The secret to Lego's brilliance - I once heard this on a podcast so it must be true - is clutch power. Those magical bricks don't just fit together, they stick together, creating a kind of bond that almost feels like it has a bit of suction to it. Clutch power! This is why Lego bricks are so much fun to fiddle around with - and it's something that Lego video games have struggled to really make much of.
Until now, right? Lego Builder's Journey appeared on Apple Arcade just before Christmas, and lo, it became my Christmas game, completed in moments stolen away from family, away from the kitchen where there were pies to make and away from the living room where there was a twinkling tree to lose myself in and zone out a bit. I zoned out playing Builder's Journey, if I'm honest, but it was that perfect kind of zoning out that only certain games can manage. A sort of meditative, contemplative tapping and twisting and reworking and rethinking.
The objective is pretty simple. Builder's Journey offers you a range of little dioramas, jagged little layers of Lego strata, and you generally have to move your little Lego guy from one side to the other. There are twists along the way, but that's the basics of it. A to B. And you get there by placing Lego bricks for them to move between.
The greatness of this is that it's a Lego game that's all about placing Lego bricks. No, the greatness of this is that it's so tactile and glorious to do that placing. Tap to rotate a piece, move your finger around to find the right spot, and then press down and hold to push it down into position. It doesn't click on so much as ease on, slowly gaining in stickiness in that magical Lego way. It feels very close to the real thing, and yet you're doing all this with a touchscreen, a bit of haptic feedback, and some lovely but simple animation.
There's more of course. I love the fact that the levels have a tinge of the wilderness to them. None of the sleek nonsense of themed sets here. No Potters or Han Solos knocking about. In one level you place sticks on the ground and - wow! - a camp fire. Another is a cliff with something weird and alien growing out of it. You can see the shapes of individual bricks in everything. Unlike many of the Traveller's Tale Lego games, this is a world made of Lego - Lego all the way down! Ragged and strange, it embraces the pleasures of thrusting your hands into a bucket of bricks and seeing what you can build with the pieces you pull out.
And there's one last thing, I think. My eyes aren't brilliant, but there's not a Minifig to be seen here. The characters are pre-Minifig, the Lego equivalent of cave art: a few blocks, a few disks, something on top to signal a head. Lego is at its best when the instructions have been lost and the individual sets have all been muddled together. This is where Builder's Journey thrives. What a game. I love it.
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