Review – Lego Builder’s Journey (Switch)
We’re so used to the Lego game formula to the point we occasionally think there’s nothing else that can be done with the license besides tying it to another famous franchise and create a funny collectathon for it be centered around. Don’t get me wrong, I love these Lego games just like any other person out there, but I also grew up playing with real life Lego bricks, having a ton of fun creating landscapes and environments with whatever spare pieces I had nearby. There is a lot you can do with the brand in terms of gaming ideas besides running around like a two inch tall Wolverine while listening to puns. Lego Builder’s Journey, formerly an Apple Arcade exclusive now available on the Switch, is proof of that.
Lego Builder’s Journey teaches you everything you need to know about its core gameplay loop in its first few minutes, with very little text or anything else polluting the screen. You’ll be initially tasked with building a sandcastle, which has no real connection with the rest of the game, but it showcases how the controls work. Most importantly though, it showcases that Lego Builder’s Journey is all about using your imagination to build specific structures in order to overcome challenges.
The game itself centers around moving a little Lego figure from point A to point B in diorama-like levels. The thing is, you don’t actually control the figure. You can only move around the map by placing specific orange pieces right next to where your character is currently standing, as they aren’t able to move very far. You can jump or climb ledges as well, so long they’re not too tall, as well jump over very small pits. You’ll need to build bridges or other structures with whatever spare parts you have at your disposal, and the game doesn’t exactly tell you how to do it. So long you manage to create a structure that lets you place your movement pieces in a way that leads your character to the end of the puzzle, it’s fair game.
I like that Lego Builder’s Journey is borderline mute when it comes to telling its story or presenting new obstacles that you need to overcome, such as weight-based platforms or puddles of mud that slowly sink if you stand on a piece placed on top of them. I usually hate a lack of a hint system in any other kind of puzzle game, but in Lego Builder’s Journey, it somehow works. Given how there’s always more than one way to build a structure that will lead you to the end of the level, it also makes a lot of sense.
Its gameplay is excellent, but it’s not without its fair share of flaws. First of all, there’s the fact that, sadly, this is a short game. Not exactly a replayable one either, unless you decide to find new ways to solve puzzles in each level. The main issue, however, lies with the controls. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good, they absolutely get the job done, but they’re a bit janky. The game occasionally fails to register the proper direction you want to take the piece you’re holding, which can be quite a nuisance. The camera controls are a complete hindrance, since you don’t have full control over them. You can’t freely spin the diorama around like in Captain Toad, for instance. Finally, although the game has touchscreen support, I found that it works best when played with the Joy-Cons.
Thankfully, Lego Builder’s Journey‘s presentation more than makes up for any gameplay or content-related shortcomings. This is a gorgeous game that takes advantage of its minimalist presentation to display some impressive assets on the Switch. The lighting and framerate are impressive for a game in the system. Not to mention the fact that literal hundreds of Lego pieces of all shapes and colors are being rendered onscreen at any given time. The soundtrack follows the same premise: it’s all about serene minimalism. Just like the rest of the game, it’s beautiful and relaxing.
If anything else, Lego Builder’s Journey proves that you don’t need to tie the Lego brand to a third-party license in order to craft a successful game. It shows that there are no limits to what you can create with the simple concept of building structures with bricks, just like how there are no limits to what we can build with these pieces of plastic in real life. It’s a bit too short, and its controls are a bit janky at times, but I was very surprised with the end product. The one time Lego delivered an artsy indie puzzler ended up being better than most indie art games out there.
Its minimalist art style blends perfectly with Lego aesthetics. The pieces themselves, as well as the lighting effects and framerate, all look amazing on the Switch’s screen.
The core gameplay loop is excellent, but issues regarding the control scheme and the annoying camera bring the game down a notch.
The soundtrack is comprised of slow-paced and relaxing piano-driven tunes. A perfect fit for a chilled puzzler like Lego Builder’s Journey.
Fun Factor: 8.0
If it wasn’t for the aforementioned control issues, as well as its somewhat short overall length, Lego Builder’s Journey would have easily become one of the best puzzle games on the Switch. It’s certainly one of the most unique titles in the genre available for the console though.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Lego Builder’s Journey is available now on PC, Switch, and Apple Arcade.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Lego Builder’s Journey was provided by the publisher.