Wait, this was an option for how LEGO games could work?
It is hard to know where to start with LEGO Builder’s Journey, but perhaps the most important prerequisite is to let go of any concept you have of LEGO games. Whether that is the modern 3rd-person action games, or LEGO Island, LEGO Builder’s Journey is nothing like any of them, beyond its inclusion of colored building pieces. This is of course what makes it so interesting. Were it not for the LEGO branding on every brick, it would likely be regarded as a high concept indie game that seeks to explore the human condition. Statements like that are why I say that before we begin, we need to let go of what a LEGO game normally represents.
LEGO Builder’s Journey is a puzzle platformer of sorts that most easily draws comparisons to Captain Toad Treasure Tracker, or perhaps the classic Lemmings. You’re presented with a small three-dimensional playspace and must create a path for your character to reach a set end point. As the story progresses some stages become more about completing an objective than reaching a specific point. Regardless, you’ll accomplish all of this by placing LEGO pieces. Sometimes they’ll just be strewn about the stage; other times they’ll come floating down a river or even be generated by the player using blocks that link and duplicate as you place them.
The act of picking up and placing LEGO is arguably the most accurately represented it ever has been in a game. There are no specific structures you have to build, no instructions to follow, just a goal to be accomplished. Pieces are varied and can all be freely rotated and placed anywhere. While the freeform gameplay is absolutely a plus, it is often hard to tell exactly where a brick is going to attach as you float it above the playspace. Bricks also have a habit of snapping to specific points, likely in an effort to mitigate some perspective issues, but half the time I found myself fighting with this feature to put the piece where I actually wanted it rather than where it thought I did. A simple indicator that marks the spot below a piece where it will attach would have made a huge difference. In the end though, the building mechanics here remain more satisfying than they ever have been.
LEGO Builder’s Journey is only about two hours long, easily experienced in a single sitting. In fact, I’d strongly recommend that be how you play it. What impressed me most was how engaged I became with the faceless, voiceless characters it employs. Unlike the typical LEGO minifigures usually seen in these games, the characters here are simple LEGO creations themselves. That being said they’re excellently animated and provide quietly emotive actors throughout the story. The plot itself is, on its surface, a simple story about a child wanting to spend time with their parents. Within the subtext, however, are much more complex concepts of the differences between doing something for fun and for work, and the effects our lives have on those around us.
The LEGO branding on LEGO Builder’s Journey is simultaneously its greatest asset, and highest hurdle. The LEGO bricks themselves are the perfect tool to tell this story, and factor in heavily to its themes of play versus work. However, the name LEGO also runs the risk of obscuring this quietly beautiful adventure, simply due to the type of game we’d generally associate with the brand. This is a wonderful game that is likely to hit a little deeper than you expect. If this represents a future direction for how LEGO treats their games, LEGO Builder’s Journey is a sign of very good things to come.