Fernando Da Costa
Review - Bricktales
Developer: Clockstone Studio
Available On: Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4|5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, and PC
Review Console: Nintendo Switch OLED
OW, THESE HURT! - Introduction
Growing up, Lego had me absolutely enamoured. The simple concept of your imagination dictating an entire world fascinated me. The ideology of manifesting grand adventures using the mini-figures resonated. Through the years, this brand has become a juggernaut, and that remains factual today. Lego wouldn't debut into the video gaming stratosphere until it nailed the cooperation of a little-known licence known as Star Wars. It was a huge success, and the rest is, as they say, history. I’m super stoked to have the chance to cover the newest addition to a mighty empire. I’m giddy and looking forward to it - keep in mind that Bricktales isn’t like all the others. Instead of being based on an already established franchise, it banks on the IP of being plastic and lethal weapons of mass creation. Does it stack up to other titles, or will it crumble?
SILENT COMEDY! - Writing
Since the day Lego entered the video game stage, they’ve continuously retained their distinct sense of humour. It’s whimsical, lighthearted, and infuses a powerful essence of serenity. It’s honestly delightful. Regrettably, what is a disappointment is Bricktales is still missing a certain Jeux ne sais quoi. The NPCs lack expressiveness, with body language that’s nowhere near as bubbly as I’m accustomed to. Sure, they might periodically bounce and flail their arms, but that’s it. Granted, I had a pleasant session, but it wasn’t as quaint as it could have been. I’ll be frank, not having it muddles up the product’s identity. Yes, I’m nitpicking here. At the end of the day, it will and does deliver that familiar silliness we all know and love. I’d smile. I’d chortle. A few jokes don’t hit, but it’s never laughably horrible.
BANTERING BUDDIES! - Writing
What helps guide me through the numerous levels is the banter. I enjoyed the verbal exchanges between the main character and their robot friend - the latter is amusing. That mechanized being has a fetish for great and not-so-great puns. Any chance that presents itself, some witty retort would be uttered. Strangely, I found it relatable because, even if what’s said garners no response, the attempt is there. I appreciate the risk-taking. Notably, despite a handful of those lukewarm wisecracks, nothing felt forced or like it didn’t belong. There was always an effort to keep it flowing at a smooth pace. I didn’t think a dialogue blurb was out of place because it felt like a natural reply to the conversation. Look, it won’t win awards for being an engaging journey of awe, but it sure as hell is a joyous romp.
MAKE ME A CAR?! - Gameplay
The pivotal selling point of Bricktales is the freedom to make whatever. Naturally, I assumed the limitation for that would be my imagination. Yeah, that isn’t the case. You see, there are perimeters I have to follow. Anything I make has to fit snugly within the boundaries. While I didn’t expect this facet, I understand why it works as it does. The level design has enough wiggle room to host a specific size. If anything bigger were slotted into that space, well, it would disrupt the environment - the result of which would cause an object to clip through the graphics, giving off an unpolished look. I super adore how it entices me to adapt to situations. I have to finagle blocks together to churn out something sturdy and usable. It forces me to ponder a solution with an out-of-the-box mindset. There’s ample challenge to sink my teeth into.
Bricktales also employs a slew of puzzles that embrace the distinct properties of Lego. Instead of solving riddles or pulling levers in a select sequence, they’re intrinsically linked to construction. To push the narrative, several things, ranging from staircases to vehicles, must be built to rectify any issues the NPCs face. As a nice extra wrinkle, there’s a firm quantity of bricks to use. I’m not going to lie; it gets pretty intimidating. It isn’t easy to visualize a final product from random pieces, primarily because of the slim pickings. My brain was wrestling to keep within those limits. On the bright side, that encourages me to experiment. I must say patience is a virtue. To destroy anything I built, I have to tear it down, one by one - it can get monotonous. Having a button that cleans the slate would be appreciated.
Something I neglected to mention is, as I’m building, at the upper right corner, there’s a list of goals. Think of these as prerequisites for what you’re tasked with making. Regardless of my vision, I have to include the elements that meet that criteria. If I don’t, that’s all she wrote; I slam into a wall. The good news is it never reaches egregious degrees. It’s a mini-guide to help you along, in a way. It presents launch points to kickstart your creations. Basically, it’s not a hindrance. Now, you may be wondering what purpose I have for bringing such a frivolous problem up then. It’s simple, really; a few puzzles have this yellow threshold. It communicates if a portion of whatever is being made needs to be above or below. If you don’t comply, there’s no continuation. That’s why it’s critical to pay attention.
ENTER THE SANDBOX! - Gameplay
If, like me, you’re a perfectionist, leave it at the door. The cosmetic allure of whatever you produce is destined to look terrible initially. Embarrassingly, it took me a bit to accept that reality. With such a limited number of bricks, it’s just a foregone conclusion. However, after accomplishing every objective, that same door is suddenly slightly ajar. You enter into a sandbox, although a watered-down variation of one. See, despite an apparent free-for-all, the selection isn’t a diverse assortment. There are common and, quite frankly, handy choices completely absent. Sure, you can mimic those by utilizing tinier pieces, but that just adds redundant steps to an otherwise obvious solution - put them in from the beginning. I’m not sure their exclusion is meant to extend the game’s duration artificially, but it’s holding Bricktales back.
What I will say in defence of the lacklustre sandbox is how Goddamn gratifying it is. My creative appetite is satiated. I’d always bounce back into whatever I’ve done to add or fully redesign it with blocks that are now choices. Hell, the vast majority of my session was because I got swallowed up by modifying every structure, vehicle, and staircase. I strive to give them visual appeal. Despite Bricktales exposing me as a shallow individual, I still played it through happily. The ability to let my creativity run wild was a treat and a hook that I believe is worth further exploration. With a duration of a measly couple of hours, this title is the ideal outing for a weekend. I do think implementing a hint system during builds to give a push in the right direction would be helpful.
BUG COLLECTING! - Gameplay
For anyone that grew up during the golden era of collect-a-thons, rejoice. In a delightful revelation, Bricktales harnesses that very mechanic into the gameplay. Hidden within the varied biomes are both insects and animals. Once found, they are given to the various NPCs scattered throughout the mini-worlds. That’s right; there are miniature side-quests. It’s a relatively simple yet effective distraction from the hubbub of the story. Finding them relies on Metroidvania notions, too. What I mean is that every area has portions only accessible after acquiring a specific ability. Of course, that births some backtracking. Still, it’s an adequate method of incentivizing revisits and attaining 100% completion. There’s also a helpful outline of what’s missing. Fortunately, due to the size of the levels I visited, as well as the ease of traversal, it was never dull.
DOES IT WORK NOW!? - Performance
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, my Bricktales coverage is late. Stutters, screen hang-ups, and frame drops were contributing factors. It got pretty bad, but when Thunderful reached out, letting me know there was a patch incoming, I threw them a bone and held off on submitting. Well, it’s here, and I’m happy to report the most significant technical hiccups were addressed. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect, as a loading bug does persist. For the most part, transitioning between each screen is adequately brisk. However, I consistently found one hiccup that caused it to hitch a handful of extra seconds. It’s nowhere near me categorizing it as a deal breaker, but the first time it occurred, I genuinely thought everything was soft-locked. I then shut the app down before booting it back up. Thankfully, it works, and a generous auto-save component meant I never lost progress.
SAY CHEESE! - Performance/Presentation
Now, let’s discuss the in-game camera. It’s atrocious, marred by unintuitive controls. I was actively fighting it to move either horizontally or vertically. I don’t understand why something so straightforward is made to be such a struggle. See, before flicking the right analog, I must first hold down the left shoulder button. Only then does the stick do what has become an industry norm. The caveat is movement feels a bit stiff. No joke, I began physically turning my body to attempt to get a better look into crevices. It proved ultimately futile, but I wasn’t getting preferable results elsewhere. Bricktales has gorgeous 3D diorama-like maps, so it’s a shame it wrestles with hitting the critical 360 perspective. I should note that, by default, the camera is partially fixed. My gripes only begin creeping in as it starts asking for manual inputs.
AND THE LEGO VERDICT IS…
Bricktales is a short but sweet, peaceful adventure I found utterly enchanting, albeit faulty. After reaching the finish line, I can conclude that the foundation for a superb franchise is here. I am smitten with the idea of being able to build what I want. Yes, the boundaries are a buzzkill, but understandable. Hell, I eventually grew to appreciate their existence and how it pushed me to test my imagination. It tickles my fancy like no other. I was eager to see what I could do.
Simply put, having the construction as a basis for puzzles is genius, and it utilizes the spirit of Lego perfectly. There is this nagging feeling that perhaps Clockstone was holding back, unsure of the success of this project. Well, it’s good, and hopefully, a second go sees them unshackle. They have a winning formula, albeit expensive - wait for a discount.
BRICKTALES IS RECOMMENDED!
Special thanks to Thunderful for providing the code used for this coverage.