Does the new game focused on building with Lego entertain, or are you better served with sticking to the actual toy?
There is something magical about Lego. I'm not thinking about childhood memories or the seemingly endless variety of minifigures, but mainly the fact that the bricks make it possible to build amazing constructions, even for technically inept people such as me that spends hours assembling idiot proof Ikea furniture. Unfortunately, the building aspect of Lego has been missing from most games based on the iconic toy, but that is about to change with the recently released Lego Bricktales.
Nearly every aspect of the game is centred around building. Sure, you'll get to explore varied environments with chests to open, secrets to find, and abilities to learn. But most of the time is spent in the construction menu where you, on a minimalistic white backdrop, repair crumbling bridges, copy statues or build objects from the ground up, whether we are talking electrical gizmos, helicopters, or even wilder stuff.
When I played with Lego as I child, the stories would often spring from the weird creations my friends and I constructed. In Lego Bricktales it's the other way around, as the story precedes the building. You play as an unnamed miniature, which you are able to customise whenever you want during gameplay. At the opening of the game, you receive a letter from your rather distracted grandad, and it doesn't take long before he basically forces your through a portal in the pursuit of the so-called "happiness crystals" that are needed to restore his dilapidated theme park.
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The developer has clearly chosen not to spend too much time polishing the stories, that mostly serves as an excuse to send you through a series of varied environments - a lush jungle, an Egyptian inspired desert, a medieval castle and a couple of other locations, that I refrain from revealing. This doesn't mean that their writers have been sitting idle though. The game's dialogue (which unfortunately isn't voiced) is both warm and fun without being too on-the-nose, and especially your little flying robot friend Rusty (which gives off certain Portal-vibes) is a nice companion.
Lego Bricktales is not all fun and games though. The Austrian developer ClockStone Studios has managed to create some pretty complex building mechanics - perhaps not unsurprisingly coming from the team behind the Bridge Constructor series. You don't need to be a civil engineer to get through the game, but on the other hand, you can't turn off your brain completely. Unlike the real Lego models, you have no manuals to assist you, and after some easy challenges to get you started the difficulty quickly ramps up.
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Unlike most traditional puzzle games, you don't really have to figure out what to do, but rather how to do it. Your task is always explicitly stated - build a ladder, construct a machine and so on - how to solve it is often completely up to you. It's often said that the imagination knows no limits, but that is not the case here. First of all, you only have a limited number of bricks to build with. And even when you have completed your assignment you are in many cases placed before a rather harsh judge - gravity.
Okay, it's not the classical law of nature, but rather some sort of approximation. Often your elaborate constructions collapse complete, as your trusty sidekick Rusty races over them during the test phase. If that is the case, you typically have to build extra supporting structures, which can be surprisingly complicated. In that regard, the game seems very inspired by the developers early Bridge Simulator games, although with once major difference. This time you are building in 3D, which complicates things quite a lot.
It's easy to move and rotate bricks with the mouse, and a combination of Shift and various shortcut keys, lets you move both bricks and camera, gradually and with great precision, which often becomes necessary when building complicated structures. It never works smoothly though, as there are a few too many cases, where the least movement of the mouse moves your brick way off the intended area, and the aforementioned precision tools never quite hits where you want it to. In all fairness, construction in a 3D environment is an advanced affair, and the system works well enough. Just don't expect it to be smooth or intuitive, regardless of whether you are playing with mouse and keyboard or controller. Building with a controller works surprisingly well but makes the whole process even slower.
As a result of the rather cumbersome controls and the, at times, rather monotonous tasks, you'll end up spending a lot of time in the minimalistic building mode. That is a bit unfortunate, as it is incredibly satisfying to move through the detailed levels where each little detail is made from Lego. In many ways the game's graphical style, right down to the stop motion movement of the minifigures, reminds me of the excellent Lego: The Movie. But this feels even more like "real" Lego, as the environment is quite spatially limited and can be viewed in it's entirety by pausing the game and moving the camera. This is also how you discover most secrets, and there are quite a few collectibles to find giving you accessories or extra bricks for decorating your creations.
Despite their beauty and complicated design, the levels in Lego Bricktales are not those kind of Lego sets that are locked away behind glass drawers and marked with a do-not-touch sign. Every single object you make is allowed to stay in the game world, and you have plenty of room for tweaking your creations, right down to the colour of the smallest brick. As most objects mainly serve a practical purpose letting you progress in the game, it was often quite obvious which objects I had assembled in haste (protruding bricks, lack of details) and which had been painstakingly constructed by the game's graphical artists.
Perhaps this illustrates a certain tension within the game. The building and the exploration parts doesn't always blend together, and often I couldn't wait to get done with a certain object and get back in the game world exploring. This might just be me becoming more impatient as I get older, and overall Lego: Bricktales is a quite impressive game. There are certain annoyances such as the quite complicated building controls and a lack of variations in the various tasks, but overall, the game provides an impressive vision for how to make a Lego game focused solely on building. Hopefully ClockStone Studios or another developer will use this as the building blocks for a future and even more ambitious Lego title.
7 / 10
Detailed and impressive presentations. Bricks look and behave like real Lego. Lots of tools for building. Funny and charming cast of characters.
Tasks sometimes lack variety. Interface for building can feel a bit slow and unwieldy. Story is of no importance.