The Lego games I'm most familiar with are the licensed property games - yer Lego Indiana Joneses and yer Lego Star Warses where you run around a continuous level smashing things. Lego Bricktales is more akin to last year's extremely cute geometric puzzler Lego Builder's Journey, in that you're exploring detailed, colourful brick dioramas, and solving puzzles by bulding things out of titular hot-property block. In Bricktales, though, it's way more granular. You're whisked away into a separate building screen to construct and stress test things like bridges and beams to support a platform, for example. You have a set number of different shaped and sized bricks to work with.
From playing a preview build of the first level - a jungle, home to some lost explorers - the thing that impresses me most about Bricktales is just how much it's like building things with actual Lego. It sounds stupid to say, but them little bricks are really astonishingly realised. It all looks so much Lego it's sort of surprising that you can't reach through the screen and pick it up. It's amazing. It's the closest thing to Lego you can get outside of actual Lego - which is the problem. It just kind of makes you miss Lego.
In Bricktales you play a lil Lego dude whose grandfather, an inventor, has spent all his money building and designing portal technology. This means that his home is in danger of falling down and/or being repossessed. It's also an old amusement park, because of course. To help him rebuild it you must use the portal tech to get Happiness Crystals by helping people in different mysterious biomes. You note that this problem is an ouroboros that starts and ends with the portals, which is very funny and I like it. It's very Lego.
So off you pop to different places to help people. The full game looks like it'll have other biomes like a desert and the obligatory pirate ship, but even within the jungle level I played there were plenty of cool little hidden areas to explore. The landscape was a series of different dioramas that each felt like they had been lovingly handmade, like when you see a minute-long Facebook video about a man who makes haunted houses out of matchsticks. You're also accompanied by a small flying robot who helps you out, and early on they learned how to smash through certain obstacles in the world. It feels, in spirit, like a Lego open world, albeit a smaller and more confined one than yer Assassin's Creeds and whatnot.
When you build stuff, it almost feels like a different game. You enter a kind of simulation screen where you have a set number of bricks to build a helicopter or makeshift set of stairs, which you can test at any time with a dummy robot. This is, after all, being made by the same developers who made the Bridge Constructor games. If you build something that withstands the stress test then it appears in-game just as you built it in the construction screen, which is neat. But the physics are surprisingly unforgiving. You can build an IRL Lego bridge, for example, and it will probably stand up to a Lego robot even if the middle of it is kind of floating without support, but not so here. I started trying to build something nice and pretty, but I usually ended up bodging together the kind of monstrosity that'd make the Cowboy Builders team doorstep me on the way to my car.
There's a whole complex system of controls (complex enough, in fact, to be more intuitive and useable with a controller) to move and snap bricks in place where you want them. For my tastes, there's more that developers Clockstone could do to help streamline it all. For example, there's no shortcut to re-select the same brick type you just used, so you have to scroll over and reselect it each time.
More generally, though, there's a reason why all the footage we've seen of stuff being built so far is sped up. It just takes a long time to build anything, even if the tools allow you to be very creative. You could feasibly build a dick-shaped helicopter and it be functional in the cutscene. But it takes so long to undo mistakes or experiment with things that just doesn't happen when playing with Lego in real life, where you can use your monkey paws to pull stuff apart and rebuild it in seconds. In Bricktales it takes minutes, which is slightly at odds with the "fun for kids!" tone of the storytelling and, indeed, Lego in general.
Admittedly, I've only played a very small slice of Lego Bricktales so far, and it really is looking like an amazing labour of love. The only problem is that I'm not sure I could recommend it over just buying a big tub of real Lego. Maybe wait and see.