charm, with every aspect of the area being created solely with real-life bricks. Running water is simulated with a smooth flow of tiny blue bricks, fire is represented with a single orange brick that glows, and sinking mud is conveyed as multiple layers of bricks slowly being removed. From the moment you place your first brick in the endearing tutorial, Builder’s Journey will have you hooked.
The naturalistic lighting used in Builder’s Journey creates a LEGO game experience unlike any other. While newer LEGO games like Marvel Superheroes 2 look anything but shabby, Builder’s Journey adopts a visual style that is truly unique. Sunlight streams through tree branches and reflects off water, lights create shadows and glow in a vibrant yet realistic way. While the core mechanics and overall stage design of Builder’s Journey may not be anything to write home about, the visuals on display certainly are.
Each puzzle is accompanied with some beautifully peaceful music that helps to create, along with the naturalistic visuals, a genuinely calming experience. Combine these technical aspects with some crisp audio design, with the placement of each brick making that satisfying LEGO click sound, and you have yourself a puzzle game that is easy to be immersed in.
Not Your Average Puzzler
On its surface, LEGO Builder’s Journey is a simple puzzle game with one core objective; get your little LEGO character to the other side of the environment by using the bricks in the stage. And while quite a few puzzles do fall into this simplistic rhythm, Builder’s Journey has a few simple gameplay twists that might surprise you.
As the game progresses, your method of linking bricks changes a few times, forcing you to adapt your gameplay style. These slight changes in mechanics occur at regular intervals throughout the game, being perfectly paced to change the gameplay rhythm just as you may begin to get a bit bored of it.
Generally though, each puzzle in Builder’s Journey gives you a small selection of classic LEGO bricks to use to navigate the environment. As is the case with real-world LEGO, creativity is key here. There are no strict rules on how your character needs to reach the end goal, as long as they are standing next to the final panel you’ve successfully solved the puzzle. This gives you the freedom to solve all of the puzzles in any way you see fit. Want to make a slapdash bridge made out of ill-fitting bricks? You can do that. Want to make a perfectly symmetrical bridge with realistic weight distribution? You can do that. Any solution is valid in Builder’s Journey, and the game feels all the more relaxing because of it.
This unique level of creativity for a puzzle game is further emphasised during a handful of sections in which you are tasked with creating an object or sculpture out of the bricks given to you. Here, the objective is simply to place the bricks. That’s it. As long as the bricks given to you are down and connected to each other, you’ve passed the stage. While in reality there are only so many combinations you could create with the bricks given to you, in that moment you feel as though your creativity is in charge of the gameplay, and that’s not often achieved in simplistic puzzle games.
Construction Toys Made Me Cry
If I haven’t made it clear already, LEGO Builder’s Journey is not your average kid’s puzzle game, in several ways. As discussed in the previous sections of this review, Builder’s Journey uses some unique visual direction and varied gameplay mechanics to create a puzzle game experience that leaves a lasting impression. But Builder’s Journey also left an emotional impression on me.
As seems to be the trend with modern LEGO products, Builder’s Journey centres its themes and narrative around the relationship between an adult, their child, and their waning creativity in the light of everyday responsibilities. And again, while the narrative present in Builder’s Journey won’t blow your mind with philosophical nuance, the emotional resonance conveyed here is surprisingly effective.
During the opening 20 minutes of the game, you play as a young child as they follow their father through woodland environments. Your father will break bricks for to climb across, help you out when you get stuck, and generally support you in your first few puzzles as you learn the mechanics. Eventually you both reach a cabin. You start a fire and begin to build a little sculpture together. But just before you get to place that final flag piece atop your joint creation, an alarm sounds and a cart appears to take your father to his 9-to-5 job. You then take control of the father, placing the same four bricks on the same tile repeatedly for around a minute or so. As I played this section I felt the monotony of this character’s job, I too longed to be playing the puzzles that I was moments ago. It may be a tad on the nose, but what can I say? This got to me. Seeing this little 3-piece brick man’s expressionless face droop as he completed yet another tile was enough to make me feel emotionally invested in this game’s themes and narrative.
These themes of creativity and viewing the world differently depending on age are also presented throughout the game in a number of fairly subtle ways. For instance, many of the prior praises in this review can be related to these themes such as the naturalistic lighting. When playing as the father, the naturalistic lighting of the game turns to dull greys, whereas when you play as the child the lighting adopts a brighter shade of yellows and oranges. Similarly, the most creative sequences in the game (the sculpture-building segments) happen to take place when both characters are together, sharing their creativity. It may sound a little cheesy and cheap just reading about it, but I promise, LEGO Builder’s Journey will make you feel something, and that’s pretty remarkable for a game based on kids’ construction toys.
Too Few Pieces
So, Builder’s Journey sounds pretty perfect right? A relaxing puzzle game with a charming art-style and surprisingly emotional narrative beats, these don’t come around every day. It’s just a shame, then, that Builder’s Journey rolls its credits in only an hour and a half.
I personally can’t complain too much about the length of the game as it does feel as though it showed all that it had to offer within that time and the narrative comes to a resonate and satisfying conclusion. However, I also didn’t pay £17.99 for a game that barely reaches the definition of “feature-length”.
There is no doubt that this oddly high price point will put off quite a few people, which is a real shame as Builder’s Journey offers such a universal experience. While I recommend this game wholeheartedly for just about anyone, I’m not sure I could personally justify dropping £18 on such a short experience. I’d say you can probably wait for a sale for this one.
Final Verdict: 7.5/10
LEGO Builder’s Journey is now available for Nintendo Switch, Windows PC and iOS devices.
Words By Cameron Swan