As a self-confessed AFOL (an “Adult Fan of LEGO” for those not in the know) I’ve not only collected sets since I was a kid, but grown up playing a litany of Traveller’s Tales LEGO games. Whilst several other LEGO-themed games have cropped up outside of the licensed franchise-centric games, none have caught my eye quite like LEGO Builder’s Journey.
This platforming puzzle game, follows the story of two intrepid explorers, overcoming the obstacles in search of adventure, and the opportunity to flex their creativity. It’s a simple premise, told plainly, through seemingly straightforward levels that require you to place bricks that create a path for your characters to progress from one side to the other.
But bloody hell is it beautiful.
With an art style that blends a small-world, isometric approach with the aesthetics of LEGO, the first thing that will stand out is how gorgeous this game is. Stretching its legs after the initial Apple Arcade exclusivity, LEGO Builder’s Journey represents the first Unity-based game to receive NVIDIA’s ray-tracing and DLSS treatment.
Putting it through its paces, with the settings maxed out at a 1440p resolution and ray-tracing enabled, DLSS helped my RTX 3080 edge towards 60 fps on what is easily one realistic looking games I’ve laid my eyes on. Dialling the DLSS up, moving to the Balanced saw me comfortably above 60 fps, and Performance nearer the 80-mark, all without overly noticeable dips in graphical quality.
For those unfamiliar with the technology, Deep Learning Super Sampling (or DLSS for short) renders the game at a lower resolution, and then intelligently upscales it to your required resolution, milking extra frames out of what would be a much slower framerate without it. DLSS has magical powers I still can’t fully comprehend.
Ray-tracing too makes a notable impact on the experience. Almost every level began with me panning about the levels, watching the light reflect and refract off the LEGO bricks. Translucent blues bricks used to recreate water in the environments were particularly stunning.
As for the game itself, I can’t help but feel the title is an obvious homage to that game company’s Journey. In a similar vein, in which the story is told with no dialogue, LEGO Builder’s Journey develops a heartwrenching, bitesize narrative using little more than crafty game mechanics, a fantastic soundtrack and expressions conveyed purely through the animation of its faceless protagonists.
As a player, you feel the mundanity of the repetitive nature of the parent’s day job; you’re just as eager as them to return to the construction of your castle back at home with your child. This game pulled on the old heartstrings in a way I did not see coming, with a compelling narrative as the pair’s adventure becomes thwarted.
For a company that’s made billions of selling pre-designed sets complete with instruction manuals, I’m in awe of how much LEGO as a brand continues to champion creative freedom. Throughout most of the game, you feel multiple solutions are possible, and ultimately how you solve the puzzle is up to you and your creativity.
The trade-off is that the puzzles are typically not overly challenging. Rather than trying to perfect the arrangement of blocks, more often than not you can slap them down and get away with it. There wasn’t much adherence to the physics of things; stretching an elongated piece into nothingness supported only by a single stud had no consequence.
I was often pushing myself to utilise what was in the environment rather than rely on the robot companion that would gift you blocks. It wasn’t clear to me if the robot served as a hint mechanic, or if you were indeed expected to turn to them for assistance; a lot of the time it felt very much the latter.
Each level asked you to switch up your approach though, and I really did enjoy manipulating pieces and trying to craft the route forward. The creativity was liberating, but it made the occasional moment in which the answer does feel pre-ordained — or a LEGO brick is unusable and a fixed part of the terrain — a little jarring. Likewise, a couple of sequences in which piecing together LEGO and building is much less the focus of the puzzle-solving felt a little noncommittal.
That said, this game — which only takes an hour or two to play through — is more about the experience than the challenge. And it is magnificent. For those like me with a lifelong affinity to LEGO, you’ll no doubt relish every frame. This game brilliantly and intelligently captures the creativity and nostalgia that encompass LEGO, beautifully recreating these moments of bonding between parent and child through the familiar lens of exploring the great outdoors.
For those without the same emotional connection to the humble plastic brick as I, I have little doubt the puzzle mechanics and minimalist storytelling will appeal to a broader audience.
LEGO Builder's Journey is a spectacular, absolutely gorgeous puzzle-platformer, with a surprisingly touching story the explores parenthood and creativity in a delightfully minimalist way. Stunning aesthetics enhanced by ray-tracing and DLSS combine with a soundtrack that amounts to one of the most beautiful games in recent memory. A little more commitment to the possibilities afforded by interlocking bricks would have completed the picture, but regardless is remains a game not to be missed by fans of LEGO, puzzles and a good, wholesome narrative.