LEGO Builder’s Journey might fly under the radar on Switch, despite bearing the name of the mega-popular brick manufacturer, purely because it’s quite different to their normal fare — but we really hope it doesn’t. For the past couple of decades or so, the LEGO games have been dominated by other massive franchises — Star Wars, Harry Potter, Batman, and Marvel — but LEGO Builder’s Journey takes the familiar plastic in a new, pared-down direction that’s more than welcome in a time where games are largely sprawling, bombastic experiences.
Strongly inspired by the visual simplicity of games like Monument Valley, but with a mildly sinister dark side reminiscent of Inside and What Remains of Edith Finch, LEGO Builder’s Journey is a narrative game told without words. Its story unfolds through environmental and interactive elements, as you — a young child, represented not by a minifig, but by blank, gender-free bricks — learn to build and play with your parent.
Light Brick Studio, the developer behind the game, was initially an internal LEGO experiment, made of people from the LEGO Games division and aimed at creating games that replicated the feeling of playing with LEGO — not the building-the-sets, following-the-instruction-manual type of LEGO, but tipping a huge 60-litre, 20kg Rubbermaid tub onto the floor and making a dinosaur who can shoot lasers out of his bum.
That feeling of creation, discovery, and childlike wonder is what LEGO Builder’s Journey is all about, and after the team proved that they could do it with the release on Apple Arcade, they decided to make the team a little more permanent, spinning Light Brick out into its own independent studio, with funding and support from the LEGO Group.
“The narrative in this game is about remembering to play,” says Karsten Lund, the managing director of Light Brick Studio, during a preview event for LEGO Builder’s Journey, “and the bricks are the star of the show.” Everything in the little LEGO vignettes is built out of real LEGO bricks, with the kind of artistic license and creativity that can be seen in a few of the more recent LEGO sets, like the use of pink frogs as cherry blossoms. Hot dogs become bridge rails; green cherries make for great foliage; swampy mud bubbles are animated with brown minifig heads turning to flowers as they burst.
On the PC version — which has raytracing — tiny, Wallace-and-Gromit-like details can be seen, like fingerprints on bricks which are covered in light scratches. Fewer of these details are visible in the Switch version, of course, and the lighting, although beautiful, is much less striking without the power of RTX. It’s almost a shame to be shown the PC version before getting a hands-on with the Switch version, since it’s more apparent that the most gorgeous details are only available to those with big, beefy graphics cards. Ah, well.
Builder’s Journey on Switch is still a beautiful, miniature experience, told with the kind of precision focus that you can imagine a Master Builder having while creating a masterwork, equipped with magnifying spectacles and tweezers. Each vignette is small, but packed with detail; the story itself is told through charming-but-brief interactions that manage to convey a significant amount of emotion without any dialogue.
New mechanics unfold gently as you progress, beginning with simple tasks like crossing rivers and climbing cliffs and slowly evolving into slightly more difficult brick-based puzzles which may require trial and error. The puzzles encourage experimentation, and there’s a delightful feeling when something looks like it might work the way you hope, and then it does; these moments are a masterstroke of game design that make the player feel smart while doing exactly what the game wants. There are moments when it’s not entirely clear what’s going on, but any moment of stuckness will quickly evaporate with a little more investigation.
The game is short, and you’ll be able to finish it in one sitting easily — we spent a couple of hours in the evening, and almost reached the end — but it’s a few hours of condensed heartwarming feel-good-ness that’s hard to dislike. As an experimental narrative game that shows a new, deeper side to LEGO games, we can’t help but hope that LEGO Builder’s Journey succeeds, if only so we can have more of its kind, bigger and better, in future. Luckily, the developers agree — Director of Operations Mads Prahm says “I feel like we’re just getting started.”
That’s the best way to think about Builder’s Journey: it’s a proof of concept that you can actually play. Playing with the bricks, hearing that nostalgic click sound as they stack, and engaging with your long-forgotten sense of childlike wonder as your creative experiments bear fruit, feels as good as it did when you were eight years old and trying to make a spaceship that’s also a robot that’s also a fairy princess.
If you’ve got a graphics card capable of raytracing though, it really seems like a missed opportunity to get it on Switch — the true magic is so much more apparent with all the detail intact.
LEGO Builder’s Journey will be out on the 22nd of June for $19.99 / £17.99, and is available for pre-order now.
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Article Tags: beautiful · Builders · Experiment · Hands · Hands On · Journey · Joy · LEGO · Nintendo Switch · Play · Preview · Tiny · Upcoming Releases