LEGO Bricktales—a 3D puzzle-adventure game centred around helping NPCs with LEGO-brick constructions—is one of my surprise gaming experiences of the year. It was developed by Clockstone Studios and published by Thunderful Publishing.
More than any LEGO game to date, developer Clockstone Studios have captured the essence of what makes LEGO fun. The in-game building mechanic feels somehow magical: I didn’t just remember what it was like to be a kid playing with little blocks—blocks I’ve given no thought to as an adult—I relived it. The game lured my weary, aging mind back to the same calm, happy mental space I had as a seven or eight year old. Once again I was living my life brick by brick in an innocent, zen-like calm. It felt great. And the video game elements enhanced this core experience even further.
I’m sure as a child I used to make up tenuous little stories to explain why I was building a helicopter or a pirate ship: here I was motivated to help the charming characters I met over roughly 17 hours of gameplay, spurred on to each new build by the story—light as it may be—and the satisfying sense of progress.
MORE THAN JUST ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL
Clockstone have made excellent decisions in the game’s design. Part of the time-warping effect—of making me feel like I did as a kid—comes from the open-ended nature of the puzzles. As you take on each new project—a bridge, a path, a vehicle, and so on—there is never ‘one pure way’ of doing things. Instead you are given a large variety of different bricks and encouraged to experiment—to play. That is the exact energy that has been bottled here in LEGO Bricktales, and it’s dished out through a structured experience of what must be over a hundred puzzles/constructions throughout the game, all of them enjoyable.
The themes of the builds vary: some focus on aesthetics, others on physics—on making structures that are sound enough to hold little test robots or vehicles. Some take two minutes while the longest—tougher challenges that take a few attempts to get right—might take an hour or two to finish. Either way, losing track of time is a common occurrence. It’s no overstatement to say that LEGO Bricktales is the most relaxing game I’ve ever played.
Grandpa Needs Help
The setup: your character receives a letter from a theme-park owning grandfather. Next thing you know, you’re in the park, which is dilapidated and run down. Next thing—you’re introduced to a robot friend, and a dimension-hopping device that transports you to one of five areas, each themed differently—jungle, desert, medieval and so on—in order to help NPCs and collect happiness crystals to fix up the park. Besides the huge variety of LEGO puzzles (sure, there are a lot of bridges, but they do all feel different), environmental puzzles, often using one of five powers you unlock during the game—a block-busting bash, a secret-revealing x-ray bubble, among others—break up the gameplay. A slight repetition to the frequent fetch quests irked me only very slightly later in the game, but the charming presentation of the worlds, the building, and the fun characters more than made up for it.
It’s All in the Controls
I’ve read some complaints aimed at the building controls, but once I was used to them I found them genuinely intuitive and fun. Yes, in some moments, I had to flick the joystick about to get things accurately lined up, but the more time I spent playing the game, the more skill I developed. I’d go as far as saying that the controls have a subtle depth to them, and that they’re worth persisting with. Ultimately, they made what could have been a frustrating experience near flawless. Becoming familiar wasn’t a long process, either. Soon after I started, I was enjoying myself so much that I would go above and beyond the basic requirements of the task at hand to make my current build just right, just the way I wanted it. I’ve already spent 3+ hours on the final build, and I’m still not done. I could have finished the task after 10 minutes—I’d satisfied the criteria for moving on, but I was enjoying myself too much to stop. The Switch version features touch controls, which are a nice addition, but not necessarily something I used much other than to zoom and move the camera.
Playing handheld was a particular delight—this game suits any languid, relaxed position you can get yourself in, and there’s often no better option than lying back on the sofa.
Vision and Sound
Visually, the Switch version looks great. I was worried how a new game released in 2022, one available on much more powerful hardware, would hold up. There’s a slight jerkiness at times, and I’m sure the FPS hovers around the 30 mark, but nothing spoilt my experience. The game takes place in a series of interconnected dioramas, constructed, of course, in LEGO bricks. These are full of life and full of nice little details—market stalls, abandoned diggers, building works—along with plenty of collectibles. The music at its worst features some absolutely-fine ambient beats, and at its best some hummable tunes that delighted me.
Over the last decade or so, we’ve been suffering through an era of cynical childhood nostalgia—of products and content churned out seemingly without much care for quality. LEGO Bricktales is the opposite of that, and make no mistake that it works for adults with dormant LEGO memories as much as it does for kids. Forget Star Wars or Jurassic Park, this game finally lets the LEGO do the talking. It perfectly encapsulates the playful charm of LEGO. Ironically, I actually wanted a little bit more ‘brand’—early on, I excitedly anticipated a few old play sets that might appear during the final stages, but they never appeared, at least not in the way I expected. Hopefully LEGO policeboats and so on appear in a sequel.
Still, LEGO Bricktales, like the design idea that inspires it, is in a league of its own. It’s a game to be savoured, and it wins the Thumb Culture Platinum Award.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.