A classic toy enters a new frontier
The Mercury News January 12, 2024
In the age of video games, toys have faded in popularity as gadgets and screens become what children want. Teddy Ruxpin’s time has come and gone and the reign of Furby has passed, but Legos remain the eternal childhood toy.
Aside from their timeless quality, a reason that the iconic Danish toy has continued to grow in popularity is that the Legos Group wasn’t afraid to dabble in video games. Lego Star Wars, Lego Jurassic World and other titles brought the concept of the toy to a new generation and turned them into fans.
Now, the toy is entering another new frontier — virtual reality — as Thunderful Group brings ClockStone Studio’s project to the Meta Quest series of devices. The work doesn’t ask players to become a minifigure and venture through block worlds, but rather, it lets them create a character and move them through intricate dioramas.
It’s comparable to what Polyarc did with Moss. Players move their characters up ladders and down stairs as they travel through detailed levels. The premise of Bricktales is that the protagonist’s mad scientist Grandpa is in trouble. His theme park is in disrepair and the mayor is threatening to shut it down.
Out of the blue, one of Grandpa’s probes named Rusty returns from outer space. It’s now a highly advanced piece of technology and has a plan to save the park. With help of Grandpa’s portal-generating device, players will travel through five worlds and help the inhabitants. The goal in each reality is to aid those in need, so that they can earn a Happiness Crystal, a source of limitless energy that will help fix and power the theme park.
Building on a fun experience
Bricktales came out on consoles and iOS a few months ago, but on the Meta Quest 3, it’s a much more absorbing and natural experience. The game can be played in full virtual reality or mixed reality though the formats doesn’t change the experience. Players still control their character as they talk to the inhabitants and figure out how to help them.
That’s mainly done by building. In this part of Bricktales, they’re given a set number of Legos and they’ll have to create a bridge, reconstruct a fallen sales shack or perform other tasks. Using a console controller, there’s a dissonance as players fiddle with the bricks. On the other hand in VR, it’s a more intuitive and immersive experience. Players can move the figure around and add or remove pieces quickly and easily as if they were working on the real thing.
The whole process feels more natural as if players were working with actual Legos except there’s no messy cleanup. The other element is that the structures they make are tested before they’re approved. A test robot is sent out or the developers let physics take over. If players don’t design intelligently, the whole structure falls apart.
At first, the builds are easy and straightforward, but by the end, Bricktales will test players’ creation skills as they have to put together more complex contraptions. One of the hardest ones is creating a structure that catches rain and moves it into a bucket. The other hard ones involve balancing a hanging set of blocks so it doesn’t lean or disassemble.
Using the powers of exploration
Building is the best part of the game, but the exploration half isn’t bad either. ClockStone Studio designed beautifully complex dioramas, and players will enjoy looking around them like a Lego dollhouse. They’re packed with secrets such as collectible animals that players grab to get a reward.
More importantly, exploration and earning upgrades to the robot sidekick Rusty is key to advancing the narrative of the linear campaign and obtaining Happiness Crystals. Each world features a distinct array of denizens but it also holds power-ups that turn Rusty into a jetpack so that players can smash objects blocking the way. Another turns the device into an X-ray machine that allows invisible objects to be seen. The robot can turn into a portable water hose so that the hero can clean up objects or fill wells. The sidekick also enables the player to teleport between areas and surf down twisting purple energy beams.
The levels are designed so that players learn the intricacies of each upgrade so that they can use it in the next levels to solve more difficult puzzles. The ramp-up is done nicely so it’s not too difficult. The only problem I ran across is that in the bigger levels, it can be hard to figure out which character to speak with in order to advance the story.
Lastly, the Bricktales campaign isn’t long, but once, players are done, they have tons of collectibles to grab or creations to refine. It’s a Lego game that works better in VR rather than on a console and is perfect introduction for those who want to get their feet wet in the cutting-edge gaming frontier.
Platforms: Meta Quest 3 (reviewed), Nintendo Switch, Playstation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and Seres S, Xbox One, PC, macOS, iOS and Android